Suzanne's Perfume Journal

I have spent the past week trying to get a bead on Kenzo Jungle l’Elephant, a beautifully weird scent that, if I had blindly sniffed it and not known its name, I might have mistaken for a Serge Lutens creation.  It certainly has a Lutens vibe to it: boldly quirky, rather gourmandy (like a number of SL scents), though not in a cloying way; the kind of scent in which you feel the perfumer truly was trying to capture an olfactory portrait (snapshot might be a better word) of a place or an idea, rather than trying to come up with a sweet-smelling elixir for the body.  I think it’s this last point that makes this Kenzo scent so intriguing to me: I really do sense that it was created by someone who had a strong, central image in mind—and the talent to reach for that image—resulting in a fragrance that is unusual and distinctive.  I love perfumes that set me to thinking, and this one certainly does.

I first learned of this scent from a review that March of Perfume Posse wrote last summer, and was reminded and moved to buy it after reading a recent review by The Non-Blonde.  I had no fears of buying a bottle unsniffed because both reviews revealed this to be the kind of scent I really like.  Without them, I probably wouldn’t have given this a shot at all, however.  While I’ve heard that this fragrance is quite popular in sexy Brazil and can be found in the stores there, it isn’t widely known here in the U.S., where it exists mainly on perfume discounter sites.  And with a name like Jungle l’Elephant, one isn’t sure what to expect: a deep green scent, perhaps, like jungle foliage?  Or some funky, wildly dirty, animalic number, as the elephant in the name might suggest?  Neither description applies to this fragrance, leaving one to wonder how the name and the exotic, but not terribly perfume-like, image it brings to mind relates to the actual scent.

According to the encyclopedic site, Osmoz.com, Kenzo Jungle was the name of the first Kenzo fashion boutique in Paris.  In 1996, the year Kenzo Jungle l’Elephant was created, their advertising for the fragrance depicted “a mixing of cultures with a cyber-woman in an end-of-the-world setting”—the cyber-woman being perhaps the sole survivor in that scenario.  Ah, okay.  Yes.  This is enlightening because, having extensively tested the fragrance for a week (I wanted to gather my own impressions before doing any research), and having found it to be an essentially gourmandy scent, I now have a context that makes sense of my impressions and how they might fit within this jungle concept.

In the global society we live in today, virtually all of us have experienced a “mixing of cultures”—and nowhere is it more evident than in the things we taste.  In fashionable eateries, we now enjoy a fusion of world cuisines, thanks largely to the profusion of ethnic restaurants (as well as cafés, espresso bars, and tea houses) that have cropped up in places we never imagined they’d exist: in the most white-bread rural towns in America, you can usually find good Chinese take-out; and at the eastern terminus of the Silk Road in the ancient Chinese city of Xi’an, cappuccino can be taken at the local Starbucks. I tend to look at this merging of cultures as a beautiful new beginning, but I can see how it also involves a certain amount of painful endings, too—a disappearance of places and peoples we once thought of as being romantically remote and strange.  I’m not entirely sure if Kenzo Jungle l’Elephant is about the old jungle that is disappearing, or about the new one we are creating, but my guess is that it is about the latter.  Kenzo Takada, the now-retired founder of the Kenzo line, built his fashion house around a joie de vivre fashion aesthetic that embraces the multicultural.

Anyway, onto the fragrance: it opens with notes of mandarin, cardamom, cumin, and clove, and while I barely detect the mandarin, I do get lots of tangy cardamom, dirty cumin, and warm clove, which I really love.  Very shortly, these notes are joined by ylang-ylang, licorice, mango and heliotrope, and the fragrance starts to remind me of the kind of desserts you find in tropical places: rice pudding from India, lightly sweetened, laced with cardamom and a dusting of pistachios.  It is not a gooey sweetness at all: it is gently sweet, fragrant and nutty in the way that Basmati rice is nutty, but with a combination of earthy and tangy spices thrown in.  I can’t really detect the mango, and I definitely wouldn’t call this a fruity scent, but every now and then I think I smell green banana in it, as if the bittersweet-almond aspect of the heliotrope—or a green mango note, perhaps?—combines with the other sweet notes to suggest that smell.  The effect is peek-a-boo: I smell the green banana and then I don’t.

Base notes of patchouli, vanilla, amber, and cashmeran allow the sweetness to linger while providing an earthy grounding and wonderful tenacity.  This is perfect for someone like me, for whom lasting power is an issue.  With a few exceptions, my skin tends to turn down the volume on scents that others consider strong or bold, and that is the case here.  Kenzo Jungle l’Elephant might be a vavoom-y scent for some women, but not for me.  It is a smooth, spicy confection on my skin—a reminder of my own brief time in the jungle, the rainforest of Belize.  It is the remembrance of fried plantains and rice-and-beans served outside a native woman’s hut, where chickens ran around at our feet, and a warm-from-the-oven cake that a young girl brought to our room one night to sell to the American couple.  No matter that we’d already eaten and it was nine o’clock at night.  Who can resist a spice cake drizzled with sweetened condensed milk, still hot in its tin loaf-pan?


Kenzo Jungle l’Elephant is a very affordable indulgence. At ImaginationPerfumery.com, a 1-oz. spray bottle of the eau de parfum can be had for $27.99.

JUNGLE LOVE, IT’S DRIVING ME MAD
It’s making me crazy, crazy!


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February 5, 2008: