Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Scenes from a Train and Traversée du Bosphore

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L’Artisan Parfumeur Traversée du Bosphore eau de parfum can be purchased from the L’Artisan website, as well as Barneys.com and LuckyScent.com, where a 100-ml bottle is currently priced at $165. My review is based on a sample I received from a perfume blogging friend.

Lyrics from the opening verses of the Marshall Crenshaw song "A Few Thousand Days Ago," written by Crenshaw and released on his 2003 album "What's In the Bag?" (from recording label Razor & Tie).

Image (top of page) of Istanbul scene is stolen from the website popsugar.com.

Perfume bottle image is stolen from the L'Artisan Parfumeur website.


September 27, 2015:

The above lyrics are excerpted from a wistful song of Marshall Crenshaw’s that is the perfect end-of-summer song. Mellow, introspective, shimmery, with a steady rhythmic melody that somehow creates the sense of a train ride, of peaceful continuous churning. Whenever I hear this song, I feel he could only have written this one in middle age (and will assume he did, since it was released in 2003 and Crenshaw is 61 now). “Small quiet towns” and “wonders great and small” are not the things one usually observes and appreciates in one’s early years, when the crossing of burning desert sands is not regarded as a journey so much as an obstacle one navigates in order to arrive someplace else. Someplace bigger, bolder, more foreign, more exciting or more you. There is a lot of ego involved when one crosses burning deserts in one’s 20s, 30s and early 40s, and that’s exactly as it should be. Achieving one’s dreams – the many acts of creation and re-creation involved – require the ego’s fuel. But there comes a point when a body wants to slow the journey down and savor the ride, and though some would say “turn inward,” I would venture that it’s a turning outward, to people, places and things that are otherly from oneself and one’s destination. It’s a form of surrender, but a very beautiful surrender; perhaps it’s more accurate to call it a deepening stage of one’s life, for it seems to add another layer of wonder, astonishment and connection to the world at large.

Those are my thoughts at the end of September, when another birthday has just passed and I’m more aware than ever before that “a few thousand days ago” slip by rather quickly. A fine spate of end-of-summer weather, with blue-sky days that seem as fragile as they do serene, underscores this feeling: everything I love is so vaporous. I fear it will float away before I can take it all in, and so I spend more hours than I should outdoors: running in the fields, reading in my yard, and watching my pet rabbit in his play pen, where he expresses his freedom in a series of twisting jumps and kick-outs. On my wrists, I am wearing a languid fragrance with an exotic sounding name: Traversée du Bosphore (“Crossing the Bosphorous”). Launched in 2010 from the perfume house L’Artisan Parfumeur, it was created by perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, who, taking inspiration from a trip to Istanbul, constructed the fragrance around an olfactory accord that smells like the powdery, jellied rose-and-pistachio confection known as Turkish Delight. He is not the first perfumer to do so; I can think of three other Turkish Delight perfumes (Montale’s Sweet Oriental Dream, Serge Lutens’ Rahat Loukhoum, and Keiko Mecheri’s Loukhoum), but the one I’m familiar with, from Montale, is sweeter than the candy itself, whereas Traversée du Bosphore is a soft fragrance with drifts of other scents that accompany the Turkish Delight like a silk scarf floating softly at the neck; not for warmth but as a means of completing a look, achieving a certain effect. There is suede leather (courtesy of a velvety iris note), a dusty hay-and-vanilla smell that smacks of coumarin (whether it’s in there or not), and an ambery base that is not at all cushy or exotically oriental, but more of a feather-weight amber grounded by what I'd guess is an elegant fraction of patchouli (again, this might be a note of my imagining since it’s not among the list of notes the company cites). The official notes are apple, pomegranate, tulip, iris, leather, saffron, Turkish delight accord (rose and pistachio), vanilla, and musks, but since I can't detect the apple, pomegranate and tulip notes, I'll simply talk about the notes I do smell in this elegant gourmand perfume.

Leather, loukhoum, and even a touch of something that smells like a dark chocolate-covered cherry are the dominant smells of Traversée du Bosphore when it first goes on the skin, and while that combination sounds potent, all three are sueded and refined. Having eaten a pound of Turkish Delight years ago (when my niece was young and our reading of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe compelled us to do a mail-order of the sweet), I’d have to say that Traversée du Bosphore represents it more realistically than the other loukhoum perfume I tried, because loukhoum is actually a quiet sort of confection, more starchy and gently perfumed with rose and fruit flavors than candies generally are in the US. It’s not decadent in the way my niece and I thought it would be, from reading about it in a book, and neither is Traversée du Bosphore. That said, I don’t smell this perfume’s notes of rose and pistachio so much as I do the cherry-almond scent of heliotrope, a note I quite like (and which is utilized in at least two of the other loukhoum scents I mentioned above to achieve the scent of the candy), so that’s not a complaint.

In the first five minutes or so after application, a warm yet bitter element of the perfume reminds me of dark chocolate, which I attribute to the combination of saffron, which often smells inky and iodine-like to me, and iris, that shape-shifting note that goes from hard to soft, from bad-ass and aloof to oh-so-pretty, in so many perfumes in which it is featured. Although I don’t associate chocolate with Turkish Delight, there is a company in London that seems to be famous for its chocolate-coated version of the candy, and this chocolate facet of the perfume is so subtle here that it doesn’t detract from the loukhoum but just gives this fragrance a little bit of a sultry edge. The bitter chocolate smell probably wasn’t intentional on the part of the perfumer, and from reviews I’ve read, only a few people pick up on it, but for me it is just dark enough that it lets me know that this fragrance is not about candy; it’s about a mood. In the same way that when you bite into a piece of dark chocolate, you know that you’re not eating kiddie stuff, the effect of this underpinning of bitter chocolate in Traversée du Bosphore is atmospheric. When I smell it, I am reminded of two other iris perfumes that offer up a similar whiff and a similar effect: Nez a Nez Marron Chic and Parfum d’Empire Equistrius. All three are atmospheric iris perfumes with a similar spirit, even though they each have their own unique identity. Of the three, though, Traversée du Bosphore is the one that loses its edge soonest. As it dries down, it becomes fluffier and vanillic, albeit in a way that still reminds one of the perfume’s central theme of travel; a whiff of dusty hay drying in the fields, with a starchy marshmallow sweetness in attendance, makes me feel as if I’m on a small train in Europe on a summer’s day, with the windows open. By this time, the perfume no longer smells of loukhoum, but I still get drifts of leather, now as soft as glove leather, and a warm, fluffy, dry-amber scent that recalls the drowsy sunlight of late afternoon, with dust motes floating in it, as it streams through a train window.

The perfume doesn’t change much from this point forward; it maintains this wonderfully rustic-chic pastiche of smells for the duration of its wear (about six hours on my skin, which is quite good). Though the perfume's overall development from its opening accords to its base accords happens quickly, it does transition in such a way that I feel it symbolically conveys the sense of a journey. Maybe not the exotic journey suggested by its name – by its quiet nature and its gourmand leaning, it doesn’t speak of exoticism – but in Traversée du Bosphore’s opening stages, during the first ten minutes of wear, I do envision being on a train, in the morning when it’s too cool to open any windows and the smells of my train compartment and fellow travelers are more apparent. Leather like the leather seats on a train of yore; the parcel of candy someone has purchased for the trip, a piece of it removed to nibble on; the dark chocolate undercurrent that makes me think of tunnels and foreigners and foreign places … everything we can’t fully see, that is still excitingly shadowy. And then the perfume takes me to the other side of those shadows, when the afternoon sun is slanting through the window and I’m drowsy with the motion from the train, but still awake to the passing scenery, which, no matter how many times I’ve passed this way before, never grows old.

I fell asleep on the train
With the towering mountains rolling by
And woke to the sound
Of thunder crashing in the sky

The air was ghostly blue
The mist was rising slow
It’s still a vivid memory
From a few thousand days ago
From a few thousand days ago

As we passed through small quiet towns
Crossed miles of burning desert sands
And fields of green and gold
I began to see and understand

The wonders great and small
That this world has to show
In a way I never had before
A few thousand days ago
Just a few thousand days ago


 - Lyrics from the Marshall Crenshaw song, A Few Thousand Days Ago