Ching Shih by Xarmony (2020)

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Ching Shih by Xarmony (2020) is a fragrance of singular resolution based around the story of Zheng Yi Sao, born as Shi Yang in 1776, a Chinese pirate who was active in the early 1800’s. She was named Zheng Yi Sao by the people of Guangdong, but more-widely known as Ching Shih, this pirate became something of an anti-heroine, her ships entering into conflict with several major powers, such as the East India Company, the Portuguese Empire, and Qing China. This singular resolution comes from a very potent peach and jasmine combination that defines the opening moments, with more fruity floral and fleshy nuances between, eventually settling into more ambery-floral territory later on. Xarmony itself is interestingly much like a Middle-Eastern made-to-order perfumer found in souks across cities like Cairo and other major cities there, in that the perfumer (Trill Noel) makes everything on the spot from formula per-bottle, rather than large pre-mixed oil batches which are then diluted for entire runs of bottles or diluted per-bottle as Le Labo does at their counters. This “made for you” process imparts a bit more of a personal touch, as personal a touch as ordering from an indie perfumer’s online shop can be, at least.

Although it’s not listed by the perfumer in the official note breakdown, something can be said that the way the floral notes interplay in the heart of Ching Shih recalls tuberose and gardenia in my mind, being that we’re dealing mostly with a peach-topped floral amber scent anyway, and a lot of the materials used are at least adjacent to those found in tuberose/gardenia combo fragrances (more popular in the 2000’s than now). What this means is there is a lot of complexity open to interpretation by the wearer, but that singular resolute nature I mentioned is still present, as it all really just makes a “whole” accord that isn’t easily dissected into pieces like some florals can be. The vanilla warms and smooths, while the sea notes are really just an aromachemical melange you’re likely familiar with if you’ve smelled any number of fresh or aqautic fruity florals made for the feminine market by designers, just here applied more judiciously than with designers, to give some lift and prevent Ching Shih from being heavy. The amber and mineralic “gunpowder” notes are probably the last ones to roll into town, and I personally don’t get much rum accord here, but that doesn’t mean you won’t. Honestly, these elements will make Ching Shih smell like no other floral of its type on the market. The performance is absolutely bonkers too, so if you’re someone tired of all the boys having the beastmode fragrances, this is your comeuppance. Seriously, Ching Shih is “80’s strong”.

I’m famously not a fan of these types of scents, and sometimes have been known to go on the rampage when something I don’t gravitate towards adds insult to injury by also being poorly or cheaply hashed together. However, I am delighted to report that this made-to-order fruity floral amber scent is anything but poorly made or cheap. Strong, rich, multifaceted, yet not falling victim to the usual indie artisanal tropes of being easily picked apart by its materials, Ching Shih by Xarmony is a fragrance that answers the question sometimes asked when a person comes onto a forum like Basenotes looking for a “niche version” of their favorite fragrance. In this instance, that fragrance is a conventional fruity floral amber, something you’d be used to seeing issued by Lauder or Arden, but leagues beyond anything coming from their stables these days, both in polish and power. That this scent also comes with an obscure and pretty cool historical story about a character we could all stand to learn more about in the West is an added bonus for me. All this value and coming from a genre I normally don’t like, which makes me wonder what this brand can do with genres I do like, such as the classic chypre or fougère. Does this smell like a pirate? No, not really. Does it smell gorgeous? Absolutely. Although I wouldn’t wear something like this on the regular, nonetheless color me impressed. Thumbs up

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