To paraphrase Wikipedia, Olivier Levasseur was a French pirate of the 17th and early 18th centuries, nicknamed La Buse (“The Buzzard”) or La Bouche (“The Mouth”) in his early days for the speed and ruthlessness with which he always attacked his enemies, as well as his ability to verbally attack his opponents. He is known for allegedly hiding one of the biggest treasures in pirate history, estimated at over £1 billion, and leaving a cryptogram behind with clues to its whereabouts. The fragrance La Buse by Xarmony (2020) is made in his honor much the same way as Ching Shih by Xarmony (2020) was for the fabled Chinese pirate, although that is where their similarities end. La Buse is a dry and sharp oceanic scent that combines wisps of gin, bay leaf, woodiness, and lime. When a lot of people think “boozy” or “bay rum” fragrances, they think tons of sweetness and clove or cinnamon, because that’s what the mainstream has more or less fed us since the original bay rums from A.H. Riise first came over to the US from St. Thomas. However, this is not that.
To understand La Buse, you have to forget most of those modern reworkings of the “pirate fragrance” trope, and get straight down to the materials and environs that would have permeated a pirate’s clothing and self in those days. The opening is punchy and a slightly rounded, with the dry lime and bay leaf hitting you right away, carried on a salty ambergris accord compounded rather cleverly from synthetic materials. The “boozy” notes are rum and gin inspired, but they’re not soaked in ethyl maltol sweetness or tonka overloads. There isn’t a ton of cinnamal here either. Instead, these notes are stark, unfriendly, and cutting like the tip of La Buse’s blade. The cedar furthers this dry aromatic approach to a “pirate fragrance” theme; and while both clove and amber notes provide just enough rounding to keep this from feeling rude, it is definitely meant to have a condescending tone, since La Buse was born of aristocracy and educated as an architect before becoming a pirate in 1716. The finish is a mix of cedar, the salty oceanic bits, and bits of the dry aromatics, almost giving a desiccated leather feel. Performance is of course insane, so no need to worry there.
Some of the hallmarks of Trill Noel’s masculine-leaning work are here, save for an overt mint accord which this one actually lacks, so if you’ve smelled Odinsleep (2020), Ironbend (2020), Wallace (2020), or Primal (2021) by Xarmony, you’ll be in comfortable territory. If however, you’re expecting something sweet, thick, or full of the bubblegum tropes that pervade a lot of men’s fragrances these days, La Buse will be a shock to your system. Fans of work from perfumers who use mineral accords like Jean-Claude Ellena or folks familiar with mid-century tropes where mint, camphor, or really unflinching juniper notes were commonplace will be prepared to handle something like La Buse, as is my case. I wear a lot of stuff like Acqua di Selva by Victor (1949), which has a rather blunt pine and oakmoss accord, or almost “musky gunmetal” fragrances like Caron L’Anarchiste (2000), so this sort of style is nice to see specialized by someone in the indie perfume scene. Whether or not you see the imagery set out by the perfumer with La Buse, you definitely won’t find another treatment of the subject on the market quite like this. Thumbs up