I love extremes in perfume. (In everything, really.) If it’s a green fragrance, I want it to be so green as to be bitter and slightly scary. If it’s a floral, I want it indolic, overripe, and decadent. If it’s animalic, I want…well, you get the picture.
My love of extremes can also be satisfied by perfumes that try to do it all and succeed, multitaskers that are able to provide a whole host of extreme notes together in a symphony of excess. Sikkim by Lancome (like Aramis and Miss Balmain before it) makes me feel as if I’m getting everything at once: sweetness, freshness, bitterness, richness, spiciness, warmth, and depth. The whole shebang. It starts off mouth-wateringly juicy and fresh, moves into a lush floral, and ends on an elegant, dry leather/moss accord.
Like Aramis (1965) and Miss Balmain (1967), Sikkim combines green and herbaceous top notes with lush florals (there’s gardenia in all three perfumes) and a mossy-leathery-ambery drydown that is both sexy and elegant. (Thujone, an ingredient in the hallucination-inducing drink Absinthe, is listed as a note for both Sikkim and Miss Balmain, and it’s basically a variety of Artemisia, which is a note in Aramis.)
There’s something about the gardenia/galbanum and coriander/Thujone/Artemisia and chypre-leather-amber combo that is lip-smacking good fun. It provides a rollercoaster ride for your nose (and your brain), maybe because your nose gets challenged to take in these wonderful extremes you wouldn’t find in nature. There must be something cognitively satisfying about having to work to understand what you’re smelling, as there is with music whose chord combinations just feel right. *
Sikkim’s bracing greenness offsets lush gardenia and makes it even sweeter and richer. For the longest time, the gardenia just lingers, its creamy-white petals offered up like a hallucination right in front of your nose. Its chypre-animalic drydown includes mossy/spiciness from patchouli, oakmoss and vetiver, while amber, castoreum and leather accords create a warming and comforting base. I’m enjoying the last remnants of the leather/moss drydown right now. Mmmmmm.
Sikkim is named after a tiny country in the Himalaya Mountains between Nepal, India, Bhutan and Tibet that became a state of India in 1974. Sikkim is supposed to have a climate that ranges “from arctic to temperate to tropical as a traveler journeys up or down the lofty Himalayas.” The climate of Sikkim, the perfume, similarly cycles from arctic to temperate to tropical as its wearer travels from its top notes to its base notes.
I'm reviewing the vintage parfum Sikkim, but there's a reformulated Sikkim that according to Fragrantica is part of Lancome’s “La Collection Fragrances” launched to celebrate Lancome’s 70th anniversary of perfumes. Several commenters have warned (not surprisingly) that the reformulated version doesn't hold a candle to the original and in fact smells too chemical. So if this review of Sikkim has piqued your interest, make sure you get your mitts on the old stuff...
I'll leave you with Sikkim's notes to compare with Aramis and Miss Balmain. I would say Sikkim is mossier than both Aramis and Miss Balmain. Other differences? It's not as skanky as Aramis, which has that wonderful stinky cumin note. Miss Balmain, on the other hand, is juicier/sweeter than Sikkim, from top to bottom. Sikkim has a momentary burst at the beginning and gets dryer and dryer. Just for the record, though, I wouldn't kick any of 'em out of bed!
Top notes: Thujone, gardenia, bergamot, galbanum, aldehyde
Heart notes: Jasmine, narcissus, rose, orris, carnation
Base notes: Patchouli, castoreum, vetiver, leather, amber, moss
Miss Balmain (1967)
Top notes: Aldehydes, coriander, gardenia, citrus oils, thujone
Heart notes: Carnation, narcissus, orris root, jasmine, rose, jonquil
Base notes: Leather, amber, patchouli, castoreum, moss, vetiver
Top notes: Artemisia, aldehydes, bergamot, gardenia, green note, cumin
Heart notes: Jasmine, patchouli, orris, vetiver, sandalwood
Base notes: Leather, oakmoss, castoreum, amber, musk
* Rachel Herz talks in The Scent of Desire about our “nose brain” or rhinencephalon, the part of the brain that processes smells and emotions. I wonder if there's a purely cognitive part of this nosebrain that finds pleasure in teasing out the olfactory puzzle that perfumes create for us, a pleasure that has little to do with "emotion" or gut reactions, or maybe that creates a retroactive emotion as a result of the pleasure it had decoding the fragrance?