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Hyde – leathery and smoky and smoothly seductive

It’s interesting to me how one learns new things. We learn from other people, we learn from experiences, like travel, but ultimately, we learn from trying new things. For example, trying, wearing and writing about fragrances for the last ten years (yes, is TEN!!) I learned that I love birch tar as a perfume note. Had you asked me that ten years ago, if I loved birch tar, I’m not sure what I would have answered. Ask me how this happened, and I’d have to say it happened over time (guess I’m a slow learner). I wasn’t drawn to fragrances like Mississippi Medicine, Cuoio, La Fumée Arabie, Mon Cuir, Nostalgia, Eau du Fier, Patchouli 24 or Gomma, for the birch tar they contain but Andy Tauer’s ‘Lonestar Memories’, his ode to birch tar, changed all that. Once I experienced birch tar as the central character, I realized how much I’m drawn to fragrances that have it in the mix. So, of course, when Hiram Green, the Canadian-born, Netherlands-based natural perfumer, launched Hyde in 2018, I bought my first bottle. When Hyde won a 2019 Art and Olfaction Award, I wasn’t surprised. Hyde is an impressive piece of perfumery. 

But what exactly is birch tar? According to Wikipedia, ‘Birch tar or birch pitch is a substance (liquid when heated) derived from the dry distillation of the bark of the birch tree.’ And later, ‘Birch tar oil also is used in perfumery as a base note to impart leather, tar, smoky, and wintergreen notes.’ Well, that explains why birch-tar and leather are best friends in perfume.

Here’s the thing about birch tar: it’s potent. It’s a real scent monster that can easily highjack a fragrance with its big smoky tarriness, making it a challenging note for many people to love and to wear. As Hiram Green says on his website: ‘Seductive and challenging, Hyde is an ode to all those adventure-seeking souls….’ Challenge accepted.

Hyde opens with a citrus gust of fresh, lemon and sparkling bergamot, which are quickly Shanghaied by birch tar. That pungent tarry, medicinal-faceted, creosote scent lasts just long enough for me to register the smell, before cassie with its spicy, honey, iris-like aspects and green undertone softens the birch tar into sinuous, sexy smokiness. The cassie gives the birch tar a fullness and dimension that transforms it into the deep, dark smell of raw leather. Labdanum refines and amplifies the leather, taming its rawness, making it smoother and skin-friendly while still retaining its intensity. At this stage, malt vanilla gives it a booziness while oakmoss, earthy and mossy echo the green of the cassie at the base. Together they soften the fragrance, making it a gentler more accessible version of itself.

The drydown is smoky, woody and a little sweet. Hyde is a man’s fragrance, yet when I was wearing it the other day, my husband catching the scent turned to me and said, ‘You smell the way you used to after sitting by the fire pit when we were at the cabin. I like it’.

If you recall Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll, a man who feels he is battling between good and evil within himself. He creates a potion designed to separate his evil self from his personality. When he drinks it, he transforms into the cruel, immoral and evil Mr. Hyde. Of course, when Hyde drinks the potion, he turns back into Dr. Jekyll.

Green’s Hyde too, is about transformation. It takes strong, brawny, challenging birch tar and transforms it into a seductive, smooth version of the stuff – Mr. Hyde turning into Dr. Jekyll – and all done with natural ingredients. Now, that’s impressive, making Hiram Green is one of the most talented and creative perfumers working today.

Hyde is listed in our Decant Store. Decants are $8.00 for 1 ml.