Yatagan (Caron)

Autumn is officially here, and with it comes a need for crisp, dry things. Goodbye, flacid summer aquatics and fougères, and goodbye humid, unforgiving heat. Time to bring in the hearty, multifaceted woody chypres. I love October because it's the one month of the year where I'm always guaranteed a beautiful moment in nature - whether it's the stunning New England foliage, the gorgeous clarity of 50° air, or the sight of leaves fluttering to the ground, something always wins me over. This is my favorite month.

I can think of no better chypre to wear in October than Caron's Yatagan. Named after the curved Turkish sword, this scent boasts the driest topnote structure I've ever sniffed. It's a wall of celery seed, wormwood, and petitgrain. There's plenty of press about how intense the celery note is, but it's really not that bad - Yatagan does have a prominent celery accord, but it passes quickly, after only a few seconds, and is rapidly replaced by artimesia. The artemisia is what becomes larger than life. The woodiness is stark and medicinal, and becomes the focal point of the scent. It's this wormwood that people confuse with celery seed, mainly because the distinct whiff of celery compliments it so well. Vincent Marcello's deftness of blending never ceases to amaze me.

Embedded in the heartnotes are green and floral elements, all of a certain ilk, one not sniffed elsewhere. Distinct notes of pine, geranium, hints of lavender, and patchouli waft from the wood. This pine isn't green and fresh, but old, layered on the forest floor, and burnt. This pine forest is on fire. Its oils are thick and lusty and full of evergreen's astringency, yet also battened down by an underlying impression of carbonized woods. Smelling it, I'm given a sense of olfactory bi-location, as all surrounding smells disappear, and are replaced with a feeling of standing in the middle of a black forest. The rosy sweetness of lavender mixed with cooling geranium flits in colorful shadows between the trees, and if the sun beats down on your skin when wearing it, Yatagan's composition can become quite herbal and fresh.

Caron has been accused of wrongful reformulations in recent years, and many of its most prized perfumes have suffered. The entire masculine line has been rehashed, with certain ingredients pared down or replaced. Once upon a time, Yatagan was full of deep, funky castoreum and pungent styrax. Today, I smell approximations of the animalic in the earthy density of the woods, but no distinct note of castoreum comes through. Nor does a full-fledged benzoin emerge - the overall effect of its ingredients does suggest a bit of "churchiness," but not frankincense. I'm not really too hung up on these changes, as I've never sniffed the original version of Yatagan. But what does bother me is an incorporation of sheer musk in the base. As the fragrance dries down and ages on my skin, a soft white glow tinges the edges of pine and patchouli. It's very gauzy, almost a white musk, but not quite. It's out of place here. It makes me feel like I'm sniffing a log cabin built on a foundation of sugar paper. The clean, semi-sweet mystery note suggests an underlying weakness to an otherwise extraordinary effort. I wonder, too, if I can attribute Yatagan's mediocre longevity to this note. If you get five hours out of it, you're lucky. I've had to re-apply Yatagan once or twice a day.

All faults aside, this offering from Caron stands as one of the boldest, most unique masculine fragrances to ever hit the shelves. I think it's perfect for a rural guy, or someone who wants to approximate that kind of machismo. It's also a good choice for the unconventional woman. Vive Octobre!


  1. I absolutely love this stuff... I sample every time I'm in one of the perfume shops where I do my sniff-and-runs. Wishing someday I'll purchase for my husband, although I'm not sure if he'd like it.

  2. if you've experienced the fragrance from the above bottle (in the pic), then you've got a good version - that one and the prior one are the only one's i will buy. i'm assuming you sniffed the one with the silver cap - the current juice?

    1. the photo above is a photo that I took of my bottle. haven't had a chance to try the latest version. my understanding from basenoters is that it has not changed. the biggest changes seemed to come about between the 70s and the late 80s/early 90s, when they removed the castoreum and replaced it with a weaker musk. haven't seen anyone complain much about changes in the last twenty years.

  3. Coming a bit late to this thread, I find myself a bit curious about that musk you mention... I tried PuH, 3rd Man and Yatagan briefly at the Caron boutique in NYC last spring... I ended up with a carded sample of PuH which, I am almost certain, was the older (black-cap) version, with the heavier musk base and less vanilla. I later ordered a bottle of PuH and got the newer formulation, with more vanilla and a more subtle musk base that allows more of the sweetness of the tonka and the hay-like coumarin to emerge... Not a bad thing, but distinct from the older formulation of my NYC sample. All this is just to ask whether you've tried the latest (metal cap) formulation of Yatagan since writing this review... I'm very curious to know if a lighter musk has been used for the base, and whether this resolves the issues you've pointed out...
    With regard to either formulation, I'm also curious to know your thoughts re: Yatagan's silage and longevity. Basenoters seem to have been all over the map on this subject (and for awhile...Some diversity of opinion in threads dating back to 2007!) I've noticed that PuH, while being fairly subtle after the first fifteen minutes, holds on (and holds together) for ages. Is this how you'd characterize Yatagan as well? Sorry to pump you for information, but- as you've recently pointed out- there's a lot of perpetuating of received idea out there... I'd rather not invest in someone else's private mythology if I can help it.

    1. There's two orthodoxies to consider when approaching Caron, at least the masculines: a truly liberal view, or the populist-driven "neo-liberal" view. I favor the former, where a genuine understanding of cost-to-profit ratio acquiesces to their business model of creating simple, inexpensive formulas that smell sophisticated for less than thirty dollars an ounce, over the latter notion, where people suppose greed is behind the latest formula changes, eschewing any acknowledgement of real-world economics.

      I can only speak to my experience with Pour un Homme, and not Yatagan; this fragrance changed because the house wanted people to enjoy the current rendition of fresh, sun-kissed lavender, while REMEMBERING the unholy musk of the prior version (now simply a pared-down fougere structure). Masks became more synthetic and less expensive, but the prices for lavender and associated ten carbon alcohols has remained relatively flat, and reasonable, hence the entirely appropriate corporate decision behind that reformulation. I enjoy both versions, but the new stuff goes further.

      Yatagan, being a far more unconventional structure, required tinkering for more than mere economical reasons; this fragrance has always been at risk of becoming severely dated, hence the older black cap version from twenty years ago already has signs of cheaper, more fuel-efficient design. But again, Caron was only being wise about it, keeping the need for an olfactory platform as low-key as possible by resorting to white musk, and not something animalic. You can wear Yatagan to dinner. My beef with that is simple: white musk needn't show, and in the black cap formula, it unfortunately does.

      Beware of all the half-baked prosthelatyzing about vintage formulas with this brand. These perfumes were never intended to be top-tier, and if vintage PuH is any guide, Yatagan and Third Man maybe get through fifteen years before their constituents get weak, muddled, and unbalanced. The beautiful ideas behind these fragrances may survive, but the execution will be dinged up quite a bit.

      I'll look into the metal cap version of Yatagan soon, and get back to you when I can on that one in particular. I've been wearing Third Man this week, metal cap version, and noticed seven hours in that a little extra body heat revealed a very firm fougere accord of aromatic lavender, fresh citrus rind, coumarin, and musk. To date, I have not read anyone claiming to smell anything quite like that in vintage. Instead there's the highly suspicious mention of "woods" that smell smoother, fuller, more natural.

      I've smelled that very element in many vintages. It's quite pleasant, but in my opinion the result of several sharper notes fusing together with age to form something somewhat akin to sandalwood and amber. The clue? It always happens hours before it should, mere minutes into the drydown, and remains the sole attraction for hours thereafter.

  4. I tried the metal cap version of 3rd Man last spring, and I agree about the fougere accord... What a lovely experience that was. I hear a little about the indolic character of the jasmine, but I was quite struck by it. I did get some woods in the dry down (I thought vetiver and cedar but I'm new at this). The whole thing reminded me of some of the note structure of Eau Sauvage actually (maybe because the newest 3rd Man seems to be opting for a 'top-down' strategy, with the lingering citrus?), but without hedione, and with the notes opened up and more specifically and 'naturally' articulated, the whole thing more moody, like Joanna Newsome covering a pop song. Anyway, weird analogy but a very memorable experience.
    I think your (obviously well-informed) speculations, re: musks are consistent with my experience of PuH and thus - hopefully- Yatagan. I own a newer bottle of PuH and notice that the musk really backs off so that (along with the vanilla, and some sort of clove-like note) the hay-like accord from the tonka seems more prevalent. What about that clove-like note though? I'm noticing it more now on the occasional winter wearing. Apparently Impact (the PuH concentree) has benzoin - could it be that I wonder?


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