Sex, heated skin, animalic musk, wild horses sweaty after their ride through forests — they’re all things that come to mind with the very evocative and aptly named Peau de Bete (or “Skin of the Beast”) from Les Liquides Imaginaires. An immensely animalic fragrance, it is bold in aroma, but skin-like in both its feel and soft reach. Above all else, though, its animalic muskiness is redolent of human sexuality.
While other fragrances have trodden this path before, most recently Papillon‘s fantastic Salome, few of them have done so with quite as much singularity as Peau de Bete. It strips everything away but its sexualized animalics; there are no extraneous elements like chyprish bergamot top accords or middle-layer florals to adulterate the purity of vision. It’s as though the composition were merely one, single (albeit multi-faceted) base accord. Depending on your tastes and on your experience levels with raunchy, sexual, and dirty animalic musk fragrances, that’s either a good thing or something that will make you scrub right away. I happened to think Peau de Bete was damn sexy, but it is certainly not a scent for everyone.
Peau de Bete opens on my skin with seemingly all its notes at once but, in particular, earthy cumin, rich saffron, herbaceous greenness, skanky civet, leathery castoreum, rich patchouli, smoky resins, and sweet grasses, all infused with campfire smoke from the cade and from singed, leathery, tarry woods that give a slight barbecue effect. Hanging like a thick, dark, and chewy blanket over everything are the by-products of the notes, half smoky, half dirty musks, but all fully animalic.
With one blink of the eye, you see horses, flying through smoky forests, the leather of their saddles darkened and slick from the heated sweat that covers their flanks, their hooves kicking through rich earth, green herbs, resins, grasses and patchouli leaves. With another blink, though, the picture and accompanying landscape change yet again, expanding to embrace the ultimate olfactory archetype symbolized or represented by this genre: human sexuality. It’s the aroma of the naked body in its most intimate places, the skin velvety with warmth and slick with sweat that smells ripe but not unpleasantly so.
For some people, the use of a base accord as the sum-total entirety of a fragrance may be overly simplistic, but I respect it in this instance because of the sheer complexity of all the “Dots” that have gone into creating it, as well as its purity and its smoothness. Here, I think Peau de Bete has been extremely well crafted for a “mood” fragrance, even if its isolated, singular base results in fewer changes than a regular composition. Development is largely limited to the way the notes interact with each other and the nuances they emit. At the same time, Peau de Bete grows smokier, darker, and significantly more leathered in feel. Instead of smelling like a horse and the sweet grasses of the plains on which it roams, the images it evokes are now centered on a barbecue campfire, tarry leather and sweaty, naked bodies writhing amidst the smoke.
For all that, Peau de Bete feels like a very polished, sophisticated, and purely classical olfactory interpretation of an S&M session. I made my mother — yes, my mother — sniff Peau de Bete for the simple reason that she is my barometer for all things animalic in fragrance. She not only taught me about haute perfumery as a young child but, more importantly for our purposes here, she has never encountered a “skanky” fragrance that she thought was “filthy,” “too much,” or unappealing. Not once. Not ever. Not Salome, Maai, MKK, Montecristo, Hard Leather, Roja Dove’s original NuWa, vintage Femme, or anything else for that matter. To her, these aren’t “dirty” or “raunchy” fragrances at all but, rather, the norm and “the way fragrances are meant to be.” So, it should tell you something that this grande dame and classicist took one sniff of Peau de Bete and did an immediate double take, her head whipping around for a second try. “That’s wonderful,” she sighed happily. Then, she gave it her highest accolade — “That’s the way perfumes used to be” — followed by the automatic second question that arises whenever she loves something enough to consider buying it for herself: “How is the projection or sillage?”
This is where Peau de Bete falls short for my personal preferences (and hers), but, let’s face it, it’s completely unfair to level any sillage criticism at a scent that explicitly warns you ahead of time that it’s an “Eau de Peau.” (skin scent) With my standard baseline quantity of a 2-spray equivalent, the fragrance was rich and bold in aroma up close, but light in weight and projection. In terms of precise olfactory development, Peau de Bete doesn’t change dramatically except, as mentioned earlier, in its nuances. Roughly 40-45 minutes in, the dirty musk turns a little sharp, feeling slightly high-pitched rather than rounded or smooth. I don’t know if any macrocyclic musks like Muscone or Muscenone have been used, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they had. Regardless, the note softens about 1.75 hours. Not long after, the fragrance’s focus shifts slightly as Peau de Bete becomes more urinous and more sexual in bent with the civet, cumin, castoreum and amber musks surging to the forefront, pushing the woods and their barbecue smoke to the sidelines. This essentially marks a transition phase where Peau de Bete moves from a land-based olfactory animalic accord (horses, earth, grasses, woods) to a human skin one that is sexual in scent, skin-like in textural feel, and skin-like also in sillage as well. Basically, sex skin and sweaty balls.
That’s it, really it for the rest of Peau de Bete’s development. In its late stage, there is a soft, spicy sweetness to the dirty muskiness that is really delightful. There is also a sort of golden feel to the notes, a velvety softness that, once in a blue moon, hints at traces of salt on heated skin, but it’s a subtle suggestion more than a concrete, distinct, and powerful Ambrarome note. For the most part, Peau de Bete’s final hours really consist of an incredibly sexy muskiness that is heated, quietly spiced, and wholly suggestive of post-sex skin.
If you love animalic musks, skanky orientals, or are looking for the unadulterated base layer of Salome without anything else, then I strongly recommend trying Peau de Bete. It is exactly that, minus the chypre and floral top layers. Personally, I think that the animalics in Peau de Bete may be even milder than the Salome levels, and certainly much less hardcore than the ones in Maai, but how you interpret Peau de Bete’s degree of “skank,” “raunch,” or “filth” will depend on a few things. It’s not only your individual skin chemistry but, more importantly, your level of experience with such scents and, thus, the lens through which you filter or process the aromas.