L’Artisan Timbuktu reconsidered


Timbuktu was released by L'Artisan in 2004; it was the second in a series of travel-inspired fragrances, the first being Jean Claude Ellena's Bois Farine. Timbuktu was created by nose Bertrand Duchaufour, who was said to have been inspired by the West African practice of wusulan, a seduction ritual in which women "...concoct a magical salve, with scents of wood, spices, resins and roots. After first letting it macerate, they then let the potion boil away, while their skin absorbs the richly scented swirls of smoke." (quote via osmoz). The fragrance notes are green mango, pink pepper berries, cardamom, karo karounde flower, incense, papyrus wood, balms and spices, patchouli, myrrh, benzoin and vetiver.

I tried Timbuktu shortly after it was released last year, and did not particularly care for it. My memory is that it smelled mostly of patchouli mixed with something sour and sweaty. Recently, a friend gave me a sample and suggested it might be worth another try. Lo and behold, this stuff isn't half bad.

As befits a scent named for a city synonymous in the West with "the ends of the earth", Timbuktu starts off exotic and spicy, with lots of peppery and resinous notes. I don't notice the mango until the dry down, when it starts to add a touch of sour green, and even then it is restrained; I would not describe this as a fruity scent. There is also, just as I remembered, a touch of sweat, perhaps from the cardamom, perhaps from a hidden touch of cumin.

There is some patchouli, but it is not at all overdone — perhaps I originally tried this on a very hot day, for I can't imagine now why I found it so overwhelming. Timbuktu mostly smells like dirt, soft woods, old parchment and smoky incense. There is some sweetness from the myrrh, and perhaps the karo karounde, but it is more dry than sweet, and probably more masculine than feminine.

It is an unusual fragrance, and probably doesn't qualify as "pretty". I do wish L'Artisan still sold 15 ml bottles, as I would buy one in a second, but for now I am putting my sample aside until the weather cools off next month and I can decide if it is something I would reach for regularly.

Timbuktu is an Eau de Toilette and the lasting power is good, especially for a L'Artisan scent. For buying information, see the listing for L'Artisan Parfumeur under Perfume Houses.

Update: L'Artisan did eventually release a set that included Timbuktu in a 15 ml bottle, so I bought it. It is considerably more wearable in cool weather than hot, and has become one of my favorites from L'Artisan.

Note: The photograph shows the Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu, Mali (entry to the prayer hall from the courtyard and exterior mihrab). By Sian Kennedy via Archnet.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I agree wholeheartedly about the necessity of 15ml bottles where certain scents are concerned. There are so many L'Artisans I would have bought in a second if that option were available, and Timbuktu is one of them. There is no way on earth I could use a huge bottle of this ever in my lifetime. I love the scent though, it is exotic and dry, and smells of dirt, as you say (don't why it is a complement but it ceratinly is!).

  2. Anonymous says:

    Glad you like this R! Love the review and you make me want to re-test this. When I tried this last summer – my reaction was “Oh no – another unwearable perfume”. There were some mild curses as the name is simply fascinating.

    Anyways – dear R – I will be testing this again and well you just never know – the way my olfactive mood changes – it maybe a case of yuk to love scenario like Nahema, Iris Silver Mist, Rahat etc……

  3. Anonymous says:

    PS – totally agree with the urgent demand for 15 ml bottles – who needs 100 ml?? ;D

  4. Anonymous says:

    It may be my odd chemistry, but Timbuktu works very well on me. The incense reminds me of CdG Kyoto, another favorite of mine, and the green mango reminds me a bit of Hermes Un Jardin Sur Le Nil. I never even tried it because of the poor reviews until Emmanuelle at the SoHo L'artisan boutique convinced me to try it. With rapture as she sniffed my arm, she asked, “Can't you just smell the dirt?” I certainly could, and weirdly enough, found this appealing. Although this fragrance is actually one of my current favorites from L'artisan, I've waffled on buying a full bottle for a long time. I could see how this fragrance might be off-putting to others, and would only wear it in certain weather and certain situations, so I don't smell offensively sweaty and unwashed. Like you, I would pick up a 15 mL in a heartbeat.

  5. Anonymous says:

    When I sampled this when it first came out, I remember beautiful topnotes followed by an overwhelmingly disappointing followup that resembled a generic “clean woodsy” masculine cologne. Maybe I ought to try it again, then.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I think of dirt as a complement too — many of my favorite fragrances smell like dirt. Diptyque Philosykos comes to mind immediately…

  7. Anonymous says:

    N, I wonder if this was released in the summer. It is definitely a cool-weather scent to my nose. And should add that it made my husband crinkle his nose, so don't think it is going to aid in any seduction rituals around here ;-)

  8. Anonymous says:

    L, I do think it could have an “unclean” vibe in very hot weather, but the dirt notes are appealingly earthy, and I love the incense, which hangs around on my skin long after the rest is gone.

  9. Anonymous says:

    T, interesting that you found it clean, and I have seen that mentioned in other reviews as well. To my nose it verges very close to unclean, which is why I suspect some cumin.

  10. Anonymous says:

    You are right Robin it must have been autumn/winter – I really cannot remember.

    Hehe about seduction rituals! ;D

  11. Anonymous says:

    When I first tried Timbuktu last December I detected mildew and a scent that reminded me of an ancient Bible I found in the attic years ago…pages crumbling, yellowed, acidic smelling, full of silver fish.

    HA! (Add notes of damp soil and the pungent aroma of my compost bin.) I did not buy. I just tried the scent again last month and suddenly I craved it. I was suspicious at this turnaround, so got a second sample

    and: still enjoyed it. A bottle of this is on the fall to-buy list. I think this captures a “place” better than any other perfume I've used: one can actually imagine a room (wood, paper), food (spice, fruit), flowers, smoke from an outdoor fire, a dusty road. Kevin

  12. Anonymous says:

    Hmm, I tried it and did not care for it. It smelled of musty pine needles for some reason. However, your great review makes me want to revisit it again.

  13. Anonymous says:

    R, I tried it one time & didn´t like it – I really can´t remember the reason for my reaction nor what it smelled like. As the others wrote before, I´ll re-test, too ;)

  14. Anonymous says:

    I'd heard so many negative reports about Timbuktu, I tested it with trepidation. But it seemed delicious, refreshing and green to me – similar to Coriandre as others report, and certainly not the monster it was portayed as. This summer, I dithered between this and Extrait de Songe as a cooling summer scent, and chose EdS, but next year…

  15. Anonymous says:

    I tried this once and found it to be too masculine for me. But, I think I will test again on a cool fall day and see how it smells the second time around. I love the name, like N, and was so disappointed that I didn't like the fume.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I did not care for Timbuktu when I tested it, R, and I doubt that I would like it now.

    However, they do need to re-issue those 15 ml bottles. I love them!!


  17. Anonymous says:

    There is something musty about it (LOL at the silverfish!) but not in an unpleasant way. Glad I'm not alone in reconsidering this one!

  18. Anonymous says:

    V, musty pine needles is not totally off base…but musty pine needles smell better in the fall than in the summer :-)

  19. Anonymous says:

    I love Timbuktu, and bought a bottle at BG's last year. It's a perfect fall scent. I wore it only a few times this summer, but I plan to put it back into the scent rotation this week, now that the weather is cooling off. It's definitely a “unisex” scent to me, but not so obviously after-shavy, so I feel very comfortable wearing it.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Let me know what you think then, S!

  21. Anonymous says:

    N, as I've written before, Coriandre was for many years one of my favorites. Now am more curious than ever to find another bottle…

  22. Anonymous says:

    It is a wonderful name, and it is too bad they don't seem to be doing a “travel scent” this year. Have to admit this one probably tips the scales towards masculine, despite the back story.

  23. Anonymous says:

    R, LOL — stick to your guns! I change my mind all the time, unfortunately.

  24. Anonymous says:

    K, Glad to find another fan! It would make a very odd aftershave, at least to me — it is masculine, but also rather unusual, even weird, and just doesn't smell like a typical shaving product.

  25. Anonymous says:

    So glad you've given this one another chance, R. I've always been surprised by the reviews of this on mua. Out of all of my perfumes, this one is the one that gets me the most compliments. Surprisingly, the comments are that it smells so clean, which is totally opposite the reveiws on mua….go figure. I must have the right chemistry for this one. I just bought a full bottle for Fall.

  26. Anonymous says:

    S, as much as I like it, I just don't get any “clean” vibe at all. But you are the second person to mention it today so it must be there!

  27. Anonymous says:

    I do love the wet dirt (but it's not mud, which sound ridiculous, I know) in Cumming. I now what you mean about it as a complement. Dirt doesn't seem necessarily like such a bad thing at all to me, too.

  28. Anonymous says:

    After Navegar and Passage d'Enfer I just thought – “Why another one of THOSE scents?” I have tried to be enthusiastic and love this but it is just so utterly boring that I've totally given up. Who wants to try so hard when there are so many other wonderful things? I mean, Patyka Boise is sooo much better!

  29. Anonymous says:

    LOL — agree it isn't mud. More like damp peat-y earth.

  30. Anonymous says:

    I feel another she says/he says coming on, LOL! The Boise was completely flat, and I didn't like the rest of the Patykas any better.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Between you and V I am going to be retesting so many fragrances – that is once I can smell again. Great review as always!

  32. Anonymous says:

    F, I hope that is very, very soon — and perhaps you will surprise me, but I just can't picture you wearing Timbuktu.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Hi R,

    When it first came out, I was very much looking forward to Timbuktu since it looked like a very exotic and misteriour fragrance with all that incense, papyrus wood, myrrh topped with green mango. However, I requested a vial to the people of L'Artisan and when I opened it and gave it a sniff, I didn't find anything magical, just something kind of sweaty that reminded me of cologne at some point. I must confess I was expecting a burst of incense and green topping marvellous and deep woods and smoke, but the perfume looked like assembled in such a different way I felt a little dissapointed.

    I'm glad to hear I can give it a second chance.

    R, do you know if it was reformulated at some point between the original launch and the new sample you got for your review?


  34. Anonymous says:

    R, I really doubt it has been reformulated, it is only about a year old, and am guessing it is not one of L'Artisans bigger sellers so it hardly seems it would be worth the bother. I think there are 2 possibilities: either I tested it in the summer and the patchouli/spice combination was too much, or, my tastes have simply changed. It would not be the first time I disliked something initially and then did a complete about face.

    And, like you, I think I expected a particular kind of scent and it didn't match that expectation, so perhaps I didn't give it enough of a chance on its own merits.

  35. Anonymous says:

    I wonder if sometimes why we like something we thought we didn't at first sniff is that we've smelled other things in the interim that have 'educated' our nose, for lack of a better way to put it. We have learned to like some of of the combinations and when it combines in a particular fragrance we are ready for it.

    Or it could be the weather or the mood, LOL.

    I know I've had it happen to me. Karin

  36. Anonymous says:

    K, I think that is often the case…one fragrance leads to another, so to speak. But weather & mood, as you say, can also be factors. And sometimes I think I am just fickle :-)

  37. Anonymous says:

    Far and away one of L'Artisan's best scent creations next to Dzing! (to me) in originality. This scent gives me a sense of calm, peace and serenity. To me, it's a very spiritual scent. I will always have it in my scent wardrobe.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Would have to agree that it is one of their more original scents, although I have great hopes for Dzongkha too.

    I do fervently hope L'Artisan won't discontinue it. It can't be a big seller for them, I would think.

  39. Anonymous says:

    Odd because I wouldn't describe it as “clean” and yet I think of it as “soapy” which is another way of saying clean! I love this frag but feel like it's a little bit on the masculine side so don't know whether I want to buy it yet. And still I can't stop sniffing myself. ha. Want to try Dzongkha to see if it's more feminine feeling.

  40. Anonymous says:

    Dzongkha is also unisex, but to my nose, a bit less masculine than Timbuktu. Easier to wear, in any case. You might also want to try Eau d'Italie Paestum Rose.

  41. Anonymous says:

    Bought the 15ml bottle after loving the sample. I still smell it a little at 9:30pm – that's a long day! I find it exotic, sexy, deep and earthy. I'm loving all the L'Artisan fragrances these days.

  42. Anonymous says:

    Don't you love those 15 ml bottles? Would love to have the whole line that way. Timbuktu seems to be slowly gaining fans, I saw almost nothing but bad reviews right after it was launched.

  43. Anonymous says:

    Oh Dzongkha is on my list. I loved my sample – I'm hoarding it. These fragrances work on me – although Voleur de Rose doesn't last, I still love the scent. This house is definitely on my favorites list.

  44. Anonymous says:

    I ended up with a bottle of Dzongkha, and don't regret it :-)

  45. Schneewittli says:

    I love Timbuktu, but I hate the Patchouli in it. Does anybody know a Timbuktu dupe without Patchouli?

    • Robin says:

      I don’t, but you might find at least similarities in other perfumes by Bertrand Duchaufour, even if they’re not patch-free dupes.

  46. varickwt says:

    I find that spraying inside my clothes and then wearing this scent is much closer to the real incense or wusulan really is. I live in W. Africa and my husband’s people sell this wet incense (very oily and they add a lot of Arabian perfumes that are not very nice) in the market. Women burn it and stand over the scent to perfume themselves. They also add the roots of Vetiver grass from the market into their drinking water as this perfumes their sweat and (don’t laugh!) their piss…I bought some to see how this would be and find it nice to put in my drawers and drinking water. I like Timbuktu but then again I find almost every perfume I wear with patchouli to work very well on me, my other fave being Flower Bomb which I started wearing by accident…

    • Robin says:

      Oh my. Does water w/ vetiver taste good??

      • varickwt says:

        Yes, it also is medicinal in that it is astringent and good for your internal organs.

  47. sweetgrass says:

    I found a boutique here the sells L’Artisan, so I got to try Timbuktu. I like it. I don’t get the sweaty note that others mention. I was wondering if there is iris in Timbuktu because I get a soapiness that I also get in Dzongkha, but not as much as in the latter scent.

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