21 Costume National ~ perfume review

21 Costume National perfume

21 is the latest fragrance from Costume National. It is said to have 21 notes — bergamot, milk, orange blossoms, saffron, cumin, pepper, cashmere wood, royal jelly, moss, clary sage, patchouli, olibanum, amber, sandalwood, oudh wood, cedar, vetiver, labdanum, tonka bean, vanilla and musk — and is meant to honor the brand's 21st anniversary.

In some ways, 21 Costume National makes a perfect follow-up to Friday's post about fragrance notes; the "21 notes" is a nice conceit, no? Perhaps someone can make out all 21, and no more, but I'm not that someone. It starts off with a spicy citrus buzz, then the orange blossom shines for a time before it slowly evolves into a creamy-milky rice pudding, subtly spiced and mildly vanillic, over dark woods and a dash of incense. The base is rich and earthy, and it wears like a fall-winter-spring comfort scent, at least, for those of you who find creamy woods comforting. It isn't heavy, exactly, but nor is it as sheer as some of Costume National's previous fragrances. It wears rather close to the skin in the later stages, though.

I love creamy woods fragrances, and 21 Costume National is perfect. For days now I've been going crazy trying to think of what it reminds me of — and it does remind me strongly of something or another — but I can't think of what it might be. If you can help, do comment. In some ways, it could function as the extreme version of Kenzo Amour (what I was hoping Amour Indian Holi might turn out to be, but didn't), and it also fits in nicely with my other spicy wood pudding favorites: Tan Guidicelli Annam, Sonoma Scent Studio Bois Epices, Givenchy Organza Indecence, and so on. It has more of a quirky streak than anything in that list, though. I want a bottle.

Costume National 21 was developed by perfumer Juliette Karagueuzoglou, and is available in 50 and 100 ml Eau de Parfum. I don't think it has made its way to the US yet, when it does, see the listing for Costume National under Perfume Houses for buying information.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi, Robin!
    Creamy-woods sounds lovely!
    I wonder if it is anything like Sensi by Giorgio Armani, wich I find the most fabulous fall-winter creamy-woods comforting smell…
    Unfortunately Sensi is not available in Russian perfume stpres for i don't know what reasons…

  2. Anonymous says:

    the scent sounds really wonderful. I can't wait for it to come to the States. The ad on the other hand…

  3. Anonymous says:

    I haven't smelled it, but your description of it is exactly as I would describe Gaultiers Fleur du male on my skin. Are they anything alike?

  4. Anonymous says:

    V, I'm ashamed to say I've never tried Sensi, but sounds like I should. I'm so behind on Giorgio Armani!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Not much — FdM is much more floral & bright, this is much heavier/deeper woods, and the 21CN is spicier too. Wonder if they'd be fun layered…

  6. Anonymous says:

    I know nobody liked the ad when I ran it earlier w/ the announcement, LOL…

    It's kind of quirky/fun — I don't mind it at all.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Oddly … I am wearing a full-body overlap mix of Kenzo Amour, Barbara Bui, Organza Indecence and Kenzo Jungle Tigre right now (which once you get past the peppery opening is a floral comfort scent on me.)
    So. Um, I am thinking I need to try this one, yes?
    PS Annayake Tsukimi? That sort of reminds me of a spicier Kenzo Amour.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I think you might like it!

    Sensi was created by Alberto Morillas – perfumer of my spring/summer favourites Emporio Armani White and Acqua di Gio.

    And as I understand even here some people love his other creations)

  9. Anonymous says:

    Alberto Morillas is genius — love quite a few of his perfumes. Will add Sensi to my “get some” list ;-)

  10. Anonymous says:

    Ah, if I wasn't wearing a full-body overlap mix right now myself I'd put on some of the Annayake, but think it is sweeter, and possibly less creamy? Do think you'll like the CN 21.

  11. Anonymous says:

    YESSS! Thanks so much for this review!! Haven't read it yet, just had make this spontaneous expression of emotion ;)

  12. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Robin. I read it now. Sounds like something different. I like creamy-woody as well. Is it maketed as female scent or unisex? I'm still hoping for a review of SCENT in comparison to S. INTENSE, one of my top 5 favourites.

    I tried Kenzo Amour recently on paper and the strip in my desk drawer still smelled nice after many weeks. But it's such a well known “girly” scent I didn't yet have the courage to try it on my skin… I left the big city and live in a rather provincial place for a while now, where men smell of… you can imagine what.

    If it's a dark rice pudding I might love it. Is it very feminine? Any edgy? Foody + dark, a bit like BBlack? Or is it very comforting? Suitable for mainstream appeal or rather “indie”? Sorry, I'm a bit excited… ;)

  13. Anonymous says:

    I LOVE the picture!

    I find it hauntingly beautiful and it makes sense if you know the fashion label a bit. The outlandish aura of the image is a welcomed change after all this empty, stereotypical, forgettable stuff. BASTA ;)

  14. Anonymous says:

    Pretty sure it is being marketed as unisex, but wouldn't swear to it…but it *is* unisex no matter how they're marketing it, and I'd say less feminine and more edgy (and darker) than Kenzo Amour — absolutely indie appeal. Less foody than the dry down of Black, probably?

    Basenotes is down at the moment, but I think someone there called this a creamy version of Scent. I found Scent more ambery, less woody (and less spicy) than this, but there might be some link.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Lars, I currently live in a place that makes 'provincial' look like Paris! LOL! My DH is one of those Good Ol' Boy kinda guys….and I tried the new Chloe on him (March suggested I try Fracas on a man as well but I want to try that one on The Rock:-). Chloe stinks on me…but smells really NICE on him – nothing 'girly' about it! Men don't notice it at all and the women who do are really complimentary. Go figure…

    So you might as well give it a try – you just never know! Besides, if the place you live in anything like this place, they wouldn't know Kenzo if he sat in their laps and sprayed perfume all over them!

    (sorry. it's Monday, it's raining and I'm staring at chickens running down the street)

  16. Anonymous says:

    Haha! chicken running in the rain… No, I am in a city. When I see chicken it's on a cinema screen ;) It's not really that provincial here – I'm just spoiled by having lived in Berlin for 13 years or so…

    Thanks a lot for the encouragement! I'm temporarily lacking a bit of confidence.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Thanks a lot Robin for the response! I'll be in Berlin in April – can't wait to smell it…

    Scent Intense was officially marketed as feminine but even the GQ (!) proposed it for men.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Ah, see, I'd have assumed both Scent & Scent Intense were to be unisex. I'm not really all that familiar with the Costume National brand, to be honest. Scent Gloss, I assume, was for women though…or at least, women other than me :-)

  19. Anonymous says:

    Call me crazy, but judging by your review and comment replies… do you think this might finally the less-expensive version of Luctor et Emergo that I've been searching for for YEARS?

  20. Anonymous says:

    I hope someday we'll even see a review of it.

    I'm so obsessed with Armani that I may need some fair examination on the sobject.

    Thank you, Robin. Thank you very much for what you do here. You are so very amiable and friendly and polite when some freak like me comes out with his own favourites and gives you advises on what you shoud try and share your opinion about.

    One could only wonder:)

    In fact, I've never seen this kind of perfume culture on sites about perfume in my own language

    It's like: “This one is great! Everybody who hates it doesn't have any taste!” or “This one is awful and smells cheap! Everybody who loves it doesn't have any taste!”

    Kinda rude and insipid… I don't read our perfume boards any more.

    So, I'm enjoying every word your team writes here!

  21. Anonymous says:

    Lars, if you like it, then wear it. If you like it then it will smell good on you.

    Last month I tried Caleche for the very first time. It is supposed to be for women but to my nose Caleche could smell even better on a man.

    Maybe if a scent is being marketed for women, maybe that scent is likely to be tried more frequently. ..?? Looking at the ad and the notes it is a unisex fragrance. Interesting notes by the way

  22. Anonymous says:

    Hey you guys, yesterday I received a sample from Tarantella, the fragrance from Australia and it is amazing!!

    Robin I just know that you will like this one. The beginning is green, oh so special! Just wonder how Tarantella will develop itself furtheron. The topnotes are not especially feminine, on the contrary.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Oooooh! I can't wait to get my sample of Tarantella! It sounds wonderful!

    Re the poster who mentioned Kenzo Amour – I had a male customer come in yesterday, and I showed it to his female friend. She was not enthused, but he was! I drammed him a sample and I suspect he'll be wearing it today, if he hasn't already tried it. :)

    The 21C sounds intriguing.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Chandrahasa, won't call you crazy, but don't think it is — doesn't have the cherry or the playdoh, and is darker & woodier — just didn't make me think of L&E at all. Also, not sure it will be that much cheaper in the end — we'll have to see how they price it, although I'll be surprised if it isn't at least somewhat cheaper.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Agree, by today's standards, Caleche could be unisex.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Hey, thanks, that's very kind of you!

    I'm always glad to add to my list of “to trys”, but I'll warn you it can take me forever to get around to something — I have a very serious backlog of untried samples, and so new ones that come in have to wait in line. But think I can get some Sensi pretty easily.

  27. Anonymous says:

    So glad you love it!

  28. Anonymous says:

    Well, I will bring my Rotties over and we'll walk around wearing any perfume we want. Funny how that works – wrangling several large Rottweilers is a serious confidence-booster…and people tend to get out of your way (my boys are very nice – but they are very large).

    Be glad you're in a City – I'm in a town that has the temerity to call itself a City (less than 2000 people is NOT a 'city', people!)…and now the chickens are running down the street in the fog!

    Throw caution to the wind and wear something totally new scent-wise….the boys and I have your back!:-)

  29. Anonymous says:

    Marianne –

    I LOVE green scents. Googled Tarantella to no avail. Can you post a link? Much obliged.


  30. Anonymous says:

    Mamabear it's: http://www.tommisooni.com/directory.htm

    It started as very green then I smelled fine delicate flowers and now I am still not sure what it is that I smell, I mean I just can't describe it. Well the green, the bayleaves, has been there for most of the time.

    You live in le campagne and you still love green scents ;)

    I love the sound of chickens and roosters. My grandparents had a farm with chickens, roosters, cats and one pig and a mill.

    Have spend many of my childhood holidays at their home and loved it!!

    Hey, I also like the smell of the countryside, the chickens and all the life included..

    Your HB must be a Bear that he lets you to spray your scents on him.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Maybe what I smell now is oakmoss.

  32. Anonymous says:

    I just logged on the Tarantella site – very pretty! I love the photo of the designer of the gown – you just don't see women like that much anymore, alas! Tres elegante.

    Living here hasn't changed my tastes in perfume, thank heavens, though being on this blog (among others) has certainly broadened my horizons. I am definitely not in 'green' today – I'm totally infernal, with a combo of T42, Elixir des Merveilles and the Eau to sparkle things up a bit – it's very grey and foggy out!

    Chickens and roosters are okay by me – it's just a bit disconcerting to have them running down an actual street – sort of a 'what's wrong with this picture' concept!LOL!

  33. Anonymous says:

    Nice website indeed, it is all about beauty and refinement.

    Good taste.

    Weather overhere today was a mix of sun and snow and sun and snow plus cold wind from the west.

    Eau des Merveilles is good it's so different. The other le version EdM Constellation dates from 2006 and I just can't get it out of my head that Constellation MUST be different. Even though I've read that they are the same and only the bottles have other colours.

    The only solution is try both since they are still available.

    The only animals I get to see here are horses and cats and dogs on a leash- in the parks.

    The sound of two horses pulling a caleche walking on the century old cobbled streets, is still a special experience.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Hi Veronica,

    I think you hit on one of the reasons that this blog has the club-house feel to it that it does. It's a very respectful atmosphere, which is certainly a large part of what keeps me reading it. So much of the internet in general, perfume-related or not, is full of rude people whose idea of conversation is what you described above, and that gets tiresome pretty fast. Although we do have our share of snarkiness, and I'm a prime offender in that regard. So it is nice to see other people recognize what Robin has done here. She really is amiable and friendly and polite, and sometimes I wonder how she does it.

  35. Anonymous says:

    I take valium….j/k, really, 99.9% of the people who comment here are amiable & friendly, and the other 0.1% usually wear themselves out pretty quickly and find themselves someplace else to play :-)

  36. Anonymous says:


  37. Anonymous says:

    I'm particularily interested in the “Royal Jelly” note; honey notes smell syrupy-bittersweet to me, whereas I've found the scent of royal jelly to be much smoother. I like the idea of honey in fragrance–it's both carnal and sunny; tongue-in-cheek-sexy–but I find it doesn't always translate well alongside other notes.

    On a similar strain, I also dig cumin and saffron, but I'm not sure how well the “general” (honestly, no frag-a-holic snobbery implied!) public's noses understand it. Whenever I wear a particularily savory scent (cumin, basil, nutmeg notes, etc.), I get the “what was she cooking?' stares :D. I'm also a “smooth woods” lover, though, so that'll win me over, nomatter how aggressive the other notes might be. The exception was relative-cheapie Elizabeth Arden's “Mediterranean” –supposedly packed with smooth woods–which starts out mildly pleasant one me, but evolves into something very, very sweet–too sweet for my tastes.

  38. Anonymous says:

    How do you all manage that (and get it right?). I am such a piker. The only ones I can figure out are the citrus scents (I can cut lemon sugar with a little Calyx, for example)…and I figured out that T42 needs a honey body lotion with some Elixir des M (for me, anyway) to keep the ash in relative check.

    But that's as far as I've been able to go….is this an evolutionary thing? Your noses are so advanced!

  39. Anonymous says:

    I agree, Lars. I love that line (it replaced Workers for Freedom and early Gigli for me) and the photo is spot-on evocative of their ethos.

    Of course, the chickens don't care if I'm wearing CN or Levis, alas:-)

  40. Anonymous says:

    I talked with Steven Broadhurst last night (via email) – such a gracious man. I am looking forward to trying it out. Of course, the worst thing will be if I LOVE it…then what? Shipping from Aus has got to be shocking! Hope they get US dist. soon…

  41. Anonymous says:

    I'm on it! I'm not sure I'm advanced enough to detect the nuances (plus I'm fighting a mild sinus infection) but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

    I am sending you some virtual chickens and horses and cows, replete with their attendant smells:-) – actually those smells aren't offensive to me, though I'm allergic to the dander in most animals other than dogs.. it's just that .I'm not very rural in my makeup!

  42. Anonymous says:

    Hope you'll like it!

  43. Anonymous says:

    Many of my “full body overlaps” are simply because I'm testing different things, but anyway, it isn't about having an advance nose so much as having the time & inclination to play around — I've created some truly horrifying combinations :-)

  44. Anonymous says:

    Mb. I already love the bottle so much, what a beauty!

    Have to give Tarantella another try. But that is because I have so many good samples T. has to compete with. Hope it will be for sale in Amsterdam soon ;)

  45. Anonymous says:

    Valium is so '80's….

  46. Anonymous says:

    HA — so true!

  47. Anonymous says:

    You in black CN, outside the chicken running down the street in the rain, somewhere in the distance a howling dog… what a gothic, romantic image! ;)

  48. Anonymous says:

    I know, I was told by an SA it's quite popular amongst men, but the ads only talks about their idea of femininity.

    Have a look at the web site, I found this video quite nice:


    It's really intriguing to see Capasa work on a clay model for the beautiful bottle. I also love the little 30ml pebble-shaped bottle. It lies in your hand like a natural stone, do you know it? I read before the bottle was part of the concept and they put quite some development into the whole thing (with Kanebo), which I think shows in the result.

    As a designer (in a wider sense) I appreciate it a lot if the bottle is part of the concept of a fragrance. Others might not care, which I can understand, but I think this is just such a good example of how nice it can be if there's some string of thought behind a product.

    Thanks for listening, good night ;)

  49. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for your encouragement. I'm in a proper city size-wise but if I hop on a bus/train within 20 min I'm in a beautiful National Park. I'm always up for a walk ;)

  50. Anonymous says:

    Tanks Marianne… all this encouragement from all these ladies! Calèche is on my to-try-on-skin-list already for a while now. The entire Hermès range is just so incomparably good.

  51. Anonymous says:

    Forgot to say I was speaking about Scent/S Intense.

  52. Anonymous says:

    I have not seen the pepple shaped bottle, will have to look for it! Sounds like these are geared towards women then, but I'd certainly classify any of them except Scent Gloss as unisex.

    So agree it is nice if there is a “point” to the bottle other than as a container.

  53. Anonymous says:

    Lars, the design of the bottles matters to me. For example I love the fluid lines in the bottles of Shiseido.

    The bottle of Arm. Diamonds is a big offense for the costumers – how UGLY !!

    Another no-design or better 'half-finished-design' is I think the bottle of Elixir des Merveilles.

    I like the bottle of Bulgary Rose Ess.,it feels nice and heavy, well done.

    Just a few examples of the ones that I like/love and the ones that I cannot stand.

  54. Anonymous says:


    I'm in agreement – poor bottle aesthetics can throw off an otherwise fabulous juice! Elix de M seems like an afterthought and it's difficult to handle, as well.

    Two of the most elegant bottles in the history of perfume (my opinion): L'Heure Bleu and Shalimar – there are many others, of course (think Patou's Vacances) but those two are the first that always come to mind when I think of elegance in bottling. I'm kind of Old School in my design preferences, as you can probably tell:-)


  55. Anonymous says:

    I agree- thanks for putting me in CN instead of Levis!!! Much appreciated:-)

    ! Howling dogs are right next to me, as I type this. Every day at noon, when the town siren goes off, they verbally rise to the occasion!

  56. Anonymous says:

    I like both old and new. Amongst the old I love Trumper's – with a real brass cap! Panhaligon's are nice too, but there's some plastic on them. I like iconic bottles even if they are ugly, like Köllnisch Wasser 4711 (turquoise & gold).

    The first that come to my mind though are Vol de Nuit's Art Déco metal caged propeller flacon and Arpège's black glass ball.

    Amongst new I quite like plastic and metal containers and I prefer if the design shows they are contemporary. I find it strange that producers don't experiment more with the bottle design. Cacharel's Lou Lou is one of my favourites, and I like the Emporio Armani line (those “metal pipes”), Kenzo Amour's “flower vases” and the Gucci Rush bottles. Just to name a few.

  57. Anonymous says:

    Great review!! I have a sample on the way, cannot wait to try it. Their Scent didn't work for me, but I have a feeling this one will. Sounds like my cup of tea.

  58. Anonymous says:

    Let me know what you think!

  59. Anonymous says:

    will do ! :)

  60. Anonymous says:

    Hi R ! :) Just got my sample and do like it a lot !! It's milky, creamy woods, as you describe, wears very close to skin, but I got a somewhat medicinal note somewhere in the *middle*, probably because of the oud and/or saffron? My SO didn't get it, so it might be just my nose. It doesn't really bother me and it's short lived anyway :)) But overall it's a great scent, I do like it and your review captures it very well ! It's probably my first winner in a couple of months now?? :) It does remind me of something else too, at first it made me think of YSL M7 minus the vetiver, probably because of the oud, but that's not the only thing it reminded me of, there's something else too, not sure what though. The dry down was the best part for me.

  61. Anonymous says:

    Then we're both in the same boat — it reminds us of something we can't pinpoint. How annoying! Glad you liked it, at any rate. I'd like to have a bottle but too soon to say if I'm going to spring for one….yet another I'd LOVE to have in 15 ml!

  62. Anonymous says:

    Actually, I find it a bit too sweet and flowery. But have so far only tried it on paper… It's not bad, but it doesn't impress me as did Scent & Scent Intense. Was expecting something darker. Maybe it's really stupid to judge it from a paper strip…

  63. Anonymous says:

    I like it better, but then, I don't love Scent or Scent Intense. Do try it on skin though!

  64. Anonymous says:

    Sounds very interesting! Do ya reckon a man could wear it?

  65. Anonymous says:


  66. lenika says:

    I’m a little late to the party here ;-) I’ve just tried this one for the first time, and you know what it reminded me of? The opening smells to me like discontinued Balenciaga Pour Homme! I smelled the small tester of Balenciaga in my mother’s friend home some 20 years ago and liked it very much. My mother’s friend said “i hate it, it just smells fir tree! and it’s men’s fragrance”. So she gave it to me, and I happily wore it till it’s finished.
    Btw, the later stages of 21 Costume National reminded me of L’Instant Extreme Pour Homme, another one I love.

  67. Robin says:

    I never smelled the Balenciaga Pour Homme — and you have an excellent memory!

  68. Michy says:

    I’m totally new to this perfume stuff…
    I’ve lurked on NST for the past few years and this scent has been on my amazon wishlist for a good year. Finally, I bought a large bottle of it and tried it today.
    I’ll be honest, the first 20 minutes made me feel like I was a smoker and drowned myself in perfume. Again, I’m new to this perfume stuff so I don’t know much of anything about classifying scents. But, I sincerely did not smell any of the milky creamy scent I was expecting!
    Now that it has been on my skin for about an hour or so, I can see myself liking it…but only after the drydown (? is the the correct term? or is it rubdown??). I may return this scent…or I may just keep it and see if my taste matures to this in a few years lol!

    • Robin says:

      Oh, I hope you can return it! Yes, the dry down is the right term, but an hour is too long to wait to like something, I’m sure you can find something else you like better.

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