“The souk! It smells like the SOUK! Yes…the SOUK!” In the middle of Bullocks Wilshire’s perfume gallery stood a statuesque African woman (Senegalese, if I remember correctly) — she was wearing a striped green-and-red silk wrap-dress, and had on enough gold jewelry to crush a lesser woman. “Madame” (“madame” was what the sales woman called her) stood with one hand on her hip and the other hand thrust out in front of her, palm facing the ceiling; she waved this Bijan perfume-moistened arm to and fro and took deep breaths of the scented air around her. Ever since, I’ve not looked at the famous Bijan bottle or smelled Bijan for Women without recalling Madame; she was the personification of an Eighties Bijan woman: glamorous, “exotic,” rich and theatrical. Of all those, ‘theatrical’ was my favorite (and still is). When Madame’s eyes met mine, she smiled widely and turned up her chin — I was then but a ‘babe’ and I felt weak in the knees.
Madame's “souk” pronouncements were meaningless to me, I hadn’t been to one. Years later, with several souk visits behind me, I can see her point. Vintage Bijan for Women smelled like the air of a crowded Middle East market: there were whiffs of pungent spices; sweat of customers and stall owners; cosmetics and medicines; bouquets of flowers as well as rose and orange blossom perfumes that scented women and men; amber-y accords blending in the air that was redolent of confections (nutty, sticky, sugary sweets) and sandalwood incense. Bijan for Women was a heady experience.
Twenty-six years after its debut (when the ads bragged of “173 rare ingredients*” in its formula), Bijan for Women still smells good, if a tad less assertive. Today’s Bijan for Women goes on smelling of citrusy neroli; quickly a floral knock-out punch is delivered with syrupy (almost medicinal) jabs of rose, candied heliotrope, tuberose, orange blossom and (in a softer vein) lily of the valley. The accord that stands out for me smells mossy, with added honeycomb, pepper and resin.
During mid-development, I don’t detect any cumin, but there’s a slightly “bitter” perfume-mixing-with-sweat phase (not at all dirty smelling, let’s call it a “harried” note, one that’s produced on a hot day when we dash around and heat up). During the dry down, Bijan becomes calmer, cleaner and creamy, with sweet musk-tonka bean and floral amber (patchouli is present, but "distant"). Overall, Bijan for Women smells more modern than contemporary; it did try to conjure the Middle East in pre-oud perfume days, but I’m betting many will now find it old-fashioned, too plush, too-too.
Not me! I wear Bijan for Women every now and then (just like I still wear Bijan Men). I find Bijan for Women, even with all the flowers, a (semi)unisex fragrance thanks to its resin/wood and spice. Only in the extreme dry down does it become overtly feminine, and that's when a fresh spritz is needed to re-sprout some chest hair. Expect extravagant sillage and great lasting power with Bijan for Women.
As for the Senegalese diva at Bullocks Wilshire? I wish I knew if she bought a bottle of Bijan for Women. A single bottle? What am I saying? She probably bought a case.
Bijan for Women is $130 for 75 ml at Bijan Fragrances (it is also readily available online at steep discounts).
*Among those notes: bergamot, neroli, ylang-ylang, rose, heliotrope, tuberose, orange blossom, lily of the valley, narcissus, pimento, jasmine, carnation, honey, orris root, oak moss, cedar, sandalwood, patchouli, amber, benzoin, musk, tonka bean and vanilla.
Note: middle image is Bijan Pakzad’s famous perfume-bottle chandelier (via Photo Gallery, House of Bijan) showing the original Bijan for Women bottles — same as the top image. I believe the chandelier sold this spring for $200,000. Lower image is how the Bijan for Women bottle looks today (I wish they'd kept the original glass top)