Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Esprit du Tigre by Heeley

It seems that year after year I cope less well with winter. My skin gets itchy and red from the cold wind and my mood darkens with the lack of natural light and colours. For the last 5  years we managed to get a break from the bleakness and escape to somewhere warm and humid. The planning of these trips is part of the pleasure, I can spend hours and hours drooling over pictures of turquoise waters and white beaches. SE Asia, Thailand in particular, is a place we love and long for. I'm not boring you to death with holiday descriptions, but of course these destinations come with an extraordinary bouquet of smells. I'm still dreaming about the scent of Hanoi at 5 o'clock in the morning and wish someone could bottle it up for me: Chinese incense, burnt rubber, cold jasmine rice, fish sauce and cooking oil, car fumes and a myriad of exotic flowers, all slightly diluted during the night, but ready to come to full bloom! again for another hot and humid day.

But there is one single scent that has been a close companion on all our Asian adventures and that is the camphorous stink of the little helper Tiger Balm. You can spray as much DEET or citronella oil as you like, total vigilance is impossible. The tiny monsters will get some blood out of you at one time or another. Mosquitos can be a real pain and ruin much of your otherwise picture perfect happy hour cocktail with sunset on the beach. Tiger balm helps with the itch and we have amassed quite a collection over the years. There is even a curry flavoured one for those who don't like the original smell. So my own association with tiger balm is mixed. On one hand it reminds me of tropical holidays, on the other it's connected with one of the least appealing aspects of it. Let's see what James Heeley, the English perfumer who works and lives in Paris has done with that challenging concept. 

My interpretation of Esprit du Tigre by Heeley

My, what a beauty. A minty fresh start that already has a hint of spice in it. The camphor is very well behaved and toned down. Nothing seems out of balance here and although it's suitably exotic, it's not in your face. No one will ask you if you had just put on some muscle rub when you wear it. The spices give that camphor a real grounding earthiness and it's not like that curry flavoured tiger balm I mentioned at all. My skin drinks it up quite quickly and the perfume dries down to cinnamon and sweet mint. It's  very much a skin scent on me, not much  sillage but I don't mind that at all in this instance. The camphor sort of hovers over the skin and feels, just like the less odorous tiger balm used in traditional Thai massage, cooling and warming at the same time. Esprit du Tigre is a very modern take on the old concept of an Oriental perfume. Our idea of Asia and the Orient has obviously changed dramatically since the late 19th century, but the allure of the exotic is still there, it just manifests itself in different ways now.  I am astonished how beautiful this perfume smells on my skin and I think it's a perfect "secret" scent. I will wear that as a bedtime perfume for the coming cold nights and dream of the beaches of Koh Tao. 

How and where to wear:
As it's christmas soon, give it to the modern day explorer of your acquaintance.


  1. For me Tiger balm is a radical remedy against headaches: it doesn't cure the pain but when applied to temples it hurts my skin so much that it shadows the headache and allows me to fall asleep. So while I'm not sure I'd want to wear a perfume that reminds me of it, I'm willing to give it a try if I come across it.

    1. I find it well balanced, like all the Heeley's
      i've tried so far. But try tiger balm next time you have an insect bite. It really helps.