Black Coconut (Kuumba Made)

Have you ever had a wish unawares, a craving of which you were not even conscious? Apparently I've been wanting -- no, needing, no, BEGGING FOR-- the perfect pure coconut fragrance, a mythical creature I thought I'd long since given up hunting.

Aside from the fact that it's easier to find coconut-scented shampoo, body butter, or suntan lotion than perfume, Cocos nucifera generally plays a minor supporting-cast role within bigger ensemble pieces-- the trashier, the better. When made the headliner of the production, coconut generally heads in one of three directions: 1) Sex Wax, 2) tropical cocktails, 3) pie. One imagines a lowly chemist in some functional fragrance lab dreaming of room service at Sandals Montego Bay.

Sadly, such fantasies almost always fall short, as most coconut-scented products prove. For example, Auric Blends' Black Coconut Perfume Oil smells harshly synthetic and over-the-top, a Saint-Tropez cliché writ large for the tourists. Bath and Body Works' Coconut Lime Verbena Lotion appealed to me until I remembered that as grownup, I could have a real piña colada-- with rum, in a glass, even. Worst is the Body Shop's Coconut Perfume Oil and its companion piece, "Noix de Coco Beurre Corporel"-- typically chemical, awful, and loud. (Imagine the Ghostbusters Sta-Puft demon built out of Manischevitz macaroons instead of marshmallows, and you have an idea of where the stonk is heading-- uptown, to destroy the metropolis!)

Where coconut fragrances attempt to be quirky and unique is where they prove most fallible. A jolt of sticky vanilla? An oily touch of citronella-lime? A burned, smoky quality like that issuing from a sugarcane processing plant, or a tire fire? Oh, the mistakes are legion... when really, all you have to do is leave coconut the hell alone and let it do what it does naturally: smell awesome.

The best coconut perfume I ever had came from Aphrodisia, that mighty bastion of herbs, roots, and natural essences on Bleecker Street in the Village. It was coconut unadorned -- mellow, tranquilizing, sexy, and so natural that it crystallized in the bottle whenever the weather turned cool. Alas, Aphrodisia eventually stopped carrying this wunder-essence, so when my supply ran out, I was up a coconut palm without a rope ladder. My efforts to find an acceptable replacement never quite hit the target... until now.

What do I know about Kuumba Made? Not much. I'd never heard of them before last week, when I stumbled across a display of testers at my local health store. Among headshop standards such as ambers, musks, "opiums", and sandalwoods, I spied Black Coconut. Upon first sniff, I found myself swaying with eyes closed and a dopey grin on my face, transported to a Blue Lagoon state of bliss.

Kuumba Made's Black Coconut is an essay in real, freshly-harvested coconut meat, which is not the least bit sweet. Salty, milky, buttery, robust-- yes. But not sweet. Already richly perfect, it has no need to be larded with unnecessary ingredients. This seems to be Kuumba Made's jist: less is so much more.

And in more ways than one! Few perfumes evoke so readily an Edenic state of nakedness-- of salt water, wind, and sun on bare skin. Lutens' Borneo 1834 comes close, but Black Coconut loses the sarong completely, along with every inhibition. This is perfume in which to fall asleep bareassed on a remote island beach, couched in a sense of security and wellbeing a mile thick. (I speak from empirical knowledge, by the way; they don't let you live on Maui without getting nude in public at least once. It's fun, particularly when drums and bonfires are involved.)

Kuumba Made's range of perfume oil roller-tops includes a few original attar-style blends, one or two of which are standouts (notably Persian Garden). The quality is decent, the scents are pleasant, and at $8 a pop, there's little to lose. Picking up some perfume when you're out shopping for soymilk has never been so attractive a prospect.

Scent Elements: Sudanese black coconut essence.