Some fragrances are simple to describe by their notes. A few dabs on pulse points and in a couple hours you've worked through opening to end. Sure, not everything is that linear but typically there's a predictability in how those notes emerge. A few wearings later, a "Yes or No" emerges, and that's that. Bracken isn't like that. Bracken emerges like the first fiddleheads of spring pushing through the late winter mud when everything else is still struggling to wake. A blast of green breaking the matted straw of last autumn's wheat coloured ground cover. But not any old green. Not any old fern. It would be a mistake to assume Bracken is some sort of fougere you can lump together with a generic label of, "Green notes." This fern isn't bright or bracing but rather herbal, sometimes medicinal, and sometimes like the measuring cup of water holding a bunch of asparagus. It smells more asparagus fern than asparagus, but it also smells of the salinated sandy dirt it was grown in. Then, it buggers off for a bit and you catch a nice berry note before it returns with some lily and narcisus and tries to kill you. Some people get "Romantic walk in the woods" from this part of the Bracken experience-I get the opening credits of a sci-fi movie. That isn't a bad thing.
At some point in the Bracken Experience (like the Jimi Hendrix Experience with less feedback and more patchouli) it goes 60's. I think it is the chamomile more than the patchouli, but really, who knows. My experience of the 60's largely consisted of learning to read, gluing pieces of tissue paper to construction paper, and Flintstones chewable vitamins which were a brand new thing and probably the closest anyone in our family got to candy. The 60's to my mind smells like rubber cement and iron fortification. Anyway, there's enough leather and vetiver in there to satisfy any filthy hippie worth the title. It isn't constant though, and the leather is subtle, sort of damp like it was caught in a cold March rain that could snow if it wanted to. Then, our friend Fern returns. My mum had a friend named Fern. I don't think Fern would have fancied Bracken Woman as she always smelled of Lysol. Bracken is anything but clean.
When we lived on the farm we'd get to this point in the year (March) and with any luck the snow would be mostly gone and the mud would soften into the sort of stickiness I can only liken to being caught on a glue trap. More than once, my husband went to take the trash to the pit and would lose a boot on the way back-unable to pry it from the muck. Oh, he'd retrieve it eventually, but that clay-heavy mud was something else. It had a different smell when wet or dry. It was almost powdery when it would dry enough to chisel it off your shoes, but wet it smelled of everything from decaying vegetation to a pottery class. Combined with the mouldy, bitter smell of damp hay in the barn, it shifted between, "Ahhh, springtime" and, "Oh god, what died?" The snow geese would be migrating through about this time, settled in for the evening in the wetlands that surrounded the farm. The smells, the noise, the mud-a glorious rebirth that only lasted a day or two before the flies arrived. Bracken...smells like the day before the flies. And it is a lovely day. 24 hours later your sci-fi movie will take a decidedly horror-bent turn, but while it lasts...and the berries are so nice.
I would have liked Bracken to have a bit more of the birch note. I know it can be an overwhelming note and the use here is quite restrained, but I do like the smell of damp bark, and I'm a little sorry there isn't more of it.
I hate to keep banging on about the berries, but they are strange here. Sweet, but not too, tart but never veering into raspberry. Mulberry? Something dull between blackcurrant and blackberry? No idea. I am terrible at nailing down berry notes, but it keeps returning, sometimes only a whiff and my brain thinks, "Wow, that's nice" and I go to sniff again and it is gone. "Ha! Take that perfume lover."
Narcissus makes me sneeze. So many fragrances I would have loved to wear leave me with watery eyes, a running nose and a hacking cough. I like the smell of narcissus, but it has to be a pretty special perfume to suffer through what it does to me. I am pleased to report no such trouble from the narcissus in Bracken Woman. I almost wish it had made me sneeze because at $300 bucks a bottle, I'm going to be going in deep to smell like I've been out photographing snow geese in the March mud of Nebraska. The generously gifted sample bottle (thanks, Emily!) will last a good long while as this stuff is a powerhouse that requires but a small drop, but yeah, I see a full bottle in my future. Obviously I haven't tried it in warm weather, but I would think it would be suffocating in the heat and humidity. I could be wrong-sometimes fragrances surprise me.
Notes according to Fragrantica:
Fern, chamomile, berries, narcissus, birch, lily, leather, vetiver, and patchouli.
What I smell:
Biker caught in the rain, Nebraska clay/mud, fiddleheads, pottery class, unseasonably warm but rainy spring days when you open the kitchen door to let in the smell of rain but immediately regret it when two hours later everything on the clothes drying rack smells like a field mouse died behind the fridge. And some berries😁. Something mushroomy. Dirt. wooden canoes. You get the idea.
I understand this review isn't exactly selling Bracken Woman, and honestly-it is a tough sell. I would advise getting a sample or decant before investing in a bottle, but I'd also encourage you to wait it through to the end without scrubbing. It changes and shifts so much through the (very long) wear that you might miss out on something you adore because you were retching into a wastebin. I mean, come on, what's a little puke in the face of magical perfumery?