Friday, November 22, 2013

Jil Sander No.4: fragrance review & history & free perfume giveaway

Although No.4 by Jil Sander comes nowhere near the novelty of Maxwell's laws of electrodynamics, it is despite its in the wings presence rather memorable to me both for its expansive radius of spicy oriental scent and the fact that its relative success condoned an infamous scented catastrophe just one year later, Spellbound by Estee Lauder (1991). But whereas you'd have to dig a moat around the house that kept a bottle of Spellbound (even in a remote drawer, under lock and key in a wooden box), Jil Sander No.4, although a characteristic 1980s-style powerhouse that would challenge the best of the lot in radiance, thrived on a somewhat less carnivorous attitude, This is exactly what makes it worthwhile of rediscovering it nowadays that we crave more flesh-eating perfumes after a prolonged 20 year-lasting perfume diet of either strict veganism or one for severe hypoglycemia. It's a the Lana del Ray effect: there's something trashy retro about her, but refreshingly different from the average pop singer too which makes it very "now and happening".

Tomb of Talma by Helmut Newton, Pere Lachaise cemetary  Paris 1977, via Pinterest

Coming out in 1990, No.4 by Jil Sander had both accumulated the gist of the big orientals that dominated the decade of carnage (and emulated their core elements), such as YSL Opium, CK Obsession, Dior Poison and to a lesser degree Cinnabar and Cacharel Loulou, but had also devised a way to give an impression of quiet animalism, an aura of worn elegance that was antithetical to the distance that the quarterback shoulder pads of these fragrances evoked at the same time.

It's utterly meaningless to try to differentiate "notes" in this perfume, as the weaving of each thread in this complex macramé is so intricate and complex that it would be more of an exercise in author's vanity than an actual helpful breakdown. The notes read like there's everything and the kitchen sink in it. It'd be much more practical to say that No.4 by Jil Sander is warm, perceptibly spicy with anise and what I sense as clove-coriander (a whiff of pomander), with a tuberose heart winking to Poison's direction. And more importantly it has the sort of oriental base that characterizes big 1980s classics: big, proud, Amazonian, sounding its barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world.

If you like that sort of nyctophyliac thing, you will like this sort of thing, but it's worth keeping in mind these are bombastic perfumes worthy of a mini Katrina in radius; be sparing and considerate of your fellow human beings when applying, don't ambush them in the morning train to work.
If you enjoy anise and clove orientals but want something more contemporary (with a much higher price tag), you can look into Noir Epices by Frederic Malle for an alternative. If you'd rather settle for the under-appreciated underdog, No.4 can be found online for a decent price.

I have a vintage boxed miniature to share with a lucky reader. Please comment below this post with your impressions/opinions/questions to enter the draw. Draw is open internationally till Sunday midnight and winner will be announced some time on Monday.

Notes for Jil Sander No.4:
Top: geranium, peach, bergamot, plum, anise
Heart: rose, violet, jasmine, tuberose, heliotrope, ylang ylang, coriander
Base: amber, sandalwood, oakmoss, patchouli, vanilla, musk, civet, cedar, tonka bean.

Related reading on PerfumeShrine:
Underrated Perfume Day (reviews of forgotten fragrances),
Oriental Perfume Basics.


  1. In the early days of my perfume obsession, I recall reading about #4 as am almost mythical creature, sometimes mentioned beside Paco Rabanne La Nuit as a true oriental with authentic skank. I never had the chance to try #4 and I would like to, thanks for the generous opportunity!

  2. I think I misread the security mix on my first try. Just saying that, even though I have not tried Jil Sander No. 4, I have worn (and still do) Opium, Poison (now Hypnotic), Cinnabar, and Youth Dew. Would love to try No. 4, so thanks for the chance. Hope I didn't repeat. J

  3. Lena16:39

    I am so curious how vintage perfume smells. I was not around for those glorious 80th. Thank you for the give away!

  4. Those grand orientals from the 80s remind me of the scents my mum used to wear (I am a child of the late 80s). It'd be nice to olofactorily revisit those times now.

  5. I'd like something that smells like a pomander. I wonder if this will be too commercial, however.

  6. Anonymous17:12

    I've never tried any Jil Sander fragrances, but I do love big spicy orientals like Youth Dew.

    I have to laugh at your description of Spellbound. It was my signature fragrance when it first came out (I know, what was I thinking?). I'm afraid I skunked the people at work with it. After not having worn it for many years, I tried it again recently, and had to wear it on a train ride home from New York City, wishing I could chew my arm off!

  7. I do have a lot of nostalgia for those huge scents of the 80s. I spent the decade in the original Fendi and Coco. It's a shame that so many of these scents have been either discontinued or wanly reformulated.

  8. i'v never tried jil sander #4, but i very much like the sound of it from your description! i love "opium", and so-called 'big' orientals are one of my favorite categories. i'm rather nostalgic about the fragrances of the 80s, although i was not a big fan of "poison' or 'obsession"; their assertiveness and radiating strength please me. i giggled a bit at the description of "spellbound", which doesn't strike me as overly strong...but then, hardly anything does. there are perfumes i dislike greatly, but it's not because they over-reach---it's because they smell cheap, or too synthetic, or simply aren't to my taste. if i like something, i like LOTS of it...and in perfume, i want to move in a delicious cloud of scented loveliness (not room-clearingly so, of course!) that lasts and lingers on fabric, leather, hair...

  9. Anonymous18:49

    I like the old scents.

  10. I used to own some of the big shoulder pads scents from the 80's/90's: Lou Lou, Jazz, Opium (I still love it; the vintage formula that is),Poison, among others. Something in me misses those days. I feel melancholic about the stylized vulgarity that turns both the perfumes of the 80'/90s and those decades into some sort of lost time. when I feel Proustian and I am in search for those lost times, scents from those decades transport me to my fantasy of better days (it's a fantasy; those days were never too good). I still mourn Shiseido's Feminite du Bois. I own the SL reformulated version which to me is so water down that it makes me rabid.
    Thanks for this wonderful giveaway!

  11. I remember the 80's fondly. The perfume's were strong and powerful. Jill Sander would be new for me, I'd love to win especially as I collect miniatures.

  12. I have never smelled Jill Sanders' perfume though I love myself some spicy orientals a la Must de Cariet and my beloved vintage Shalimar.

  13. I think my favorite spicy oriental is Musc Ravageur. I'd love to try Jill Sander no. 4. Thanks for the giveaway.

  14. Anonymous23:53

    Curiously, I was dithering about whether to order "Jil Sander No. 4" as a blind-buy ... Now you've set me thinking of it again!

    Off to look at it online once more:=)

    cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

  15. Elia00:13

    I've not tried a Jill Sander ever. I like trying vintage formulations, always fun. I've tried vintage Obsession and vintage Poison. Both are nice and full bodied. I really like Poison.
    ty for the draw

  16. morticia00:24

    I loved living through the 80's and wearing the scents too. I recently bid on some vintage opium but didn't get it. I lived in Opium in the 80's and Obsession too. You know how I love the spicy orientals E. Thank you for the drawing,count me in.

  17. Anonymous00:44

    This is my mum's scent, and strongly charged in my mind to her, sweet, complicated, kind of funky. Worthy of coming out of long-time lurking here for.

    (jjlook on gravatar, word press isn't connecting...)

  18. Anonymous01:56

    This brought back some memories! I used to wear this in the mid to late 1990's. I had no idea it was still around (and maybe it isn't since this is a vintage mini). I had the eau de p and the shower gel. Since i have not seen it in ages it would be such fun to revisit this one. Thanks very much for the opportunity.

  19. I am breaking out the shoulder pads, chiffon, and Dynasty. I have not tried this one, but loved Poison. Thanks for the opportunity.

  20. This one sounds very interesting. Did the company discontinue all of their older scents? It's hard to find them even at the discounters.

  21. Jil Sander No. 4 is simply perfect, the only thing I might have asked for in this "perfect" frag was a bit of smokiness or a hint of leather; but this is something I would NEVER want to see messed with, and an overly smoky or leathery feel would tip this in a direction it was never meant to go. I would sell some body part I had two of, just to own a full bottle of this juice!! I only hope that the men's scents are as awesome! Part of me is actually afraid to sniff other Jil Sander scents, as they may not live up to this one... I imagine the No. 4 Parfum is out of this world!

  22. I have an unopened bottle of Jill Sander--cellophane wrapper still intact--which I suppose means I bought a second bottle after almost using up the original. I know I once had No. 4 but cannot find it nor remember what it smelled like although I think I liked it. In any event, it is a very nice gesture for you to do a give-away and I thank you for the opportunity.

  23. There's nothing like a vintage oriental! I'm always looking for something even remotely close to those classic scents and never succeed!

  24. I think I may have had this perfume in the 1990's. I guess I'll know if I win it! It sounds great.

  25. Laurels08:20

    Like rosarita, I've read about the almost mythical #4, but never had the chance to try it. I loved Opium and wore it for years. This sounds right up my alley.

  26. Ellen14:28

    I love the big orientals. They have always been my favorites. After reading your marvelous review, it would be wonderful to try this. Thanks for the draw.

  27. Ariadne14:50

    I just pitched out all my 1980's Vogue dress patterns after finally accepting the fact that no one would ever want to wear any of those fashions ever again. TOOOO much fabric and TOOOO big of a silhouette!!! BIG perfumes are quite another matter, they will always be iconic and interesting. Count me in for this draw!

  28. Cheryl14:51

    I've never tried Jil Sander No. 4, but did live through the
    the 70's and 80's wearing Opium and
    Youth Dew.

    Searching for vintage
    orientals and chypres has become a bit of an obsession, and I would
    love to discover JS No.4.

    Thank you for the opportunity.

  29. SniffingAround15:44

    This was one of my first grown-up perfumes--though in my mid-20s, I now think I was just barely grown up enough for it! Loved its sexy over-the-top spicy floral blast. Thanks for the great write-up and triggering some memories!

  30. solanace16:01

    I'm all for warm and spicy, love orientals and big 80's shoulder pad frags, so please count me in. Thank's for the amazing draw and have a nice weekend, Elena!

  31. Anonymous16:30

    Thank you for this wonderful review that made me snicker and smile! I was a devout wearer of Jil Sander Woman III until it became impossible to find here or in Europe. I have kept a bottle with a few drops in the depths of my closet to sniff when I need to recall that beautiful scent. Haven't tried Jil Sander IV but it sounds like I need to!

  32. Anonymous18:53

    I used to have a bottle of this and liked it very much. It was stupid of me, then, to have swapped it away years ago. I've always regretted it. Hmph.

    Allegedly, Jacqueline Onassis wore this, though not for long, as she died in 1994.


  33. Merlin20:04

    I have sampled one of the older Jill Sanders - it had a number - but I can't remember which it was. It was at a discounter I tried it so probably not vintage. But, I found it wonderfully full and rounded - and think I much preferred it to La Nuit which I was also testing at the time. Nice review!

  34. Mary K21:20

    I remember the big orientals of the 80s, but have never tried Jil Sander No. 4. Sounds like it would be wonderful!

  35. Sniffeuse22:24

    The 80s orientals were the real mcCoy. So please count me in! Thnx!

  36. DRTVrMoi01:55

    My husband lived in Germany when it was launched. He purchased it for me & I wore it on my wedding day. Any man that independently purchases a fragrance for a woman, should be snagged up. The scent reminds me when love was fresh and new

  37. I love loud spicy orientals yet i have never tried Jil Sanders. Count me in. Thank You

  38. Gigi06:16

    I'm just beginning in my interest in vintages, and would love the chance to indulge in some 80s magic. Thanks for the opportunity!

  39. Barbara B06:17

    Loved, loved vintage Opium (the new stuff is not good on me) and Coco.
    I remember trying one Jil Sander fragrance and not liking it, but No. 4 sounds great to me. Please enter me in the draw.

  40. Oh bring it on....the 80s I mean, ha! Just today I went into Ulta with my teenage daughter and walked through the fragrance section and this awful synthetic smell from all those popular fragrances were "aerosolized" in a mixed cloud around me. I do not know what the molecule is that is so persistent in todays perfumes, but it's just sickening to me to be honest. Give me vintage or niche perfumes any day and thank you so much for this draw!

  41. Anonymous08:42

    I collect and I wear the vintage scents of those so-called "vintage years". Hard to say "vintage" because that's saying I myself am, too. But then again, I've had the experience of many years of perfumery, and it's wonderful. Thank you for this opportunity. Good luck to all!

  42. Wow... How lovely to have the WOW factor in a perfume. I am not shy when it comes to perfume and would like to try this very much. Thanks for keeping me upto date on the scent world

  43. Sadly I have yet to try No 4. Loving your description though. Please enter me in the draw.
    Portia xx

  44. Anonymous12:43

    I've always wondered if there will be a difference between a modern vintage (like a modern perfume, say bright crystal) and an old vintage, considering that the ingredients have changed so much over the years. Thanks for the giveaway!

  45. Thank you for this draw. As a high school student, when I first started trying cosmetics and fragrance, I remember going to school wearing one of my mom's spicy oriental perfumes from the 80s. I didn't yet have my own perfumes, ones maybe more appropriate for my age, but I know her vintage ones made me feel mature among my peers. I still have a soft spot for these bold scents.

  46. Lippy18:39

    This was one of my husbamd's faves, way back when.

  47. I've never smelled this, but almost all of my favorite perfumes are orientals, so I'm intrigued. Thanks for the draw.

  48. VeniH15:32

    This perfume sounds just suitable for Christmas season, would be great to have a chance to try it!

  49. I remember sampling Jill Sander 4 at Sephora, many years ago. I liked it, but I was a bit scared about the perfume.
    Now, that I even wear Spellbound when the mood for it arises, I would like to try it

  50. one of the best icon perfumes of the 80'S

  51. Blaiseantoine,

    indeed and LOL, I almost read your alias as "baise Antoine" which brought a smile to my face.

  52. I have this & still like it - body creme too. Nice to read a review.

  53. Red,

    I miss it. The body cream must have been great. Ah....Enjoy!

    Thanks for reading and for commenting!

  54. maja18:57

    who is the perfumer of no 4?

    1. I seem to recall there were 2 perfumers credited with its composition? I think I read it in Michael Edwards but have not noted it down for posterity. If it comes back to me I will include it in the review.

  55. Michelle00:33

    I had gotten this scent from my husband back in 2000, my son was about 2 and broke the bottle. I have not been able to find it since. Does she make one called red? I fell in love with this scent and am so happy to have found it again!!!! thank you.


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