Bad Boy – John Varvatos Dark Rebel Rider Perfume Review

He's a Dark Rebel
He’s a Dark Rebel

John Varvatos has followed a singular approach to his perfume line. All of the fragrances are housed within a signature bottle, available in many shapes and colours, and with numerous embellishments, and every single one of his scents has been composed by perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux. This makes for a collection that feels coherent, despite visiting many olfactory styles along the way, and it proves that in perfumery, true partnership is the key to creating scented magic.

The latest launch in John Varvatos’ fragrance collection is Dark Rebel Rider, a flanker to last year’s Dark Rebel. The fragrance is billed as “provocative” and Flores-Roux even calls its Russian leather note as “ultra-sexy”, which isn’t far off in my book. Dark Rebel Rider feels like the quintessential John Varvatos fragrance because it has the attitude of a rock star, the attention to detail of a studded leather jacket and a level of cool that is as in-tune with the Varvatos fashion brand as is possible.

Rebel, Rebel

The Notes

Top: Bitter Orange, Citron, Saffron, Marjoram and Hyssop
Heart: Orris, Absolute, Black Violet, Rockrose, Somalian Frankincense and Tolu Balsam
Base: Russian Leather, Cocoa Bean, Vanilla, Cedarwood, Patchouli and Madras Wood

How Does it Smell?

One might not think ‘rebel’ when spritzing Dark Rebel Rider for the very first time. Initially, the fragrance glistens with a citrus sheen that is not unlike the bergamot overdose put to excellent use within Guerlain’s iconic Shalimar, lulling one into a false sense of security, in which a theme of freshness acts a smokescreen to shroud the weight beneath. The veil of citrus collapses as the razor edge of saffron cuts through the zing, adding a savoury element that is a precursor to the animalic elements of the leather at Dark Rebel Rider’s core. Much like the rebellious man that it represents, the initial impression made by Dark Rebel Rider is bold.

Dark Rebel Rider’s central theme is an essay on the interplay of leather and orris. The leather is punchy, smoky and sweet, with an underlying hint of sour skin. It’s a supple kind of leather that is more ‘well-loved leather jacket’ than it is animal hide. On the other hand, the orris, which is in place firmly to accentuate and contrast the leather, feels grainy and shaded in a warming tone of sepia. Together, these materials give the impression of dusty old leather, leading one to think of bike seats, driving gloves and the coolest of leather clothing.

The base is a yet another contrast, this time of amber and patchouli. There’s also a touch of booze too – a slug of bourbon that warms thing up in the depths, merging with the smoke to ensure that our rebel is portrayed as a guy who is partial to a cigarette and a tipple every now and then. Things avoid becoming the territory of the cloying thanks to a solid foundation of chocolate and woods, which brings richness devoid of sweetness, and makes for a dry down that is as addictive as it is robust.

Dark Rebel Rider feels like a perfectly balanced leather – one that manages not to be too sweet, nor too smoky, but just right (Goldilocks, if she were a Biker, would approve). I find it to be a wonderfully complex fragrance that feels so rich in texture and nuance that it really does continue to surprise throughout its development. I also admire its ability to be rebellious and carefree without being harsh or challenging. When so many leather fragrances are hard going, mouth-parching affairs, Dark Rebel Rider feels as soft and supple as leather jacket – as bad ass as one too, and just as easy to wear. I’m sold.


Dark Rebel Rider is available in 75ml (£49) and 125ml (£69) Eau de Toilette.

Sample, notes and quotes via John Varvatos. Images are my own.