Perfume Review – Frapin Speakeasy: Pancakes in Havana

By now, regular readers of the blog should know that history motivates me as much as perfume. (Actually, probably more.) So, it should come as no surprise that I read about Frapin and had to try one of their fragrances. Frapin is relatively new to the perfume scene, having started just five years ago in 2008, but the line has been making luxury cognac for centuries. In fact, the family behind it goes back almost 800 years! To quote a Vanity Fair article,

The Frapin’s rich family heritage is the stuff of a whimsical, old-world romance novel—and, according to creative director David Frossard, the key inspiration for all seven fragrances in the line.One of the oldest and most established families in France, the Frapins have been distilling cognac from their original Fontpinot Castle, situated on 300 hectares in the Grand Champagne region of France, since 1270 and through 20 generations; they expanded into fragrance in 2008. And if a castle isn’t enough of a fairy tale for you, Louis XIV himself granted official nobility to the Frapin family in 1697.

Frapin Castle. Source: Frapin website.

Frapin Castle. Source: Frapin website.

Frapin, as a perfume house, is perhaps best known for its 1270 fragrance and then, for the limited-edition, Bertrand Duchaufour-created 1697. Both are loved for being very boozy, rich scents, in keeping with Frapin’s goal of replicating the feel and smell of their cognac.

I opted, instead, to try Speakeasy, a perfume whose name appealed to my interest in the Prohibition era of the 1920s when alcohol was constitutionally banned in America, leading to the rise of the Mafia, gangsters, and illegal bootlegging. (My appreciation for the HBO television series, “Boardwalk Empire,” added to it.) For those outside of America, the term “speakeasy” refers to the illegal drinking dens that were operating in secret and where alcohol flowed like water, as the mobsters raked in the cash. It was the era of Al Capone, Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Source: CaFleureBon

Source: CaFleureBon

Speakeasy is a boozy, woody Oriental fragrance that was released in 2012 and that was created by Marc‐Antoine Cortcchiato, the founder of Parfum d’Empire — yet, another reason why I opted for this perfume over its more famous siblings. And, I have to say, I’m disappointed. For one thing, Speakeasy most certainly does not evoke the 1920s and Prohibition, but, rather, a slightly seedy bar in 1950s Cuba or Miami filled with mojitos, pancakes, and cigars. One commentator on Fragrantica found it brought to mind the 1970s with its vinyl orange plastic, formica green and ruddy browns — and it does that, too. My main problem with Speakeasy, however, is that it’s a hodge-podge that isn’t really enormously interesting. It’s fine, it’s average, it’s neither here, nor there — and it doesn’t inspire much of anything to me. Perhaps it should have been more like Hemingway in his early Cuban days….

Havana. Source: Standard.co.uk.

Havana. Source: Standard.co.uk.

Luckyscent has a wonderful description of the fragrance which, alas, really didn’t bear out in reality for me:

Speak easy: those were the words whispered to clients in illegal bars during the Prohibiton…

Frapin’s new fragrance conjures the film noir allure of an age when danger lurked under the glamour; a tropical bar where Hemingway could have bumped into the characters of To Have and Have Not. Misted glasses, club chairs, smuggled Cuban cigars savored by gentlemen bootleggers under wood ceiling fast churning the damp air…

According to Luckyscent, Speakeasy’s long list of notes includes:

Rum extract, Indian davana, Sweet italian orange and Fizzy lime from Brazil, Cold russian mint and Egyptian geranium, Oriental leather accord, Ciste absolute, Labdanum absolute, Styrax essence, Turkish tobacco accord, Tobacco absolute, Liatrix absolute, Everlasting [Immortelle] flower absolute, Tonka bean absolute and White musks.

Mojito with cigarSpeakeasy opens on my skin with a brief, split-second element of a traditional cologne. There is fresh, zesty lemon, lemon peel, and orange which feels a lot like freshly-squeezed juice. The scent is thin, light and slightly cool in nature. Within seconds, however, the fragrance turns warmer, thicker, smooth and sweet with rum and honey notes. The boozy accord is supplemented by hints of fuzzy, green geranium and mint. The citruses recede slightly to the background where they add a subtle depth to the fragrance but are never hugely dominant. That role is taken, instead, by the rum which is strong and rich, though actually much lighter in feel than I had expected. It feels a little like Captain Morgan’s Rum and bloody close to a Mojito cocktail, but not exactly. Perhaps it’s because the note is infused with dry tobacco leaves and immortelle.

Immortelle, or Helichrysum in Corsica. Source: Wikicommons.

Immortelle, or Helichrysum in Corsica. Source: Wikicommons.

Ah, the immortelle — the reason why Speakeasy may be a hard sell for many. You see, the immortelle is quite dominant in the development of the perfume, and it’s a note which polarizes people greatly. For those unfamiliar with immortelle, it’s is a yellow flower most frequently found in the Southern Mediterranean, and its dry, floral scent usually turns quickly into the aroma of maple syrup. Here, both aspects of  the flower are noticeable. Initially, it is a dry, light, slightly aromatic flowers which join with the tobacco leaves to counter Speakeasy’s boozy sweetness. Later, however, the maple syrup comes out. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Source: iVillage.com

Source: iVillage.com

Thirty minutes in, Speakeasy is a swirl of rum-infused citruses, dry tobacco leaves, amber, and vaguely amorphous floral notes dominated by the immortelle. It feels a lot less like a Mojito, though the mint still flickers lightly in the background. The orange note lurks there too: it is much less fresh and light; it feels like the caramelized pulp of the fruit. But neither the mint nor the orange can counter the boozy, ambered rum that is the core essence of Speakeasy. At the start of the second hour, Speakeasy decreases in volume and becomes much softer, while also becoming much more brown and orange in hue. There is sticky, rum citrus with sugar cane, melted and caramelized, but also with a subtle hint of saltiness. Florals float in the background, simultaneously fruited and a bit dry. The whole thing sits atop a base of rummy amber with tobacco and hints of immortelle.

From the initial impressions of a Mojito, we’ve now suddenly gone to a 1950s bar in Havana or Miami. It’s filled with heavy-set men in open tropical shirts, sporting heavy gold chains over a visible expanse of black, furry, springy chest-hair. In their thick fingers, they hold fresh Cuban cigars — dry and unsmoked — which they wave in the air at the bartender to order another round of Rum-and-Coke. I can’t get the image out of my head. It doesn’t help that, 3 hours in, Speakeasy takes a turn into root-beer territory backed with rum, more dry tobacco, and a growing hint of maple syrup. The latter initially feels a lot more nutty in nature than the syrup you’d pour over pancakes, but it’s still not really my cup of tea. I like the floral aspects of Immortelle, not the maple syrup, and unfortunately, the former note starts to fade as the latter grows in dominance. Now, my heavy, furry, cigar-wielding, Havana men in tropical shirts also have a side of pancakes to go with their Cuba Libre drinks.

Source: Instructables.com

Source: Instructables.com

By the start of the seventh hour, Speakeasy is maple syrup amber and… maple syrup. Yes, there is still the tobacco — and it still feels like an unlit cigar or dry sheets of tobacco leaves, rather than anything evoking an ashtray — but it’s quite minimal. The immortelle has taken over the show. For the next five hours, Speakeasy is ever softening shades of maple syrup. And that’s it. Truly. I can’t detect a single other element to the scent.

All in all, Speakeasy lasted over under 12.5 hours on my perfume-consuming skin which is quite remarkable. I should note, however, that I did two tests for Speakeasy and the first time, when I applied much less, the longevity and sillage were significantly less pronounced. With the equivalent of one good spray, Speakeasy lasted approximately 9.75 hours and had good sillage. With just a little over 2 sprays (really about 2 and 1/2), the longevity was a few hours more. On both occasions, the sillage was very good for the first hour — even powerful when I applied a greater quantity — and projected three to four inches off my skin. Later, Speakeasy softened, though it was easily detected if I brought my arm anywhere near my nose. It became a skin scent around the eighth hour during my second test.

Despite the rich notes and the excellent projection, Speakeasy surprised me in being quite lightweight in feel. The texture isn’t opaque, heavy, resinous or thick. And, for all the rum involved, it doesn’t feel like a boozy scent. It’s not like HermèsAmbre Narguilé, Guerlain‘s Spiritueuse Double Vanille, Tom Ford‘s Tobacco Vanille, Teo Cabanel‘s Alahine — all scents with a boozy, rummy nature, though they are all perfumes with a huge amount of spice in them, too. Most of those have a large tobacco element as well but, still, they aren’t the same as Speakeasy. Perhaps it’s because Speakeasy has the mojito, maple syrup and pure rum accords, as opposed to the spiced, stewed prunes, raisins and apples of the others. Or, perhaps, it’s because it’s so texturally light.

Whatever the reason, I truly couldn’t summon up much enthusiasm. I have tried and tried to pinpoint why — apart from my issues with smelling like maple syrup — and I think it’s because Speakeasy feels a bit like a hodge-podge. It’s neither a truly boozy, spiced, smoky, amber oriental, nor a light summery, Mojito scent. Tobacco and rum generally work perfectly well together, but the immortelle adds a discordant jangle, as does the mint. The wonderful perfume blogger, The Non-Blonde, summed it up as “chaotic” — and I think she’s absolutely right, even though her experience differed from my own. In her review, she wrote:

Unlike the term “Speakeasy” and its hush-hush connotations, Frapin’s fragrance is a heavy hitter right from the start. It’s noisy and chaotic as the perfume throws almost everything it has at you: herbs and fruit, smoke and syrup– they party like it’s 1929.

Things get smoother rather quickly. The mojito is replaced by a darker and warmer drink. The syrupy sweetness sets the tone for a comfortable old leather, incense, and a rich tobacco. If you dislike immortelle and its burnt maple aroma, there’s no amount of Frapin booze that will help Speakeasy go down better for you. Personally I love it, so the sweeter the better in this case. Tobacco truly dominates the way Speakeasy smells on my skin: light and dark, sweet and smoky. I love it, but must admit that it can be too literal. I never smoked and would rather not smell like I’ve become a smoker in middle-age. It’s actually a little disturbing that the remnants of Speakeasy on my clothes remind me of a smoky bar.

On my skin, there really wasn’t that much tobacco, and it never felt like an ashtray; I honestly never felt as though I’d spent all night in a smoky bar. To me, the note felt much more like that of sheaves of tobacco leaves drying in the hot Virginia sun, or like that of an unsmoked cigar. I also never detected incense or leather, though Speakeasy definitely evokes some sort of old bar with leather and wood. (God, leather and incense may have made it so much better!) Despite these minor differences, though, I share her views on the jangling, chaotic feel to the scent. Don’t get me wrong — Speakeasy is not a bad scent by any means, but it leaves me feeling completely indifferent.

I haven’t tried Frapin’s limited-edition 1697, but I’ve read a comment on Fragrantica to the effect that Speakeasy was like a little “summer sister” to the Duchaufour creation. I have to wonder a little about that as there is no immortelle in 1697’s notes, and that element is such a huge part of Speakeasy’s middle to late stages. Still, those looking for a more boozy, amber scent may want to give “1697” a sniff, while those seeking a lighter, summery fragrance with a more tropical feel may want to opt for Speakeasy. But those who shudder at the mere thought of immortelle — and there are many of you out there — should probably stay away at all costs.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Speakeasy is an eau de parfum that is available only in a 3.4 oz/100 ml and which costs $145. In the U.S., it is available at Luckyscent, Beautyhabit, and MinNewYork (which sells it for $5 more at $150). In Canada, Speakeasy is available at The Perfume Shoppe for CAD $145. In the UK, I’ve read that Frapin fragrances are carried on the specialty floor of Harvey Nichols (Le Floret?), but I don’t know for sure. In France, it is available at Nose for €105 and I think there is free shipping at that price within the EU. For the rest of Europe, there is First in Fragrance which sells Speakeasy for €96. As for samples, I obtained mine from Surrender to Chance which sells vials starting at $4.50 for 1 ml.
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33 thoughts on “Perfume Review – Frapin Speakeasy: Pancakes in Havana

  1. Goodness Kafka…I am hysterical right now for I literally just wrote to you of immortelle (which to me conjures up sweet, maple-y bacon) and here is your review! I am so NOT sending you a sample of Paquerette-LOL!
    I happen to like immortelle as an essential oil for blending but am not sure that I would want it so pronounced in a perfume as you have described Speakeasy to be…”smelling like maple syrup” !!

    As always, fantastic review!!!!

    • Brie, I am glad to hear someone else uses helichrysum in her blends. I love using it for pain relief, wound care, bruising, and in my scar blend. It is good stuff, but I do not love the smell. I never got the maple syrup aspect of it, but I pulled my (rejected) sample of Speakeasy out and I get the maple syrup for sure. It always amazes me the difference in the way my oils smell used in a therapeutic blend versus the way the same oils present themselves in perfume.

    • Believe me, your reaction probably mirrored mine when I saw your mention of Immortelle! 😉 Is the the note is perhaps more floral when it comes as an essential oil? Or is it floral plus maple-y bacon? I’m not sure that I’d prefer to smell of maple syrup-infused bacon, in lieu of just maple syrup. :\ I spent much of yesterday feeling distinctly like a stack of pancakes at IHOP. SO MUCH BLOODY MAPLE SYRUP!!!! lol. I know there are some who enjoy it, but I’m not one of them, especially as I dislike gourmand/foodie scents to begin with. My God, if you though Safran Troublant was sweet and too foodie, I don’t know what you’d think of this one!

      • Kafka-I am literally ROTFL right now!!!! I guess for me immortelle essential oil is just that- floral plus maple-y bacon when I whiff out of the vial…but then I combine a small amount with vanilla and I love it…of course there are other notes as well with it including yuzu, osmanthus,sandalwood, etc…so maybe the other notes offset the bacon aspect…. like I said there is very little scent wise that completely turns me off :D!!

        the problem with Safran was that it reminded me a bit of Indian food …same with any perfume that is heavy on the cumin notes…so I do like to smell it…just not on my wrists….

  2. Agree totally with your assessment of Speakeasy by Frapin. It is too sweet, too tame, too mild and the immortelle doesn’t do it any favors. Failure to fulfill the promise of the generations of cognac brilliance in this fragrance creation is unforgivable – what a waste of heritage and experience. I was hoping for something from Frapin to match the brilliance of L’ Humaniste or Caravelle Epicee – their two finest fragrances, imo. I enjoy reading your ramblings on fragrance. Keep them coming.

    • Welcome, Buzzlepuff. I’m very glad you shared your thoughts and experiences, as it sounds as though you experienced huge disappointment with Frapin, too. Frankly, I couldn’t get over it and how different it was from what I had expected. There are certain houses and notes that — with a few exceptions — I know I’m going to struggle with or have a hugely negative reaction to: Montale, By Kilian, L’Artisan for houses; lavender, white musk, gourmands, fake synthetic vanilla, galbanum, soap, or strong ISO E Super for notes. But this? Speakeasy? I truly thought it was going to be a shoo-in and a safe bet. You cannot imagine my surprise when I smelled it. “Too tame, too mild” is a very good summation — even ignoring the issue of that overpowering immortelle.

      Thank you for sharing the Frapin scents you love the most. I’ve heard of both, especially Caravelle Epicée but I somehow never connected them with Frapin. I have Terre de Sarment to try next, and was going to order 1679 after that, but I think I’ll go with your favorites instead. 🙂 Have you tried 1679 or the 1270? Or the Terre de Sarment?

  3. You nailed Frapin Speakeasy perfectly. I liked the opening that reminded me of mojito but I didn’t like the rest, the rum and the others, with immortelle on the front.

  4. Now I know why I put Speakeasy in my reject box. I was so hoping it would take me on an aromatic trip to our shady past. Sorry Nucky.

    • “Sorry Nucky” made me grin like a loon! (As a side note, I imagine Nucky as a fougère man wearing something with vetiver, citruses and perhaps some lavender.) So, how much did Speakeasy smell like maple syrup on you? Did you feel like a stack of pancakes, as I did? lol

      • I scrubbed it before I got to that point. I think uninteresting is the most apt call. And it is even more disappointing cause the name sets you up for high expectations.

  5. I quite liked Speakeasy! Though I also found it kind of “literal,” but I think that of the others in the line too — which is not necessarily a bad thing! 1270 is probably my favorite . . .

    • I want to try 1270, but I also want to try 1697. It was so exhausting trying to decide between the two while the clock was ticking on that Surrender to Chance sale that I went with Prohibition-era Speakeasy instead, especially given my fascination with the era. Alas, no luck for me and, honestly, I actually don’t mind “literal” if done well. But I’m not sure a literal interpretation of pancakes (well, the maple syrup that goes with it) is truly what they were going for…. :\

  6. I don’t mind immortelle. I like pancakes. I don’t know if I want to smell like pancakes. I bet my husband would like it if I smelled like pancakes and bacon. This review had me chuckling the whole way through. On paper the notes sound so promising, don’t they? But it sounds like a sweet mess with no edge to it at all.

    • Was it my furry, fuzzy, heavy-set men that amused you? 😉 😀 Yes, the notes sounded so wonderfully promising — just my cup of tea, in fact. But “sweet mess” is a good description of what it turned out to be. I think I have far less tolerance for smelling of maple syrup than some others, so perhaps you’d like it. I suspect, however, that the Etat Libre take on immortelle (Tilda Swinton) suits you far, far better

    • Most definitely, Little Red! There seem to be much better offerings from Frapin in the perfume department, judging by other people’s comments here. 🙂

  7. I am a fan of the Frapin line, Caravelle Epicee being my favourite so far. I haven’t tried Speakeasy yet but I don’t doubt it will be another in their line for me to love. 🙂

  8. I have always wanted to try this because the fact that Marc‐Antoine Cortcchiato created it and I love the Parfum d’Empire fragrances (besides the horrid limited edition Musc Tonkin). The name on this is a bit gimmicky but thought it could be interesting. I guess there is no need to test this now after your disappointment. Maybe he created this and didn’t want to offer it in his own line so he sold it elsewhere?

    • The Marc‐Antoine Cortacchiato aspect is interesting to me because the stuff that I’ve read makes it sound like Frapin approached him to create this scent. Some of the other perfumes were made by their in-house chap, or by a woman who is descended from both the Frapin and Cointreau families. I think how you feel about Speakeasy will turn *solely* on how much you like maple syrup and immortelle. As you can read from some of the other comments, those who don’t like the note didn’t like the perfume at all.

      • It actually sounds like something that would be best suited for cooler weather. Maybe that’s part of the problem. For me, I don’t mind immortelle at all, but it really does have to be chilly out for my skin to take it.

        • I don’t know. My air-conditioning is pretty much set to “Frigid”…… I’m smiling at just how much you’re clearly trying to persuade yourself, so I think you should just go ahead and order a sample. LOL. 🙂

  9. So far I’ve tried only one perfume from this line – 1697 – and had a mixed reaction so now I’m not too anxious to try anything else from the line. But because of the name I was curious about this perfume. After your review I think I want to try it a little more 🙂

    • Well, given how I’m your Evil Scent Twin, perhaps you should. Then again, two of the Triplets really disliked Speakeasy, so it’s not just me and my polar opposite tastes. All of that actually makes me even more intrigued as to what you’d think of it, so hurry up and get a sample and let’s see if we make this unanimous or not. 😀

  10. Dear Kafka, there is ZERO body to this perfume. As much as I love sweet perfumes, this was a NO. On me, it smelled more like a sporty men’s cologne (a bad one). At least I wore it at the end of the day and was able to wash it off.

    A comment about the picture of the pastel colored buildings in Cuba — many of these are now crumbling shells but yet families and their extended families still live in them, barely scraping by. Most have no money to buy building materials and when they have some money (and a little bit goes a long way), there are no building materials to buy. Just about the only way to get building materials is to walk away with little bits from other crumbling buildings.

    • By “body,” do you mean depth? If so, then I completely agree with you. Funny thing is that, with your comment, that makes 2 of the Triplets who disliked it, while I — as your Polar Opposite — was unenthusiastic to the point of perplexed boredom. Surprisingly, Undina wants to try it. The stars are aligned strangely on this one…. 😉

      Thank you for the details about the buildings in Cuba and their terrible state of decay. It’s extremely sad, but not as sad as the life of the people there and their limited opportunities. Pretty depressing.

  11. Ummm, pass. One of the few people who enjoys neither the taste nor smell of maple. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that I don’t typically like gourmands anyhow. New Haarlem by Bond No. 9 smells EXACTLY like an IHOP (I had thought people were exaggerating) and while it’s not really *bad*, I would never want to buy it or even wear it. And a mojito? Maybe Aoud Lime scarred me, but while I like citrus smells, I don’t typically like lime in perfume either. So maple and lime = not remotely close to something I’d like.

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