Caron Farnesiana: The Rite of Spring

Photo: Jill at JillThinksDifferent.blogspot.com.  (Website link embedded within.)

Photo: Jill at JillThinksDifferent.blogspot.com. (Website link embedded within.)

Pastel floral ballerinas pirouette onto the stage in Nature’s version of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Yellow acacia mimosa, pink heliotrope, purple violets, lilac hyacinths, and white lilies of the valley twirl daintily in the air, before being caught in the muscular arms of a creamy almond dancer. Sweet meringue powder rains down on them, while sandalwood peaks from the wings, waiting to slink onto the stage during the third act. It’s a dainty ballet, nothing like the raucous stridency of Stravinsky’s original, and it evokes the pleasures of a warm Spring day in a green field dominated by flowers and powdered pastries. It’s the ballet of Caron‘s Farnesiana.

Farnesiana in one of Caron's famous Baccarat urns. Photo: Fragrantica.

Farnesiana in one of Caron’s famous Baccarat urns. Photo: Fragrantica.

Farnesiana was released in 1947, and was created by Michel Morsetti. It is one of Caron’s Haute Parfumerie “Urn Scents” which originated as extracts or pure parfums. I tested the parfum extrait concentration, but not the famous vintage version. I would have liked to, but, as with all of Caron’s most important fragrances, the vintage is not what most people have access to or can easily find, even on eBay. So, modern Farnesiana parfum is the focus of this review. 

Farnesiana is a mimosa scent which Caron describes as follows:

Born in 1947, Farnesiana remains one interpretation of mimosa without many parallels on the market.

In order to capture its duvet-like appeal, Caron turned to the extraordinarily modern essence: sweet acacia, a lesser known variety of mimosa. Cleverly combined with latter, it lends the fragrance an almost mouth-watering sweetness.

The sweet acacia (Latin “Acacioso Farnesiana”) also provides the inspiration for its name, evocative of Rome’s Farnese Palace and the way of life redolent of sweet Mediterranean refinement and aromas.

Accords: Mimosa, sandalwood, hay…

Those three notes are the only things I am certain of when it comes to Farnesiana. Trying to figure out else what is in this perfume is an utter nightmare, with every site contradicting itself. Fragrantica says:

Overwhelming shades of sweet mimosa, floral and fruity blackcurrant.

In sharp contrast to that are the notes provided by The Perfumed Court, a decanting service rather well-known for its stock of vintage fragrances. For the modern Farnesiana parfum, they say the notes are:

 bitter almond, mimosa, iris and lavender.

I don’t believe it that is the full extent of things, though I do agree that the perfume contains those notes. Caron’s most famous creations became legendary because of their complexity, which would thereby seem to involve more than a mere four elements.

Source: Fragrantica

Source: Fragrantica

In my opinion, Surrender to Chance‘s description and list seem the most complete and accurate to me, based upon what I personally detected. They write:

In 1947 Michel Morsetti created Caron Farnesiana based on Ernest Daltroff’s notes on the perfume before his death in 1941.  Acacia, also known as cassie or mimosa, is the center of this creation, and it was one of the first fragrances to build around this note.  It smells distinctly of almonds with that rich Caron Mousse de Saxe base, dark around the edges with a gourmand quality to it, though it veers away from being sweet and dries down to a great hay note.  This is what a gourmand perfume could be.

[Notes:] Cassie (acacia or mimosa), bergamot, lily of the valley, violet, lilac, opoponax [sweet myrrh], vanilla, sandalwood, musk, heliotrope, mimosa, jasmine, hay.

Bois de Jasmin quotes something similar, though not as detailed, so I think Surrender to Chance may have the truest assessment of Farnesiana’s elements. That said, I think The Perfumed Court is correct in noting lavender is a potential suspect as well.

Source: Wikicommons

Source: Wikicommons

Before I start, I need to confess a weird bias I have when it comes to mimosa. It is a flower which holds great personal symbolism and meaning for me, so I have especially high standards when it comes to fragrances featuring it. As a child, one of the places I lived had numerous acacia or mimosa trees. The mere sight of their graceful, fluffy, yellow beauty against the turquoise skies always gave me great comfort, especially during a very difficult period when I was quite ill. For me, mimosas are something bound up with joy, nostalgia, longing, and bitter-sweet memories of my childhood. And their scent is firmly imprinted on my nostrils.

As a result, it was initially somewhat difficult to review Farnesiana in its current form. I never tried the vintage version, so I have no personal experience with its smell, but I do know that Farnesiana is explicitly intended to be an acacia mimosa soliflore that pays homage to the note. On my skin, the current version is very far from that — so much so that it was a problem at first. After a while, however, I simply told myself to mentally approach Farnesiana in a vacuum, and to merely consider it as a general floral scent, not a mimosa one. I suggest you read this review in that same light, and consider Farnesiana as a fragrance unmoored from its past or from what you may have heard about its former self.

Lily of the Valley, or Muguet.

Lily of the Valley, or Muguet.

Modern Farnesiana parfum opens on my skin with a mimosa note that is very wan, very pale, and powdered. It is sweet, bordering on the syrupy, but it doesn’t feel like a rich, deep, concentrated mimosa, and it certainly isn’t the mimosa of my childhood. Within seconds, it is followed by dewy violets, honeyed sweetness, and lily of the valley, or “muguet” as I’m used to calling it. There is also the tiniest whisper of both iris and jasmine. On their trail is a muscular, strong, bitter almond smell that pushes its way onto center stage to flood over all the flowers.

Source: en.wikipedia.org

Source: en.wikipedia.org

The mimosa is disappointingly weak for a concentrated extrait parfum meant to highlight the note. Yes, there is a clear and distinct aroma that is sweet, but it also feels like a translucent shadow of itself. Part of the problem is the very watery undertone to Farnesiana’s opening, thanks to the effects of the dewy, green muguet. To my disbelief, the blend of lily of the valley, violets, and an almond-infused iris sometimes seems stronger than the mimosa on my skin. All the flowers are infused with honey to create a floral bouquet that is, admittedly, very yellow in its visuals, but also green. The overall effect is quite strangely watery, and the best way to describe it is to compare it to a nectar. An agave nectar, in fact, which is a thin, pale, honeyed liquid.

Source: mimosa-cavatore.com

Source: mimosa-cavatore.com

I don’t understand what Caron has done, particularly as this is the same perfume house which puts out Montaigne, an affordable eau de parfum (not an extrait) that is filled with copious amounts of deep, yellow mimosa. I know because I own Montaigne, though I constantly struggle with its suffocating, somewhat oppressive heaviness. But at least Montaigne seems like a solid blast of hardcore mimosa (with jasmine and daffodils), whereas Farnesiana seems like a general floral scent which merely happens to have some pale mimosa as well. It is almost bewildering how the muguet feels like one of the main players in the opening minutes, along with the increasingly powerful, dominant almond note that starts to take over at the end of 10 minutes.

Photo: Mimosa Flower Studio via theweddingco.com

Photo: Mimosa Flower Studio via theweddingco.com

It is at this point that I told myself to put aside all expectations of a mimosa scent, and to consider Farnesiana as a floral-almond fragrance with dewy nectar and light honey. By that light, then Farnesiana is pretty indeed. It’s a lovely blend of very spring-like, dewy, almost syrupy flowers in a spectrum of green, white, and yellow. There is the lightest suggestion of powderiness, at least initially, and it feels as though sweet pollen were sprinkled over the bouquet in a pretty counterbalance to the agave nectar.

A newcomer slowly creeps onto the scene to join the blend of watery muguet, bitter almonds, dewy violets, yellow acacia mimosa and honey. It’s hay, and it smells dry, sweet, fresh, and, oddly enough, rather wet, all at the same time. Perhaps it’s the overlapping trace of the muguet that creates that water-logged impression, but I can’t help imagining drops of rain hanging off bales of sweetened hay in a field of yellow and green. In addition, there is now a definite grassiness to Farnesiana’s undertones as a whole, a grassiness that extends far beyond the sweet hay. It feels like the scent of bright, sweet, summer’s grass, as you lie on your back in the warm soil in a field of flowers, as the warm sun shines down on you, amplifying the smells of nature. 

Field of Narcissus

20 minutes in, new notes arrive, and Farnesiana realigns itself. The focus of the scent shifts away from the lily of the valley, violets, and that hint of iris to something completely different. For whatever reason, I smell narcissus or daffodils as much as I do the violets. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that there is a daffodil note wafting from my skin, and it leads me to wonder if Caron’s more recent Montaigne was created as a more heavy, opulently floral, non-gourmand riff on the original Farnesiana. One fragrance very much feels like the mental inspiration for the other, even if there are substantial differences between the two scents. But, as in Montaigne, Farnesiana is manifesting daffodil in both its sweet floral facets and it’s almost hay-like drier ones.

Hyacinths and daffodils. Photo: wallpoper.com

Hyacinths and daffodils. Photo: wallpoper.com

My impression of daffodils is short-lived, however, because it is soon replaced by a stunning note of hyacinth. At first, it is a muted, muffled element that hides behind the almond note that has increasingly become Farnesiana’s most dominant characteristic on my skin. I absolutely love hyacinths, especially the purple kind that you buy in pots in Spring. It is one of my all-time favorite floral notes, but I’ve never found a perfume that has managed to bottle its unique aroma.

For me, hyacinths smell like a mix of greenness, dewy syrupiness, wet soil, woodiness, and an ethereal liquidity. There is a crystal-like clarity to the floral sweetness; it’s like an Alpine stream that takes in all the blackness of sweet soil, the wateriness of the flower, the greenness of its leaves, and, yet, somehow, still manages to feel as clear as a bell. It’s a hard smell to describe, but it’s absolutely there in Farnesiana. I’m over the moon, while simultaneously feeling somewhat crushed that the hyacinth is so muffled and so thoroughly infused with the bitter almonds.

Source: wallpaperzone.biz

Source: wallpaperzone.biz

It’s at this point, about 20 minutes in, that I suddenly realised just how much Farnesiana is like a floral march through Spring. It’s reminds me of that old childhood song about “the animals go marching in,” two by two. Here, it may be more three by three, with that wan mimosa note and the muscular, bitter almond being the first two, and the third place being taken by a steady succession of different flowers. First, it was the lily of the valley, while the violets (and, to a much lesser extent, the iris) looked on from the sidelines. Then, the muguet retreated to make way for the daffodils for a brief moment, before they passed the baton to hyacinth. In all cases, the flowers trail behind the almond and that thin mimosa note, infused with acacia honey and a touch of powder. It’s also like a more harmonious, melodic, floral version of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, where several members of the Corps de Ballet take turns in pirouetting in the limelight, while others (like the hay and grass) gracefully lie curled over in the far corners.

Farnesiana feels deep and rich, in the softest way imaginable. Its notes develop like smooth satin on the skin, except they feel weightless and airy at the same time. The perfume’s hues may translate to a soft buttercup yellow and white, but the delicate scent is wonderfully rich. It seeps over the skin like liquid nectar, with decent projection at first. Three small smears of parfum produced a soft cloud that initially hovers 2 inches above the skin.

From afar, the almond note isn’t so dominant, and Farnesiana appears as a sweet, light, honeyed, somewhat dewy nectar of floral mimosa, almonds, and hyacinth. I can’t get over how lovely the hyacinth is, though it teases me by slipping to hide behind the almond. The other flowers have folded into the mix at the 40 minute mark, and aren’t so easy to pull out in any individual way. The wet, earthy soil tonality from the hyacinth remains, along with its greenness, and the sense of floral liquidity, but the hay, violet, and muguet have largely faded from my skin.

Heliotrope. Photo: Crystal Venters via Dreamtime.com

Heliotrope. Photo: Crystal Venters via Dreamtime.com

Then, at the end of the first hour, things suddenly change again. The heliotrope slinks in, all pink and white, smelling of powdered vanilla meringues with a touch of marzipan. It takes some of the bitter edge off the almonds, softening them, and slowly bringing in a new form of sweetness. Instead of honey nectar and the hyacinth’s liquid, green syrup, the focus very gradually shifts to vanillic powder and almond-dusted treats.

French meringues via allrecipes.com

French meringues via allrecipes.com

The heliotrope grows stronger with every passing quarter-hour, turning Farnesiana into a scent that is predominantly French vanilla meringues and bitter almonds, lightly flecked by a nebulous sense of wan, quasi-mimosa powder puffs, and honeyed nectar. 90 minutes in, the hyacinth moves back to join all the other flowers on the discarded heap. Farnesiana’s sillage softens even further, hovering less than an inch above the skin, though the scent itself remains heady, deep, and very rich in feel.

Unfortunately for me, Farnesiana turns into a skin scent after 3 hours with 3 big smears of scent, and in even less time with a smaller quantity. Extraits are said by some to be much softer in sillage than eau de parfums (because of some technical issue involving the burning off of the alcohol base in the latter, I think), but Farnesiana’s projection is substantially weaker than most Extraits that I have tried. It’s disappointing, I have to admit.

Source: misslemon.eu

Source: misslemon.eu

Farnesiana remains a heliotrope-centered fragrance with powder-puff floral sweetness until the start of the 4th hour when the sandalwood rises up from the base. It’s a problematic note for me, especially in the beginning. The wood is vaguely creamy, slightly sour, fully bland, and definitely not Mysore. It has touches of cinnamon and a subtle smokiness that are nice, but also flickers of ashiness that are not. On occasion, there is even an undertone that even translates as stale and dusty, almost as if this were Guaiac wood more than “sandalwood.” When all these more negative facets appear, even in a mild form, Farnesiana’s drydown is less enjoyable and the perfume feels like a sudden shift into dryness. For a brief 20 minutes, the perfume smells like a stale, dusty, dry, Australian sandalwood infused with almonds, heliotrope meringue powder, a suggestion of smoke, and a dash of cinnamon.

Then, Farnesiana shifts again. Suddenly, the strange undertones to the sandalwood disappear, the wood turns creamier, and lavender appears on the scene. I had thought The Perfumed Court must be mistaken in including lavender in their brief list of notes, and I certainly haven’t seen any other bloggers mention smelling the flower, but it was definitely there on my skin during one of my tests. Interestingly, when I applied less of the fragrance, the lavender didn’t show up, but I attribute that to how sheer Farnesiana is as a whole when you use a low dosage.

Source: A Spicy Perspective. (For recipe for lavender chocolate ice cream, click on photo. Website link embedded within.)

Source: A Spicy Perspective. (For recipe for lavender chocolate ice cream, click on photo. Website link embedded within.)

At the end of the 5th hour, the perfume has suddenly transformed into a sweetened, creamy, lavender and heliotrope scent that reminds me of a lavender ice-cream dusted with meringue powder. The now creamy sandalwood lingers at the edges, alongside the tiniest hint of something smoky, though both elements are muted and muffled. The whole thing feels like a gauzy wisp on my skin, and the specific nuances are sometimes hard to detect. Farnesiana is not a powerhouse by any means!

The perfume quickly softens even further. Soon, it’s just a blur of powdered sweetness with the tiniest touch of an abstract dryness. Farnesiana remains that way until its very end. All in all, the fragrance lasted just under 8 hours on my skin with 3 good smears, amounting to about one very big spray of parfum extrait. With a smaller quantity, Farnesiana lasted between 6.5 to 7 hours.

As a whole, bloggers seem to give good reviews to Farnesiana parfum, even in its current form. Everyone agrees that the vintage version was amazing, but they generally seem to like the modern version too. (At least, whatever modern version they tried in 2011 and, in one case, 2012. Who knows what further reformulation may have taken place since then.) I’ll start with the review at Now Smell This where Jessica also includes a useful, quick survey of other people’s impressions of the scent:

I’ve always considered Farnesiana a sophisticated comfort scent, an unusual floral-gourmand (or “fleurmand,” as I like to call this perfume sub-genre). To my nose, Farnesiana begins with a powdery, pollen-like mimosa note and with accords of sun-warmed hay and grass. Oddly enough, this green-tinged phase reminds me of certain fragrances from Santa Maria Novella, like Ginestra (Broom) or Fieno (Hay), that evoke meadow-like landscapes. Farnesiana’s heart opens up to reveal the sweetly resinous opoponax — one of those notes that I might or might not love, depending on the context, but I do like it in Farnesiana. Then there’s also a considerable amount of dusty almond with just a hint of fruitiness (the black currant) and a drop of vanilla. I also detect a cool lilac note, although some of the other listed florals are not as apparent to me. The base of the composition includes just enough soft musk to make Farnesiana’s far dry-down a refined skin scent for me.

Of course, the issue that I’ve been skirting up to this point is the question of possible reformulation: has Farnesiana been altered over the years, and if so, for better or for worse? The sample I’m using right now was acquired directly from the Caron boutique in New York City just a few weeks ago, so I’m assuming it’s the most recent version. I’ve only been familiar with Farnesiana for about six years; in my memory, it was a little plusher and more golden when I first sampled it, but the current Parfum still “feels” like Farnesiana to me. However, I haven’t sampled any truly “vintage” Farnesiana. Erin, who has gone further back, regretfully calls today’s Farnesiana “a pale non-entity”; in Perfumes: The Guide, Tania Sanchez finds little to love in the current fragrance after sampling a 1950s original.

On the other hand, Victoria of Bois de Jasmin thinks Farnesiana’s current formulation is very well done, and I tend to side with her on this one. For me, Farnesiana is still an intriguing fragrance, something hard to define, somehow gentle yet moody and changeable. I’d recommend trying it if you usually enjoy soft almondy scents or meadowy-grassy florals, since it combines these two ideas. Of course, if you’re already deeply in love with a much earlier bottle of Farnesiana, the current offering might disappoint you[.] [Emphasis to names added by me.]

Painting by Trisha Lamoreaux.

Painting by Trisha Lamoreaux.

Speaking of Bois de Jasmin, her review is useful because it compares the smell of Farnesiana from a super old bottle from the 1950s, to one from the 1990s, and to the version closest to her time in 2011. She gives Farnesiana an overall Four Star rating, and her review reads, in part, as follows:

Caron Farnesiana defies conventions with its interpretation of violet and almond tinged mimosa notes. The classical softness of mimosa is rendered as suave and tender, yet the effect is more like delicate swirls of incense smoke rather than the swan dawn lightness of spring flowers. Farnesiana has an elegant, mellifluous character, yet at times it speaks in sultry whispers, with the overall impression of the fragrance being surprising, dramatic and at times unpredictable. […][¶]

The warm and powdery fragrance of cassie flowers has an interesting undertone of balsamic spiciness, which is fully explored in Farnesiana. The composition hits the sonorous, dark notes immediately, giving a glimpse of its incense and sandalwood inlaid base. The honeyed sweetness of mimosa is rendered as the luscious richness of almond nougat, which when paired with the dark woody and ambery notes makes for an exciting counterpoint to the plush floral notes. Initially Farnesiana has a luminous quality, augmented by orange blossom and jasmine; as it dries down, the incense and musk give it a more somber and seductive hue. […][¶]

The most recent version of Farnesiana I have smelled struck me as very good. The main difference is the stronger vanilla note and the clearer, brighter floral accent which serve to give Farnesiana a more baroque aura. [snip.]

My experience is obviously nothing alike to what she is describing or to what Farnesiana apparently used to be. On my skin, there is absolutely no strong incense accord, no dark notes, no orange blossom, and, in fact, totally different florals. 

Source: cocon-etc.blogspot.com

Source: cocon-etc.blogspot.com

What I encountered closer to what The Non-Blonde experienced in late 2012. Her review from the time brings up Guerlain‘s L’Heure Bleue, and talks about it in a way which leads to me to believe that, once upon a time, perhaps the two fragrances shared some similarities. Well, not now. Not on her skin, and most definitely not on mine! Her review reads, in part:

There’s a moment during the development of Caron’s 1947 classic Farnesiana that I suddenly get it. The mimosa note, sunny and golden, comes out and it’s beautiful. What happens next depends on what version and vintage of Farnesiana you have on your hands.  I remember an older sample I had that was dark and held a certain mystery. My current decant of extrait de parfum is new and I’m not too crazy about it[….]

Source: Saveur.com

Source: Saveur.com

The version of Farnesiana in front of me is very powdery, almondy with a touch of anise. The mimosa note is there briefly, but it’s somehow frothy and airy and not as complex and rich as I remember. Then there’s the heliotrope-almond-anise which should be bleue and melancholy, but somehow it’s not. Instead, I get all powder all the time and not nearly as romantic as it needs to be. Farnesiana goes up in a fluffy and soft musk that’s pleasant enough but isn’t too interesting. […][¶]

[This] version of Caron’s Farnesiana […] is scrubbed clean and then powdered within an inch of its life. […] Now, don’t get me wrong: Farnesiana is perfectly nice even in this version, and lovers of powdered almond pastry could do far worse.  It just doesn’t ring my bell quite as intensely as I hoped.

On Fragrantica, the majority of people seem to adore modern Farnesiana. A good portion of them succumb to the gourmand elements and to the powdery note (even though no-one seems to recognize it as heliotrope). Several people like the almond aspect as well. Generally, Farnesiana is described as a sweet, powdery, floral scent with mimosa that turns either vanillic or woody-vanillic in its drydown, depending on perspective. However, there are a rare few who struggle with the hay note, and find it unpleasant. For the most part, though, the overall consensus is of a very enjoyable floral scent with gourmand facets.

Farnesiana in Extrait on the right, in EDP on the left. Source: Luckyscent.

Farnesiana in Extrait on the right, in EDP on the left. Source: Luckyscent.

As an Extrait, Farnesiana is expensive for the tiny size of the bottle. 7.5 ml will cost you about $100, which is one reason why I tried to use an amount similar to what the average person might apply from such a bottle. In contrast, you can buy 50 ml of the Eau de Parfum for only $30 more at $130. Extraits and eau de parfums differ beyond just the question of concentration or richness. Often, a variation in formula is used, resulting in different notes being highlighted or sharpened.

I haven’t tried Farnesiana’s eau de parfum, so you might be interested in the a review of it from “Doc Elly,” otherwise known as Dr. Ellen Covey of the Olympic Orchards indie niche perfume house. (The Fragrantica page for Farnesiana is the same one for both Parfum and EDP versions, so always check to see which concentration someone is talking about.) Her Fragrantica review is for the 2012 (or earlier) version of the Eau de Parfum, and states: 

Mimosa and leathery violet, powder and almondy heliotrope dominate in the beginning, but this EdP quickly dries down into a realistic, non-sweet rendition of yellow mimosa. It’s a beautiful scent that reminds me of springtime in the south of France, when the mimosas bloom. After an hour or two the base of vanilla and white musk becomes prominent. Toward the very end, a little sandalwood appears.

Sillage is moderate. I love the mimosa opening, and the drydown is pleasant to have lingering during the rest of the day. On skin, it lasts at least 6-8 hours. Farnesiana begins as a lovely, cheerful spring-like powdery floral scent that gradually becomes a warm gourmand-ish musky one. I like it very much, and would enjoy having a decant and wearing it on occasion..

Her experience largely mirrored mine with the Extrait Parfum, right down to the longevity, so the EDP might be a better deal as a whole.

I think Farnesiana is a very pleasant fragrance if you free yourself from expectations or memories of its prior self. It left me a wee bit underwhelmed with its overall simplicity, and I wasn’t enthused by the sillage, but I found some parts of it to be really pretty indeed. The hyacinth part is truly lovely, as is the march of the floral brigade in the first two hours. If a bottle of Farnesiana ever landed in my lap, I would definitely wear it on occasion. So, if you’re looking for a soft, feminine, powdery floral with gourmand undertones and the sense of Spring, you may enjoy Farnesiana quite a bit. Those who love heliotrope’s vanilla meringue character, as well as almonds in particular, should definitely consider giving it a sniff.

In short, Farnesiana might be a lovely way to usher in Spring. 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: The Farnesiana version discussed here is the Extrait or Pure Parfum form, and its price starts at $100 for a 7.5 ml bottle. The EDP version may be different in its feel or depth, but it might be a better deal as it costs $130 for a 50 ml bottle. Caron has a website, but no e-store from which you can buy the scents. In the U.S.: Luckyscent has the $100 small 7.5 ml size, but they are currently back-ordered with shipping said to follow in February. (We are now early March, but the notice is still there.) Luckyscent also has EDP, but the same backorder situation applies. In New York, you can find it at Caron’s boutique at 715 Lexington Avenue, or you might call to order (Ph: (212) 308-0270). There seems to be no other retail options, outside of eBay which carries a lot of Farnesiana in EDP form, as well as the occasional, ridiculously priced vintage Extrait. Outside the U.S.: In Paris, you can purchase Farnesiana from the 3 Caron boutiques. In France, you can order the Extrait or Pure Parfum from Atelier Parfumé in a variety of sizes, ranging from the 7.5 ml for €90, going up to €120 for 15 ml, €150 for 20 ml, and €250 for the 50 ml size. You can contact them to see where they ship. One place that says it ships worldwide is the Soleil d’Or Parfumerie which sells Farnesiana Parfum in the 50 ml bottle for €225.75, along with various sizes of the EDP. In the UK, I couldn’t find Farnesiana Extrait anywhere, and even the EDP was sold out on sites like Amazon. Your best bet may be eBay. Samples: I obtained my sample from Surrender to Chance which sells modern Poivre starting at $4.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. The Perfumed Court sells Farnesiana Extrait for a similar price of $4.96 for a 1/2 ml vial. In terms of the vintage version, MinNY has some off-the-books, secret stashes of vintage Carons that they sell in sample form. The lovely owner, Mindy, told me on Twitter that she has vintage Tabac Blond Extrait, and she probably has Farnesiana as well. In any event, you may want to check upon your next visit to the store, or call them at (212) 206 6366 if you’re interested about any vintage Carons.

Caron Poivre – Modern Extrait Version

Vintage Caron ad for Poivre via The Perfume Shrine and originally, Bleekerstreet.com

Vintage Caron ad for Poivre via The Perfume Shrine and originally, Bleekerstreet.com

An explosion of fiery reds and peppery black, followed by muddy greens and dulled mahogany. Peppered meat, dentists, barber shops, and grandfathers, but also sleekly elegant women bundled in warm furs against the chill. The visuals and images evoked by Caron‘s Poivre are all over the place for me. And so are some of my responses to this famous, ostensibly “pepper” perfume.

Poivre was released in 1954, and was created by Michel Morsetti. It is one of Caron’s Haute Parfumerie “Urn Scents” which originated as extracts or pure parfums. I tested the parfum extrait version, but not the vintage version. I would like to, but, as with Tabac Blond, the vintage is not what most people have access to or can easily find, even on eBay. So, modern Poivre extrait is the focus of this review. 

A huge 2 oz bottle of Poivre which goes for over $2,000. Source: sidemirror.blogsome.com

A huge 2 oz bottle of Poivre which goes for over $2,000. Source: sidemirror.blogsome.com

Caron describes Poivre as an explosive pepper scent:

In 1954, Caron creates a stir with Poivre, whose explosive scent remains unparalleled on today’s market. It took particular daring to make this spicy, peppery departure, held together with an ultra-rich floral heart note, typical of Caron, and woody base notes.

1957 Caron ad via HDprints.com

1957 Caron ad via HDprints.com

I’m not clear on the precise notes in modern Poivre. The Caron website only mentions three elements: pepper, cloves, and sandalwood. Fragrantica has no list, and only mentions the pepper. In a review devoted primarily to the vintage Poivre parfum, Bois de Jasmin lists:

red pepper, black pepper, giroflore [clove], carnation, ylang ylang, opoponax [sweet myrrh], sandalwood, vetiver, and oakmoss.

However, Luckyscent — which is one of the handful of places that sells modern Poivre outside of a Caron boutique — has a very different set of notes:

Pepper, clove, geranium rose base, jasmine, tuberose, carnation bouquet.

The modern Poivre bottle in a small size at Luckyscent.

The modern Poivre bottle in a small size at Luckyscent.

What I smelled was some variation or combination of the two lists:

red pepper, black pepper, clove, carnation, geranium rose base, jasmine, opoponax [sweet myrrh], vetiver, and oakmoss.

Modern Poivre opens on my skin with an explosion of fiery notes: clove, red pepper that faintly resembles the bite of a chili pimento pepper, and black pepper. They are quickly trailed by spicy carnation and nutty, sweet myrrh. Then, seconds later, a very odd, earthy, musky, musty note with a strongly medicinal character suddenly appears. It smells like cloves infused with a hint of bad, almost rancid, patchouli. It has almost a chewy, leathered undertone, but also sourness. The sweet nuttiness of the opoponax softens some of its medicinal facade, but the odd accord definitely evokes the dentist’s office for me. I love cloves, passionately, and there is a heaping amount of the regular note as well, but this undertone is rather difficult, unpleasant, and pronounced as well.

Cloves, close up. Source: www.toothachesremedies.net

Cloves, close up. Source: http://www.toothachesremedies.net

Five minutes in, matters get a little worse when another subtle undertone appears as well. I feel quite crazy for writing this, but there is a meatiness to the medicinal note. It’s as if the usual Caronade signature base suddenly turned into a clove-covered, raw steak. I can’t explain it as I’ve never encountered anything quite like it, but something about Poivre initially smells both meaty and quite “off.” Thankfully, the raw, spiced steak impression fades away after about 15 minutes, but I’m telling you, the cloves are a multi-faceted thing of much weirdness in Poivre’s earliest moments.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

Slowly, very slowly, a floral element grows stronger. From the very start, there was a touch of carnation, but it grows increasingly pronounced. It is spicy, peppered, piquant, and yes, very clove-like in its core. It is soon joined by an equally peppered geranium, only this time it smells like the fuzzy leaves with a touch of rose. A microscopic amount of pungent oakmoss follows suit, but it’s muted and largely indistinct. Perhaps it’s simply that nothing can compete with the cloves, which continue to overpower everything. To my relief, the various sour, meaty, and earthy undertones have faded.

Yet, the cloves are so intense that I noticed my lips tingling from contact with the skin of my arm. One reason for that is that cloves can be an analgesic or numbing agent, which is why it is often in dental products for tooth or gum pain. Another reason is that it is hard to smell a lot of the nuances in Poivre from a distance, and you have to put your nose close to the skin. The projection isn’t huge, even in the opening minutes, though the intensity of the clove note may fool you, especially if sniffed up close. At best, though, Poivre hovers about 2 inches above the skin, potent in its cloves, but difficult to separate out in terms of other notes.

15 minutes in, Poivre settles down in to a spicy clove fragrance, trailed by the various peppery florals. I rather enjoy it, though that is partially due to the novelty of having a clove-centric fragrance, and partially due to my own love for the note.

Andy Griffith. Source: Examiner.com

Andy Griffith. Source: Examiner.com

Something about Poivre at this point and for the next hour feels very much like a comforting, old-fashioned men’s cologne, only deeper, richer, and thicker. The clove onslaught makes it a little like a barber shop fragrance, and conjures up images in my mind of a grandfather in his Sunday suit, freshly shaved and ready for church in the 1950s. Poivre wouldn’t be Don Draper’s scent, but someone much older, less debonair, and more solid. Perhaps, Andy Griffith in the old “Mayberry television” show, or an old-world Neapolitan grandfather who likes more spicy fragrances than fresh, aromatic fougères

A muted, quiet touch of powder creeps in after 30 minutes, along with a dark, abstract woodiness. It smells like some odd combination of cedar, vetiver, oakmoss, and a tinge of the Caronade signature base. Poivre is now a warm, richly spiced clove scent, followed by clove-y carnation and that odd, dark, dry woodiness. The top notes are trailed further behind by pepperiness and a whisper of powder. The florals are increasingly muted, except for touches of carnation which generally just accentuate the clove bouquet.

I find myself baffled by it all, but I think I like Poivre now. The dispositive word is “think,” because I’m honestly not completely certain. Poivre is interesting and different, to say the least, and not like anything I’ve smelled before. That said, I know I’d have a pretty different (and probably entirely negative) view of things, if I loathed cloves or if I’d expected an actual pepper fragrance as the name suggests.

Poivre doesn’t change drastically or dramatically over the next few hours. At the start of the 3rd hour, a tiny trace of a velvety, white floral creeps in, but it’s extremely hard to separate or pull out from under the cloves. At best guess, it smells more like the jasmine in the Luckyscent description than the ylang-ylang of the original Poivre. I wouldn’t bet the house on it, though, as it’s barely noticeable, and Poivre continues to waft copious amounts of clove. Now, however, there is also more of that odd woodiness I talked about earlier, which is slightly more discernible as vetiver and oakmoss. It creates a dry green touch in the base.

At the same time, however, the fragrance seems warmer, better balanced, and smoother. For reasons I can’t explain, Poivre suddenly loses its barbershop, masculine impression, perhaps because the cloves feel softer, tamer, less sharp. The medicinal traces are long gone, and the cloves merely feel wonderful spicy, rich, and deep, albeit in a light form. Increasingly, Poivre evokes the image of a well-dressed woman from the past, bundled in thick furs on a chilly day. She looks old-fashioned and dated, but also very chic and strong. She stands out, and she uses the softened, spicy heat of Poivre to counter the chill in the air in the same way as she does her elegant coat that drapes itself close to her skin.

Source: collectorsweekly.com

Source: collectorsweekly.com

Poivre is now a visual blend of the darkest reds, and burnished clove-y umber, with a touch of muddy greens and dulled mahogany, though the scent itself feels increasingly murky and hazy. The notes are hard to separate, except for the spicy cloves, and the weak sillage doesn’t help. At the 2.25 hour mark, Poivre is almost a skin scent, with only the cloves standing out when sniffed up close. It remains that way largely until its end. About 4.75 hours in, an odd touch of soapiness joins the cloves, but it is fleeting and soon fades away. As a whole though, Poivre is almost entirely cloves on my skin for the rest of its lifespan. In its final moments, it’s merely a wisp of something spicy, brown, and dry. All in all, Poivre lasted 13 hours on my skin with a tiny 1/3 of the vial being dabbed on. Its sillage was extremely soft, but it was generally easy to detect up close for most of its life.

I think I would very much enjoy wearing Poivre if a bottle ever fell into my lap, but I say that as someone who loves cloves. I do hesitate, though, because it doesn’t feel like the easiest or most versatile fragrance. It would definitely be one of those mood or special occasion sort of things, for when I needed a lot of undiluted spice in my life and wanted to go retro.

Yet, despite my appreciation for the fragrance (at least after the opening 30 minutes), I would not recommend modern Poivre to the average person. You have to love cloves passionately — and most people don’t. Even those who like the note may not want such an unrelieved, undiluted form of it. Whatever Poivre may once have been, nowadays, the modern version is centered on almost nothing but cloves. Even the vague, mostly abstract carnation smells a lot like cloves, and floralacy isn’t a large part of the fragrance anyway.

That brings me to other people’s impressions of modern Poivre. There aren’t a lot of reviews for it out there, but Bois de Jasmin talked about it briefly in a post devoted mostly to vintage Poivre. She loves the vintage Extrait which she rates at 5-stars, but gave the modern fragrance a rare one-star. Her review of the 2011 Poivre reads:

On Reformulation (March 2011):

Wearing the original Poivre is an exhilarating experience that can only be compared to biting into a black peppercorn crust atop steak au poivre. The spicy rose underscoring the fiery pepper and woods lent the composition a certain dark vision of glamor. The current version is more pink than crimson, and as such, its beauty has been lost. The cinnamon, clove and pepper notes are quite attenuated, with the final result verging on bland.

On Fragrantica, reviews on the current version of Poivre are mixed, with a distinct tendency towards disapproval at the changes. The very first review sounds a bit like my experience, from the medicinal start, to the changes after 30 minutes, and how Poivre may work well for men:

This fragrance isn’t worthy of the Caron name. The first note was sharp pungent black pepper followed instantly by the medicinal scent of oil of cloves, the toothache medicine we used as kids and now contained in the OTC preparation Ora-Gel. Reminding me of toothache didn’t do much to impress me. The initial scent is very harsh, even although the pepper moves to the background quickly and the clove takes over. After it dried down a bit, I could smell a touch of sandalwood in the background, but no real carnation at all, and I love the spicy scent of carnation. There may be a tiny bit of floral there, but it is overpowered by the sharp and unpleasant clove scent. After about forty five minutes, I smelled a touch of baby powder and vanilla, but the vanilla is what makes most fragrances cloying and I don’t like it. Poivre kept the vanilla down to the minimum I can tolerate in a fragrance, so that was a plus. Spicy scents are my absolute favourite – Opium is one I have used for decades, and the only one so far that doesn’t turn sickly sweet and cloying on my skin after a half hour or so. But Caron’s Poivre smells heavily like oil of cloves and a concoction I made containing it when first experimenting with essential oils years ago, consisting of clove, pepper, sandalwood, jasmine and a drop of ylang ylang. Poivre also didn’t last long on my skin, but the scent was much better after about thirty minutes. But still, the clove overpowered. I’m glad I just bought a few samples. It would do better marketed to men. 

Her experience actually sounds more complex and detailed than my own, as I detected no sandalwood whatsoever in the scent, and the vanilla was akin to a tiny, temporary pimple on my skin, at best. Then again, I got sweet myrrh, vetiver and some oakmoss, so maybe it balances out. 

One man’s experience with modern Poivre offers an interesting comparison to another scent, as well as a cautionary tale about expecting actual pepper in a fragrance with that name. (Honestly, don’t you have to laugh at how much of a misnomer it now is?!) In his review, “Johngreenink” wrote:

I tried a sample today of the modern version and kept asking myself what it reminded me of. Then it came to me: Royall’s Bay Rhum – it is almost exactly the same, with perhaps just a bit more vanilla.

I have had visions of ‘Poivre’ being a kind of holy grail of perfumes – a classic, a hard-to-wear (which is fascinating to me), exceptionally rare. I love black and pink pepper scents, and I think I mistook the name of the perfume to actually mean that it smelled ‘like pepper’. Instead, it is (basically) a carnation/clove kind of scent… something like what you’d find in a gentleman’s cabinet. It has a very aftershave-y quality to it.

It’s linear, doesn’t last too long, and a bit ordinary. I was really hoping for a bit more. [Emphasis to the other perfume name added by me.]

Another commentator who is a hardcore Caron lover has a brutal (and, if truth be told, not inaccurate) description of modern Poivre:

Why this was reformulated I can’t say, but what I can say is that I could walk through the eye of a hurricane and stop to pick out a Caron, and this ain’t one of them.

When Poivre was reformulated someone simply opened their kitchen spice drawer, unscrewed the lids from the pepper and clove jars and mixed it with a little water.

I’d be less harsh with my review if this were an EDT, but as a parfum I have to keep it real.

Caron needs to be called to task on this one.

I don’t generally disagree, I really don’t, especially given the Extrait’s price per quantity issue, but, still, I thoroughly enjoyed parts of Poivre. I wasn’t plagued by memories of the past, which obviously matters in this case. Plus, I liked the masculine, retro feel, and I can take the endless amount of cloves, at least once the odd undertones disappeared after about 30 minutes. I am sure the vintage version is utterly spectacular, but I recall the one time I tried to blind buy an old bottle (a large one, perhaps from the 1970s or so) on eBay: it ended up going for an astronomical, nose-bleed of a price. Since I can’t get the vintage, I have to deal with the modern Extrait, and it really can be nice. If you love cloves. Really, really love them

That part cannot be stressed enough. As one person put it on Fragrantica, “Poivre is ideal for clove lovers or spicy carnation lovers — it is heavily laden with spices.” I would qualify it further to say that modern Poivre is perhaps best suited for men who enjoy vintage classics, or for those women who love more intense, spicy fragrances with an occasionally old-fashioned, masculine feel. And they both have to have a tolerance for discreet scents that don’t projection much. What should be self-evident from all this is that people who don’t love cloves passionately and fiercely should avoid modern Poivre like the bubonic plague. You’ll be utterly miserable.

On a parting note, I just wanted to add that writing this review made me quite sad. Sad for the things long gone, frustrated over the inability to find (or, rather, afford) the rare times vintage Poivre may pop up, nostalgic for how elegant things used to be in the past, and rather demoralized as a whole about changes to perfumery. There are so many things that have gone by the way of the dinosaur, and while many changes are positive, I mourn the diminution of so many iconic legends of the past. So few of us have the chance to even try the masterpieces in their original form, and to explore the history of this passion we call perfumery in concrete form. We have even less chance of doing something about it if we find a new love. It all feels bloody unfair.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Poivre is only available as an Extrait or Pure Parfum, and its price starts at $100 for a 7.5 ml bottle, $265 for a 15 ml bottle, and more depending on size. Caron has a website, but no e-store from which you can buy the scents. In the U.S.: The $100, small 7.5 ml size is offered by Luckyscent, which is currently sold out, but they are taking back-orders with shipping to follow in 2 weeks. Poivre is available at Seattle’s Parfumerie Nasreen which sells that same 7.5 ml bottle for $150. The Perfume House in Portland has the 15 ml size for $265, with the 50 ml bottle priced at $330. In New York, you can find it at Caron’s boutique at 715 Lexington Avenue or can perhaps call to order (Ph: (212) 308-0270). There seems to be no other retail options. Outside the U.S.: In Paris, you can purchase Poivre from the 3 Caron boutiques. In France, you can order it from Atelier Parfumé in a variety of sizes, ranging from the 7.5 ml for €90, going up to €120 for 15 ml, €150 for 20 ml, and €250 for the 50 ml size. You can contact them to see where they ship. One place that says it ships worldwide is the Soleil d’Or Parfumerie which sells Poivre in the 50 ml bottle for €226. In the UK, I couldn’t find Poivre anywhere. Samples: I obtained my sample from Surrender to Chance which sells modern Poivre starting at $5.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. What I did instead was to order the Smaller Caron Gateway Pack which gives you Tabac Blond Pure Parfum, along with Poivre Parfum, and Parfum Sacré in EDP version in a set that starts at $9.99 for three 1/2 ml vials. With regard to the vintage Poivre, Surrender to Chance doesn’t have it, and neither does The Perfumed Court. However, MinNY has some off-the-books, secret stashes of vintage Carons that they sell in sample form. The lovely owner, Mindy, told me on Twitter that she has vintage Tabac Blond Extrait, and she has miniscule amounts of vintage Poivre Parfum too. In any event, you may want to check upon your next visit to the store, or call them at (212) 206 6366 if you’re interested about any vintage Carons.

Caron Tabac Blond Parfum – Modern Extrait Version

1920s or 1930s ad, via angryharry.com

1920s or 1930s ad, via angryharry.com

Androgyny, the dawn of the modern age, and the desire to blend masculinity with femininity are some of the inspirations behind Tabac Blond. It is one of the legendary leather and tobacco perfumes of the early 20th-century from the famous house of Caron.

Tabac Blond was released in 1919, the same year of another perfume giant, Guerlain’s Mitsouko. Tabac Blond was the creation of Caron’s founder and “nose,” Ernest Daltroff, who sought to create a scent for the new, modern woman. As Fragrantica puts it, it was a fragrance “for women who smoke cigarettes, since a cigarette was, at that time, the perfect symbol of freedom and chic of a Parisian woman.” Caron has a more evocative and vivid description:

To mark the dawn of feminine liberation, CARON made the bold move in 1919 of dedicating a deliberately provocative perfume to the beautiful androgynous women of the era, with their long ivory and mother-of-pearl cigarette-holders poised nonchalantly between their lips.

Tabac Blond: a subtly ambiguous fragrance that borrows the leathery head notes from the world of masculine fragrance, and combines them with Caron’s inimitable floral bouquet…

Source: topwalls.net

Source: topwalls.net

Tabac Blond is one of Caron’s Haute Parfumerie “Urn Scents” which originated as extracts or pure parfums. While Tabac Blond is now also available in eau de parfum concentration, what most people rave about is the vintage pure parfum. Now, I tried the parfum extrait version, but not the vintage version. I would like to, but, frankly, it’s not what most people have access to. So, modern Tabac Blond extrait is the focus of this review. You can find it at a handful of niche perfume sites, like Luckyscent, though I doubt anything would compare to the experience of buying it at a Caron boutique where the sales assistants will fill your bottle from their exquisite, famed Baccarat crystal urns into something a little more practical, portable, and pedestrian.

Caron Boutique and the famous urns. Photo via bloggang.com and Examiner.com

Caron Boutique and the famous urns. Photo via bloggang.com and Examiner.com

The Caron website lists only three things for Tabac Blond’s notes: Leather, iris, and cedar. Fragrantica has a much more complete list:

leather, carnation, lime blossom, iris, vetiver, ylang-ylang, cedar, patchouli, vanilla, ambergris, musk.

Tabac Blond Extrait via Luckyscent.

Tabac Blond Extrait via Luckyscent.

You will notice that tobacco is not mentioned anywhere. Yes, this perfume known for being the original tobacco, smoking scent does not actually include a single drop of the note. (Neither, for that matter, does Habanita which followed it two years later in 1921 from Molinard.)

I need to say something at the outset. I’m not really one for powdery scents, let alone powdery florals. My tastes run towards deep Orientals, heavily spiced ambers, smoky woody fragrances, or mossy Chypres, but I always appreciate something which is well-done and refined in nature. Tabac Blond certainly qualifies, even in its modern form.

Source: nature.desktopnexus.com

Source: nature.desktopnexus.com

The parfum opens on my skin with a flood of carnation that is primarily spicy, peppered, and almost a bit clove-like in its aroma. There is a hint of something akin to rose in its sweetness, but the carnation’s piquant, spicy nature really dominates. It is followed by powder, then leather which has a definite animalic undertone, as if it had been lightly coated with castoreum. Flickers of lime and vanilla quietly trail behind, but the main bouquet is of powdered carnation, lightly infused with animalic leather. There is a sweetness to the powder, which definitely comes from iris, but it is not heavily vanillic.

Marrons Glacés.

Marrons Glacés.

The Caron base which I’ve detected in a few of its other fragrances, like Nuit de Noel, is very evident here. “Caronade,” as it’s called, is very hard to describe if you haven’t smelled it, but it essentially consists of a bouquet that always makes me think of marrons glacée or glazed, iced chestnuts. It’s visually very brown, with a dark richness that is simultaneously dry, sweet, powdered, nutty, and a little bit vetiver-like in its dark, somewhat earthy woodiness. I realise that all sounds very odd, but marrons glacée or iced chestnuts are often mentioned by people when it comes to describing the Caronade, so try to imagine a slightly leathered, dry, faintly powdered, vetiver-ish, spicy, vanillic version of that, and you’ll be close.

Tabac Blond slowly starts to shift. About 5 minutes in, the iris becomes more prominent in its own right. It’s chilly, cool, and very much like scented, sweetened, makeup powder. The Caronade signature also becomes more visible, but the leather is surprisingly subtle on my skin. It drifts through the top notes as a dark spectre with an animalic undertone, but I would never sniff Tabac Blond and think, “ah, leather!” Carnation and powder, definitely, but the leather takes a distinct back-seat to the other two elements. Still, it’s really nice as it has both a warm richness and a refined smoothness that evokes kid-skin.

Habanita EDT bottle and box.

Habanita EDT bottle and box.

It’s hard for me to review Tabac Blond without bringing up Habanita, its younger sister. The two perfumes have a similar profile, share a number of notes in common, and are quite alike on my skin. For example, a subtle tinge of sourness. I don’t know if it is my skin or something about the lime blossom, but Tabac Blond has the faintest trace of sourness. It also popped up with Habanita which has bergamot instead of lime to go with all the florals, powder, and leather, but it was significantly stronger there. With Tabac Blond, it is much more subtle and fades away after about 30 minutes. Another difference is that Tabac Blond is much more leathered, dark, spicy, and smooth than Habanita on me. The latter was fruity, more synthetic in feel, and sweeter. Tabac Blond’s leather is much smoother, lacking Habanita’s rubbery or sharp edges. The Habanita is dominated primarily by rose, while Tabac Blond is all spicy carnation with a subtext of cloves. Finally, the Habanita lacks the very key Caronade signature, and is about ten times more powerful in terms of projection.

Source: Walltor.com

Source: Walltor.com

Yet, for all the subtle differences, the two fragrances are definitely related. Powdered florals, lightly flecked by leather, and carrying a trace of some vaguely abstract “tobacco.” The latter is much softer and more subtle in Tabac Blond than it is in Habanita, but the note is pretty much identical. It smells just like the powdered, scented paper in an empty pack of cigarettes. It’s never tobacco in the way of modern fragrances that have that note; this is not the tobacco of Tom Ford‘s Tobacco Vanille, or Serge LutensChergui. This is scented, powdered paper in something that once contained tobacco and whose lingering traces have merely carried over.

Source: Allposters.com

Source: Allposters.com

Tabac Blond continues to change as time goes by. The sillage was initially moderate, but starts to drop after 40 minutes. At the end of the 2nd hour, Tabac Blond is almost a skin scent, though it is very easy to detect up close. It coats the skin as a discrete, silken layer of carnation and powdered, lipstick-y iris, with a faint trace of leather and tobacco paper, all nestled within the warm embrace of the chestnut-y, dark Caronade. The lime is no longer there, and faded away about 30 minutes in; the animalic undertones soon followed. The tobacco paper impression is now almost imperceptible, requiring a lot of hard sniffs to detect it lurking in the lower layers. The vanilla is also quite muted, adding an indirect touch of sweetness to the carnation which is now much less spicy and clove-like. There is a faint touch of warmth growing in the base, though it is wholly abstract and can’t be singled out as amber in any distinct way.

Source: thevintagemoth.blogspot.com

Source: thevintagemoth.blogspot.com

Tabac Blond remains largely unchanged until its very end, with only subtle differences in the strength of certain notes. The one new thing to appear is the cedar which becomes a tiny bit prominent in the drydown, as does the vanilla, while the carnation becomes increasingly abstract. By the start of the sixth hour, Tabac Blond is a true skin scent that is primarily an abstract, powdered floral with cedar and vanilla. There is a trace of something dark lurking underneath that sometimes feels like very soft, muted leather, but, at other times, merely seems like the Caronade.

In its final moments, Tabac Blond is just a blur of something powdered, vaguely sweet, and with the faintest trace of Caronade. A small quantity lasted for quite a while on my skin: about 1/4 of a ml, gave me just under 11 hours in duration. A slightly larger amount increased the time-frame to about 13 hours. The longevity is just as well, because Tabac Blond in the extrait version isn’t cheap. It’s $265 for 15 ml, though Luckyscent offers a 7.5 ml bottle for $100. Unfortunately, they are sold out of it, with no indication of when they might get it in. Somehow, the fragrance is cheaper in Europe where the 15 ml bottle retails for €120 or about $153. (See the Details section at the end for more information.)

I have mixed feelings about Tabac Blond. As noted earlier, powdered florals are not really my thing, but there is something appealing about the Caron’s version in the opening hours. It’s definitely very pretty at times, especially with the spicy clove undertone, and I’m sure the vintage was even better, with added darkness, smokiness, and bundles of animalic leather. The current parfum version is sophisticated, powdered femininity, but it’s a lot less complicated or interesting than I thought it would be. To be fair, this is not the version everyone talks about, and I rarely find powder puff scents to be interesting in general. Very few of them appeal to me, but I certainly think Tabac Blond is more nuanced than the current Knize Ten, another powdery leather thanks to reformulation. I definitely prefer it to Habanita, which isn’t as luxurious, high-quality, rich or smooth.

I think Tabac Blond skews quite feminine by today’s standards, as I suspect it’s too powdered and makeup-like for most men. Yet, a ton of men love Knize Ten which has been also reformulated into a very powdery scent these days, so who knows. Tabac Blond is much richer, and sweeter than the original Knize Ten, and not as oriental as Knize Gold. Plus, its leather is extremely different, as there is not an iota of birch tar in the Tabac Blond parfum that I tried. The note is much smoother and more refined than the leather in the Knize fragrance; perhaps more akin to the drydown leather of Chanel‘s Cuir de Russie. It’s also sweeter than the leather in both those fragrances, thanks to the Caronade with its mix of dryness, sweetness, vanilla and chestnuts.

Tabac Blond extrait is generally a much adored fragrance in its vintage form. You can read any number of rave, positive reviews for it on the blogosphere, as it may be one of the most discussed fragrances out there, and everyone gets around to covering it eventually. Take, for example, Angela at Now Smell This who wrote, in part:

Although I can imagine a man wearing Tabac Blond well, on me the perfume feels luxuriously womanly. It’s top notes are leather, carnation, and linden, with heart notes of iris, vetiver, ylang ylang, and lime-tree leaf. Its base is cedar, patchouli, vanilla, amber, and musk, although a smoky, spicy vanilla is mostly what lingers on my skin.

Tabac Blond’s range isn’t huge. I don’t get the piquant top notes that many fragrances provide, but instead tobacco leaf, gently supported by spicy florals, starts right off the bat. Then the scent of raw leather appears for a while, and the effect is that of a buttery leather ashtray full of cigarette butts and snickerdoodles, or maybe a leather-vanilla soufflé in a smoky brasserie, if anything like that were ever cooked up. Imagine lipstick-stained wine glasses on marble-topped tables, a smeared golden haze on the mirror over the bar, and worn, red leather banquettes, and you start to get the idea. Tabac Blond has good staying power, and a dab on each wrist and behind the ears will last all day.

Marlene Dietrich via Pinterest.

Marlene Dietrich via Pinterest.

It sounds lovely but, if you look at the date of that review, it’s 2007 and I suspect she may have tested the older, vintage version. I’ve tried to stay away from the issue of vintage Tabac Blond because, frankly, the majority of us will never get the chance to try it. It is simply too expensive, and hard to obtain.

It’s also not easy to find reviews of the modern, current Tabac Blond, as everyone focuses on the reportedly glorious original which was Marlene Dietrich’s favorite scent. A lot of times, talk of the modern version usually comes in the form of a comment posted to a review about the vintage version, with people lamenting the changes, the loss of the leather, and the dominance of powdered florals. Well, they aren’t wrong about that last part, and it makes me feel a lot better for my ambivalence towards the scent.

One person who has written, albeit briefly, about the current version is Bois de Jasmin who did a comparative assessment of both. She loves the vintage parfum which she rates at 5-stars, but gave the modern fragrance a rare one-star. Her review of the 2011 Tabac Blond is wholly disapproving:

It is telling that every time I try to write “Tabac Blond,” I invariably end up with “Tabac Bland.” Indeed, the new version is just that, a bland carnation. The original Tabac Blond has a dark smoky leather note that in combination with rich tobacco and sandalwood create a haunting, smoldering effect. None of those elements are present in what passes for Tabac Blond today. There is a hint of clove and sheer moss, a whisper of something green, but overall, Tabac Blond in its current form is not even worth smelling.

Others have noted definite changes in the scent as well, but my friend, Suzanne, of Eiderdown Press didn’t think they were enormous back in 2009. Perhaps things have gone further down hill since then, but you may be interested in her comparative view of two bottles of the Extrait which she purchased at different times back around the reformulation date:

the big question circulating the blogs last year was, Has this fragrance been “watered down” during the course of its reformulations?  To which I can only say, I purchased two decants of the extrait de parfum back in 2007, and there were noticeable differences between them: the one purchased later in the year was distinctly less dense and full-bodied  than the first decant. Yes, it was a little disturbing; but that said, the Tabac Blonde extrait from either one of those decant bottles still smells as provocatively unique and unto-itself as any scent in my collection. The fragrance’s smoky, spicy, burnt-rubber-and- carnations opening reminds me of the first delicious drags of cigarette—the first one you’ve had in ages—and as it dries down, the tar-like quality dissolves into warm leather, with an amber-and-vanilla finish that does not diminish the smokiness of this scent, but makes for a smooth, fat-bottomed ride that seems to go on forever. Put it all together, and everything about Tabac Blond—from its invitation to enjoy a private, leisurely smoke to its leather panels to its cushiony amber seat—says, Get into my car, babe. Let’s drive.

Suzanne’s version sounds significantly more leathered, tobacco’ed, and ambered than the sample I ordered in 2013, which makes me wonder if the fragrance has been watered down even more since she bought her decant in 2007.

Still, on Fragrantica, the current version of Tabac Blond seems to be much appreciated, though primarily by women. Something that struck me as very odd is that 15 people have voted for a similarity between Tabac Blond and Karl Lagerfeld‘s cologne. Now, I love and own the vintage version, but not the new, reformulated fragrance which appears under the name “Karl Lagerfeld Classic.” I haven’t smelled the latter in a long, long time, but, to my memory, it’s not at all similar to Tabac Blond. It certainly lacks the Caronade signature, as well as the richness and the smoothness of Tabac Blond. I also remember the new, reformulated Lagerfeld “Classic” as being significantly sweeter, more synthetic, and with more actual tobacco, but without any of the carnation spice.

Clearly, vintage Tabac Blond Extrait was a masterpiece of leather, but the current version isn’t terrible. It’s definitely something more suited to those who love powdery carnation or floral scents, but it does have pretty aspects. The Caronade adds a very lovely, rich vein of dark sweetness, and the leather (when it appears) is wonderfully smooth. It may not last very long, but I enjoyed its subtle flickers in the earlier stages. Tabac Blond definitely skews feminine in my view, and I think most men would struggle with the powder aspect. Still, a lot of men adore Knize Ten which, in its modern formulation, is also very powdery, so there is a slim chance that Tabac Blond might appeal. However, don’t expect a ton of leather with modern Tabac Blond, and the same goes for the tobacco.

The main conclusion to draw from all this seems to be this: perhaps we should all scour eBay for the vintage version. Modern Tabac Blond is a great interpretation of a carnation powder puff, with the added benefit of some other subtle elements, brief as they might be, but it’s not really a leather scent any more.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: The version of Tabac Blond that I tested was the Extrait or Parfum which costs $100 for a 7.5 ml bottle, $265 for a 15 ml bottle, and up depending on size. There is also an Eau de Parfum that comes in two sizes. A 50 ml bottle that retails for $130, or a 100 ml bottle that costs $170. Caron has a website, but no e-store from which you can buy the perfumes. In the U.S.: Tabac Blond Extrait is carried at Seattle’s Parfumerie Nasreen which sells the Extrait for $265, but it doesn’t state the size of the bottle (which looks larger than 7.5 ml to me). The $100, small Parfum size is offered by Luckyscent, which also sells the EDP version, but all three are sold out. You can have them email you when they receive it. Tabac Blond Pure Parfum is offered by The Perfume House in Portland which sells the 15 ml bottle for $265, and a 50 ml bottle for $330. It also offers the EDP versions. In New York, you can find it at Caron’s boutique at 715 Lexington Avenue or can perhaps call to order (Ph: (212) 308-0270). There seems to be no other retail options. Nordstrom’s once carried the EDP, but no more. Outside the U.S.: In Paris, you can purchase the fragrance from the 3 Caron boutiques. In France, you can order Tabac Blond Extrait from Atelier Parfumé in a variety of sizes, ranging from the 7.5 ml for €90, going up to €120 for 15 ml, €150 for 20 ml, and €250 for the 50 ml size. You can contact them to see where they ship. One place that says it ships worldwide is the Soleil d’Or Parfumerie which sells Tabac Blond Extrait in the 50 ml bottle for €226. They are sold out of the 15 ml bottle. In the UK, I couldn’t find the Extrait version anywhere. I only found Tabac Blond EDP at Escentual which is briefly discounting the fragrances at £84 for the 50 ml instead of £105, while the 100 ml bottle of EDP is reduced to £134 instead of £167.50. The EDP is available for full price at London’s Les Senteurs, along with a sample for purchase. Samples: I obtained my sample from Surrender to Chance which sells the Extrait starting at $5.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. What I did instead was to order the Smaller Caron Gateway Pack which gives you Tabac Blond Pure Parfum, along with Poivre Parfum, and Parfum Sacré in EDP version in a set that starts at $9.99 for three 1/2 ml vials. The site also offers Vintage Tabac Blond Extrait starting at $19.99 for a 1/4 ml vial.

Reviews En Bref – Boucheron, Montale, Caron, & Annick Goutal: From Average to Terrible

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m verbose. 😉 I can’t seem to help it and, frankly, it often exhausts me as much as it probably overwhelms (terrifies?) you. So, from time to time, I thought I would offer brief thoughts and conclusions on a wide range of colognes or perfumes. Sometimes, they will include fragrances that I plan full reviews for down the line. Other times, like now, it’s for perfumes that I don’t like and find it difficult to sum up the enthusiasm to write a full review.

BOUCHERON:
Boucheron For Men Eau de Parfum is a scent I should like, in theory. It’s a powerhouse citrus aromatic that is most definitely unisex, regardless of what’s written on the bottle. I didn’t like it. It opened with too much soapy citrus and was utterly overwhelming. I’m not easily overwhelmed and usually like powerhouse perfumes. This one is justifiably considered by some to be utterly unbearable. (For the sake of balance, others adore it. It’s definitely a very split opinion.) Boucheron became much better as it developed but not enough for me to like it. Bottom line: nothing special and somewhat nondescript in the end.

 

MONTALE:

I’m glad I tried Montale’s Oriental Flowers if only to prove to myself that my intense dislike for Montale scents thus far has nothing to do with oud. The two Montale oud fragrances that I’ve tried (and reviewed here) were nothing short of Chernobyl on my arm and made me desperate for a Silkwood shower. A close friend recently tried Montale’s Amber Aoud and commented: “Montale clobbers you over the head and drags you back to a cave to roast you on a rack.” So, clearly, it’s not just me. Oriental Flowers is better — but that’s not saying much. It’s sharp, screechy, and very synthetic (to me, at least). For a floriental, there is a note that suspiciously calls to mind the oud in Montale’s other fragrances.

Perhaps it’s the very synthetic lime note that keeps appearing in the Montale perfumes, even though there shouldn’t be lime in any of those that I’ve tried thus far. I think “sharp, hostile lime” is how my nose processes the extremely synthetic florals and ouds in the Montales. Regardless, I find the rose scent in Oriental Flowers to be synthetic and screechy too. Over all, the perfume gave me a headache and I wanted it off me. It wasn’t the unrelenting horror and nuclear explosion of the Montale ouds, but it was damn unpleasant. And, even worse, it simply won’t go away. There is just no escape from Montale scents, no matter how microscopic the amount.

CARON:

Perfumistas and bloggers rave about Nuit de Noel, a favorite particularly around Christmas time and a fragrance that Karl Lagerfeld allegedly sprays around his house to get him in the holiday mood. Huh. Maybe I need to try the vintage version, because I’m in the clear (and tiny) minority on this one. Consider me utterly unimpressed, though so, so desperately eager to like this one. Dammit, why don’t I?! It’s a floriental whose spice is supposed to evoke marron glacés, old-fashioned Christmases with gingerbread men, sugar and spice, baking cookies, and cozy fireplaces. Even Goth Christmases and the 1920s. The superb blog, Perfume Shrine, had an absolutely delicious review (which convinced me to buy it)  and which reads, in part, as follows:

Caron’s Nuit de Noël (1922) is a soft oriental built on an accord of rose absolu and Mousse de Saxe perfumer’s base (i.e. a ready-made accordof ingredients producing a specific effect), with the addition of 25% sandalwood, jasmine, ylang ylang, lily of the valley, vetiver, amber and iris. It’s prismatically constructed around 6-isobutylquinoline, a leathery molecule.

The fragrance emits a cozy, inviting scent poised between the starch of marrons and the bitterness of the iodine/leathery note(hence my Fernet Branca evocation) fading into musky woods. Indeed the famous “Mousse de Saxe accord” is comprised of geranium, licorice (created with anise), isobutyl quinoline (leather notes), iodine and vanillin (synthesized vanilla). If older Carons, especially in their superior vintage form, are characterised by a signature “Caronade”, a common thread that runs through them, Nuit de Noël is a good place to start this escapade into one of the most chic and historical French perfume houses.

Less incensey than similarly oriental Parfum Sacré, less abrasive or bold than straightforward leathery En Avion or Tabac BlondNuit de Noël has a sheen that starts and ends on an unwavering tawny pitch. The spiced rum-licorice notes aplified by musk (a musk comparable to that in Chanel’sNo.5 and Bois des Iles) take on a rich saturation; the fragrance dries down to a powdery warmth redolent of the bourgeois scents of a festive evening spent outdoors.

Every single one of the reviews mentions things that are right up my alley, and make me wonder about my own judgment. (Did I mention that I’m desperate to like Nuit de Noel?) Unfortunately, as I wrote to an inquiring friend yesterday, I actually regret having bought a full bottle. A small sample would have sufficed. I only get fleeting notes of a few of the things mentioned by others, if at all. Plus, there is a very surprising bit of an underlying coldness and dryness to it. Someone called it “melancholy” but in a good way; I’m not sure I would go that far. Now, again, the vintage may be very different, but the bottom line is that my version is nothing particularly special. It’s perfectly nice, nondescript and pleasant, but I don’t want “pleasant.” There are too many perfumes in the world for unenthused “pleasant.”

Montaigne by Caron is one I’m on the fence about. It’s not a perfume I reach for often and, when I do, I think to myself, “I should wear this more.” It makes me think of Cannes, mimosa flowers under a brilliant blue sky, and Van Gogh paintings. It’s a floriental and the notes are described as follows: Top notes are jasmine, coriander, bitter orange, mimose and tangerine; middle notes are narcissus and black currant; base notes are sandalwood, amber and vanille. It’s sunny, elegant, and incredibly powerful both in terms of sillage and longevity. I have no clue why I don’t like this more. Perhaps it’s going to take a lot more tries, though that didn’t work for Nuit de Noel.

ANNICK GOUTAL:

Grand Amour is a perfume I should adore, and not solely because of the incredibly romantic story behind it. It’s a perfume that Annick Goutal created in 1996 for herself as an ode to love and her husband. Lucky Scent says: “Grand Amour is the perfume that encapsulates the serene passion Annick experienced with her husband, the cellist Alain Meunier, who would bring her a bouquet of white flowers every week. A dense perfume with flowery chords, amber, and musk that speaks of love, because “love is everything.” It’s another floriental (can you see a theme in my tastes?), and according to Fragrantica: “[t]he composition is based on three accords: floral, amber, and musk. In the floral bouquet, lily, honeysuckle, and hyacinth lead the way to Turkish rose, French jasmine, and Indian mimosa, with a touch of fruity notes. Oriental accord (amber) is represented by the notes of amber, vanilla and myrrh. In the base the sensual musk united with precious rare balsams create a very long trace.”

Hmmph. If they say so. To me, Grand Amour has a painfully green opening. It is the filthy, fetid, murky green remnants of a week-old vase of flowers whose water has not been changed and started to stink. At the same time, it’s a bit powdery and soapy. After a queasy hour or two, it turns softer. But now it’s musky soap and powder, but with leather and balsam. There’s something about it that I find unpleasant. I bought it because I love hyacinth, amber and myrrh; because the rest of the notes sounded completely up my alley; and because it was reported to be one of the rare Goutals that has good longevity. Well, the longevity isn’t bad, but it’s an utter ordeal and chore to wear it. It’s hardly akin to the sheer horror that is Montale (nothing is), but it’s one of the few perfumes I own that I want to sell. Not only do I not want to have anything to do with it, but I need to have that full bottle stop staring at me so hauntingly and reproachfully.