Tom Ford Private Blend Champaca Absolute

Tom Ford in W magazine, via Papermag.com

Tom Ford in W magazine, via Papermag.com

A heady, rich, utterly opulent mix of creamy, white and yellow, tropical flowers whose velvety petals are infused with syrupy fruits and sprinkled with a touch of boozy liqueur, before being dipped in dark tea and bergamot, and then nestled in a vanilla cocoon. That’s the essence of Tom Ford‘s Champaca Absolute, a very lush eau de parfum that is part of his Private Blend line. The perfume was released in 2009, and is centered around the eponymous flower, Champaca, an Asian cousin to magnolia. Champaca has an aroma that is a mix of magnolia and ylang-ylang, but it can also have a tea-like aspect with fruited nuances. All those sides are highlighted in Champaca Absolute in a very bold, very sweet, very heavy mix that is not for the faint of heart.

Tom Ford’s description for the fragrance, as quoted by most retail sites, appears to be the following:

A floral oriental composition that is pure and provocative. With its sensuous heart of champaca, the magnolia-like flower that inspired it, this intoxicating nectar heightens the senses with notes of Tokajii wine and cognac as it warms the skin with vanilla bean, amber and sandalwood.

Source: de.osmoz.com

Source: de.osmoz.com

According to Luckyscent, the notes in Champaca Absolute include:

Tokaji [plum] wine, cognac, bergamot, magnolia champaca, orchid, violet, jasmine, vanilla, amber, sandalwood and marron glacé.

Fragrantica, however, has a slightly different list which is notable for the inclusion of dyer’s greenwood, a variety of the broom shrub that smells of hay. They state:

the top notes are cognac, bergamot and dyer’s greenweed [or broom]; middle notes are champaca, orchid, violet and jasmine; base notes are vanilla, amber, sandalwood and marron glace.

I think the complete, total list would be a combination of the two, as I definitely detect both the broom and the Japanese plum wine.

Champaca. Source: monstermarketplace.com

Champaca.

Champaca Absolute opens on my skin with an intense, concentrated blast of fruited, plummy, Japanese wine and cognac brandy, followed by tropical champaca. The flower smells of: buttery magnolia; custardy, banana-like ylang-ylang; apricots; and a heavy, syrupy, fruited sweetness. Lurking deep below the heady, over-the-top, floral richness is an almost leathered, smoky nuance. Sticky, cooked, plum molasses swirls in the floral air from the Japanese wine, while cognac is sprinkled all on top. You don’t smell as though you were dunked in a vat of alcohol, but there is a very pronounced liqueured aspect to the fruited sweetness.

I’ve noted a number of times in the past how Tom Ford fragrances can smell very different depending on how much you apply, and Champaca Absolute is no exception. When I applied a lot (amounting to a little over 1/3 of the vial, or the equivalent of 2 big sprays from an actual bottle), there was a definite vein of smoky darkness underlying the heady, sensual flowers. However, when I applied a lesser quantity (about 2 big smears, amounting to a small spray from a bottle), the notes which accompanied the champaca at the opening were quite different. There was no smokiness or leather, little plum, but a lot of orchid infused with vanilla.

Source: Foundwalls.com

Source: Foundwalls.com

Orchid has a very interesting, clear, sweet, delicate smell that can vary in its aroma depending on which variety of the flower is used. Here, in Champaca Absolute, it smelled delicately dewy, liquidy, and like floral nectar that was thoroughly infused with both ylang-ylang and vanilla. The overall effect was to remind me of one of my favorite, opulent florientals, LM ParfumsSensual Orchid. It is a scent with a couple of notes in common with the Tom Ford, namely, orchid, boozy tonalities, ylang-ylang, jasmine, vanilla, and resins.

LM Parfums Sensual Orchid. Source: Fragrantica

LM Parfums Sensual Orchid. Source: Fragrantica

However, the two fragrances differ quite a bit in their focal points and overall feel. Champaca Absolute is dominated by the very unctuous, magnolia-like flower, not the lighter, clearer orchid. The Tom Ford fragrance feels more oriental, ambered, heavy, syrupy sweet, and fruited. In contrast, LM Parfums’ Sensual Orchid feels less flat on my skin, less potentially oppressive or weighed down, and much more purely floral. Its tropical touch comes from coconut, not from the custardy, buttery magnolia flower. It lacks bergamot, along with hay or tea tonalities, but includes mandarin orange, almonds, peony, and neroli. At the same time, its boozy note is substantially lighter and more refined. It’s also much fresher and less sweet at its core, and thereby, less potentially cloying in nature. I have to be honest, I much prefer Sensual Orchid’s take on the lush, over-the-top, narcotic, floriental genre.

Broom via pbase.com

Broom via pbase.com

Beyond the minor Sensual Orchid resemblance, a lower dosage of Champaca Absolute also yields other differences from the version I saw with a higher amount. The main difference is that the accompanying notes rise to the surface much sooner, particularly the bergamot, jasmine, and the broom’s hay-like note. There is a more obvious, profound, and long-lasting citrus tonality to the scent, along with increased dryness from the broom. There is also a stronger touch of earthiness in the base that verges on something like mushrooms or truffles, though it is subtle, so its impact is quite relative as a whole. (Still, it’s enough to make me think of Tom Ford‘s Black Orchid which has a truffle note in the base.) Apart from all that, and as noted above, Champaca Absolute does not feel resinous, smoky or dark at the lower dosage; and both the booziness and the fruity undertones are also much weaker. In short, if you apply less Champaca Absolute, you’ll get more of a sweetly floral-magnolia scent that has very different, very altered levels for the rest of its accompanying elements.

Blooming Magnolia tree. Source: wallpaperswiki.org

Blooming Magnolia tree. Source: wallpaperswiki.org

Regardless of the amount that you apply, both versions end up at the same place, sooner or later, so I’ll just stick with discussing the Champaca Absolute I experienced with the larger quantity. This version is fully centered on the magnolia-like flower, with not much interference from the orchid or anything else at first, other than the very fruity accords. The plum wine is powerful during the first 10 minutes, much more so than the boozy cognac on my skin, although both are simply different form of liqueured fruits. At the same time, there is a definite suggestion of something almost like Davana, a rich Indian flower that smells like apricot-y ylang-ylang. There is almost no fresh bergamot to lighten up the notes, no hay, and little vanilla.

10 minutes into its development, Champaca Absolute slowly shifts. The jasmine arrives on the scene, imparting an additional layer of syrupy sweetness to the bouquet. The plum wine takes a small step back, the boozy cognac softens a little, and the perfume feels even richer. There is the first hint of the champaca’s tea-like facet, along with the tiniest whisper of bergamot, though both are very muted at this point. Slowly, very slowly, Champaca Absolute turns more floral in focus. The boozy elements retreat to the sidelines after 30 minutes, and the delicate nectar of the orchid arrives to coat the richer, more unctuous, buttery champaca. There is a touch of broom now as well, but its subtle dryness does little to leaven or cut through Champaca Absolute’s richness.

Source: the3foragers.blogspot.com

Source: the3foragers.blogspot.com

In the base, there is a tiniest whisper of earthiness, though it never smells like marrons glacé or iced chestnuts to me. Interestingly, at the lower dosage, Champaca Absolute reflected a more noticeable, almost truffle-like, mushroomy nuance in its foundation, but it’s not so apparent now. By the same token, the tea-like elements and bergamot feel much weaker at the higher dosage, too. Frankly, the lighter, more minor notes have very little chance of standing up to the power of the heavy floral cocktail. Everything but the flowers, fruits, syrupy sweetness, and the growing touch of vanilla in the base are secondary — and, in some cases, tertiary, acting as a very muffled or muted suggestions at best.

The power of the florals as the showpiece is the main reason why Champaca Absolute doesn’t change much in the hours which follow. All that happens is that certain secondary notes fluctuate in their prominence, order, and clarity. Whether it is the bergamot, the tea, the darkly smoky aspect in the base, or the various fruits, they all basically reach a crescendo by the end of the 2nd hour. After that, they either lose their shape and individual distinction, melt into the base, or generally aren’t a main or powerful part of the scent.

Apricot. Source: forwallpaper.com

Apricot. Source: forwallpaper.com

The champaca (or davana-like) facets of apricot and tea have the greatest shelf-life in weaving about the top notes, along with the bergamot to a much lesser extent, but as a whole, Champaca Absolute is really just a floral blend of lush, tropical, velvety flowers dominated by a magnolia-like richness. It is infused with vanilla which increasingly takes over from the fruited elements. They, in turn, become more abstract, feeling merely like a general fruity syrupiness that coats all the flowers.

The more obvious, significant changes to Champaca Absolute involve its projection and feel. Initially, the perfume was very potent, powerful, and intense — regardless of how much you apply. However, with a little over 1/3 of a ml or about 2 sprays from a bottle, Champaca Absolute is extremely forceful indeed. At first. In fact, it’s rather a surprise how quickly the perfume turns soft and the sillage drops. I suspect Tom Ford sought to counterbalance the richness and sweetness of the notes with something that was less dense in weight. If so, then he succeeded in that goal. At the end of the first hour, Champaca Absolute turns softer and weaker. From an initial distance of about 5-6 inches, the perfume’s projection now drops to around 2-3 inches. At the end of the second hour, however, Champaca Absolute hovers just above the skin. And that’s at the very high dose! Granted, it remains there for hours, and only turns into a discreet skin scent at the 6.5 hour mark, but given the serious intensity of the opening moments, I was a little surprised by soft and airy the fragrance becomes later on.

Magnolia. Source: wallpaperpimper.com

Magnolia. Source: wallpaperpimper.com

By the end of the 2nd hour, Champaca Absolute is a well-blended, seamless blend of lush, tropical, buttery flowers dominated by a magnolia-like richness that is lightly flecked with jasmine syrup, hints of ylang-ylang, and a touch of Davana. Tiny streaks of apricots, dark tea, and, to a much lesser extent, fresh bergamot run through it. There is no hay, earthiness, plum, or booziness on my skin. There continues to be a definite element of fruitiness, but it becomes increasingly abstract and indistinguishable from the florals. Only the tiniest suggestion of a dark, slightly smoky, resinous amber ripples through the base. Much more prominent, however, is a smooth, custardy creaminess that has a very vanillic nature.

Ylang-Ylang. Source: Soapgoods.com

Ylang-Ylang. Source: Soapgoods.com

In the hours that follow, Champaca Absolute turns into a simple blur of rich florals with tropical creaminess. As noted above, the other notes either fade into the sidelines, or melt completely into the base. The resinous amber, smokiness, and bergamot are the first to vanish around the 5th hour. After that, the apricots and fruitiness. Late in the 6th hour, Champaca Absolute is primarily a sweet floral with a custardy, banana-like richness and sweetness. If I smell very hard with my nose right on the skin and focus intently, I can single out ylang-ylang and jasmine as the most prominent aspects, along with vanilla and a subtle hint of fruitiness. There is a brief flicker of some nebulous, vaguely woody note in the base, but it’s hardly distinguishable as sandalwood. (And it’s most definitely not Mysore sandalwood.)

From afar, though, Champaca Absolute is a mere haze of rich, custardy florals, and it remains that way until its very end. In its final moments, the perfume is a light smear of floral sweetness with a suggestion of something creamy, tropical and fruited about it. All in all, Champaca Absolute lasted under12 hours with a small amount, and a whopping 14.75 hours at a higher dosage. Given how my skin eats up perfumes, that says something. The sillage hovered just above the skin for a good portion of that time, and the perfume felt quite airy in weight, despite the heaviness of its notes up close.

Champaca via tropicalbonsainursery.net

Champaca via tropicalbonsainursery.net

I’m going to say this bluntly, and probably about 15 more times during the remainder of this review, but Tom Ford’s Champaca Absolute is one of those love it/hate it scents that you should not go anywhere near if you don’t love extremely heavy, lush, sweet florals. If you hate the richness of magnolia, stay away. If you can’t bear the sweet syrupy aspects to jasmine, or the custard heaviness of ylang-ylang, stay away. If you don’t like even light amounts of hay, broom, or earthy notes, you may want to pause. If you don’t like intensely fruited notes, especially very unctuous, syrupy, or tropical fruited notes, then run. Same thing if you don’t like fragrances with even light touches of booziness or liqueured aspects. And if you hate fragrances that explode like a heavy, powerful bomb at the start, then you may want to go to the other end of the planet than anywhere which is wafting Champaca Absolute. This is a fragrance for a very particular sort of perfume taste, and it will not be for everyone. I cannot emphasize that enough.

Now, if you happen to be someone whose taste or perfume style suits several of the aforementioned categories — ideally, all of them — then you may find Champaca Absolute to be the best thing ever. However, even if you are one of those people, there is a chance that Champaca Absolute will feel too heavily and oppressive in its flat, dense, richness. I happen to be someone who actually is in the target demographic, and I’m still a little uncertain about the perfume.

I enjoy Champaca Absolute’s opulence and richness, but I really have to pause at times. For one thing, the perfume is a little too monolithic in its feel. If Champaca Absolute didn’t drive over you like a Panzer unit on its way to Poland, then I might handle it better. If the linearity of “heavy florals with vanilla” had been leavened with more changes, I might not feel quite so exhausted by the end. I think it’s a great scent for a “once in a while” occasion, in low quantities; I’m not sure about anything more than that, or about wearing Champaca Absolute on a frequent basis, let alone a daily one. There is something about the scent that feels as though you just ate 6 whole vanilla-frosted cakes, when you merely asked for a single, large slice. Wearing Champaca Absolute for a few days in a row would probably put me off both cake and rich florals for a while.

I suspect that some (or many) of these issues are the reason why Champaca Absolute has received mixed reviews. In fact, on MakeupAlley, the fragrance seems to be quite polarizing. Take this long (edited) assessment by “Mac789” who seemed to initially like the fragrance, before drastically changing her mind:

A wonderful, bitchy-pill white floral that completely disagreed with me. […][¶]

This is not your mother’s white floral, nor is it something that is especially easy to wear. It’s a ballsy scent with a lot going on and it has extreme lasting power.

The drunken spree at the top, combined with the champaca absolute, a sprig of almost mentholated green, and whatever other floral is veering around, blew my mind. Nothing smells like this. Thank you, Tom Ford, for creating a five-alarm fragrance. The florals are rich, bright, and careering towards instability.

French Broom via Wikipedia

French Broom via Wikipedia

Shortly, a strong honeyed broom note appeared. I have never liked broom, although I can’t fault the fragrance for its use. […][¶] I then left the store and let the fragrance air out. Within short order, the base ripped through. This base was fanatical woods and dirt, insistently growing and engulfing, sharpening, smothering, cutting… reaching a splintering zenith from which there was no escape, not by washcloth, shower, or baby wipe…

It stayed with me until the next day, showing off. The experience left me reeling, and also realizing that sometimes the thing that stands out the most is the thing that most attracts–for the wrong reasons.

Champaca Absolute is a standout that I suspect will entrance and enchant people who adore broom, woods, and soil. It’s a highly creative fragrance [… but it]  was too distorted for me to wear, with both giant opener and closer and not a smooth segue from one thing to the next, or perhaps it was my perception that was distorted, since I liked it well enough when I first smelled it. As of right now, though, rather than being that overworked term “edgy,” it pushed me towards the edge.

SOurce: rmwebed.com.au

SOurce: rmwebed.com.au

Others had a very different experience, where the problem was not any earthiness or broom at all, but rather “putrid fruit,” too much tropicality, or just plain fatigue after a while. Some of the shorter responses:

  • This has a problem of arrested development on my skin. No matter how much I spray, it is arrested at a preliminary stage where it is about to bloom and that is it. I also get cognac-sweet top notes but the rest is just a super humid tropical evening without much in particular. Indeed Champaca Abcolute has such a humid, moist vibe on my skin that it wouldn’t surprise me if I started seeing tiny mushrooms popping up on my skin. It also turns acrid, somehow fermented on my skin after a short while. [¶] Still, even I get a meaty tropical flower smell from this. Is it champaca? […] I get something that makes me think of magnolias and other things.
  • Its an alright fragrance. At first whiff this was gorgeous and I had to have it but the drydown was not something that I liked as much. Too floral for me.
  •  It was really perfume intensity and smelled like putrid fruit. Not like a big white floral that I was hoping for. […] The next day I could still smell it on my skin. It finally had become pleasant, but nothing special.
Source: dailymail.co.uk

Source: dailymail.co.uk

Others, however, love Champaca Absolute, sometimes passionately so:

  • [At] the Tom Ford counter […] I tried White Musk (my least favorite), Oud Wood (too masculine), Japon Noir, Noir de Noir (not too bad), but none of them really blew me away until I smelled Champaca Absolute! This fragrance is mysterious, sensual, sweet and surprising. Everything that I was looking for. [¶] The cognac top note really makes this a special fragrance. The sweetness lasts about an hour and then comes the Jasmine, Violet, Orchid and Champaca floral notes. Very nice. The dry down is especially wonderful. The fragrance stays close to your skin all day. I really think this is a timeless fragrance that’s good for any adult age.
  • How lovely! TF Champaca Absolute opens with blast of champaca-scented rice in a container made of fresh-cut bamboo-stem, along with sweet ripe plum. I am a big fan of white florals and I love the real champaca flower. The name is misleading as champaca is never dominant but lingers to the end. [¶] Comparision between TF Champaca Absolute and Ormande Jayne Champaca: OJ is “browner” and denser while TF is greener and more airy. OJ is less sweet and less rice-like. Both are well-blended exotic beauties! OJ is “wilder” while TF is more lady-like. I like both.
  • TF Champaca Absolute by **no means** deserves any kind of low rating or to be compared to Ormonde Jayne et al. Tom Ford went to the most ancient of gardens, where perfumiers have been harvesting for thousands of years, and has captured not just the scent, but the **soul** of champaca (hence the “absolute.”) If it turns putrid as some say, then that’s incompatible skin chemistry my dears, NOT the perfume. When a perfume turns putrid after being sprayed on acid-free paper or linen, then and then only can it be considered a loser. TF Champaca Absolute is EXQUISITE to the extreme, and incredibly lifting, not only for the wearer, but those who experience the waft. […]  Tom Ford has nailed it. That is **exactly** what champaca is… a sacred flower that the eastern cultures maintain inspires a higher peace and joy. [Emphasis to names with bolding added by me.]

I’ve spent so much time on the average perfumistas’ mixed responses to Champaca Absolute in order to provide a counterbalance to the bloggers who generally seem to love the fragrance and who also detect very different elements. Take, for example, Victoria at Bois de Jasmin who wrote:

Magnolia. Source: Kathy Clark via FineArtAmerica.com

Magnolia. Source: Kathy Clark via FineArtAmerica.com

Despite its name, Champaca Absolute is not a soliflore—the magnolia note is part of a bouquet. Overall, it is a quite a striking blend, full of character and dramatic presence. Like many Private Blends, Champaca Absolute has a certain vintage glamour, yet without a self-conscious retro aesthetic. The richness of the composition is evident throughout: from the top accord, with its dried fruit and candied citrus nuances, to the sugared amber and vanilla base. Set against this gourmand cornucopia is a heady, luxurious floral composition. It suggests the indolic heft of jasmine, the spicy warmth of carnation and the petally radiance of magnolia. While magnolia is only an accent, it fits so beautifully that I forget about wanting a magnolia soliflore experience.

There is a point to the development of Champaca Absolute that reminds me strongly of Tom Ford Black Orchid, or rather what I wanted Black Orchid to be—an unapologetically rich, opulent floral. The late drydown of Champaca Absolute is my favorite part. The dramatic sensuality of the composition mellows down, leaving one with an intimate, warm veil of woods, incense and violets. It is certainly worth waiting for!

Japanese Plum Liqueur, Yamazaki. Source: tokyowhiskyhub.blogspot.com

Japanese Plum Liqueur, Yamazaki. Source: tokyowhiskyhub.blogspot.com

Then, there is The Non-Blonde who also seems to have thoroughly enjoyed the scent:

Is Champaca Absolute the big  fruity floral in Tom Ford’s Private Blend line? Yes and no, I guess. The floral heart notes take center stage and they are accentuated with sweet round plums and a plum liqueur. But, really, this is not something that belongs in a pink bottle on Sephora’s shelves. The first blast is very alcoholic and boozy. Something between Armagnac and a plum brandy. […] Champaca Absolute smells really really good.

The flowers (jasmine, violet, orchid, champaca) are blended into a single accord of prettiness.It leans to the tropic side, a little loud and exuberant, but after wearing it enough times and learning to listen I’ve begun to smell the softness that lies underneath. It feels like a layer of silk, not quite powdery and not quite sweet- I guess that’s the steamed rice quality of champaca. I have yet to find it when wearing Ormonde Jayne’s Champaca which I like well enough, but Tom Ford’s version works better on my skin for one reason or another.

Maybe it’s the base. Champaca Absolute dries down rich and sweet. After four or five hours it becomes a full blown oriental, even though the floral accord is tenacious enough to still be hover and appear here and there, especially in the heat. I can’t say I get the promised marron glace note, but there is quite a bit of sweet creaminess to satisfy my sweet tooth. [Emphasis and bolding to name added by me.]

On Fragrantica, the reviews are as mixed as they are on MakeupAlley, though a substantially greater number seem to really like Champaca Absolute. Some find the perfume to be a wonderful successor to the tradition of big ’80s powerhouses, or even older ones like Fracas. A handful enjoyed the beginning before being overwhelmed by too much syrupy sweetness over the course of the perfume’s development, and changing their mind. Several dislike Champaca Absolute as being “too perfume-y,” too much like “an old lady perfume,” or too boring in its simple floral nature. Others rave about how it is “seductive,” “glorious,” “exceptional,” their “favorite TF buy so far,” or even their “favorite fragrance of all time.”

Marrons Glacés or iced, glazed chestnuts.

Marrons Glacés or iced, glazed chestnuts.

Interestingly, one of the positive reviews comes from a man. Actually, I know a few men who enjoy Champaca Absolute, probably because of boozy opening, but they are exceptions as this is a fragrance that definitely skews feminine in nature. Still, you may be interested in one man’s Fragrantica assessment:

Champaca Absolute is my favourite TF and in my opinion one of his best.Boozy opening,no doubt,but once the cognac has subsided to a lesser extent the glorious chestnut aroma remains right through the mid notes and drydown. I disagree with previous commentary that its a female only scent and an old womans fragrance or overtly floral. For mine the floral notes are there but take a backseat.Granted its not the most masculine scent going around but its a standout in a bland sea of citrus/aquatics/oriental/woods and can be worn by a guy who is looking for something totally unique and is confident enough to wear it. Longevity is in the vicinity of 6 hours and sillage is close to the skin.
Definitely worth a sample and pleased I have added this gem to my collection of niches 🙂

Whether or not a man can wear Champaca Absolute is definitely going to depend on his personal tastes and comfort zone. I firmly believe that if you feel good in what you’re wearing, that’s all that matters. So if a guy enjoys lushly opulent, boozy florals, then Champaca Absolute is definitely one to consider. If, that is, he fits within all my prior parameters or warnings about both the scent as a whole and its particular notes.

We all have different perfume tastes, and there isn’t a scent in the world which is going to appeal to everyone. Tom Ford’s fragrances tend to be more polarizing in general, due to their intensity, richness, often powerhouse forcefulness, and heaviness. Champaca Absolute is no different. However, it may be a little more of a love it/leave it scent than some of his others. I’ve noticed that people really respond at opposite ends of the spectrum to big, lush, heavy florals. Here, there is the added issue of syrupy sweetness, almost tropical fruitiness, and the other supporting notes like the cognac, broom, and the very subtle earthiness. Making matters even more complicated is that lush intensity, the heaviness, and an 80s-like powerhouse strength. If all of that sounds like your cup of tea, then you should definitely seek out Champaca Absolute. You may want to remember, however, that — just like a very rich cake — a little goes a long way.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Private Blend Champaca Absolute is an eau de parfum which comes in three sizes that cost: $210, €180, or £140.00 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle; $280 or £320.00 for a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle; and $520 or €420 for a 250 ml/8.45 oz bottle. The Tom Ford website is undergoing renovations at this time, so its e-shop is down. In the U.S.: you can find Champaca Absolute at Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Nordstrom, Luckyscent, and many other retailers. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, Tom Ford is carried at Holt Renfrew, but they don’t list many of the TF perfumes on their website. In the UK, you can find Champaca Absolute at Harrods, Harvey Nichols, House of Fraser, or Selfridges in various sizes. The small 1.7 oz/50 ml size costs £140, and the super-large 250 ml bottle goes for £320. In France, the Tom Ford Private Blend line is available at Sephora. For the rest of Europe, all Tom Fords, including Champaca Absolute, are also sold at Premiere Avenue which offers the 50 ml size for €180. They ship world-wide. In Belgium, you can find Champaca Absolute at Parfuma, in Russia at Lenoma, and in Australia at David Jones for AUD$290. In the Middle East, the Private Line is carried at many stores, especially Harvey Nichols, but I also found Champaca Absolute at ParfumeUAE. For other all other countries, I would normally link to Tom Ford’s store locator, but his website is undergoing construction at this time. Samples: Surrender to Chance has samples of Champaca Absolute starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.
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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.

Roja Dove Innuendo (Creation-I)

A suggestion of skin, a tantalizing innuendo, and a knowing glance — all as soft as a whisper. Roja Dove‘s Innuendo is meant to capture some of those things, and to feel like a tender kiss that stays with you for a lifetime. Innuendo was released in 2012, but came to America last year under the name Creation-I due to legal trademark reasons. It comes in two forms, an Extrait Pure Parfum version and an Eau de Parfum. This review is for the Extrait.

Source: Roja Parfums website.

Source: Roja Parfums website.

On his personal Roja Parfums website, Roja Dove describes Innuendo as follows:

“As Soft As A Whisper”

SWEET, FRESH, WARM, & SOFT

“This creation is my homage to everything feminine: a lingerie drawer, make-up, and a knowing look. It is like the caress of cashmere against the skin, or a woman’s tender kiss which stays with you for a lifetime”. Roja Dove

INGREDIENTS
TOP: Bergamot, Lemon, Orange
HEART: Jasmine, Rose, Violet, Ylang Ylang
BASE: Labdanum, Musk, Orris, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Tonka Bean.

"Evernia Prunastri" lichen moss. Source: via supermoss.com

“Evernia Prunastri” lichen moss. Source: via supermoss.com

Innuendo opens on my skin with a dewy, pink rose, followed by bergamot, chilled lemon, violets and a definite suggestion of mossy greens. There is no oakmoss listed in Innuendo, but something in the combination of ingredients smells exactly like mousse de chene or oakmoss absolute. According to The Aroma Connection blog, a specific type of oakmoss (Evernia prunastri) is the basis for the absolute. It is a grey lichen which grows on trees and has an intensely dank, pungent, fusty aroma that can also be salty and smell like tree bark. Unfortunately, since real oakmoss of any type is essentially banned out of perfume existence, substitutes are sometimes used. The Aroma Connection briefly talks about the various synthetic versions and their aroma:

It should also be mentioned that a range of commercial oakmoss products exists, some offering a warm, leathery-mossy character, whilst others offer have woody, mossy – almost marine-like aspects.

Roja Dove probably did some feat of technical mastery and genius to the patchouli to make it so accurately conjure up oakmoss absolute, because Innuendo has the same sort of smell described in that article: a sharp, slightly fusty, fiercely mossy, green aroma which conjures up images of tree bark, lichen, and saltiness. Since it translates to my nose as “oakmoss,” I’ll just use that word in quotes to convey what I’m smelling. Whatever the source of the note, it’s beautifully done, and feels like dark thorns are piercing through the petals of that soft, pink rose. Yet, for all the pungent, dry, mineralized feel of the “oakmoss,” there is also a bright, plush, emerald green velvetiness from the patchouli itself.

Every inch of the lovely pink and green bouquet is infused with yellow citruses. They are simultaneously tart, crisp, chilled, zesty, sweet and a little bit bitter. It feels as if your nail has just pierced the rind, squirting out the concentrated oil. Something about the fruits makes me think of a sweet but bitter yellow grapefruit, more than an acidic lemon. There is a fragrancy and richness to the oils that feels incredibly bright and fresh. It’s a lovely contrast to the “oakmoss” (or whatever note conjures that mineralized fustiness).

Source: modavesen.com

Source: modavesen.com

Lurking at Innuendo’s edges are other elements. There is a soft, fruited, purple patchouli, though it is thankfully not cloyingly sweet. Hints of woodiness are further afield, along with the spectral figure of some powdery iris. More prominent is the dash of violets sprinkled throughout. They feel sweet, green, dewy and cool, but also woody and earthy, as if they were black violets nestled at the base of a tree.

10 minutes in, Innuendo begins the first of its many rapid changes. The rose grows jammier and sweeter; the powdered orris draws closer; and the tangy, bright zestiness of the citruses take a step back. There is a hint of jasmine that takes the iris’ place in the nose-bleed seats. In the base, the first glimmer of vanilla stirs quietly. The “oakmoss” feels less vibrant, bright and plush. It turns more fusty and dry, evoking the sense of dry tree bark. Yet, at the same time, there is also a creamy sort of woodiness in the base that replicates sandalwood quite well, even if it lacks the red spiciness of the true Mysore variety. What I don’t like is the growing presence of musk that feels sharp and too clean.

Soon, within minutes, Innuendo has turned into a very jammy, velvety rose scent, infused with both mossy and purple fruitchouli, along with sharp musk and powdered iris. The citruses and violet are extremely muted now, more of a suggestion than anything else. The jasmine, in contrast, is starting to jump up and down in the background, yelling a louder “Hello.” The most interesting aspect about Innuendo at this stage is the saltiness that circles around the notes. It’s like a lovely breath of sea air blowing from the North Atlantic, and it helps keep the purple patchouli in check. 

Source: facepla.net

Source: facepla.net

Unfortunately for me, the musk is growing increasingly white and shrill. It’s absolutely terrible, quickly taking on the aroma of very expensive floral hairspray or soap. White musk is one of my pet (perfume) peeves in life, and I simply cannot see the purpose of it in such an elegant, refined composition. I’m actually less annoyed by the growing sweetness of the fruitchouli that I hate so much because at least it doesn’t feel quite so jarring, out-of-place, and piercing. Even the growing powderiness of the iris fits in better, and is decently modulated.

Photo: stepbystep.com

Photo: stepbystep.com

It takes less than 30 minutes from the start for Innuendo to turn into an extremely high-class rose shampoo, albeit a very expensive, feminine, refined one that is infused with purple patchouli and small tendrils of dry, green mossiness. The white musk is abominable, radiating out both soap, shampoo, and hairspray tonalities into every atom of the rich, powerful rose. The impression of creamy sandalwood has faded, along with the citruses and the last gasp of the violet. The iris remains to add makeup powder to the mix.

JanusThe whole thing feels utterly bifurcated, as if there are two polar opposite things going on at once. An opulent, extremely sophisticated rich rose with an “oakmoss” bite, versus a young ingenue’s fresh, innocent soapiness. I think those who love soapy, powdered florals would probably consider Innuendo to be the height of luxurious, opulent elegance from the golden age of haute parfumerie. I admit, I can see that, myself as certain parts of Innuendo at this stage certainly ring true to that ideal. Yet, my lip is still curling with disdain over the other parts of the scent, and the overall dated feel. I don’t have anything against opulent florals with an old-time, vintage, classique feel. If anything, that is rather in my wheel-house. Yet, Innuendo still feels antiquated, and not in a good way.

Lara Pulver.

Lara Pulver.

There are two, very different women simultaneously being represented by Innuendo at this stage. The first one who repeatedly comes to my mind is the actress Lara Pulver, from the Sherlock series or, to be more precise, the woman she plays in ITV/ BBC America’s Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond,. There, she is the aloof, haughty Lady Ann O’Neill (the future Mrs. Ian Fleming), a sort of Wallis Simpson type: an extremely sophisticated, hard, brittle, aristocratic woman dressed sleekly in black, and whose game of seduction centers around innuendo and breathy suggestion. She is represented by Innuendo’s incredibly refined, opulent, heavy rose with its chypre-like, mossy thorns.

Mary Pickford, 1920s.

Mary Pickford, 1920s.

Next to her and conjoined at the hip is the second woman: a young, fresh-faced, innocent beauty in her early 20s dressed in white, smelling of fresh soap and powder. Two women, one scent. At the same time, I can’t shake the feeling that Innuendo is the scent that an ingenue with aspirations to sophistication and wealth would have started to wear in her 20s, only she’s still doing so in her 80s. I find something polarizing and unbalanced about how the fresh, soft innocent side attacks the rest of Innuendo which feels unbelievably heavy, reeking of over-done opulence, expensive wealth and aged sophistication.

I know exactly the sort of perfumista who would love that mix, finding it a clarion call to vintage Guerlains only amped up by a thousand in heft. For me, though, it’s a schizophrenic mix, one that is dominated by shampoo and piercing musk to the point of feeling oppressive. And the purple fruitchouli isn’t helping matters, either. It all felt exhausting and I briefly contemplated scrubbing Innuendo, but I’m glad I resisted because the perfume suddenly changes. And drastically, at that.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

90 minutes in, Innuendo suddenly veers 180 degrees in the opposite direction and becomes a new fragrance entirely. There is obvious mastery and talent in managing such an extreme transformation, because Innuendo turns into a lush, beautiful, creamy floral oriental scent with none of the horrific aspects of its start. The change begins with the oppressive musk suddenly softening its aggressive assault, thereby giving the other notes a chance to shine through. Innuendo turns warmer, sweeter and richer; the rose steps back; someone puts a gag on the shampoo; the makeup powder is similarly muffled; and even the fruitchouli feels less cloying.

The famous Cora "Sun Drop" yellow diamond. Source: www.people.com.cn

The famous Cora “Sun Drop” yellow diamond. Source: http://www.people.com.cn

Then, the jasmine and ylang-ylang glide gracefully onto center stage. Beautifully heady jasmine, with opulent, velvety ylang-ylang that radiates like a yellow diamond. They are enveloped by an amber glow that feels a lot more like salty, musky ambergris than the more masculine, leathery, toffee’d labdanum listed in the notes. Returning to the scene is that creamy woodiness that almost feels like sandalwood, but now it carries a trace of something vaguely smoky. The true beauty in all this is the vanilla. My God, is it good. It’s entrancingly creamy, smooth, airy but rich, vanilla mousse, and it makes all the difference to the florals. It coats the ylang-ylang — in fact, it feels as if it’s coating your very mouth — with vanilla custard, but it’s never cloying, heavy or painfully sweet. The combination of the vanilla, amber, woodiness, and hint of smoke turns Innuendo into a floral, oriental custard that radiates warmth and silkiness.

"Rosee Celeste" by David Graux via Art.com

“Rosee Celeste” by David Graux via Art.com

All images of brittle sophisticates or soapy ingenues vanish amidst thoughts of silk and satin. Roja Dove sought to conjure up a woman’s lingerie draw, along with the finest of soft fabrics against the skin, and by Jove, he’s succeeded. I think it’s the silkiness of the vanilla, the petal softness of the ylang-ylang that is increasingly dominating the scent, and the perfume’s overall softness. Innuendo began with massive potency, wafting a good 5 inches above the skin with 3 small spritzes from my atomizer (or about 1 good spray from a bottle), but that power soon dropped. At the end of the first hour, Innuendo felt airier, lighter, and softer with only about 2 inches of projection, though the perfume was massively heavy and concentrated up close.

Ylang-Ylang. Source: Soapgoods.com

Ylang-Ylang. Source: Soapgoods.com

However, by the time Innuendo does its 180 turn, everything is different. The sillage hovers just an inch above the skin, and everything is soft. You can almost image touching the velvety petals of the ylang-ylang, rubbing it against your skin with a texture like the thinnest cashmere shot through with silk. Innuendo truly seems to coat your skin with a breathy whisper, a golden sheath that has great richness and intimate sensuality. And it turns silkier by the minute.

Slowly, the ylang-ylang and vanilla take over the whole show, while the jasmine works its charms indirectly and from afar to add a certain elusive headiness to the notes when smelled up close. To my surprise, a new element arrives on the scene — oranges — which melts into the flowers, adding a juicy sweetness and fruited touch. The rose remains on the sidelines and periphery, visible only if you sniff really hard and focus. It is imbued with just the perfect amount of jamminess from the patchouli and, thankfully, none of the vile Pantene shampoo from the musk. Meanwhile, the labdanum and sandalwood slowly diffuse into the vanillic base, though a certain smokiness still remains. I’m thoroughly enjoying Innuendo now, but the polarity after the nightmare of the first 90 minutes (which came on the heels of the loveliness of the initial 10 minutes)… well, it feels a little schizophrenic.

Photo: David Prince. Source: Myrecipes.com

Photo: David Prince. Source: Myrecipes.com

For the next few hours, Innuendo remains a soft, orange-accented, custardy ylang-ylang fragrance with creamy vanilla mousse. It’s not sweet, gourmand, or cloying, but just right, even if it is incredibly discreet. Trailing behind are small streaks of jasmine, patchouli-rose, and some amorphous, smoked woods. There is a gentle muskiness to the notes that feels golden and entirely natural, undoubtedly from the amber in the base. The latter still doesn’t smell like actual labdanum on my skin, but, rather, like a generalized warm glow. Around 3.5 hours in, Innuendo turns into a skin scent. By the end of the 5th hour, the perfume is primarily ylang-ylang and vanilla, followed by orange, and with only tiny, lingering traces of purple fruitchouli at the edges.

Source: Dreamstime.com Royalty Free stock photos

Source: Dreamstime.com Royalty Free stock photos

Unfortunately for me, the final stage of Innuendo is another schizophrenic shift. The first traces of soapiness appears midway during the 6th hour; by the start of the 8th hour, Innuendo suddenly sheds almost all of its prior notes and veers sharply into soap territory. It is infused with an abstract orange floralacy, but it’s very muted. The ylang-ylang and jasmine have completely vanished. In the base, the labdanum has turned into its more usual form, wafting a nuttied, caramel-toffee note. As a whole, Innuendo smells largely like expensive, ambered, sweetened soap. The whole thing is so abstract and soft, it’s really hard to tease out any other elements. Soon, Innuendo is nothing more than a smear of ambered soapiness, and there it remains until its very end, several hours later. All in all, Innuendo Extrait lasted just over 13.5 hours, with soft sillage for the majority of that time.

On Fragrantica, there is only one review for Innuendo thus far, though a few people seem to have voted on the notes. What is interesting to me is that the main element they detect in the fragrance is white musk, followed by tonka (for the vanilla), then ylang-ylang and patchouli. The one comment comes from “Shorokh” who seems to have struggled with the same schizophrenia that I experienced:

Very unusual. Green and mossy at the beginning, and like this for quite a while; then after several hours (4.5 – 5 in my case) those notes disappear completely. It`s like putting on a totally new perfume! Some might like it – having two perfumes instead of one. But I don`t like my perfume change so dramatically while I wear it. No jasmine or rose on me. Must try again!

Basenotes has nothing in its entry for the fragrance, and I couldn’t find any blog review for either Innuendo or Creation-I, its American name. I wish I could provide more information, more details on the other side of the picture, but I’m afraid you’re stuck with me. 

Photo: Pinterest. Original source unknown.

Photo: Pinterest. Original source unknown.

What I can tell you is that there will be some women who will undoubtedly love Innuendo. Anyone who passionately adores powdery, soapy florals comes to mind, along with those who love very vintage Guerlain classics but with a more concentrated richness and opulence. Obviously, people who don’t like a very dated, old-fashioned, heavy feel to their scents should stay away. Innuendo is marketed as being a women’s fragrance which is just as well, since I can’t see the vast majority of men wearing it.

Innuendo Extrait costs $435 for 50 ml. All I’ll say on that score is that the perfume certainly does smell expensive. (Well, minus the Pantene shampoo bit.) Innuendo also reflects great perfume mastery in creating such an extensive range of movement throughout the notes. No matter how much whiplash Innuendo gave me, there is no question that it is well made or that Roja Dove is a master at luxuriousness. As you can tell, though, I disliked the perfume except for the 4 or 5-hour stretch in the middle. That part was truly and genuinely lovely, even though the projection was terribly weak. But 5 hours out of almost 14 miserable ones is not good enough for me — at any price.

The issue really comes down to personal tastes. As regular readers know, I can’t abide white musk, soapiness, hairspray notes, shampoo similarities, or makeup powder. So, put my views in that context, and try Innuendo for yourself if you love very old-fashioned florals with a soft, powdery, clean bent. It certainly has the luxurious, sophisticated feel to go with that very high price.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Innuendo Pure Parfum is available in a 50 ml/1.7 oz size which costs $435, €395 or £345. There is also a Eau de Parfum version which comes in a 100 ml bottle, and which costs €265, £265, or around $350. In the U.S.: Innuendo is called Creation-I and is available in the 50 ml bottle Extrait version from New York’s Osswald and Bergdorf Goodman. The EDP version is sold on Amazon, purportedly by Roja Dove, for around $349. There is also a site called Cosmetics Now which sells it for around $355. Outside the U.S.: In the UK, you can buy Innuendo directly from Roja Dove at his Haute Parfumerie on the 5th Floor of Harrods London, his Urban Retreat website, or Harrod’s online. Roja Dove also has an e-store at Roja Parfums for his personal line of fragrances, and he sells Innuendo Extrait for £345, while the EDP is £225. In France, Jovoy Paris seems to be the exclusive distributor for Roja Dove perfumes, and sells Innuendo in the Extrait version for €395. In the UAE, the Paris Gallery carries the whole Roja Parfums line and sells both Innuendo Extrait and EDP. For all other locations, you can use the Roja Dove Locations listing which mentions more stores from Poland to Germany, Switzerland, Lithuania, Russia, and the Ukraine. There are no Canadian, Asian or Oceania vendors. Samples: I obtained my sample from Jovoy in Paris. If you’re in the U.S., you can test Innuendo Extrait by ordering samples by phone from OsswaldNY. They offer a deal of 10 samples for $10 (shipping included) for domestic customers. Their phone number is: (212) 625-3111. As for Surrender to Chance, it doesn’t carry Innuendo. So, your best bet is really ordering a sample from OsswaldNY.

La Via Del Profumo Venezia Giardini Segreti

Source: trulyveniceapartments.com

Source: trulyveniceapartments.com

Venice, the city of canals, Casanova, and romance is also a city with a secret. Gardens and green courtyards abound in secret nooks and crannies unknown to the anyone but the city’s residents. Did you know? I certainly didn’t, and I’ve been to Venice.

Venezia Giardini Segreti via the Profumo website.

Venezia Giardini Segreti via the Profumo website.

La Via del Profumo wants to open up this private world to you with Venezia Giardini Segreti, or “Venice’s Secret Gardens.” Venezia Giardini Segreti (which I’ll just call “Giardini Segreti” for the sake of brevity) is an all-natural eau de parfum from Dominique Dubrana (now known as “Abdes Salaam Attar“), the second in his new “Italian Series,” and a 2013 release.

Abdes Salaam Attar explains the inspiration for the fragrance:

Venezia, Giardini segreti” is inspired by the “corti” – the courts of Venice that contain its secret gardens, hidden within the maze of the city – and particularly to the imaginary “Corte Sconta detta Arcana” of the “Favola di Venezia” di Corto Maltese, first discovered in the recesses of Hugo Pratt’s mind, and illustrated by his hand. [¶] “When the Venetians grow tired of the established authorities,” he writes, “they walk to these 3 secret places and, opening the doors that are in the bottom of these courts, they go away forever into beautiful places and other stories.”

Source: La Via del Profumo.

Source: La Via del Profumo.

The essences that recount these hidden courts, where the feel and smell of the sea are never far away, are of Jasmine and Rose, of Italian aromatic herbs and of Myrrh, the sweet resin which evokes the city’s ancient connection with the East.

Ambergris is the ingredient of this perfume that celebrates Venice’s foundation on seafaring; it’s the key that opens the door to other worlds and other stories. It is the magical ingredient that renders the fragrance three-dimensional, the noble pheromone with a scent of leather, of sea and of mother’s milk. This smell, so rare and precious that it is no longer used in modern perfumes, confers to the “Venezia Giardini Segreti” a unique and inimitable magic.

Visit with me the secret gardens of Venice. Photo gallery.

Based on that description, the official notes in Venezia Giardini Segreti include:

jasmine, rose, herbs, myrrh, and ambergris.

Source: elstika.com

Source: elstika.com

Giardini Segreti opens on my skin with a powerful but delicate burst of green, dewy jasmine, infused with mint and dark, smoky indoles. The flower’s aroma feels as crisp and clear as a bell rung in the Alpine mountains, but there is a black, smoldering heart which is magnificent. The jasmine is not as heavily sweetened, fleshy, ripe or heavy in feel as the one in Abdes Salaam’s Tawaf; this is much fresher, greener and watery, at least at first. Yet, it inexplicably feels stronger, and its heart has a certain dark rubberiness. The wintergreen note which is laced throughout the jasmine is powerful at first, but it softens within minutes.

Source: krishnaaromatics.com

Source: krishnaaromatics.com

Giardini Segreti starts to slowly turn deeper and richer, losing some of its chilled dewiness and crispness. There is the tiniest flicker of something like light olive oil poking its head up in the distance. It’s hard to explain, but there is an oily richness which gradually starts to seep into the jasmine. It’s not greasy and it certainly doesn’t smell of olives, but it’s more than mere oil. It’s also lightly herbal in nature, though I find it impossible to distinguish the precise aroma. Basil? Tarragon? Myrrh can have an anise-like undertone on rare occasion, as it does in Serge LutensLa Myrrhe, but Giardini Segreti’s accord doesn’t smell like anise. Whatever the elusive herb, it’s an intangible, muted presence, but a pretty one.

10 minutes in, Giardini Segreti is a jasmine scent whose primary characteristics veer between minty green and oiled smoothness. The whole thing is flecked with black from the smoky indoles, while a tiny animalic tinge of leather stirs for the first time in the depths below. The fragrance continues to grow warmed and more oiled, but I smell no roses at all. In fact, I didn’t on any of the occasions when I tested Giardini Segreti.

Pure, fresh ambergris found on the beach.

Pure, fresh ambergris found on the beach.

I also don’t smell ambergris in the way that I’m used to or have previously encountered. There is none of the note’s salty, marshy or wet characteristics, though there is an increasing touch of muskiness circling around the animalic accord in the base. All there is instead is a richness and warmth. I would bet it’s the ambergris which is responsible for the oily feel which I talked about earlier. With every passing quarter-hour, it feels as though a soft wave of smooth, lightly scented, vaguely herbal oil is flooding over the jasmine. It turns the petals unctuous and slightly slick, though I have to repeat that the jasmine here is not voluptuously rich, narcotic, or heavy. The greenness remains at this point, thereby ensuring that the floral aroma is still somewhat fresh and bright. Nevertheless, the ambergris helps to muffle and mute some of that minty tonality.

At the end of the first hour, Giardini Segreti has turned into a baby-soft, smooth jasmine oil, with emphasis on the oil part of that sentence. The sillage has changed accordingly. From its originally forceful, strong opening, Giardini Segreti now lies less than an inch above the skin. The velvety jasmine petals are lightly infused with ambergris, herbs, and a lingering trace of smokiness. The more interesting thing, however, is the growing presence of an animalic, almost civet-like edge in the base. It’s the tiniest bit feral, but also very subtle.

Sketch: Walter Logeman at ThousandSketches.com

Sketch: Walter Logeman at ThousandSketches.com

Slowly, Giardini Segreti starts to shift into something darker, less green. At the 90 minute mark, the perfume is a softly smoky gardenia with only a trace of a green undertone but increasingly animalic, leather facets. The petals feel soft, but the sense of an oil has vanished. There is instead the first appearance of something peppered and woody in feel in the background. Giardini Segreti lies right on the skin like a discreet, intimate silken sheath. For my personal tastes, the sillage is too soft too soon, but, then, I prefer my florals to be sonic booms worthy of one of Wagner’s Valkyries. Giardini Segreti feels better suited to one of the dainty damsels who Casanova turned into a quiet sensualist.

Giardini Segreti continues to change by slow degrees. 2.5 hours in, it is a skin scent of half-sweet, half-dry jasmine with an undertone of animalic leather and a dash of peppered woodiness. An hour later, a subtle honeyed creaminess appears on the scene, leading me to wonder if Giardini Segreti has opoponax or sweet myrrh in addition to the ambergris listed in the notes. After 4.25 hours, Giardini Segreti is a blur of jasmine and lightly honeyed beeswax, and then just eventually just sweetened creaminess. All in all, it lasted just short of 6.5 hours on my skin.

On Fragrantica, there is only one review for Giardini Segreti. “Spookie” writes:

my first impression is that there is something very familiar about this perfume. Not in the sense that it reminds me of another scent but that it’s like turning a corner and experiencing deja vu. But this time I’ve turned a corner and I’m in a sunlit courtyard, the light dappled by a green canopy, small flowers peeking out of cracks in the cobbles and a brambly rose climbing a wall. It’s like this place has been waiting for me, patiently, to find it again. This is the scent of that place: quiet, private, and otherworldly. That was my first impression. [¶]

Over time this scent becomes more human, even sensual. There’s salty skin under the florals and an almost spicy green lifting it up. Projection is moderate but I have only dabbed from a small sample- not that there’s anything wrong with having someone lean in to smell this. I compared this to Tawaf, because I was curious about how the jasmine might appear in both, and unlike Tawaf’s almost sticky density, VGS’s jasmine is higher and brighter without losing its intensity. I like this perfume a lot, but then I’m frequently impressed by La Via del Profumo.

Source: For The Love of Venice Facebook page.

Source: For The Love of Venice Facebook page.

Denyse Beaulieu of Grain de Musc loved Giardini Segreti, put it on her Top 10 List of Summer Scents (in 2013) that she had fallen for and described it as: “a haunting blend of jasmine, rose, herbs and ambergris that is just a joy to behold.” In her full review, she talks of how it evokes an alternate universe, writing in part:

AbdesSalaam Attar hails from that alternate universe. A Frenchman by birth and a traveler, he has undertaken the journey of fragrance backward, eastward, toward the origin and the Orient, via Italy. His Venezia Giardini Segreti does not attempt the dazzling technical feats of contemporary, French-trained perfumers but – I’ve written this before about his work – it nevertheless springs from an age-old culture of scent. […]

Here, rose and jasmine are both seductive and mystical. The herbs that tinge them with green and aromatic notes hint at an even richer bouquet – there is a tuberose effect – the petals vivid against sap-filled leaves and sprigs.[…]  the secret ingredient of his Venezia Giardini Segreti is ambergris, which he describes as “a scent of leather, of sea and of mother’s milk.” I’ve only smelled ambergris tincture twice, and couldn’t truly pretend to recognize it: perhaps the “sea” and “mother’s milk” are what give Venezia Giardini Segreti the eerie, “I’ve been there before” sensation I experienced when I applied it. Like Venice, perfume is nothing if not a labyrinth.

On Perfume Smellin’ Things, Giardini Segreti conjured up “garden of dreams and reverie” inhabited by “poet or noblewoman dressed in Renaissance garb.” Donna’s review talks about Giardini Segreti’s “magical effect,” and says:

The luscious jasmine Sambac in this fragrance is particularly sublime, and since my skin tends to amplify white florals, it is quite dominant at first, but that’s fine with me, since I love jasmine, and the languid dreaminess of the composition speaks to my own personality as a lover of gardens, history, beautiful vintage objects, and good stories. The rose is the handmaiden to the jasmine here, adding a ripe fullness and plush comfort to the centerpiece of jasmine. I don’t know what pure ambergris smells like, but its inclusion in this perfume seems to give in an overall patina of nostalgia and wistfulness, like the ineffable pull of memory experienced when looking at faded photographs of places you have never been, but to which you feel a deep connection, and you wish you could somehow become a part of that long ago scene, where all the rough edges have been erased by time, leaving only the watercolor beauty of happy memories and idyllic living. Wearing Giardini Segreti is like stepping into that fantasy world, and I never want to leave it.

Casanova's Garden. Source: For The Love of Venice Facebook page.

Casanova’s Garden. Source: For The Love of Venice Facebook page.

My experience was obviously very different from either of those accounts. I didn’t have any of the lush richness, roses, or saltiness that they encountered. Then again, I experienced animalic leather and smokiness which I far prefer to roses. Whatever the specific notes, I have to confess that I didn’t find Venezia Giardini Segreti to evoke either romantic fantasy worlds or a sense of “I’ve been there before” that both the Fragrantica commentator and Denyse Beaulieu mentioned. I liked Venezia Giardini Segreti, and agree that it has a very languid feel as a whole, but I far preferred the decadent, hedonistic excesses of the jasmine in Tawaf. Plus, as I’ve noted a few times in the past, I like my white flowers to sing operatically and at Wagnerian levels. Others, however, prefer their perfume to be more discreet and approachable, so it’s all a matter of personal tastes.

At the end of the day, though, there is no doubt that Venezia Giardini Segreti is lovely. Its gorgeous, fresh, bright opening is a head-turner. At the same time, the unusual leathered touch and the animalic whiff of the later stages make the perfume stand out from many jasmine scents on the market. If you’re looking for a languid jasmine with a twist and with a touch of darkness, then you should definitely give Giardini Segreti a sniff.

Disclosure: My sample was courtesy of Abdes Salaam Attar. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, my views are my own, and my first obligation is honesty to my readers.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Venezia Giardini Segreti is an eau de parfum that comes in a variety of sizes. It is available exclusively from the Profumo.it website, which ships its scents world-wide. All the following prices for Giardini Segreti are in Euros without VAT: €57,52 for 15.5 ml, €114,06 for 32 ml,  and €178,52 for 53 ml/1.79 oz. At today’s rate of exchange, the USD prices roughly comes to: $78 for the 15.5 ml, $155 for the 32 ml, and $243 for the 50 ml bottle. The site says: “Prices are without VAT and are valid for USA and all non EEC countries[;] for shipments in the EEC 22% VAT will be ADDED to the amount in the shopping cart.” There is also a Mignon Discovery Coffret which is available for any 5 fragrances, each in a glass 5.5 ml bottle. The price depends on which perfumes you pick, as the choice is up to you. The 5.5 ml bottle of Venezia Giardini Segreti is €20,83. On a side note, I received my samples from Mr. Dubrana incredibly quickly, less than 4 days after he sent it. Also, I have the impression that, with all purchases, Profumo provides free 2 ml samples, especially of any new fragrances that he is developing, since AbdesSalaam is very interested in feedback. In short, if you’re ordering fragrance, you may want to ask for a tiny sample of something that strikes your eye. Samples: Surrender to Chance sells Venezia Giardini Segreti starting at $5.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.

Aftelier Perfumes Cuir de Gardenia

Source: Mostbeautifulflower.com

Source: Mostbeautifulflower.com

The beauty of a gardenia, with all its multi-faceted richness and inherent contradictions, captured in a perfume that is sometimes much more about a mood than a particular set of notes. That is Cuir de Gardenia, a feat of technical skill, innovation, and perfume mastery by the acclaimed doyenne of all-natural perfumery, Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes

On her website, Ms. Aftel has a wonderfully detailed explanation of why Cuir de Gardenia is different from many “gardenia” scents, along with discussion of its character and structure:

Cuir de Gardenia retains the unique beauty of the tiare [Tahitian gardenia] flower, not allowing it to morph into the hundreds of petals of a floral bouquet. I had been incredibly fortunate to find an artisanal grower and distiller of the ultra-rare, costly, precious gardenia. In Cuir de Gardenia, I wanted to retain the pure loveliness of the creamy sweet and singular gardenia fragrance, and knew that the rounded warmth of an oil-based perfume (solid and extrait) would be the perfect format.

Tiare or Tahitian gardenia. Source: Kootation.com

Tiare or Tahitian gardenia. Source: Kootation.com

Cuir de Gardenia is unusual in that it has no top notes; I created it in such a way that the gardenia appears immediately, unimpeded from the opening of the perfume onward, merging seamlessly with the leather. The natural isolates ethyl phenyl acetate (reminiscent of a bunch of sweet peas) and the candy-like maltol contribute sweet and floral notes to the animalic base of the perfume.

Source: Fragrantica

Source: Fragrantica

Cuir de Gardenia comes in two concentrations: an extrait de parfum oil and a solid perfume. This review is for the former, the extrait de parfum. The perfume is classified on Fragrantica as a “floral woody musk,” while Ms. Aftel categorizes it as “dry woods.” According to Ms. Aftel, the notes are:

Middle: tiare (gardenia) absolute, jasmine grandiflorum absolute, benzyl acetate.
Base: castoreum, ethyl phenyl acetate, maltol.

It was interesting to smell Cuir de Gardenia merely in the vial. You are struck by an intense burst of heady, rich gardenia with hints of jasmine and a strongly animalic whiff.

Source: Chris Maher or "Artonline" at Deviantart.com. (Website link embedded within.)

Source: Chris Maher or “Artonline” at Deviantart.com. (Website link embedded within.)

The latter evoked two very different images in my mind. First, the smooth flanks of an animal covered in leather that has been burnished in lush perfumed oils. Second, the flanks of the human body, with the curve over the hips and slightly musky, satiny smoothness. There is something to both visuals, as Cuir de Gardenia is more than a mere floral scent. Still, there is no doubt that the main note is unquestionably gardenia. In the vial, it smells like a full-throttled gardenia or, more accurately, the essence of thousands of flowers distilled into a few, concentrated, precious drops. As a whole, Cuir de Gardenia is almost more of a mood and feeling than a mere scent.

It’s a different matter on the skin, at least at first. Cuir de Gardenia is an oil, and the first thing I was struck by when I applied it was the glistening, golden sheen it leaves on the skin. For me, smell of the oil initially acted as a barrier between the headiness of the flower that was so apparent from sniffing the vial. You have to give it a few minutes for the oiliness to dissipate and melt. Once the heat of your skin breaks it down, Cuir de Gardenia starts to show itself in all its multi-faceted richness.

North American Beaver via Wikipedia.

North American Beaver via Wikipedia.

Cuir de Gardenia opens on my skin with a fierce blast of strong castoreum musk, infused with the fresh gardenia flower, greenness, and a tinge of sourness. Depending on how much of the perfume you apply, the castoreum either leads the charge or comes in second place. When I applied a lot (about 3 big dabs of the oil), the muskiness was both intense and very animalic, verging almost on the feral. (You can read more about castoreum on Fragrantica, if you’re interested.) It made me think of how Ms. Aftel was reported to buy a very ancient, vintage stock of the beaver secretion from the estate of a former perfumer and how that ingredient is said to be such a part of her Secret Garden fragrance. I suspect the same stock was used for Cuir de Gardenia.

Source: freerangedairy.org

Source: freerangedairy.org

When I applied a smaller amount of the oil, the dominant impression for me was something else. I was struck by how Cuir de Gardenia felt more like a texture. Yes, there is the gardenia that is more moderately indolic and encased in a subtle warmth tinged with the castoreum’s musky, plush, velvety undertones. However, my main impression was rich, Devon clotted cream and butter. Cuir de Gardenia opens like floral butter, touched by a hint of sourness and green. The latter is an unexpected freshness that feels quite contradictory given how rich and ripe the flower can be.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

I’m struck by the polarity and juxtapositions. Velvety petals that feel like buttered cream, next to dewy moisture and greenness. You have the gardenia on the stem in the early morning hours, but also the headiness of that same flower after it’s been plucked and its aroma has concentrated over time. None of it feels blowsy or decayed; there are initially no mushroomy undertones nor earthiness the way gardenia can sometimes manifest. Depending on quantity, it is either quietly lusty in its muskiness, or a little bit feral.

Ten minutes in, Cuir de Gardenia smells like buttermilk with its green, sour cream undertones. Deep in the base, there is a subtle whiff of something rubbery, but it’s more textural than anything black or leathered. It’s as if there were so much gardenia richness that it has coagulated and solidified into a hardened oil. I know I’m not doing a good job of explaining all of this, but that is because I’ve never quite encountered a gardenia like this one. For a perfume centered around one main note, there are a lot of unexpected, almost contradictory, complex facets in the opening hour.

Photo: onewomanshands.blogspot.com

Photo: onewomanshands.blogspot.com

I think that’s a testament to Ms. Aftel’s deft handling of the flower. It would have been all to easy for Cuir de Gardenia to be a simple, indolic, voluptuous gardenia. With all that richness, you’d almost expect a single-minded, typical gardenia. Instead, Cuir de Gardenia is one of those rare scents that somehow captures all the tiny, often disparate, layers to the flower actually growing in nature. What it isn’t is raunchy or dirty. This is a very different sort of “indolic” theme than what one usually encounters, one that is more musky than voluptuously narcotic on my skin.

And, in truth, Cuir de Gardenia’s headiness is a very quiet one. I’m not surrounded by an avalanche of gardenia; there is no nuclear-tipped cloud wafting around me, emanating a lavishly thick, voluptuous fleshiness. Cuir de Gardenia is much more restrained. I have to admit, I personally prefer my white flowers on the Wagnerian side, but there is no denying Cuir de Gardenia’s refinement. It is more akin to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons than to the Ride of the Valkyries, more Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik Allegro than Beethoven’s Ninth or his Ode to Joy. None of that is meant as an insult. I love all those pieces, deeply, and I listen to Mozart more than I do to Wagner’s powerful “Apocalypse Now“- style piece, but there is no denying that there are distinct differences in style, tone, and mood.

At the end of 30 minutes, the perfume hovers an inch above the skin in a mix that is at once delicate, restrained, and rich. When you apply a larger quantity of Cuir de Gardenia, it adds another hour to the time frame before the sillage drops. In both cases, when smelled up close, the perfume is a massively concentrated hit of lush, buttery smooth gardenia infused with greenness and a tinge of buttermilk sourness. The gardenia is carefully placed upon a soft castoreum base that is very quietly musky, plush, velvety, and dark. Yet, there is very little of the animalic whiff that I detected when I smelled Cuir de Gardenia in the vial or that the perfume opened with when I applied a lot. The castoreum seems to have melted into the petals, having an indirect effect on the notes in a much more discreet manner. The whole thing is lovely, and I’m very impressed by the carefully calibrated balance.

"Dressage Black and White" by Diana Rose Greenhut or DianaExperiment on Flickr. (Website link embedded within.)

“Dressage Black and White” by Diana Rose Greenhut or DianaExperiment on Flickr. (Website link embedded within.)

You may have noticed that I’ve barely mentioned leather at this point. Well, initially, it didn’t show up on my skin in any discernible fashion. Then, suddenly, right at the 30 minute mark, things start to change. There is a muted impression of an ultra-expensive, high-end Hermès saddle which carries the tiniest lingering traces of the horse it had been on many hours before. There is something almost akin to civet in the animalic muskiness that is starting to stir on my skin. Lurking in the distance and at the edges are tiny flickers of notes that are simultaneously mushroom-y, earthy, vaguely chocolate-y, and nutty. It is undoubtedly due to the gardenia’s mushroom side combined with the castoreum. Whatever the cause, it adds dimension to what was previously and primarily a fresh-ripe, green-creamy floral bouquet.

The issue of the leather is perhaps the best evidence for how beautifully Cuir de Gardenia has been blended and the technical mastery involved. For the first hour, the leather never stays in one place on my skin, but moves throughout the notes like a very friendly ghost. Sometimes, he stops to say hello, and remains to chat for 4 or 5 minutes. Then, he drifts away to other worlds for a brief span, before popping back in. Every time I think he’s finally vanished, he waves a dark, friendly, leathered arm at you from the horizon. Then, suddenly, 90 minutes in, he decides to move in permanently. And he’s brought luggage with him! Suitcases filled with black smoke whose tiny tendrils wind their way up from their depths to slowly wrap their threads around the creamy gardenia. The leather ghost gives you a cheeky grin, puts his feet up, and is there to stay.

Yet, I want to emphasize that this is a very subtle, muted “leather” as a whole. It’s not the sort of leather that you have in fragrances like Etat Libre‘s hardcore, black Rien, the deeper, burnished brown leather of Puredistance M, the distinct leather of Parfums Retro‘s Grand Cuir, or the animalic leather of LM ParfumsHard Leather. The note here is more about an impression of leather. It is strongly infused with an animalic edge that sometimes feels a bit civet-like in nature, and it creates a subtle kinship to horsey leather. To be clear, though, the note is never fecal but is primarily just musky. Still, if you’re expecting a true, hardcore leather fragrance, you need to put those thoughts aside. Cuir de Gardenia is a spotlight on gardenia first and foremost. The flower merely happens to have a animalic leather undertone that distinguishes it from the traditional take on the note.

"Gardenia sketch" by Angel H. Juarbe on Fine Art America. http://fineartamerica.com/featured/gardenia-sketch-angel-h-juarbe.html

“Gardenia sketch” by Angel H. Juarbe on Fine Art America. http://fineartamerica.com/featured/gardenia-sketch-angel-h-juarbe.html

From the start of the third hour until its end, Cuir de Gardenia is a seamless blend of gardenia with animalic “leather” and musky touches. The smokiness lingers, but it becomes increasingly overshadowed by the warmth in the base that makes the gardenia more golden in feel. It is a skin scent on me at the 2.5 hour mark, but Cuir de Gardenia’s longevity is excellent. As an extrait or pure parfum, that is to be expected, but Cuir de Gardenia is also an all-natural perfume, so I was surprised when I noted Cuir de Gardenia lingering well after the 7th hour. All in all, with 3 big dabs, the perfume lasted just short of 11 hours on my perfume-eating skin. It was a mere whisper after the 6th hour that you could detect only if you put your nose right on your skin, but it was most definitely there. With a smaller quantity, Cuir de Gardenia lasted just under 9 hours.

As many of you know by now, Cuir de Gardenia has been a massive hit. Over 12 different bloggers have placed it on their Best of 2013 list, from The Perfume Shrine and The Non-Blonde to The Fragrant Man, Angela at Now Smell This, and many others. Out of the full reviews, I think that of The Non-Blonde is worth noting. On her skin, Cuir de Gardenia was more overtly sensual (or sexual?) than it seemed to be on me. Furthermore, her review includes a useful comparison between the extrait parfum and the solid:

Cuir de Gardenia, the new perfume from Aftelier tells the story of luxury, eccentricity, and sensuality. […][¶] This gardenia smells warm: warm from the tropical sun and sands as well as warm skin. The creamy aspect is also there, musky and sensual. This flower is unmasked by top notes. There’s nothing there to lighten the mood or make it go down easily. Instead, you get a journey from flora to fauna, as the creamy gardenia becomes fattier and more animalic and the perfume embraces the skin and wraps it an unmistakable buttery leather. […]

Cuir de Gardenia is offered as an extrait and a solid perfume, to keep the warmth and sensuality on skin-level. This perfume is pure decadence– you don’t want to send it into the stratosphere on a cloud of volatile alcohol molecules. I suspect that beyond the preciousness of the raw materials, a big sillage would have been just too much for polite company: this thing requires intimacy, which this format allows. Applied where it truly counts, Cuir de Gardenia is sweet and intense. I find it incredibly sexy in a very femme way, but then again, I’m all woman. Men who feel comfortable in dirty gardenia fragrances (from JAR Jardenia to Lutens Une Voix Noire) shouldn’t hesitate to try this Aftelier perfume in either form. The solid smells more animalic upon application but becomes smoother and almost honeyed after an hour or so. The extrait works for me in an opposite way– its true leather and castoreum nature becomes more pronounced with time. They layer beautifully, obviously, and last for at least six hours even when dabbed extremely sparingly.

Cuir de Gardenia was originally meant to be a limited-edition release, but the degree of the positive response has led Ms. Aftel to make the perfume a permanent part of her line, and to also offer it in a new 1/4 oz (about 7.4 ml) extrait bottle. It’s not cheap at $195 (or $240 for the solid), but you really need to keep in mind just what we’re talking about here: real gardenia, not a synthetic recreation through other notes. As I’ve mentioned a few times, gardenia is one of those flowers whose aroma cannot be easily captured through distillation of its petals. When you smell “gardenia” in a perfume, you’re usually smelling some combination of tuberose, jasmine, or synthetics. A fragrance made purely from actual, genuine gardenia is incredibly rare.

Tiare. Source: wahinewednesdays.com

Tiare. Source: wahinewednesdays.com

The Fragrant Man offers insight on yet another difficult aspect of using gardenia, especially when it’s the Tahitian kind called tiaré:

[Ms. Aftel’s Cuir de Gardenia] is a breakthrough moment for gardenia ‘fume lovers. The issue with gardenia oil is that when it leaves its heated homeland the scent changes to ‘off’ or more precisely, indolic at the unpleasant end of the spectrum. It is unstable when taken out of its natural tropical environment. We are talking about Tiare here, the gardenia that is native to Polynesia so my guess is that Tahiti or New Caledonia is probably the source. In these islands the local people make manoi oils. Tourists are often charmed by the scent of these oils until they arrive back home. This has happened to me. […] Manoi oil is coconut oil usually blended with the Tahitian gardenia known as Tiare but also with frangipani, ylang ylang and vanilla, in an enfleurage type process. Coconut oil is the carrier fat for the scent.

Ms. Aftel has found a way around all that, while also avoiding synthetics and gardenia substitutes. The result is a fragrance that seems to drive many men and women wild. (You can read The Fragrant Man‘s proper review of the scent, subtitled “Olfactory Orgasm,” which not only includes links to all the other reviews out there, but also has a discussion on the role of antique castoreum in recreating the leather note.)

There are a few other male bloggers who also fell hard for Cuir de Gardenia. In the case of The Black Narcissus, his immediate, instant reaction to Cuir de Gardenia was so extreme that the usually elegant writer could barely get the words out:

STOP THE PRESS! AFTELIER PERFUMES’ CUIR DE GARDENIA EXTRAIT IS GORGEOUS

the perfume, just deliciously arrived in my postbox: immediately, for me, knee weakening. not gardenia, as in gardenia,… tiare:a tropical, moist, neptunian, sultry white witch emerging, hair slicked to shoulders, from the sea. sweet Italian bubble bath honey. cuir: but fresh.tango’s eminently wearable younger sister, unencumbered

Photo: Chris or "Rapt in Roses" on Flickr. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Photo: Chris or “Rapt in Roses” on Flickr. (Website link embedded within photo.)

I liked Cuir de Gardenia a lot, but it was more quiet and restrained on my skin than I had expected. It is infinitely creamy, but I think I like my white flowers to show more skin, to ooze ripened sexuality like a heaving bosom on a courtesan. In other words, I like my big white flowers to be narcotically BIG WHITE FLOWERS, Wagner and Valkyrie style.

Yet, it’s hard not to be impressed and a little bit seduced by a more tasteful, refined take when it is as rich, buttery and multi-faceted as Cuir de Gardenia is. The perfume is a study of paradoxes — paradoxes which are perhaps the best and truest manifestation of the flower in nature that I have ever encountered — but done with an ingenuous animal twist. The whole thing is intellectually fascinating, but Cuir de Gardenia is also a testament to pure skill. You can’t be a niche perfumista today without hearing about Ms. Aftel’s role as the professor, alchemical wizard, and pioneer of all-natural perfumery. You hear it, but you may not really understand it fully until you try something like Cuir de Gardenia.

Or, in my particular case, her Chef Essences which I have to say here and now blew my foodie mind in such a way that my eyes rolled back in my head, and I was considering engaging in lewd acts with the bottle. (Well, not quite, but… close. I was certainly molesting the bottle of Ginger Essence in full disregard of the instructions on the stated quantity, and I was pretty much drooling on both myself and my food. The degree of my reaction, amazement and disbelief over those genius fragrant oils cannot be stated enough, and they will be the subject of a review sometime in the next 2 weeks, once I finish my cooking tests. Those Chef Essences…. Good God!) If Cuir de Gardenia didn’t arouse quite such an intense reaction in me, it is only because I care about food much more than I do about perfume. Gastronomy is my first love, while perfume is perhaps my fifth, so don’t misinterpret my tone. I think Cuir de Gardenia is very pretty, even if it isn’t really very “me.” It is also, without a doubt, masterfully done.

I think that anyone who passionately adores their lush, big white flowers should give Cuir de Gardenia a sniff. Those who normally fear white flower bombs would probably enjoy it as well, given the perfume’s intimate restraint and refinement. At the same time, the animalic side and suggestion of leather make Cuir de Gardenia a fragrance that men can pull off. The perfume’s low sillage also means that it is something you can wear to work, though I personally think Cuir de Gardenia feels far too special for such mundane, daily events. My only note of caution is for those who are accustomed to more commercial, traditionally sweet, or conventional florals. If you’re not used to castoreum, I don’t know how you will respond to Cuir de Gardenia’s very animalic muskiness. 

All in all, I think Cuir de Gardenia would be perfect for a date night, or an evening when you want to discreetly tantalize. It is delicate sensuality done with great refinement. 

Disclosure: My sample was courtesy of Aftelier Perfumes. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, my opinions are my own, and my first obligation is honesty to my readers.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Cuir de Gardenia is exclusive to the Aftelier website, and is available in 3 different sizes. There is a 2 ml mini of Pure Parfum extrait for $55; a new 1/4 oz bottle (about 7.4 ml) of the Extrait for $195; or a 0.25 oz of solid perfume in a handmade, sterling silver compact for $240. Samples are available for $6 for a 1/4 ml vial. Ms. Aftel ships worldwide, and you can find further information on her FAQ page. 

Téo Cabanel Méloé: Summer Citruses & Freshness

Portofino on the Italian Riviera. Source: yachtcharterfleet.com

Portofino on the Italian Riviera. Source: yachtcharterfleet.com

It snowed here yesterday, after days of endless, bleak, icy greyness. For many of you, snow is hardly a big deal; for where I live, however, it’s akin to Hell freezing over. So, as a sign of rebellion, or perhaps as escapist fantasy against those miserable grey skies, I reached for Méloé, the one fragrance explicitly intended to represent “the heat of long-awaited summer days.” Mind you, I’m not all that crazy about my area’s particularly hellish version of summer, but I was suddenly in desperate need of sunshine in a bottle. And Méloé promises a “fresh haven” of all the best that the Mediterranean can offer, from Tunisian Neroli to Sicilian mandarin, from fresh basil to orange blossom and lavender.

Source: Hypoluxe.

Source: Hypoluxe.

Méloé is a creation from one of the most unsung gems in the niche world, Téo Cabanel, a Paris niche house whose history goes back over a century and a relatively unknown brand which consistently puts out extremely refined, polished perfumes. I have a huge soft spot for Téo Cabanel, as they make one of my favorite perfumes, the glorious oriental, Alahine (which is one of the few rose-based perfumes that I adore.) Alahine is fierce, potent, boozy, and with such intense spicy smolder that I often say it requires a form of Stockholm Syndrome to fall in love with it.

Méloé (which I’ll just write from here on out as “Meloe” for ease and speed) is the polar opposite of Alahine in every possible way. It’s as though Téo Cabanel intentionally sought to make Alahine’s counterpart with a fragrance that was a crisp, light, airy eau de toilette with the most easy-going nature. If Alahine takes you to a Moroccan souk spice market, and then to opulent palaces filled with lush roses and amber, then Meloe represents someone sitting in a café in Monaco wearing a cool, crisp shirt, and spritzing themselves with the aromatic cologne equivalent of a chilled lemon Perrier. They just chill and hang out, and, as the day progresses, the sun’s heat eventually brings out a musky, warm sweetness on their skin. It’s all very easy, smooth, and polished, but none of it is complicated, edgy, or heavy. It’s not meant to be.

David Niven relaxing on the French Riviera. Source: therakeonline.com

David Niven relaxing on the French Riviera. Source: therakeonline.com

Freshness and lightness is such an intentional part of Méloé that the fragrance was even originally called Méloé Eau Légère or, in some listings, Eau Fraiche. Emphasizing the point even further, Meloe is an eau de toilette in concentration, not an eau de parfum like Alahine. Meloe was created by Téo Cabanel‘s in-house perfumer, Jean-Francois Latty, and was released in 2008.

The company describes the perfume as follows:

In the heat of long-awaited summer days, the Méloé lover has found a fresh haven. Her elegant summer signature is underlined by her light, green, fruity eau de parfum.

Méloé’s Epicurian symphony generously draws its top notes from citrus and spices. Bergamot from Calabria, mandarin and lemon from Sicily, lavender and basil play their part in perfect harmony. 

The sparkling citrus notes linger until a dainty floral bouquet of Neroli from Tunisia, orange blossom and jasmine with just a touch of nutmeg comes to full bloom to make up the heart notes.

Unexpected sensual base notes of musk, amber and just a hint of woody notes. Lavish elegance and mystery, Méloé fully reveals its modern and distinctive character

Meloe is categorized as a green, fruity floral, and First in Fragrance offers the full list of notes:

Top Note: Bergamot, Tangerine, Lemon, Lavender, Basil

Heart Note: Neroli, Orange Blossom, Jasmine, Nutmeg

Base Note: Musk, Ambergris, Woods. [Some places mention “crystal moss” as a base element as well.]

Source: 550px.com

Source: 550px.com

Meloe opens on my skin with a strong blast of bitter neroli, followed by unsweetened tangerines, and crisp, zesty lemon that feels much like the oils from a peel that was freshly grated. There is also one of my most hated notes in perfumery: lavender. As many of you know, I’m a lavender-phobe, and, yet, I actually like the note here. It is sharp, but also soft. More importantly, it doesn’t smell like the revolting, dried kind with its concentrated, vicious pungency. Instead, it smells more aromatic, like the plant in nature and in bloom. The lavender weaves its way throughout the various citrus notes, and the whole thing is sprinkled with peppery elements and a good pinch of bitter nutmeg.

The overall effect is to create something that is very brisk, incredibly bright, and fresh, but also somewhat spicy. None of it feels like a “fruity floral,” thank God. That is a category of perfumes I rather dread, for the modern sort are all too often dripping with goo, syrup and sweetness. And I have to admit, for a good half of Meloe’s lifespan, I find myself perplexed by the categorization because Meloe feels like a really fantastic cologne.

Source: societeperrier.com

Source: societeperrier.com

It’s not only the fougère-like traits of using cool lavender, citruses, green herbs, and woods, but some sort of ineffable quality that reads “unisex cologne” to me. Meloe’s fruits are refreshing and unsweetened, dominated more by crisp lemon and bitter neroli than by any heavy, sweet, juicy oranges, and the whole thing is definitely aromatic with the very dominant lavender note. Yet, it never feels masculine or akin to an old-fashioned barber-shop scent. Perhaps it’s because the lavender lacks the aggressive pungency of the sort often used in masculine colognes, or perhaps it’s because the notes are all very well-balanced. My greatest impression is of something sunny and yellow, but also chilled like Perrier — Perrier that merely happens to be infused by lemon peels, neroli, lavender, and nutmeg.

Nutmeg. Source: Kootation.com

Nutmeg. Source: Kootation.com

As the minutes pass, Meloe starts to change. The nutmeg softens its early forcefulness and loses some of its bitterness, as does the neroli. At the same time, the basil makes a tiny appearance on the sidelines, but I have to confess, I wish there were more of it. It’s so subtle, I sometimes feel I’m imagining it. The tangerine feels muted, such that I’d never smell Meloe at this stage and think “orange fruits,” but I think it has an indirect effect that helps ensure the more bitter elements are kept in check.

Perhaps its subtle sweetness is why Meloe loses some of its bright zestiness after 10 minutes and starts to feel much less brisk. The lemon no longer smells like you just dug your nails into the peel and grated the skin to release bitter oils. It’s smoother, thinner, and softer. The neroli starts to turn more abstract, too. At the same time, a hint of woodiness creeps into the top notes, perhaps from the unspecified “woods” listed for the fragrance.

Whatever the reason, Meloe settles into being a much smoother, lighter, seamless blur of crisp citruses and lavender aromatics that are perfectly balanced with a quiet spiciness, subtle woodiness, and hint of bitterness. It’s odd how the notes overlap each other and feel almost as if they lack delineation, yet, when smelled up close, you can still pull things apart. By the same token, Meloe sometimes feels very thin and sheer, yet it initially projects about 3 inches above the skin and is very rich up close. I have to think that the current arctic weather in which I’m testing the fragrance is hampering it to some extent. I suspect this is one perfume that would truly bloom in the summer heat for which it was intended.

Orange blossoms via the Pattersonfoundation.org.

Orange blossoms via the Pattersonfoundation.org.

As some of you may have noticed, I’m in the midst of doing a series on floral fragrances, and Meloe is technically supposed to focus on orange blossoms. Well, on my skin, and perhaps due to the current freezing temperatures, the flowers don’t make an appearance until 90 minutes into Meloe’s development. Even then, they are extremely delicate. Instead of the heavy, lush, ripe, indolic sort of orange blossoms that you often encounter, the ones here feel like the young buds on the actual tree. There is a crisp, Spring-time vibe, a softness that separates Meloe’s fresh take on orange blossoms from something like Serge LutensFleurs d’Orangers. These flowers never feel syrupy, mentholated, blackened, or concentrated. In fact, they’re quite muted and restrained. At times, there is the faintest suggestion of an expensive orange blossom soap underlying the notes, or perhaps it’s the odd sense that these flowers are virgin clean.

The actual orange fruit lurks behind the flowers, more akin now to a sliver of fresh, baby tangerine than to any bitter oils from the rind. The bitterness of the neroli has also vanished, but its slightly piquant woodiness remains. As a whole, Meloe is now primarily a very cool, thin blend of soft, clean orange blossoms, crisp lemons, and baby tangerines in an aromatic, woody nest. It still feels like a light, delicate eau de toilette that has been stuck in a refrigerator, but it’s not quite as crisp or zesty.

Source: Telegraph.co.uk

Source: Telegraph.co.uk

Sometimes, one has the sense that the different stages of Meloe capture the different parts of the full citrus tree. The fragrance starts first with its unsweetened fruit nestled amongst cool, waxy, bitter green leaves and petitgrain twigs, along with the equally bitter, piquant aspects of neroli and the aromatics growing all around the plant. Later, though, Meloe moves up to focus on the tree’s youthful blossoms, tossing in a dash of now sweetened baby mandarins, and a whisper of abstract warmth. As for the lavender, it is now quite nebulous in feel, adding merely a touch of aromatic freshness.

Source: fantom-xp.com

Source: fantom-xp.com

All lingering impressions of a cologne fade away at the start of the third hour, when Meloe turns into a more floral fragrance with unsweetened fruits and lingering traces of woody aromatics. The sillage slowly drops and, by the end of the 3rd hour, Meloe lies right on the skin. It becomes a skin scent about 4.5 hours in. Around the same time, the tangerine and orange blossoms surge to the foreground, taking over completely. The two notes are accompanied by a soft, musky warmth, though it never reads as actual amber to me, let alone ambergris. There are the tiniest flickers of something woody and aromatic in the background, but they are very indistinct.

Source: singer22.com

Source: singer22.com

The whole thing is very soft, sheer, and pretty. It’s very simple, yes, but also elegant, polished, and easy-going. It has a very relaxed summer vibe, like someone hanging out on a boat and sipping cocktails on the Cote d’Azur after a long day in the sun. Their skin holds the tiniest traces of the crisp citrus, orange, and lavender notes of their early morning cologne, but the summer heat has evaporated their chilled freshness, leaving behind only their sweetened essences on warmed skin. In its final moments, Meloe is merely a blur of oranges with a vaguely woody feel. All in all, it lasted 10.5 hours with 3 medium-sized dabs, which is excellent for an eau de toilette.

Téo Cabanel clearly had a very specific goal and feel in mind in creating the perfume, and I think they accomplished it really well. Nothing about Meloe is uber-complicated, let alone rich or heady, but it’s not trying to be with a name like “Eau Légère.” Yet, Meloe still has more body and depth than many Eau de Toilettes that I’ve tried (not to mention quite a few eau de parfums). Plus, it’s very reasonably priced (between $50-$70 for the smallest bottle, depending on where you buy it) with moderate sillage and good longevity.

Putting all that together, Meloe comes across as straight-forward simplicity with absolutely no pretentiousness at all, something I really like a lot. Meloe may have easy affability and versatile freshness, but it is also a very polished, refined take on a summertime citric-floral. It’s not quite as simple as it may appear, and it certainly feels more nuanced than some fragrances in this genre. In fact, as compared to many commercial “fruity-florals,” especially the syrupy fruit-chouli messes that you find in department stores, Meloe is almost a paragon of sophisticated complexity.

The thing that I keep thinking of is Creed’s much-hyped Aventus, which is really another twist on a fruity-florals with aromatics. To be clear, the two fragrances are very different in terms of their flowers and fruits, as Aventus is centered on pineapple, apple, ashy birch, and citruses, among other things. Meloe is initially much more lemony, aromatic and unsweetened, with a very robust lavender that makes it fougère-like, before it later turning orange-based and warmer. In my opinion, it’s also actually much less thin, watery, and weak in projection than Aventus, and more unisex. Yet, both fragrances share the same spirit and goal of fresh, bright crispness where fruits are nestled into an aromatic, woody base. They may smell completely different, but they want the same things. And I prefer Meloe’s journey to that goal.

There are no blog reviews that I could find for Meloe, and the fragrance isn’t entered on Basenotes, so we have to rely on Fragrantica for other people’s perceptions or experiences. Interestingly, there isn’t a single negative review of Meloe. Everyone seems to enjoy it, whether it is a man who shares the scent with his wife, or women who normally can’t stand “fruity-florals.” In fact, many seem quite surprised to like it as much as they do, perhaps because Meloe really isn’t a “fruity floral” by modern standards. One commentator, “Mals86,” actually referenced colognes in her comment:

I generally struggle with citrus scents, and traditional cologne-formulas that are meant to be refreshing, like this one. But I found it light and pleasant, and indeed very refreshing: not too floral, not too lemony, not too fleeting. [¶] It was even better on my daughter, and makes a wonderful alternative to the fruity-syrupy stuff her friends are wearing.

Source: Chef Keem at chefkeem.squidoo.com

Source: Chef Keem at chefkeem.squidoo.com

Another poster barely realized there was citrus in the perfume, and notes how well Meloe is blended:

Like Mals86 I always feel that citrus and I are no friends. But I got a sample today and tried it without knowing about the citrus. [¶] Well…citrus didn’t even come to my mind! I guess that it is because it is so very well blended with all the other notes that I wouldn’t detect it…
Might well be that the lavender calms down the citrus and spices and that, on the other hand, the citrus and spices lift up the lavender… [¶] Lavender on it’s own can be quite dull as if it was meant as an invitation to sleep without any dreams promised… [¶] Here dreams come alive while serenity remains… [¶] The amber warms up within the sillage so these dreams soon will float on the air that you’ll be happy to breath…

Smelling it, I see bright white clouds against a clear blue sky, I see Dolphins jump up out of turqouise coloured water with their friendly, smiling faces. [¶] Beautyful fragrance…

For everyone else, the citric burst was clear from the start, though some found it more fruity and sweetened than purely lemony crispness:

  • Méloé is obviously a great harmonic summer signature scent with spicy citric carnival in the beginning and intriguing soft light green fruity floral vibe with a naughty bread’ish faint sub-scent that tickles me! [¶] Without any hint of classic perfumery, it stand some steps higher than every fresh feminine perfume I know. The quality of citruses and lavender is superior. [¶] Méloé is chic, first class, easy going, generous and rich..
  • MELOE is like a windy summer day, it started with a sugary citrus and mandarin orange combo with bits of neroli and orange blossom. It was not too sweet, but more fresh fruity. The heart arrived with warm jasmine and amber. It dries down to a beautiful amber/citrus base, very light, but noticeable. [¶] I think MELOE is a very good floral fruity choice for summers for those who are too tired for synthetic mess most current floral fruity perfumes offer. This is a nice, natural, breezy and simple perfume

In terms of sillage, everyone notes that the perfume isn’t “overpowering,” and one person said the projection was “minimal,” with Meloe soon turning into a skin scent. For longevity, most people voted for “long lasting” (7h-12h) in terms of duration, and one commentator mentioned that it lasted 8 hours on her skin.

As everyone notes, Meloe is simple and breezy. It’s the furthest thing from challenging, bold, or edgy, and definitely not an original take on either colognes or fruity-florals. But it’s not trying to be any of those things. All it wants to do is to deliver a very elegant, polished take on a traditional genre. As Téo Cabanel told the Sniffapalooza magazine, their goal is create

scents in the true French perfume tradition, to rediscover the concept total sophistication. We take the greatest care in offering high quality products. The name Téo Cabanel is a promise of the quality of our essences and the elegance of our bottles and packaging.  Our perfumes deserve the finest natural elements, 100% pure and natural.

For the price, I honestly don’t think you can beat Téo Cabanel for great perfumery with a very classique, elegant feel at a bargain price. It is one of the most unpretentious brands I’ve encountered, with zero flash and a lot of substance. They quietly dedicate themselves to creating high-quality, polished products in the French tradition, and just hope that someone notices. In fact, they seem quite humble about it all.

In the specific case of Meloe, I think if perfume were offered under the Creed or Tom Ford label, people would be falling all over themselves and proclaiming that they had found their new summer scent. It is definitely unisex, versatile, and something you could wear to the office. It is also simple, but it certainly feels richer to me than Tom Ford’s very bland citrus offerings in the new Atelier d’Orient line. And I won’t even start on the issue of Aventus, or some of Hermès’ colognes.

In short, whether you’re looking for year-long freshness, summer in a bottle, or an escape from “the heat of long-awaited summer days,” I definitely recommend that you give Meloe a sniff.   

DETAILS:
All the Téo Cabanel fragrances in a sample set. Source:  Téo Cabanel e-store.

All the Téo Cabanel fragrances in a sample set. Source: Téo Cabanel e-store.

Cost & Availability: Meloe is an eau de toilette that comes in a 50 ml/1.7 oz size that retails for $70 or €50, or a 100 ml/ 3.4 oz bottle that costs $110 or €80. You can order Meloe directly from the Téo Cabanel website (which also has a French language version), along with a Sample Set of all 7 Cabanel fragrances in 1.5 ml vials for a set price of €8.50. (There is also a 9 ml rollerball of Meloe that costs $28, but that isn’t commonly available except from the company.) In my opinion, the best place to get Meloe right now is also the cheapest: eBay! You can find the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle of Meloe in the old glass bottles for as low as $50, while the larger 100 ml bottles go for around $75. 

In the U.S.: Téo Cabanel’s U.S. retailer is Luckyscent which now carries four of the Téo Cabanel line, but Meloe is not one of them. The reason is that Téo Cabanel’s U.S. distributor is waiting for summer to bring out Meloe, and I’ll update this post when it does. It was actually extremely difficult for me to find an online vendor (outside of eBay) that currently carries this particular perfume. The Posh Peasant seems to have it, but it’s unclear to me if they are sold out. All their entries have the word “Sold” next to it. For those of you near Minneapolis, there is a store that already carries Meloe, but it does not have an online e-boutique. It is “La Petite Parfumerie” and the phone number is: (952) 475-2212 or you can email at orders@lapetiteparfumerie.com.

Outside the US: In Canada, Cabanel’s website lists Fritsch Fragrances as its primary vendor. In the UK, Téo Cabanel is usually carried at Fortnum & Mason’s, but I don’t see it shown online. Liberty’s sells Meloe in the 100 ml bottle for £75, and ships throughout the EU. Germany’s First in Fragrance sells Meloe for €50 or €80, depending on size. Another European vendor is Natural Skincare Emporium which sells the 50 ml bottle of Meloe for €59. In Denmark, Happel carries the entire Teo Cabanel line, including Meloe. I’ve also read  that the perfumes are available at: the Hotel George V in Paris, Les Galleries Lafayette, Douglas (France, Lithuania, Russia) Kadewe Berlin, Oberpollinger Munich, and Albrecht in Frankfurt. For all other countries or specific cities, you can use the company’s Store Locator guide on their website.

Samples: Meloe is unfortunately not one of the Téo Cabanel scents carried by Surrender to Chance. However, the Posh Peasant Sampler Set which includes 5 of the Téo Cabanel scents, including Meloe and my beloved Alahine, starting at $15 for 1 ml vials. The other option is to order from Téo Cabanel website with their more complete, larger sized sample set that includes the new amber oriental release, Barkhane as well.

Arquiste Boutonnière No. 7: Vetiver Gardenia

Carlos Huber. Source: Fragrantica

Carlos Huber. Source: Fragrantica

History in a bottle, and a trip back in time through scent are the specific goals of the American niche perfume house, Arquiste. Founded by the architect turned perfumer (and now, also, designer), Carlos Huber, Arquiste always attempts to bottle a specific moment in history, using fragrance as a symbolic time-machine. In the case of Boutonnière No. 7, the target date is 1899 in the lobby of the Paris Opera house.

Released in late 2012, Boutonnière No. 7 was created by Rodrigo Flores-Roux and is an eau de parfum. (I’ll refer to the fragrance from this point forth merely as “Boutonniere” for convenience and practical reasons.) Boutonniere is categorized as a “Floral” on the Fragrantica website but, interestingly, Carlos Huber calls it a “Floral Woody” on the Arquiste website.

Source: Arquiste.

Source: Arquiste.

There, Carlos Huber elaborates further on the precise historical scene that the perfume is meant to recreate:

May 1899, Foyer of the Opéra-Comique, Paris
During the Opera’s intermission, a group of seven young men gather at the Grand Foyer in search of new flirtations. Women of all sorts are lured in by the crisp, green scent of the men’s gardenia boutonnieres, enlivened with the bergamot and lavender colognes they wear. As they draw closer, the “Opera Flower” exudes its elegant masculinity, the last breath of a bloom sacrificed on a black-tie lapel.

Notes include:
Lavender, Bergamot, Italian Mandarin, Gardenia jasminoides/Gardenia citriodora duo, Genet absolute, Vetyvert, Oakmoss.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux (left) and Carlos Huber (right). Source: Fragrantica.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux (left) and Carlos Huber (right). Source: Fragrantica.

A brief word about the notes. First, “genet” is apparently some sort of Broom plant, not a relative of the civet mammal. (A big thank you to perfumer, Maggie Mahboubian, who clarified that point for me, and who also commented that it has a rich, honeyed, herbal aroma.) Second, you have to remember that the smell of a gardenia flower is often replicated through other floral notes. In this case, however, Arquiste seems to be saying that different varieties of actual gardenias were used. Regardless of source, the goal seems to have been a masculine, green floral. A Fragrantica profile on Boutonniere and Carlos Huber states, (or perhaps quotes Huber himself):

In taming and “sharpening” gardenia’s multifaceted nature towards a great masculine feel, it took a mix of lavender, bergamot, Italian mandarin, vetiver and oak moss. And the “gardenia” is a duo of Gardenia jasminoides and Gardenia citriodora. While citrus and bergamot combine with lavender to create the opening, the base of vetiver and oak moss in the final stages will always back up the straightforward courage into the subdued passion of the wearer.  

It all sounds terribly good on paper. How often do you have the lush, indolic, hyper-feminine gardenia flower treated almost like a traditional fougère with its lavender, moss and herbal elements? A masculine take on gardenia has infinite potential for originality, so I was really excited to try Boutonniere when I won a sample set of the Arquiste line in a giveaway on The Fragrant Man blog. If only the reality of Boutonniere were as complex or unique as the promise of its notes.

Boutonniere No. 7 presentation on the Arquiste website.

Boutonniere No. 7 presentation on the Arquiste website.

Boutonniere opens on my skin with a burst of fresh, very green gardenia. It is heavily infused with vetiver that has a brief nuance of something rather minty, and is also accompanied by a touch of bright, springy mossiness. The whole thing is a visual panoply of emerald greens with a bright, dewy, green-white gardenia at its center. Dainty whiffs of bergamot, orange, and a vaguely herbal, very abstract aromatic note dance around the edges, but they are mere specks in the picture. The final element is a subtle, synthetic tonality resembling ISO E Super that lurks deep down in Boutonniere’s base, though it is very muted at this point. [Update: Arquiste has clarified that the aroma-chemical in question is Ambermax, a synthetic which Givaudan describes as having “the power of dry amber” with “subtantive [sic] fusing [of] cedarwood facets.”] Initially, the whole thing wafts in an extremely airy cloud that blooms 2-3 inches above the skin. It is perfectly balanced between the bright, fresh, green elements and the sweet gardenia, and is initially strong when sniffed up close. From afar, however, Boutonniere smells merely like a translucent wisp of green gardenia with vetiver.

Haitiian vetiver grass. Source: astierdemarest.com

Haitiian vetiver grass. Source: astierdemarest.com

Time is not kind to Boutonniere on my skin. Less than 15 minutes in, the perfume starts to devolve. Boutonniere becomes thinner in feel, and also loses its touches of citrus and mint. A bare 25 minutes in, the sillage drops further, and Boutonniere hovers an inch above the skin. Before the first hour is even up, the perfume lies right on the skin, and is close to becoming a skin scent. It accomplishes that disappointing feat a mere 75 minutes into its development. Around the same time, a subtle element of pepperiness pops up at the periphery, as the ISO E Super Ambermax starts to rise from the base.

Gardenia jasminoide. Source: flowerpictures.org, photographer unknown.

Gardenia jasminoide. Source: flowerpictures.org, photographer unknown.

The end of the first hour ushers in another change as well. Boutonniere feels creamier and warmer, as the more jasmine-based gardenia element becomes more prominent. The scent still retains its greenness, but the flower is less dewy and crisp. It parallels the evolution of a white flower that you pick and wear, moving from the dainty, fresh greenness to a warmer, more yellowed creaminess after a few hours. The minuscule citric curlicues vanish; and the vetiver begins to turn more dry. It eventually becomes more woody than green and bright, but, for now, Boutonniere is still primarily a gardenia scent with varying levels of fresh vetiver.

By the end of the third hour, Boutonniere lives up to its description on the Arquiste website as a woody floral, for the softened, velvety gardenia is now firmly entrenched in a woody, dry vetiver embrace. It has a lightly mineralized feel that is supplemented by the tiniest touch of oakmoss, but there really isn’t much more to the scent. It is light, simple, and airy, but it clings to the skin like translucent gauze. In fact, the perfume is so wispy and thin that I was sure it was going to die at any moment after a mere 2 hours, so you can imagine my surprise to see Boutonniere cling on tenaciously for quite a bit longer.

Vetiver roots, the primary source of the aroma. Photo:  Herbariasoap.com

Vetiver roots, the primary source of the aroma. Photo: Herbariasoap.com

As the hours passed, Boutonniere fought for dear life as the most basic gardenia soliflore around, with fluctuating degrees of vetiver and a growing ISO E Super Ambermax peppered flourish. At times, the vetiver actually seemed like it had wiped out the gardenia altogether, but the flower is stalwart and makes a comeback. In its final moments, Boutonniere is the sheerest smear of a vaguely greenish gardenia. All in all, it lasted just under 7.5 hours on my skin.

On Fragrantica, the comments range all over the place:

  • Like Carnal Flower, but less skanky/interesting. WAY too feminine for unisex IMO.
  • On paper I thought that maybe a little bit of Carnal flower had somehow got mixed up in my sample, I was overpowered by crushed gardenia petals. However when put on skin the sweet floral edge almost disappears to give way to a sensual spicy skin scent that I can not stop sniffing! This is like carnal flowers darker sultry sister, still with a hint of sweet gardenia but mostly about spicy wood (vetiver) and balmy lavender, and dirty (in a good way) genet and a shimmer of petitgran. In the heart the creamy sparkly gardenia comes back a bit to soapy strong for my liking. This scent wears very close to the skin not much silage. But depending on how long the soapy gardenia lasts this could be a little gem that should be worn close to skin, a little secret that only those close to you can appreciate.
  • This smells like a balloon that was rubbed against someone’s head…. [¶] I honestly don’t know know what notes are clashing to create that sharp, dense rubber note (oakmoss and genet poop perhaps!?), but I cannot imagine forking out that kind of money to smell like this, it’s bizarre.
Source: Hdwallpaperes.com

Jasmine. Source: Hdwallpaperes.com

Kevin of Now Smell This had an infinitely better experience than either that last commentator or me, though Boutonniere did not seem to sweep him off his feet. In his review, he wrote:

Arquiste Boutonnière no. 7 opens with a burst of fleshy white flowers (not gardenia, but jasmine); the flowers are sweet, mildly indolic and have an undercurrent of woodiness. As the fragrance quickly develops, I detect a soft “orange peel” note, a gentle touch of “smoke” (the vetiver?) and oak moss. Arquiste Boutonnière no. 7 plays nicely on skin: after I sprayed the fragrance on, I detected indoles on my left hand, orange peel on my right hand, and vetiver and flowers on my wrists; this fragmentation makes for an interesting experience, and all the perfume’s notes work together to create a “happy,” sunny, summertime vibe. Boutonnière no. 7 dries down to a “fresh” (but creamy) white floral and smooth vetiver perfume.

Arquiste Boutonnière no. 7 can easily be worn by women, but how will men take to a jasmine/“gardenia” fragrance? (I’m betting, without any evidence, that women will buy this fragrance more than men.) Arquiste Boutonnière no. 7 contains excellent ingredients, has good lasting power, discreet sillage, and it does not smell old-fashioned[….] As for me…the gardenia perfume I’ve been waiting for has not yet arrived.

Victoria of Bois de Jasmin loved Boutonniere, though her experience was closer to mine with all the vetiver than to Kevin’s. In her review, she writes, in part:

My first impression of Boutonniere no.7 was that it was a gardenia at long last. […][¶] But as I wore Boutonniere longer, I realized that it’s really a vetiver fragrance with just a scattering of white petals. The earthy vetiver and cool moss are so rich in the drydon that you are no longer sure if you’re smelling the petals or the stems. The damp, nutty vetiver may seem a surprising companion to the lush gardenia, but their earthy facets are natural complements. A bright touch of bergamot keeps the composition sparkling and vivid, while lavender takes off the overripe, indolic edge. The result is a bright, crisp fragrance, the heady gardenia notes notwithstanding. […]

There are many elements of Boutonniere that draw me to it. I love its contrasts and smooth transitions from one accord to another. I love the salty, damp darkness of vetiver that is contrasted against the white petals. I also love its quality and polish.

I envy her experience. I wish I had “twists” with Boutonniere No. 7, let alone “transitions.” On my skin, the only significant changes pertained to the early, muted, tiny flickers of tertiary elements vanishing in less than 15 minutes.

I love big white florals, so I enjoyed the green gardenia in Boutonniere quite a bit, but my overall reaction is disappointment. The Arquiste signature style seems skew towards light, discreet scents as a whole, but the sillage on Boutonniere is far too weak in my opinion. 50 minutes for it to lie right on the skin, and a 75 minutes for a skin scent? It is extreme. If Boutonniere had more projection, body, or richness, then I wouldn’t mind that it was a completely basic, linear soliflore that primarily consisted of two elements.

I don’t believe in examining perfumes in a vacuum, and, in this case, all the factors combined together are very problematic in light of the perfume’s cost. Arquiste may currently sell the perfume for $175 for a small 55 ml bottle on its website, but most of the big U.S. retailers are charging $195. The same story applies in Canada, too. With tax, that makes the final price for a small bottle of Boutonniere just under $220. In my opinion, that’s bloody high for the fragrance and size in question.

I find it interesting that a handful of the biggest perfume sites in Europe seem to have dropped Arquiste. Perhaps it is merely a contract issue, but Arquiste fragrances are no longer available on Liberty London’s website, and Jovoy Paris has stopped carrying the line entirely. At the same time, First in Fragrance is massively slashing its prices on those few fragrances in the line that it still has, an action that I find to be quite telling. Others large retailers who continue to carry the Arquiste line (like Essenza Nobile, Osswald in Zurich, and First in Fragrance as well) don’t even bother with Boutonniere No. 7, suggesting that the perfume simply doesn’t sell at the high price point that Arquiste wants for it. 

[UPDATE 1/30/14: Arquiste has responded in the comments to both the pricing differential and to the distribution issue, and it’s only fair to repeat the gist of their position up top in the text where everyone can see it. Arquiste clarifies that the $195 price is for a special numbered edition of the fragrance which comes with a steel stick-pin made by jewelers. The regular, retail price for the normal Boutonniere No. 7 fragrance is still $175. According to Arquiste, the “stores have chosen which one to carry based on what they liked.” As for the issue of distribution in Europe, Arquiste states that it is a matter of finding out which partnerships work and which don’t. You can read the full text of their response down in the comments.]

One can only wonder if perhaps Arquiste is over-pricing fragrances that are consistently sheer, wholly unobtrusive, quite simple, thin, and with only moderate longevity. I really love Arquiste’s Anima Dulcis, but it has similar flaws in projection, body, and longevity which renders its price too high for me. Same story with another Arquiste fragrance that I tested last week. As for l’Etrog, an Arquiste citrus scent I reviewed a while back, I found it to be a dull, overly simplistic, terribly boring, linear, ISO E Super-laden disappointment.

Boutonniere is a significantly better fragrance than that one, but a complex, nuanced masterpiece it is not. I think it would work best for women who are looking for an extremely intimate, green gardenia scent that few other people can detect. Boutonniere is most definitely suited for an office environment. I’m less certain as to whether men may fall hard for Boutonniere. It’s not as masculine as touted, and the amount of vetiver (let alone lavender) that you may experience will undoubtedly depend on skin chemistry. I think if you enjoy green interpretations on white florals (like, for example, Frederic Malle’s Carnal Flower), but want something even sheerer, lighter and more unobtrusive, then Boutonniere No. 7 will be right up your alley. I’m still highly dubious about the value for the price, though. 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Boutonniere No. 7 is an eau de parfum that is available only in a 55 ml/1.85 oz size. It costs currently $175 on the Arquiste website, but many U.S. retailers carry the special, numbered edition which costs $195. The perfume’s non-US price is: CAD$195, £125, or €159 (I think). In the U.S.: You can buy Boutonniere for $175 from Avery Fine Perfumery, The Twisted Lily, and Babalu Miami. The following sites sell it for the higher $195 price with the numbered bottle and accompanying steel stick-pin: BarneysOsswald NYC, Beauty Habit, and Aedes. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, the Arquiste line is available at Holt Renfrew Bloor in Toronto (though I could not locate it on the overall Holt Renfrew website), or at Etiket in Montreal for CAD $195. Each store is the exclusive dealer for the Arquiste line in their city. In the UK, Boutonniere is available for £125.00 from Bloom Parfumery, along with a sample. In France, Jovoy no longer carries Arquiste, and First in Fragrance is discounting those few Arquiste fragrances that it still carries. In Australia, there are a few vendors which carry the Arquiste line, such as Peony Melbourne or Libertine which sells Boutonniere for AUD$199. Arquiste is also sold at numerous small retailers throughout France, Italy, and Germany, but also Mexico, New Zealand, Lithuania, Croatia, Ireland and more. You can use Arquiste’s “Stockists” page to find a retailer near you. Samples: Samples are available at Surrender to Chance where the price starts at $4.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. The site also sells all 7 perfumes from the Arquiste line in a sample pack for $33.99.