Frederic Malle Carnal Flower

The benchmark for all tuberose scents was set by the legendary Fracas, but the modern contender and favorite for the throne may be a creation by Frederic Malle: Carnal Flower. It is an accessible, easy, very fresh and, therefore, very modern take on white floral powerhouses. I’m generally not one for floral scents, but I make a particular exception for the fleshiest of white, narcotic, indolic flowers. I’m an absolute sucker for a white powerhouses, and tuberose is my favorite flower in the world. So, I should positively adore Carnal Flower, right? Hm.

Frederic Malle. Source: Paris.com

Frederic Malle. Source: Paris.com

The luxury fragrance house Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle is one of the most respected niche perfume lines in the world. It was founded in 2000 by Frederic Malle, a man who has expensive perfume in his blood. His grandfather started Christian Dior Perfumes, and his mother later worked as an Art Director for the same perfume house. In 2005, Malle teamed up with legendary perfumer, Dominique Ropion, to create Carnal Flower. It is an eau de parfum inspired by Malle’s aunt, the actress Candice Bergen, and her role in the 1971 film, Carnal Knowledge.

Source: Forty Five Ten.

Source: Forty Five Ten.

Malle’s website describes Carnal Flower as follows:

If nature offers olfactive clashes, tuberose is probably the best example of it. These pretty flowers exude an almost carnal smell, superimposing in a quasi-miraculous way flower shop freshness, camphorous violence – spicy and animalic – and milky sweetness. This mysterious equilibrium has always fascinated perfumers. 18 months were necessary for Dominique Ropion to forward a modern version of that theme, an “olfactive Everest” that only the most talented perfumers were capable of reaching.

Fragrantica lists its notes as follows:

The top notes contain: bergamot, melon and eucalyptus. The middle notes include: ylang-ylang, jasmine, tuberose, Salicylates (natural, toxic product of herbal origin, a sort of a herbal feromone which is used by plants as a warning). The base encompasses: tuberose absolute, orange blossom absolute, coconut and musk.

Source: tarrantcounty.com

Source: tarrantcounty.com

Carnal Flower opens on my skin with a tinge of bergamot and green honeydew melon, then a loud bang of tuberose and eucalyptus. The fleshy, white flower is rendered icy with the mentholated notes, but there is also a definite milky quality to the scent. It stems from the tiniest flicker of the coconut in the base. The nicest part of Carnal Flower is the cool, green vibe. From the start, almost to the finish, there is a watery quality to the scent, not just from the dewy melon, but from a sense of the tuberose stem having been cut and dripping out its green liquid into the vase water that surrounds it.

Eucalyptus leaves.

Eucalyptus leaves.

The eucalyptus adds a chilly camphorated note that cuts like a knife through the flower’s usual sweetness. In other tuberose scents, that sweetness that can sometimes verge on either bubble gum or Welch’s grape jelly, due to the salicylates. Not here. At the same time, the eucalyptus ensures a freshness that pre-empts any indolic fleshiness, over-ripe voluptuousness, and heaviness. Indoles can create an over-blown ripeness in a floral scent which, on some skin, can end up turning fecal, urinous, plastic-y or reminiscent of a cat’s litter box. That is never the case here, for Carnal Flower’s indolic richness is kept firmly in check by the freshness of the icy eucalyptus and that subtle touch of green melon.

Carnal Flower’s initial blast of eucalyptus softens in less than five minutes. The briefly camphorated undertone turns into a simple greenness that is cool and crisp. The touch of citric freshness vanishes, and its place is taken by the first stirrings of the other white flowers. The orange blossom and jasmine lurk in the base for the most part, along with the coconut, but they start to throw up a translucent white arm to wave hello once in a while before sinking back to the depths like a shy mermaid. For now, Carnal Flower is all about the tuberose, singing a solo on center stage with the eucalyptus standing a few feet behind.

Tuberose. Source: Fragrantica.de

Tuberose. Source: Fragrantica.de

The greenness in Carnal Flower is quite multi-faceted. Besides the chilliness imparted by the eucalyptus, there is an aroma that feels as though the tuberose’s green leaves, stem, and unripe buds have been crushed into a slightly bitter oil. Later, the note takes on the distinct aroma of vase water that has been left untouched for a few days. There is a murkiness to the leafy, green note, though it never really rises to the level of fetid. Still, every time I’ve worn Carnal Flower, there is always a subtle flicker of dark, watery greenness that calls to mind stale, stagnant vase water.

Jasmine via Wikicommons

Jasmine via Wikicommons

It takes 20 minutes for the jasmine to arrive, fusing with the tuberose to become the focal point of the scent. The eucalyptus’ icy chilliness slowly begins to fade away, though the green freshness remains as a strong constant throughout the life of Carnal Flower. As the mentholated undertone becomes a mere flicker, Carnal Flower turns warmer, sweeter, and deeper, less fresh and cool. Ten minutes later, the orange blossom joins the parade of white flowers, creating quite a layered lushness.

The sillage, however, is moderate on my skin. Three small sprays from my small decant gives me a soft, airy cloud that wafts a maximum of 3 inches, at most. The thin, airy weight and restrained projection are a surprise for a scent that is so strong when smelled up close for the first two hours. Interpretations of airiness and sillage will obviously depend on one’s personal yardstick, but for me, none of Malle’s fragrances have much heft. He seems to ascribe to the modern French definition of “strong,” which seems to be significantly different than that of some American and Middle Eastern fragrance houses. Or perhaps it’s just me, for I’m continually unimpressed by what Malle considers to be intense or rich, let alone “Oriental.”

I think it’s only fair to explain that feeling, as it bears a lot on this review and my response to Carnal Flower. When I visited one of Malle’s Paris boutiques, I went through the range of Malle fragrances which were laid out in what seemed to be a progression of strength and richness from left to right. At the far end of the scale was Musc Ravageur whose placement seemed to be presented as the most opulently oriental, extreme, heavy or rich scent that they had. It bore home to me that my definition of things varies enormously from that of Monsieur Malle. I kept asking the rather constipated, prune-mouthed sales assistant for something “stronger, heavier, richer,” because half the scents seemed to be watery, thin, translucent, or restrained to the point of aloofness.

Fracas Eau de Parfum.

Fracas Eau de Parfum.

The point of all this is that I am obviously not Malle’s target customer. Not in a million years. And I think that is especially true when it comes to his florals. If I’m going to wear tuberose, I want a sonic boom like the Fracas that I grew up with, or like an Amouage scent. I want concentrated heft, richness, and body. For me, personally, I don’t see the point otherwise. I’m not wearing an all-natural fragrance with its inherent limitations.

The problem seems to be that my benchmark for white florals was set by Fracas when I was 7 years old. Vintage Fracas is one of two perfumes that forever shaped both me and my perfume tastes. (The other being the benchmark scent for Orientals, vintage Opium.) When you are imprinted with vintage Fracas as your idea of the perfect tuberose, and then you’re faced by a very pretty, albeit watery and green, tuberose that has a fraction of its richness and little of its indolic, narcotic, heady fleshiness, you’re bound to be somewhat underwhelmed.

Source: Colourbox.com

Source: Colourbox.com

Carnal Flower definitely leaves me at a bit of a loss, especially after the end of the first hour. It becomes this translucent, diaphanous, gauzy blur of whiteness with some greenness and some creaminess. The prominence and power of certain notes vary over the next few hours, but the core essence never changes one iota. The orange blossom fluctuates in strength, but it is always in third place behind the jasmine and tuberose on my skin. In any event, it fades away about 2.75 hours into Carnal Flower’s development. The jasmine often seems to overtake the tuberose on my skin as the main note, but it’s sometimes hard to single out the specific floral components as Carnal Flower becomes an increasingly abstract veil of white flowers with some freshness. The creamy quality never translates as coconut on my skin, and is much more of a textural quality. As a whole, it’s nice, but …. eh.

While the coconut leaves me underwhelmed, I’m wholly unenthused by the white musk that pops up about 4.75 hours in. It’s a synthetic touch that consistently gives me a headache if I sniff Carnal Flower up close for too long. I don’t even see the purpose of it. It doesn’t smell fresh or clean. It’s simply… there. Eventually, Carnal Flower devolves into a vaguely musky jasmine scent with some occasional touches of tuberose and greenness. It remains that way until its end. All in all, Carnal Flower lasted 11.25 hours on me, perhaps thanks to the white musk which my skin clings onto like mad.

It is all very pretty, with enjoyable greenness and a refined handling of the tuberose, but Carnal Flower really fails to do much for me. Every single time I’ve worn Carnal Flower over the last two years, the trajectory of my reaction is always the same:

Opening: “Oh, eucalyptus. Ugh,”

10 minutes later: “Huh, this is so incredibly pretty, why don’t I wear this more often??!”

An hour after that: “Oh. Right. Now I remember why. Hm. Maybe I should put some vintage Fracas over it?”

I’ve spent so much time trying to explain my reaction to Carnal Flower for a few different reasons. First, I’m fully aware that saying Carnal Flower is insufficiently potent, indolic, rich, and full-bodied makes me sound insane to the average perfumista. For almost everyone else, it is the epitome of an indolic, opulent, white floral powerhouse. Well, maybe you had to grow up with Fracas in the 1970s, and have a taste for super-charged, bold, or Middle Eastern perfumery in general. Second, Carnal Flower is one of those legendary scents that most people have already tried and have an opinion on, so there isn’t much point in quoting other reviews. At this point, it’s merely a case of comparing experiences, and providing a context for one’s perspective. 

Source: Basenotes.

Source: Basenotes.

What may be more useful is to compare Carnal Flower to other tuberose-centered fragrances in this genre. As noted above, Fracas is the reference and gold standard, but it is a very different fragrance as a whole. It’s more fleshly, heavy, opaque, and voluptuous. Alas, the new modern eau de parfum is also syrupy, sweet, and somewhat synthetic in feel. Carnal Flower’s essence is slightly closer to Le Labo‘s 2013 Lys 41 which is a similarly fresh white floral cocktail, but again there are differences. Lys 41 has the dewy, faintly metallic coolness of lily, not the green freshness from eucalyptus. It is also substantially creamier and more vanillic, thanks to the buttery notes provided by the Tahitian gardenia or tiaré. On my skin, Carnal Flower’s coconut was neither particularly noticeable in an individual, distinct way nor tropical in nature, but Un Lys definitely had that undertone. 

Source: hdwallpaperspics.com

Source: hdwallpaperspics.com

Serge LutensTubereuse Criminelle is much more significant, as Malle and Ropion were clearly influenced by the Lutens version which preceded Carnal Flower by six years. The 1999 Tubereuse Criminelle has a heavily mentholated, rubbery, almost diesel-like and leathered blackness to its opening eucalyptus notes. It is more masculine, bold, intense, and forceful (in both body and projection), before softening and eventually turning into something very golden and warm with vanilla and styrax. It never feels green and fresh, let alone watery, and it is also a much more difficult fragrance than the easier, more accessible Carnal Flower. I suspect that is why Malle’s tuberose scent edges out the Lutens as the favorite modern tuberose.      

The Perfume Shrine has a fantastic rundown of Carnal Flower’s place on the tuberose spectrum, beginning with the reference benchmark, Fracas:

The history of tuberose in perfumery passes through that parfum phare as the French say (a “lighthouse perfume”, a landmark more like it): Fracas, conceived by the fauvist Germaine Cellier for Robert Piguet, with its fleshy, lush contradicting qualities edged upon the two extremes: creamy, candy-ish beauty and violent hystrionics leading to decay. Blonde by Versace is its poorer , aspiring -and rather successful- imitator with a flamboyant style that is very Italian, a civet come-hither innuendo and quite pleasant in calculated moderation especially in extrait de parfum. Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle presents a peculiar problem : one has to wait for the crucial first 15 minutes, when the demonic camphor note subsides, giving reign to the glorious creaminess and silky softness of the flower. Caron’s Tubereuse is very radiant , yet perfume-y although lighter and not suited to today’s sensibilities, I find. Carolina Herrera (the original one by the famous designer) is a bit too operatic, being so much infused with another bombshell : jasmine. Some of the rest (Lauder’s Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia and Do Son by Diptyque) are either more positioned towards gardenia or too light for carnal aspirations. Vamp a NY by Honore des Pres is more candied than that and with a generous helping of pink jasmine, although equally magnificent. Tuberose perfumes are a real continent: there are variations in the verdure to suit everyone. [Emphasis to names and bolding added by me.]

Candace Bergen via Pinterest.

Candace Bergen via Pinterest.

The Perfume Shrine helped me understand why Carnal Flower leaves me giving a Gallic shrug. It’s not “operatic.” I happen to love and own the Carolina Herrera scent that she mentions (I told you I loved tuberose), and its rich tuberose-jasmine duet is like Maria Callas in full aria. Though it’s increasingly hard to find now, it was once the signature fragrance of Angelina Jolie and the actress may be the perfect embodiment of the scent, while Carnal Flower fits the young Candice Bergen much better. She was lovely with fresh, golden, California girl looks, so the comparison is not intended to be an insult at all. It’s merely a difference in style.

Plus, as the Perfume Shrine says so well, Malle was clearly seeking to do something very different: “Carnal Flower was from the beginning a mission into offering something different.” He wanted not only the feel of Southern California, but Candace Bergen’s clean beauty with

a seemingly fresh scent, something that will titillate the nostrils and the mind. The camphor note, reminiscent of eycalyptus leaves, is a necessity: At once freeing the weight of the inherent indolic character of the blossom, which browns as it decays, and imitating the exhalation of tuberose in nature: greenish and somewhat mentholic from afar.  Yet the mentholated note does not make a grand appearence in Carnal Flower like it does in Tubéreuse Criminelle: the composition is therefore less striking, arguably less thought-provoking, but more wearable by more people as a result. Not a jarring note in sight; even the fruitier notes, like coconut and melon, are interspersed through sleight of hand to evoke freshness and sensuousness. Like Candice Bergen, it’s beautiful, but then again, not without wits or substance, and although undeniably sensual and sexy, it is high class and a lady, not a slut, at all times. 

I agree with her fully, even if I prefer more thought-provoking or operatic scents. Carnal Flower is indeed beautiful, elegant, and refined. It’s also incredibly easy to wear, though I’m probably the lone weirdo who thinks its restraint and simplicity makes it more of a daily scent than a special occasion one. I highly doubt anyone else would think Carnal Flower is the breezy thing to quickly spray on to run errands or to visit the vet. For me, if I were to opt for tuberoses on a date night or evening out, it would always be vintage Fracas or the eponymous Carolina Herrera scent.

In my admitted skewed and distorted opinion, the only thing that would put Carnal Flower into the more “special” category is its very high price. The smallest bottle costs $240 or €160, though there are more affordable travel-sized sprays that are also available. Is it worth it? If you love fresh, green, barely indolic tuberose, then most definitely yes! If you can’t stand big white flowers, or even moderately indolic scents, then obviously you should stay away. Carnal Flower may be greener than most tuberose scents, but it’s not that fresh.

All in all, Carnal Flower is gorgeous by the average person’s (white floral) standards, and a very modern take on the tuberose opulence of old. It has decent sillage and good longevity as well. I think it skews wholly feminine in nature, but I do know men who wear Carnal Flower. In fact, one of my best friends can’t live without his “Carnal Flora” which he confidently wears to the office without a second thought. Other men, however, seem to prefer the bolder, darker Lutens’ fragrance. And I prefer to stick to the even bolder, operatic, old-school versions. In all cases, and regardless of gender, I think it’s going to come down to the sort of white flowers that you like.   

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: You can purchase Carnal Flower in a variety of different forms and sizes. On his website, Malle offers: a small 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle for $240 or €160; or a large 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle for $350 or €235. On the EU website, there is the option of 3 travel-sized sprays in a 10 ml size for €105. In the U.S., there is also a Carnal Flower hair mist which costs $160 for 100 ml. Finally, in EU and U.S. both, there is a 200 ml body butter cream for $215 or €140. In the U.S.: You can find Carnal Flower at Barneys which offers all the different versions of the scent, except for the EU travel spray option. In NYC, Aedes offers Carnal Flower in the 3×10 ml travel sprays for $160, along with the other versions of the scent but not the 50 ml bottle. Elsewhere, you can find it at Forty Five Ten, and there are other U.S. retailers listed on the Malle website at the store link below. Outside of the U.S.: you can find Carnal Flower at Frederic Malle’s International/EU website and in his Paris boutiques. In Canada, Carnal Flower and Malle fragrances are exclusive to Holt Renfrew which only offers the 100 ml bottle of the scent for CAD$385. In the UK, it is sold at London’s Liberty, though it only offers the 100 ml (for £210) or the body butter. However, Les Senteurs has Carnal Flower in the small and travel sizes, and sells samples. Elsewhere, you can find Carnal Flower at Skins in the Netherlands (in all versions from the travel sprays to the 50 ml bottle), Italy’s Alla Violetta, Australia’s Mecca Cosmetica (the online site only offers the 100 ml for AUD$350), Dubai’s Harvey Nichols, Saudi Arabia’s D’NA, Singapore’s Malmaison by the Hour Glass, and many others. For all other countries, you can use the Store Locator to find a location nearest you from Japan to South Africa. Samples: If you want to test Carnal Flower, Surrender to Chance sells it starting at $8.99 for a 1 ml vial.
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Review En Bref: Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady

Source: stein.halb6.com

Source: stein.halb6.com

The Purple Rose of Cairo. The old movie title seems like the best description for a much beloved perfume where the rose is purple from patchouli and dark berries, and Cairo represents the strong backbone of incense smoke. The perfume is Portrait of a Lady (often shortened to just “PoaL“), an eau de parfum from the luxury fragrance house, Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Portrait of a Lady was created by Dominique Ropion, one of the most well-respected, famous noses around, and was released in 2010. The Frederic Malle website describes the fragrance as:

Source: Basenotes

Source: Basenotes

a new breed of oriental rose, a baroque perfume. It is based on an accord of benzoin, cinnamon, sandalwood and, above all patchouli, musk and frankincense. It takes off with an excessive dosage of the best Turkish rose essence that Dominique Ropion linked to the rest of the formula, thanks to a red berries and spice accord. After hundreds of trials needed to balance such an excessive formula (Portrait of a Lady is undoubtedly the perfume containing the strongest dosage of rose essence and patchouli heart), a rare symphonic perfume appeared:  a new oriental rose, a sensuous beauty that attracts people like a magnet, a modern classic:  Portrait of a Lady.

Fragrantica classifies the fragrance as a floral Oriental, and lists its notes as follows:

Turkish rose, raspberry, black currant, cinnamon, clove, patchouli, sandalwood, incense, ambroxan, benzoin and white musk.

"Bleeding Rose" by April Koehler. Source: redbubble.com

“Bleeding Rose” by April Koehler. Source: redbubble.com

Portrait of a Lady opens on my skin with the familiar strains of a jammy rose. It is intensely fruited with raspberries that feel almost candied and syrupy, along with a hint of tart, juicy cassis (otherwise known as black currant). The flower is full-bodied, rich, infused with patchouli to its core, and as dark as the finest wine, but it is also set on fire with dry, smoky incense. The flower actually feels so thick with dark, purple patchouli that it evokes images of crimson blood dripping into dry, arid Arabian sands that have been swirled into a storm of incense. Whispers of clove add a subtle spiciness and, in conjunction with the dry smoke, help ensure that Portrait of a Lady is never cloyingly sweet. 

Spirit of a Dying Rose by Vincent Knaus via RealityDefined.com. http://www.realitydefined.com/pages/things/spirit-dying-rose.html

Spirit of a Dying Rose by Vincent Knaus via RealityDefined.com. http://tinyurl.com/ml9qfpz

At its core, Portrait of a Lady is a simple fragrance of rose supported by twin pillars of patchouli and smoke. And it never really changes from that essential characteristic. The notes may vary in prominence or strength, and the background elements certainly become less noticeable as time goes by, but Portrait of a Lady can really be summed up as nothing more than fruited, jammy, patchouli rose infused with dry incense. It’s a well-done triptych of notes that eventually turns into a bipartisan interplay of incense and patchouli, but that’s really about it.

Portrait of a Lady has been largely imitated by many similar, jammy, incense purple rose fragrances since then, but it really doesn’t knock my socks off. So, I’ll spare you the lengthy, moment-by-moment analysis of how minimal the clove is on my skin, how long the raspberry lasts in an additional surfeit of fruitedness that I did not enjoy, or how it ends up creating a sour note that lingers well into the perfume’s final moments. I’ll avoid getting into the details of just how much purple patchouli there is in Portrait of a Lady, how it becomes a skin scent on me less than 3.75 hours into the perfume’s development, how there are subtle elements of something synthetic in the base (perhaps thanks to the Ambroxan), or the way there is a weirdly soapy tinge to the fragrance for a few hours.

purple smokeThe simple nutshell story is that, on me, Portrait of a Lady started as a conventional jammy rose with incense and endless heapings of purple, purple, purple, fruited patchouli. I really dislike purple patchouli, and there is a hell of a lot of it here. Portrait of a Lady then took less than 4 hours to turn into a somewhat dry, very subdued, completely muted blur of simple patchouli and incense with an endlessly lingering, unpleasant hint of sourness before it finally died away. It’s a fragrance that lasted just over 9.25 hours on me, and that I found to be tolerably nice. It was also, however, unoriginal, linear, painfully purple and fruited, and wholly boring. I certainly don’t think it’s worth the high Malle prices.

However, I’m hugely in the minority on my lack of enthusiasm for Portrait of a Lady. The fragrance is much adored; in fact, it is many people’s ideal, perfect rose. Some even consider it to be a “naughty” rose, an impression or association that never once crossed my mind. In truth, I am starting to think that Frederic Malle is a brand that simply doesn’t do much for me; thus far, I haven’t been impressed by a single one that I’ve tried. So, I shall put on my “Cone of Shame” (to borrow an apt, recent phrase from Lucas of Chemist in a Bottle), and slink to my corner. Mea culpa.  

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Portrait of a Lady (PoaL) is an eau de parfum that comes in a variety of different forms and sizes. On his U.S. website, Malle offers: 3 travel-sized sprays that are each 10 ml in size for $150; a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle for $230; or a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle for $340. It seems as though the 50 ml size is available only from the US Malle website, as no other vendors, including even the French or International Malle website, carries that small bottle. On the International Malle website, the prices are €100 for the travel trio, and €225 for the large 100 ml bottle. I’m afraid there is a web-error page for the small 50 ml size, so I can’t see its Euro price, and oddly, PoaL doesn’t even appear on this page with all the other 50 ml/1.7 oz bottles. Malle also sells a 200 ml body cream on each website which costs $210. In the U.S.: You can also find Portrait of a Lady at Barneys in all sizes, except the small 1.7 oz, $230 bottle. You’re essentially stuck ordering from the Malle website if you’re looking for that. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, Portrait of a Lady is exclusive to Holt Renfrew, which sells the large 100 ml bottle for CAD $370. In the UK, it is available at Liberty which sells the mini, travel trios for £90.00 and the 100 ml bottle for £200.00. For all other countries, you can use the Store Locator to find a location that carries the fragrance near you. Samples: I received my sample from a friend but you can always order from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $8.99 for a 1 ml vial.

Review En Bref: A Lab on Fire What We Do In Paris Is Secret

My Reviews En Bref are for fragrances that — for whatever reason — didn’t merit one of my lengthy, exhaustive, detailed assessments.

Source: A Lab on Fire's Flickr page.

Source: A Lab on Fire’s Flickr page.

Fluffy, clean, powdery, gourmand, and very young. That, in a nutshell, is the summation for A Lab on Fire‘s What We Do in Paris Is Secret. “What We Do In Paris Is Secret” is a bloody long name, so I’ll just shorten it to “What We Do in Paris” or “WWDIP.” The fragrance is an eau de parfum from the legendary perfumer, Dominique Ropion, long considered one of the most technically brilliant, talented, master perfumers. A Lab on Fire is a new niche brand, created in 2011, and, according to Now Smell This, is a sister house to S-Perfume. According to that NST article, A Lab on Fire’s mission is to create fragrances in collaboration with master perfumers, and to “emphasize the juice over the packaging (What We Do is housed in a plain lab bottle with a smear of black paint and a label, and there’s a ziploc bag instead of a box[.].” Hence, a very utilitarian, minimalistic bottle in a silver bag.

The WWDIPIS bag. Source: Fragrantica

The WWDIP bag. Source: Fragrantica

What We Do In Paris was released in 2012, and is classified on Fragrantica as a Fruity Floral. Luckyscent says the perfume notes are as follows:

Bergamot, honey, lychee, Turkish rose essence, tonka bean, vanilla, heliotrope, tolu, sandalwood, ambergris, musks.

What We Do In Paris opens on my skin with a soft, fragile rose note, infused with powder and honey. It is quickly followed by something chemical with a strong aroma of burnt plastic and a faint undertone of medical astringent. I test What We Do In Paris twice, and the same thing occurred both times. The combination is quickly joined by a light, watery, pastel, fruity note that just barely hints at being sweet lychee, but it is almost completely buried under the chemical element and by the advent of a new arrival. It’s powder. Full-blown powder, bursting on the scene, feeling girly and light, infused with vanilla and an almond note from the heliotrope. The whole thing is bound up with enormous sweetness, though it never feels like honey, and feels very airy, soft, and gauzy.

Vanilla powder and essence. Source: food.ninemsn.com.au

Vanilla powder and essence. Source: food.ninemsn.com.au

Within minutes, What We Do In Paris changes. The rose note recedes far to the background, the lychee vanishes completely, and the perfume is reduced to an incredibly feminine cloud of sweet powder scented with vanilla and heliotrope. There is a faint whiff of clean, sweet, light musk at the edges, but that’s about it. The notes are so sheer and minimalistic, I actually doubled the amount of my dose to see if it were a simple problem of application and amount. Nope. What We Do In Paris emphasizes two main notes, and you bloody well better like them. Occasionally, like a ghost, there will be flickers of rose from far recesses of the perfume’s depths, and that lingering trace of burnt plastic chemicals, but generally What We Do In Paris is all about the vanilla, almond-heliotrope powder.

Play-Doh set and station via Amazon.com

Play-Doh set and station via Amazon.com

In the middle of the second hour, the perfume turns warmer, softer, and just a little bit richer. It’s all highly relative for this airy, frothy, singularly limited gourmand confection. The minuscule hints of rose have vanished, and a subtle undertone of amber stirs in the base. The more almond-y nuance of the heliotrope has turned into actual Play-Doh, and the vanilla seems richer.

Around the 4.75 hour mark, What We Do In Paris gains another side. Now, there are the creamy, generic, beige woods that modern perfumery insists on pretending is “sandalwood,” but which smell absolutely nothing like the real kind from Mysore. There’s also a subtle sense of something ambered in the base, though it has no chance of competing with the dominant accords. WWDIP is now a simple blend of Play-Doh heliotrope, vanilla, sweet powder, and ersatz, fake, “sandalwood” creaminess flecked with amber. In its final moments, What We Do In Paris is merely creamy sweetness with vanillic powder. It lasted just shy of 6.25 hours on my skin, and had soft sillage.

WWDIP is far from my personal cup of tea. It’s soft, sweet, and fluffy, though I’m not sure I mean that as a compliment. It’s a pleasant enough scent that skews extremely feminine and gourmand in nature, but is also extremely simple with limited range and a total lack of depth. What We Do In Paris is not fruity or floral enough to merit a “fun and flirty” designation, but it does scream “youthful.” It seems like the perfect sort of innocuous, soft, sweet, powdery scent for a young, female, high school student. It’s so pleasantly and innocuously powdery sweet that it actually seems more like a commercial scent that you’d find at the mall, instead of a niche fragrance that costs $110.

The surfeit of sweetness and the young, safe, fluffy banality bore me, but a lot of gourmand lovers seem to adore What We Do In Paris. It’s a fragrance that has often been compared to the cult hit Luctor et Emergo from The Peoples of The Labyrinths, as well as to Kenzo‘s Amour. The drydown has even been admiringly compared to Givenchy‘s notorious Amarige. I love Amarige, own it, and don’t find a lot of similarities between its lovely, richer, deeper, more appealing amber in the drydown, and the deluge of powdered sweetness in WWDIP. I haven’t tried the other scents to know how they may compare, but Now Smell This and Freddie of Smelly Thoughts found some overlap between What We Do In Paris and other gourmand fragrances, including Serge Lutens‘ Rahat Loukoum and Louve. Like me, Freddie wasn’t bowled over by What We Do In Paris, calling it “slightly immature” and “safe and predictable.” He called it “a perfect blind buy for someone who just likes to smell good but doesn’t care of what in particular.”

If you’re a gourmand lover, however, and are looking for an uncomplicated, completely safe scent, you may want to read the glowing, gushing raves on Luckyscent where many people find WWDIP to be delicious, sweet nectar and utterly addictive. Everyone talks about the powder or Play-Doh, but they generally love it, with only a few dissenters finding the perfume to be excessively sweet or like “baby powder.” One admiring commentator said the fragrance was delicious Play-Doh in “a comforting, loving feminine role-model wearing kind of way. Reminds me of a kind pre-school teacher.” I agree with that last bit. I could definitely see a pre-school teacher wearing WWDIP as a scent that would comfort and soothe toddlers….

 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: What We Do In Paris Is Secret is an eau de parfum that is most commonly available in a 60 ml bottle that costs $110 or, generally, around €110. There is also a 15 ml bottle that is sold by some vendors for €24. Both sizes are listed on the Lab on Fire website, but it doesn’t seem to have an e-store offering online purchase. In the U.S.: you can find What We Do In Paris at Luckyscent. Outside the U.S.: In France, I found the perfume in a 15 ml size bottle at Colette which sells it for €24. I couldn’t find any UK vendors, but I didn’t search exhaustively. In the Netherlands, WWDIP is sold at Skins in the 60 ml bottle for €115,85. In Germany, First in Fragrance offers What We Do In Paris for €110, and I believe they ship worldwide. For all other locations, you can turn to the Lab on Fire Stockists list on their Facebook page which lists vendors from Austria to Poland, Greece, Switzerland and elsewhere in the EU. No UK or Australian vendors are listed, however. Samples: I obtained my vial from a friend, but you can buy samples at Surrender to Chance which offers WWDIP starting at $5.99 for a 1ml vial.