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. 
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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.

Serge Lutens Une Voix Noire: Billie Holiday’s Gardenia

Photo: "52nd Street, New York, N.Y.," circa 1948, by William P. Gottlieb.

Photo: “52nd Street, New York, N.Y.,” circa 1948, by William P. Gottlieb.

Last call was hours ago, and the nightclub is closing down. In the harsh glare of the neon overhead lights, the room — once so entrancingly mysterious and secretive — now looks merely seedy. The tables are littered with the remnants of glasses, many holding the congealed thick dregs of a brownish liquid, and a few used in place of an ashtray. The stale smell of cigarette smoke lingers in the air, and in overflowing ashtrays all over the room.

Dexter Gordon. 1948. Photo: Herman Leonard via vk.com

Dexter Gordon. 1948. Photo: Herman Leonard via vk.com

Up on the black, velvet-draped stage, a lone musician has stayed behind his band mates, sitting on a crate and holding his saxophone with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. He looks up at the singer who has returned to retrieve her gardenia from where she tossed it out into the dark room filled with her adoring fans. She finds it at one of the rickety tables closest to the stage, fallen into an almost-empty glass of scotch and cigarettes. It’s dying, covered in brown juices and ashes, and with its once-bright, velvety petals curled up at the edges. Yet, in the midst of all the booze and smoke, it still releases a rich, sweet smell that lingers in the air like a kiss before dying.

Billie Holiday. Source: Soundcloud.com

Billie Holiday. Source: Soundcloud.com

The images that fill my mind when I wear Une Voix Noire from Serge Lutens are the exact ones that he intends you feel. The perfume is an intentional homage to Billie Holiday, whose beautiful, dark voice thrilled so many and who was known for the gardenia that she wore tucked behind her ear. Une Voix Noire (“A Dark Voice” or “A Black Voice”) is a gardenia soliflore — a perfume centered around one dominant note — which seeks to replicate the feel of Ms. Holiday in the smoky nightclubs she packed to the rafters by imbuing the floral with tobacco and boozy alcohol. Sometimes, it feels laden with rum, often it feels like rum mixed with scotch, but it is always paired with a smoky tobacco, and the two elements transform the gardenia into something very unusual. This is not your fresh, bright, green or white gardenia. This is a flower that has the richness of age, and the melancholy of the dying. 

Serge Lutens Une Voix NoireUne Voix Noire is an eau de parfum that was created with Lutens’ favorite perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, and released in 2012. Though it is a Paris Exclusive bell jar, the fragrance is available in the U.S. at Barneys in New York, or anywhere in the world directly from the Lutens website. Le Grand Serge” describes the fragrance succinctly but extremely accurately:

The stars rise in chorus. The night sky is filled with the light of the moon.

Une voix noire : jazz, drinks and the night, and, beyond all that, a troubling line of white, gardenia-scented smoke.

As always, the full list of notes in a Serge Lutens fragrance are unknown but, at a minimum, they consist of:

Gardenia, Tobacco, and Boozy Alcohol notes.

Une Voix Noire opens on my skin with gardenia and rum, followed moments later by tobacco. It is a brown gardenia, on the edge of decay, and with its petals wilted. It’s drenched with the remnants of last night’s alcohol, the final dregs turned caramel, potent, and a little sharp. There is a pungent acridness underlying the brown liqueur in these early moments: ashes. Someone stubbed out their cigarette in that almost empty glass of scotch and rum. Together, the stale smokiness and concentrated, slightly bitter booziness sharply evoke the feel of a nightclub after last call. You can almost see that empty room filled with smoke and the sad lingering note of the clarinet hanging in the air as servers buss away the dirty tables.

Source: Scoopweb.com

Source: Scoopweb.com

Underneath it all, gleaming a tobacco-stained cream colour, is the gardenia. The decayed, brown nature of the flower renders it all the more concentrated, ripe, and full-bodied as compared to its vibrant, living version with its bright freshness. Yet, that tobacco stain is flecked with an interesting colour: purple. Streaking its way across the creamy, velvet petals is the purple of dark, sweet Concord grapes, and perhaps a tinge of pink strawberry as well. This is a dying gardenia that opens with fruited notes, in what I’m guessing is a clear manipulation of the indoles at the flower’s creamy heart. The way that Christopher Sheldrake deconstructed the tuberose flower in Tubereuse Criminelle, manipulating the indoles and methyl salicylate to bring out the flower’s chilly, medicinal side, so too has he played around with the gardenia.

Source: co.marketmaker.uiuc.edu

Source: co.marketmaker.uiuc.edu

One of the natural organic compounds in gardenia is methyl anthranilate which also exists in Concord grapes. According to Wikipedia, as a synthetized aroma-chemical, it is also used a lot in perfumery. Whether here, in Une Voix Noire, the grape element comes from the natural side of gardenia or something else, I don’t know, but the floral component in the fragrance is definitely fleshed out by the sweetness of fruit.

Source: rededgeimages.com

Source: rededgeimages.com

Twenty five minutes in, the tobacco note grows substantially more intense. Une Voix Noire now smells like the bottom of an ashtray into which booze was accidentally spilled. The gardenia is there, but it’s lying below the cigarette butts. It’s a disconcerting scent, and part of me recoils sharply from it. I’m not a fan of stale, fetid, acrid ashtray notes. Yet, there is more to Une Voix Noire, and one can’t so easily dismiss it on the basis of the surface notes. That gardenia gleams too richly at the fragrance’s core, and its sweet richness is incredibly heady. And, in a symbolic parallel, the sillage of Une Voix Noire matches the dark, smoky, husky forcefulness of Billie Holiday’s voice, as the fragrance is very potent at first.

Billie Holiday. Photo: Herman Leonard. Source: morrisonhotelgallery.com

Billie Holiday. Photo: Herman Leonard. Source: morrisonhotelgallery.com

I can see why some bloggers have said that the unusual amalgamation of notes requires patience, time, and openness before the fragrance’s strange beauty shines through and overtakes you. Though I can see it and understand it intellectually, the scent still throws me off-balance emotionally. Perfume reviews are a subjective, emotional, personal thing at their core, and we all project something of ourselves into how we interpret smells. Still, I’ve struggled with how to express the emotions it inspires in a way that doesn’t sound excessive. I know I’ll fail because, for me, Une Voix Noire evokes the final, last moments of an aging beauty before she dies. I find an incredibly melancholic, wistful sadness to the wilted, drooping, curled, brown petals of a once vibrant, glowing, fully erect flower. The ravages of the smoke and drink don’t help.

Ninety minutes into Une Voix Noire’s development, the proud, aging flower feels buried at times under the weight of ashes. The boozy notes have receded in dominance, leaving an increased dryness. On occasion, there is almost a leathery nuance to the tobacco, adding to its tough forcefulness. It accentuates the melancholy of Une Voix Noire for me. Like the volcano at Vesuvio spewing out its ashes over Pompeii, the smoky nightclub has covered the gardenia, drowning out its sweetness. Even its deep, booming voice has been muffled a little, as the sillage drops and Une Voix Noire hovers quietly just a few inches above the skin. All the notes, except the tobacco, feel blurred and less distinct. Somewhere in the background, the lone musician in that empty bar is playing a mournful, single note on his saxophone in the smoky room.

Source: Trumpetland.com

Source: Trumpetland.com

At the end of the third hour, Une Voix Noire is a skin scent, but somehow, it feels as though a ray of hopeful light has started to shine through the smoke. The gardenia starts to fight back, brushing off the blanket of ashes, and rising to take a stand. Billie Holiday and her flower have come to take over center stage, returning Une Voix Noire to a gardenia scent with just a tinge of smoky sweetness. At the 4.5 hour mark, the fragrance is soft gardenia with tobacco that has almost a nutty, sweet undertone to it. There is a hint of a vanillic resin, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Siam benzoin with its slightly smoky sweetness were at play. Soon, Une Voix Noire is merely just a dusky gardenia that’s infused with slightly vanillic sweetness. The tobacco has receded to the edges, leaving only a nutty residue behind. In its final moments, the fragrance is a nutty, husky whisper of a flower mixed with vanilla. All in all, Une Voix Noire lasted 10.5 hours on my skin with generally moderate sillage that turned into a soft, gauzy skin scent at the start of the fourth hour.

Source: SnapperOne Blogspot.

Source: SnapperOne Blogspot.

As noted up above, Une Voix Noire evokes a lot of sadness for me. Perfumes generally transport me places, or conjure up visuals. They rarely make me feel blue and melancholic. Perhaps some of it stems from my own personal issues; I fear the death of those I love, and that becomes more inevitable as you (and they) grow older. Rational or irrational as it may be, Une Voix Noire feels as though it’s about aged beauty, twilight years, and a kiss before dying. It’s not only me, though my feelings and interpretation are much, much more extreme or blue than others. Mark Behnke of CaFleureBon also found Une Voix Noire to be quite wistful:

as the rum accord rises the gardenia takes on a wistful quality, a world-weary floral having a shot at the bar before closing down for the day. The tobacco adds the nicotinic headiness missing from the gardenia and it takes Une Voix Noire deeper into that good night. […] After I moved my expectations of a bluesy riff on gardenia out of the way and took the time to appreciate the creativity of focusing on the dying moments of the gardenia on display in Une Voix Noire; that was when it came alive for me.

For Bois de Jasmin, Une Voix Noire took some time to show its “unpredictable” beauty and sweetness, but she grew to love it:

I admit that this Lutens wasn’t love at first inhale the way Bois de Violette or De Profundis have been for me.  I anticipated the heady, the dark and the bittersweet, and I missed them in this soft perfume.  Nevertheless, I’m glad that I went along for the ride, because Une Voix Noire forced me to take our courtship slowly and to fall in love with it one layer at a time. […][¶]

Une Voix Noire is not a heady big white floral like Tom Ford Velvet Gardenia or Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower. There is nothing of the dewy, fresh blossom about it, and although the gardenia impression is obvious, it’s a flower on the brink of turning brown. It smells caramelized and woody, with a lingering sweetness that makes me think of chestnut honey and gingerbread. […] 

What sways me the most about Une Voix Noire is its ability to weave a story. It’s unpredictable, yes, but every element of this perfume is compelling and beautiful. It’s a blossom that spent most of its life on someone’s corsage, rather than on a branch in the garden.

Others are transported by Une Voix Noire’s story too. On Basenotes, where the fragrance has an 89% rating and seems quite a hit with some guys, my favorite review comes from the commentator, “Diamondflame,” who writes:

A floral incense or an incense floral? Probably neither. And that’s exactly where the beauty of UNE VOIX NOIRE lies. It is sweet, it is smoky, it is floral. It refuses to be pigeonholed, adroitly straddling across known sub-genres. It is a deconstructed gardenia, bereft of indoles, interwoven with similarly synthetic supporting players – smoke, vinyl, metal, etc. Amazingly the composition works; the sum of individual parts being somehow greater than the whole. I really do not know what these have to do with Billie Holiday but if the back-story is anything to go by, I’m almost sold. I could picture myself in the early 1950s, slow-dancing in a shadowed corner of a club, breathing in the strange yet familiar mixture of exhaled smoke and the intoxicating fragrance of a female companion in my arms, enjoying the haunting vocals of a jazz legend. While this is probably not the easiest fragrance to wrap your head around I find it compelling, an evocative reinterpretation of classic film noir and femme fatales much in the same vein as Tabac Blond and Habanita. I applaud the house for taking this bold step outside its comfort zone.

Fragrantica commentators are more mixed in their feelings. Some dislike it immensely, in part due to the tobacco and, in part, due to a perception that the fragrance has a dirty “civet” note. For a few, the fragrance is merely a dull, boring gardenia, and little else. A number of people find various fruity notes in Une Voix Noire, ranging from peach to raspberry, strawberry, and even something a little grapey. Others pick up a metallic undertone, as did Bois de Jasmin. One commentator finds the Lutens fragrance similar to By Kilian‘s Beyond Love, but thinks Une Voix Noire is superior in both its dark and light notes. Going by the overall vote bars, far more people seem to “dislike” the fragrance than “like” it.

I don’t think Une Voix Noire is an easy fragrance. Like most of the Lutens’ Bell Jar perfumes, it is deceptively complex and requires patience to let its sometimes thorny beauty unfold. And, like almost all the Lutens’ Paris exclusives, Une Voix Noire seems to be a “love it or hate it” proposition. I don’t hate it at all but, for me, personally, the wistful melancholy at the fragrance’s heart is a little too much, as is the ashtray element that I experienced for a few hours. I’ve rarely seen other people talk about the tobacco manifesting itself that way on them, so it’s obviously an issue of skin chemistry. Still, regardless of how the tobacco comes out, Une Voix Noire is a fragrance that sings on a few different levels. Strange, raspy, dark, dusky, haunting, heady, sweet, and endlessly smoky, it feels like the very essence of Billie Holiday with her velvet gardenia. The lady sings the blues.

 

 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Un Voix Noire is an eau de parfum that is available only in a 2.5 oz/75 ml bell jar which retails for $300 or €140. You can buy it directly from the U.S. Serge Lutens website or from the International one.
In the U.S.: Un Voix Noire is sold exclusively at Barney’s New York store for $300.
Personal Shopper Options: Undina of Undina’s Looking Glass reminded me of Shop France Inc run by Suzan, a very reputable, extremely professional, personal shopper who has been used by a number of perfumistas. She will go to France, and buy you perfumes (and other luxury items like Hermès scarves, etc.) that are otherwise hard to find at a reasonable price. Shop France Inc. normally charges a 10% commission on top of the item’s price with 50% being required as a down payment. However, and this is significant, in the case of Lutens Bell Jars, the price is $225 instead. The amount reflects customs taxes that she pays each time, as well as a tiny, extra markup. It’s still cheaper than the $290 (not including tax) for the bell jar via Barney’s or the US Serge Lutens website.  Another caveat, however, is that Suzan is limited to only 10 bell jars per trip, via an arrangement with the Lutens house. There is a wait-list for the bell jars, but she goes every 6-8 weeks, so it’s not a ridiculously huge wait, I don’t think. If you have specific questions about the purchase of Lutens bell jars, or anything else, you can contact her at shopfranceinc@yahoo.com. As a side note, I have no affiliation with her, and receive nothing as a result of mentioning her.
Outside the US: In Europe, the price of Une Voix Noire is considerably cheaper at €140 from the French Lutens websitethe International one, or from their Paris boutique. Other language options are available, though the Euro price for the item won’t change. To the best of my knowledge, the Paris Exclusives are not carried by any department store anywhere, and the only place to get them outside of Barney’s New York boutique is the Paris Serge Lutens store at Les Palais Royal.
Samples: You can order samples of Un Voix Noire from Surrender to Chance starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. It is also available as part of a Five Piece Non-Export Sampler Set, where you can choose 5 Lutens Paris Exclusives for a starting price of $18.99 for a 1/2 ml.

Perfume Reviews – Tocca Liliana & Florence: Variations on Gardenia

Good perfume isn’t about cost, age or even a particular fragrance category. For all the niche perfumes I cover, there are certainly some good mainstream, commercial scents out there. Granted, they tend to have a significantly higher quantity of synthetics to make the price point profitable for the company and, granted, I cannot stand heavily synthetic perfumes but, even so, there are some very nice mainstream perfumes available.

One such perfume that I always end up giving an appreciative sniff to when I encounter it is Florence, by the fashion and beauty brand, Tocca. For years, I’ve liked Florence, a very crisp, almost green, gardenia floral scent. For years, I’ve sprayed it in stores and contemplated buying a bottle. Then, earlier this year, Tocca came out with with another gardenia scent: Liliana, a fruity-floral fragrance meant to evoke the roaring 1920s and a party on a lush, green lawn. I finally decided to review both of them. Bottom line, one I still like (a lot), and one made me grit my teeth and wince for large parts of it. Let’s start with the bad one first.

LILIANA:

Tocca LilianaLiliana is an eau de parfum that, like allTocca fragrances according to Fragrantica, is made by perfumers Ellen Molner and James BellTocca‘s website describes the perfume and its notes as follows:

A lush, green, rolling lawn is the setting for a roaring 20s party in full swing.  Liliana conjures a reveler in the bloom of youth dancing the Charleston amidst flowing bottles of champagne and a spirited jazz band.

The lowering sun casts a golden sparkle as an intoxicating bouquet of muguet, gardenia and peony wafts from the gardens, filling the night with joie de vivre.

Top Notes: Italian Bergamot, Neroli, Watery Peach

Middle Notes: Muguet [Lily of the Valley], Gardenia, White Peony

Bottom Notes: Sandalwood, Musk, Benzoin, Patchouli

Muguet or Lily of the Valley.

Muguet or Lily of the Valley.

They left out a note — ISO E Super — but we’ll get to that later. Liliana opens on my skin with a burst of green and whiteness. There is: crisp, green lily of the valley; sweet, light peony (and what feels like freesia); a good dollop of white, synthetic musk; and fruited citruses. It feels watery and visually translucent in its whiteness, though it is a strong scent and quite synthetic in its crisp, fruity-floral feel. The potent muguet (or lily of the valley) note feels sharp and infused with an alcoholic edge that reminds me of a cleaning product. The peony is sugary sweet and also feels synthetic. Soon, gardenia joins the party — and it does nothing to transform the perfume from any number of white, floral, fruity-floral scents sold at places like Bath & Body Works.

purple smokeMinutes into Liliana’s development, it is simultaneously sharp in its gardenia-peony-muguet combination and incredibly cloying. It’s tooth-achingly sweet, especially once the increasingly powerful, synthetic, patchouli adds its booming voice to the mix. It’s not a soft, mossy, or even black patchouli, but a purple one — the kind so frequently used in commercial scents, including Chanel‘s Coco Noir.

ISO E Super. Source: Fragrantica

ISO E Super. Source: Fragrantica

Liliana continues as a blur of white and green floral notes, combined with that shrill patchouli and the cheap white musk, until eventually ISO E Super pops up at the thirty minute mark. The synthetic is sometimes considered a “super-floralizer” to amplify and extend the life of floral notes, so I’m not completely shocked it appears in Liliana. But I hate ISO E Super with the searing passion of a thousand suns, and it torments me for at least a few hours in Liliana. Since most people can’t even smell it and since a few like the smell, I’ll spare you my repeated descriptions of the note and just let you read about it here if you’re interested. Be aware, however, that some people get serious migraines from the synthetic — even when they can’t detect it in any individual, distinct manner. I don’t normally get headaches from ISO E Super, but Liliana did give me the small start of one.

The perfume does eventually improve — somewhat. Midway during the second hour, Liliana becomes much less abrasively sharp and much less cloyingly sweet than it was at the start. My teeth no longer feel like I need a dentist’s visit for cavities. The gardenia note softens and becomes fuller, the muguet deepens, the patchouli isn’t quite as offensively purple and loud, and the whole thing verges on actually being a bit pretty. Even the ISO E Super improves (relatively speaking), adding a velvety, slightly abstract, vaguely woody feel to the base. It’s still somewhat peppered, but it is much less painful than it was in its opening cannon fire.

Liliana eventually turns into a fruity gardenia scent with light musk. It feels significantly less cheap and less like some thin, sheer, synthetic body spray that you could purchase at Bath & Body Works. It does seem more like eau de parfum and, in fact, I can genuinely see the mental image that Tocca wants to evoke: a garden party with lush, rolling expansive green lawns, the “Pretty Young Things” of the 1920s dressed all in crisp white clothes, and perhaps playing croquet. Liliana remains that way for another few hours before finally fading away as clean, white, amorphous floral musk. All in all, it lasted just a hair over 7 hours on my perfume-consuming skin. The sillage was quite strong at first, before dropping a little at the start of the second hour. It only became a skin scent about 5 hours into its development, so people who have perfume-phobes as office co-workers may not want to spray with abandon.

As you can tell, Liliana was not my cup of tea. However, young women who love extremely sweet fruity-florals would probably adore this one. The few reviews available on Fragrantica seem to support that conclusion, with the word “lush” being frequently used and one commentator saying she felt badly for thinking Tocca had “old lady perfumes.” Well, I grant her that — Liliana certainly doesn’t smell like Shalimar or L’Heure Bleue, two legendary classics that are often derisively called “old ladyish.” But the real problem to me is that it doesn’t even smell like a good fruity-floral. There are certainly some great ones out there, but Liliana made me actually go check the “Siberia” portion of my bathroom cabinets for some of the Bath & Body Works fragrances that I’ve been given. And I’ll be damned if the first hour of Liliana didn’t replicate a number of them in feel and quality! There’s nothing wrong with Bath & Body Works, but, given that they cost around $14 and Liliana costs $68 for a small 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle, I think I’ll pass.

FLORENCE:

Tocca FlorenceLike Liliana, Florence is white floral eau de parfum that is centered around gardenia. Like Liliana, it’s not a hugely complicated perfume and never really morphs one way or another. Unlike Liliana, however, it has no brutishly sweet purple patchouli, no “clean” white musk, and is not a fruity-floral. It is really more like a gardenia (with tuberose) soliflore — a perfume centered around one main scent — and it’s a lovely one at that. I don’t know if I’d ever actually buy it, but that is only because I have about five gardenia-tuberose fragrances already and, ultimately, I don’t wear pure florals enough to warrant Florence becoming Gardenia-Tuberose Version #6.

Florence was released in 2006 and is appropriately classified on Fragrantica as a “floral green.” Tocca describes the perfume and its notes as follows:

A Parisian beauty and sophisticate, Florence conjures memories of old-world Paris.

Top Notes: Italian Bergamot, Grapefruit Leaves, Green Pear, Apple

Middle Notes: Ivory Gardenia, Crushed Violet Petals, Jasmine, Tuberose, Blue Iris

Bottom Notes: Blonde Wood, White Musk

Gardenia-beauty

From the first sniff in the bottle to its opening moments on the skin, Florence is light, green, fresh, airy, delicate, crisp, almost dewy gardenia. It’s backed by a dainty touch of violets and green pear, the latter feeling like a very summery, watery nectar. There are touches of other fresh green notes, too, along with subtle whiffs of tuberose but Florence is primarily a gardenia scent. As many of you know, gardenia is one of those flowers whose aroma can’t really be captured from the petals, whose scent cannot be distilled, and whose aroma has to be recreated using other essential oils. (Fragrantica has a little bit on this issue if you’re interested.) Tuberose is one of the main ways to create the smell of the gardenia and its rich, indolic, heady nature is also the reason why many “gardenia” perfumes feel buttery rich. The thickness is why some people run screaming from gardenia as a cloying, headache-inducing scent, but the actual flower on the bush has a very delicate, dewy, green, airy fragrance. And that’s the form of gardenia captured here in Florence.

As time passes, Florence doesn’t change in any significant way. The violet and pear notes quickly fade away, though something green — probably the grapefruit leaves and/or bergamot — always stays to undercut any buttery, heavy, indolic or cloying aspects to the gardenia. The iris note was virtually nonexistent from the start on my skin, the citrus or apple don’t exist in any noticeable, distinctively individual way, and the base never reflects the woody or white musk components. Instead, it’s gardenia, gardenia, gardenia, tuberose, and a dash of jasmine, all together in a very fresh, dewy, green way until the 90 minute mark when Florence becomes a little bit deeper, creamier and richer. It’s still never indolic or cloying, however, and always feels green and almost watery, despite the potency of its fragrance.

Source: Mostbeautifulflower.com

Source: Mostbeautifulflower.com

I happen to really enjoy the greenness that marks much of Florence’s character, but I would be the first to say that it’s not exactly a revolutionary or complex perfume. Yet, for all that, green gardenia fragrances are much harder to find than you’d expect. Florence feels greener, airier and lighter than the other “gardenia” (but really tuberose) fragrances to which it is often compared on Fragrantica. Take, for example, the eponymous Michael Kors fragrances — both “Michael” and the “Michael Kors” version which seems to have replaced it. I own the latter and found it to be a considerably richer fragrance that has a more vanillic opening. More to the point, to me, it is primarily a tuberose fragrance which just happens to have some other white flowers following far behind. Florence is even airier than the eponymous Carolina Herrera perfume (“Carolina Herrera“) which is an absolutely ravishing, rich, deep tuberose fragrance (that was supposedly once Angelina Jolie’s signature fragrance). I own the Carolina Herrera as well, and think it’s almost all heady, indolic, ripe, blooming tuberose and jasmine, with gardenia feeling quite overshadowed. It certainly doesn’t feel like a dewy, green gardenia scent with only small dashes of tuberose and jasmine.

Ineke Hothouse Flower.

Ineke Hothouse Flower.

To me, Tocca’s Florence actually brings Ineke‘s Hothouse Flower to mind, even though the two fragrances are ultimately very different. I found Hothouse Flower to have some dark, peppered and woodier notes underlying parts of it, along with dashes of galbanum and green tea. It’s a more nuanced, complex gardenia soliflore, but it is the closest thing that I’ve smelled to Florence’s dewy, green fragrance. Both perfumes evoke the feel of the actual flower on the bush, first thing in the morning, with Spring just around the corner.

However, Florence is much stronger than Hothouse Flower and lasts considerably longer on my skin. Florence’s projection was quite strong at first, before dropping down to create a small cloud about 3-4 inches around you. It may not be noticeable across the room (unless you use a lot), but you can certainly detect without bringing your arm to your nose. It only became a skin scent on me around the fifth hour, while the Ineke did so after about 50 minutes. And, on my perfume-consuming skin, Florence lasted approximately 7.75 hours with just a small spray.

There is a lot of love for Florence on Fragrantica, especially by those who normally dislike gardenia perfumes. It is frequently described as “heady,” while simultaneously being called “airy” and “light” in feel. Some people who seem to share my perfume-consuming skin noticed, as I did, how long a single spray will last. A number of people experienced a lot more of either the pear, iris or woody notes than I did, while others detected nothing but gardenia. Interestingly, one commentator didn’t like it because, as a gardenia lover, it was too green and “unripe,” and she preferred a more mature, creamy, indolic, buttery gardenia note. Another found it far too strong, saying she preferred more subtle perfumes. And one wrote paragraphs about “BIG GARDENIA” (with the phrase in all-caps) and how it was nothing but that on her. Yet, despite a few dissenters, Florence seems to be much-loved with many writing about how it felt fun, flirty, feminine, non-retro, not heavy or old, but carefree and airy. I share their opinion.

If you’re looking for a gardenia scent that isn’t cloying, heavy, or indolic, I think you should definitely give Florence a sniff. It’s easy, versatile, feminine, would work as both a day fragrance or a date-night one, has good longevity, and smells like a good quality perfume. It is also quite affordable at $68 for 1.7 oz/50 ml of eau de parfum. But those who prefer unobtrusive, soft, discreet, low-sillage perfumes may want to take caution. On that relative scale of things, Florence will undoubtedly be too powerful and strong; it will be “BIG GARDENIA,” even if it is a green one. Still, I think it may be the prettiest perfume out of the Tocca line.

DETAILS:
Cost & Accessibility: Both Liliana and Florence are Eau de parfums which come in either a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle for $68 or in a 0.33 fl oz rollerball for $20. You can find Liliana and Florence on Tocca’s website. Sephora (USA) also carries Liliana and Florence (along with Florence’s various associated products like lotion, skin care, etc.). Tocca perfumes are also sold at Barneys New YorkBluemercury & AnthropologieOutside the U.S.: In Canada, Sephora sells Liliana for CAD$85 and Florence for CAD$72. I can’t seem to find Tocca on the French Sephora website. International readers may want to check the Sephora International List for one near you to see if Tocca is carried. For all other countries, the Tocca’s Stockist link on its website lists the following international retailers (or retailers who sometimes ship internationally): Shopbop.comSteven AlanGabriela de la VegaWarmMontaigne Market – Paris; Couverture – London; Space Mue – Seoul; Blood Orange – Sydney; and The Block – Vancouver. Samples: You can probably get free samples of the perfumes at all the sites linked to above but, if that doesn’t work for you, Surrender to Chance carries Florence (but not Liliana) starting at $2.99 a vial.

Perfume Review – Ineke Hothouse Flower: Welcome to Spring!

Spring is in the air. The garden is a sea of green, bright, dark and light, all showing signs of the lushness to come and falling like a waterfall over romantic secluded arbors. White flowers raise their heads in the corners and open their delicate buds, reaching towards the sun to let their sweet scent waft in the air. Dew sparkles like diamonds on the leaves. A spring shower is imminent.

Kew Gardens, London. Source:  MrsMiniversDaughter.Blogspot.com

Kew Gardens, London. Source: MrsMiniversDaughter.Blogspot.com

That is the image evoked by Hothouse Flower, a very pretty fragrance from the San Francisco niche perfume house, Ineke. I received a sample as a gift from my fellow perfume blogger, the lovely Undina of Undina’s Looking Glass who is a definite expert on florals and who enjoyed the freshness of the scent enough to buy a full bottle.

Gardenia-beauty

Hothouse Flower is a soliflore which means a fragrance centered around one single flower; in this case, gardenia. This is not your usual gardenia, however. It’s not a 1980s heavy, indolic, overpoweringly thick, or headache-inducing white floral. Instead, it is the brightest, lightest, most Spring-like gardenia you can imagine and is accompanied by the freshness of green leaves and Earl Grey tea with peppery woods — all over a quiet base of light musk and smoke.

Ineke Hothouse FlowerHothouse Flower was created by Ineke’s founder and nose, Ineke Ruhland, and was released in 2012. According to Ineke’s website, the notes in the perfume are:

Top notes are Earl Grey tea, green folliage and cypress; middle notes are gardenia, galbanum, fig and frankincense; base notes are guaiac wood, musk and corn silk.

Hothouse Flower opens on my skin as a bouquet. It feels like an armful of the loveliest fresh hyacinth, tuberose and gardenia flowers have been bound up with the brightest green leaves and a dainty, white ribbon. Though there is no hyacinth or tuberose in the notes, it really feels like it. The flowers have an unusual twist, however. They are peppered! The note is light, though, and never takes away from the freshness or airiness of the scent. While the pepper waxes and ebbs in prominence throughout the perfume’s development, in the opening minutes, it is particularly subtle.

"Butchart Gardens in the rain" by Matt Emrich. Source: Redbubble.com

“Butchart Gardens in the rain” by Matt Emrich. Source: Redbubble.com

Those minutes transport you to the most beautiful country garden, surrounded by walls of climbing greenery and the most fragrant of Spring flowers. I truly expected a Spring shower at any moment, as I inhaled the delicate bouquet with its dewy, fresh notes. The gardenia is surprisingly light for such a rich flower, though there is already an undertone of coconut which I found to be a bit disconcerting in the midst of such an airy symphony. Its underlying richness is a paradox, given the freshness of the fragrance which has a very gauzy, lightweight texture.

Woodland Bridal Bouquet with Gardenias. Source: FrancoiseWeeks.com

Woodland Bridal Bouquet with Gardenias. Source: FrancoiseWeeks.com

As time progresses, the green notes grow more prominent. The scent of new leaves is now joined by the aromatic fragrance of Earl Grey tea. Together, they serve to counter that initial coconut undertone to the gardenia, as does the persistent peppery note. Though I would have preferred absolutely no coconut (which sometimes feels here a little like coconut lotion on my skin), there is no denying that Hothouse Flower is a lovely balance of light sweetness, never heavy or overdone.

Ground pepper

Pepper, whole and ground.

Soon, ten minutes in, the perfume transforms from a spring bouquet to something that is less purely floral in nature. The quiet note of finely ground pepper starts to turn woody, bringing the garden’s trees into the mix. Cypress has definitely entered center stage, singing a duet with the gardenia, while fig hovers shyly to the side and in the background. The latter is not a ripe, gooey, sticky version of the fruit but, rather, more akin to something fresh and just barely sweetened. It’s a lovely counterpart to the dark peppered woods. It also contributes to the fresh aspects of the scent when combined with the subtle undertone of earthiness from the galbanum which feels, here, a little like rich, wet soil. The two notes very much add to the overall feel of a garden first thing in the morning.

As noted earlier, the Earl Grey tea note is also noticeable but, like much to do with this fragrance, it is extremely light and subtle. It adds a quiet fragrancy to the green and dark notes, but I think a true tea-lover may find it a little too muted and ephemeral. That said, the second time I tested Hothouse Flower, I applied a far greater quantity of the perfume and the tea note was a little bit more evident. When combined with the woodsy notes, the smoke from the frankincense, and the pepper, the tea takes on a more complex undertone than mere bergamot. This is not citrusy, and definitely resembles Earl Grey instead. Nonetheless, as a whole, it is extremely subtle and never really stands out on its own in this well-blended fragrance.

Despite the darker notes, the true star of the show is the gardenia. It is really lovely and delicate. Regardless of its creamy coconut undertone, it is also never indolic, thick, custard-y or excessive. I know Hothouse Flower is supposed to represent the lush, hot-house version of the flower, but the perfume is simply too airy, thin, fresh and light for that. For many people, that will be a definite plus.

Nonetheless, by the end of the first hour, the perfume does lose some of its gorgeous freshness. The green notes vanish for the most part, and there is no longer the impression of a dewy, Spring bouquet. But Hothouse Flower was intended to be a gardenia soliflore, first and foremost, so I certainly can’t (and don’t) fault it for that.

Frankincense Smoke  iStock_000003278665MediumFrom the second hour to the end of the perfume’s development, Hothouse Flower takes on its primary characteristic: coconut-y gardenia over a base of light smoke, subtle pepper and quiet musk. It never changes beyond those notes. It may not be wholly my cup of tea due to the coconut, but it is pretty. The addition of the really subtle smoke note from the frankincense and the almost imperceptible pepper hovering in the background adds a lot more complexity to the scent than one would initially imagine from the word “soliflore.” Moreover, despite the rise in the coconut undertone — which makes Hothouse Flower a much richer, heavier scent than it was initially — it’s still incredibly lightweight.

In fact, it’s so light, I had a big problem smelling it at times. The sillage begins at a very low-level from the start, but soon drops even further. Within an hour, at most, Hothouse Flower is a skin scent. By the end of the third hour, I had thought it had disappeared completely! It is a little surprising for something that is eau de parfum concentration. To be honest, I’m not even sure how long Hothouse Flower lasted on me. The first time I tested the perfume, it seemed to vanish by the time the fourth hour rolled around. Only by extremely determined sniffing (in this case, more akin to the feral attack of a hyena on my arm) could I detect small patches of it lingering here and there. By the start of the fifth hour, I wouldn’t swear to its presence in any noticeable way. However, the second time I tested Hothouse Flower, I doubled the amount and could smell faint traces a little after the 6 hour mark.

Clearly, this is a scent whose projection and longevity you can manipulate via quantity. Again, I think that will make the perfume ideal for those who like extremely discreet, very light skin-scents. However, those who prefer moderate projection or great longevity — not to mention more body — will be sorely disappointed, as this is a very thin, sheer perfume. You may have to apply a double-to-triple dose if you want to detect its smell after the first hour from more than an inch away, and to have it last a substantial amount of time.

Despite those issues, Hothouse Flower is a very pretty fragrance and it’s made even lovelier by its price. In the world of niche perfumery, finding a well-blended, well-made, non-artificial, lovely scent that retails for under $100 in a large (2.5 oz/ 75 ml) bottle is a bit like stumbling upon a mythical unicorn in some secret garden. But Ineke Ruhland has done it. Not only that, but she also makes her perfumes extremely accessible via a Deluxe Sample pack of all eight of her eau de parfums for an incredible $25 with free shipping. Honestly, it’s mind-boggling. One cannot help but give a huge “Brava” to someone who very clearly wants the world to enjoy perfume without problems of access or cost.

Gardenia bouquet. Photo: Eric Kelley via Wedding Chicks on ILoveSWmag.com. For more beautiful gardenia bridal photos and bouquets, click on the photo to go to the website.

Gardenia bouquet. Photo: Eric Kelley via Wedding Chicks on ILoveSWmag.com. For more beautiful gardenia bridal photos and bouquets, click on the photo to go to the website.

The combination of all these factors make me think that the perfume would be particularly lovely as a bridal scent. The freshness, femininity, and low sillage would make it a perfect, discreet accompaniment on the big day. And, for those who love gardenia scents, even more so. On Fragrantica, one person (“raw umber”) wrote the perfect summation:

Hothouse Flower smells like Spring erupting on all sides. It’s Spring on steroids. It is extremely uplifting and soothing. I could see this being very complimentary to the aroma of a morning cup of coffee. It’s like natural anti-depressants. If you like gardenia, but dislike those heavy, sneeze-inducing, overpowering florals, this variation on a true to life green gardenia should help you begin your day on the right foot.

The perfume website, CaFleureBon, also loved Hothouse Flower. So much so that they rated it as one of the Top 25 perfumes of 2012, writing:

In a year with so many good gardenia fragrances it shouldn’t be a surprise I have two on my list. Ineke Ruhland captures a gardenia weighted down and surrounded by the humidity of a hothouse. This gives a depth to the central note that nobody else who assayed this in 2012 came close to matching. I felt like I was surrounded and consumed with this gardenia.

Personally, I don’t think that the gardenia note is “weighted down” since Hothouse Flower is such a light, airy fragrance, but I definitely agree that the flower has depth here.

In short, Hothouse Flower is a very pretty scent, and one that I would definitely recommend for those who enjoy incredibly light, unobtrusive, discreet, fresh florals. Welcome to Spring!

 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Hothouse Flower is an Eau de Parfum that comes in a 2.5 oz/75 ml size and which costs $95. You can purchase it from the Ineke website which ships within the US and to Canada. As noted above, there is a fantastic deal on a Deluxe Sampler set where you get all 8 perfumes in the line for $25 with free shipping. Purchase of the set also gives you a discount if you end up buying a full bottle of one of the perfumes from the Ineke website: “When you place an order for the Deluxe Sample Collection, you will also be provided with a discount code that you can apply against your next order of a 75 ml product from our alphabetical collection on our website. The Floral Curiosities collection for Anthropologie is not part of this program.” In the US and Canada, the perfume is also sold at Anthropologie for the same $95 price. In the UK, Ineke fragrances are carried at about seven different sites throughout the country (as listed on Ineke’s website), but the best online resource seems to be The Grooming Clinic which sells Hothouse Flower for £79.75 with free shipping within the UK. I should note that the Ineke line is generally carried by Liberty London, but I don’t see Hothouse Flower listed on the website. In Australia, you can generally find Ineke perfumes on the Libertine website for AUD$160 but, unfortunately, they don’t list Hothouse Flower. Other retail locations — including a good number of international sellers from Italy to Denmark, Greece, Poland and the UAE — can be found on the company’s Stores page.  Samples of the perfume are available via Ineke’s own sample set but if you just want to try this one, Surrender to Chance has Hothouse Flower starting at $2.99 for a 1 ml vial.

Perfume Review: Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur

Tom Ford Black Orchid Voile de Fleur For Women (VdF) appears to be nothing like Black Orchid. The original Black Orchid was apparently one of those “love it or hate it” scent that was intended to evoke carnal sensuality. Tom Ford actually said explicitly that Black Orchid was intended to evoke a “man’s crotch,” though it’s unclear whether it was washed or unwashed. I have not smelled it, but I am constantly seeing references to sweaty or unwashed testicles (a more polite word than that which is usually used) in comments TFabout Black Orchid. Its fans — and they are many — seem to adore it, though a large number confess they wear it only to bed for romantic purposes and would never dare wear it outside the house. In contrast, VdF is a light, safe, very floral fragrance. It is also boring as hell, but more on that later.

Tom Ford’s press release describes VdF as follows: “[t]he alluring potion of Black Orchid is given a warm effervescent modernity with this new entry.” Both fragrances are classified as floral orientals and both include black truffle, though to different degrees. (Honestly, I wonder if there is any in VdF! But I’m getting ahead of myself.) VdF seems to be a softer, more floral take on the dark, dense original, and not only because it is an eau de toilette while the original is eau de parfum. Fragrantica summed it up as: Black Orchid is “fatal and sexy, while Black Orchid Voile de Fleur is romantic, light and bubbly.”

The Perfumed Court has the fullest list of the notes that I have seen thus far:

black truffle, ylang ylang, bergamot, blackcurrant, honeysuckle, gardenia, spicy lily, black orchid, black plum, black pepper, lotus wood, succulent fruit, warm milk, cinnamon, vanilla tears, patchouli, balsam and sandalwood.

I should state at the outset that VdF was quietly discontinued around 2010 but I’m reviewing, in part, because it is easily available on Amazon and other e-retailers. On eBay, it ranges in price from around $30 to $90, depending on size and seller. It’s a scent that may be worth a shot for those of you who fear Black Orchid (original) may be too much, especially for places like the office. However, those of you who have issues with indolent white flower scents, especially gardenia, should stay far, far away.

VdF opens with a burst of bergamot, a scent that falls between orange and lemon, and gardenia. There is hint of honeysuckle and ylang-ylang, though it’s most definitely not the ylang-ylang in Téo Cabanel’s Alahine. This ylang-ylang is softer, creamier and lighter but, to be honest, it’s hard to detect at times under the onslaught of gardenia. Gardenia is a flower that often imparts an indolic nature to scents. It’s a frequent cohort of tuberose or jasmine, and has a very narcotic, heady scent that some people find similar to cat urine, a litter box, or moth balls. Not everyone, but some people definitely have a bad reaction to more indolic scents. (For more on the precise meaning and nature of “indolic,” please see the Glossary.)

The top notes for VdF also include black currant and, unfortunately, it creates a very sour, unpleasant note on me. The Perfume Shrine has a good explanation of the scent as well as the occasional tendency for some people to smell sour, almost urine-like ammoniac notes: “[c]ompared to the artificial berry bases defined as ‘cassis,’ the natural black currant bud absolute comes off as greener and lighter with a characteristic touch of cat. Specifically the ammoniac feel of a feline’s urinary tract, controversial though that may seem.” I’m really surprised that I actually smell that here. There are numerous scents which people occasionally feel resembles a “cat’s litter box” (usually feces, more than urine) and which makes them queasy. Fracas – that famous indolic tuberose powerhouse – is perhaps the best and most frequent example. I’ve never had that problem; in fact, Fracas is one of my old favorites and a scent that I truly think deserves its legendary status.

With VdF, for the first time in my life, I smell something sour that verges almost on cat urine. It must be the black currant. It doesn’t last and it does recede after about 20 minutes, but 20 minutes is too long given the huge sillage of the scent in its opening hour. The sour, almost ammonia-like, scent surprises me and I scour my brain to see if I saw any other comments to that effect. If I did, I don’t remember them now. So, perhaps, we should just chalk this one up to skin chemistry. Nonetheless, I must confess, the sourness leaves me unfortunately biased against the perfume. In fact, I’m not sure I can get past it.

But we must soldier on, so onward and upwards. Once that incredibly unfortunate note recedes, VdF is all soft ylang-ylang and gardenia, with jasmine following closely behind.  And, that’s about it. On me, there are no hints of leather that I’ve read about elsewhere, absolutely no earthiness (even in mild form) from the black truffle, no… nothing. One perfume blog, Perfume-Smellin’ Things, described VdF as a “femme fatale” scent:

[O]nly a tiny bit less robust than the sinfully opulent original Black Orchid, Voile de Fleur replaces the pungently earthy accord of black truffles with a leathery undertone, thus transforming from some (most probably evil) mythical creature of the night into somebody slightly less outlandish and more “urban”…a femme fatale.

Good lord. Really? I wish it smelled that way on me. I might have liked it if it did. Alas, on me, VdF is just a linear blast of gardenia and ylang-ylang. One big flat-line. And the patient dies shortly thereafter….

I wish I had more to say, but I don’t. I’m too underwhelmed and bored to even be verbose. (And you know how verbose I usually am!) This is not a scent I can recommend. White flower lovers may have issues with the linearity or the longevity of the scent. Non-white flower lovers who are sensitive to gardenia may recede gagging from the indoles or the sourness of the black currant notes. Everyone else will just be bored beyond belief. Spare yourself the money; take a nap instead.

Details:
-The sillage or projection is — like most Tom Ford scents — big in its opening before receding about an hour in to a softer, calmer level. VdF starts becoming close to the skin about 2.5 hours in and fades away completely after 3.5 hours in total. Once again, I need to emphasize that my body consumes perfume, but this is one of the shorter Tom Ford scents that I’ve tried.
– Availability: eBay and Amazon, as well as other e-retail sellers. Cost varies but I’ve seen bottles go for $29.95 on eBay. I don’t recommend that you waste your money.