Parfums de Nicolaï Sacrebleu Intense

Some perfumes have a quiet prettiness that weave their way around you over time, or that touch you with a feeling of comforting familiarity. Sometimes, they are also about a study in contrasts, contradictions that work together seamlessly in a way that becomes more important than the individual notes. Sacrebleu Intense from the Guerlain descendent, Patricia de Nicolaï, and her company, Parfums de Nicolaï, is one of those perfumes.

The 30 ml and 100 ml bottles of Sacrebleu Intense. Source: Luckyscent

The 30 ml and 100 ml bottles of Sacrebleu Intense. Source: Luckyscent

It is an eau de parfum that appealed to me the first time I smelled it, but it didn’t bowl me over and throw me into a state of maddened lust. It still doesn’t, if truth be told, but Sacrebleu Intense quietly squirreled its way into my thoughts, and I ended up succumbing to a relatively blind buy months after the fact. It has a quiet solidity and classical appeal with just enough of a nod to the past to be comforting at times.

What I like is the feeling of contrasts that have been superbly blended into a seamless whole. There is sticky, chewy darkness, but also, airy, white sweetness. Bitter green leafiness lies side-by-side with boldly fiery, red cloves, brown cinnamon, smoky blacks, and twiggy, petitgrain, neroli orange-browns. Sometimes, the contrasts are just about the stark black and whites: black licorice and smoke, against white Church incense and spicy red carnation. Sometimes, they are about gender, as femininity collides with touches of masculinity. Often, they are about boldness and strength mixed with refined quietness; or the contradictions of weightless heaviness.

Photographer: Carl Bengtsson. Source:  fashionproduction.blogspot.com

Photographer: Carl Bengtsson. Source: fashionproduction.blogspot.com

Sacrebleu Intense is about all those things. It is fierce and potent, but understated and quietly elegant. It is a nod to the past that is also very modern. It has a simple beauty whose appeal grows stronger with time, and it manages to stay in your head, long after you’ve smelled it. At least, that was the case for me. I first encountered the perfume in Paris where I was trying the full Parfums de Nicolaï‘s line at one of her shops. (From this point out, I hope you will forgive me if I spell Nicolaï as just “Nicolai” for reasons of speed and convenience, as it takes a while to put on the dots, or Trema.)

Sacrebleu Intense stood out immediately amidst the Nicolai offerings. A few of the other scents were pretty, but too subdued or restrained. A good number felt too damn thin by half, but Sacrebleu Intense made me do a wee, tiny double-take, and I sniffed my wrists appreciatively. However, I almost never trust first impressions and needed a sample to test to see how it would develop over time, especially on my wonky skin. Unfortunately, the Parfums de Nicolai line doesn’t seem to believe in that practice, and I was always told, “I’m sorry, we don’t have any vials.” So, I skipped it. Upon my return to America, though, the memory of Sacrebleu Intense nagged away at me for months. I finally said, “to hell with it,” and ordered a bottle.

Guerlain's L'Heure Bleue via radiobresil.com.

Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue via radiobresil.com.

I did so for one reason, and one reason only. Every time I had tested Sacrebleu Intense, the same thought rang in my head: “L’Heure Bleue. This is a definite nod to L’Heure Bleue, only it’s more modern, fruitier, with different spices, and possibly a more unisex feel.” Now, vintage L’Heure Bleue is one of my two, absolute favorite Guerlain scents. In fact, it is only fickleness and a slightly fiercer love for vintage Shalimar that prevents L’Heure Bleue from ranking as my favorite Guerlain of all. Plus, vintage L’Heure Bleue can be a wee bit powdery for my tastes, though none of it matters in the face of the reformulated modern version. Sacrebleu Intense reminds me of vintage L’Heure Bleu, though with enough differences for it to be its own scent. It feels more modern, and not as wistful in nature.

Patricia de Nicolaï, via her own website.

Patricia de Nicolaï, via her own website.

The strong connection to one of Guerlain’s masterpieces should come as no surprise to anyone who knows about Patricia de Nicolai‘s background. I’ve written about how she is part of the Guerlain family, a grand-daughter of the house’s founder, Pierre Guerlain, a niece to Jean-Jacques Guerlain, and a relative of the famed nose and current Guerlain family patriarch, Jean-Paul Guerlain. Madame de Nicolai is also on record as saying that she absolutely loves L’Heure Bleue, though she stopped just short of saying that it is the Guerlain scent that has had the most impact on her own perfumery. Still, her love of L’Heure Bleue shines through in Sacrebleu Intense, though I have to emphasize that I think they are very different scents at their heart.

Sacrebleu Intense is an eau de parfum that was released in 2008. It seems to have been intended as a bolder version of the original Sacrebleu which has now been discontinued, though I’ve also read in one place that the Intense was meant to highlight the floral notes more than the original. According to Fragrantica and Luckyscent, Sacrebleu Intense has:

Top notes: mandarin orange, red berries and fruity notes; Middle notes: carnation, tuberose, cinnamon and jasmine; Base notes: peru balsam, sandalwood, tonka bean, patchouli, olibanum [myrrh], woody notes and vanilla..

Source: CaFleureBon

Source: CaFleureBon

Sacrebleu Intense opens on my skin with massive amounts of carnation cloves, followed by cinnamon, dark resins, and green notes. There is a strong spiciness to  the scent beyond just the cloves, a sort of piquancy that makes me think of peppery, fuzzy geranium leaves, as well as of bitter neroli and petitgrain. Petitgrain is a citrus tree’s twigs, distilled down into the bitter, pungent woody, masculine notes, while neroli is a different method of distilling the trees’ orange blossoms. Honestly, on my skin, I don’t smell mandarin oranges in their traditional, sweet, sun-ripened juiciness. There is the strong bitterness of neroli, and the woodiness of petitgrain instead.

FrankincenseThere are other elements as well. Lurking in the base is a black, leathery smokiness from the styrax, the least sweet of all the resins or benzoin-like notes. There is also a heavy presence of olibanum or myrrh. It is nothing like the High Church, soapy, chilly, dusty character that it usually manifests, at least not yet. Instead, it smells like chewy black licorice with a hint of anise. There is a definite sense of smokiness, though. A sweet incense note that feels like sweet myrrh, rather than pure, dry, black frankincense.

Clove Studded Orange. Source: DwellWellNW blog at DowntoEarthNW.com

Clove Studded Orange. Source: DwellWellNW blog at DowntoEarthNW.com

The odd thing is the nature of the floral notes. I’ve worn Sacrebleu Intense a few times, and only once did I ever really detect tuberose. It was brief, very muted, and had a slightly rubbery, black undertone to it. However, the tuberose was so thoroughly blended into the other elements, it was extremely hard to pick out and I don’t think it lasted for more than perhaps 10 minutes at best. The main flower on my skin instead is always the carnation, though it is barely floral at all. Carnations can take on a peppered rose aroma or a clove-like one, and it is the latter which shows up on my skin. In fact, Sacrebleu Intense is heavy cloves from start almost to finish, with only a touch of actual carnation.

Geranium pratense leaf, close-up. Source: Wikicommons

Geranium pratense leaf, close-up. Source: Wikicommons

I keep imagining a clove flower with a spicy neroli heart, bitter petitgrain twigs and peppery, pungent, green geranium leaves, all dusted with cinnamon. The “flower” grows out of soil made from black licorice and the stickiest, chewiest, balsamic resin around. It’s a base that is faintly leathered and smoky, but the main impression is of bitter fruits heavily dusted with cinnamon and cloves.

For the most part, Sacrebleu remains that way for the majority of its long life on my skin. This is a fragrance that is beautifully blended, and each time I wear it, different parts seem to be emphasized alongside the clove carnation. Never the tuberose, but the green bits and the smokiness seem to fluctuate in degree. On one occasion, all that came to mind was black, chewy, resinous smokiness on a white, airy background that felt only vaguely fruited and was heavily dusted with spices instead. As a whole, Sacrebleu Intense is a scent that is very hard to pull apart. The notes move into each other seamlessly, and, as indicated, that makes the perfume a bit linear in nature. For that reason, this review will be a little different than most of mine, and will focus mainly on the perfume’s overall development and feel.

Pez. Source: Wikipedia.

Pez. Source: Wikipedia.

The one thing that does change (and is quite constant each time I wear Sacrebleu Intense) is the touch of powderiness that creeps in after a while. When it precisely occurs seems to vary, and I’ve noticed that one arm (my right, which is not my usual testing arm) reflects very little of it as compared to the other, but there is always some degree of powder. At first, it’s only a subtle touch that is almost iris-like at times. It’s definitely sweetened powder, and its combination with the bitter neroli and petitgrain-like accord creates a distinct impression of Pez candy. A sort of Sweet-Tarts or Pez powderiness, if that makes sense.

I have to admit, I’m not very keen on it, and I become less keen as time passes because it turns into quite a distinct myrrh incense note that I always struggle with. It’s a spiced, slightly dusty powderiness, though much more sweetened than most High Church incense fragrances. As regular readers know, I’m not particularly enthused by High Church or Catholic Mass tonalities, let alone powder, so I must admit, I struggle a little with Sacrebleu after about 5 or 6 hours. Still, as noted earlier, the perfume is well-blended and there are enough spicy clove, carnation, and resinous elements to make up for it.

 Source: darulkutub.co.uk

Source: darulkutub.co.uk

In its final stage, Sacrebleu Intense is a blend of myrrh incense, spiciness, and sweetened Pez powder, lightly flecked with bitterness and a hint of something vaguely fruity. In its last moments, it’s powdered sweetness and myrrh. I like it… from afar and as long as I don’t smell it up close too much.

All in all, Sacrebleu Intense consistently lasts 12 hours or more on my wonky skin, depending on how much I apply. It generally becomes a skin scent about 4-5 hours into its development, though it requires absolutely no effort whatsoever to detect the perfume if you bring your nose near your arm. Furthermore, you can push both time frames if you spray on a lot. With 3 big sprays, I once experienced a 14 hour duration, even though I had to put my nose on my skin and sniff extremely hard to detect the faint traces after the 12th hour.

I’m glad I bought Sacrebleu Intense, though I have mixed feelings about the drydown stage. In fact, if some of my discussion sounds a little like blind buyer’s remorse, there is that on occasion, but only because I really don’t like Churchy myrrh incense or powder. That said, there is something about the opening moments of Sacrebleu Intense that really compensates for it all.

I can’t really explain in any logical way except to say that there is a mood and feeling which overcomes a lot of the sticky details down the road. Something about Sacrebleu Intense feels like elegant familiarity, perhaps because of that distant, tiny kinship to L’Heure Bleue. It’s such a classic, refined scent that it makes me feel as though I should sit up straighter, put on my best clothes, and get ready for a garden party. It feels like something suited for High Tea at the Plaza Athenée, or a walk through the Jardins de Luxembourg near the Louvre. It lacks the va-va-voom luxuriousness of vintage Shalimar, or the emotional power of vintage L’Heure Bleue‘s haunting melancholy, but Sacrebleu Intense has a definite, quiet charm.

Photographer: Carl Bengtsson. Source:  fashionproduction.blogspot.com

Photographer: Carl Bengtsson. Source: fashionproduction.blogspot.com

Sacrebleu Intense doesn’t take me back in time or feel dated. I don’t feel as though I belonged in the 1920s or 1950s. Perhaps because there is an airiness to the scent that seems to belie the strength and potency of its spicy, piquant notes. It doesn’t feel opulently heavy at all, to the point that I don’t think of luxuriousness when I think of Sacrebleu Intense. Rather, I think of spiciness — intense spiciness and resins. Peppered, resinous, smoky, chewy blackness and white daintiness, speckled with every shade of red, brown and green.

In some ways, Sacrebleu Intense feels a little like an attractive girl whose appeal grows stronger over time. She may not blow you away at first, and, in fact, she may not even sweep you off your feet after you’ve known her for years, either. But you’d definitely miss her if she weren’t around, and, whenever you’re with her, you enjoy the experience. Something about her stays with you — her good humoured spiciness, perhaps — and you can’t forget how comfortable she makes you feel.

Almost all the blog reviews out there are for Sacrebleu, the original, and not for Sacrebleu Intense. There is said to be a difference. It’s not only that Sacrebleu was an eau de toilette, while the Intense is an eau de parfum, but the notes seem to be different. The original is said to have included: black currant bud, peach blossom, jasmine, tuberose, vanilla, tonka bean and incense. I also vaguely remember one Parfums de Nicolai sales lady telling me that the focus of the two scents is different, though for the life of me, I cannot now recall how.

Cellists. Source: Nathan Branch

Cellists. Source: Nathan Branch

The one blog review for Sacrebleu Intense comes from Nathan Branch who writes:

For a couple of hours, Sacrebleu Intense is mesmerizingly beautiful — rich, full, deep . . . like a roomful of cellists all playing the same sad, sweet song, but then everything starts to sound (or, in this case, smell) a little off — too much noise, too many notes crammed up close together and discordantly overlapping.

It’s a shame, too, because when the stuff is pulling together it really shines, but the last half of the scent’s lifespan is a sloppy mess — well, until you hit the patchouli/balsam drydown, which deserves some praise.

Maybe the original, less pumped-up Sacrebleu is better, less messy, than this Intense version?

Source: nature.desktopnexus.com

Source: nature.desktopnexus.com

On Basenotes, one person has the following thoughts on the two versions:

Sweet but not fruity once the initial orange has departed. Close to, the jasmin is not wholly evident, but floats a nose- distance away until displaced by carnation (not cloves). The cinnamon is a mere hint (according to the assistant in PdN in Paris the ‘intense’ version has vanilla instead of cinnamon, but it’s still there to me). Overall less spicy than sacrebleu and therefore easier to wear. Intense is an edp rather than the original sacrebleu which is an edt. However the difference is not just in the concentration, they smell noticeably different, so worth trying both

As a whole, forum and website reviews for Sacrebleu Intense are mixed, with the vast majority being very positive in nature. I also think the reason for the split is that Sacrebleu Intense is a perfume best suited to those with specific tastes, starting with an appreciation for L’Heure Bleue. After that, ideally, you’d love a heaping amount of cinnamon, myrrh incense, and the bitter petitgrain and neroli aspects of orange. It might also help if you like Pez powder or Smarties, the latter being a comparison that was raised in two Fragrantica reviews.

One Fragrantica commentator, “vitabhaya,” has what I think is a good summation of Sacrebleu Intense:

Call me nuts, but the topnotes on this smell like a blend of Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue and Smarties–you know, those colored, super-sweet candies that come in a roll. It is melancholy but energizing, sweet yet with a great mellow depth, really a mezmerizing fragrance.

After an hour or two, the tonka bean, patchouli, sandalwood and olibanum lilt along the edge of a vanilla that is neither quite sweet nor spicy. It feels rich, sensual and downright sexy. It reminds me of late afternoon sun drifting through the curtains after a lover’s rendevous. There is something hypnotic about this blend, and I find myself lingering with my arm up to my nose long enough to wonder how long I’ve held this pose. Suddenly I feel as if I enjoy the longing for past lovers for pure memories’ sake. I cannot at this point decide if it is slightly melancholy (L’Heure Bleue?) or if it is rather dusky and languid. Oooooh, how I love it!

This goes on the “must have” list.

Source: Fragrantica.ru

Source: Fragrantica.ru

Other Fragrantica commentators seem equally enamoured, with one saying that Sacrebleu Intense had replaced L’Heure Bleu in her heart:

  • For a very long time, since we first met in a candy-box perfumery in Salzburg decades ago, L’Heure Bleue was my absolute favourite scent of all. With all due respect and nostalgia, the Pefume Queen’s Throne in my heart is now occupied by another sovereigh: Sacrebleu. (Especially that L’Heure Bleue’s new formula does not have the perfection of its predecessor.) It is the softest, most embracing, soothing, calming scent about, and I absolutely enjoy its elegant velvety dark character. Mind you, Sacrebleu’s darkness is not menacing, it’s mistery is not dangerous. It is a peaceful night, when you know you are safe, loved and can relax without a hint of worry and care. It is related to L’Heure Bleue, but more modern, less melancholy and much more life-affirming. [¶] To my nose and mind this scent is so perfect, that while wearing it I never once try to isolate it’s notes…it is a perfect harmony, and I don’t care the least what single notes make up this wonderful olfactory symphony. Truly wonderful!
  • I think Sacrebleu Intense is one of the sophisticated and finest scents I have sniffed. Very feminine [….]  I do not get candies from Sacre Bleu, but sacred feel yess. I have also L´heure Bleue and this might be kinda sister, but they are standing quite far from each others. Sacrebleu is more sensitive…. but eaven if she is sensitive do not take her to be not strong!
  • Prepare yourself to be granted a sweet redemption, to gain a second or third youth, to leave the ground and premises in bliss… [¶] Concentrate on happiness! […][¶] Olibanum and Peru Balsam control the -harsh- tubereuse. Carnation and Tonka Bean rule over the omnipresent cinnamon. Mandarin, Jasmin and Sandal turn your face to the light! [¶] Sacrebleu Intense has lifted me with joy.
  • I got this sample from the lovely Carnation. I smell hot spice! This is warm and intense and perfect for me. There is a sweetness to it that could be vanilla but its not cloying. This is a perfect combination of the things I love, Sandalwood, Patchouli, Vanilla and Spice (must be the cinnamon) I love it!
Photo: mypham.us

Photo: mypham.us

One male commentator loved Sacrebleu as well, writing:

A fruit and floral aroma that embraces you with power, quality and exuberance.
The heart is beautifully made of jasmine and tuberose, going to a soft side of the fragrance, surrounded by peru balm, olibanum (frankincense), woods and a delightful vanilla.
It starts completely feminine and then, goes to a more unisex scent during its evolution on the skin. Fierce yet delicate, strong yet romantic…nice work!

Smarties. Source: imgarcade.com

Smarties. Source: imgarcade.com

However, not everyone was quite as thrilled, whether from the fruit or the spices. In fact, I think the following comments underscore the importance of a love for cinnamon, not to mention skin chemistry, of course:

  •  very fruity and sweet. vitabhaya mentions Smarties and L’heure Bleue. I agree about the Smarties, but feel it’s only got a nod in passing from L’Heure Bleue. I purchased a sample because I love cinnamon and hoped for more cinnamon/carnation effect – but fruit tends to overwhelm my nose. Should have checked more carefully, because the top notes are all fruity, and they tend to hang around. Altogether not bad, won’t be one of my favourits, though.
  • Sweet,juicy fruity opening,but I could not detect any spices throughout this at all. […] It’s probably one of the worst I have smelled-cloying and rubbery would describe this perfectly.
  • I get cinnamon, but the horrid thing is that on my skin it smells like a cheap cinnamon candle. [¶] You ever been to a candle store, and then felt a bit yuck after smelling a tonne of candles? That’s this scent on my skin, unfortunately.
  • Hmmm, no. Opening is sweet orange, then comes cinnamon that has a very synthetic feel to me. A whisper of flowers, then some Tonka in the dry down. Average longevity and projection. L’huere bleu made me realize that I have a strong desire to smell like carnations and I was hoping this would be an interesting, well rounded composition with a clear carnation note, but it seems to have been hidden by the cinnamon. So disappointed.

On my skin, as noted, the clove-like smell of the carnations was far more dominant, but Sacrebleu Intense has a few resins or benzoins that can manifest a cinnamon side. Given that the perfume contains actual cinnamon as well, then you bloody well better like the spice if you’re going to try the perfume!

You should also like strong perfumes. On Surrender to Chance, one person commented that they liked the juicy, fruity opening but that Sacrebleu Intense was “too strong.” Well, it is, but that’s why I gravitated towards it, instead of the thinner scents in the line. Sacrebleu Intense is definitely a scent for those who like their fragrances to be bold and full-bodied.

The 30 ml bottle. Source: randewoo.ru

The 30 ml bottle. Source: randewoo.ru

One of the big positives about Sacrebleu Intense, and the Parfums de Nicolai line in general, is affordability. There is always a small 30 ml size which is very reasonably priced. For Sacrebleu Intense, the 1 oz size costs $65 or €51. It may be too tiny for some, but it’s great if you have a vast number of scents in your collection, or if you just don’t want to spend a fortune on perfume. Plus, as noted earlier, a little Sacrebleu Intense goes a long, long way.

Lastly, I think Sacrebleu Intense skews a little feminine, but not overly so and really only at the start. The incense, resins, spices and piquant neroli certainly make it very unisex in nature. My only hesitancy is the slight powderiness of the scent. It’s not at Guerlainade levels, and is much more myrrh-based in nature, but it’s something to keep in mind.

All in all, if you’re looking for a more spicy, modern version of L’Heure Bleue that is strongly centered on carnations with orange and neroli, dark smokiness that turns to white myrrh incense, and very piquant green leafiness, you may want to give Sacrebleu Intense a sniff.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Sacrebleu Intense is an eau de parfum that comes in two sizes. There is a tiny 30 ml/1 oz bottle that costs $65 or €51, and there is a large 100 ml/3.3 oz bottle that costs $165 or €153. As a side note, I think that there might have been a recent price increase for the Nicolai line, as I see a number of sites selling the large bottle for $185 now.  In the U.S.: Luckyscent sells both sizes of the perfume, with the large one at the old price of $165, and also offers samples. Beautyhabit sells the small and large sizes of Sacrebleu Intense at the same price. In New York, the New London Pharmacy is selling the 100 ml bottle for $150 on its website. OsswaldNY lists the 100 ml bottle as retailing for $190, which is way above retail, but is currently discounting the large bottle for $150. Parfum1 sells the large 100 ml bottle for the new price of $185. Outside the U.S.: For Canadian readers, the US-based Perfume Shoppe sells the small 30 ml size for US$65, and you can email them to ask about Canadian pricing. Their Canadian website offers Sacrebleu Intense in a 4ml travel spray for CAD$30. In the U.K., Parfums de Nicolaï has a shop in London on Fulham Road. You can check the Store Link below for the exact address. For all European readers, you can order directly from Parfums de Nicolaï which sells Sacrebleu Intense in both sizes for €51 and €153, respectively. In France, the company has numerous boutiques, especially in Paris. First in Fragrance sells the large 100 ml bottle for €152. In the Netherlands, ParfuMaria carries both sizes of Sacrebleu Intense, as does Annindriya’s Perfume Lounge. In Spain, I found the perfume listed in the 30 ml size at Ruiz de Ocenda for €52. In Hungary, you can find the perfume at Neroli, and in Russia, there are a lot of retailers but one of them is Eleven7. For other locations in France and the one store in London, you can turn to the Nicolai Store Listing. It doesn’t show any vendors outside France or the UK. I found nothing in Asia, the Middle East, or Australia. Samples: Surrender to Chance sells Sacrebleu Intense starting at $3.99 for a 1 ml vial. You can also order from Luckyscent.
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Profile: Patricia de Nicolaï & The Guerlain DNA

Patricia de Nicolaï, via her own website.

Patricia de Nicolaï, via her own website.

I thought it might be nice to take a look at a very talented perfumer whom I deeply respect, but whose scents frequently seem to fly under the radar. It is a little surprising to me, given who she is. Patricia de Nicolaï of Parfums de Nicolaï comes from the Guerlain family, is a grand-daughter of the house’s founder, Pierre Guerlain, a niece of Jean-Jacques Guerlain, and a niece or cousin to the famed nose, Jean-Paul Guerlain. She is a pioneer amongst female perfumers, and has won prestigious honours from both her perfume peers and from the French government itself. Yet, even die-hard Guerlain lovers aren’t always intimately familiar with her works. I hope to remedy that in the upcoming weeks, but I thought I would first start with a look at the woman herself. 

Jean-Paul Guerlain. Source: manager-magazin.de

Jean-Paul Guerlain. Source: manager-magazin.de

Patricia de Nicolaï fascinates me not only because she is a trail-blazer in some ways, but because she seems authentic, down-to-earth, passionate, warm, and wholly unpretentious. Though she has the Guerlain genes in more ways than just mere chromosomes, let’s start with Madame de Nicolaï’s genealogy. She is closely related to Jean-Paul Guerlain who is both the current family patriarch and the last Guerlain who creates fragrances for the house.(Several sites call her his niece, but Patricia de Nicolaï says her mother was his cousin, so wouldn’t that make her Jean-Paul Guerlain’s second cousin?) Jean-Paul Guerlain is legendary for his creations. According to Guerlain’s Wikipedia page, he made such legends as: Vétiver (1959); Habit Rouge (1965); Chant d’Arômes (1962), Chamade (1969), Nahéma (1979), Jardins de Bagatelle (1983), and Samsara (1989), along with Héritage and Coriolan in the 1990s.

Madame de Nicolaï grew up surrounded by the Guerlain culture. As her website explains, she “spent her childhood in the Guerlain family home in Paris. A home in which she has been in contact with 4 generations of Guerlain.” She elaborated a little further to the The Daily Mail newspaper:

“I grew up surrounded by people who were fascinated by smell. My parents had a beautiful 18th century manor house in Burgundy with a lovely garden where the rooms were scented with Pot Pourri de Guerlain. Neither of my parents were noses but they had a vineyard and my mother was a famous wine taster. I think my love of fragrance was unconscious – I grew up with it.”

Vintage Shalimar ad. Sourc: caviardujour.com

Vintage Shalimar ad. Sourc: caviardujour.com

CaFleureBon has a superb, detailed interview with Madame de Nicolaï where her warmth, charm, and wit shine through in great abundance. I recommend reading in full if you’re interested, but I’ll quote my favorite part involving her memories of her childhood, her mother, and Shalimar. The quote not only creates the image of one, big family filled with strong characters who were all completely crazy about perfume, but also really underscores the powerful impact that one’s parents (and their fragrance) can have on a person’s olfactory development. As Madame de Nicolaï explained:

I lived within the Guerlain Parisian ‘Hôtel Particulier’ for the first 20 years of my life. We had – and we still have – a very big family and we all had our corner in this wonderful spot. I could tell loads of little stories about my childhood but if I had to take one moment, it would be when I was waken up every morning by the powerful and spellbinding Shalimar that my mother used to wear. I did not need an alarm clock in that time! The Shalimar scent was my morning wakeup call! And I loved it! My mother’s room was situated underneath mine and the scent came through my window which was always open, because sleeping with an opened window is in fact very healthy. You can trust my grandmother on that!

My mother loved Shalimar , it is true, but she really liked to be the first one to ‘test’ all the perfumes created by Jean-Paul Guerlain. She was the tender ‘guinea pig’ of her beloved cousin.

Source: .beauty-mekka.de

Source: .beauty-mekka.de

As an adult, Madame de Nicolaï attended the perfume school, ISIPCA, at Versailles, and then was employed at Quest, which later turned into Givaudan. During the late 1980s, she spent a few years working alongside some famous “noses,” like Maurice Roucel. There is also Sophia Grosjman whom she assisted on Lancome‘s very popular Tresor.

Madame de Nicolaï always forged her own path, in part because she was not allowed to work at the family business and, in part, because 30 years ago, perfumed doors were closed to women. In fact, there is an interesting article in the Edmonton Journal which talks about the glass ceiling faced by women perfumers:

When she graduated from ISIPCA, the perfumery school in Versailles, de Nicolai initially sought a job as a junior perfumer but doors were closed. “Because I was a woman. Even if the manager said yes, the chief perfumer didn’t ever want to have a woman on his team.”

She was never allowed to work at the family business. (To be fair, the family sold it to luxury goods behemoth LVMH in 1994, but still.)

“A lot of people ask me that,” de Nicolai shrugged, diplomatically, before adding: “You should ask that to the Guerlain family!” A couple years ago in Paris, when Jean-Paul Guerlain handed in the reigns of house master perfumer and LVMH brought in the first non-family member Thierry Wasseur, I had done just that. [¶]

Did he not believe that women could be good perfumers? I asked. Monsieur Guerlain, then 71, waved his hand dismissively and muttered something about de Nicolai being a woman who made scented salts and candles.

Jean-Paul Guerlain via The Telegraph.

Jean-Paul Guerlain via The Telegraph.

To put it as politely as I can, Jean-Paul Guerlain seems to have … er… issues… with a number of social groups, beyond just women, as evidenced by his attitude towards minorities and immigrants. I am doing my utmost to refrain from commenting further.

Patricia de Nicolai in 1989 with the prize for best international perfumer. Source: CaFleureBon

Patricia de Nicolai in 1989 with the prize for best international perfumer. Source: CaFleureBon

Still, Madame de Nicolaï had talent that other people couldn’t deny or so easily dismiss. In fact, she seems to have had the last laugh. In 1988, she became the very first woman to ever win the “Prix International du Meilleur Parfumeur“, an award given to the best international perfumer from the French Society of Perfumers (SFP). According to Madame de Nicolaï’s Wikipedia entry, Luca Turin reportedly called her  “…one of the unsung greats of the fragrance world.”

In 1989, Madame de Nicolaï founded her own company, alongside her husband, Jean-Louis Michau. I suspect she did so in part because there were not a lot of other options open to her. As she stated in the CaFleureBon interview, her uncle (Jean-Paul Guerlain presumably) had told her that she had “to improve [her] skills and then ‘we’ll see’. This ‘we’ll see’ never happened.”

The Parfums de Nicolai website merely states that she

started ‘NICOLAI, parfumeur-créateur’ … to continue the prestigious family tradition of perfume creation. The concept was to emphasise the role of the perfumer. A perfumer free in his creative choices and free to use the best quality ingredients available.

With an impressive number of creations, Patricia de Nicolai has succeeded in building one of the largest collections of fragrances in the contemporary perfume business.

She is in charge of the creation of the fragrances as well as the purchase of the raw materials and the making of the concentrates.

In all these creations her personal style appears, giving a real signature imprint. Patricia de Nicolaï’s creations are identifiable, original and elegant reflecting the high Parisian ‘parfumerie’ and ‘Le luxe à la française.’ […][¶]

She is also the only independent woman perfumer to have her own fragrance company. [Emphasis in the original, not from me.]

In 2002, Jean-Paul Guerlain retired from the family business as Guerlain’s official nose. Many assumed the mantle would pass to Patricia de Nicolaï. Well, apparently, that glass ceiling is alive and well at Guerlain, even under LVMH ownership. Madame de Nicolaï was passed over entirely for the role of in-house perfumer, a position that eventually went to Thierry Wasser in 2008.

Thierry Wasser and Jean-Paul Guerlain. Source: ellecanada.com

Thierry Wasser and Jean-Paul Guerlain. Source: ellecanada.com

I find it utterly astonishing that a talented, much admired and respected nose who is an actual member of the Guerlain family was brushed aside. I simply can’t wrap my head around it. Guerlain’s Wikipedia page states: “With no heir from within the Guerlain family to take over, the role of master perfumer is no longer tied to family succession.” But there was an heir! An heir who was an actual nose, and who had received international recognition from her peers at an extremely young age! A 100+year family tradition was broken simply because Madame de Nicolaï was a woman??! It’s bloody outrageous.

Today, Patricia de Nicolaï runs her personal company, but is also the president of L’Osmothèque, the famed perfume museum at Versailles. It has become the main guardian of what is left of many of the legendary perfumes of the past, perfumes from Houbigant, Coty, and the like, perfumes that have now vanished from existence except for the tiny quantities that Osmothèque keeps in a Fort Knox-like vault. (You can read all about the fascinating place in a Fragrantica article, if you’re interested.) Osmothèque’s importance is just one of the reasons why France awarded Madame de Nicolaï its greatest honour when it made her a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in 2008.

Madame de Nicolai at Osmothèque.

Madame de Nicolai at Osmothèque.

Madame de Nicolaï is passionate about the cultural importance of perfumery. As the Edmonton Journal article makes clear, she believes perfume

it is part of the French cultural heritage, as important a cultural and economic export as fashion (which, in the aftermath of the Second World War, saved the country’s economy thanks almost entirely to Christian Dior’s New Look). “It’s a notion of art, and when in the middle of the 19th century synthetic molecules appeared and perfumers were not only chemists or apothecaries, they became really creators,” de Nicolai said.

“Perfume is probably the most sophisticated creation to make,” she added; “it’s very intellectual. It’s the most valuable product of our spirit.” More important than gender, she said, is that each creator has what in fine art is called la patte d’un peintre — the hand of the artist. “You recognize Beethoven, Mozart immediately,” de Nicolai said, and so too the signature of a perfumer.

Her own olfactory signature admits to certain genetic tendencies. “I am influenced by my family!” she admitted with rueful laugh. “Growing up Guerlain was always only nice perfumes, something you could recognize from afar, the sillage, and you would know it was Guerlain. I wanted to have the same approach.”

Source: Now Smell This.

Source: Now Smell This.

I respect Madame de Nicolaï for her character more than for anything to do with Guerlain. It’s not only her passionate commitment to the art of perfumery, but what seems to be to be something that I can only describe as integrity. She puts her head down, and quietly creates what she thinks is beautiful. Fads or popular trends be damned; it’s beauty and elegance which matter.

In fact, as she told CaFleureBon, one reason why she left Quest (Givaudan) was because she was fed up “by the practice of creating fragrances based on focus groups and marketing questions. I was very frustrated and I wanted to be free!” Her desire to be true to her own beliefs helps explain why it has taken Madame de Nicolaï years to put out a fragrance with oud. She did so finally in late 2013, only after intensely studing the character of the wood. As she said in her CaFleureBon interview, “I did not want to be trapped by trends. I am a free woman, free to create my own perfumes the moment I want to, regardless of any marketing concepts.”

I can’t tell you how much I respect all that. I’m a sucker for quiet intellectuals who also seem to be very down-to-earth, funny, humble, self-deprecating, warm and kind — traits which all the interviews demonstrate that Madame de Nicolaï has in abundance. Really, CaFleureBon did a stupendous job with their interview, and it is a stellar read from start to finish. It’s also quite funny in parts. I laughed like mad at Madame de Nicolai’s confession that she would have loved to make a perfume for Margaret Thatcher… because of how challenging it would be.

Source: rd.hu/A_parfüm_titkai

Source: rd.hu/A_parfüm_titkai

Apart from the three interviews linked up above, The Smelly Vagabond also has an account of an evening which a London perfume group spent with Madame de Nicolaï last year. It has lovely personal anecdotes, like how Madame de Nicolaï’s daughter suddenly “gets the flu” whenever she’s required to smell perfume. Or the key role played by her very supportive husband who urged her to begin her own perfume house:

At that time I had to take care of my children. My husband told me that if I stopped working in the perfume industry I would never be able to come back to it. Working for other companies was not an option because there is not enough freedom for the perfumer, who is under the whims of the marketing team. There is competition not just within the company but outside as well. So my husband told me that if I made the perfumes, he would settle the rest of the business.

As for her perfumes, well, there is one that I instantly liked, and liked so much that its memory stayed with me for months after I tried it in Paris and I ended up buying it. That will be the subject of the next review. The rest of her line isn’t always very “me,” however, as I find that many lack the sort of bold, opulent heaviness that I enjoy. However, I respect them a lot, appreciate their very classique feel, and can see the technical skill behind them.

"New York" via Luckyscent.

“New York” via Luckyscent.

I get the sense that there often seems to be one single Nicolai perfume that wrap its tentacles around you and becomes “yours.” Take, for example, Luca Turin who loved Madame de Nicolaï’s New York cologne so much that he wore it for a whole decade. In Perfumes: the A-Z Guide, he gives New York his highest 5-Star rating, and writes :

If Guerlain had any sense they would buy Parfums de Nicolaï, add her range to theirs, trash fifteen or so of their own laggard fragrances, a couple of de Nicolaï’s, and install owner-creator Patricia in Orphin as in-house perfumer. She is, after all, a granddaughter of Pierre Guerlain and genetic analysis might usefully reveal the genes associated with her perfumery talent. As a control where the genes are known to be absent, use the DNA of whoever did Creed’s Love in White. Smelling New York as I write this, eighteen years after its release, is like meeting an old high-school teacher that had a decisive influence on my life: I may have moved on, but everything it taught me is still there, still precious, and wonderful to revisit. New York’s exquisite balance between resinous orange, powdery vanilla and salubrious woods shimmers from moment to moment, always comfortable but never slack, always present but never loud. It is one of the greatest masculines ever, and probably the one I would save if the house burned down. Reader, I wore it for a decade.

Amber Oud. Source: CaFleureBon

Amber Oud. Source: CaFleureBon

I have samples of a few Nicolaï scents to test in the upcoming weeks or months, including Luca Turin’s beloved New York. It’s a nice, masculine fragrance which contains some of the Guerlain DNA, as it opens with a very superficial similarity to Habit Rouge before turning into something very different and wholly chypre-like in nature. I also have the oriental Maharanih (which I may skip reviewing as it has been discontinued in favour of the new Intense version), and the new Amber Oud whose notes include everything from lavender and thyme, to cinnamon, saffron, cedar, styrax, musk, castoreum and amber.

First up, though, will be the scent which I fell for and bought for myself, Sacrebleu Intense, a fragrance which I find to be a darker, non-powdery and possibly more unisex, modern take on Guerlain’s legendary masterpiece, L’Heure Bleue.

The Guerlain DNA, indeed. Better still, it’s from a really lovely person.

Guerlain Cuir Beluga

Source: de.flash-screen.com

Source: de.flash-screen.com

A cashmere cloud of cream and pink, with the soothing comfort of Mary Poppins telling you take a spoonful of sugar at bedtime. There is no medicine to go with that sweetness in this case, only marzipan treats, powdered meringues, and vanilla milk. It’s an absolutely addictive spoonful of deliciousness that, alas, fades away to a lingering whisper all too quickly.

Source: pop.com.br

Source: pop.com.br

Cuir Beluga from Guerlain reminds me of Mary Poppins, the comfort of the nursery at bedtime with softened lights adding a warm glow, and endless plates of almondy confections with marzipan, all accompanied by vanilla cream. I have never been so enchanted by the opening of one of Guerlain’s modern, niche perfumes, or more crushed when it evaporated to a silken wisp less than 20 minutes in. It remained there for many more hours, but the true glory was gone astonishingly quickly, and that is a serious problem for me.

Source: forum.bodybuilding.com

Cuir Beluga is part of Guerlain’s exclusive L’Art et La Matière Collection which was launched in 2005. The name of the line means “Art and (raw) Materials,” and represents Guerlain’s goal of creating olfactory Art through the use of the finest raw materials in perfumery. As Fragrantica further explains, “L’Art et la Matière” is also “a pun after the French expression L’Art et la Manière – the art and manners.” As for the “Beluga” part of the perfume’s name, I’ve read that it refers to one of two things: either the word for “white” in Russian, or to the whiteness of a Beluga whale (which is also sometimes called a “white whale”). In either case, the point is whiteness, with a pun on the luxurious of caviar, but the scent has absolutely nothing to do with fishiness whatsoever.

Cuir Beluga is an eau de parfum that was released in 2005, and was created by Olivier Polge, the son of Chanel‘s famous in-house perfumer, Jacques Polge. On its website, Guerlain describes the scent as a “velvety oriental” and writes:

Light and shade meet on the skin.

With Cuir Beluga, the Guerlain perfumer chose to interpret the softness of white suede in an absolutely luxurious and addictive version. Like an intense, warm light on the skin, the fragrance opens with an aldehyde mandarin accord drawn out into an everlasting flower note and then wrapped in a voluptuous cloud of amber, heliotrope and vanilla. An intense and totally unexpected sensorial experience.

In a different part of the same Cuir Beluga entry, Guerlain adds that the leather is “a white suede for women and men, as enveloping as cashmere,” and also says the fragrance is:

Luminous, rare, enveloping.
Top notes: aldehydes, mandarin.
Heart notes: patchouli, everlasting flower [Immortelle].
Base notes: vanilla, amber, heliotrope, white suede note.

Photo: Crystal Venters via Dreamtime.com

Photo: Crystal Venters via Dreamtime.com

It is impossible to analyse Cuir Beluga without discussing heliotrope, so a brief description of the note may be useful for those unfamiliar with the name. Fragrantica has a great explanation of both its aroma, and how it appears in the other, well-known, heliotrope-centered fragrances:

The odour profile is powdery, like vanilla meringue with a helping of almond. The characteristic comforting scent of heliotrope has been proven to induce feelings of relaxation and comfort, a pampering atmosphere that finds itself very suited to languorous oriental fragrances and delicious “gourmands”.

In Kenzo Amour the heliotropin take is on the vanillic side, boosted by milky notes. In Love, Chloe we encounter the retro-smelling pairing of heliotropin and violet notes producing a powdery effect, reminiscent of makeup products. […] In Lolita Lempicka eau de parfum heliotropin takes a anisic mantle and becomes a full-blown gourmand, while in the older Cacharel Loulou it’s the comforting billowy background alongside tonka bean (with which it shares an almond and hay facet) and orris, producing a true floriental. In L’Eau d’Hiver (F.Malle) heliotropin is almost reduced to its pure state: fluffy, like a late afternoon cloud. [Emphasis to names added by me.]

Heliotrope.

Heliotrope.

In the past, Guerlain has loved using heliotrope in conjunction with other elements, but one of the goals of the L’Art et La Matiere collection is to highlight a single raw material. Cuir Beluga may have leather in its name, but, in my opinion, the material being highlighted here is actually the Heliotropin of so many old Guerlain masterpieces. As that Fragrantica page explains:

classic scents have also greatly benefited from heliotropin, notably the nostalgic L’Heure Bleue by Guerlain which pairs the vanillic facet of heliotropin with anise on top, soft flowers in the heart (violet and carnation) and benzoin, iris and Tonka bean in the base to compliment the floral-oriental character of this iconic composition. Or the more ethereal Guerlain Apres L’Ondee which is mainly the pairing of warm heliotropin with cool and shy violets. [Emphasis to names added by me.]

Meringues via motherearthnews.com

Meringues via motherearthnews.com

Cuir Beluga opens on my skin with a brief touch of light boozy sweetness, followed by heliotrope and a hint of honeyed floral Immortelle, all wrapped in a soft, rich, deep, amber embrace. The heliotrope smells simultaneously like delicate flowers, almond paste, meringues, powder, and sweetened Play-Doh. It’s an incredibly soothing, comforting mix, and instantly made me think of Mary Poppins wrapping someone up in a warm, pink flannel, while telling them to have a spoonful of sugar. The boozy touch quickly vanishes, as does the immortelle. The latter never smells of any of its usual manifestations on my skin. It’s not dry, dusty, green, curry-like, or heavy maple syrup. Instead, it was merely a brief touch of warm flowers, that accentuated the delicate floralacy of the heliotrope.

Marzipan almond paste. Source: vancouversun.com

Marzipan almond paste. Source: vancouversun.com

Within minutes, Cuir Beluga turns into a deliciously pillowy, fluffy blend of Play-Doh (one of heliotrope’s main characteristics) with almond-y marzipan and a whiff of flowers in a vanilla cocoon that is just barely flecked with amber. I have a massive soft spot for heliotrope when it’s done well, and it most certainly is in this instance. Marzipan is also one of my favorite confectionary sweets, which pretty much makes me a goner for Cuir Beluga’s opening minutes. I’ve tried the perfume a few times over the last few months, and the beautifully balanced sweetness of the marzipan, almond vanilla grows more addictive with each wearing. It’s never cloying, heavily sugared, cheap, or artificial in nature.

Carnation condensced, sweetened milk. Sourc: coloribus.com

Carnation condensed, sweetened milk. Source: coloribus.com

Instead, the perfume takes a mere 15 minutes to turn into the epitome of creaminess. Every note in Cuir Beluga is streaked through with something that, alternatively, makes me think of Carnation condensed milk, sweetened milk, ice-cream, or pure cream infused with vanilla and almonds. It’s perfectly balanced, luxuriously rich, but incredibly airy all at once. As the almond meringue and Play-Doh aspects of the heliotrope grow stronger, along with the subtle whiff of sweetened powder, I think back to Fragrantica’s description of heliotrope as an aroma that induces relaxation. I would love to wear Cuir Beluga to sleep and sprayed on my sheets, because it’s so incredibly comforting.

If only that gloriousness lasted…. Cuir Beluga starts as a very soft scent that hovers 2 inches above the skin, at best, in its most concentrated, opening minutes. With the equivalent of 2 sprays, it takes a mere 30 minutes for the perfume to drop to something that lies right above the skin. It slowly begins to soften even more, losing minute by minute what ever richness and weight that it had. My skin has problems with longevity but almost never with sillage, so I was taken aback by the speed with which Cuir Beluga started to vanish from the aether.

A mere 75 minutes in, Cuir Beluga is a complete skin scent on me, and I’ve tested it a few times. I suppose you can push that time frame more if you apply a lot, but I doubt even a massive amount could give you more than 2.5 hours at most before the perfume slips away into a gauzy whisper. Plus, given the cost of the perfume, do you really want to be dousing yourself with 5 or 6 (or more) sprays each time? Of course, there is a chance that it might merely be my skin, but given other reports elsewhere (that we will discuss in a minute), I doubt the problem is unique to me.

Source: totallylayouts.com

Source: totallylayouts.com

Despite the unobtrusiveness of the scent, Cuir Beluga is still very pretty. At the end of the second hour, the notes all blur into each other, leaving a general impression of creamy Play-Doh, sweetened almonds, milk, and Tonka vanilla powder. You may notice that I have not mentioned the word “leather” even once in my descriptions thus far. Well, for me, and on my skin, Cuir Beluga is a “leather” scent the way Queen Latifah is the Queen of England. The mere use of a word has absolutely nothing to do with reality. Near the end of the second hour, for a fleeting moment, I had the impression of sweetened, white, leathered suede, but honestly, I’m pretty sure it was merely a figment of my imagination. In any event, that tiny whiff of “suede” vanished within minutes.

Source: popularscreensavers.com

Source: popularscreensavers.com

Cuir Beluga is a very simple, uncomplicated, linear scent on my skin. It never changes in any substantial way, except to become even more discreet and harder to detect. About 3.5 hours into its development, it is the merest gauziest trace of heliotrope Play-Doh and vanilla on my skin. It’s far too thin and translucent to be creamy in the same way that it once was. In the same way, it’s too sheer to even come across as heavily powdered in the usual Guerlain way. Both elements are there in the most muted, muffled way imaginable, but Cuir Beluga is largely a vanilla and heliotrope scent on my skin, then just vanilla with some powder. In its final moments, the perfume was merely a blur of sweetened powder. All in all, Cuir Beluga lasted just over 9.25 hours with two sprays, and just under 8 hours with one.

The most important of all perfume critics, Luca Turin, doesn’t seem to think much of Cuir Beluga. In Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, he categorizes Cuir Beluga as a “powdery amber,” and spends a good portion of his three-star review talking about how Guerlain used the L’Art et La Matiere collection to finally acknowledge the impact of niche perfumery — primarily and specifically of Serge Lutens. (He more or less implies that Guerlain flat-out copied Lutens “in the structure of the fragrances, their cod-poetic names, and the tall rectangular bottle.”) When he does talk about the actual fragrance, Luca Turin doesn’t seem very enthused, and he certainly didn’t consider Cuir Beluga to be a leather scent:

Cuir Beluga’s name, with its suggestion of large sofas and small portions of caviar, is no doubt intended to flatter a French fondness for naff luxury. The fragrance is basically a light, heliotropin vanillic amber with a touch of floral green notes in the heart and a smidgeon of suede. It has a pleasant color and texture, and no discernible shape at all.

Almond marzipan treats via parentedge.in

Almond marzipan treats via parentedge.in

I agree with him on almost all of it, but I like the scent significantly more than he does. At least, I do until I remember the price. $250 for an uncomplicated, linear, simplistic Play-Doh, vanilla scent that becomes incredibly hard to detect in a short amount of time seems a bit like Rolls Royce prices for the most souped-up, luxurious, opulent Honda around.

I’m not the only person who had some problems with Cuir Beluga’s sillage. On Fragrantica, one person writes:

I love this pretty scent, but it is the quietest of skin scents on me. I’d have to douse myself in it to be able to smell it, which is a disappointment.

Quite a few others talk about something similar. Of course, there are people who adore discreet, wholly unobtrusive fragrances, but I think the majority of them would like to be able to smell their perfume even moderately if they are paying as much as $250 for it.

Putting aside the wispiness of Cuir Beluga, it seems much beloved by those who have tried it, though the majority of its fans seem to be women. There are some critics, however, and a number of men seem to struggle with the fragrance’s sweetness, lack of leather, or its simplicity. Here are a range of opinions:

  • Cuir Beluga is not a leather perfume; nor is it particularly sexy or exciting. It smells to me of tapioca custard, i.e. a fairly simple, cozy scent. There are plenty of other, far less pricey, cozy fragrances out there.
  • Extremely sweet. A vanilla invasion for the nose. Powdery, and floral as well. Don’t see my self wearing this alone, maybe mixed. This to me will fit a woman better. Great quality.
  • I love leather perfumes, that slightly animal and sensual vibe a good leather perfume has, but this is much more soft and in the line of Daim Blond and Cuir de Lancome. Not leather but suede. It’s so elegant, and for a vanilla perfume not really gourmand or extremely sweet. Very wearable for many occasions. [¶] Sadly, sillage was very weak on me and therefor I’d think I’d prefer the more daring SDV or the powderpuffy Tonka Imperial over this. But she’s really interesting and really something to try if you like understated chique yet comforting scents.
  • I feel a velvety aurea, comfortable, looks leather with caramel, amber acts that way, blended with vanilla, I feel in a Rolls Royce in the streets of Monaco, eating a caramel trifle. [¶] Rich, important and compelling for all these aspects, Guerlain as always sensational.
  • This is my Shalimar! It is classic, refined and rich in every sense of the word. A decadent feast of powdery vanilla with the subtle essence of leather in the background. I find myself craving this scent. It is almost intimidating how elegant it is to begin with, but then it softens and becomes a beautiful comforting smell that I liken to someone of distinguished esteem. It smells wealthy without the pretentiousness.
  •  I agree that this has a wonderful vintage feel and where Shalimar for me is unwearable (Oh the horror!!!), this works. As soon as I sprayed it I immediately thought even if my bottle didn’t have a label this is so absolutely recognizable as Guerlain you would know what house created this scent. For me, as with some other Guerlain scents, this one needed 15 minutes to relax a bit. As is typical with Guerlain, this scent is all about powdery vanilla leather. If you love Guerlain and its beloved Shalimar this is sure to move you. I know I always rave about Guerlain (what can I say…I’m a fan) but this scent is blended so beautifully resulting in this rich powdery soft vanilla.

I found Cuir Beluga to be too gourmand, simplistic, and sweet to really be akin to Shalimar, at least vintage Shalimar with all its complexity and its strong backbone of leather and smoke. However, The Non-Blonde found a similarity in the classical feel or style of the two scents. In a 2010 review, she writes:

Guerlain and perfumer Olivier Polge didn’t take much of a risk in creating Cuir Beluga, but I’m not complaining. Compared to so many of the other Guerlain releases of the last five or ten years, Cuir Beluga is as close to the classics as one can get nowadays. More Shalimar than Mitsouko, this is not a difficult perfume in any way, and the large doses of very sweet vanilla make it go down easily for just about anyone (other than vanilla haters, but if you’re one, chances are that Guerlain is not really your thing to begin with).

What little drama we get in this perfume comes from the smooth leather. Some smell suede and compare Cuir Beluga to Daim Blond, but I don’t agree. To my nose it’s the finest most luxurious leather you can find. I have a pair of tall Jimmy Choo boots that feels this soft and timeless. It’s something that could have existed 50 years ago and has both an air of mystery and a determined backbone, despite the softness and the obvious sex appeal. I love touching and smelling my boots (us scentheads tend to shove our schnozes into the weirdest things and places) as it gives me a similar thrill to experiencing Cuir Beluga. I just wish the leather note in the perfume would have lasted longer before it becomes all vanilla, all the time.

Even if the leather note didn’t last long on her skin, she obviously experienced a lot more of it than I did. On me, the leather was nonexistent, and I suspect the suede was a figment of my imagination. I didn’t mind, though, because I loved my marzipan-almond meringue and vanilla cream, and found it delectable while it lasted. I would absolutely wear Cuir Beluga to bed, if I didn’t have to spend $250 for about 30 minutes of true, undiluted gloriousness.

Obviously, skin chemistry is going to make a difference in terms of how Cuir Beluga’s sillage, sweetness, “leather,” and powder manifest themselves on your skin. Given the perfume’s cost, I would recommend more than ever for you to test it first or order a sample. However, I must emphasize that, if you go into Cuir Beluga expecting a true leather scent, you will probably be disappointed. This is a primarily a gourmand fragrance with sweetness, powder, and vanilla. It also skews quite feminine in my opinion.

I think Cuir Beluga is very over-priced for what it is, but cost is a subjective determination and, in the case of this particular Guerlain at least, there is the quality and luxuriousness to back it up. In short, to paraphrase Mary Poppins, you may want to take a spoonful of sugar to make the price easier to swallow, as you wrap yourself in the pillowy, cashmere softness of Play-Doh, almond marzipan, and powdered vanilla.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Cuir Beluga is an eau de parfum that costs $250 or €185 for 2.5 fl. oz/75 ml. It is available at Guerlain boutiques, and is listed on its U.S. and International website, but Guerlain doesn’t sell the fragrance online except on its French Guerlain website where it is priced at €185. I don’t know if they ship to the rest of Europe. In the U.S.: Cuir Beluga is available on the NordstromNeiman MarcusSaks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman websites. (With the exception of Bergdorf Goodman which definitely carries the more exclusive line of Guerlain fragrances in-store, I don’t know if it is actually available in the other shops themselves as a general rule.) Outside the U.S.: In the U.K, you can find Cuir Beluga at Harrods and, apparently, London’s Selfridges, but neither store offers the fragrance online. As for the U.K. price, I read that, back in 2011, this Guerlain collection retailed for £175. I don’t know how much it is now, but it must be much more. In France, Cuir Beluga is obviously available at Guerlain stores. For all other countries, you can use Guerlain’s Store Locator on its website. Samples: If you’d like to give Cuir Beluga a test sniff, you can get a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for half of a 1/2 ml vial.

Guerlain L’Instant de Guerlain pour Homme & L’Instant Eau Extreme

Source: hotcosmetics.com.au

Source: hotcosmetics.com.au

Women are missing out. Those who pay heed to Guerlain’s ridiculous gender classifications are losing the opportunity to try a very refined fragrance that starts off as crisp and fresh as a glass of sparkling, chilled Perrier with lemon, before turning into a slightly gourmand fragrance centered around cozy, milky tea with jasmine. It is L’Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme, commonly nicknamed LIDG, an eau de toilette that plays with hot and cold, light and dark, cologne and gourmand elements.

It’s elegant and sophisticated, but I think it’s even better in the richer, deeper, spicier, and smokier flanker eau de parfum version called L’Instant pour Homme de Guerlain Eau Extreme in the U.S. (“LIDGE“), but simply L’Instant de Guerlain pour Homme Eau de Parfum in Europe. (For the sake of succinctness, I’ll merely refer to the latter as “L’Instant Extreme.”) In fact, L’Instant Extreme may be my favorite thus far out of Guerlain’s modern line-up. In this review, I’ll cover both the original fragrance (which I’ll just call “L’Instant” or “LIDG“) and its eau de parfum Extreme version.

L’INSTANT DE GUERLAIN POUR HOMME (EAU DE TOILETTE):

L'Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme (LIDG) Eau de Toilette.

L’Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme (LIDG) Eau de Toilette.

Contrasts in masculinity and femininity, crispness and warmth, hot and cold — those were the exact goals for L’Instant, an eau de toilette created by Beatrice Piquet, and released in 2004. The fragrance is described by Guerlain as follows:

Luminous Woody.
Fresh, warm, sensual.

This paradoxical fragrance skates between fire and ice, flamboyant virility and discreet femininity. The luminous freshness of citrus crystals and star anise contrasts with the warmth of patchouli, hibiscus seeds and cocoa to offer, through this luminous woody scent, a unique moment after which everything will be different.

With L’Instant de Guerlain pour Homme, the Guerlain Perfumer takes a first step towards freshness in 2004, showcasing a hot and cold olfactory contrast. The fresh top notes are inspired by an oriental aniseed drink called arak. The base notes feature the gourmand notes of the dessert by a famous pastry-maker, worked around chocolate and patchouli.

Surrender to Chance provides the succinct list of L’Instant Pour Homme’s ingredients:

top notes of citrus, anise and jasmine; middle notes of patchouli, cedar, Indian sandalwood, Lapsang tea, cocoa beans and lavender; and base notes of hibiscus seeds and musk.

Source: societeperrier.com

Source: societeperrier.com

L’Instant pour Homme opens on my skin as a sparkling, zesty, citrus cologne with fougère-like touches of lavender. The lemon is so fresh, clean, and brisk that it reminds me of a glass of chilled Perrier infused with citruses. Within seconds, however, L’Instant turns warm with dusty cocoa powder. It feels initially out-of-place, discordant and too dusky sweet, but it soon melts into the base. There are hints of creamy woods lurking there as well, but, to my nose, it doesn’t smell of real or Mysore sandalwood. Instead, it smells like something generic and, given its later manifestation as something almost cashmere-like in softness, it seems more like Cashmeran than sandalwood. Regardless, it’s still pretty, and serves to create a bridge between the zesty, crisp, cool notes and the warmth lurking in L’Instant’s base.

Source: apollotea.com

Source: apollotea.com

Other elements are soon noticeable as well. Subtle touches of anise swirl together with smoky, green, slightly sharp cedar. There is also the first whisper of a dark, black, Lapsang Souchong tea that mixes with the creamy elements and the fresher notes to create an unusual cocktail: half warm, milky, sweetened tea; and half cold, Pastis/Ouzo with sparkling lemon. It’s rather fascinating. Lest all this sound like a discordant hodge-podge, lest me assure you that it is not. The cocoa powder’s early whiff of sweetness softened within an instant, losing its distinct, individual identity, and melting into the crisp aromatics, lavender, woods, tea, and anise to create a soft warmth. It’s a strong combination at first, wafting about 3 inches above the skin from 3 very big smears, but it feels almost transparent as well. L’Instant pour Homme is simultaneously both brisk, and languidly mellow, smooth, and creamy.

Source: womanfaq.ru

Source: womanfaq.ru

L’Instant’s brisk, clean, lemon notes soften 25 minutes in, and start to weaken as the warm base rises to the surface. More and more, the perfume smells like warm, creamy, milky tea instead of chilled, brisk, lemon Perrier with ouzo. There are hints of a green jasmine dancing around, along with the soft, smooth “sandalwood” that holds the faintest, merest flicker of something smoky. This feels almost like an intermediary stage, bridging the cool opening phase with the L’Instant’s eventual turn into something warmer, softer, more floral.

Forty minutes in, the floral-woody elements grow stronger, changing L’Instant more and more into something that is primarily a lemony, jasmine, woody musk over a Chai-like base. The flower is green and fresh, not sweet, syrupy, indolic, or over-the-top. Yet, it has a soft creaminess to it, thanks to the equally green “sandalwood.” I refuse to believe the latter comes from India, and it has to be a green tree from Australia — if it is even sandalwood itself as opposed to some synthetic like Cashmeran. I’ll spare you my pet peeves on “sandalwood” in modern perfumery, and simply say that the base works here as a creamy, textural element that perfectly suits the Lapsang Souchong milky tea.

The perfume shifts yet again at the 90-minute mark. L’Instant Pour Homme is a soft blur of notes that overlap each other in a graceful blend of jasmine, creamy woods, and musk. The faintest trace of lemon lingers, but the cocoa is becoming more noticeable, diffusing the occasional greenness that remains around the floral edges. The milky tea accord has temporarily retreated, though it later pops up again with greater visibility. L’Instant is all about the floral woodiness right now. The fragrance has also changed in terms of sillage, dropping to hover right on my skin with no projection at all, though it is still distinct and noticeable if sniffed up close.

I’ve tried L’Instant pour Homme several times, and noticed that it always seems to go through the same stages on my skin. Each time, its primary, main bouquet seems to be:

  • 0-20 minutes: sparkling, chilled Perrier dominated by brisk lemon, and a hint of ouzo.
  • 20-40 minutes: crisp, milky, lemon tea; a cool fragrance with starting hints of warmth; and the growing significance of jasmine and cocoa;
  • 40-90 minutes: jasmine infused with lemony citrus over creamy tea;
  • 90-180 minutes: a creamy jasmine, floral, woody musk which turns into a skin scent at 120 minutes.
  • 180+ minutes: milky tea and jasmine, lightly sprinkled with dry, sweet cocoa. It is a bouquet that is extremely hard to detect at times.

Tea with milkThe last two stages are interesting. Whenever I think that L’Instant has turned into a floral woody musk like something from Chanel (the drydown of 1932 comes to mind), the milky chai element either pops back up or takes over completely. The jasmine really isn’t the main player in L’Instant’s drydown, often hiding behind the creamy, sweetened, milky tea, but it certainly appears more on my skin than the cocoa.

As for the sillage, I have to say that I was pretty sure that L’Instant had died completely on my skin at the end of the second hour, then at the end of the third. By the fourth hour, I was shocked to see L’Instant still hanging on tenacious, though I had to practically attack my arm and inhale like a wild animal to find it. It was a mere blur of creaminess that was vaguely woody and sweetened. Yet, L’Instant is an extremely tenacious little thing, and I was quite stunned to detect thin, wispy bits of it lingering 8.5 hours from the start. There wasn’t much to the scent in terms of notes, but it was there.

L’Instant Pour Homme doesn’t suit my personal tastes, primarily because of its ephemeral quality and sillage, but I think it’s very well-done, refined, and sophisticated. Perhaps more to the point, I find it wholly unisex in nature. The crispness of the opening is no different than any number of fragrances worn by women, from Arquiste‘s L’Etrog, to half a dozen things from Parfums d’Empire, Histoires de Parfums, Santa Maria Novella, or other houses. L’Instant pour Homme certainly feels more feminine than a scent like Azemour from Parfums d’Empire with its arid, pungent, oakmoss citruses. Yes, L’Instant has a cologne-like start, but it lasts about 15 minutes before the fragrance starts the transition into one of its many Lapsang Souchong chai variations. The drydown is certainly plush, warm, and creamy enough to work on both genders.

Source: weheartit.com

Source: weheartit.com

For me, L’Instant evokes a very specific customer: images of extremely well-heeled men and women in New York’s Upper East Side. Very wealthy, Ralph Lauren-types where the women are cool blondes in long, soft, flowing cashmere wraps with chic riding boots, or dark brunettes with a sleek New York style. The men are in crisp, well-tailored, dark suits, or in discretely expensive, casual attire as they drive their Range Rovers to the Hamptons. It’s all about elegance with discretion, a seemingly haughty, brisk aloofness belied by approachable warmth and coziness. It’s suitable for a variety of occasions, but especially the office given its discrete, unobtrusive sillage.

Source: mobile-wallpapers.feedio.net

Source: mobile-wallpapers.feedio.net

I don’t think L’Instant Pour Homme is the most distinctive, unusual fragrance on the market, but it’s a very refined one that deserves its cult status amongst men. It’s too well-known a fragrance to warrant comparative assessments or reviews, but you can read the gushing raves on Fragrantica for yourself. I will only point out that others seem to have significantly better luck with L’Instant’s duration than I did, as the vast majority (123) voted for “long lasting” (defined as 7-12 hours), outweighing all other categories by a land-slide.

For me, personally, L’Instant is too thin, sheer, and translucent, too fresh at first before turning into a rather simple floral, woody musk at the end. None of that is really my personal style and, while I found it refined for others, what showed up on my skin was somewhat uninteresting for my tastes (it’s all subjective!), and irritatingly transient. The L’Instant Pour Homme Eau Extreme eau de parfum is a whole other matter, however. I found it lovely, and it is the version that I would personally recommend, especially for women.

L’INSTANT EAU EXTREME:

L'Instant Pour Homme Eau Extreme (LIDGE), or L'Instant Eau de Parfum.

L’Instant Pour Homme Eau Extreme (LIDGE), or L’Instant Eau de Parfum.

L’Instant’s second flanker was released in 2005, and its massively long American name is L’Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme Eau Extreme (with “LIDGE” as a nickname). In Europe, it seems to be entitled merely L’Instant Pour Homme Eau de Parfum. Regardless of name, Beatrice Piquet intended Eau Extreme to be a “more intense, richer, smokier and deeper version of the original fragrance. The perfume opens with notes of crystal citruses, star anise and elemi. Neroli, patchouli flower, Indian jasmine and Lapsang tea are the heart of the composition, laid on the base of cedar, Mysore sandalwood, cocoa, patchouli and hibiscus seed.” As Guerlain adds on its website,

There are no languid half-measures about the composition of this Eau Extrême. The fresh notes of citrus and star anise, embellished by floral notes, embrace the light before melting into a deeply sensual and gourmand woody accord of patchouli and cocoa.

For me, the two fragrances are different for reasons that go beyond mere deepness or concentration. I find them to have completely separate olfactory profiles, due, in part, to the ingredients used. According to Fragrantica, the list of notes for L’Instant Eau Extreme includes:

citrus, star anise, elemi, neroli, patchouli flower, Indian jasmine, lapsang tea, cedar, Mysore sandalwood, cocoa, and hibiscus seed.

Pre-Columbian chocolate with chilies. Source: CaFleureBon.

Pre-Columbian chocolate with chilies. Source: CaFleureBon.

L’Instant Eau Extreme opens on my skin with citruses dominated by sharp, fiery spices. It’s a visual of yellow, reds, browns and dark greens, especially once the patchouli kicks in with its slightly pungent, very green feeling leafiness. Sweet, dusty, milk chocolate cocoa powder and smoky dark woods soon follow. L’Instant Eau Extreme’s spiciness is interesting; for me, it goes far beyond star anise and actually verges on a red pimento chili pepper with a definite bite.

Underlying the spiciness are other elements. There is the most minuscule, fleeting whisper of bitter neroli, but the main citric note is that of sun-warmed lemons. It’s a heavier, sweeter, richer note than the crisp, brisk, chilled lemon used in LIDG eau de toilette. There is also smokiness from the elemi which carries a nuance of leaves burning in an autumn bonfire. The whole bouquet is lightly dusted by a cocoa powder that feels soft, dusty and sweet like milk chocolate. Yet, there is also a definite nuttiness to L’Instant Eau Extreme, as if the cocoa and patchouli had combined to produce toasted hazelnuts.

The patchouli lurked about Eau Extreme’s opening, but it becomes really noticeable about 5 minutes in, adding a dusty earthiness to the scent. It’s not a chewy, dense note, and, at first, it’s far from the usual patchouli aroma with its interplay of sweetness and smoky spiciness. Instead, the patchouli is initially evocative of dry, dark, slightly damp soil with a bit of a musky overlay. Its lack of sweetness counters the cocoa, creating a blend that is perfectly balanced and never cloying.

Star Anise. Source: foodlve.com

Star Anise. Source: foodlve.com

The original LIDG’s milky tea note carries over to Eau Extreme as well. The difference is that it is now infused with the fiery, chili-like star anise, earthy patchouli, smoky woods, and a far greater confluence of sweet cocoa powder. Eau Extreme has a touch of a floral musk at the edges, but it is indistinct  on my skin at this stage, and is never as profound or significant a note as it is in LIDG eau de toilette.

Twenty minutes in, L’Instant Eau Extreme turns into a fragrance dominated by patchouli, followed by cocoa, and creamy tea that has been infused with fiery, spicy, star anise and lemon. Regular readers know that (true) patchouli is one of my all-time favorite notes, so it’s probably not surprising that L’Instant Eau Extreme is my favorite out of the two Guerlain siblings. The fragrance soon turns into a powerful but airy, almost transparent cloud that is a beautiful blend of sweet, spicy, woody, earthy and creamy elements dominated by patchouli. It wafts about four inches above the skin, and little tendrils follow in the air as I move.

Yet, at the same time, there is something synthetic in the perfume’s base that consistently gives me faint twinges for the first two hours when I sniff the perfume up close. I didn’t detect anything similar in LIDG, so I have to wonder if it is that slightly acrid, biting star anise that is to blame. When the note fades and L’Instant Eau Extreme turns into a creamier, softer, more vanillic patchouli, so does my occasional headache.

Source: howbenefitstea.com

Source: howbenefitstea.com

Slowly, very slowly, L’Instant Eau Extreme starts to change. Forty-five minutes, the jasmine appears. There are only hints of it at first, but it remains a lingering trace at the perfume’s edges. Then, the patchouli loses its earthiness, turning sweet, creamy, and soft. The star anise mellows, and that chili pepper, pimento facet starts to fade away. The tea accord becomes increasingly dominant, feeling always creamy and milky, and softening the smokier woodier elements in L’Instant Extreme. As with regular LIDG, the eau de parfum version goes through a phase where it smells like milky tea with a slice of lemon and a light touch of jasmine. This time, however, the tea is dominated by a soft patchouli as well.

At the start of the third hour, L’Instant Extreme is a creamy patchouli with a vanilla undertone. There are varying levels of tea, jasmine, lemon, and woodiness that wax and wane, but they are not the dominant, primary essence of the fragrance on my skin, and they become increasingly muted. L’Instant Eau Extreme turns into a skin scent at the start of the 4th hour, though it is still easily noticeable if sniffed up close. About 6.5 hours in, the perfume is a lovely, cozy, gourmand blur of patchouli with a nutty, cuddly, caramel-vanilla aspect that makes me wonder if L’Instant Eau Extreme also has a touch of tonka bean in it. After all, it is the tonka bean that is partially responsible for Guerlain’s signature Guerlainade note, and base aroma here seems different than mere milk chocolate powder. Whatever the reason for the caramel-vanilla touch, it works wonderfully with the patchouli.

Photo: Heather A. Riggs, available at her Etsy store, ShyPhotog. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Photo: Heather A. Riggs, available at her Etsy store, ShyPhotog. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Yet, L’Instant Eau Extreme’s drydown never feels wholly like a gourmand patchouli soliflore, perhaps because of lingering, ghostly traces of the other notes. There are rare moments when the sun-sweetened lemon, delicate jasmine, or milky chai pop their heads back up. There are also the merest suggestions of lingering smokiness and woodiness from time to time. As a whole, though, L’Instant Eau Extreme is a patchouli-dominated fragrance. Like its older, thinner sibling, it turns more and more abstract, and becomes harder to detect, though it is generally a much stronger, richer, deeper scent. In its final moments, 10.5 hours from the start, L’Instant Eau Extreme is merely a blur of sweetness. The fragrance has strong projection at first, which turns softer at the end of the second hour, and discreet after four hours.

For all that cocoa is supposed to be such a big part of L’Instant Eau Extreme, it never dominated as a note that was distinctive in its own right. Rather, it seemed to melt into the base, creating that creamy, milky undertone that was a part of both versions of L’Instant. Only at the start, in the very opening minutes of each fragrance, did I think, “Oh, chocolate powder.” Instead, my skin turned the note into something that merely had an indirect effect on the other notes. Judging by the comments on Fragrantica, it’s merely my skin because plenty of people detected a very distinct, profound cocoa powder accord in L’Instant Extreme.

Since LIDGE (Eau Extreme) is different than LIDG (original), and not as well-known, a few of the Fragrantica reviews may be helpful. Take the comment by “hedward,” who absolutely hates Ouzo and, thus, Eau Extreme’s opening, but who wrote this about the fragrance’s main stage:

As the heart notes began to creep in LIDGE started to make sense after my nose had recovered from the anise attack. During the heart there was a very dry tea note which was incredibly clever – smokey black tea to be precise. It kind of had a chai latteish feeling to it (and I mean real chai latte, not the one from Starbucks)Then the tea died down and patchouli made it’s way to the stage… this is where the magic begins. The drydown is marvelous!! Semi-sweet pure cocoa with shining earthy pathcouli and a slightest hint of vanilla. This smells like a golden Maya temple – reeks of wealth and power but in a very delicate and beautiful way. The scent was so bright and glorious it almost radiated rays of golden light with a jesus choir singing in the backround!! I’m a sucker for dark chocolate as well as for patchouli so this serves my senses just right. The only bad thing about this fragrance is the vile anise in the opening – reminded me of Ouzo which I deeply detest.

Notes I could not detect at all: Neroli, jasmine and surprisingly: citrus.

A few others were also “repulsed” by the first two hours of LIDGE, before falling in love with its subsequent development. In one instance, the person’s main problem seems to be the fragrance’s strength in the opening. As for women, there are quite a few who like L’Instant Eau Extreme, undoubtedly because it lacks the more cologne-like citrus focus of the original LIDG and is a sweeter, richer scent. One female commentator shared the opinion of a few men that Eau Extreme was better with time, but she also wrote that she thinks all Guerlains are generally better experienced after 30-40 minutes.

As with any fragrance that is hugely hyped and a cult legend, there are people who simply don’t see what all the fuss is about. L’Instant Eau Extreme is no different. Some people find it pretty good, but “not remarkable.” A few struggle with weak sillage and longevity, while a handful have the opposite reaction, finding that LIDGE is too strong, too enduring, and too intense. As a whole, I suspect that those who aren’t fans of patchouli will have issues with L’Instant Extreme, no matter how much cocoa may appear on their skin or what the perfume’s strength may be.

I like LIDGE a lot, but I don’t think it’s perfect and I want to emphasize the context for my feelings. For me, personally, I would like that the fragrance have greater weight, heaviness, and nuance on my skin. I would definitely prefer sillage that didn’t veer between slightly synthetic forcefulness, and a sudden gauzy, wispy softness after just two hours, before turning into a skin scent after four. And if I love L’Instant Eau Extreme, it is highly relative to my feelings about Guerlain as a whole.

This is actually my very first positive review for any modern Guerlain. I’ve been utterly unimpressed by all their recent creations thus far, let alone the terrible reformulations of their brilliant, justifiably admired classics. I would absolutely wear L’Instant Eau Extreme if a bottle fell into my lap, but it is not sufficiently breath-taking on an overall, general scale for me to hunt it down. (As you can read below in the Details section, the fragrance seems to be a European exclusive that is not commonly available in the United States, and may require purchase from Canada.) As a result, I would probably get my patchouli fix from fragrances that have deeper body, more depth, and are more noticeable on my perfume-consuming skin.

That said, L’Instant Pour Homme Eau Extreme is perhaps my favorite modern Guerlain thus far. I think it is warm, lovely, creamy, and smooth, and it would be sexy on both a man and a woman. Both versions, LIDG and LIDGE/Extreme are refined, very well-done, elegant fragrances that are offered at a reasonable price. If Guerlain ever took the words “Pour Homme” out of both fragrance’s names, I think women would suddenly realise that Guerlain offers a scent that is not a boring, girly fruity-floral, a simplistic gourmand, an “old lady” powder, or a super-sweet, over-priced, hot mess. There is another option, hiding under an archaic, ridiculous gender classification. Depending on your personal taste, you can go with a crisp, brisk, fresh cologne that turns into a discreet, soft floral woody musk with Chai tea; or you can go with a richer, spicier, smoky, woody oriental that turns into a cozy, patchouli, gourmand-oriental. Both are worth a test sniff, regardless of your gender.

DETAILS:
L’INSTANT EDT – Cost & Availability: L’Instant de Guerlain pour Homme is an Eau de Toilette that comes in two sizes: a 2.5 oz/75 ml bottle that Guerlain has priced at $75 or €62, or a 4.2 oz/120 ml bottle for $100. Like its brother, L’Instant Eau de Toilette is featured on the International Guerlain website, but there is no online store from which you can purchase the fragrance directly. However, French readers can purchase directly from the Guerlain France website. In the U.S.: You can find L’Instant at many department stores, but also at a number of discount retailers. The “small” 2.5 oz bottle is available at Overstock.com for $45.99 and at Target for $56.09, while I found the big 4.2 oz/125 ml size sold on Amazon by a third-party vendor at a discounted rate for $66.77. The perfume is also discounted in both sizes at FragranceX in the $60-range. At the higher, regular retail price, it is sold at Bloomingdale’s and in both sizes by Neiman Marcus. The L’Instant Eau de Toilette is currently sold out at Nordstroms. Outside the U.S.: L’Instant de Guerlain pour Homme is sold at many Sephoras, especially in France. In the UK, you can find it at Harrod’s and all big department stores. The House of Fraser had the fragrance discounted, which is undoubtedly why they are currently sold out. Samples: you can order samples of L’Instant EDT from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.99 for a 1 ml vial.
L’INSTANT EDP or L’INSTANT EXTREME- Cost & Availability: L’Instant in Eau de Parfum version, or L’Instant Eau Extreme comes in a 2.5 oz/75 ml bottle that costs £52.50, or €73. I simply cannot seem to find it in the U.S., whether at established retailers like Saks or Bergdorf Goodman, or at the discount sites. I’m not even sure if it would be available at the Guerlain boutique in Las Vegas. However, I know that it is available at Guerlain’s Toronto store. A poster on Fragrantica, “Aucffan1” posted some incredibly useful, detailed information regarding that affordable, no tax option:
Try buying from Guerlain’s Boutique in Toronto, Canada.. For 75 ml bottle the price is $80.00 US dollars and free shipping to the USA.. In the USA I just dialed area code and number.. [¶] Serious.. And no tax..
Address: 110 Bloor St W Toronto, ON M5S 2W7, Canada
Phone: +1 416-929-6114
The package came within 3 days….And very important you need to sign for the package.
Outside the US: I found L’Instant EDP Eau Extreme at a number of retailers, from Harrods to House of Fraser where it costs £52.50 for the 75 ml size. I found it discounted at Debenham’s for £47.25, and at Escentual for £42.00. Samples: in the U.S., you can order samples of L’Instant EDP or, as they call it, L’Instant Extreme from Surrender to Chance which sells vials starting at $5.99

Guerlain Chypre Fatal (Les Elixirs Charnels)

A pretty, very sweet, fruity, unoriginal, and very over-priced little trifle in a lovely shade of purple. That’s Chypre Fatal from Guerlain, an eau de parfum that is part of the Les Elixirs Charnels (The Carnal Elixirs) prestige collection. The line was created by perfumer Christine Nagel in cooperation with Sylvaine Delacourte, and was released in 2008.

Guerlain Chypre FatalOn its website, Guerlain describes the perfume as an “aphrodisiac for a femme fatal,” and adds:

Both chic and sexy, Chypre Fatal brings to mind a rebellious woman with extreme elegance, an icon with devastating seduction. It’s a fruity chypre with an intense aura. An imperial rose with hints of woody patchouli is heightened by vanilla and white peach, which sensually soften the accord.
The fragrance dresses up in a bottle with pure lines, adorned with a metallic silver label inspired by the intimate ambience of the boudoir.

The notes are simple:

White peach, spicy rose, patchouli, and vanilla.

Source: TheCleverCarrot.com

Source: TheCleverCarrot.com

Chypre Fatal opens on my skin with delicately sweet, dainty, white peach nectar, followed by a spicy red rose, purple patchouli, and a light, sweet musk. It feels as though the watery delicacy of the pale peach quickly turns to the same shade as Chypre Fatal’s liquid once the patchouli hits it.

This is the modern type of patchouli (or fruit-chouli), with its syrupy, sweet characteristics of jammy, grape-y, fruited molasses, not the black kind of patchouli from the hippie days of the ’70s. It’s potent, and quickly overwhelms the lovely peach note. Within minutes, Chypre Fatal turns into the sweetest of summer roses infused with fruit. As regular readers of the blog know, I’m not a fan of purple patchouli, and I really regret how it squashes my favorite part of the perfume like a bulldozer. 

Source: Shutterstock.com

Source: Shutterstock.com

For all Chypre Fatal’s concentrated grape-y blast, the fragrance feels oddly translucent, almost like an Impressionist watercolour painting. It’s initially very strong in smell, but gauzy, wispy, and incredibly sheer in weight. I had applied about 3 big smears of Chypre Fatal, but it feels almost as though the fragrance were evaporating off my skin. So, I applied 3 more — and even with that astronomical quantity, Chypre Fatal still seems to lose body and depth. The peach, in particular, seems to disappear, no matter much I applied, though it occasionally pops up like a ghost later in the opening phase. What’s left in the first hour is primarily a very sweet ruby rose, gleaming with the purple hues of a grape fruit-chouli and just lightly flecked by a subtle, sweet musk. Thirty minutes later, the smallest rumblings of vanilla stir in the base, adding a soft warmth.

Source: stockhdwallpapers.com

Source: stockhdwallpapers.com

At the end of the first hour, Chypre Fatal is a soft, gauzy blur of rose with just whispers of a spicy edge, the vaguest hint of peach swirled in, and a lot of very syrupy sweetness. The soft musk and a thin layer of vanilla finish it off in the base. It remains that way for a few hours, though it turns into a complete skin scent around the 2.5 hour mark. In case you hadn’t noticed, I really am not keen on the purple patchouli, so it’s quite a relief when its extremely sweet fruitiness starts to slowly recede around the middle of the third hour. Finally, and at last, Chypre Fatal seems a bit better balanced and modulated.

The end of the fruit-chouli’s bullying dominance also lets some of the other elements come out to play. First are the green touches in the perfume’s base. Regardless of its actual name, “Chypre” Fatal isn’t actually a chypre fragrance by technical standards as it contains no oakmoss in it. Nonetheless, there are lurking glimmers of something softly plush and green in the base which begin to occasionally pop up at this stage.

Source: popularscreensavers.com

Source: popularscreensavers.com

The peach also has the chance to come out of the shadows. While it waxes and wanes in prominence, it really is much more noticeable now as compared to the opening phase, and adds a pretty touch to the scent. By the end of the fourth hour, Chypre Fatal is a sweet, peachy-rose scent with a lovely sliver of warm vanilla in the base. An hour later, the perfume is mostly just peach with the tonka Guerlainade note that is the house’s signature. Here, it’s not powdery the way it can often be, but simply a warm, slightly fluffy, very sheer vanilla.

In its final moments, Chypre Fatal is a nebulous, abstract blur of fruited sweetness with just a sliver of vanilla. All in all, the fragrance lasted 10 hours on me with a walloping 6 big smears, but a mere 6.75 hours with a more normal, regular dosage of 2 large smears. In other words, the longevity was not particular great unless you applied a lot, and the sillage was consistently weak after the first forty minutes.

Chypre Fatal is a pretty little thing, but it also seems like a very well-done version of mainstream, department store fragrances. It’s neither complicated nor nuanced, and certainly not very original. It’s like a higher end version of any number of fruity, jammy rose scents with patchouli. Parts of it even remind me of Chanel‘s more recent (and much cheaper) variation of this twist: Coco Noir. The only difference is the translucence of the Guerlain scent, that subtle whisper of peach that isn’t hugely common to a lot of perfumes today, and the fact that Coco Noir is a much more complex scent. If the peach part of Chypre Fatal dominates on your skin, then you may even find it to be extremely similar to Gucci‘s Gucci Rush, a fragrance with a very dominant peach-patchouli-floral accord.

Midnight Bakula via Fragrantica.

Midnight Bakula via Fragrantica.

In Chypre Fatal’s Fragrantica entry, seven people think the perfume is a lot like The Body Shop‘s Midnight Bakula. I know nothing about the fragrance, and I doubt it could have the same high-quality ingredients or a lack of synthetics. Still, it’s certainly something worth noting! Midnight Bakula’s Fragrantica listing shows that it, too, is a “chypre floral” whose notes are patchouli, rose and nectarine (in that order). I don’t know if the fragrance is discontinued as one Fragrantica commentator states, but I found it on Amazon for $23 (plus $5.49 shipping) for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle. It is currently available for an even cheaper price on eBay for $15.99! Now, I repeat, I don’t know the scent, and I doubt it would smell quite as high-end as the Guerlain. That is not my point, however.

My point is the Guerlain’s Chypre Fatal seems extremely over-priced, to put it mildly, for what it is. This very simple, uncomplicated, overly sweet, 4-note perfume dominated by very inexpensive purple patchouli costs $260. Even apart from the issue of a supposed Body Shop dupe, Chypre Fatal is simply not interesting or different enough for $260! Presumably, one spends money on Guerlain’s higher-end, prestige lines to get something different from the masses of department store fragrances out there with their generic, somewhat predictable profile. The fact that many of those actually have more notes, and more complexity, than Chypre Fatal isn’t exactly a plus.

It’s not just my opinion, either. Commentators on various perfume sites feel largely the same way. A number offer other perfume comparisons, ranging from commercial fragrances to mid-range niche ones. Since I try to avoid that revoltingly sweet, cloying, purple, grape-y fruit-chouli wherever and whenever possible, I’m not familiar with all of them, but those that I have tried are substantially more nuanced or richer than Chypre Fatal.

Let’s start with Basenotes, where the Chypre Fatal entry has four reviews with two being neutral, one positive, and one negative. We’ll split the difference and go with the “neutral” assessments which read as follows:

  • I think that maybe was a mistake when they created this fragrance. I imagine that someone heard Chypre Banal instead of Chypre Fatal, and then they produced it. Chypre Fatal is your standard modern chypre fragrance, and it does achieve every single point that other more affordable chypres does, like shiseido zen and guccy by gucci. It starts fruity, then it`s dominated by a sweet, almost camphorated, patchouli, supported by a luminous musky base similar to the one found in narciso rodriguez. […] If it`s a more exclusive fruity chypre that you want, i suggest you trying Mon Parfum by M. Micallef, that for now you can find for a better price at ebay and it`s more lovely and less facelless than Chypre Fatal.
  • I”m a fan of Guerlain’s exclusives, but I do have high standards for them and am more harsh in my reviews. This is a good perfume, in the $100-$140 range, but at the price point sold I have to wonder what they were thinking. [¶] This is a basic patchouli/rose chypre, which I’m comparing to Sublime Balkiss, Lady Vengeance and Kurkdjian‘s Lumiere pour femme. This is most expensive of the four, and in my opinion, hte least interesting. What I”m wanting is some ‘OOH!!!’, like Kurkdjian’s spicy rose, Balkiss’ blueberry note or Lady Vengeance’ edge. [¶] But peach and vanilla are just too safe. I”m wondering who the intended audience is for this line, because I don’t think it’s those who want something unique and trend-setting. [Emphasis to names with bold font added by me for ease of reading.]

On Makeupalley, the 5 entries are somewhat more positive, but also include two comments like Chypre Fatal is a lot like department store fragrances. For example: “As the fragrance settles down to its basenotes, it acquires a non-descript “perfumey” smell that is just kind of average, department-storeish, etc… Ho hum.”

Gucci Rush. Photo via Target.com

Gucci Rush. Photo via Target.com

Fragrantica commentators are largely torn, with even the fans finding the price hard to swallow or preferring other department store perfumes. Some examples, with the comparative names highlighted by me:

  • Opens with a delectable, floralized, sweet peach but quickly dries down on my skin to a semi-sour fruity rose patchouli. I’d take Gucci Rush over this any day if I want peach and patchouli. There’s nothing new or interesting or different to help this stand out in a crowd of fruitchoulis. Not worth the price in my opinion.
  •  I got a sample and was looking for some proper chypre. All i got was something between Shalimar parfum Initial and Euphoria, jimmy Choo and so on. Sweet, chemical, cloying. It`s not chypre and definitely not fatal 😀 Can`t believe it`s Guerlain!
  • This goes on like cough syrup, that’s what i detect, the red cough syrup LOL. However , once it dries, it reminds me of a more sophisticated Gucci Rush which I do love .
  • Nice Guerlain scent but still does not reach that grade of a really special perfume. This one is sickly sweet and headache inducing, though pleasant at first. Not worth the price.
  • Chypre Fail. It reminds me of Tom Ford‘s White Patchouli, so I suppose that’s how they arrive at calling it a chypre. However it isn’t a real patchouli, perhaps there is some attenuated aromachemical that mimics a facet of patchouli. [¶] The drydown – seriously Guerlain? Yves Rocher has many better perfumes than this. […][¶] It is an insult to the consumer to put such a cheap juice in an overpriced “exclusive” bottle. It fails as a sales tactic since the only plausible consumer of a pricey exclusive is a perfumista, who will most likely detect the fraud.

I think some of those commentators may be harsher than I am. I do think that Chypre Fatal improves once that tidal wave of ghastly, cloying, purple patchouli lets some of the other notes come out, but it’s all highly relative. And it certainly doesn’t change the perfume’s largely unoriginal, simplistic profile. As one of the Basenotes’ commentators said, “Chypre Banal,” not Chypre Fatal. And that’s a problem at this price. For $60, I’d recommend it, but for $260? There are far better perfumes out there. 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Chypre Fatal is an eau de parfum that costs $260 or €180 for 2.5 fl. oz/75 ml. It is available at Guerlain boutiques, and is listed on its US website, but Guerlain doesn’t seem to sell the fragrance via an e-shop of sorts. (There is no shopping cart, for example, in which to put the fragrance for purchase.)In the U.S.: Chypre Fatal is available on the NordstromSaks Fifth AvenueNeiman Marcus, and Bergdorf Goodman websites. (With the exception of Bergdorf Goodman which definitely carries the more exclusive line of Guerlain fragrances in-store, I don’t know if it is available within the other shops themselves.) Outside the U.S.: In Europe, you can order Chypre Fatal from Guerlain’s European website where the fragrance retails for €180. In the U.K, you can find Chypre Fatal at Harrods and, apparently, London’s Selfridges, but neither store offers the fragrance online. In France, the fragrance is obviously available at Guerlain stores, as well as at select Paris Sephora shops. For all other countries, you can use Guerlain’s Store Locator on its website. Samples: If you’d like to give Chypre Fatal a test sniff, you can get a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for half of a 1/2 ml vial.

Guerlain Tonka Imperiale

There is a house in the suburbs, virtually indistinguishable from its neighbors, and merely one more in a line of perfectly square, pretty boxes with perfectly trimmed lawns on a perfectly pleasant, quiet street. It’s not large enough to be a true McMansion, but it certainly bears all the characteristics of that generic sameness. If you look closely, you can see that it’s made of the very finest building blocks, the very best that money can buy. Inside and out, however, it’s a sea of bland beigeness with interiors that are awash with taupe, egg-shell, and cream as far as the eye can see. There is nary a whiff of anything strong in contrast; no pops of colour, no thick veins of black. The lack of edge or individual character carries through even to the house’s carpeting: thick, plush shag rugs in which you can sink your bare feet. It’s easy comfort without particular style, and always in unremarkable, unrelieved, suburban taupe.

Source: loan-help.org

Source: loan-help.org

Tonka Imperiale from Guerlain is a beige house in the suburbs for me. It’s well-appointed and well-made, but a sea of bland, characterless, generic taupe as far as the eye can see. And I despise taupe with a violent passion. I’m sure it’s a colour that can be elegant in some interior decorating, and there are probably people on whom the colour looks good in clothing, but, personally, I would like to stab taupe in the eye with a large chef’s knife. And, for me, when I wear Tonka Imperiale, all I see is that bland colour. I know a lot of my friends will undoubtedly be upset with this review as they love the fragrance. To them, I can only apologise. I know Tonka Imperiale is a luxuriously made creation that probably encapsulates elegant comfort. I’m sure it’s wonderful on all of you. Unfortunately, it’s not something that I think is particularly special for its high price.   

Guerlain Tonka ImperialeTonka Imperiale is part of Guerlain’s exclusive L’Art et La Matière collection which was launched in 2005 to celebrate the opening of Guerlain’s renovated headquarters in Paris. The collection’s name means Art and (raw) Materials, and represents Guerlain’s goal of creating olfactory Art through the use of the finest raw materials in perfumery. As Fragrantica further explains, “L’Art et la Matière” is also “a pun after the French expression L’Art et la Manière – the art and manners.”

Tonka Imperiale is the seventh fragrance in the collection, and was released in 2010. Like all its siblings, it was created by Guerlain’s in-house perfumery, Thierry Wasser. On its website, Guerlain describes the scent as a “woody oriental” and write:

AN ASTONISHING CONSTRUCTION THAT BLOWS HOT AND COLD

With Tonka Impériale, Thierry Wasser has created a woody oriental composed around one of Guerlain’s star ingredients,the tonka bean. It has to be said that this precious seed, one of the cult components of the Guerlinade, is particularly dear to the House.

Tonka Impériale is well-named: a subtle blend of balmy scents, rich in contrasting facets, with accents of honey, gingerbread, almond, hay and tobacco. The fragrance comes in a spray bottle with sleek, contemporary lines. One side is ornamented with a gold plate like a talisman.

Tonka Beans

Tonka Beans

The notes for the perfume, as compiled from Guerlain and Fragrantica, are:

Top notes: bergamot, butter almond, white honey, and rosemary.

Heart notes: jasmine, tonka beans and light tobacco. Bottom notes: incense, cedar wood, pine.

Depending on treatment, tonka beans can smell of vanilla, hay (coumarin), or even bittersweet almonds. And it is the latter which dominates the opening of Tonka Imperiale on my skin, thanks to the supplemental effects of the almond butter. The perfume begins with a burst of the white nuts, first bitter and raw, then quickly infused with sweetness. There is a honeyed quality underlying the note, but it’s light, not thick, yellow, or molten. It suits the description of “white honey” given by Fragrantica, because this feels quite translucent. Quickly, a subtle herbal element breezes through, followed by an amorphous woody note that isn’t immediately distinguishable. Tobacco lurks underneath, feeling pale, blonde and sweet, like leaves sitting in the sun. Traces of sweetened hay and the faintest speck of bergamot are the final touches that dot the landscape.

Source: donnamarie113 on Deviantart.com

Source: donnamarie113 on Deviantart.com

The primary bouquet, however, is of almonds and vanilla. The almond note is so concentrated, it’s more akin to the distilled essence that one uses in baking. The vanilla is rich and sweet, but it’s airy instead of custardy, more pale and white in visual hue. It’s also subtly backed by sweetened vanillic powder. It’s the famous Guerlainade, Guerlain’s signature note, which is placed front and center, right at the top, rather than appearing, as it traditionally does, at the very end in the perfume’s drydown. Tonka Imperiale is a very simple fragrance at its core: bitter, honeyed, sweet almonds with vanilla. It feels a lot like crème anglaise, only this one includes almond concentrate.    

Eventually, other notes appear to dance at the edges. In the first hour, there are minute, minuscule traces of woodiness. It’s generic, beige and abstract in large part, though if you really, really focus, you can perhaps persuade yourself that you can detect the hazy, faint edges of cedar. The real dryness in the scent comes from the tobacco which has quietly filled the base, seeping up to subtly impact the vanilla-almond combination at the top. Slowly, the bergamot becomes a little more noticeable, but like a number of things in this scent, it is restrained, and muted. By the end of the second hour, jasmine and incense suddenly pop up on the periphery. Both are flickers that are barely imperceptible initially. In fact, on my skin, it takes almost six hours for the incense to be noticeable in any substantial way.

Until that point, Tonka Imperiale is primarily an almond-vanilla scent atop an abstract, amorphous woody base that is lightly infused with tobacco and smoke. The Guerlainade powder, the jasmine and the other notes register in pale, light, subtle hues. It’s all effortless, easy, extremely well-blended, and swirls around you like a very expensive, soft, airy cloud. It’s not earth-shattering, but it’s perfectly pleasant. To me, it seems simplistic and dull, but I can see how it might be a comfortable, easy, cozy scent for some, especially those who love a gourmand sweetnes in their fragrances.

Source: news.com.au

Source: news.com.au

Still, I can’t help but visual a house in the suburbs, though not one excessive or large enough to be a true McMansion. Tonka Imperiale is not chic, cool, or hip enough to be an apartment in the city; it’s certainly not a loft in Soho or a penthouse decorated in sleek black, silver, and modern edges. It’s also not large, opulent, or over-the-top enough like an Amouage Ubar to be a massive estate with a palatial mansion out in the country. It’s merely a comfortable, unremarkable, pretty, well-built house in the suburbs awash in taupe and beige.

The unrelieved blandness never changes. At the 4.5 hour mark, the sillage drops, and Tonka Imperiale is now a skin scent. The almond has now fallen behind the honey, jasmine and vanilla, though it still precedes the woody notes that are in the base. It’s the same story with the tobacco. As a whole, and if I’m being charitable, Tonka Imperiale is an interesting mix of sweetness with dryness, I suppose. By the start of the seventh hour, the fragrance is Guerlainade vanillic powder with a faint whisper of almonds and honey, and sits atop with some smoky incense, though the latter is so sheer, gauzy, and thin, it’s hardly a robust foundation. In its final hours, Tonka Imperiale is merely Guerlainade with some dryness. All in all, the fragrance lasted just short of 11 hours, with moderate to soft sillage throughout.

Taupe shag carpeting. Source: stockphotopro.com

Taupe shag carpeting. Source: stockphotopro.com

Tonka Imperiale is intentionally meant to pay homage to a particular note, so I can’t fault it for focusing so heavily on the tonka, right down to its occasional almond-like facets. The fragrance does what it sets out to do, and does so in the typical Guerlain way. I’m not blaming it for that. I do blame it, however, for being such unrelieved blandness for $250. For that amount, it would be nice to have some character, some contrasting edge to counter the dull monotony of a sea of taupe and beige. Supposedly, the incense is meant to be that edge. If they say so. Perhaps I’m merely unlucky with my skin.

Or, perhaps, Tonka Imperiale is exactly the way it’s supposed to be: a plush, simple, comforting, gourmand scent dominated by vanillic tonka, almonds and Guerlainade, with an incredibly restrained dose of tobacco and incense. So restrained, in fact, that neither of those minor supporting players can possibly counter the two main, gourmand players on center stage. Fine. But Guerlain’s headlong descent into simplistic and/or gourmand scents at an extremely high price tag continues to alienate me. Tonka Imperiale would be a great comfort scent at about $100, though I personally still wouldn’t go near it due to all that taupe beigeness. But $250? For a plush, beige shag rug? No, thank you. Not for me.

Others, however, don’t share my issues. As noted earlier, I have a number of friends who love Tonka Imperiale so much, they’ve bought full bottles of it. On Fragrantica, there are raves about how wonderful the fragrance is, and how it is a luxurious “masterpiece.” To wit, one comment calling it “[F]rench romantic ART,” and saying: “Oh my god …..what is this scent…luxury…elegant…charismatic…sweet…sensual…very sexy for me.” Others, however, think Tonka Imperiale is vastly over-priced, with a number finding the fragrance’s opening to be extremely similar to Mugler‘s Pure Havane. One person had an issue with Tonka Imperiale’s drydown, comparing it to Calvin Klein‘s Obsession, her “worst nightmare.” On my skin, Tonka Imperiale’s drydown wasn’t similar to Obsession at all, and I can’t compare it to Pure Havane’s opening, as I’ve never tried it. All I can say is that those of you who have problems with Guerlainade, and who continuously have it turn into sour baby powder on your skin may want to stay away from a fragrance that showcases the brand’s tonka signature.

The bottom line is this: if you love modern Guerlain fragrances — with all that that entails, for good or for bad — and if you adore cozy gourmands, then you may want to give Tonka Imperiale a sniff. You will have plenty of company in Tonka Imperiale’s vast fan club. If, however, you’re looking for a fragrance with some edge, character, or distinctive flair for your $250, you may want to look elsewhere. It’s an unrelieved sea of beige and taupe in the suburbs. 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Tonka Imperiale is an eau de parfum that costs $250 for 2.5 fl. oz/75 ml. It is available at Guerlain boutiques, and is listed on its website, but Guerlain doesn’t seem to sell the fragrance via an e-shop of sorts. (There is no shopping cart, for example, in which to put the fragrance for purchase.)In the U.S.: Tonka Imperiale is available on the NordstromSaks Fifth AvenueNeiman Marcus, and Bergdorf Goodman websites. (With the exception of Bergdorf Goodman which definitely carries the more exclusive line of Guerlain fragrances in-store, I don’t know if it is available within the other shops themselves.) Outside the U.S.: In the U.K, you can find Tonka Imperiale at Harrods and, apparently, London’s Selfridges, but neither store offers the fragrance online. As for price, I read that, back in 2011, Tonka Imperiale retailed for £175. I don’t know how much it is now. In France, the fragrance is obviously available at Guerlain stores. For all other countries, you can use Guerlain’s Store Locator on its website. Samples: If you’d like to give Tonka Imperiale a test sniff, you can get a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for half of a 1/2 ml vial.

Perfume Review: Guerlain Encens Mythique d’Orient (Les Déserts d’Orient Collection)

The treasures of the Middle East done in Guerlain’s incomparable style — that is the goal of Guerlain‘s exclusive Les Deserts d’Orient collection. Featuring a trio of perfumes created by Thierry Wasser (Guerlain’s in-house perfumer and creative director), perfumes consist of: Rose Nacrée du DésertEncens Mythique d’Orient, and Songe d’un Bois d’Été. The line was released in mid-2012, exclusively for the Middle Eastern market, before subsequently making its way to a few select Guerlain stores and retailers in Europe and America. I’ve now tested two of the three, and while I like Encens Mythique slightly more than Rose Nacrée, I’m still not won over.

Guerlain Les Desert d'Oriente collection

Fragrantica‘s description of the perfumes is enticing:

Straddling the line between contemporaneous sensibilities and antique exotic traditions, the newest collection Les Déserts d’Orient by Guerlain has the patina of aged woods and bronze artifacts hiding in some cave in the desert, yet its Frenchiness is undeniably there too.

Upon reading the description, I was sure I would finally find a modern Guerlain to love passionately and obsessively. I’ve barely concealed my enormous disappointment over many of Guerlain’s recent perfumes with their endless (often excessive) sweetness, their occasional thinness, and their lack of great nuance. In my opinion, if one were to compare the vintage versions of the legendary Guerlain classics with their sultry richness, incomparable sophistication, endless nuances and stunning layers to much of the current crop, the difference would be as wide as a chasm. But I was convinced that Les Déserts d’Orients collection would change that feeling. Well, not so far….

Encens Mythique. Source: Fragrantica.

Encens Mythique. Source: Fragrantica.

Like its sibling Rose Nacrée du Désert, Encens Mythique d’Orient (hereinafter just “Encens Mythique” or “Encens”) is centered on a dark, dusty rose. It is probably the same sort of unusual Persian damask rose which Thierry Wasser used in Rose Nacrée, sourced directly from Iran, but it is not the sole driving force in the fragrance. Aldehydes are just as significant, as is frankincense. Compiling the notes from both Fragrantica, The Non-Blonde, and Surrender to Chance, the full list of Encens Mythique’s ingredients seems to be:

aldehydes, Persian rose, frankincense, ambergris, saffron, orange blossom, neroli, patchouli, vetiver, musk and moss.

"Rose de Rescht," a type of Persian damask rose which originated from Rascht, Iran. Source: Flowerpedia.blogspot.com

“Rose de Rescht,” a type of Persian damask rose which originated from Rascht, Iran. Source: Flowerpedia.blogspot.com

The very first note of Encens Mythique on my skin is rose: dark, dense, dusky, very purple, almost beefy and very fleshy. The second is of aldehydes: a little soapy, but also quite fizzy and sparkling. Underneath the aldehydic rose is a mossy undercurrent, along with patchouli and what feels like the smallest pinch of citrus. If it weren’t for the moss-patchouli base, Encens Mythique would almost seem like a sparkling rose champagne, albeit one filled with soap bubbles. It is too weighed down, however, by that plush, potent, bright (but also, just a little bit dry) foundation to be anything quite so light as champagne. Adding to the velvety nature of the undertones is a subtle flickering of a rooty, earthy, dark vetiver which adds further depth and weight. There is almost a discordant juxtaposition between the frothy lightness of the fizzy soap bubbles and the darkness of that beefy rose and mossy base. It’s interesting and unexpected, though I should confess that I’m not a huge fan of aldehydes in general.

Source: Stockfresh.

Source: Stockfresh.

Five minutes in, the frankincense rises to the surface, turning the rose much more arid, dark, and almost a bit leathery in its smoky richness. The incense note is never separate or distinct, so much as it is an integral part of the rose. It imbues it with much character and darkness, ensuring that Encens Mythique’s rose is no simple rose; it’s not syrupy, fruited or merely jammy, especially given those aldehydes. To be honest, I’m having a few problems wrapping my head around the dichotomy of the white aldehydes and the black frankincense, though they’re both well-blended here and create a very different take on the traditional rose fragrance. Perhaps I just need to actually like aldehydes.

Around the twenty-minute mark, there is also the start of a light muskiness and hints of ambergris. The latter feels grey, complex, tinged with a wonderfully salty tone, and very much like the real (extremely expensive) stuff. The quality of the ingredients in Encens Mythique is without question, and few things demonstrate it more than the genuine ambergris with its rich, sensuous, slightly animalic facets.

Source: Dreamstime.com Royalty Free stock photos

Source: Dreamstime.com Royalty Free stock photos

Alas, on my skin, Encens Mythique is primarily soap bubbles and a smoked rose coated with more aldehydes, then followed by ambergris atop a powerful mossy-patchouli base. There is a hint of orange blossom, but it is extremely minimal and muted. I don’t detect the saffron in any significant, noticeable way. At all. The dash of subtle vetiver at the start is also gone. The main trajectory of the perfume remains generally unchanged for much of Encens Mythique’s development on my skin. True, the salty, musky ambergris grows in strength to a small degree, while the aldehydes recede a fraction by the start of second hour. But, it’s only a question of degree; for the most part, Encens Mythique is a predominantly an aldehydic rose touched by frankincense smoke.

Four hours in, close to the end of the drydown, Encens Mythique is a muted, musky, rather amorphous rose scent with tiny flickers of aldehydes, amber and smoke. In its last, dying moments, right around the 5 hour mark, it is just an abstract musky scent. At all times, the sillage was low on my skin. The opening projection was decent, but Encens Mythique became a skin scent on me around the two-hour mark. And its longevity wasn’t great. Granted, I have perfume-consuming skin — but I wasn’t the only one to have problems. (On Fragrantica, someone called it a “4 hour frag.”)

In fact, my experiences seemed slightly similar to that of The Non-Blonde who wrote:

Encens Mythique d’Orient on my skin is mostly an incense/rose perfume. The strong shot of aldehydes in the opening is the first surprise, as does the strong boozy element (more refined than in Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille, but still strong) . There’s spice and sweetness, honey and saffron, wonderful richness and a powdery rose. There are stages in the development of Encens Mythique d’Orient that it almost created arabesques of sillage around me. But most of the plushness disappears too early. What’s left on my skin after two hours is an abstract woody rose. The husband says it’s nice and floral, I think it’s powdery and ambery. In any case, the longevity of Encens Mythique d’Orient is not the most impressive in this collection, but it might be the easiest one to wear.

I think I actually had better longevity than she did! I didn’t experience the saffron, booziness or powder that she did, but I agree that much of its plushness disappears very quickly. I also agree with her overall conclusion regarding the fragrance: “I expected Encens Mythique d’Orient to smell very exotic and enchanting in an Arabian Night way. While the fragrance definitely has those elements woven into its fabric, the overall result is actually very French, even if not necessarily a typical Guerlain perfume.” It’s quite true. (I actually I think Encens Mythique is perhaps much more of a chypre-oriental hybrid than a pure “Arabian Night” oriental.)

Fragrantica‘s own review for Encens Mythique was interesting:

The opening of Encens Mythique is reminiscent of retro shaving foam, part retro fern-like and mossy, part musky sweet, with a very decadent, rich feel to it that stems from an oriental Damask rose. The rosiness is allied to saffron, a classical combination that exalts the bittersweet facets of the spice into a warm embrace. But it is the coalescence of ambergris and sweet musks which “makes” the perfume a true Guerlain and at the same time a reverie into the Middle East.

Ambergris

Ambergris

I can definitely see why there would be a sense of “retro shaving foam” — it’s all those aldehyde bubbles! I definitely don’t agree that the perfume is a reverie into the Middle East judging by my own time there, but I do concur on her assessment of the ambergris as smelling “like a real tincture of the rare greyish matter, with all its nutty, buttery, smoky and salty intimate nuances intact.” Had the note been stronger on my skin, I might have more enthusiasm for Encens Mythique.

Commentators on Fragrantica are generally positive in their assessments of the scent. A sampling of some of their views:

  • A rich elegant perfume with a heart of rose/saffron accord (somewhat reminding me of Rose Barbare). It smells very “natural”, slightly green in the opening. I don’t find it smells of incense. There is really a vintage quality, it’s like something you would have smelled in the past. Like one of those “grande dame” aldehydics of the 1950s or 1960s. “Never-smelled-before” it is not, but who cares when quality is this good.
  • A distinct fragrance built around saffron, ‘real’ musk (neither animalic nor clean), rose (fresh and warm, not pungent), moss and a sultry, mellow neroli caught like exotic butterflies in a luxurious aldehyde glass house. It is the mix of individual colors – vibrant, velveteen and tender – that enthralls and then the touch of moss, that adds a dimension of earthiness and maturity and eccentricity
  • This is a lovely perfume but I can’t smell any incense or smoke, in fact it just needs something else to make it a bit more interesting.I gave myself a good spray last night and can still smell the divine amber lingering on me this morning. It is a very sweet perfume and this is what will probably put me off getting a fb.
  • A short burst of incense; spices, herbs, a gentle sweetness. Then, a distinct honey accord, which rounds out the fragrance. The dry down is warm, sensual and keeps the delicate spicy sweetness, with an undercurrent of woody notes. Very nice, but at the price, perhaps not FB worthy. (3/5)
  • If you are expecting incense such as that in the Comme des Garcons series or Messe de Minuit, think again. The incense in this perfume, if present at all, appears only as a wisp of smoked rose. The moss listed in the notes is not there; oakmoss usually lends a note of bitterness and there is nothing bitter here. Overall this is really a simple floral, and does not live up to its name. It’s pretty though, but not pretty or different enough for the price.

As you can see, there seems to be a big split on the issue of the incense and its dominance. On my skin, as noted early, it was infused into the rose, ensuring that it wasn’t just a simple, jammy or fruited rose, but it was never a wholly distinct, rich feature in its own right.

Some Fragrantica members also seemed to have issues with Encens Mythique’s price — and it’s a very valid consideration at $275 a bottle or €190 (though it may have gone up since that original Euro price). Ultimately, I think price is subjective, and all depends on someone’s love for the fragrance in question. I, personally, would not buy Encens Mythique — even at a significantly lower price. It is not my cup of tea and, in my opinion, not very special or hugely interesting. Plus, longevity is an issue. But it definitely has its fans. I suspect it would have many more fans were it easier to obtain. Though it is available with a bit of effort, Encens Mythique is not listed on Guerlain’s own website – which is rare even for their niche, prestige lines! It is, however, available via select stores which you would have to call in order to buy the perfume. (The details are below.)

All in all, if you’re a die-hard Guerlain fan and love rose scents of any variety, I’d encourage you to give Encens Mythique a sniff. It’s wearable, refined, has a slight twist, and is well-blended with high-quality ingredients. However, if you’re looking for something truly oriental or different, you may not find it to be a stand-out that is worth the price.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Encens Mythique d’Orient is an eau de parfum that comes only in a 75 ml / 2.5 oz bottle and costs $275 or €190. (I think that may be the Euro rate. See below.) In the U.S., it is available at Guerlain’s Las Vegas boutique at The Palazzo (702-732-7008) with free shipping and no tax. It is also available at Bergdorf Goodman in New York; you can call (212) 872-2734 and ask for Alina. However, she informs me that there is shipping costs an additional $12.75, so you’d get a better deal ordering from Las Vegas if you test out the perfume and want to buy a full bottle. In New York, the Désert d’Orient collection is also available at Saks. If you’re outside of New York, you may try calling a Saks Fifth Avenue near you to see if they carry the line as well.
In Europe, I’ve read that the original European price was €190, but I don’t know if it remains at that price and can’t find the perfume listed on any online website to check. Encens Mythique is available at Guerlain’s flagship headquarters in Paris. Most of the exclusive Guerlains are also available at Haute Parfumerie Place Vendôme in Belgium (which ships internationally), but I don’t see the Désert d’Orient collection on their list, so I would definitely give them a call if you’re in Europe and interested. In the UK, I’ve read that the collection is supposedly available at London’s Harrods and Selfridges boutiques. However, it is not listed on the latter two stores’ websites.
In the Middle East & Asia: The perfume is obviously available in the Middle East, since the entire collection was originally created for that market to begin with, so your starting point might be the Paris Gallery perfume retailer which sells Encens Mythique for AED 990. They have stores at a huge number of UAE malls and locations which you can find using their Store Locator. In Asia, I know a lot of rare, expensive Guerlain fragrances are carried by Hong Kong’s Harvey Nichols boutique, so they may have this one too. If you’d like to check for locations of Harvey Nichols from Hong Kong to Istanbul, Riyadh and Kuwait, try here. I did see that Guerlain has a Japanese website, but I’m afraid I can’t read it to see what fragrances it carries (even using a Google translator). Outside of those regions, I would check with any Guerlain boutique or luxury department store in your country on the rare off-chance that they may carry it.
Samples: Surrender to Chance sells Encens Mythique starting at $4.59 for a 1/2 ml vial. You can also do what I did and opt for the whole Desert d’Orient trio in a sample set that begins at $12.99.