Téo Cabanel Méloé: Summer Citruses & Freshness

Portofino on the Italian Riviera. Source: yachtcharterfleet.com

Portofino on the Italian Riviera. Source: yachtcharterfleet.com

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

Source: Hypoluxe.

Source: Hypoluxe.

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

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

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

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

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

The company describes the perfume as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heart Note: Neroli, Orange Blossom, Jasmine, Nutmeg

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

Source: 550px.com

Source: 550px.com

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

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

Source: societeperrier.com

Source: societeperrier.com

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

Nutmeg. Source: Kootation.com

Nutmeg. Source: Kootation.com

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

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

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

Orange blossoms via the Pattersonfoundation.org.

Orange blossoms via the Pattersonfoundation.org.

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

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

Source: Telegraph.co.uk

Source: Telegraph.co.uk

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

Source: fantom-xp.com

Source: fantom-xp.com

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

Source: singer22.com

Source: singer22.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Chef Keem at chefkeem.squidoo.com

Source: Chef Keem at chefkeem.squidoo.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfume Review – Serge Lutens Fleurs d’Oranger

Fleurs d'Oranger. Source: Serge Lutens Facebook page.

Fleurs d’Oranger. Source: Serge Lutens Facebook page.

Ethereal, glittering, radiant, voluptuous clouds of white with a tiny sliver of a dark lining of funk. That’s Serge LutensFleurs d’Oranger, a powerful bouquet of white flowers headlined by orange blossoms and tuberose. It is an eau de parfum created by Lutens’ favorite perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, and released in 2003.

Serge Lutens describes Fleurs d’Oranger in terms of emotional responses, which seems quite appropriate for such a sensuous fragrance: 

It’s within us.

A single whiff of this fragrance, drawn from the highly scented blossom of the bitter orange tree, augmented by a hint of civet, resonates within us.

The notes — as compiled from LuckyscentFragrantica and that statement — include:

Orange blossom, white jasmine, Indian tuberose, white rose, citrus peel, hibiscus seeds, cumin, nutmeg and civet.

Orange Blossom. Photo: GardenPictures via Zuoda.net

Orange Blossom. Photo: GardenPictures via Zuoda.net

Fleurs d’Oranger opens on my skin with the most beautiful, concentrated, powerful, and completely narcotic burst of orange blossoms. They are quickly followed by tuberose with a slightly metholated, minty, just barely camphoraceous undertone, and by a powerful heaping of cumin. The latter is a discordant feature in the white mix, radiating a definite aroma of stale sweat body aroma that is quite strong at first. Thankfully, however, it softens, weakens and recedes in less than twenty seconds, retreating just to the periphery, and never returning to the same levels again.

tuberoseThe tuberose is quite the diva in Fleurs d’Oranger. It repeatedly tries to muscle aside the orange blossoms, and to take over the whole show. It’s brawny, potent, heady, narcotic, indolent, addictively sniffable for those who love tuberose, and the living nightmare of those who don’t. I happen to adore tuberose, and it’s one of my favorite flowers (if not my favorite), so I’m rather in heaven. It’s especially lovely here in Fleurs d’Oranger, as it is simultaneously a little bit green and airy, but, also, full-blown, lusciously languid, creamy, rich and completely voluptuous. It brings to mind what the legendary nose, Roja Dove, once said about tuberose (in the context of the famous, white floral powerhouse, Fracas):

tuberose is the most carnal of the floral notes. It smells like very, very hot flesh after you’ve had sex — that’s the bottom line. [via The Independent, 12/14/2002.] [Emphasis added.] 

That carnality is in full sway in Fleurs d’Oranger, where tuberose is joined by its similarly voluptuous siblings, orange blossom and jasmine. It’s all because of the indoles, which are present in the three flowers and which are the main reason for Fleurs d’Oranger’s headiness.

Bee on a tuberose. Photo: faixal_javaid via Flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/faixal_javaid/3360386339/

Bee on a tuberose. Photo: faixal_javaid via Flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/faixal_javaid/3360386339/

The scientific story about indoles, in simple terms, is that bees can’t see white flowers like tuberose, jasmine, orange blossom, gardenia, or the like. So the flowers have an extra-large amount of a natural organic substance called indoles that they put out to signal the bees to their presence. In their undiluted, purest, and most concentrated form in perfumery, indoles can smell like musty mothballs. However, when diluted to just a few drops, they create a radiant richness in floral perfumes that is sometimes described as narcotic, heady, meaty, dense, voluptuous or sensuous. For some, very indolic flowers can have an over-blown, ripe quality that smells sour, plastic-y, fecal, urinous, or reminiscent of a cat’s litter box. Its richness in classic, very opulent fragrances is probably why some people find indolic fragrances to smell “old lady-ish” (a term I hate, by the way, even apart from its ageist aspects). Those who prefer clean, fresh scents are likely to struggle with indolic fragrances as well, and not only because of their heavy feel.

Fleurs d’Oranger contains three of the most indolic flowers around — tuberose, jasmine, and orange blossoms. Here, however, the thickness of the notes is largely undercut by a very subtle, very quiet, green, chilly note underlying the tuberose. It’s all due to methyl salicylate, the revolutionary, transformative key to Lutens’ famously difficult, Tubéreuse Criminelle, and something which is present to a significantly lesser extent in Fleurs d’Oranger. Methyl salicylate is a natural organic compound found in tuberose (and in jasmine) which has a crisp, medicinal, almost mentholated, sometimes eucalyptus-like smell that evokes “Vicks Vapor Rub” for a few, but minty, spearmint mouth wash for others. It can also create varying impressions of gasoline/petrol, rubber, or leather.

Tuberose: Source: mostbeautifulflower.com

Tuberose: Source: mostbeautifulflower.com

The aroma is not a usual part of most tuberose perfumes, but Christopher Sheldrake like to deconstruct the flower to its scientific essence and core molecules in order to emphasize that metholated side. One reason, perhaps, is because it undercuts some of the richness of the flowers’ indoles, thereby assuring a greener, lighter, airier scent that isn’t so overwhelmingly buttery. That’s what happens in Fleurs d’Oranger where Sheldrake cleverly uses the smallest hints of chilly, cool freshness to cut through the heady fumes of the flowers, thereby reducing any potential cloying over-ripeness.

On my skin, Fleurs d’Oranger is primarily an orange blossom scent, always trailed very closely by the tuberose. In the opening moments, sitting in the background as quiet as a wallflower, are the supporting players. There are subtle flickers of zesty citrus peel, feeling more like the slightly bitter oil you get from grating the rind. There is also a barely animalic muskiness, though I never detect civet in its true form, let alone in any substantial degree. The cumin skulks around the corners, too, sometimes adding a quiet funk to the delicate, florals, sometimes feeling like an amorphous, dry, spicy note. Finally, there is a touch of sweet, dainty rose that does, indeed, feel very white and heady.

Source: Hdwallpaperes.com

Jasmine. Source: Hdwallpaperes.com

Nothing, however, has the remotest chance of competing against the tuberose. Sometimes, not even the titular, purported star of the show itself because there are brief moments when the tuberose completely pushes the orange blossoms aside. The jasmine doesn’t fare any better; it is habitually overshadowed in any concentrated, distinctive way. Instead, she is almost intertwined with the tuberose, having an indirect effect in adding to that drug-like, opulent headiness.

Despite the power of the three white sisters, I’m surprised by the lightweight feel of Fleurs d’Oranger. Don’t mistake my meaning — this is a strong scent, especially up close and in the opening hour. However, it lacks a dense, thick, opaque feel. I’ve read that Fleurs d’Oranger was reformulated, perhaps around 2008, in accordance with the start of the IFRA/EU fascistic regulation of perfume ingredients. One of the targeted notes on their hit list is orange blossom oil, which may explain why tuberose sometimes seems as much a focal point of Fleurs d’Oranger as the orange blossoms. According to one Basenotes thread, the perfume used to be almost syrupy in feel. I’ve never tried the original, vintage formulation, but that description fits with everything that I’ve heard: Fleurs d’Oranger was stronger, deeper, richer, heavier and, according to some, had more orange blossoms in it.

Nonetheless, ten minutes into its development, Fleurs d’Oranger is led by the orange blossoms, then followed by lightly mentholated tuberose atop a base of jasmine with a small touch of very heady rose that seems almost like a tea-rose in its sweetness. There is a strong hint of something else lurking about that I can’t quite place and that feels a little woody and dry. Perhaps the hibiscus seeds? And, taking its place in the rear of the line is the cumin with its nuance of earthy funk. Fleurs d’Oranger doesn’t change much from that primary bouquet, though the tuberose will occasionally take the lead for a few minutes until it falls back to trail behind the orange blossoms. Also fluctuating in strength is a subtle muskiness that infuses all the flowers, covering them with a fine veil of sensuousness. The combination would feel almost erotic in its voluptuous carnality, were it not for the subtle freshness and airiness created by the perfume’s green, chilly, menthol undertones.

Orange Blossom. Photo: GardenPictures via Zuoda.net

Orange Blossom. Photo: GardenPictures via Zuoda.net

Fleurs d’Oranger remains that way until its final drydown, when it smells solely of orange blossoms. There is the faintest flicker of some dry spice lurking underneath, though it’s not really distinguishable as cumin. All in all, Fleurs d’Oranger lasted a brief 3.5 hours in total, and I tested it twice. I never have any luck with the duration of Serge Lutens’ pure florals, and sadly, Fleurs d’Oranger is no exception. The perfume’s sillage starts to drop as quickly as the thirty-minute mark, though it is still so powerful up close that I suspect it will give a headache to those who suffer from the richness of indoles. It becomes a skin scent at the end of the second hour, and feels quite blurry around the edges. I have to admit, I’m hugely disappointed because I’ve always loved Fleurs d’Oranger. I first tested it last year, and quite fell in love with its sensuous, bright radiance. If its powerful projection at the start were matched by at least a moderate longevity on my skin, I’d want a full bottle.

Luckily for everyone else, the votes on Fragrantica indicate many people have considerably better times than I did. There, in the duration rankings, 17 people voted for “long lasting,” 11 for “moderate,” and 8 for “very long lasting.”  For the sillage, 20 found it to be “heavy,” 17 voted for “moderate” and 7 for “soft.” I think the potency of the opening hour may explain some of the projection numbers because Fleurs d’Oranger truly did not feel nuclear-tipped like some of the 80s powerhouse fragrances, especially after the first 60-90 minutes. My standards must be skewed, however, because Fragrantica commentators frequently bring up the word “powerhouse,” and talk about just how big it is.

In terms of the scent itself, the reactions on Fragrantica are interesting. A handful of people wonder where the orange blossoms are lurking, as they find Fleurs d’Oranger to be primarily a tuberose fragrance on their skin. On the other hand, one or two posters think Fleurs d’Oranger is the best jasmine fragrance around. For the vast majority, however, Fleurs d’Oranger almost amounts to an orange blossom soliflore with spicy, rich, luxurious depths that “sing of summer.” Clearly, it all depends on skin chemistry as to which flower may dominate. The same holds true for the issue of the cumin, and its strength. It is another reason why Fleurs d’Oranger can be far too much for some people. A lot of people can’t handle tuberose; and a number of people are cumin-phobes. Bring the two notes together, and you have a fragrance that is most definitely not for everyone. Yet, despite that, most people on Fragrantica adore Fleurs d’Oranger, using words like “masterpiece” or “the best orange blossom fragrance around.”

The same is true of the commentators on Luckyscent which, by the way, has perhaps my favorite description for the fragrance:

In a word: masterpiece. There is no other way to sum up Fleurs d’Oranger. This is truly a legend in the Lutens line, the fresh yet decadent scent of an orange grove in full bloom, blossoms falling like rain as a warm breeze swirls the petals in the air. The heady and sweet scents of orange blossom, white jasmine and tuberose are highlighted with a hint of citrus and enhanced with just the tiniest wisps of warm spice to create a perfume that is ever-changing and, once you live with it awhile, you begin to sense its ultra complex nature. Fleurs d’Oranger is a floral fantasy that is even more beautiful than any amount of flowery prose can hope to relay…it’s a rare fragrance that could be worn every day and you’d never tire of it. Gloriously feminine, Fleurs is not “cute” nor is it cloying or overpowering…it’s pure French elegance meets a wild romp in an orange grove, a dream of a perfume that will make you close your eyes, breathe deeply and just…smile.

I think that accurately sums up Fleurs d’Oranger. So, too, does this Luckyscent description from a commentator:

Delicately glittering, this bright scent is reminiscent of the orange grove at Versaille. There is something regal and elegant inherent in its light floral composition that is never overwhelming. I wish that it had more staying power though.

As a side note, two people bring up the L’Artisan Parfumeur orange blossom scent as a point of comparison, though I think they’re referring to the 2007 Limited Edition Fleur d’Oranger and not to Seville à L’Aube. Both posters prefer the Lutens version, adding that it is much longer-lasting as well. Speaking of Seville à L’Aube, I hated it. Passionately. I found nothing remotely appealing, seductive, or sensuous about it. It was revoltingly unpleasant and bracingly pungent at the start, before turning into something unbearably cloying and sickeningly sweet later on. Serge Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger is a whole other story. It truly is a beauty, to the point whereby I wonder if I should just suck up the dismal longevity and get a bottle anyway.

Nonetheless, I wouldn’t recommend the scent to everyone. If you despise tuberose or jasmine in even the smallest, most microscopic quantities, then stay away. If your skin chemistry consistently turns either flower into something sour or urinous, the same advice applies. And, if very heady, indolic, floral fragrances are not your cup of tea, then run away. But if you have some tolerance for either tuberose or jasmine, and if you love orange blossoms, then I would really give Fleurs d’Oranger a test shot. I think it’s incredibly wearable and versatile, suitable as much for everyday use as it would be for a romantic date night. However, I urge extreme caution in application if you work in a conservative office environment. Do not spray with reckless abandon, or you may have some sensitive coworkers up in arms. Finally, the fragrance is easily accessible and often massively discounted at a number of online retail sites, one of which offers it for the incredibly low price of $69 instead of the usual $120.

The one potential problem that I see with Fleurs d’Oranger is that the average man may find it to be too feminine in nature. I personally don’t believe in gender differentials, and I know a lot of men who wear both orange blossom and tuberose fragrances. In fact, one of my best friends rocks “Carnal Flora” (as he calls the Frederic Malle tuberose fragrance), and his husband finds it utterly irresistible on him. I’m going to strongly insist that he add Serge Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger to his collection; it’s a whole other sort of carnality that should be completely up his alley. So, if you’re a guy who is tempted by Fleurs d’Oranger or who likes heady floral scents, don’t get put off by the potential “feminine” categorization and try it. If you can wear Tom Ford‘s Neroli Portofino, Seville à L’Aube, or Vero Profumo‘s Rubj, you can certainly wear Fleurs d’Oranger!

In short, for those who fall in the narrow categories listed above, I definitely recommend this glitteringly bright, voluptuously sensuous, narcotic, white floral cocktail.


General Cost & Sales Prices: Fleurs d’Oranger is an eau de parfum that usually comes in a 1.7 oz/50 ml size, though a larger 2.5 oz/75 ml bell jar version is also available from Serge Lutens. The retail price for the usual, common 1.7 oz size is $120, €82 or £69.00, with the bell jar going for $280 or €125. However, Fleurs d’Oranger is currently on sale at FragranceNet where the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle is priced at $82.19, with an additional 15% OFF with the coupon code RESFT5 and free domestic shipping. There is also an even lower price of $69.86 if purchased with a separate one-time coupon (though it may be the same code and come to the same price. I’m not completely sure). FragranceNet ships internationally, and also has free Australia shipping after you spend a certain amount. Fleurs d’Oranger is on sale at LilyDirect which sells it for $71.91. Canadian readers may want to check if the company have started shipping to Canada as planned some months back. Fleurs d’Oranger is also discounted on Overstock.Com where it is priced at $82.99, and at StrawberryNet for $111. I don’t know how long these specials will last.
Serge Lutens: you can find Fleurs d’Oranger in both sizes on the U.S. and International Lutens website, with other language options also available. 
U.S. sellers: Fleurs d’Oranger is available in the 50 ml size for $120 at Luckyscent, Barney’s (which also sells the expensive bell jar version), Aedes, and other high-end perfume retailers.
Outside the U.S.: In Canada, you can find Fleurs d’Oranger at The Perfume Shoppe for what seems to be US$120, but I’m never sure about their currency since it is primarily an American business with a Vancouver store. They also offer some interesting sample or travel options for Lutens perfumes. In the UK, you can find Fleurs d’Oranger at Liberty where it costs £69.00 for a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle. You can also find it at Les Senteurs where that same bottle costs more at £79.00. The site sells samples of Fleurs d’Oranger for £3.50. In France, Premiere Avenue sells it for €79 instead of €82, and I believe they ship world-wide, or at least through the Euro zone. You can also try French Sephora which sells it for more at €84. In Italy, you can find Fleurs d’Oranger at Essenza Nobile for €78 and, in Germany, you can go through their German section which sells the perfume for the same price. In Australia, it is sold out on the Grays website where the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle retails for AUD $109.50, but you can find it massively discounted at Australia’s Fragrance Net for prices starting as low as AUD$75.44 with a coupon. It’s also sold at Australia’s StrawberryNet for AUD$123. For other countries, you can use the Store Locator on the Lutens website.
Samples: You can test out Fleurs d’Oranger by ordering a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. There is also a Four Lutens Sample Set for $18.99 where the vials are larger at 1 ml each, and you get your choice of 4 Lutens Export fragrances (ie, not those that are Paris exclusives).

Perfume Review – Roberto Cavalli Eau de Parfum: My Guilty Pleasure

When you’re constantly writing about perfume, when you’re always testing something and have to concentrate on every nuance, every flickering whisper, every change over hours and hours, the end result is that you often turn to something uncomplicated, happy and comforting as your own personal choice. Mine happens to be a bit of a guilty pleasure, a scent that a perfume snob would probably recoil from in horror and disdain. RCI simply don’t care. I’m coming out of the perfume closet with my absolute favorite embarrassing love: Roberto Cavalli Eau de Parfum, the signature scent of the Italian fashion designer, Roberto Cavalli.

Roberto Cavalli Eau de Parfum (hereinafter “Roberto Cavalli”) came out in February 2012. Some months later, I stumbled upon it while browsing in Sephora. I sprayed it, blinked, sprayed more, and deeply inhaled with a faint moan. I went home and couldn’t stop sniffing my arm. A few days later, I went to Ulta and, there it was again, beckoning to me like some orange-blossom siren in a Roberto Cavalli silk dress. I resisted. (Just barely.) I went home, read a number of snotty reviews on it, but couldn’t stop thinking about the scent. A week later, I caved. That night, I positively doused myself in the perfume and announced on Facebook that I smelled so good, I …. Well, never mind what I said. Suffice it to say, it made me feel like a siren and a slithering panther, all in one. And that was before I watched the video!

Roberto Cavalli is classified as floral oriental on Fragrantica, but I think it would be more accurate to call it a fruity-floral Oriental. The Cavalli website describes it as follows:

“A luminous and sexy print” – Roberto Cavalli.

The Roberto Cavalli perfume belongs to the ambery floral family. It is an exuberant and sunny fragrance whose top notes, lit by pink peppers, exude a genuine strength of character. Vibrant and sensual, it exhilarates and mesmerises from the very first contact.

At the heart of the Roberto Cavalli perfume one finds all the majesty of the absolute of orange blossom. It is a colour as much as a scent that reveals an ultra-feminine trail and leaves no-one indifferent.Roberto Cavalli

This sensuality finally wraps itself into the captivating base notes of the tonka beans that leaves an appetizing imprint on the skin… essentially addictive.

Louise Turner, perfumer at Givaudan, created the Roberto Cavalli signature fragrance.

I’ve read some differing notes for the perfume. Fragrantica adds benzoin to the base and says the tonka bean is toasted. Macy’s, for some reason, adds Mirabelle plum in the base. So, the notes — to put it in a clearer form and as compiled — seem to be:

Top: Pink Peppercorn.
Middle: Orange Blossom Absolute
Bottom: Toasted Tonka Bean, Benzoin & Mirabelle Plum.

The only review I could find for Roberto Cavalli from a (primarily) perfume blog came from Angela at Now Smell This. She most definitely did not share my passion for the perfume which she calls Roberto Cavalli “For Her.” (A number of people and websites do call the perfume “For Her,” and I realise it can be quite confusing, but the name on Cavalli’s own website is simply “Roberto Cavalli.”) In a scathing review, she found the opening to be unoriginal but, still, it was okay: it was “juicy, fresh, and warm. This is the first impression that sells a thousand bottles.” And she loved the bottle — which is probably just as well for Roberto Cavalli since he spent a lot of money making a whole video to show it off.

But then came the bad part of her review:

After fifteen minutes comes the deal breaker: a wave of the nauseating, bug-spray woody musk that dominates way too many new releases often positioned as neo-chypres. It’s the one smell in perfume that gives me a headache. The woody musk is hard to describe, but if you’ve smelled it, you’ll know what I mean. It smells synthetic and stifling, like a mohair sweater sprayed with Raid and swathed in hot Saran wrap.

The comments to her post are almost entirely from people who haven’t smelled the perfume and who went on to have fun imagining a thousand different ways that this could have been a better fragrance. That’s perfectly fine. We all do it when reading a negative review. (And, honestly, who wouldn’t with a review like that quoted up above?!!) The thing is, months later, when people had actually smelled the perfume, a number of people wrote about how much they loved it.

And that love is shared on Fragrantica too, where the comments are overwhelmingly positive. (All the talk about it being “heavenly” and “falling in love” may explain why the perfume is frequently sold out on a number of different sites, as the details at the end of my post will show). On MakeupAlley, the 6 reviews are more mixed. Some find the scent to be very ’80s and dated, while others say that it is a lovely romantic scent that is reminiscent of Amarige but without the latter’s harshness. And a number detect something akin to tuberose, frangipani, sandalwood and/or amber.

I think all those comments are quite astute and correct to an extent — minus the NST bug spray comparison — but I would love Roberto Cavalli no matter what people said. It opens with a huge burst of African orange blossom. It’s massive, immediate, undeniable — and I adore it, especially in conjunction with the pink peppercorn that trails behind it like a handmaiden. There are strong undertones of peach, honeysuckle, tonka bean, musk, and something that smells like fake sandalwood. More subtle is the hint of plum that dances in the background. The orange blossom has, on different occasions, a light soapy aspect that always surprises me whenever it pops up. I shouldn’t like it, or even the occasionally synthetic note, but I do. (Probably because I don’t smell anything that Angela at NST did!)

Plus, the “synthetic” notes aren’t of the variety that I’m used to and normally recoil from. There is none of that extreme burning sensation or tightness in the bridge of my nose which is always a dead giveaway (to me) of synthetics and the precursor to an inevitable headache. This isn’t the same sort of sharply synthetic note that utterly felled me in Frederic Malle‘s Lipstick Rose and made me scrub it off less than two hours in, perfume review be damned. It’s not  even the synthetic note which drove me to whimpering agony in Illuminum‘s White Gardenia Petals, in Montale‘s Aouds, or in my two extremely painful forays into the L’Artisan Parfumeur line. (If nothing else, those examples should show you that synthetics are not limited to mass-market brands!) No, in Roberto Cavalli, it’s something else which I can’t quite pinpoint, but which doesn’t seem very real.

And, yet, I don’t care one whit! There is a cocooning, enveloping warmth to the perfume that takes me to an orchid in a warm Mediterranean climate, like Sicily perhaps, where the air is heavy with the narcotically heady orange blossoms that I adore so much. The orchid is filled with peach trees that lie low to the ground, heavy and overburdened with ripened fruit that beg to be eaten. I take a bite and, as the juice dribbles down my chin, the sweetness is almost as thick as the honey I smell. It’s a swirl of intense orange blossom, peach and honey with spiced amber and musk. Up ahead, I see plums and honeysuckle trees, beckoning. I’m transported there on a wave of ambered sweetness, emanating from warmly toasted, roasted tonka beans, and sensuous musk. Yes, there may be a bug or two hovering amidst the musk, but it is only a microscopic gnat, barely visible in the shimmer of sensuality that hovers above my skin. Plus, it may be just my imagination after having read the NST review.

As time progresses there is a buttery feel to the flowers which envelop me. They are indolic and heady but, on me, never verging on sour, plastic-y, or rotting fruit. (See the Glossary for an explanation of indoles and how indolic scents can turn on some skin.) I can see how some may wonder if there is tuberose or amber in the fragrance; it certainly feels like it sometimes. There is also an exuberant, bouncy, sunny feel to the scent that explains the comparisons to the poor, much maligned, notorious Amarige, a floral powerhouse fragrance which has been pilloried in the court of public opinion. But Roberto Cavalli is much spicier, much warmer and much more ambered, especially in its dry-down. And it’s actually not as heady, powerful or rich as Amarige. I’m not quite sure how Angela at NST found this to be a twist on a modern chypre, as I think it’s pure floral oriental.

My perfume cocoon is huge at first, pulsating its way about two to three feet ahead of me, but its intensity lasts only for the first 30 minutes, before becoming more moderate for another three hours. (On Fragrantica, the sillage is categorized as “moderate,” too.) Around the third hour, Roberto Cavalli becomes much closer to the skin, but the perfume lasts like a silken sheath over my skin. Hours and hours later, my orchid walk is at an end. It was a very long walk — perhaps 9 hours all in all– with the remaining three hours being very simple ones. A quiet path of peach, orange, amber and vanilla benzoin.

Few perfumes are so consistently easy, uncomplicated, comforting and “happy” for me to wear. It requires little thought or effort. When I’m worn out by deducing notes in intellectually challenging works of art (like many Serge Lutens fragrances), when I’m tired of thinking about perfume and just want to wear the bloody thing, Roberto Cavalli is often what I reach for. I wouldn’t say that Roberto Cavalli is a scent that demonstrates the highest-quality pure oils or ingredients, but I simply don’t care. It is exuberant, energizing, happy, and lush. I particularly love to wear it at night, after a long day and a hot bath, when I’m comfy in my pajamas and about to vegetate before some television show that I’m too tired to really watch with any focus. And, yet, despite the coziness of such a scenario, Roberto Cavalli always makes me feel deeply sexy. It’s a scent that calls out for the sheerest of silks and satins, and seduction in the boudoir.

It is not, however, a scent for everyone. Those who prefer light, airy, clean or fresh scents should stay far, far away. This is far too rich, indolic and heady for them. For those who love complicated, more nuanced, more high-end luxury scents, this isn’t for you, either. In fact, ideally, you would ALL stay away from Roberto Cavalli, so that I can be the only woman in the world to smell like this. My guilty pleasure. All mine.

Do you have a secret, guilty pleasure perfume? If so, what do you love about it?

Cost: The perfume is available in a variety of different sizes and prices. Roberto Cavalli comes in a 1.0 oz/30 ml bottle that costs $48 or £35.00, but which I’ve only seen available on the Robert Cavalli website, not in stores. It is also available in a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle that costs $65 or £48.00. Finally, it comes in a 2.5 oz/75 ml bottle that costs $85, but that size may be limited only to the US website and US stores. There is also an accompanying body lotion and shower gel, if you’re interested. The Roberto Cavalli website is a bit tricky to navigate, so I’ve broken it down. The perfume section of the US website for Roberto Cavalli can be found here. The UK version is here. There are also about 40 different countries for which Roberto Cavalli has product information and pricing, and you can find that section of the website here.

Availability & Locations: In the US, the 1.7 oz size is available at Sephora, but it is currently (and very often) sold out on the website! Also sold out is the $22 roller-ball in a 0.2 oz size. It is available on the Saks Fifth AvenueNordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s websites in both larger sizes (1.7 oz and 2.5 oz), along with some special gift box deal at the latter. I don’t know if it is available in all the actual stores, though. A reader just informed me that Nordstrom no longer carries the line in its brick-and-mortar sites, though it is listed on the website. The perfume is also no longer carried by Ulta or, at least, it’s not on its website. However, if all else fails, it seems to be carried on AmazonIn the UK, Roberto Cavalli is available at Debenhams and Harrods. In France, I found Roberto Cavalli listed on the Printemps website, but no indication as to whether that included the perfume along with the clothes. I couldn’t find it on Gallerie Lafayette, but Roberto Cavalli has his own stores in Paris and France which should carry it. In Australia, I found it listed on Adore Beauty where the prices start at AUD$80 for the smallest size (1.0z/30 ml), but all sizes and all accompanying products are completely sold out! For all other countries, you can turn to the Cavalli website.