Perfume Review – Mohur by Neela Vermeire Créations: A Princess’ Wistful Rose

The princess stared out into the garden from her cold marble bench. The sun was setting, turning the sky into an artist’s canvas of pinks, yellows, and fiery oranges before the oncoming wave of violet and blue. In the horizon, the silver birch trees trembled in the night wind. Delicate and frail, their thin bodies added a touch of somber beauty to the tableau of colours filling the sky behind them.

Source: my own photograph, taken in Sweden, near the Arctic Circle.

Source: my own photograph. Location: Sweden, near the Arctic Circle.

The Northern light rendered everything crisp and silvered, casting the tall rose bushes surrounding the princess into stark relief. Every pink petal — and every red one, too — seemed brighter, more concentrated and filled with the force of life. Their intensity was a sharp contrast to the princess’ pallor. As she welcomed the coming night, her large, dark eyes were filled with longing and wistfulness, as she remembered her lost love. How many times had they sat in this very spot, watching the sky turned violet and blue?

Source: my own photograph, taken in Sweden, near the Arctic Circle.

Source: my own photograph. Location: Sweden, near the Arctic Circle.

As the sun bid its final adieu, the princess took out a violin and played in the violet, blue light. A single tear streamed down her milky, almond skin to drop on the irises at her feet. The tall rose bushes around her quivered, as if trembling with the force of her longing; the peppered trees swayed over the water, sending out her call to distant shores; and her sandalwood satin dress glowed amber in the night like a beacon.

Fjallnas Sweden

Source: My own photograph.

Princesses of old, legends tinged with beauty and loss, the coming of violet night, and wistful remembrances of times past…. that’s what I feel when I wear Mohur by the French perfume house, Neela Vermeire Creations, Paris (“NVS“). So many times in the past — often in reference to a Guerlain classic — I’ve heard talk of wistfulness in a scent, but I’ve never truly felt it until now. Mohur is a stunningly haunting perfume whose very quietness lends strength to scenes of longing and melancholy. Filled with restrained elegance and classic notes of violets, irises and roses, it never takes me to India but, rather, to the silvery light of northern Scandinavia. It is a fragrance for Isolde in Tristan and Isolde, for Guinevere, for the countless maidens of legend whose beauty was tinged with loss.

Mohur.

Mohur.

Mohur is technically not supposed to evoke any of that. It is a tribute to 500 years of India’s history from Moghul era of the Taj Mahal to the end of the British Raj period in 1918. It is particularly inspired by India’s most powerful Empress. As the Neela Vermeire website explains:

Known as Mehrunissa, the most powerful Empress of the Mughal dynasty, Noor Jahan was the favorite wife of Emperor Jehangir. She was the true power behind the throne while her husband lived, so much so that after his death her male relatives had her sequestered (in comfort!) for the rest of her life. In her confinement, she devoted herself to the art of perfumery as it had been passed down from her mother.

Mohur is a rose-based fragrance, a combination of opulent moghul rose perfumes and a distinguished spicy leather bouquet that can only be imagined during a high tea after a polo match. To capture this moment, Mohur has been created as a refined rose-oudh alliance that pays tribute to Noor Jahan’s power and talent.

As for the name of the perfume, Neela Vermeire Creations explains that “the word ‘mohur’ derives from Sanskrit and refers to the most valuable gold coin in India’s history, the last of which were minted in 1918.”

Mohur is the second in a trio of scents, all of which were made in collaboration with the legendary perfumer, Bertrand Duchaufour, and all of which were released in 2011 to great acclaim. Mohur’s stunning sibling, the award-nominated Trayee, is perhaps one of my favorite perfumes that I’ve smelled in years and years. And Bombay Bling is pure joy in a bottle — so incandescent, bubbling, bouncy, happy and ebullient that people repeatedly call it their “happy” scent or the perfume equivalent of an anti-depressant.

I actually hadn’t expected to like Mohur as much as I did. It’s considered to be the quiet sister to the other two, each of which were said to have more immediate impact — and I’m generally not one for the quiet, subdued, and restrained. Trayee is the mysterious, seductive older sister; Bombay Bling, the happy, innocent, playful, joyous baby sister. Mohur is the quiet, reserved, elegant one. To my surprise, however, it was immediate love upon first sniff. I never thought it could equal Trayee in my estimation, but it does. Oh, but it does!

Mohur has an enormously long list of notes. Unlike many perfumes nowadays with their six or, maybe, ten ingredients, Mohur has twenty-three! The fragrance has:

Top: Cardamom absolute, Coriander seed oil, Ambrette seed, Carrot, Black Pepper, Elemi oil;

Middle: Turkish rose oil, Moroccan Rose Absolute, Rose Accords 11%, Jasmine accord, Orris, Aubepin Flower [hawthorn], Almond milk notes, Violet Flower, Leather vitessence:

Bottom: Sandalwood, Amber, White Woods, Patchouli, Oudh Palao from Laos, Benzoin Siam [resin], Vanilla, Tonka bean.

In the opening seconds, Mohur begins with single note of great purity: roses. The most absolute, concentrated note and it quivers in the air, like the very first stroke of a bow on a violin. It’s as tens of thousands of rose petals — pink and ruby-red — have been distilled into a single drop. The purity and strength of that note is beautiful, but it’s never cloying or sickly sweet.

Immediately thereafter, other notes trip and dance on its footsteps: woody notes that seem soft and like the white woods of the description; spices; amber; almonds; and a base of creamy sandalwood. There is the merest hint of cardamom and, perhaps, some saffron too. The latter is never red, rich or reminiscent of Indian desserts. Rather, it just adds some underlying sweetness and depth to the fragrance. 

There is also something which truly surprised me. My notes read, “Oh my God, I actually do smell carrots!” Here, the carrot note is exactly like that in a really creamy, sweet, spiced carrot soup, the sort you’d mix with butternut squash or pumpkin to create a velvety sweetness and richness. And, somehow, it works magnificently with the roses — probably due to that amazingly creamy sandalwood which is such a significant note in all of Neela Vermeire’s creations.

VioletsAs time passes, the violet and almond notes become more distinctive, contrasting with the black pepper and the subtle hint of creamy vanilla. The violet notes…. words can’t describe its beauty or its melancholy. Yet, two hours in, the violets and almonds recede a little to make greater way for the peppery elemi woods which — in combination with the actual black pepper — turn the rose into something spicy and fiery. At the same time, the patchouli works in the background to make the rose very jammy and plummy as well. One can’t smell any actual patchouli, but its effect on the rose is distinctive. Parts of my arm smell like pure, sweet pink roses, while other parts smell like fruited, purple, jammy roses.

Roses may be the motor, but violets (and their accompanying purple sibling, irises) are the petrol which truly drive Mohur forward. They are the exquisite center of the fragrance, adding a classique and very European backbone to the spicy rose. It is these purple notes which add that longing and wistfulness to the scent, emotions which are so hard to explain in the context of perfume. When people talk about Guerlain‘s L’Heure Bleue‘s blue hour or the inherent sadness of certain perfumes, I’ve always been left a little at a loss. I’ve never found L’Heure Bleue to evoke melancholy, or any other perfume for that matter. Until now. 

"Proserpina" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

“Proserpina” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Mohur definitely seems to be a call back to the most classique of French perfumery and, for a thirty minutes, I struggled with what it was. Finally, it hit me: Guerlain‘s 1906 masterpiece, Après L’Ondée. Like Mohur, it too is a fragrance whose notes are filled with violets, irises, almonds, sandalwood, amber, vanilla, oriental resins and, yes, some roses, too. Bois de Jasmin has a lovely, emotional review of Après L’Ondée’s “radiant and exquisitely graceful composition… [with its] suggestion of a brooding darkness hiding in its opulent layers,” and its “bittersweet beauty” with its “wispy and ethereal” velvety iris heart.

I feel as though all those words are the perfect description for Mohur. That said, there are substantial differences in the two scents. Mohur is predominantly a rose fragrance which is significantly woodier, as well as spicier. And, unlike many Guerlain perfumes, the powder note is subtle on my skin. But, despite those differences, there is a definite connection between the two fragrances in my mind. If Après L’Ondèe had an affair with a very tall, dark, woodsy, peppery Orientalist, their love child would definitely be Mohur. And she would be as blue as the blue hour of L’Heure Bleue, mourning a lost love like those fragile beauties who so stole my heart in Pre-Raphaelite art. In truth, Mohur’s representative woman probably would be one of Gabriel Dante Rossetti’s feminine, graceful beauties with their long necks, large eyes, quivering lips and haunted gaze.

"La Ghirlandata" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the leader of the Pre-Raphaelites.

“La Ghirlandata” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the leader of the Pre-Raphaelites.

As Mohur develops, it shifts away from the blue wistfulness of the violets and the dark, brooding heart of elemi and black pepper. Now, it turns softer, creamier, sweeter. The sandalwood is out in full force: creamy, heady, and as lush as custard. At the same time, the amber and benzoin resin turn things soft and hazy; the milky almonds return; and the vanilla becomes much more noticeable. There is also the merest suggestion of oud. It’s sheer, light, far from pungent, and never (thankfully) medicinal or antiseptic. For some on Fragrantica, however, the oud was a significant part of the perfume’s later hours; and a few smelled leather. I did not.

It’s an odd experience but, on both occasions, when I tested Mohur, different parts of my skin would reflect different scents — all at the same time. It’s not only the constantly shifting nature of the rose note — sometimes pure, sometimes peppery, sometimes spicy, sometimes jammy or fruited — but the perfume as a whole. It’s so incredibly well-blended that I suspect it will throw off different prisms at different times, like a light-reflecting crystal. All of Neela Vermeire’s creations are like that; they reflect different facets each time you wear them.

Despite Mohur’s prismatic nature, the final hours were — for the most part — the same during both tests. There was endless creamy sandalwood, vanilla, tonka bean, and dollops of jammy rose that would pop up, then flit away. Sometimes, there seemed to be more vanilla; at other times, there would be more almond. Sometimes, it was slightly more amber than sandalwood; at other times, the reverse.

All in all, Mohur lasted a little over 9.5 hours on me. For my perfume-consuming skin, that’s very good, though I have to note that it was much less than Trayee which lasted around 13 hours. (And, almost 14.5 on a recent day). But, then again, Mohur is a much softer fragrance. As noted on Fragrantica, its sillage is good-to-moderate for the first hour. If you apply two good sprays, the scent noticeable from a few feet away; if you put on a few dabs, the projection will obviously be significantly less. At no time, however, is Mohur ever bullying or bludgeoning in its presence; it’s not going to keel over your office mate. After that first hour, Mohur becomes much softer and hovers about five inches over your skin. It becomes fully close to the skin after about 4.5 hours, but it remains like a lovely silken caress for much longer.

I think Mohur is an extremely versatile fragrance. Its moderate sillage also makes it very suitable for the office, especially if you don’t apply it heavily. However, I must be frank, I don’t think the majority of men would be able to wear Mohur. Despite its woody underpinnings and the occasionally biting black pepper, the sheer quantities of roses — with one accord being at 11% concentration — makes this a very feminine fragrance.

"Boreas" by John William Waterhouse.

“Boreas” by John William Waterhouse.

It also has such a retro, classique, restrained elegance that I wonder if very young women might think it too mature a scent for them. Or, perhaps, one just has to have experienced a lot of life and heartache to respond to Mohur’s wistful, longing calls. To be frank, it actually bowled me over. And I found that to be an enormous surprise. Traditionally, I am not a huge fan of rose scents, and I certainly am not one who usually falls for restrained florals. Yet, Mohur stole my heart from the very first sniff. I find its blue-violet melancholy to be absolutely exquisite — and exquisitely haunting.

I fear that, like many middle sisters, Mohur will get lost in the much more exuberant or forceful company of its sisters. Those who expect the immediate POW that they get from Bombay Bling or the WOW glam of the FiFi-award nominated Trayee will undoubtedly be disappointed upon the first sniff of Mohur. I think Mohur is like one of those quietly elegant women whom you never notice amidst all the exuberant, fun, laughing girls, or the smoldering seductresses. But, if you gaze upon her face long enough, you suddenly wonder: how did I ever missed her beauty?

When you apply Mohur for the very first time, I think you need to close your eyes, imagine Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and see that princess on her marble bench surrounded by roses amidst the incoming wave of violet night, as she thinks wistfully of the past and of her one true love. I think, maybe, just maybe, you’ll be haunted by her quiet beauty, too.

[UPDATE: Mohur will be released in a pure parfum concentration in Fall 2013. It will be called Mohur Esprit de Parfum, and it’s magnificent. You can read my early review for it here.]

DETAILS:

Full bottle, boxed, of Bombay Bling.

Full bottle, boxed, of Bombay Bling.

Cost & Availability: In the U.S., Mohur is an eau de parfum that is available exclusively at Luckyscent where it costs $250 for a 55 ml bottle. Samples are also offered at $7 for a 0.7 ml vial. (And the site ships world-wide.) Samples are also available from The Perfumed Court where they start at $7.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. A much better offer than both of those comes from Neela Vermeire Creations itself which offers Mohur as part of two different sets: A Taste of India set and the Discovery Set. Both sets are exclusive to the Neela Vermeire website and both include the award-nominated Trayee and the fan-favorite, Bombay Bling, Neela Vermeire’s fruity-floral perfume.The Taste of India set costs: €21 (or about $27) for three, much larger, 2 ml vials; the Discovery Set is $117 or €85/90 (depending on your location) for three, large 10 ml decants. Shipping is included in the price. In Europe, Mohur costs €200 for the 55 ml bottle and is available at Jovoy Paris, along with the Swiss Osswald Parfumerie. You can find a few additional retailers from the Netherlands to Moscow which carry Trayee on the store’s Points of Sale page. 

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Review En Bref: Frederic Malle Lipstick Rose: Lipstick & Powder

As always, my Reviews En Bref are for perfumes that — for whatever reason — didn’t seem to merit a full, exhaustive discussion.

The luxury fragrance house Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle is one of the most respected niche perfume lines in the world. It was founded in 2000 by Frederic Malle, a man who has luxury perfume in his blood. His grandfather founded Christian Dior Perfumes, and his mother later worked as an Art Director for the same perfume house.

Lipstick RoseIn 2000, Malle teamed up with the perfumer Ralf Schweiger to create Lipstick Rose, a powdery floral, which the Malle website describes as follows:

Marilyn in Technicolor, vulnerable even brash. Lipstick Rose is Ralph Schweiger’s vision of glamorized femininity. A perfume that smiles at you, like a dash of lipstick with its rose and violet-flavored bonbon scent. Grapefruit and violet enhance the fragrance’s rose note. The backdrop is musk and vanilla with a hint of vetiver and amber.

Fragrantica lists its notes as follows:

rose, violet, musk, vanilla, vetiver, amber and grapefruit.

I should confess at the start that I am not usually worshipful of rose scents, and that I’m even less keen on very powdery ones. In short, I’m probably the wrong target audience for this fragrance to begin with. Nonetheless, there have been exceptions, and I always try to keep an open mind to things and to really give perfume a chance. I failed here. I didn’t last a full two hours before I simply had to wash this off and then take some aspirin for a very rare, perfume-induced migraine.

Lipstick Rose opened on me with a strong note of primarily powdered rose, then violets, followed by a faint touch of musk with a hint of yellow grapefruit. The latter was faint, and barely cut through the powdered florals. There was a sweet touch of vanilla bean as well. Moments later, the violet notes became as strong as the rose, if not stronger. It was very similar to sweet, powdered, candied violets. As the perfume continued to unfurl, I went back and forth on which floral note dominated. Sometimes, it seemed to be the rose; sometimes, the violets.

It was very evocative of YSL‘s Paris in vintage form. The latter was a scent in which I doused myself for a full year in the early 1980s (leading, perhaps, to my lingering issues with rose fragrances) but Lipstick Rose is far more powdery, less clear, less purely floral, and more sweet than my memories of Paris. That said, I was initially surprised to actually like Lipstick Rose. I certainly didn’t expect to. But note the word “initially” in that sentence.

pampers-baby-wipesAs time passes, Lipstick Rose’s sweetness increases in strength, as do its powdery notes. I have an incredibly strong impression of baby wipes. I’d read a few similar comments to that effect on Fragrantica and elsewhere, and they aren’t joking. There are also very waxy notes that — as expected and as frequently reported — call to mind old-fashioned, luxury lipsticks. (Numerous people compare the scent to old Lancome lipsticks, though I’ve read comparisons to MAC as well. I smell old-style Chanel-rose combined with the Guerlain-violet lipsticks, amplified by a thousand). It’s a hand-to-hand combat between the rose, the violet, the sugar and the baby-wipes powder, and it’s only just begun….

About thirty minutes in, Lipstick Rose starts to become unbearably cloying and, even worse, synthetic to my nose. I feel the start of a tell-tale thump in my head, which only comes with extremely strong synthetics. In the FAQ section of his website, Frederic Malle classifies Lipstick Rose as one of the strongest perfumes in his line. The second strongest category, to be precise. The strength would be fine if it wasn’t so synthetic to me. The sillage is powerful in the opening hour, though I’ve read that it fades away and becomes a much softer scent as a whole. Perhaps, but I couldn’t take the full evolution. At exactly one hour and 47 minutes into its progression, I waved the white flag. My head hurt, I felt actually queasy, and not even scientific accuracy for a review warranted another moment of it.

One of my goals in my reviews, at least in my full ones, is to give a full impression of the perfume, with comments from others — lovers and haters alike. So, for full fairness, I want to present you with the other side of the picture. And I’ll start with another perfume blogger: Birgit of Olfactoria’s Travels. She first “shunned” the perfume before becoming “enamored” and changing her mind. She found its extreme feminity to be a symbol of independence, femininity on her terms and a symbol that eradicated the strictures of her youth regarding cosmetics or feeling pretty.

"La Goulue" from the always amazing 19th century painter, Toulouse-Lautrec.

“La Goulue” from the always amazing 19th century painter, Toulouse-Lautrec.

On Fragrantica, the reviews vary from great appreciation of the perfume’s retro quality to thoughts that it is too powdery and too much like wearing an actual lipstick. You may find some of the comments — positive and negative– to be useful:

  • For me, this is such a “happy, happy, joy, joy” kind of fragrance. It makes me think of clowns, old theaters, really red and kind of sticky old lipstick, doing a careful make-up… and also the phrase “It cost´s money to look this cheap”. 🙂 Very retro, very not have to think about the morning, carefree, adorable, easy to like kind of scent.
  • If you like tooth achingly sweet perfumes then you will probabily like this. Its a shame, i like most Frederic Malle perfumes and find them quite natural smelling, if you know what i mean, but this one is just to artificial for me!
  • If you like being a girl, you’ll most likely enjoy wearing this perfume. It’s so bright and glamorous and reminds me of the ballet days of my youth. Smells very reminiscent of Lancome lipstick and is very delicately feminine.
  • violets and roses, on a slight musky vanilla base. It has been done before. I still like it, but the more I wear it, the more underwhelmed I am… sorry. […] This has a lot in common with YSL Paris, in it’s edp vintage formulation, which I owned. But [Paris is] much rounder and smoother, and overall a much prettier scent.

    Dancer at the Folies Bergeres. Source: the amazing site of Thomas Weynants. http://users.telenet.be/thomasweynants/actrices.html

    Dancer at the Folies Bergeres. Source: the amazing site of Thomas Weynants. http://users.telenet.be/thomasweynants/actrices.html

  • I see the comparison to YSL Paris (one of my favorites) but the spirit of the two scents is entirely different: Paris is a deeply romantic traditional floral where Lipstick Rose is naughty (I think my aunt would have said it has moxie) and irreverent. This perfume should be sitting on a frilly vanity next to a big fluffy powder puff and a jar of Jergen face cream. It’s so humorously retro that it’s become
    Can-can dancers at the famous Moulin Rouge. Source: the very cool Dressign Rooms entry on the Tina Tarnoff blog, Thought Patterns: http://tinatarnoff.typepad.com/thought_patterns/2009/06/dressing-rooms.html

    Can-can dancers at the famous Moulin Rouge. Source: the very cool Dressing Rooms entry on the Tina Tarnoff blog, Thought Patterns. (Click on the photo to go to the blog.)

    modern.

  • I just feel being in a wardrobe of Moulin Rouge, where big shiners ornaments the mirrors and many different cosmetics lies on the dressing table, costumes hang on the wall, the air is full of joy, everybody is laughing and there is a big crystal vase in the middle of the dressing table with a dozen red, full and rich roses, which captures this one moment. […] This perfume brings exactly those pictures into my mind and fulls my heart with calmness and joy.

On MakeupAlley, the negative reviews are harsher:

  • This is a terrible fragrance. I find it hard to believe that it has received such high acclaim. It absolutely smells like an old lady’s makeup bag. Who wants to smell like that?!
  • For the life of me I can not understand why this has such a high rating. It does smell exactly like lipstick, and not a nice one. Like the cheap waxy smell of the ones I bought at the drugstore when I was 12. I would never pay good money to smell like that.
  • Perfume is such a personal thing – I expected to love this because it has rose and violets which are some of my favourite things, and I admire most other Malle creations, but it is a sickly-sweet, powdery abomination on me. Wearing this, I find it hard to breathe and promptly develop a filthy headache. 
  • I love fresh rose fragrances, and don’t mind sweet candied violets, but this smelled so strongly of sweet powder on me that I could barely tolerate it. Had to wash it off after 30 minutes. And I barely applied any from my sample vial. Cloying and much too powdery for me.
  • Ugh. Imagine a vintage lipstick mixed in with some rose essential oil slathered on your skin. When applying, I get melted plastic and a hint of rose. On drydown, it just smells like crayon. I’ve tried it a few times, but I still really don’t like this one at all. 

I think there are a lot of women who would find Lipstick Rose to be their ideal scent and a joyous, fun evocation of enormous femininity. But I would strongly urge those women to test it first. I am not alone among perfume bloggers in thinking it a cloyingly synthetic fragrance. One friend of mine — who actually adores powdery fragrances and many Frederic Malle creations — seemed to shudder faintly when I mentioned my agonized reactions to it yesterday. He immediately dismissed it as “very synthetic,” and told me “[i]f you wish for a fragrance that smells like makeup, go get a sample of 1889 by Histoires de Parfums, fun and burlesque in the bottle.”

I shall follow his advice. To the rest of you, Lipstick Rose may be your ticket back to the 19th-century Moulin Rouge. But you may want to be close to a bottle of aspirin and a shower when you try it…

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: You can purchase Lipstick Rose in a variety of different forms and ways. OnLipstick Rose line his website, Malle offers: 3 travel-sized sprays in a 10 ml size for $110; a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle for $165; a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle for $240; or a 200 ml/6.8 oz Body Milk for $100. You can also find the perfume at Barneys and, according to the Malle website, it is also carried at Saks Fifth Avenue, though it is not listed on the Saks website. Outside of the U.S., you can use the Store Locator to find a location that carries the fragrance near you. If you want to try a sample, Surrender to Chance carries Lipstick Rose. Prices start at $5.99 for a 1 ml vial.