La Via Del Profumo Don Corleone

Palermo, Sicily. Source: Von Ikarus tours. fernweh.ikarus.com

Palermo, Sicily. Source: Von Ikarus tours. fernweh.ikarus.com

The sun-bleached, craggy island of Sicily holds a charm and beauty that is far more rugged than many of its Mediterranean compatriots, but it’s lovely. The capital, Palermo, is nestled in a bay at the foot of Mount Pellegrino, and retains faint traces of its old grandeur at the height of the Arabic domination of the 9th and 11th centuries. Cafés line the Via Principe di Belmonte, filled with Italians enjoying their particularly relaxed form of Mediterranean joie de vivre. On a hill overlooking the city, there is the majesty and grandeur of the Norman cathedral, the Duomo di Monreale, with its towering ceiling, opulent decor, and famous Byzantine-era mosaics.

Palermo. Source: skyscraperlife.com

Palermo. Source: skyscraperlife.com

It’s all very far away from Don Corleone, “capo di tutti capo,” or the Godfather of the famous films. Yet, what else does one think when one comes across a perfume called Palermo Don Corleone (hereinafter just “Don Corleone“)? For someone like myself, a film and television addict, the mental association was instantly and automatically to Godfather III, Michael Corleone’s trip to Palermo, and Don Tommasino’s Sicilian villa. (Not to mention the unfortunate issue of Sofia Coppola ruining a perfectly good film.) I absolutely love the Godfather films (minus that last one that we really should forget about), but I wasn’t sure what to expect from a fragrance actually called by that name — never mind one that involved tuberose and vanilla. Talk about a contradiction! But, honestly, for someone like myself who loves both the Godfather and tuberose, how could I possibly resist?

Dominque Dubrana via the NYT. Photo by Domingo Milella.

Dominique Dubrana via the NYT. Photo by Domingo Milella.

I should have known better than to expect a straight-forward tuberose floral scent from someone like Dominique Dubrana, a wizard with all-natural essences who never follows the conventional, generic path in anything. Now going by the name Abdes Salaam Attar, he is a Frenchman turned Sufi with an Italian perfume house called La Via del Profumo. I’ve covered 6 of his creations thus far, and they have all been unique, smelling like nothing else on the market. And Don Corleone is no exception. In fact, if you’re expecting anything resembling a simple white floral, you’d be quite mistaken.

Don Corleone. Source: Basenotes directory.

Don Corleone. Source: Basenotes directory.

Mr. Dubrana explains that the inspiration for Don Corleone stemmed from a surprising scent that he noticed was characteristic of many Sicilian men and women:

Palermo Don Corleone” was composed during a Sicilian summer holiday. The predilection that Sicilians have for the Vanilla note reveals a psychology very different from what we imagine about them.

I smelled so many Vanilla accords in the wake of Sicilians men and women  that I felt challenged to compose a Vanilla theme perfume, which I never attempted before. [¶] Their love for this aroma is of course in line with their passion for pastries, sweets and chocolates, but it also denotes a very strong sentimental attachment to the mother, the need to be comforted and of tenderness.

I imagined a fragrance that would represents the Sicilian people, a perfume in which everything is exaggerated, starting with an exageration of Vanilla. I wanted a fragrance that would be extralarge also in sensuality, but having in it the hidden dark dangerous side of Sicily. To obtain this result I played Vanilla in an accord with Tuberose and Tobacco.

The result is a strong masculine perfume that paradoxically many women will like and easily wear, deeply sensual but at the same time serious.

Dried tobacco leaves. Source: colourbox.com

Dried tobacco leaves. Source: colourbox.com

The succinct list of notes would appear to be:

Vanilla, tuberose, and tobacco.

I’ve noticed that Abdes Salaam Attar tends to skip over the fine-print details when providing the general description for his fragrances, and Don Corleone certainly smelled of far more than those three things on my skin. Going solely by aroma, what I detected was roughly more akin to this:

Haitian vetiver, cedar, Ouzo, tobacco, leather, coffee, vanilla, chocolate, styrax resin, and tuberose.

Haitiian vetiver grass. Source: astierdemarest.com

Haitiian vetiver grass. Source: astierdemarest.com

I know full well that most of those are merely the result of impressions, one’s nose, and skin chemistry. A good chunk can be explained by the various nuances of the Tobacco Absolute that Mr. Dubrana likes to use in some of his fragrances. However, I would bet one of my bottles of my holy grail, vintage Opium that there is vetiver, along with some other woody notes, in Don Corleone. Not only does Don Corleone have the exact same note that wafts about Milano Caffé (another fragrance where there is unlisted vetiver), but Mr. Dubrana recently sent me a small vial of the essential oil to show me how fresh, minty, and smoky it can be — and that is exactly what I smell in Don Corleone as well. My bewilderment led me to write to Abdes Salaam Attar, and he clarified that the complete olfactory list in Don Corleone is as follows:

Tuberose, Tobacco, Vanilla, Vetiver, Cypress, and Fire Wood.

[Fire wood is apparently something that Australian Bush Men use, and Mr. Dubrana has a bit about it on his blog. He says: “It has a fruity top note sweet and strong, kind of apricot and myrtle, which continues in the heart of the smell to leave a woody fruity, very discreet.]

Hennessy's aged cognac barrels. Source: graperadio.com

Hennessy’s aged cognac barrels. Source: graperadio.com

Don Corleone opens on my skin with booze, smelling of rum, cognac, and brandy all in one, followed by rich vanilla custard, tobacco, and a hint of white flowers. The initial explosion of a cedar-soaked vat of vanilla and cognac retreats after less than a minute, but it is still exceedingly strong. The vanilla custard suddenly loses its richness, perhaps because it is quickly overshadowed by black, minty, rubbered and mentholated tonalities. It definitely stems from the tuberose, as it feels similar to the deconstructed flower in such scents as Tubereuse Criminelle by Serge Lutens. Yet, even that quickly vanishes.

Greek Ouzo. Source: Photocuisine.

Greek Ouzo. Source: Photocuisine.

What takes its place is Ouzo (or Pastis), the milky anise-based Mediterranean liqueur, only this one is flavoured with a dash of almonds to go with it. Swirling all around is a minty note that I initially thought was from the tuberose, but I soon realise that it’s Haitian vetiver. I truly can’t smell tuberose in its conventional and traditional way. Not at all. Instead, what I detect is coffee.

For whatever crazy reason, each of the three times that I’ve worn Don Corleone, my initial impression (after that momentary boozy rum/brandy blast) is of ouzo and coffee, followed by a cedar-flecked, dry vanilla, and a hint of mintiness. I realise it’s just my skin and mind playing tricks on me, but I was thrilled. I love Ouzo, never mind ouzo coffee, so to toss vanilla with a dash of almonds in there as well? I couldn’t stop sniffing my wrists. Things become even prettier when, at the perfume’s edges, the tobacco pops up. It is dry, unsweetened, and verges on the Virginia leaf and Cuban cigar accord that I loved so much in La Via del Profumo’s Tabac. Here, however, it’s woodier, more influenced by the vanilla and cedar. (I know the perfume has cypress, but my nose keeps smelling the drier, smokier cedar wood, and not the green, coniferous cypress.)

10 minutes in, Don Corleone starts to shift. I could swear that I smelled a note of chocolate wafting about, and it’s strong enough to make me double-check my sample to ensure that I wasn’t somehow accidentally sent Milano Caffé instead. No, it definitely says “Don Corleone,” and this is not a patchouli scent. I’m telling you, though, I smelled dark, bitter chocolate, no matter how subtle it was at first. Much more distinct is the definite note of vetiver which arrives on the scene. It is bright and redolent of peppermint, though that changes down the road.

As the vetiver slowly pushes its way onto center stage, the vanilla retreats. Originally as strong as Bourbon vanilla and as rich as a custard, it is now merely dry, gauzy, and light. The vanilla truly isn’t the star player on my skin, no matter what the description may have stated. Instead, it weaves its way through the overall fragrance, subtly infusing each and every individual note with its touch. Don Corleone’s dominant bouquet at this stage is cedar, vetiver and coffee, followed by anisic ouzo, peppermint, and a hint of tobacco, all softly kissed by the dry vanilla.

Palermo, Sicily. Photo: CNN via istock photos.

Cafe in Palermo, Sicily. Photo: CNN via istock photos.

The image which comes to mind is an elderly Sicilian man and his young granddaughter sitting at a café in Palermo. His woody, vetiver-vanilla cologne mixes with his Ouzo and cigar; her sweeter vanilla perfume intertwines with the bitter scent of her coffee. A small plate of almonds, black chocolate, and mint lies between them, while the dry, golden, afternoon light covers them both. In the distant horizon, so far away as to be blurred to the naked eye, are fields of some undefined white flowers that soon fade away almost entirely. Taking their place is the smell of something dark, leathery, and smoky. Like a dark cloud, it starts to drift closer, slowly blocking out the sun.

30 minutes in, the vetiver follows the path that it has taken before with La Via del Profumo scents, particularly Milano Caffé, and takes over my skin. This seems to be something that my skin does to vetiver, and I really wish it didn’t, especially as its peppermint characteristic is far from my favorite. Unfortunately for me, the vetiver soon overshadows the lovely vanilla, tobacco, chocolate and ouzo. I think on other people the woody, vanillic and tobacco notes would continue to remain in the foreground.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

For a short while, I thought Don Corleone had turned primarily into a vanilla-infused vetiver fragrance on my skin, with the other notes playing a more muted role. The impression of “ouzo” and almonds has vanished, the cedar/cypress has turned into amorphous woods, and the chocolate has taken a backseat along with the tobacco on the sidelines.

However, 90 minutes in, that dark cloud that I mentioned earlier comes to pass. There is definitely something resinous and bitter lurking in Don Corleone’s base. At first, it is merely a tiny vein of something balsamic and smoky, verging on the leathered. For me, and on my skin, the “vanilla” in Don Corleone smells like it was derived, in small part, from styrax. That is a benzoin resin with a very dark, smoky, leathered characteristic, and it is the least sweet of all the balsamic resins. Whatever the actual source, Don Corleone turns increasingly leathered and dark. The vanilla has lost all lingering traces of its sweetness, turning completely dry, and a little bit smoky.

Photo:  "Whistle and Run" on Flickr. (Website link embedded within.)

Photo: “Whistle and Run” on Flickr. (Website link embedded within.)

At the end of the 3rd hour, the vetiver-woody-leathered-vanilla bouquet in Don Corleone has a definite undertone of something tarry, rubbered, and singed. It probably stems from the tobacco absolute, though there is a faint chance that it’s the tuberose in its deconstructed form. I’m doubtful, though, because, on my skin, the flower truly never appears beyond that tiny whisper in the opening minute; it’s not visible in either its typical way or in the more mentholated, indolic version. By the end of the 5th hour, Don Corleone is a skin scent playing between sweetness and darkness, with leathered tobacco, vetiver and woody notes, all lying atop a thin layer of something leathered, burnt, and tarred.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

For the next few hours, the vanilla appears to have vanished from my skin, muted as it was to begin with. From afar, Don Corleone smells merely like a woody tobacco fragrance. Up close, you can detect the leathered undertone to the tobacco, along with an abstract, dry sweetness and a lingering touch of freshness from the vetiver. The tiniest flickers of smokiness and coffee dance in the shadows, but they are very subtle, and you have to sniff hard to detect them. Yet, to my surprise, the vanilla makes a return in the very final hours. At the start of the 8th hour, Don Corleone turns into a simple, sheer smear of woody vanilla, partially sweet, partially dry. And there it ends, fading away after 11 hours with 5 really big smears, but after 8.75 with 2 moderately big ones.

That brings me to another point: sillage. All-natural fragrances don’t have massive projection, but Don Corleone felt a little softer in its start than one or two of the other La Via del Profumo scents that I’ve tried. The key for this one is really going to be quantity. With 2 big dabs, the sillage hovered right above the skin from the very start. However, 5 huge smears changed things substantially; Don Corleone bloomed, wafting about 2-3 inches at first, before turning into a skin scent in the middle of the 4th hour. Even then, it was very easy to detect if you brought your arm to your nose. It only became much harder around the middle of the 6th hour. Obviously, spraying will enhance both the perfume’s longevity and projection, and Mr. Dubrana often recommends applying some of the scent on your hair, beard or clothing to amplify its smell. My suggestion for anyone who tries Don Corleone in a small, dab, “Mignon” bottle is to be very generous with application.

The all-natural aspect also has implications for how Don Corleone may manifest itself on your skin. The use of such concentrated absolutes, unleavened by synthetics, means that you may experience a wide variety of undertones to things like the tobacco or woody notes. As Mr. Dubrana wrote to me, “Essential oils are very complex compounds of sometimes hundreds of molecules.” And “We smell with our brain more than with our nose.” So, I highly doubt any of you will get chocolate, let alone anise-based Ouzo, though the only blogger to review Don Corleone thus far did mention herbal nuances.

What those of you without my weird vetiver-amplifying skin are bound to get is a fragrance with the full spectrum of tobacco and vanilla facets, followed by some woody, smoky and dry undertones. Honestly, I’d be shocked if you experienced a heavily floral perfume dominated by tuberose. Don Corleone seems intended to be a masculine vanilla, with the tuberose as the most tangential of players. And that is not merely my perception of things, either.

On Fragrantica, the lone comment on Don Corleone’s entry is from “Henri345que,” who experienced a predominantly tobacco-vanilla fragrance with very little tuberose:

I don’t know how much my impression is influenced by the name and the idea itself, but i picture this scent on my skin as the perfect aroma for an italian mafia boss. It exudes class, power, intensity, from the beginning until the end. I don’t know if it is strange to me, i have already smelled and sample so many things through my journey that this is hard to classify, but i see it as very powerful. [¶]

It’s for me a scent of as much of vanilla as tobacco. They are the stars, where the tuberose is more of a second player on me, just providing a round, sensual touch to bind those two essences. It makes me think that vanilla is much more deep and dimensional that we might think at first. I guess that this is because we are so used with the sugary, creamy vanillas that we forgot that it can also smell flowery, a little bit animalic, erotic, but also smoky, leathery too. This vanilla is edible, but more smoky, spicy, it merges completely into the tobacco nuances. It’s different, for instance, from the vanilla used in Frutti Paradisi, that is close to skin and smell exactly like the vanilla pods after you have extracted the seeds. As i expected, i love this scent and i’m impressed that a natural scent can be this way, intense just the way i like. Amazing.

Histoires de Parfums Tubereuse 3 Animale. Source: Luckyscent.

Histoires de Parfums Tubereuse 3 Animale. Source: Luckyscent.

On Basenotes, there are a handful of reviews for Don Corleone. None of them had anything close to my experience, which emphasizes once again how much of an anomaly it is. One chap compared Don Corleone to Histoires de Parfums Tubereuse 3 Animale, writing:

This is my favourite masculine floral, and I would never have guessed that it would be tuberose!

Don Corleone plays off of Abdes Salaam’s masterful hand with tobacco, and features a fantastic, fleshy, rich (but not too sweet) tuberose absolute. The closest comparison I can come up with is with HdP Tubereuse 3, but the Don is drier, simpler and more tobacco oriented. It is much more wearable in my opinion. The drydown features an equally rich and subtle vanilla.

For a woman commentator, “iivanita,” Don Corleone started off being very masculine before quickly transforming to a very sweet, feminine scent that was almost gourmand:

… at the first sniff from the vial it hit me as i expected from a perfume of such name:-) the macho man, very strong , rich, a touch unpleasant maybe, masculine fragrance , smoky like smoked ham:-) ,very gourmand, i was sniffing my oily vial, cause its dense sweet smoky scent to recognize what kind of a meet it reminds me of , what dish?:-)  [¶] And i thought i wont be able to pull this off:-)

But when i tried it on the skin,in just 5 minutes it transformed into very feminine sweet scent,to my big surprise!! [¶] This perfume seems like very wearable scent, it projects , has good longevity, and is unisex, but men who want to wear something vanilla like but some may find it too [sweet] although its not!

The third most important player in this composition, tuberose, is so well hidden behind tobacco smoke, it was there but i could not identify it!! [¶] The combination of vanilla, tuberose and tobacco make this scent very gourmand, oriental, warm but not cloying, its nothing like typical vanilla scent,

As the reviewer before said, its simple yet delicate composition, it dances between beeing too gourmand, too feminine, too vanilla, too tobacco, and in the end its one very unique scent for people who are temperament in nature! Like Sicilians are !

The only blog review I could find for Don Corleone comes from The Scentuary where “Diamondflamewrote, in part:

Created entirely of naturally derived components by talented perfumer composer Dominique Dubrana or Salaam as he is known now, Don Corleone is an understated yet no less arresting composition involving aromatic herbs, tuberose, tobacco and vanilla. On my skin I get an unmistakable aromatic smokiness from tobacco ablsolue blending into the softly subdued vanilla and floral-herbal elements. But Tobacco Vanille this is not for it wears lightly, nowhere near as sweet given the lighter approach and herbal nuances, with a complexity that only all-natural perfumery can portray.

Sillage may not be its strong suit but the quiet aura it radiates is not without authority. There is an indefinable quality about it that speaks of respect, family tradition, strength and fortitude. Add ‘Sicilian flair’ to the mix and it seems Don Corleone has just made me an offer I cannot refuse.

At the end of the day, and taking the scent as a whole, Don Corleone wasn’t for me, personally, and I blame my skin fully for that. I found the opening entrancing and addictive, but I simply am not fond that fond of the vetiver or the peppermint characteristic that took over my skin. It frustrated me, but it’s hardly Don Corleone’s fault. I would have loved the version that the Fragrantica chap got, which I suspect is the version that most of you will experience as well.

In short, if you’re looking for a much drier version of Tom Ford‘s Tobacco Vanille, one with far greater woody tonalities but without the syrup or plum pudding foundation, then you might want to consider giving Don Corleone a sniff. The same thing applies to anyone who would like a more vanillic version of Mr. Dubrana’s fantastic Tabac. (I loved Tabac!) That said, I personally don’t think Don Corleone is unisex. It feels strongly masculine in nature, due to its dryness and the darkness of the tobacco absolute. However, it’s all going to depend on skin chemistry as that one woman on Basenotes thought Don Corleone was very sweet, vanillic, and almost gourmand!

Much more obviously feminine in nature is the next Profumo scent that I will be reviewing. It is the remaining installment in Mr. Dubrana’s “Italian Series,” and is called Venezia Giardini Segreti. Inspired by Venice’s secret gardens and courtyards, it is a jasmine scent with rose, herbs, myrrh, green nuances, and ambergris. In the upcoming weeks, I will cover Amber ChocolateFrutti Paradisi (animalic, leathered osmanthus, jasmine, vanilla, and black currant); Acqua Santa (or “Holy Water”); and Cuba Express. Hopefully, either Don Corleone or one of these other scents will make you an offer you can’t refuse…. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist and finally gave in to temptation.)

Disclosure: My sample was courtesy of AbdesSalaam Attar. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, my views are my own, and my first obligation is honesty to my readers.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Palermo Don Corleone is an eau de parfum that comes in a variety of sizes. It is available exclusively from the Profumo.it website, which ships its scents world-wide. All the following prices for Don Corleone are in Euros without VAT: €36,70 for 15.5 ml, €78,69 for 33 ml (a little over 1 oz) and €112,13 for 50 ml/1.7 oz. At today’s rate of exchange, the USD prices roughly comes to: $50 for the 15.5 ml, $107 for the 32 ml, and $152 for the 50 ml bottle. The site says: “Prices are without VAT and are valid for USA and all non EEC countries[;] for shipments in the EEC 22% VAT will be ADDED to the amount in the shopping cart.” There is also a Mignon Discovery Coffret which is available for any 5 fragrances, each in a glass 5.5 ml bottle. The price depends on which perfumes you pick, as the choice is up to you. The 5.5 ml bottle of Don Corleone is €15,57. On a side note, I received my samples from Mr. Dubrana incredibly quickly, less than 4 days after he sent it. Also, I have the impression that, with all purchases, Profumo provides free 2 ml samples, especially of any new fragrances that he is developing, since AbdesSalaam is very interested in feedback. In short, if you’re ordering fragrance, you may want to ask for a tiny sample of something that strikes your eye. Samples: Surrender to Chance sells Don Corleone starting at $8.99 for a 1 ml vial.

Aftelier Perfumes Cepes and Tuberose: Earthy Tuberose

As it might be clear by now, I’m focusing on florals this week with a series that began by looking at various treatments of tuberose. Like Goldilocks, we’re exploring the range from the fresh, green kind represented by Carnal Flower to the warmer, creamier interpretation of Moon Bloom, and, now, the darkest one of all. This last one is a wholly original, incredibly creative twist on the great white flower, turning it earthy with all the mushrooms and earth of the forest floor. It is Cepes and Tuberose (sometimes written as “Cepes & Tuberose” by others), a perfume with very woody, resinous, chocolate, cinnamon and dried rose elements to go along with the mushrooms. 

Cepes or Porcini. Source: morelmushroomhunting.com

Cepes or Porcini. Source: morelmushroomhunting.com

Cepes and Tuberose was created by the highly respected, acclaimed all-natural perfumer, Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes. The perfume is classified as a fougère, which is a type of fragrance centered, in part, around herbs, along with more significant core components. Ms. Aftel has cleverly twisted the fresh, aromatic, herbal genre by taking a very different approach to the forest and mixing it with very different flowers. The critical component, however, are the cepes, a type of mushroom commonly referred to outside of France by its other name, porcini. Cepes and Tuberose comes in two concentrations: an eau de parfum concentration and in pure parfum. This review is for the former, the eau de parfum.

Cepes and Tuberose, the bottle for the Eau de Parfum version. Source: the Aftelier website.

Cepes and Tuberose, the bottle for the Eau de Parfum version. Source: the Aftelier website.

On her website, Ms. Aftel describes Cepes and Tuberose as follows:

Scent Family: Fougère
Wild mushrooms, with animal undertones and one of the world’s most voluptuous florals. Wild porcini mushrooms and Italian tuberose play a mysterious and earthy duet. One of my more enigmatic perfumes, it has won many awards and fans. — Chosen as one of “100 Perfumes Every Perfumista Should Try” by Now Smell This.

Featured Notes
Top: bois de rose.
Heart: tuberose, Moroccan rose.
Base: cepes [or Porcini mushroom] absolute, benzoin.

Source: Ronny Fein. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Source: Ronny Fein. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Cepes and Tuberose opens on my skin with notes that strongly resemble sticky raisins, cinnamon infused fruits stewed in brown sugar molasses, and woods. There is also a very animalic leather component, followed by a truffle-like earthiness, then actual mushrooms with a hint of chocolate. The sweetened, plump, raisin molasses is infused with dark green herbs, aromatic but slightly smoky woods, and a mossy pungency. Within minutes, the latter takes on a medicinal, old-fashioned fougère tonality that has a very distant kinship to barber shops of old. Unlike those scents, however, Cepes and Tuberose is both sweetened and earthy.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

The earthiness is interesting. Initially, it really feels more like humus (not hummus) which is the soil detritus of plants, dirt, leaves, and decaying organic matter. The mushroom tonality is subtle at first, more a suggestion than full-on porcinis. As regular readers know, one of my favorite discoveries last year was Oriza L. Legrand‘s ode to the forest floor, Chypre Mousse, an extremely green, mossy, mushroom, wet leaf and humus scent with herbal undertones, darkened resins and a wisp of leather. I love both the mushroom and earth note in Chypre Mousse, but it smells very different in Cepes and Tuberose. Here, it is not like sweet, loamy, wet soil, but a very dry one. There is sweetness, but it is of a brown sugar sap variety. Nothing in Cepes and Tuberose feels green or elfish, but dark, resinous, dry, and sweet. And the sense of something herbal, elemental and decayed feels much stronger here.

Source: Diary of a Mad Hausfrau. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Source: Diary of a Mad Hausfrau. (Website link embedded within photo.)

The rosewood adds a distinct element of dark, smoky woods, but also something that resembles pine sap. It’s a warm, not chilled, version of the note in Serge LutensFille en Aiguilles. Actually, the Lutens fragrance that Cepes and Tuberose first brought to mind was Bois et Fruits. I think it’s due to the sticky raisin and spice accords, mixed with more autumnal woods. Yet, Cepes and Tuberose is much more leathered than either of those fragrances. It has a definite animalic component in the sense of muskiness, but it is never fecal, raw, sweaty or rank. It is more earthen, and infused with a sweetness that borders on cinnamon and chocolate.

10 minutes in, Cepes and Tuberose starts to change. The fragrance feels less medicinal, herbal, and animalic. The leather note fades to the background, while the earthy one turns more mushroomy. There is a surprising meatiness to it that made me think of Portobello mushrooms, but at this stage, it’s still only a mere suggestion. The more significant change is the introduction of the florals, and this is where I start to really struggle. On my skin, the flowers are dominated by an amorphous, rose note that strongly resembles spiced, dried, pressed rose petals and potpourri. I’m not generally a fan of roses, fresh or dried, but I have particular problems with potpourri.

"Dried Rose Petals" by Tom Mc Nemar via Fineartamerica. http://fineartamerica.com/featured/dried-rose-petals-ii-tom-mc-nemar.html

“Dried Rose Petals” by Tom Mc Nemar via Fineartamerica.
http://fineartamerica.com/featured/dried-rose-petals-ii-tom-mc-nemar.html

As time goes by, the rose potpourri takes over Cepes and Tuberose’s bouquet on my skin. The perfume smells increasingly like a very woody take on heavily spiced, cinnamon-dusted dried rose petals with an earthy humus note. Alas for me, the latter soon turns into hardcore porcini mushrooms, to a degree that Chypre Mousse never did. Actually, to be more precise, I smell like meaty, cooked portobellos dusted with cinnamon. The herbal green element has faded, though a certain pungency remains. The leathery note feels less musky, the raisins and brown sugar resin both weaken, and so does that subtle impression of pine. Their place is taken by a pinch of sweetened floral powder, presumably from the benzoin mingling with the roses.

I never once detected tuberose in its traditional, usual way. Instead, what slowly weaves its way through the notes is something that smells like a very browned gardenia. It strongly resembles the decayed gardenia in Serge LutensUn Voix Noire. As many of you know, gardenia is one of those flowers whose smell can’t really be captured from the petals, whose scent cannot be distilled, and whose aroma has to be recreated using other essential oils. (Fragrantica has a tiny bit on this issue if you’re interested.) Tuberose is one of the ways to recreate the smell of the gardenia, which may account for why the version in Cepes and Tuberose smells more like the latter than the former on my skin. Plus, gardenias naturally have a mushroomy scent when they are very ripe or close to the edge of decay.

Source: mydecorative.com

Source: mydecorative.com

On my skin, the browned “gardenia” is perhaps the most tertiary of notes, and everything is trumped by the cinnamon-infused dried roses. The cepes are like a Jack in the Box, popping up on occasion to say “Boo” before sinking back down. They feel less meaty at the end of the first hour, and are more dirt-covered with the lightest touch of a mossy undertone. None of it is easy for me, though I enjoy the new arrival on the scene: cocoa. The initial hint of something chocolate-like in the base has now risen to the surface, but it resembles semi-sweet, dry cocoa powder more than an actual block of heavy chocolate.

At the start of the second hour, Cepes and Tuberose is a bouquet of cinnamon-rose potpourri with coca-dusted dry woods on the surface, while a dark, decayed white floral and meaty portobello mushrooms lurk down below. It is simultaneously dry, dirty, dusty, sweet, sharp, spiced, pungent and soft — contradictory as some of those things may sound. It isn’t the easiest of scents for me, though I had a moment of hope about 1.75 hours into Cepes and Tuberose’s development. There, suddenly, there was an utterly lovely drydown of spiced warmth with cocoa powder, cinnamon benzoin, dried roses and a touch of sweet powder, all nestled in a dry-sweet embrace of cocoa-dusted woods. All the edges felt smoothed out, and the result was a delicious, quasi-gourmand that felt beautifully balanced. At times, there was even a subtle patchouli vibe (and you know how I love my patchouli).

Source: the3foragers.blogspot.com

Source: the3foragers.blogspot.com

Unfortunately, this stage was very brief on me, and I can only blame my skin. Something happened, and less than 30 minutes later, Cepes and Tuberose turned into the smell of dry dirt on me. Not sweet, loamy, wet soil, but very dry, old dirt, with touches of the other elements that I’ve described above. In its final moments, Cepes and Tuberose was nothing more than a blur of dryness that smelled vaguely like old dirt and potpourri. The whole thing lasted 4.75 hours with two small sprays, and 6.25 hours with a larger quantity. Generally, the sillage was very soft after an initially strong start, but Cepes and Tuberose was quite potent when smelled up close for a number of hours. In both my tests, it became a skin scent after 1.75 and 2.25 hours, depending on the quantity that I applied.

My struggles with Cepes and Tuberose really surprised me. Not only is tuberose my favorite flower in real life, but I love dark, woody, resinous or earthy scents. I certainly have no problems with humus or mushroom notes, as regular readers know from my ravings about Oriza’s Chypre Mousse. I can only chalk things up in this instance to skin chemistry and my personal tastes.

Others, however, have had much better luck with Cepes and Tuberose. Now Smell This has the perfume on its list of 100 things that every perfumista must try, calling it “dark, earthy and sexy.” Olfactoria of Olfactoria’s Travels who doesn’t like tuberose scents was actually driven to song, dance, and music, writing that the “deliciously intoxicating fumes” of the perfume brought out a part of her soul.

Meanwhile, Victoria of EauMG thought it was both sultry and akin to a chocolate-dipped pretzel, writing in part:

Cepes and Tuberose opens with sharp rosewood and hay. After this settles, it’s a big floral with blooming tuberose and dewy rose. It’s slightly sweet and lactonic but not too sweet or lactonic. It’s balanced by a savory saltiness. Think of it as the chocolate dipped pretzel of perfumes or even better yet, a peanut butter cup – a perfect balance of sweet and salty. The dry-down is an earthy yet sweet vanilla-benzoin. On my skin, the mushroom is rather faint. In fact, it is more like the animalic richness that is naturally present in “overripe” white florals. And because of this, Cepes and Tuberose is a rather sultry fragrance.

Perfume-Smellin’ Things found Cepes and Tuberose to be unique, and more akin to umami than to a tuberose scent. I think her umami comparison is extremely clever and astute:

Smelled on its own, tuberose absolute is as I know it, buttery, slightly mentholated and slightly rubbery. Smelled on its own, cepes absolute smells of soy sauce and red wine, a mouthwatering, “tongue-coating”, savory aroma. Smelled right after cepes, tuberose suddenly turns to me with a facet it hasn’t shown before … there is something in fact meaty there … meaty and dry and coated in earth…a certain piquant pungency that it took a mushroom to bring to light…or darkness, as it were.

The composition of Cepes & Tuberose is uncluttered. The two main ingredients are so rich, complex and charismatic, that any other notes have to be “quite simple. The cepes and the tuberose intertwined was all the star material that the perfume could aesthetically accommodate.” (M.Aftel) A little bit of citrus in the top notes brightens the fleshy dark brown of the blend; woods seem to both enhance the creaminess of tuberose and to add to the dry spiciness of porcini. This is undoubtedly one of the most unique tuberose perfumes – and much more than a tuberose perfume. It seems wrong to categorize it as a floral. But neither is it anything else really. It requires a new olfactory category of its own … Umami.

I think the review with which I agree the most is that of my friend, The Perfume Dandy, who accurately notes Ms. Aftel’s achievements in the vanguard of experimental, truly original, almost “avant garde” works in the olfactory plane. In terms of his actual experience with Cepes and Tuberose, he writes:

Cepes and Tuberose stands out for The Dandy as an idiosyncratic masterwork.

Meaty sweet mushrooms meet fleshy over ripe flowers in a carnal embrace that is splendidly earthy at the opening and morphs into an extraordinary splicing of library, forest and eccentric boudoir.

Truly original and quite remarkable.

This may not be a scent for everyone, but in a world of apparently endless choice (are there now more Angels in heaven or on the shelves of Thierry Mugler?) I, for one, am so glad that there are such creative options available.

I very much agree. Cepes and Tuberose isn’t the easiest of scents, and it isn’t for everyone. However, one must applaud Ms. Aftel for pushing the boundaries with something very unique. I have enormous respect for Ms. Aftel in general, but Cepes and Tuberose merely increases it, even if the scent did not work for me personally. To combine tuberose with fougère elements and to create an earthy tuberose with mushrooms… it is brilliantly original.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Cepes and Tuberose is exclusive to the Aftelier website, and comes in different formulations and sizes. Cepes and Tuberose is offered as: 2 ml mini of Pure Parfum for $50; 0.25 oz of Pure Parfum for $170; and 30 ml Eau de Parfum for $170. Samples are available for $6 for a 1/4 ml vial of both the EDP and the pure parfum. Samples: The Eau de Parfum version of Cepes and Tuberose is available from Surrender to Chance where prices have been discounted down to $3.99 from $9.99 for a 1/4 ml vial.

Hiram Green Perfumes Moon Bloom: Ophelia’s Tuberose

"Monna Vanna" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

“Monna Vanna” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

One of my favorite periods in art is the Pre-Raphaelite movement led by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. His exquisite beauties with almost translucent ivory skin and their manes of Titian-red flames stare at you with large, haunted eyes and seemingly quivering lips. Their graceful bodies are either garbed in ornate furs or velvets, or are the embodiment of simplicity against the lushness of nature. In all case, though, they always straddle the line between prim daintiness and richness, delicacy and sensuality, darkness and light.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood repeatedly came to mind when I wore Moon Bloom, a fragrance centered around the richness of white flowers, particularly tuberose. Yet, it wasn’t my favorite, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, with his ornate beauties who the perfume conjured up.

"Ophelia" by Arthur Hughes. Source: preraphaelitesisterhood.com

“Ophelia” by Arthur Hughes. Source: preraphaelitesisterhood.com

Instead, it was the various portrayals of Ophelia by other members of the brotherhood, from John William Waterhouse to Arthur Hughes. The key is the radiance of an Ophelia who glows white, embodying delicacy, gracefulness, warmth and femininity in the midst of very measured, very calibrated, careful lushness. For me, that is the essence of Moon Bloom.

Moon Bloom is an all-natural, handcrafted eau de parfum that released in 2013, the debut creation of Hiram Green Perfumes. The perfume house is based in the Netherlands, but was founded by a British gentleman, Hiram Green, who has quite a background with perfumery in general. His website explains further:

After founding Scent Systems, a perfumery located in central London, Hiram learnt that most perfumes, even the ‘best quality’ ones, are manufactured using synthetic materials. Wanting to offer a natural alternative to his customers, he was hard-pressed to find anything suitable.

After relocating to the Netherlands, Hiram spent several years researching and experimenting with natural fragrant materials. In his studio in Gouda he develops and produces his natural fragrances in small batches.

Moon Bloom via the Hiram Green website.

Moon Bloom via the Hiram Green website.

I love the look of Moon Bloom which comes is a glass bottle with an old-fashioned black atomizer “poofer” (as I call it) pump, dark ambered liquid, and a turquoise wax seal. The description for the fragrance may be even prettier, as it uses a phrase I’d never previously heard in connection with my favorite flower. “The mistress of the night.” I shan’t forget it. Even though I see tuberose as the exquisite embodiment of whiteness, enough people find its narcotic qualities to be overwhelming and utterly evil, thereby making “mistress of the night” quite an apt, very amusing moniker of darkness.

Source: Fragrantica

Source: Fragrantica

The perfume’s full description reads:

Moon Bloom is a lush and elegant tuberose themed eau de parfum. Tuberose is a tropical night blooming flower. Often referred to as ‘the mistress of the night’, tuberose is an admired theme in perfumery because of its soft and creamy but also powerful and narcotic aroma.

Moon Bloom includes generous amounts of tuberose absolute, jasmine absolute and ylang ylang. There are also notes of coconut, leafy greens and hints of tropical spices and resins.

Moon Bloom opens on my skin with green, fresh tuberose that has a very mentholated, chilly, rubbery note. I have to admit, I muttered to myself, “here we go again.” It’s undoubtedly unfair to have a bias against the eucalyptus-like, chilled metal opening of many modern tuberose scents. After all, the deconstructed essence of the flower and their indoles often has that precise profile. Still, I’m not a particular fan of it, especially when it takes on the merest whisper of mothballs, the tell-tale sign of truly concentrated or undiluted indoles. Thankfully for me, both the mothballs and the hardcore, rubbery, mentholated intensity fade away within mere minutes. Less than 4 actually, so it truly doesn’t last long on my skin, though a certain chilly coolness does linger for another hour.

tuberoseThe opening moments are a contrast of light and dark. The tuberose is followed almost immediately by a touch of sweet jasmine and by milkiness. Though the dark, rubbery mentholated camphor fades quickly, there remains a light greenness that lurks around the edges. At the same time, the tuberose feels lush, opulent and heady, with indoles that almost border on the dirty. The sweetness of the jasmine grows in strength, flitting all around the top notes, intertwined inextricably with the potent tuberose. The whole thing is warm and rich from the start, with a spicy quality that hints at the base elements.

While Moon Bloom’s opening minutes definitely shares the deconstructed tuberose element of Serge LutensTubéreuse Criminelle, I find definite differences between the two. It’s not merely the length of time that each note lasts. It’s also that the note never smells like diesel or gasoline. After the opening salvo, it feels more like a touch of smoky darkness that is replaced by icy menthol. At times, the latter almost feels fizzy, like the aerated champagne bubbles in YSL‘s vintage Champagne or Yvresse. The flood of sweet jasmine also ensures that the indoles don’t stay rubbery or too medicinal for long.

Source: crazy-frankenstein.com

Source: crazy-frankenstein.com

There is another great white flower that I smell, crazy as it sounds. On every occasion when I’ve worn Moon Bloom, there is a core note of what I would swear is gardenia. I thought I was completely mad, as there is no gardenia whatsoever in Moon Bloom. So I wrote to Mr. Green about it, and he replied: “I think of gardenia absolute as smelling between Jasmine and Tuberose. It would not surprise me then if you smelt gardenia in Moon Bloom.” Mr. Green is a very courteous gentleman, so he may have been trying to make me feel better, but I’m going with his explanation. From this point on, I’ll just write “gardenia” in quotes so that you know I’m referring to the oddity of my own nose.

As a whole, Moon Bloom quickly turns into a rich tuberose and jasmine duet with the lightest touch of both greenness and darkness. My favorite part may be the coconut. It’s actually more like vaguely coconut-y, floral milk, than actual heavy, gooey, Hawaiian Tropics butteriness. It’s a delicate, initially watery, soft note that is never cloying or unctuous, though it is quite muted and muffled. For most of Moon Bloom’s lifespan on my skin, the coconut works in the shadows, adding an indirect effect to the base notes and providing a textural quality more than an actual smell of milkiness.

White opal via swissgemshop.ch

White opal via swissgemshop.ch

“Radiant” may be the best description for Moon Bloom, despite its initial potency and indolic quality. Contrary as it may sound, the perfume feels more radiant and delicate than carnal, fleshy, and over-ripe. It’s a dainty take on a floral powerhouse, and the soft, airy quality that takes over after 20 minutes underscores that impression. Instead of evoking pillowy, fleshy bosoms on languid courtesans, instead of the hot, almost opaque excesses of Fracas (which I love for precisely that reason), Moon Bloom makes me think of an opal stone with its touch of iridescence amidst a milky smoothness. Perhaps its the name of the fragrance with its imagery of flowers blooming in the silvery light of the moon, but I think it’s Moon Bloom’s radiant quality that feels like a perfectly calibrated mix of lushness and bright freshness.

Photo: onewomanshands.blogspot.com

Photo: onewomanshands.blogspot.com

20 minutes in, Moon Bloom starts to shift. The “gardenia” note grows stronger. Here, it is simultaneously a very dewy, green “gardenia” like the version in Ineke‘s Hothouse Flower, and also a lusher, richer interpretation of it. I realise that it is probably the jasmine, but regardless of the actual source, I love the creaminess with its contradictory freshness. The tuberose-jasmine duo still dominate, but the “gardenia” definitely trails in third place. The flowers feel almost weightless, a little too much so for my personal tastes. On my skin, the jasmine is far meatier and richer than the tuberose which feels utterly translucent at this stage. Around the same time, Moon Bloom’s projection drops. It was initially extremely strong, but is now an airy cloud that hovers 2 inches above the skin with 3 spritzes from a little atomizer. 

The prominence and role of the individual flowers in Moon Bloom are really interesting. After wearing the fragrance a number of times in the last month, I’ve noticed what seems to be a trend in the perfume’s overall development. Moon Bloom always begins with tuberose, but it then goes through stages where other flowers seem to take over. It feels like a horse-race where the tuberose bursts out of the gate, but becomes neck-and-neck with the other flowers after thirty minutes. First, it is jasmine which surges ahead by a nose, and stays there for the first few hours. Then, its place is taken by the “gardenia” which is heavily intertwined with the tuberose for the next stage. In the end, though, the tuberose returns to overtake them both on the home stretch, and races past the finish line. For me, that’s unusual as most tuberose-centered fragrances that I’ve tried inevitably end up finishing as jasmine or something else. Not Moon Bloom, though the tuberose is definitely in second place for long stretches of time.

Ylang-Ylang. Source: Soapgoods.com

Ylang-Ylang. Source: Soapgoods.com

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned ylang-ylang in all this. Well, for the first thirty minutes, I can’t detect it at all. Then, almost on the dot, it appears, albeit in extremely muted form. It adds a velvety smooth texture, and, for a second, just the tiniest hint of something banana-like. At the same time, however, it is infused with an almost moss-like greenness at its edges that smells both leafy, and a wee bit reminiscent of Givenchy‘s vintage Ysatis, a ylang-ylang chypre. The greenness is quite separate from the lingering traces of menthol that remains at the edges, but the whole thing is extremely subtle, a bare flicker that only occasionally pops up.

45 minutes in, Moon Bloom is a seamless blend of jasmine, gardenia, tuberose, and ylang-ylang, in that order, with varying, subtle undertones of greenness that range from the leafy to the fizzy to the faintly mentholated. There is a quiet, muted spiciness that stirs in the base, tossing up a touch of gold to the very white, cream, and green coloured palette. The coconut milk has disappeared as an individual note, but it has a profound effect on the base when combined with the ylang-ylang. Thanks to the two elements, the plush, heady white flowers are nestled in a suede-like richness and warmth. I was going to say “custardy,” but that is not really accurate. Nothing about Moon Bloom feels heavy or thick. It’s too delicate to be like velvet, but too creamy to be an airy mousse.

Source: Fragrantica

Source: Fragrantica

Perhaps the best way to describe Moon Bloom’s perfectly calibrated, tight-rope act would be to describe the fragrance as “petal-soft.” It mimics the velvety softness that you feel when you stroke a gardenia’s petals and breath in its heady richness, but there is also the airy, fresh radiance of flowers that have not reached their peak or turned blowsy.

Photo: mypham.us

Photo: mypham.us

Moon Bloom turns more beautiful with time. Around the 2.5 hour mark, it’s a gorgeous “gardenia” and jasmine scent, infused with tuberose, upon the creamiest, velvety softness. It feels lush, but dainty, and I prefer all of it to Carnal Flower. Best of all, Moon Bloom lacks the Malle perfume’s synthetic base with that terrible, cheap white musk that always gives me a headache if I sniff Carnal Flower up close for too long. Instead, Moon Bloom’s base has an abstract (though muffled) spiciness to it which grows stronger, shedding a golden haze over the soft white flowers.

I find the balancing act that Mr. Green has achieved to be masterful, utterly masterful. He’s managed a refined, modern take on white flowers that never emasculates them or robs them of their true identity. He doesn’t reject their inherent lushness in favour of some ostensible, overbearing “freshness” done purely for the sake of appealing to current market trends. Moon Bloom has that modern vitality and lightness, for this is no Fracas or 1980s powerhouse after all. Yet, instead of aping Carnal Flower, he eschews pure greenness in favour of creaminess and yellowed warmth. (For me, visually, jasmine often skews a buttercup yellow on the colour spectrum, illogical as that may be.)

John Collier, "Queen Guinevere's Maying" (1900). Source: Wikipedia.

John Collier, “Queen Guinevere’s Maying” (1900). Source: Wikipedia.

Mr. Green has taken the best of both worlds — the old of Fracas and the new of Carnal Flower — and mixed them into a perfume that gleams like an opal. It has the subtle sensuality of Rossetti’s women, but at a sotto voce level, and countered by the delicate beauty of the Ophelia of his Pre-Raphaelite brethren. There is the luxurious feel of old-style, full-bodied, classique perfumes, but, also, the lightness, airiness, restrained discreetness and brightness of the modern style. Finally, Moon Bloom balances the cool aspects of a green freshness with the warmth of that creamy base, a base whose golden sunniness evokes the Queen of the May far more than “the mistress of the night.” Have I mentioned the word “masterful” yet?

At the end of the 4th hour, Moon Bloom hovers right above the skin, but the scent is so deep or rich that I’m amazed it’s all-natural. The perfume is a velvety-soft blur of white flowers led by the tuberose-gardenia-jasmine trio. The tuberose has finally overtaken its white cousins, as if the jasmine decided to give up the race. The “gardenia” impression continues, while the ylang-ylang is as muted as ever on my skin. The best part of the scent, apart from the return of the tuberose, is that surprisingly creamy base. After 5.25 hours, it feels smoother than ever with a plushness that is texturally very natural and more petal-like than ever. Carnal Flower, at a comparable point in its development, had nothing like it, and was merely a blur of musky jasmine. Moon Bloom has actual depth and body, yet its richness never feels overwhelming.

"Ophelia" by John William Waterhouse, 1910. Source: preraphaelitesisterhood.com

“Ophelia” by John William Waterhouse, 1910. Source: preraphaelitesisterhood.com

To the contrary, Moon Bloom’s drydown has a softness that borders on the soothing. It’s hard to explain, but there is something about that velvety, petal-like quality and Mr. Green’s perfect balancing act which creates an easiness about the scent. Moon Bloom is so much more comfortable than my beloved Fracas which is all about dressing up to the nines or to seduce. Moon Bloom has an accessible gentleness, but it’s an easiness that never once surrenders its creamy white soul or loses sight of what white flowers are really like. Nothing about the scent feels like a generic, banal, white flower cocktail that you could find at Sephora, but it’s also not a diva act. All of which bring us back to Ophelia. If Fracas is the iconic Maria Callas in diamonds and furs, then Moon Bloom is a Pre-Raphaelite Ophelia. Graceful femininity with seamless smoothness and an absence of rough edges (or synthetics) done in a way that makes the white flowers radiant and soft, but never showy or bold.

In its final hours, Moon Bloom is a velvety tuberose with occasional flashes of “gardenia.” It coats the skin like a whisper, but there is a richness to the tuberose if you put your nose right on your skin. I’m amazed at Moon Bloom’s longevity on my wonky skin. Three good squirts from the little atomizer, or the equivalent of 2 small sprays from a regular bottle, gave me 11.5 hours in duration. One big atomizer squirt gave me about 9 hours, though the sillage dropped much more rapidly and Moon Bloom became a skin scent after 2.5 hours. On Fragrantica, the few votes for longevity are evenly split between “long lasting,” “moderate,” and “weak,” while the sillage numbers are primarily for “moderate,” followed by 1 vote for “heavy.” I really think that the quantity you apply will impact both issues, as well as, obviously, your skin chemistry.

As you can tell, I loved Moon Bloom. It’s a lovely scent that falls midway on the spectrum between Carnal Flower‘s fresh greenness and subdued restraint, and the more indolic variations on tuberose. It’s a far, far cry from Fracas (or even the indolic jasmine powerhouse of La Via del Profumo’s Tawaf), but it’s also removed from Carnal Flower. It feels like a perfectly calibrated mix of both, with strong touches of its own character.

That said, I’m someone whose tastes skew strongly toward super opulent, bold, powerhouses when it comes to my florals, so you need to put my assessment into that definitional context. If you’re someone who finds Carnal Flower to be too intense a white flower explosion, then I do not recommend Moon Bloom. If you can’t stand tuberose or jasmine, then, quite obviously, you should stay far, far away. Moon Bloom is for those who find Carnal Flower to be too anemic or wispy, but who also think Fracas is taking lush richness too far to the other extreme.

My definitional standards and preferences might be firmly placed on the extreme side of the white flower scale, but I’m far from being alone in finding Moon Bloom to be lovely. The perfume has won over many bloggers, with a number of them placing it on their Best of 2013 list. Take, for example, the witty, lovely Victoria of EauMG who writes, in part:

Moon Bloom is a minty, green tuberose with a creamy banana ylang-ylang. It’s huge and luscious and dare I say glamorous! Indoles fall out of jasmine’s cleavage when she bends forward. Her glistening skin is subtly moisturized with coconut oil and this adds a warmth to the white florals. The florals become more “peachy” and lose some of their crisp greenness. Moon Bloom’s dry-down is acrid incense with “green” coconut.

Moon Bloom is glamorous and flawlessly put together. I realize that my description or even the note list may scare away some people that have white floral “issues”; however, please don’t let it. Moon Bloom is big but subtle. It’s one of the few tuberose perfumes that allows you to be the diva and doesn’t try to steal your spotlight. I really think this one will win over those timid of tuberose. And it will be loved by those that adore white florals. I can’t stop sniffing it when I wear it. It’s gorgeous and it makes me feel gorgeous. […]

Moon Bloom has average projection and longevity. In my opinion, it wears for much longer than other all-natural compositions. I get 6-8 hours. It does become more subtle after 2-3 hours but that’s fine with me. […]

Victoria’s Final EauPINION – Gorgeous, glamorous tuberose soliflore. I think Mr. Green just helped a lot of perfumistas find “their” tuberose. This is the easiest to wear straightforward tuberose soliflore that I’ve ever encountered.

Victoria loved it so much that she put it on her Best of 2013 list, but she’s not alone in appreciating Moon Bloom. The Perfume Shrine put the fragrance in a tie with Aftelier’s Cuir Gardenia for their Best Natural of 2013. And Olfactoria’s Travels thinks it’s great as well.

Olfactoria writes that she has a very cautious relationship with tuberose, though she no longer has outright hatred for the note. In Moon Bloom, she found the flower to be “perfectly balanced,” soft and with “no hint here of the hysterical, diva-esque antics” that many tuberose fragrances display. On her skin, the florals eventually “recede a bit and a base emerges that is warm, a tiny bit spicy (think carnation/clove) and cosy in an unsweet, ambery (vanilla/labdanum) way.” As a whole, Moon Bloom evoked a woman whom she found to be

extremely sympathetic. I feel myself drawn to her and her charmingly enticing ways. She is intelligent, calm, she knows who she is. She is beautiful and desirable, but she doesn’t use that as a weapon, it is merely a fact of her life, equal among many. She loves to smile and there is an air of mystery around her, but this doesn’t make her appear aloof or remote, but draws you in closer, wanting to find out more.

What stands out most about this woman though, is her smile: warm, loving, caring and infinitely sweet, it is hard to remain untouched when you find yourself in the radiant presence of that smile.

Warmth is a far cry for what one adoring blogger perceived in Moon Bloom. My favorite review of the fragrance comes from The Silver Fox, a blogger who admittedly loves white floral bombs, but who has tried enough of them to know that Moon Bloom is special. He begins his review with fantastic elucidation of why it can be so cool for men to wear fleshy white flowers:

For me, a man wearing white florals is the subversive writhing of indolic strangeness, the blush of purity degraded, underpinned by the all too sexual skin washes of tuberose, lilies, ylang, gardenia and orange blossom. It is the fleshy conflict between light and dark, beauty and decay, sex and chastity that fascinates me.

In many ways these are overtly female blooms, but I adore transgression as many of you know. Boys smell so decadent in florals, so Tennessee Williams, muscular, tense and ambiguous, afraid of inner desires yet reaching out to embrace them. […][¶]

Hiram Green’s luscious, alabaster Moon Bloom is probably one of the best tuberose soliflores I have tried in many years. This shocked me for several reasons. One, I thought I had probably tried as many permutations and plays on the blooms as were strictly speaking possible and two, Hiram’s delicious scent is made exclusively from natural ingredients, a notification that does not generally make my Foxy heart sing.

Moon Bloom is creamy, glittering perfection. The name is so alluring and romantic, exactly right for this narcotic formulation of floral wonder. It is a strangely intense perfume, inhaling it transports me to frozen streets pierced by milky shafts of moonlight in a silent city. Snow falls, marble glistens, time slows. My skin is waxen, radiating the ivory effulgence of tuberose and jasmine absolutes. A lick of distant tropics from an ice-cold coconut note, green and glacial at the same time.

I highly recommend reading the entirety of his long but absolutely stellar, beautifully evocative review. There, he talks about why Mr. Green’s technical balancing act with the essential absolutes is so masterful, as well as offering further details of how the tuberose appears, the “pearlescent” jasmine, and the key impact of the coconut milk in his version of Moon Bloom. For him, the latter reminded him “of the wonderful oozing ripe fig effect used in the Extrème version of Premier Figuier by L’Artisan Parfumer.”  He ends his fantastic analysis with these powerful images:

Moon Bloom is made for night skin, waxen and white-lit under bleak staring moons. A fragrance for skins in troubled love, in pain, lost perhaps. There is alchemy at work here and it smells like snow falling in the hush of night.

"Moon in the billowing mists" by Norroen-Stjarna on Deviantart.com

“Moon in the billowing mists” by Norroen-Stjarna. http://www.deviantart.com/art/Moon-in-the-billowing-mists-306095826

The Silver Fox seems to have experienced a lot more of the freezing, “iced metal” aspects of the menthol that either I or the other bloggers did, but it’s all a matter of skin chemistry. For me, Moon Bloom is not about “billowing snow,” and my skin did not bring out “a dazzling blindness to the carnal theme of Hiram’s whiteness, the kiss of frozen lips in a city paralysed by ice and the swirling rogue of winter flurries.” (What a spectacular piece of writing!) In fact, the concept of carnality never once crossed my mind with Moon Bloom, which just goes to show you how much one’s yardstick matters in assessing indolic florals. In fact, I’m starting to wonder just how much my childhood imprinting with Fracas and my subsequent love for Amouage-like Middle Eastern opulence has impacted my definitions, because I thought Tawaf was the embodiment of carnal voluptuousness, while Moon Bloom seems so lady-like and approachable.

To be clear, The Silver Fox does largely agree with that as well, writing extensively about how the tuberose is never lascivious or extreme. As he so amusingly puts it, the tuberose of Moon Bloom never screeches like a “drunken karaoke singer belting out gay anthems” who has to be tackled by his mates to shut up. For him, the tuberose is thankfully “far removed from this pitiful spectacle. It is strong-willed, full of drama, but intelligent and deeply charismatic, filling the room with brilliant, searching light.”

As you can see, the word “intelligent” keeps coming up in connection with Moon Bloom, along with “calm,” “approachable,” or “radiant” in descriptions that emphasize how the tuberose is not divaesque. And it’s true. This version is not the Ride of the Valkyries, and it’s not just my wonky, skewed perception. I love Fracas, but she’s not always the easiest thing to wear on a daily basis. Moon Bloom is.

Moon Bloom bottle and decant, via Hiram Green.

Moon Bloom bottle and decant, via Hiram Green.

Moon Bloom is available in two different sizes. There is an affordable 5 ml decant sold for roughly $27 (or €25 with the VAT), while the full bottle costs about $150 with a more affordable refill option being introduced later this year. The original bottle is gorgeous, though, with the perfect blend of classicism and clean-cut modernism.

All in all, if you’re a white flower lover, I strongly recommend that you try Moon Bloom. For those with a much more tenuous relationship to the florals, I think you have to like both the initial mentholated aspect and a touch of indoles to enjoy the scent. On the other hand, Olfactoria who is iffy on tuberose really liked Moon Bloom, so perhaps you will too. As a whole, I think Moon Bloom skews more feminine than unisex, but in all cases, its relatively moderate longevity and soft sillage make it suitable for the office.

I have to end this long review with a simple word about Hiram Green: talented. Enormously talented. His debut effort is an utterly masterful display of technical brilliance. Bravo.

Disclosure: My sample was courtesy of Hiram Green. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, my views are my own, and my first obligation is honesty to my readers.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Moon Bloom is an eau de parfum that comes in a 50 ml bottle that costs €111.57 for non-European customers and €135 for European ones who have to pay VAT. It is available the Hiram Green website, which also sells a 5 ml decant for €20.66 without VAT, and €25 with the tax included. Later this year, a cheaper refill option should be available. I believe the current bottle and decant are also refillable at the current time. Whichever bottle you choose to get, the website will automatically subtract or add the VAT based on your delivery address. ships its scents world-wide. In the U.S.: There are no US retailers at this time. You have to order from Hiram Green, or from one of the European vendors which carries the line. Outside the U.S.: Moon Bloom is available at 7 European retailers. One is First in Fragrance which ships world-wide and which sells Moon Bloom at retail for €135, with a sample for €8. In the Netherlands, Amsterdam’s Annindriya Perfume Lounge sells both the 50 ml bottle and the 5 ml decant size. Other vendors are in Austria, Germany, and Sweden. They are listed on Hiram Green’s Stockist pageSamples: I could not find Moon Bloom at this time on either Surrender to Chance or The Perfumed Court. I will try to update this section if the fragrance becomes available at either one.

Frederic Malle Carnal Flower

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

Frederic Malle. Source: Paris.com

Frederic Malle. Source: Paris.com

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

Source: Forty Five Ten.

Source: Forty Five Ten.

Malle’s website describes Carnal Flower as follows:

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

Fragrantica lists its notes as follows:

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

Source: tarrantcounty.com

Source: tarrantcounty.com

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

Eucalyptus leaves.

Eucalyptus leaves.

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

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

Tuberose. Source: Fragrantica.de

Tuberose. Source: Fragrantica.de

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

Jasmine via Wikicommons

Jasmine via Wikicommons

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

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

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

Fracas Eau de Parfum.

Fracas Eau de Parfum.

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

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

Source: Colourbox.com

Source: Colourbox.com

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

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

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

Opening: “Oh, eucalyptus. Ugh,”

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

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

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

Source: Basenotes.

Source: Basenotes.

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

Source: hdwallpaperspics.com

Source: hdwallpaperspics.com

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

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

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

Candace Bergen via Pinterest.

Candace Bergen via Pinterest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

DETAILS:
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 – Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle: Genius but not Felonious.

ML

Marlene Dietrich

The Agony and the Ecstasy.” I had heard so much about Tubereuse Criminelle, but the Perfume Shrine’s reference to the Irving Stone classic in the context of sadomasochism and Marlene Dietrich made me sit up just a little bit higher and pay strict attention. Elena Vosnaki, the award-winning editor and expert behind The Perfume Shrine, wrote about “fire and ice” and described T/C as “felonious,” before concluding: “Like Marlen Dietrich’s name according to Jean Cocteau, but in reverse, Tubéreuse Criminelle starts with a whip stroke, ends with a caress. For sadomasochists and people appreciative of The Agony and The Ecstasy. A masterpiece!!” (Emphasis added.) 

Good Lord! My jaw dropped. I had to try it, and I had to try it immediately. Like any self-respecting tuberose lover, I own (and love) Fracas, created in 1948 by Robert Piguet and now, the benchmark for all tuberose scents. But perfumistas of all stripes — regardless of how they feel about classique tuberose fragrances — are also aware that today’s modern masters have sought to take tuberose and flip it upside its head. To transform it from the powerhouse legend that so many adore and that a small portion tremble before in abject horror and fear. Serge Lutens was the very first to do that in 1999 with Tubereuse Criminelle, followed thereafter by Frederic Malle in 2005 with Carnal Flower.

The Perfume Shrine’s review, along with that of numerous others, made me determined to try both modern takes on my beloved Fracas right away. (Plus, the “ice” part sounded bloody good to one suffering the horrors of a Texas summer.)

Marlene Dietrich's legendary legs, once insured by Lloyds of London.

Marlene Dietrich’s legendary legs, once insured by Lloyds of London.

I did my best to overlook the numerous references to “mouth wash,” “gasoline,” “Drano,” and metholated rubber. I focused instead on “sadomasochism” and “The Agony and the Ecstasy” (a book I’d loved and a movie that isn’t bad either). Or other comments like, “criminally genius,” “subversive” and “transformative” (the latter usually said by those who previously felt ill at the mere thought of tuberose.) But, really, it was the Perfume Shrine’s review. Would you pass up the chance to feel “felonious”or to be like Marlene Dietrich cracking a whip?

While waiting impatiently for my sample bottles to arrive, I read up on Tubereuse Criminelle. Uncle Serge (as he is often affectionately called) worked with his favorite perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, and their final product was exclusive to their Palais Royal store in Paris.

The bell jar of Tubereuse Criminelle.

The bell jar of Tubereuse Criminelle.

It was one of the famous “bell jar” fragrances — a reference to the shape of the bottle. As a Palais Royal exclusive, it was also not available for export and was considerably more expensive than the regular, export Lutens line. (In the US, the Lutens website currently offers the bell-jar form for $300 for 75 ml or 2.5 fl. oz in eau de parfum form. However, it also offers the regular 1.7 oz/50 ml rectangular bottle for $140.)SL TC small

Being one of Lutens’ “non-export” Paris exclusives just added to the mystique but, finally, in mid-2011, Lutens agreed to export the scent world-wide. Allegedly, Tubéreuse Criminelle was reformulated to comply with certain export regulations and was weakened in strength. There is no official confirmation of that; perfume houses rarely admit it. So, thus far, it is merely anecdotal references based on people’s experiences with the original Palais Royal salon perfume. But there have been a lot of those anecdotes with regard to several Lutens perfumes that are now available as exports.

I think a 2011 interview with Serge Lutens makes it pretty clear that some Lutens fragrances have definitely been reformulated for one reason or another. In an interview with Fragrantica, Lutens was asked explicitly about whether he had ever reformulated a scent to comply with those bloody IFRA regulations.

Serge Lutens

Serge Lutens

He answered as follows:

Laws are a force from which one cannot escape. They are even applied hypocritically, through the circumventing of them or, as with all the world of perfumery (if it wants to be in compliance with these laws), by replacing the forbidden with other elements… which will themselves be prohibited a few months later. However, I do not like to retrogress: what’s done is done, and it is not certain that a perfumery such as mine can continue in the future. (Emphasis added.)

The Tubereuse Criminelle entry on the Lutens website states simply:

"Les Fleurs du Mal," Charles Baudelaire.

“Les Fleurs du Mal,” Charles Baudelaire.

Baudelaire was right. Let’s give the flowers back to evil.

And I think he and Christopher Sheldrake achieved that to a large extent, via the ingredients. The notes for Tubéreuse Criminelle are:

jasmine, orange blossom, hyacinth, tuberose, nutmeg, clove, styrax (also known as benzoin), musk and vanilla.

But the transformative key to Tubéreuse Criminelle — the thing which made it so revolutionary as a tuberose perfume — is menthyl salicylate which is a natural organic compound found in tuberose. It creates a very medicinal, almost mentholated or camphorous eucalyptus smell that evokes “Vicks Vapor Rub” for some, but minty mouth wash for others. It can also create varying impressions of gasoline/petrol, rubbery or leather.

Tubéreuse Criminelle opens with a burst of sweet jasmine and, yes, eucalyptus and menthol. It is a much sweeter opening than I recall from when I first tried this scent this summer. Perhaps the heat amplified the menthol notes then but, today, all I smell is heady, narcotic, luxurious, sweet jasmine and, then, only in second place, the menthol. There is a muscle rub smell that is not, on me, Vick’s Vapor Rub but an almost sugared, sweetened version of Tiger’s Balm. The faintly medicinal edge is much softer than I had remembered but, at no time, has it ever been that burst of ice that I read about in the Perfume Shrine’s review. The narcotic-like headiness and warmth of the jasmine round out the notes far too much for them to be a blast of chilly ice. It is, as one person on Basenotes noted so aptly, ” “a lively cooling sharpness.”

A faintly rubbery note soon emerges. It’s not burnt rubber, but an almost thick, viscous, rubbery richness that is oddly sweet. Indolic flowers can often have a rubbery element to the narcotic richness at their heart; and this perfume contains two of the most indolic flowers around – jasmine and tuberose. (You can read more about Indoles and Indolic scents at the Glossary.) Yet, the cool freshness of menthol that cuts through the heady fumes of the flowers in a really clever way, reducing any potential cloying, over-ripeness. I am really enjoying the extremely unusual, novel, unique smell.

Perhaps that’s because I don’t smell many of the terrible notes that Tubéreuse Criminelle’s detractors repeat so frequently. Some of the comments from the negative reviews on Basenotes include the following:

  • A fur coat in mothballs, wrapped in plastic. Shag carpet recently steamed with an industrial strength cleaner and still wet. The open-casket funeral of a wealthy great-aunt. Wow.
  • Starts out with a strong note of iodine followed by the sharp rubber scent of brand new steel belted radial tires. […] Smells like I’m in the tire store one minute and then in a hospital testing lab the next.
  • I love tuberose…but not when it’s mixed with Denorex coal tar shampoo. [..] I don’t want someone to catch a whiff of my expensive perfume and assume that I have a severe dandruff problem!!
  •  It smells like hot asphalt, antiseptic, rubbing alcohol, and tuberose.
  • first contact- menthol, toilet bowl cleaner, fake flowers- cannot get my nose far enough away from my wrists.
  • performance art more than perfume.

For the sake of balance, I should point out that Basenotes has 5 negative reviews, 7 neutral ones, and 23 very positive ones. I’m relieved that I smell few of those things that so plague the negative reviewers — or, at least, not to any comparable degree. (And I most definitely do not smell asphalt or grandma’s mothballs!) I do, however, completely understand the comparison to brand new tires. It’s extremely faint on me, but it is there. And I like the smell as a whole. I definitely consider it to be a work of genius, especially intellectual, and I enjoy certain aspects of it a lot. I’m just not sure I would reach for it, let alone frequently.

The genius of Tubéreuse Criminelle is that it has essentially deconstructed the tuberose flower down to its molecular essence, then separated those notes, and put them all together as individual prisms that — somehow — manage to make the whole even more intense than the original flower. Apparently, there is an organic compound called menthyl salicylate in tuberose (as well as some other plants) which is the basis for oil of wintergreen. So, in short, tuberose naturally produced a medicated wintergreen note, albeit a subtle one. Given that tuberose is also considered to have a very rubbery element to its heart, it’s clear that Lutens and Sheldrake have intentionally sought to emphasize the individual components of tuberose.

The perfume is, thus, like a shattered prism where each broken piece is then put back together to create an even richer, but slightly “off”, sum total. A good example of this is the opening where I smell jasmine and a few other notes, but no actual tuberose. None! At least, no tuberose the way it is in scents like Fracas, Michael Kors by Michael Kors, and most other white flower scents. I smell all the separate and individual components of tuberose, but not the flower itself. That comes later.

After the first 30 minutes, the menthol recedes, and the tuberose emerges along with a definite touch of orange blossom. After another hour, Tubéreuse Criminelle is all soft, creamy and (to my nose) heavenly tuberose. There are hints of hyacinth and lingering traces of the jasmine, but any alleged Marlene Dietrich-like black whip has now turned into the gentle caress of white flowers.

The duration of Tubéreuse Criminelle and the shortness of each developmental phase is much worse on me that it seems to be on others. On my skin, that revolutionary, hugely contradictory and very “off” opening of heady narcotic flowers and wintergreen soon fades. I think Uncle Serge simply does not design florals for my perfume-consuming skin chemistry. An hour and a half in, Tubéreuse Criminelle is white flowers with mere touch of what was once much, much more forceful “lively coolness.” I hear varying reports of just how long those opening notes last on people; those who despise the perfume obviously feels it lasts an eternity, while those who love it lament its short death. All I know is that the perfume’s truly metholated opening lasted only about 20-30 minutes on me. The first  full 1 to 1.5 hours on me, it was a mix of faint wintery coolines and heady flowers. Then it became pure white flowers (with the hyacinth becoming much more dominant) and a faint touch of vanilla from the styrax/benzoin.

One type of Styrax tree which creates the resin used in Tubereuse Criminelle.

One type of the styrax tree which creates the resin used in Tubereuse Criminelle.

In terms of sillage or projection, it’s quite impressive at first. Tubéreuse Criminelle only started to fade about 2 hours in, which is a hell of a lot more than what I can say for Serge Lutens’ A La Nuit. I would place T/C  closer to Serge Noire in terms of sillage and longevity on me, than to some of his other perfumes. Tubéreuse Criminelle became close to the skin about 3.5 hours in, which is again impressive for a Lutens, in my experience. And the whole thing lasted about 5.5 to 6 hours on me.

The best way I can really sum up my personal Tubéreuse Criminelle experience is in photos. I expected it to evoke this:

CS for Vogue

Claudia Schiffer for Vogue.

And I expected to respond like this:

naomimeisel1

Naomi Campbell by Steven Meisel.

Instead, it opened for just a short 20 minutes like this:

Vogue 2005 -AJ

before turning much more into this:

angelina-jolie-vogue-jan07-07

And, by the end, I felt like this:

AJ

There is nothing wrong with any of that. In fact, it makes Tubéreuse Criminelle a much more approachable tuberose scent for those who previously feared anything to do with the flower.

I think that I’m absolutely in awe of the genius behind Tubéreuse Criminelle’s almost avant-garde deconstruction of the underlying flower and of its prismatic construction. Intellectually, the theory behind this makes me adore it. In real life, and for actual wearing… not so much. Beyond the sheer brilliance of its creation, it’s intriguing, yes, and there is something about that opening which makes it stay in at the back of your mind. But, ultimately and in its final moments, it’s really not all that interesting. If I owned a bottle, I’d wear it — on occasion. I simply can’t see myself reaching for it like a drug addict in need of his one pure solace.

I see nothing about fire and ice, I see no dominatrixes (not even in those first 20 minutes), and I certainly don’t see Marlene Dietrich with a whip. (Oddly, however, I actually could see her wearing this on occasion, but it wouldn’t be the first scent that came to mind when thinking about that legendary icon.) In some ways, I feel almost offended by the comparison to Les Fleurs du Mal. Baudelaire is one of my favorite poets and he would scoff at the Lutens’ website line of “let’s give the flowers back to evil” after smelling Tubéreuse Criminelle. There is nothing evil about the perfume — not the way it is on my skin. Metholated white flowers don’t arise to the level of almost malevolently decaying inner rot; and there is too much sweetness, warmth and light with the jasmine, hyacinth and the other notes. But Tubéreuse Criminelle is revolutionary. And it is also complete genius.

This review is for my brave friend, Teri, who is always an explorer of the senses and who foolhardily buys $300 Bell Jars without even a review!

Details:
Perfume: Unisex. Men definitely do wear this.
Cost: $140 for 1.7 fl oz/50 ml or $300 for 2.5 fl oz/75 ml in the famous bell-jar shape. Both available on the Serge Lutens website. In general, Serge Lutens is also available at fine retailers like Barney’s, Lucky Scent and a few other places. I’ve even seen it sold on Amazon. Sample vials to test it out can be bought at Surrender to Chance, Lucky Scent, and The Perfumed Court.

Perfume Review: Guerlain’s notorious Mahora (and Mayotte)

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Elsa Benitez and Ayers Rock in Australia

I have a perpetual tendency to root for the under-dog. And I’m also naturally inquisitive, especially about things that are notorious. Which brings to me to Mahora, the beleaguered, endlessly trashed, and notorious last fragrance of Jean-Paul Guerlain for the House that bears his name.

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Mahora – the bottle for the Extrait version

Common reactions to Mahora range from “Worst. Perfume. EVER!” to comments about mosquito repellents or suntan lotions. Luca Turin — that endlessly acerbic perfume critic (with whom I often disagree, by the way) — apparently compared this to a $200 plug-in air freshner and called it Guerlain’s worst fragrance. It’s a fragrance sometimes nicknamed “My Whore,” due not only to its pronunciation in certain accents but also, undoubtedly, due to its over-ripe nature. And, yet, there are also numerous raves about its lushness and its heady, fearless, almost comfortingly exotic character. How could I possibly resist seeing what all the fuss was about?!

Mahora

Mahora in the Eau de Parfum bottle

Mahora was released in 2000 in Eau de Parfum form as an homage to the island of Mahore (or Mayotte) where Guerlain has plantations of jasmine and ylang-ylang. It is a tropical, slightly fruity, super floral with an oriental dry-down. It is also the least Guerlain-like fragrance imaginable!

That difference probably explains, in part, why it was a complete and an utter bomb in the marketplace; Guerlain buyers used to things like Jicky, Shalimar or even, Jardins de Bagatelles, were undoubtedly bewildered by such a Hawaiian island fragrance.

Quietly discontinued just two years or so after its debut, Mahora was later re-released in 2006 with a name change. It was now called Mayotte and was included in Guerlain’s images (1)Les Parisiennes collection (supposedly with a significant price increase as a result). You can still find Mahora easily and relatively inexpensively on eBay (where I bought my bottle) for between $15 and $60, depending on size and seller. Mayotte, in contrast, is reportedly available only at the Guerlain store in Paris and at Bergdorf Goodman in New York where it retails for $270. We’ll get to the comparisons between the two fragrances shortly and whether either one is worth a shot.

According to Aromascope and other sites, Mahora’s notes are as follows: orange, almond tree blossoms, ylang-ylang, neroli, tuberose, jasmine, sandalwood, vetiver, and vanilla. What almost none of these official notes include — but which almost everyone can detect — is frangipani. Frangipani is also known as plumeria, a flower common to Frangipanitropical climates like Mexico or South America but also to such exotic islands as Fiji, Tahiti and Hawaii. It has a very heavy, heady, lushly ripe, extremely sweet scent similar to magnolia, gardenia and tuberose. It can also bring to mind coconuts. (All of which make the Australian desert landscape of the Mahora commercial rather odd, in my mind.)

Frangipani is best described as an “indolic” scent, meaning over-ripe, almost to the point of decay. Tuberose is another very indolic flower which is why extremely creamy, ripe tuberose scents can — on some people — bring to mind feces or a cat’s litter box. (You have no idea how many people shy away from anything involving tuberose. If there is any scent that seems to strike fear in the heart of many women, it seems to be tuberose. I should confess that I adore tuberose and it’s my favorite flower in general.)  Indolic scents are not easy one, and combining frangipani with tuberose and jasmine was a brave, brave move. (One which apparently fell flat on its nose, judging by some of the extremely harsh reviews.) I have absolutely no idea why frangipani is not included on the official perfume notes, but there is zero doubt in my mind (and that of many others) that it’s included. In fact, I would go so far as to say that extremely indolic frangipani is the foundation to Mahora.

When I first sprayed Mahora, I did so carefully and gingerly. This is a perfume known to be a powerhouse. It’s been compared to such notoriously heady 80s blockbusters as Poison and Giorgio, or other infamously strong scents like Amarige and Opium. So I gently lowered the rather awkward blue top and gave a few squirts. And what I got was not  the expected orange notes I’d read about but, rather, green notes. Ripe, not crisply fresh, but most definitely green notes. A burst of the vetiver, perhaps? If so, this was like no vetiver I’d ever smelled because the overall result was like dirty water in a vase of rotting flowers that hadn’t been changed in a week. (Perhaps vetiver shouldn’t be mixed with tuberose by anyone but the Piguet perfumers who make Fracas. I love Fracas. This is no Fracas.)

The smell of filthy, murky, green, vase water was soon joined by coconut, sandalwood and what seemed to be almond tree. Not almond tree blossoms, but rather, the woody notes of a slightly moist, aged, possibly decaying tree bark. This too was…. unexpected and off-kilter. And it lasted a good 10 minutes or so, until it turned to a coconut sunscreen effect (mixed with the slightly brackish, rotten vegetal water scent) over a smell of buttered white flowers. Yes, buttered. As in buttered popcorn mixed with very heady tuberose and white flowers. I feel as though I’m wearing a dose of AMC Cinema’s popcorn butter mixed with white flowers and coconut. And, yet, it’s not Hawaiian Tropic suntan lotion, it’s not even Bain de Soleil (which I used to love) because of those blasted almond tree, wood, vetiver and green notes!

It’s perplexing. This is nothing like what I expected — which was a giant white floral with tropical elements. The initial scent is off-putting, unconventional and disorienting in the way of niche houses, like Serge Lutens. Just as his Tubéreuse Criminelle turns things upside down and on their head with a camphorous green note to the tuberose, the Mahora is very far from a mainstream, white tuberose scent in its initial opening bouts. It’s even further from most Guerlain fragrances, though I’ve seen some understandable comparisons to Guerlain’s Samsara. I think Jean-Paul Guerlain sought, perhaps, to make a tropical, exotic version of Samsara here. I simply don’t think he succeeded. (That said, I should confess that Samsara is not one of my favorite Guerlains either.)

An hour in, and Mahora is all big white flowers. It’s too exotic and tropical to be compared to Fracas or to some Estée Lauder variation. It’s got too much frangipani to really compare. It’s also starting to fade on me. I speak often of how my body consumes perfume but really, I expected this one to last! All the endless comments about migraines, monster sillage and longevity and I get maybe two hours of full scent before it starts to become closer to the skin. I think that, as the frangipani/coconut recedes and the other, softer white flowers come more to the foreground, Mahora starts to become less brash and heady. It’s calmer now, though I still smell the coconut.

Three hours in, the coconut has finally left the building and the Guerlain signature has entered. Mahora has unfurled into a creamy, vanilla with sandalwood and only a hint of the white flowers. It’s also started to develop of touch of that famous Guerlinade. “Guerlinade” refers to that Guerlain note which is a signature on most of their perfumes at the foundational element and which wafts through the dry-down with a very powdery (sometimes slightly vanilla-tinged) accord. I smell a wisp, possibly just in my imagination, of the jasmine but it’s faint. One thing is clear, however: Mahora has turned into a Guerlain oriental. All in all, Mahora lasted about 5 hours on me, which was considerably less than the enormous amount of time reported for the fragrance by most commentators.

While most commentators say that Mahora and its successor, Mayotte, are identical, there are some who disagree. The experts at CaFleureBon certainly see a difference in an article entitled “Sexy Sadie Thompson of M. Somerset Maugham’s Rain.” Another site, Aromascope (linked up above) compares the two fragrances as follows:

While Mayotte is an ode to ylang-ylang, Mahora dignifies tuberose. […]  I find Mayotte much more Guerlain-like: it possesses the same peachy heft of Mitsouko. Mahora, on the other hand, strikes me as rather aggressive and mutinous. Its sugared, almost oily tuberose seems to defy all things Guerlain, and perhaps that’s the reason the fragrance didn’t do so well. In spite of being much more refined and polished, Mayotte can hardly be called a tame and acquiescent version of Mahora – it bears but faint sibling resemblance and respectfully begs to differ. While Mahora is heady and persistent, Mayotte is soft and enveloping and has won my heart as the best ylang-ylang scent ever created.

Others sharply disagree and say that there is absolutely no difference between the two scents. Still others say that Mayotte is simply a weaker eau de toilette concentration of Mahora, though the fact that both are officially listed as “eau de parfum” seems to counter that theory.

So, is it worth trying? I’ve seen one reviewer argue that, if Mahora had been released now and under the Serge Lutens label, “as a hoity-toity luxury perfume, it would be resounding [sic] a success among sophisticated perfumistas.” I can see the point and rationale. I think I may even agree, particularly when remembering Mahora’s unexpected opening and when thinking about Serge Lutens Datura Noir. I found the latter significantly underwhelming, though it’s been long enough since I last tried it that I can’t recall all the details of why. It certainly shares a similar coconut and tuberose trait, though!

In the end, it’s a fragrance that only a white-flower lover may like and, even then, it’s not breath-taking or particularly special, outside of its history and notoriety. (For purposes of balance, my memories of the famous Serge Lutens Datura Noir, and indeed a number of his fragrances, also rank in the “not particularly special” category.) Do I regret buying a full bottle? No, not really. I rarely regret buying perfume, especially not one that is hard to find, discontinued, and controversial to boot. It’s worth it for me just to have it for my collection and for being able to know it. I also like being able to make up my own mind about super polarising scents. And, lastly, I can always find a use for some perfume or another. (With the exception of Montale’s Lime Aoud which is truly THE worst thing I have ever smelled!)

However, I would not feel that way if Mahora were not so cheap on eBay. There is absolutely NO way on God’s green earth that I would pay $270 (not including tax) for the Mayotte version. None. I bought my 1.7 oz bottle of eau de parfum for $23 or so! For that cost, Mahora is a fun, exotic, tropical white flowers oriental perfume that I can wear in winter before going to bed and when I want to mentally escape to Fiji. For $23, I get to see what all the fuss is about.

And that fuss is definitely not worth $270.