Friday, 11 July 2014

Persolaise Review: Eau De Magnolia from Editions De Parfums Frederic Malle (Carlos Benaïm, 2014)


There's a moment in a short promotional film for Eau De Magnolia in which Frederic Malle raises his hand into the air and mimes running a fine thread through his fingers: the scent was tweaked and reworked, he explains, until it displayed a "seamless continuation" of its central idea. It is this precision which is perhaps one of the perfume's most praise-worthy attributes: from the moment it starts to the very last stages of its drydown, it remains locked on its core concept, refusing to be tempted by any prettiness that might prompt a diversion into less relevant territories.

The concept in question is, of course, the magnolia flower. As Malle rightly points out in the video, although the plant is often interpreted as a lily by perfumers, it's actually far fresher, much less cloying and markedly more citrusy, traits brought to the fore in a headspace rendition of its scent put together by the late Dr Braja Mookherjee. Using this as a starting point, Carlos Benaïm (Polo, Pure Poison, White Diamonds) has revisited the magnolia he created for Malle's Jurassic Flower candle, rendered it deeper and larger with the help of some good old perfumer's alchemy, added the substances required to enable the scent to work on human skin and created an easy-to-enjoy tonic of vernal optimism. As its name suggests, it's pretty much all magnolia all the way, but that's exactly what makes it commendable. Only a perfumer of Benaïm's skill and experience could have formulated so convincing an illusion. Once you become aware of the materials he's employed to produce this seemingly linear effect, they become marginally less difficult to discern. But they are more than discreet enough to allow most wearers to enjoy the scent in ignorance of the fact that they are smelling a host of varied ingredients.

Of these, perhaps the most obvious are the lemon and grapefruit at the opening. Indeed, the latter caused Madame Persolaise to declare that this is one Malle which won't be welcome on her dressing table: she has long been hyperosmic to the somewhat ill-tempered sharpness of the fruit. The lemon also runs the risk of putting off people who first try the perfume on paper: without the warmth and intimacy of skin, this particular note veers dangerously close - as it so often does - to the land of cheap detergents. But it would be unfair to dismiss the composition at this early stage, because once they settle, the citruses lend the whole the uplifting, sunlight-beaming-through-a-glass-of-sparkling-water happiness which is its most distinctive feature.

As the perfume develops, the exact identity of the supporting materials becomes harder and harder to pinpoint. The press release mentions vetivert and patchouli, and yes, their earthiness can be seen to give the scent its roots, but they are never permitted to dominate. There's a buttery, pale yellow, mimosa-like powderiness too, and a herbal inflection which just about keeps the composition within the realms of colognes. But they are all subservient to the magnolia: sweet, dew-caressed and as fresh as a blade of grass poking out through rich soil.

As has been rightly mentioned by a few critics, Eau De Magnolia shares several strands of DNA with Edmond Roudnitska's Diorella, and in fact, it is at the point of comparison with other, like-minded creations that the scent takes on its most interesting hues. If you get a chance, compare it side by side not just with the Dior, but also with Chanel's Cristalle, Clarins' Eau Dynamisante and, just to shake things up a bit, Roudnitska's Parfum De Thérèse, which is, of course, another Malle release. I daresay the exercise would provide a fascinating - not to mention: instructive - insight into the genealogy of this very particular family of citrusy chypres, and also serve to highlight intriguing aspects of Eau De Magnolia's own composition. For instance, the Chanel is much greener and colder, but when placed alongside Magnolia, it reveals a few, near-invisible green elements in Benaïm's creation. The Clarins is equally invigorating, but nowhere near as long-lasting, which emphasises Magnolia's ability to remain on the wearer's skin for a surprising length of time. Diorella - a scent with which Malle must be extremely familiar* - is Magnolia's closest relation, but it certainly isn't identical and it serves to reveal that the latter contains none of the melon-like, steamed fruit bulbousness characteristic of Roudnitska's work. And why do I include Parfum De Thérèse in the mix? Well, its concerns are certainly different from Magnolia's, but its beautifully executed watery note reminds us that, in perfumery terms, it is possible to make a distinction between 'aqueous' and 'marine'. The latter is usually a gag-inducing chemical onslaught. But the former is more genuinely watery, far lighter and more translucent. It is this more palatable note which is present in both Thérèse and Magnolia, so any of you who've read that the latter features a 'marine' facet mustn't worry: there's nothing in the least bit crude at play here.

You could also have fun trying to locate Eau De Magnolia within Malle's own oeuvre. Is it a 'female' version of Cologne Bigarade? Is it a less 'passant' rendition of En Passant? Is it a companion piece to the headier, more overtly physicalised Lys Mediterranee? However, if all this sounds like excessive, pseudo-intellectual game-playing, then I'll cut to the chase and present the one criticism I feel compelled to level at the release: it isn't exciting. It is extremely pretty, it is delightfully undemanding to wear and I am filled with goggle-eyed awe for the manner in which Benaïm has put it together. But perhaps I'm pulling back from giving it an ecstatic endorsement because it's just a touch too cerebral. Maybe the exacting standards of Monsieur Malle beat just a little too much of the spirit out of its perfectly calibrated heart? Maybe Benaïm should have been permitted to make one of the edges a tiny bit rougher? Or maybe I'm just being too harsh? In the aforementioned video, Malle himself claims that Eau De Magnolia will be a perfume that many people will like. I have no doubt he's right: I'm sure thousands will like it. But of those, I wonder how many will really love it.

Still, as I said, this is just one criticism amongst several plaudits. Eau De Magnolia is, without question, a must-try. It is handsome, stylish and self-assured - a swan gliding across an umoving lake - and it absolutely confirms, as if any more confirmation were needed, that Frederic Malle remains committed to maintaining the highest of standards in his superlative portfolio of scents.

[Review based on a sample of eau de toilette provided by Editions De Parfums Frederic Malle in 2014.]

Persolaise

* Malle's grandfather and mother were key figures at Parfums Christian Dior.

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14 comments:

  1. If this is a less fruity Diorella, it may have been made for me. Good to know. If only these things weren't so expensive. Sigh.

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    1. Scentella, yes, the Malles certainly aren't cheap. But you could always consider the 3 x 10 ml set.

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  2. I think it is beautiful. When I open my cookie oven, and am hit with a blast of heat, a mint note is briefly revealed. It totally puts me in mind of Thérèse, which I love, Elegant and exquisite. I will be grabbing this in London in about 10 days. Great review. Hugs. Cookie Queen xxx

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    1. Cookie Queen, I think I know what you mean by the mint note. There's something almost eucalyptus-like in there somewhere. Enjoy wearing it!

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  3. If this is a less fruity Diorella, it may have been made for me. Good to know. If only these things weren't so expensive. Sigh.

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  4. I absolutely agree with you, handsome, admirable scent. But not to be loved.

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    1. Anon, thanks for your comment. Maybe Malle's intention was to go for something a little 'safer'.

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  5. When someone mentions a perfume is like another I like, it usually makes me interested in it, but when that perfume is Diorella, I just go "ah, Diorella" and can't move on. The other perfume I thought this sounded like for Chanel Pour Monsieur (as well as Cristalle). Price included, I'm not sure it could be a serious rival of any of these three. CPM is £65 for 100 ml. Any thoughts? George

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    1. George, I wouldn't really compare it to Pour Monsieur, because it's much more floral. It doesn't have that inky, woody, classically chypre-like aspect of the Chanel. But it is worth trying. And it certainly stands on its own two feet; it isn't just a 'creative reaction' to other scents, if you see what I mean.

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  6. Grapefruit (remember Shiseido's Energizing Fragrance in the orange teardrop bottle?), Diorella, Parfum de Therese---you captured it perfectly. And for me, a tiny bit reminiscent of FM's Dans Tes Bras as well, if I don't breathe too deeply, though I can't articulate why.

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    1. Hanamini, thanks for stopping by. I'll have to dig out my sample of Dans Tes Bras and make a comparison. Maybe there's something about the fruitiness...

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  7. I tried again. Now I'm reminded of Paloma Picasso (the black oval bottle). Something very old-school is emerging after a couple of hours.

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    1. Hanamini, yes, there's definitely something 'vintage' about the composition.

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