Fragrance Throwdown: Ines de la Fressange I versus Ines de la Fressange II

THROWDOWN!
THROWDOWN!

It’s been a long while since I’ve done a throwdown, but thanks to Portia’s comment the other day, I finally got down to business to set the two Ines de la Fressange fragrances head-to-head.

Okay, first off, let’s clarify things: the first Ines fragrance was discontinued before the second came into being, so apparently nobody thought it would be confusing to give them the same name. (Wrong.) Luckily, the packaging is different enough that there should be no question which version you’ve got – unless you are looking at a sample vial labeled simply “Ines de la Fressange.” Because then, you’re going to have to smell it to find out. 🙂

Inès Marie Lætitia Églantine Isabelle de Seignard de La Fressange, daughter of a French marquis and banker and an Argentinian model, is a model and couturier who worked exclusively for Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel in the 1980s.  She is a designer in her own right, and has owned a chain of boutiques; she recently wrote a style guide called Parisian Chic. On top of her own career, she’s a mother as well: that’s her lovely daughter Nine d’Urso featured in the ad campaign for Bottega Veneta’s first fragrance.

Photo stolen Fragrantica.
Photo stolen Fragrantica.

And in 1999, she released the first perfume under her name. It was created by Calice Becker.  This one was packaged in the octagonal column bottle with simple silver top, and the juice inside it is a soft peachy-yellow color. That’s appropriate, because this scent is one of the best representations of fresh peaches out there (according to me), at least in the topnotes.  If you’re already shuddering, please give me a moment. It’s not about the peach. In fact, it’s a multilayered Proper Lady’s Fragrance, and if I had to classify it, I’d have to resort to a description that goes like this: Aldehydic Fruity Floral Woody.  It’s not exactly everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, but it’s complex.

The notes for Ines I include peach, aldehydes, bergamot, Brazilian rosewood, rose, jasmine, ylang, carnation, iris, lily of the valley, sandalwood, tonka bean, benzoin.  I warn aldephobes that the aldehydes are noticeable here. They are less soapy than they can sometimes appear, and add a great deal of sparkle in a fizzy Champagne-like way. The peach is not sweetened, candied, or even creamy; it’s very tart and refreshing. From that sparkling Bellini top the florals come up, and they are beautiful. The rose and ylang are prominent to my nose, but this is definitely a big bouquet of flowers, symphonically floral in the way that, for example, Estee Lauder’s Beautiful and the old Karl Lagerfeld Chloe are floral. Both of those fragrances are considerably bigger than Ines’ first – if they’re big hotel-lobby arrangements, this one is a far simpler mixed arrangement on your best girlfriend’s dinner table, not formally arranged but simply flowers heaped into a bowl in a simple profusion. The base, which blends benzoin and sandalwood undergirds all those flowers with a warmth and friendliness. I do not know whether the sandalwood is real Mysore, though given the release date, it is just possible that there is at least some in there. The general effect of the fragrance is summery, graceful, and effortless, maybe even a bit nostalgic.

I reviewed the first Ines (Garden Party in a Bottle) in August of 2012, and I still love it every bit as much as I always did – maybe more, because supplies are truly drying up. (It’s extremely hard to find now. I paid under $15 for a 1-oz bottle from Beauty Encounter – not affiliated – in 2009, and under $20 for a 1.7-oz, once I realized how lovely it was. Those days are gone.  I can’t find any reasonable supplies of this one at all, save for ONE 100ml bottle, currently listed at $150, on eBay. It seemed to have been available at the discounters when I wrote that review two years ago, but time unfortunately goes in one direction…) I wear this fragrance only in the summer, when its quiet, effortless elegance seems just right. It’s perfect for tea parties and afternoon weddings, or any occasion where peach silk and cream lace wouldn’t be out of place.  (For other reviews, click the “Garden Party” link above.)

Photo stolen Fragrantica. See, isn't this bottle pretty?
Photo stolen Fragrantica. See, isn’t this bottle pretty?

The second fragrance from the house of Ines de la Fressange came just five years later, so I might assume that the first one didn’t sell like hotcakes. (It might have been too ladylike.) This fragrance, packaged in a beautiful flask-shaped bottle with a gold overlay and gold oak leaves, was created by Alberto Morillas.

I recently snagged a manufacturer’s sample of the 2004 version and have been wearing it. It’s… nice. It’s perfectly okay.  It may be suffering from not being sprayed, because even dabbed generously it’s pretty quiet (and I’ve heard from two friends who own both versions that the Morillas one is louder and more fun).

Notes for this one include bergamot, mandarin, either blackcurrant or blackberry depending on the list, neroli, peony, iris, white rose, muguet, patchouli, benzoin, vetiver, white musk.  I’ve read reviews of this one that call it “blackberry musk,” but to be honest that’s not what I get out of it. It is, instead, something of a Coco Mademoiselle clone on me, dominated by patchouli until very late in the drydown.  I am sort of freakishly sensitive to patchouli, so of course your experience may vary, but there it is: patchy floral.

It opens up with a sharply acidic fruit note – I say it’s blackcurrant and mandarin – and, to be frank, the opening is my favorite part of this one.  “Froot” smells that approximate candy or Kool-Aid, those I don’t like, but I tend to appreciate a fruit note that smells realistic, as this does.  It’s nice. Blending with that tart fruit accord is some neroli, joined by rose and peony, and then very quickly I get a snootful of patchouli. It’s at this stage, and for the next four hours, that Ines II reminds me of Coco Mademoiselle. (It also reminds me of Patou Enjoy, for that matter, and it’s not all that surprising since all three are modern chypre florals, “modern” meaning no oakmoss, with a number of notes in common. Come to think of it, a three-way tussle between CM and Enjoy and Ines II would be a fun throwdown as well.)  There are clearly some natural florals involved here, as well as some that are clearly synthetic (the peony, obviously, and there’s a “clean rose”

Well into the drydown, Ines II becomes a real joy to wear. It’s in this late stage that I do begin to get the musk, which does have a berry tinge to it, and there’s a good deal of benzoin. I am a sucker for that, I admit. The soft plushy base lingers for a long time, as a quiet skin scent, and it’s lovely.  Whether you find Ines II pleasant may depend on whether you like this style; if the phrase “modern chypre” incenses you, you’ll curl your lip.

This one is still available (albeit in limited quantities) at discounters, and it’s reasonable, approximately $30-35 for a 50ml bottle.  Other reviews: The Non-Blonde, March at Perfume Posse, Musette at Perfume Posse (brief).

Neither one of these fragrances are groundbreaking or innovative or terribly distinctive; nor were they apparent commercial successes.  I enjoyed wearing both of them, however, and it’s highly unlikely you’d cause a fellow elevator-occupier to faint while wearing these.  Ines II seems very much “of its time,” the husky-voiced, floral-patchouli-musk “modern” chypres of the early 2000s, but for all that it’s quite pleasant.  Ines I is a Calice Becker through and through, with its soft-edged floral blend that seems shot through with light and grace.

It’s pretty clear which one I prefer, but then I love perfumes done in a soft mixed-floral bouquet style.  Feel free to disagree.

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Perfume Review: The Vagabond Prince Enchanted Forest

ench forEnchanted Forest is the first fragrance produced by the new perfume company The Vagabond Prince, which was started by the founders of the fragrance website Fragrantica (my favorite resource for notes lists). There’s some nice stuff there on the Vagabond Prince website regarding the artwork on the bottle and the lovely packaging – it doesn’t mean much to me, but as I’ve mentioned before, I’m something of an art Philistine (to the despair of my art-history major sister). Here’s what the creators have to say about it:

The fragrance was suggested by Nature itself. It’s the smell of the forest, when you step in it in the night. The darkness of the night keeps your senses alert, enhancing every smell and every sound you experience, including your own heart pounding. The night awakes your instincts, you need some time to get used to their language and feel as if you’re a part of this night forest that’s opening to you its grand beauty. Then the dense darkness steps aside and you can smell a delightfully moist fresh air.

Lucky Scent, one of the distributors for Enchanted Forest (it’s also available at MiN NY and at the Vagabond Prince website), shares this information about it.

Enchanted Forest is inspired by the endless sea of Russian forests and fairytales, as well as the most sensual ancient Slavic celebration named Kupala, rooted in the times of darkness, when all on the Earth knew its soul and its name (often too powerful to be uttered in vain or at all). French perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, the famous creator of fragrances for L’Artisan Parfumeur, Comme des Garçons and Penhaligon’s, built Enchanted Forest around black currant, the smell and taste of which are so beloved in Russia and many other countries where it grows.

I gather that a number of people who have tested this fragrance have been rather disappointed in it. Led by the mystical title and their own experiences with fairy tales, not to mention the ad copy, they’ve imagined it being a foresty sort of scent.

blackcurrantsFact is, it’s not. It is All Blackcurrant, All the Time.  The quote from perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour in the ad copy also mentions this angle:

“Enchanted Forest is the only perfume I know of that is built around blackcurrant as the sole raw material, to such an extent that one can say it is a CASSIS! My inspiration for this perfume was primarily the fruit of blackcurrant itself, from which I drew enormously the strength of the perfume. The blackcurrant is the MOST IMPORTANT fruity note of the range that exists in perfumery. Blackcurrant and the sulfur effects of blackcurrant are the basis for the reconstruction of almost all fruits that perfumers and flavorists know. It is HUGE!”

Okay, okay – leaving aside the ridiculousness of the all-caps emphasis, this is pretty much the deal. He’s right. Enchanted Forest is not about the forest, it’s about the cassis, top to bottom, front to back. Remember that, and you’re probably going to be okay, assuming that you like blackcurrant.  Clearly a number of people don’t.  It has acidic and sulfuric characteristics that often seem to evoke the scents of cat pee, sweat, and body odor.

I usually love blackcurrant, myself. A number of my favorites contain it. For example, Guerlain’s Aqua Allegoria Pamplelune, though centered on grapefruit, is also chock-full of blackcurrant.  Cassis plays a large part in the delightfully neon-Gothic rose chypre L’Arte di Gucci.  Blackcurrant with raspberry, strawberry, and blackberry notes make up the deliciously juicy, natural berry notes of Hanae Mori.  It lightens the sweet woody-vanilla rose of Clarins Par Amour.  It adds to the strange, shape-shifting, green-into-floral-into-warm-oriental character of Guerlain Chamade.

fortunaprzodI first became acquainted with blackcurrant as a fruit when my college choir traveled to Europe for two weeks. In Poland we were contantly offered bottles of sok, or juice. The juice we drank most often was a lightly-sweetened blackcurrant cordial that I immediately took to.  (Ribena is similar, but much sweeter.)  Unfortunately, you can’t get it here in the US.  Wish I could – yum.

In any case, my experience with Enchanted Forest is that it’s not particularly foresty. It is, as I said, dominated by blackcurrant all the way through, almost to the very end. I love it.

The opening is pretty much cat pee/berry/citrus, in the classic manner of cassis bud notes, and I like that. It stays there for some time, with various green and herbal and pine notes passing through, but I never feel like I’m in the forest; there isn’t any underlying earthiness to evoke the forest floor. Instead, it’s maybe a garden full of blackcurrant bushes, backed up to a forest but not in it. I hardly notice aldehydes or the “alcoholic effects” notes at all, since I’m overwhelmed by this tart, aromatic, hyperrealistic berry. If I hoover my arm, I can pick up the fir and some sweet booziness (the davana, perhaps?), but the waft is still alllll blackcurrant. If you’re thinking that “fruity” is a cop-out, you’re thinking of frooty celebuscents. This is not one of those.  It is anything but airheaded, and it’s right on the verge of “don’t mess with me.” When was the last time a fruity fragrance, without a leather or chypre base, did that? I can’t think of one.

Half an hour in, I begin really picking up more herbal, green notes – the patchouli shows up as well as the rosemary and coriander seed, but they’re still dominated by the blackcurrant. I really get a stem-and-twig thing going on here, and I think I’m finding the vetiver.  About an hour after that, though, the fragrance seems very floral to me, with lots of rose – yeah, still under the blackcurrant, a ghost of L’Ombre dans L’Eau there – and some other floral notes, and I really love this part.  It goes on singing in this floral/tart berry/woody stem-and-leaf register for several hours, and it really is beautiful.

Six to eight hours later, the drydown has shed most of the notes that were prominent earlier, and it settles into a very lovely, cozy sweet woody thing: plenty of benzoin, some musk, some woody notes… the vetiver returns, the cedar shows up, there’s a very tiny hint of moss.  It’s gorgeous. It reminds me of the drydown of vintage Emeraude, perhaps drier and less vanillic, but it is just so comfortable and quietly attractive without being overtly plush like Emeraude.  As I said earlier, I love it.

I’m not sure what other people think about smelling it on me – I know that some of my family members gave me suspicious looks during the first hour, and then remarked favorably on it. And it may not be for you.  It does not, in my opinion, bear much relation to the usual Duchaufour oeuvre, which for me is a good thing since I often find his work strikingly dank, like old cold musty basements, and unwearable. If you’re looking for this to be “a Duchaufour,” like Dzongkha, you are going to be disappointed. Enchanted Forest really should have been called something like “Woodsman’s Cottage Garden,” but I doubt that would have sold any bottles, so there ya go: actual truth-in-advertising is sometimes not a good thing.

The notes list for Enchanted Forest is long, and I definitely don’t get all of these notes, but it’s interesting reading, at least.  (This info is directly from Fragrantica.) Top: pink pepper, aldehydes, sweet orange (traces), cassis flower, blackcurrant leaf, hawthorn, effects of rum and wine, rosemary, davana. Heart: blackcurrant bud absolute, CO2 blackcurrant, Russian coriander seed, honeysuckle, rose, carnation, vetiver. Base: opoponax resinoid, Siam benzoin, amber, oakmoss, fir balsam absolute, Patchouli Purecoeur, castoreum, cedar, vanilla, musk.

Here are a few other reviews of Enchanted Forest: Ines at All I Am – A Redhead; Signature AscentA Kafkaesque Life; Doc Elly of Olympic Orchids at Perfume Project NWThe Scented Hound; Mark at Ca Fleure Bon; The Non-Blonde; and a really hilariously snarky review by Jen at This Blog Really Stinks.  (As always, if you know of more reviews, please let me know.)

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