Perfume Review: Mary Greenwell Plum

I recently got in on a split of this scent, without having sniffed it.  I’d read the description at Now Smell This, and the person offering to host a split shared this favorable review of it, and the Magic Words were mentioned: “a true chypre.”  Gasp! Can it be… oakmoss?!?  Really?  People, myself included, jumped on it like a duck on a Junebug.

It’s not that I have all that much love for old-fashioned chypres.  I don’t dig the citrus ones, and the leather ones, like Bandit, sort of skeer me.  I do not do well with fruity chypres – as you might remember, Mitsouko hates me, and YSL Champagne/aka Yvresse and Givenchy So Pretty made me nauseous.  (Distinction here: I wouldn’t call them nauseating in themselves, but something about fruity chypres in general, while smelling fairly nice, make me feel queasy.  I don’t know why.)  The green chypres are iffy for me as well, often seeming unfriendly and standoffish. 

But the floral chypre genre has been rich for me.   I usually love floral chypres, from the original Victoria’s Secret fragrance, Victoria – a floral chypre alive with bergamot, rose, jasmine, moss, and sandalwood – through the changeling “green floral/floral chypre” Chanel No. 19, and on through the gorgeous, aquiline, dark-rose chypre L’Arte di Gucci, from the shy prettiness of Houbigant Demi-Jour with its violets, roses and moss, to the stunning complexity of Jolie Madame, a mossy suede handbag stuffed with violets and gardenias.  I even love the “modern chypre” 31 Rue Cambon (that luscious amber, sigh).

So I had high hopes for Plum.  The week my small decant arrived, I had been wearing 31 Rue Cambon, and had been spraying Coco Mademoiselle (which is classified as a floral chypre, although it’s heavier on patchouli and woods than on the classic oakmoss-labdanum base) on handkerchiefs while writing my NaNoWriMo novel.

At first spritz of Plum, my immediate thought was, Modern chypre!  A lot friendlier than the old classics, and with the smiling fruity topnotes that seem de rigueur these days.  My second thought was, Nope, I’m wrong, there really is oakmoss in there, and this is just… extremely pretty. 

My third thought was, I could wear this for the rest of my life.  The backstory, according to this Vogue article, is that Ms. Greenwell, a high-end makeup artist in the UK whom I’d never heard of before hearing of the fragrance, wanted to create a fragrance as a finishing touch to a woman’s look.  Ms. Greenwell has long been a proponent of natural, understated makeup intended to make women look less artificial, with an emphasis on natural-looking pink lips and defined but understated eye makeup.  It’s a look that I like very much, and which tends to be very flattering – with the right colors, of course – to just about everyone.  Ms. Greenwell states that she’s always felt that fragrance was the last step in a woman’s toilette, and that shes always made sure that the models or actresses or celebrities whose makeup she’s done have a spritz of something to complete the look and make them feel beautiful.  Apparently the name was chosen before the fragrance was, and it’s not so much like plum as it is a sheer veil of beauty, relaxed and without drama, but complex and balanced.

Plum starts off with fruit, but not the Jolly Rancher variety – it’s tart, mouth-puckering fruit with lots of citrus in the mix.  I do not actually smell plum in it, or at least not the plum note I liked so much in Natori, J’Adore L’Absolu, and Black Orchid Voile de Fleur.  I get very little peach, and what I do get is quite tangy.  There’s a lot of lemon, and I can pick out the blackcurrant quite easily.  The chypre base is immediately apparent underneath, although it is nowhere near as assertive as a lot of chypres; it’s very definitely the floral variety.   

After half an hour or so, Plum has glided into its floral phase, which I find really beautiful.  It’s heavy on the white floral notes – the gardenia and tuberose are quite noticeable – but I would not call it a straight-up white floral, as the rose is identifiable as well.  People who don’t like florals are likely to find this stage too sweet; however, this is my favorite part. 

When the drydown takes over, it is quite light compared to the classic chypre.  Oakmoss is definitely present, as are patchouli and amber, but they are well blended with no one element standing out.  I smell a lot of woody notes in the mix, which might be another reason I’d call Plum a modern chypre – it’s gentle and has none of the ferocity that, say, Bandit or Paloma Picasso has.  This phase throws very little sillage, as far as I can tell, and it wears like a lovely secret I’m hugging to myself. 

Plum is an eau de parfum, but it’s on the lighter side and wears more like an eau de toilette on me, four hours’ worth of wear from two to three goodly spritzes.  It strikes me as being fairly weightless, in that it’s been light but noticeable in the freezing (16-24F) weather we’ve been having over the last couple of weeks, but that it would not be at all too heavy a scent for summer.  There are very few scents I would wear all year round – Mariella Burani, Iris Poudre, No. 5 parfum, Eau Premiere – and I’d add Plum to the list.  A good number of people who’ve tried it have called it “very dressy,” “perfumey,” and “a big frock scent,” but I would, and have, happily worn it as a day scent.  To be sure, I’m not terribly interested in casual, not-too-perfumey fragrances, and rarely find anything too perfumey for my taste (exceptions? Amouage Gold and Dia, which I found absolutely huuuuuuge, though I love Ubar and Lyric). 

I wore Plum several times, racking my brain for the name of the scent it was reminding me of, before it finally occurred to me: Victoria’s Secret Victoria, which no one seems to remember these days, much less mention how beautiful it was.  It’s long discontinued, and I think I know why (leaving aside the question of the deterioration of the quality of Victoria’s Secret merchandise, as compared to its 1980s iteration): it did not age well.  I bought a small bottle of it on ebay two summers ago, hoping it would smell as I remembered.  Alas, it had gone off: the topnotes smelled like nail polish remover and maple syrup, and while the heart still smelled recognizably like Victoria, the syrupy sweetness never left.  So I thought I’d try for another bottle, hoping that it would be in better shape.  It wasn’t.  I had one more go, thinking that of course those pretty ribbed-glass tapered laydown bottles would have lain on dressers, soaking up light damage, and that I’d have better luck with a nondescript cylindrical bottle in a “tester” box.  Alas, again no.  I can “smell through” the nail polish and syrup to the effortless grace Victoria once had, with simplicity and elegance in equal parts, but the scent as it exists now is damaged.  Sadly, I notice that my bottles have deteriorated further since I bought them, with more maple-syrupy notes than before. 

Plum shares that feeling of effortless grace, the kind that makes me want to be a better person.  It feels both comfortable and uplifting, a second skin of warmth and happiness that reaches out a friendly hand to those around me.  It has captivated me, and my decant is rapidly dwindling.  I want a bottle.

Notes and info for Plum:  Composed by Francois Robert, fourth-generation perfumer.  “Plum, a contemporary chypre, blends top notes of peach, blackcurrant, plum, bergamot, and lemon.  Harmonious heart notes of gardenia, tuberose, orange flower absolute, rose absolute and jasmine absolute.  Followed by delicious drydown of precious woods, sandalwood, oakmoss, patchouli, amber and white musks.   (from House of Fraser)

Exclusive to House of Fraser in the UK.  Sold in 7.5 ml, 50ml, and 100ml; also in 3 gram solid.

A few other reviews:  The Scent Critic and Katie Chutzpah, as well as a brief mention toward the bottom of this post at Bonkers about Perfume.


38 thoughts on “Perfume Review: Mary Greenwell Plum”

  1. Oh hell. That sounds perfect. (And looks perfect.) And I have been doing so well recently Being Content With What I Have. Fortunately, Plum looks quite hard to get. Let that be my savior. Let me just enjoy the work of Francois Robert’s father (or grandfather was it?) Henri Robert – Chanel No 19.

    I like that style of makeup too. It takes some study to achieve. I was pleased recently to discover at Clinique a particular shade of neutral eyeshadow that works marvellously as a base for contrasting colours. Life is full of these small triumphs, if you can stop long enough to enjoy them.

    1. Anne, it really is lovely. And hard to get. I’m getting close to just ordering a bottle from the UK anyway – my birthday’s next month.

      I love No. 19, too… but somehow, I don’t love the parfum. It just doesn’t, I don’t know, sparkle like the edt (vintage, please!), and seems sort of… flat? I can’t describe it. Maybe it’s just me. There are plenty of wonderful things that just don’t speak to me.

      And then there are those small triumphs! I do love the smoky eye look on other people, but I feel silly in it. It’s nice, though, to see women made up to look just naturally beautiful.

      1. Regarding No 19 EDT and parfum, no, it’s not just you. I know what you mean. (The EDP is also smoother than the EDT.) I treat them as different perfumes, to be worn on different occasions. I fell in love with the EDT first, and was amazed when years later I smelled the other concentrations. Actually, now I’m starting to wonder what was the concentration used when the fragrance was first released. The ads in the early seventies were very light-hearted and whimsical, so maybe it was the EDT.

        Will the House of Fraser ship to you? Thought I noticed that they don’t ship perfume internationally …

      2. Well, DANGIT, on the No Intl Shipping!! I want some. Maybe someone on UK ebay will get hold of a bottle. Maybe I will shamelessly beg enough that someone in Britain will take pity on me and buy a bottle for me.

        You think it’ll work?

  2. I love it as well Mals, you inspired me to wear it to bed! 😉

    Your review was awesome, when you love something it really glows doesn’t it? I have never put so much thought into Plum as you did and I enjoyed reading your thoughts and smelling it on me while I did. Thank you!

    <3 ~T

  3. This sounds great! And the bottle and box are so pretty.

    I’m not too sure how I feel about fruity chypres either — So Pretty is fine, but not something I really enjoy wearing, and Mitsouko I can’t handle — but I don’t think it’s the peach so much as something it has in common with L’Heure Bleue, so probably some aspect of the old Guerlainade. It smells sickeningly medicinal on me. I keep hoping I’ll change my mind/nose though ….

    1. Elisa, it just struck a chord with me.

      I still don’t get my “urgh” reaction to fruity chypres – Yvresse just about killed me. You know, I read a review of Plum that calls it a fruity chypre, but I think that’s either flat-out wrong, or the reviewer was getting something different out of it than I was (and I don’t want what she got, so there!). I mean, yes, it HAS fruit, but it’s not ABOUT the fruit. Sigh.

      L’HB in edt was heeeedious on me. The parfum is very nice, however, no Medicine Cabinet of Hell.

      1. You know, I just realized I don’t own anything in parfum concentration. Not one thing. Will have to amend that at some point.

        Sometimes I think I just can’t wear the older Guerlains, but Musette recently sent me a small sample of Vega, and I haven’t worn it yet but it smells fab out of the vial.

      2. OMG, Vega… it is gorgeous. That Stunning Vintage Bottle of No. 5 parfum (ca. 1940-50, judging by the packaging) I own trumps Vega, but not by all that much. And that’s saying something.

        I think in a lot of cases, the parfum *isn’t* better (witness my reaction to No. 19) – or it *is* better, but it doesn’t matter (I still do not love Shalimar in parfum, though I find it more wearable than edt; I do love Parfum Sacre in extrait, but not more than I love the edp) – or it’s *miles* better than the lower concentrations and it does make a difference (L’HB). I never know whether the difference is going to be significant or not. You know how I love Alahine? Well, I love the edp more than the parfum in that one, too.

  4. Hi Mals,
    it does sound very lovely and pretty much up my alley!
    BTW, maybe I missed it, is your sample a vintage Plum?
    Do you know if the one sold at House of Fraser is much different?
    De-Oakmossed, as usual?

    1. Hi, Z! No, there’s no “vintage” – it’s NEW, just out! It’s got *some* oakmoss, enough that calling it a chypre isn’t silly, but it’s not terribly mossy. The new Mitsouko probably has more moss than Plum.

  5. I wished that I had my part of the split when the Perfume Posse was doing there week-long challenge. I could absolutely have worn Plum for a week.

    1. OH, I could have too!

      I have gotten some onto the cuffs of my wool coat (the Portrait of a Lady has finally gone away, thank goodness), and it still smells lovely. The CEO was very appreciative of it.

  6. Hello from down here. If Plum does well, and it sounds like it deserves to, surely it will go into wider distribution? Its makers will surely not resist the lure of a whole lot more money to be made. In the meantime it will be hit or miss. Maybe TPC will get hold of some? Worth an email to them, perhaps. But even they will have to sneak around the international shipping problem. Sigh.

  7. Oooh! I am SO glad this is NOT fierce. Now I don’t have to buy it (you make it sound quite lovely – but a tad ‘soft’ for me and my vicious ways 🙂

    I totally get what you mean about perfume not always being ‘better’. I prefer No 5 in edt to the parfum, though both are lovely. And L’HB in parfum makes me want to gnaw my arm off!


    1. No, it’s not fierce. Which is probably why I like it (I’ve already got my “fierce,” and I don’t need more No. 19 or Jolie Madame).

      You like No. 5 edt better than parfum? Huh. HUH. Well, there’s no way to know whether parfum is going to make a difference or not, and obviously personal preference plays in.

      L’HB is such a divisive thing, isn’t it? I mean, people usually either love it or hate it. I absolutely hated the edt.

  8. This sounds quite lovely and it’s obvious you adore it! I’m not typically a big bottle lover but this one is cute. Keep us posted on if you’re able to nab a FB!

    1. I do love it, T. (You think I was clear enough about it?) I’m not a big bottle fan, either, but it is a pretty one. I hear the cap is plated with 22K gold, which is utterly lost on me, but I still want it.

  9. Plum sounds lovely lovely lovely!

    I had a dream last night that I found Plum for sale here. It was in a nice little store crowded with lovely colouful things and the staff was welcoming. After I sprayed Plum on, I kept smelling my arm!

  10. Lovely review as always! This sounds like something I would love.

    I guess I need a trip to England next year… 🙂 Hopefully TPC will get this soon.

  11. Hi Mals, I’m late to the party, as usual. Loved your review of Plum, and seeing how much love it is getting has definitely piqued my interest.
    Have you figured out a way to get it yet?
    Here’s hoping they decide to ship worldwide in 2011. Hope you and your family had a wonderful Christmas and have a very happy New Year!

    1. Ann, I might have a decant coming my way, and one kind person who lives in the UK has offered to pick one up for me should I decide I want to pay the exhorbitant shipping for it (I probably will, but not until, oh, May? anniversary month).

  12. I have just seen that she has her own perfume and fragrance i never realised she had worked with so many famous people, and her site looks really really nice. Mary Greenwell is a real british icon, and we all love her!

    Blogger Edit: I removed a commercial link in this comment, but left one to the Mary Greenwell site.

  13. I got a 5 ml sample of Plum a month or two ago. I’m in love with it. It is everything I ever wanted in a perfume. And–get this–I sprayed it this morning and can STILL smell it nine hours later!!! I’ve been hoarding it, trying desperately to find a way to get a full bottle from England before I run out. I just don’t want to pay the exhorbitant “hazardous fee” surcharge or whatever the heck it is that the Greenwell site tacks on. I keep hoping it will be distributed here in the U.S. Anyway–I love reading what you write and have been enjoying it for a year now, I guess. It’s just such good, clean fun–with a perfume twist.

    1. Welcome, Joanne, and thanks!

      I love the stuff. Here it is October of 2011, nearly a year after I first smelled it, and I still love love love it. Spent my anniversary money on a bottle via ebay UK. So glad you enjoy your sample!

      I have so many different perfumes that it’s hard for me to imagine what my children think of as “smelling like Mom,” but recently my teenage daughter told me that Plum is that one perfume.

      Will the website ship to the US? When I was looking last spring, there was no MG website, and it was only available at House of Fraser, which will NOT ship to the US. Wait, lemme go check… okay, looks like the MG website will indeed ship to the US for 28 GBP… ouch. OUCH. I think I wound up paying about $20 USD for shipping from the UK seller I bought my bottle from, which is ridiculous, but it is true that the cap is very very heavy. I feel lucky right now, having found a bottle on ebay.

  14. I just got a sample of this in the December Luckyscent pack, and I loved it at first sniff. Just when I was thinking that I had all the perfume I would ever need, and there was nothing left I wanted, now I want this. Badly. It’s so pretty! Unabashedly pretty. I think it might make a good choice for my niece as well. I have been searching for a perfume that would work on a girl, but also be great quality.

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