The US distributor of Micallef fragrances, Hypoluxe, kindly offered me a sample set of Parfums Micallef’s newest fragrance line for review, and I promised my honest opinions of these four scents.
(I love PR review samples, but I always try to make it clear to the sender that I’m not going to praise a fragrance unless I like it. Most companies are very gracious about this stance, and I think in general that’s encouraging.)
The PR packet for Collection Vanille has this to say about the set: “A four-movement symphony on the theme of vanilla,” and [the collection] “consists of four fragrances combining the sweetness of vanilla with specific notes of leather, oriental, floral and water fragrance families… the collection has been created with the best natural oil of Bourbon vanilla from Madagascar.”
A word about my relationship with vanilla: I like vanilla, it’s the finest of the flavors1. That is to say, I would usually rather have vanilla cake than chocolate, and definitely I prefer vanilla ice cream. However, I’m not a huge vanilla fragrance fan. I like it as an accent, but probably the only vanilla-focused fragrance I ever really wear is Hanae Mori, and even then, I only wear it at home. (I really hate chocolate notes in perfume, for what that’s worth.) I do love my vanilla-accented Shalimar Light and my vintage Emeraude and my Parfums de Nicolai Vanille Tonka, and I enjoy my little decant of L’Artisan’s Havana Vanille (now Vanille Absolument). I used to really like Rochas Tocade’s smoky rose-vanilla, but these days my bottle of it smells more like ashes than anything else, and I’m not wearing it. Givenchy Organza, that vanilla-and-white-flowers extravaganza, is perfectly nice but a bit dull.
So I’m interested, generally speaking, in vanilla-plus fragrances, which these are. Here are my reviews, in alphabetical order.
Vanille Cuir – I thought this might be the most interesting, but instead it is truly horrid on my skin, with nauseating chemical overtones. Sure, there’s vanilla, and a hint of what seems like medicinal oud, but over everything is an beasty dry-cleaner element that suggests a nightmare monster made in a factory. I began to wonder whether my sample was perhaps mislabeled, and the vial was actually Vanille Marine… until I tried the one labeled Vanille Marine, which clearly smells like its notes would suggest. No, Vanille Cuir is not leather and not nice at all. It could be my skin, of course.
Interestingly, leather is not listed in the notes from the PR material:Vanille Cuir opens with aromatic notes of mint and lavender, combined with bergamot, then the spices, cinnamon and cumin spread on a background of vanilla,cedar and tonka beans. Additional notes: orange blossom and sandalwood.
As I said, I don’t pick up either leather or spices. It is possible, however, that the lavender is making everything horrible on me. I typically do very very badly with lavender.
Vanille Fleur – This, by the notes, was the fragrance most likely to appeal to my personal tastes. It should be a slam-dunk for me, but VF is not particularly pleasant. I’m not quite sure why that is. If I say “peach-rose-vanilla,” the fragrance that comes to mind is Lancome Tresor. I rather like Tresor, though I never wore it when it was new, and at this point of my life it feels too obvious and too… I dunno, dance-clubby? for me.
From the PR material: Vanille Fleur opens with juicy peach olfactive notes, and reveals a harmonious balance between the rose femininity and the vanilla sensuality.
The peach is subtle; fear it not. And I think the rose is that good-quality oil that sometimes has a little screech. I like it for the first half-hour, while I’m thinking of Bellinis and rose bouquets. There may be some ylang in here too; I think I’m smelling its creamy presence. Then it goes a little strange and high-pitched, which is surprising because you’d think a fragrance heading from rose oil to vanilla would settle and become more of a low hum. But it doesn’t. I’m postulating that there’s a jasmine material in here that’s bothering me, coming in with a green quality that disrupts the mellowness of the rose-vanilla accord.
Vanille Marine – I thought that I would hate this. I don’t. I surmise that I wouldn’t wear it frequently, but Vanille Marine is both interesting and comfortable. Again, there is a lab-created sort of vibe over the thing, but everybody knows marine notes are synthetic, and that is just fine. The fragrance seems to veer from one pole (clean-fresh-ozonic) to the other (warm-vanilla-woody) every ten minutes or so, and both poles are enjoyable. It’s an interesting juxtaposition – sort of like those modern art paintings which place, say, an orange diamond on a blue background, in which the contrast is the main point.
From the PR material: Vanille Marine opens on vitalizing and fresh olfactive notes to introduce white flowers and vanilla. An unexpected scent that evokes vanilla covered with sea spray. Additional notes: lemon, blackcurrant, benzoin, musk, and wood.
Vanille Orient – Ever since Opium burst on the scene and started bludgeoning innocent ten-year-old kids in movie theaters, I’ve been wary of orientals. I’ve only in the last few years begun to realize that not all orientals are bad, and that indeed, my darling Emeraude is one. I still tend to dislike them, however, with very few exceptions. This is an exception.
From the PR material: Vanille Orient cleverly combines the strength of sandalwood with the sweetness of vanilla, with subtle notes, characteristics of Oriental mysteries. A scent full of attraction. Additional notes: musk and amber.
Sandalwood and vanilla is kind of a duh-of-course combination, if you ask me, rather than “clever,” and it’s been done before. But this fragrance is nicely done – not overpowering, not weird, not fakey. I like it. And given the oriental angle, that is not a foregone conclusion for me, however much a slam-dunk this kind of thing might be for you oriental fans (I know you’re out there). I also seem to be picking up on a bit of jasmine in here, but Vanille Orient seems to be the most vanilla-focused of this set. If you like vanilla ambers, you will probably like this.
All of these fragrances are eau de parfum strength, priced at $225 for 100ml or $145 for 50ml, available at LuckyScent, Parfum1, and FourSeasonsProducts. Longevity is about average for EdPs, around 4 to 6 hours on my skin.
Now, as I understand it, Martine Micallef is an artist who collaborates with her husband Geoffrey Nejman (a financial consultant for a fragrance materials company) to create a new set of perfumes every few years, and she creates artwork to either inspire the fragrances ointerpret them. Quite a few of my friends are enamored of some of her earlier fragrances; among the beloveds are Black Sea, Red Sea, Note Poudrée, Note Vanillée, and Vanille Oud. The bottle designs for the 4 Saisons series, including the Seas, are particularly lovely, I think.
I wish I could reproduce the little booklet that came with these samples for you. It’s printed on thick paper, with full-color illustrations, and a joy to hold. I like the bottle art as well – it’s almost tropical/primitive, with linen and gold- and copper-foil accents.
As usual with a collection of scents, people are probably going to like one or two of them and not enjoy the others. I enjoyed Vanille Orient and would wear it if a bottle suddenly popped into existence in my house, but I don’t think I’d spend $145 on one. (If I had $145 for fragrance, I’d save it up and add more so I could buy a bottle of Frederic Malle Iris Poudre, just in case you’re wondering about my priorities.)
In speaking about this collection with some perfume fan friends, I found the general consensus to be that some of the other collections were more successful than this one. I cannot say so from my personal experience, since I have in the past tried only one Micallef fragrance (and can’t remember at this point which one it was). Is there a runaway best-seller, a fragrance destined to be wildly and widely popular as Note Vanillée, in the bunch? I don’t think so. One other person in this group really despised Vanille Cuir, which has gotten some love in blog reviews, and everyone seemed surprised at the success of Vanille Marine at pairing oceanic notes with vanilla.
The central note of vanilla is a really nice one, I notice – no candle-shop cheap stuff here, just the smell of good vanilla beans. In that, Collection Vanille excels.
Other reviews of Collection Vanille: Mark at CaFleureBon (he liked Vanille Cuir best, so maybe it’s me), ScentSate (Joan liked Vanille Cuir, too), and Memory of Scent (again, Christos liked Vanille Cuir), That Smell (set of four separate reviews), and ParfumistaBlog (brief). So it seems to be just me and my friend Claudia whose skin did not interact well with Vanille Cuir… What can I say? Your mileage may vary.