Let´s have an experiment – can I write an entire post without a single smutty reference? You be the judge.
As I mentioned before, I´d overlooked most of the Patricia de Nicolai scents. I just hadn´t run across any, except Balle de Match, and somehow they didn´t sound like “me,” even if the perfumer´s the granddaughter of one Guerlain and trained by another. The scents sounded light and clean and airy and delicate, and those weren´t descriptors that set my heart on fire, no matter how well done they´re purported to be. I´m always suspicious those words are a euphemism for “barely detectible.”
A visit to the store in London with Lee in May corrected my oversight. But of course smelling all the PdNs at once is like eating an entire box of delicious, unfamiliar chocolates – they start to run together in your mind, and after awhile you start to feel overwhelmed, maybe even a bit sick. In the last week, three different Nicolais have shown up in the mail, a happy coincidence that gives me a chance to explore their charms at leisure, and decide whether I´d make a mistake in failing to purchase others besides Fig-Tea.
I can´t remember Balkis (raspberry, Turkish rose, black pepper, coffee extract, iris, benzoin, vanilla pods) making an impression on me one way or the other, although my guess is I´d have found the rich berry-rose notes offputting, and the base too vanillic. Balkis Light is apparently the EDT of the original (here´s Now Smell This´ review of both). An initial, dispiriting blast of alcohol (my fault, always jamming my nose in there too early) gives way to a skin scent I found increasingly appealing the longer I wore it. The opening is very much about fruits, without veering into predictable overt jammy sweetness or its opposite, citric tartness. But the scent really comes into its own when the coffee, pepper and iris step to the forefront, and the fragrance becomes more masculine, with the benzoin adding an attractive smoky-sweet sheen along the lines of Guerlain´s Bois d´Armenie. Balkis Light is the sort of fragrance I want to smell when I bury my nose in the neck of someone I love. As it lingered and warmed on my skin over several hours, I began to find it … well, quite extraordinary. Let me reiterate: it has almost zero sillage, even at the opening. But it´s one of those odd fragrances, like Escentric Molecules 01 and Les Nez L´Antimatiere (rumored – I can´t smell L´Antimatiere), that send a lovely thrum into the air around you. I believe this one is available only in their London and Paris boutiques.
Eau Exotique (Mexican lime, apricot, mango, orange, petitgrain, jasmine absolute, vetiver, patchouli, cedar, musk) by comparison is a “big” fragrance – not at all what I was expecting from the line. It´s a fruity floral, not terribly “exotique,” and I ought to hate it, but I don´t. It´s a stellar example of walking a fine line – if it were any sweeter or stronger it would be too much, and the vetiver, patch and musk do an excellent job of rounding out the sweeter notes. Having said all that (and I remember raving about this one when I got back) after wearing it several times I love it in theory more than in practice. It is beautifully done, but somehow not a fragrance I can imagine reaching for very often. On me (remember, I´m the one who retains fragrances) it lasted a full day. If you´d like to experience a full-bodied floral that manages to be rich without cloying, here´s your chance.
Finally, I was grateful to be able to re-smell Maharanih (orange essence and bitter orange peel, rose essence, carnation, cinnamon, patchouli, sandalwood, civet). Maharanih opens relatively sweet on me, all orange and rose, and for the first ten minutes it´s pleasant but forgettable. Then the sweetness fades and the lavender, cinnamon and sandalwood take center stage. Before I read the notes I assumed I was smelling incense; now I think it´s a trick combination of those three ingredients, rendering it into a smoky incense-like smell with an almost oudh-like sharpness, courtesy of the lavender. Finally, the civet in the base (synthetic according to the PdN website, so have no fear) works its rich, musky magic with the patch and sandalwood. Unisexy. If I blow through this decant at my current rate, I´ll be buying a bottle – it´s great now, and I think I´d wear it even more in cooler weather.
Having spent several days smelling all three, and based on my memories of the boutique, I think the PdNs possess an unusual, unifying lack of sugary sweetness and a not-quite-bitter, semi-musky base that make them stand out as compositions. Some of them I liked more than others, but assuming they work with your skin chemistry I think they´re all a breath of fresh air among their more heavy-handed contemporaries. While they´re divided into categories (masculine, feminine, eaux, etc.) they could be worn by anyone. I´m a convert.
Note: Beautyhabit has most of these (Luckyscent has others); Beautyhabit also has several of them in the much-loved, cheap 30ml size, which I am amused to see actually cost less than what I paid in pounds at their store in London, given the wretched exchange rate. If you have any comments on or other favorites in the line, I´d love to hear them.
image: Andrew Wyeth, The Wind From the Sea, pavans.net