Un Brin de Reglisse

Lavender and licorice. Whilst these two alliterative notes may not exactly plunge all and sundry into scented horror, they’re unlikely to top the list of favourites for any but a handful of weirdos (and I mean that as a compliment, I guess). I know quite a few scentaholics who dislike either or both of these notes, but can’t think of anyone who appears to rave about them in the same way as say a dirty musk, smoky leather or vetiver. Lavender has unfortunately been tied up with the herbalised healthcare world – those pillows you heat in the microwave to comfort you, the bath oils to relax and destress you after an apparently long day (we’re all supposed to be stressed and need a bath or glass of wine to unwind,aren’t we?) – or as a masculine barbershoppy note in any-ole-fougeres. And licorice – well the fact that it has laxative qualities may be the least of its worries. It’s a polariser note, like its smell relative aniseed, and where it does appear, it’s often sweetened to tone down its bitter qualities. It’s there of course in the *interesting* Blue Sugar, and Lolita Lempicka. But I can’t think of many other places in which I’ve smelled it, so if you can tell me a few, I’d be pleased.

I don’t have any such associations with either note, fortunately. Lavender makes me think of that world in the photo on the left – the heat of summer, the thrum of bees collecting, a world of burnt greens and impossible mauves. Licorice takes me back to childhood. I was addicted to Licorice Allsorts, especially the round chewy ones with the blue or pink speckly coatings (do y’all know what I’m yabbering about?). Licorice is naturally pretty sweet – I’ve chewed the root enough to know that – and yes, I do have a high-fibre diet thank you very much – but we tend to sweeten it even more as a foodstuff. Not so the Dutch and the Scandinavians I think, who tend to make salty little cough candies from it, chewable as biltong, and just as savoury. They’re an acquired taste, but it’s one I found easy to get…

With the unusual character of these two ‘notes’ in mind, I made a trip to London especially to smell Un Brin de Reglisse, the latest in the Hermessence series, only available at Hermes stores. Fortunately, the haughty sales assistant (Hermes staff have hauteur down to a T) deigned to give grubby little me a sample to take away, to test at length. I wonder if she used anti-bacterial hand gel after our encounter.
Jean Claude Ellena, the Hermes nose, co-founder of the Different Company, Patty’s additional love interest, and all round scent genius, has his own signature style. He has the ability to make a whole heap of scent ingredients smell like a handful at most, and is therefore often regarded as the expert of minimalist style. However, I think it’s important to remember he also made Ambre Narguile (pretty maximalist by anybody’s standards, even if it is sheer at the same time), the intensely animalic Rose Poivree (dirty devil…), and Cartier Declaration, a sparkling but still rich update of Roudnitska’s Eau d’Hermes. Therefore, though his most recent scents may have been about sparse form rather than flourishes and curlicues, I was intrigued to see where the listed notes of lavender, licorice, orange and hay would fit into his canon.
This fragrance starts with a simulacrum of lavender. It’s lavender with all its impurities stripped out, a multiplicity of notes pretending to be a unity, leading me to think this is the best smelling lavender I’ve ever come across. It’s exceptionally real and a fiction at the same time and perhaps because of that paradox, disappears in on itself pretty quickly. It’s gone on my skin in five minutes. What overlaps with it, and then goes onto replace it, is the licorice. This starts bitter and more in the vein of those Dutch sore throat candies than my own licorice allsorts. But once again, this is a brief play of notes, and isn’t allowed to reach a stable presence for too long. Like in many of the Hermessences, this scent strikes me as a series of diaphanous veils, one lifted or completely removed to reveal more fully the next transparent layer. And so on. The ensuing juxtaposition is between licorice and orange – not a full blooded zesty aroma, but a toned down, creamy version of this soft citrus, more like a body soap than an acidic drink.

And from this stage on, as far as I can tell, the perfume softens and softens and starts to play quite differently to Ellena’s recent work. The licorice slowly fades – perhaps a touch clings on – as does the orange, and what seems left is in fact another nod to Eau d’Hermes. On my skin, the latter dries down to a thick quality where the leathery notes merge with soft, near powdery, impenetrable layers of something… vanilla? Benzoin? Musk? Tonka? Fumerie Turque and Musc Ravageur also have this structure, and whilst I love it sometimes, at others it has a quality of suffocation, of unnecessary warmth. I’m surprised to find this aspect in Un Brin de Reglisse, and keep wondering if there’s something else on my skin or my sweater that’s muddling itself with the fragrance and whether the Hermessence has actually disappeared completely. Because this thick drydown (don’t get me wrong – no sillage – this is close to the skin thickness), seems unlikely. The hay listed as one of the elements in this composition might contribute to this density – it strikes me as perhaps a coumarin and vanillin blend.

Ellena wants this fragrance to represent southern France in the heat of summer: the lavender is reassuringly that – a cooling blast of scent from a burnished world. But the rest of the perfume is the heat itself, and for me, in late October, and ready as I am for the journey into winter, it seems to stifle peculiarly.

Happy Hallowe’en everyone!

  • carmencanada says:

    Sounds like I didn’t like it… “Gnaw my arm off” because it was so juicily delicious ! “Nibble on it” would be better expressed. “Lickriss” indeed…

  • carmencanada says:

    Arriving a bit late to the party… Just smelled Un Brin de Réglisse — with Patty and Diane in Paris, no less !– and thought the lavender was very well handled indeed. And the licorice made me want to gnaw my arm off. Sadly, the one spritz has since totally evaporated from said arm (3 hours later).

    • Lee says:

      *Tries to slay a green-eyed mosnter*

      I was intending to be in Paris this weekend, but Matt and I both ended up with work stuff we couldn’t shake off. I’d’ve loved to meet y’all!

      So maybe it was the drydown of something else I was mis-sniffing… It’s good lavender, isn’t it?

      • carmencanada says:

        Oh Lee, that would’ve been, well, *awesome* as our American friends say. Please consider that even a Patty-less Paris is a place where you have friends…>:d<

        • Lee says:

          Aaaw thanks… I’d love to meet up with you. I’m due a Paris visit – haven’t been to see a dear friend there for way too long…

  • pitbull friend says:

    A delightful anise not to forget: Annick Goutal Mandragore. Although Etro Anice & Caron Eau de Reglisse are not my thing, the spare peppery anise of Mandragore is lovely and rightfully unisex. Ellen

  • Camille says:

    Lovely post, Lee! Brought back memories of my gram’s house: She always had a huge glass apothecary-style jar full of all-sorts right by the door when we visited. I loved the licorice logs filled with the white sweet stuff best then, but I tend to like a bit stronger and “drier” licorice now.

    Don’t really care much for lavender, and I like licorice only when it’s coupled with something sweet in fragrance, like in Un Bois Vanille and Douce Amere.

    Love the word challenges. Fragrance geeks rule. 😡

  • Vetivresse says:

    Lavender needs to be handled very carefully, esp in conjunction with something as volatile (and potentially bad) as licorice. As of last week, this still was not available at the Madison Avenue boutique. In the meantime, I’ll stick with Vero Kern’s masterful Kiki extrait de parfum.

  • Gina says:

    I enjoyed your post, Lee. I am one of the weirdos who loves lavender and finds licorice nice too…love my Anisia Bella. I love the Hermessences for the most part (paprika basil I didn’t love) and adore Ellena, I’ll have to check this one out. Today I’m wearing Vetiver Tonka, so lovely. Your samples are on their merry way! Thanks for being so patient.

  • Kelly says:

    I hate lavender and loathe licorice, but wanted to thank you, Lee, for always being so much fun to read!

  • Judith says:

    Like many here, I LOVE eating licorice! I am not so fond of the scents I know that use it, though: I do like Douce Amere, Black Fig is OK (but better after the anise calms down), the Caron is too citrusy on me (as if a big fat lemon sat down and squashed all the lovely licorice); the others, wel l l. . . But I am open to trying more, and I love well-made lavender fragrances (and like the heavy dry-downs you mentioned), so this might work for me. I need to scurry on over to my Hermes boutique. I DO want to hear about those Kilians–and the Roja Doves, too!

    • Lee says:

      I quite often like those drydowns – I love it in Musc Rav for example but swapped away my bell bottle of FT cos I just couldn’t bear it… funny, isn’t it?

      The Kilians – I’ve tried three, but not at enough length, and in isolation from each other… Cruel Intentions has the edge on Straight to Heaven for me…

  • Marina says:

    Lee, I love you for using the word “simulacrum”! In your next post(s), I dare you to use “meta-narrative”, “paratextruality”, “hermeneutical” and “aporia”…whithout sounding like a lexiphanes.

    No seriously, we can make a little game out of it. You give some pretentious words to use too 🙂

    As for the new Hermessence…the very thought of it makes me a little unwell. Licorice, ugh.

  • Lovely review! I’ve been looking forward to this one-I’m with Dinazad above in that I prefer to wear my licorice rather than eat it.

    Wishing you well.

  • Christine says:

    Lavender and I are okay, but the licorice, blech!

    The only licorice I can eat is a variety of Dutch licorice, but mostly honey gummy bear. AllSorts are okay as well. My preference is that the licorice needs to be sweet and not too strong. My mother likes her strong burn your mouth off Italian black licorice that is laced with menthol, eek.

    A good website to check out is Licorice International for the lovers out there. (http://www.licoriceinternational.com)

    Also, I get a lot of licorice in Kenzo Jungle L’elephant. It borders on too much for me, which is a shame because when the licorice isn’t beating me up, the cardamom is lovely.

    • Lee says:

      I’ve bookmarked licoriceiunternational. I was addicted to Fisherman’s Friends as a kid – and some other nasty mouthburning throat sweet whose name I forget – I love mentholly stings!

      Still need to try that Kenzo.

  • sybil says:

    Hey, I’m a weirdo! I like both notes, eat salted licorice (and allsorts, basically anything but twizzlers) use lavender water as a pillow spray, own Slatkin Black Fig and Absinthe (but Douce Amere and Etro Anice both died on my arm.) And I’m waiting with bated breath to try this…thanks for the review!

  • March says:

    I had a very funny convo on the phone yesterday with the SA at our local Hermes boutique, who was (I believe) French and could *not* understand what I was looking for. When she said it back to me it sounded something like BRANH duh something. Why didn’t I take French? Anyway, no word yet as to when it’s coming.

    I didn’t think the combination of licorice and lavender sounded particularly appealing, and I’m still not sure what I think! I don’t like the taste of licorice, particularly, but I do like Caron Reglisse very much. And I agree with another commenter up there who has never understood why lavender is supposed to be “soothing” or relaxing – I too find its smell stimulating.

    Well, you know I’ll be trying this. Thanks for the report. And by the way, those are gorgeous illustrations.

    • Lee says:

      Brahn is kind of right… as long as you don’t say the n and get all guttural with the r.

      I should’ve remembered to list where I found those pics, shouldn’t I? Naughty boy!

  • melamici says:

    Great review! Thanks. I know that some people don’t get any licorice at all from L’Artisan’s Poivre Piquant, but I do, and I think the lovely surprise of it there is what keeps that scent interesting to me…

    • Divalano says:

      Oh, I forgot about the licorice in there, mostly because I almost never smell it. It’s mostly a white pepper & milk/honey scent for me & it’s changeable. On the days when it stays sharp, I love it. On the days when it zooms right to milk/honey I rather don’t. I will have to re-sniff for the licorice next time.

    • Lee says:

      Will need to dig out my sample and test this one once more… Thank you.

  • Divalano says:

    Lavender & I are enemies. She makes me sneeze & my eyes tear up. I cannot wear her, I cannot even be near her. Shame, really. But I do love black licorice. It’s a comfort food for me, reminds me of spending long Sunday afternoons at my dad’s, watching old BW movies on TV after a lunch of soup & cheeses (from Cheese of All Nations, long gone now) & root beer & thick bread. I used to savor the licorice in my mouth to experience all its nuances. Yum. I also used to gobble boxes of Good ‘n Plenties in class during high school but that was a cheap thrill, comparatively.
    My only licorice scent love so far is SL Un Bois Vanille. I don’t really think of licorice as wearable but in UBV the bitter edge of licorice cuts into the burnt vanilla sugar & saves it from being a syrupy mess on me.

    • Lee says:

      UBV is a great vanilla – the only one I wear actually (havn’t tried the Guerlain Spirit whatever doubledutch, can’t afford the Tihota, and yet again I forgot about its licoriceyness….

      • Divalano says:

        Oh you had to say that about Tihota, didn’t you? I just got Indult samps from luckyscent. Haven’t tried Tihota yet. Really, really don’t want to love it, it’s just way too wallet intensive. I’m afraid I will fall though, I also got Isvaraya & I can’t stop sniffing myself.

  • dinazad says:

    Lavender lover here… I adore lavender in all its forms, just love its – to me – dual nature, the way it vacillates between healthy, crisp primness and roll-in-the-hay wantoness (or would that be wantonness? Drat the English language!). Lavande Velours, Encens et Lavande, Gris Clair, Reverie au Jardin.. all of them lovely in their own perfect way!

    Anise and licorice I hate the taste of. And I mean HATE. We’re talking childhood trauma here.

    But: I loved Eau de Reglisse. And like Etro Anice. So I suppose I can tolerate the scent of anise and licorice. And I love Brin de Reglisse, which I tried yesterday. The first Hermessence I really, really like and would even contemplate buying! The lavender and licorice do a wonderful dance here, rather like a sardana, a dance both stately and vivacious, to be danced outside, in the town square, under the summer sun, to music which seems to have nothing at all to do with the steps yet somehow fits them perfectly. Gorgeous. But as with Osmanthe Yunnan, I’ll wait for summer to wear it. Why on earth do they release summer fragrance on the verge of winter. Some kind of sick Halloween joke?

    • Lee says:

      Love your comment! I don’t know what it is with these counter-intuitive releases from Hermes…

      Now the sardana – one of the cutest folk dances in existence. I had a go once and for some reason felt like you didn’t have to do very much but it was somehow very complicated… a bit like uBdR…

  • chayaruchama says:

    What a fascinating review !
    Now I’m actually eager to sniff this.
    I love all-sorts, Australian, and all black licorice; my favorite are Trader Joe’s little licorice Scottie dogs- I scarf them down, after I play with them…

    I enjoy lavender and licorice notes in fragrance-
    So, this might just work.
    [Gaia, I’m w/ you, though- Kelly Caleche HATED me]

    • Lee says:

      Another qu type…

      I like the sound of those Scottie dogs. I’f I’d’ve thunk, I’d’ve put the tube of uBdR in your package… but it’s already gawn…

  • Divina says:

    I adore the smell of lavender..it is tied with so many beautiful memories from my childhood! The scent of liquorice and anis on the other hand, I’ve only grown to love as an adult and I do really like the notes used in perfumery…Whether it is liquorice, aniseed, fenugreek, star-anis..I think they can all be used really successfully in fragrances. A suggestion from me has to be Ma Folie de Noel by DHS which combines both liquorice and anis. Do try it if you get the chance!

  • Elle says:

    I’m a licorice sl*t of the first order. Don’t really care very much for any other sweets, but live and die for good double salted Scandinavian licorice and Chinese plums, which are all about salt and licorice. However, I’m ambivalent about it in most scents. Chantal Thomas, Etro Anice, Guerlain’s Anisia Bela, Kenzo Elephant and Douce Amere are the ones I like the most. For some reason, I don’t care for Slatkin’s Black Fig and Absinthe or LL. I keep trying to like Guerlain’s Aimez Moi, but just don’t. I also have mixed feelings about lavender. I *adore* SL’s Encens et Lavande, but agree w/ Amy – do not care for the sinus clearing variety that appears in so many lavender scents. I am definitely going to have to sample BeR, but am not all that hopeful now. The dry down really does sound problematic, but that middle section of licorice may lure me into getting a decant eventually.

    • Lee says:

      I’m still puzzled by the drydown – mighty puzzled – and need to retest. As for licorice and lavender – I think I’m generally with you(I’ve never sniffed Lolita Lempicka, men’s or women’s, so don’t know there, even though I’m a Menardo maniac…)

  • Louise says:

    It’s first thing in the morning, and between your licorice descriptions and March’s incipient binge, all I want is salty dark licorice for breakfast. Hey, hon, do you pronounce it in that odd British way (s for sh)? ;))

    I was, as a kid, and often still am, the only one in a group that orders a bag of of dark licorice at the candy shop(we have so many ghastly fake “licorice” candies here-yucky red twists, green apple, etc.) I enjoy the scent and flavor and relateds in all forms-absinthe and anise. Love Pastis. So all good there.

    I only tolerate lavender in very small doses, if it all. No associations-just don’t like it much. An occasional spritz of Andy’s reverie on a hot day is nice. But that note just about kills my curiousity for Brin. Must retry Reglisse again.

    • Louise says:

      Lee-you have a one-time only email offer!

    • Lee says:

      I pronounce it lickerish, unless I’m in a posh boy mood and then it’s definitely lickriss (sounds like an instruction for an over-frenzied perfumista…).

      I don’t mind lavender, though only when it is a subtle touch against other notes, or plays ‘Imagine I’m something else’ like in Fougere Bengale. I love Encens et Lavande beyond all measure – it’s simply perfect there and nothing else compares…

      Now lickriss, I could eat it til the cows came home.

    • Maria says:

      Louise, it’s AustrALian licorice I’m so fond of, you know, Down Under with koalas and kangaroos. :d I’ve never tried the Austrian kind, but I’d probably like it. I love anise-licorice.

  • Maria says:

    What beautiful photos you included, Lee! Australians make the juiciest, yummiest licorice. I had to run to the kitchen to get myself a big piece of it. As has been noted before, Caron Eau de Reglisse is the licorice to try. I like lavender a lot more than a lot of other perfumistas. I love what Andy Tauer did with it in Reverie au Jardin. Is the treatment here as unusual?

    Nighty-night. I’m going to bed, struggling against thinking that there’s a lot more licorice where that piece came from.

    • Louise says:

      Sorry Maria-you’re the Austrian licorice fan, not March (see below). Apparently I can only read 3 letters at a time this morning! Hug!

    • Lee says:

      I hope you resisted M!

    • Bec says:

      I’m de-lurking at the mention of Aussie licorice. MMMMMMMMM! I must admit we do make pretty good licorice.

      Just wanted to say that this is one of the best and most entertaining forums I have read. Aside from the fact that it indulges my developing perfume obsession (and all the reviews subsequently empty my purse!) I love reading the reviews as it is slowly helping me to recognise the notes that can smell. Ta muchly.

  • Amy says:

    I don’t quite dislike lavender, but I’ve never understood how people find it relaxing. It’s sharp and medicinal and astringent, like witch hazel or something you’d use to clear your sinuses – the exact opposite of a sleep aid for me. Lavender tends to irk me in fragrances unless it’s well-blended and mellow (Eau Illuminee is one I do like). Anise is kind of the same way. I don’t back away in horror when I read that it’s a note in a fragrance, but I certainly don’t go out of my way to find anise scents (Aimez Moi is the first one coming to mind). Ellena is a genius, though, so I’d be willing to sample his lavender/anise concoction. It sounds unique. Thanks for the nice review!

  • tom says:

    (posting with this adress because your pam filter hates meL

    icorice All-Sorts are wonderful

    Gaia is of course right, Reglisse is licorice central. SL Douce Amere is
    a close second, that anise wormwood with buttery chocolate.

    Blue Sugar is anise to the Nth degree. It’s as if Paula Deen was on crack,
    dipped an all-sort in absinthe and cornflower, let it marinate for a week or two and then deep fried it in the oil that KFC was throwing out that even the Bio-Deisel people wouldn’t take.

    • Lee says:

      Double helpings? Yummy!

      • tmp00 says:


        It showed up anyway!

        Paula Deen is a Food Network star- she’s a roly-poly good old girl from the South, very charming, and makes that hearty deep-fried southern stuff that killed more Confederates than all the Yankees combined! Love her!

  • tmp00 says:

    Licorice All-Sorts are wonderful

    Gaia is of course right, Reglisse is licorice central. SL Douce Amere is
    a close second, that anise wormwood with buttery chocolate.

    Blue Sugar is anise to the Nth degree. It’s as if Paula Deen was on crack,
    dipped an all-sort in absinthe and cornflower, let it marinate for a week or two and then deep fried it in the oil that KFC was throwing out that even the Bio-Deisel people wouldn’t take.

    • Lee says:

      I don’t know who Paula Deen is, but I’ll agree with you…

      Douce Amere… I have a decant of that somewhere, must test it. I was giving Kilian’s A Taste of Heaven a little road run earlier today (thanks Chaya!)- it struck me as the love child of DA and something like Gucci PH, if that’s possible…

  • Gaia says:

    There’s a Caron, Eau de Reglisse, that’s all about Licorice. I’ve been meaning to get my paws on it for a while now, as I love licorice. I also adore lavender: I grow a few plants, both English and French. I really like the lavender note in Andy’s Reverie. It’s as far as can be from those aromatherapy bags.
    There’s a new Hermes boutique just about to open at the mall five minutes away from my house. I might wait for it or just pop into one in the city. Your post definitely got me curious about this perfume. It sounds way better than Kelly Caleche that was good in theory and a disaster on my poor wrist.

    • Lee says:

      Forgot that Caron! Tested it in Les Senteurs when March was over in the spring and loved it. It’s on my list as a highly likely purchase for spring / summer 08. Beautiful stuff.

      It sounds like uBdR is yet to cross the Atlantic…