Coffee with a Side of Paradise: Maître Parfumeur et Gantier Eau des Iles
Using a coffee note in perfume can be tricky; sometimes it’s gimmicky and too literal, and maybe tarted up with too much sugar and “cream” so that its real character is obscured. Many years ago there was a fragrance called Café that smelled exactly like a cup of sweetened coffee with a slightly burnt note, as though it had been left in the pot too long. It had a certain novelty appeal, but I was never tempted to purchase it. Then of course there is the popular Vanille Mokha from Comptoir Sud Pacifique, which is simple and pleasing but very sweet like most of their perfumes, and that could get tiresome after a while, and besides it's so realistic that it does not really smell very much like perfume, so wearing it could result in serious caffeine cravings all day long. Coffee has become a standard ingredient in men's scents, where it sometimes gets lost in the forests of woody-amber and cedar and other such standard issue masculine notes that usually accompany it. Then there is the mutant monster that is Thierry Mugler's Angel Men, with its bizarro world major notes of mint, coffee, caramel, lavender and tar, of all things. I cannot imagine who would wear it since it's even more discordant than the original Angel while remaining just as loud to my nose; I finally got up the nerve to try it at a department store not too long ago and I wish I had resisted.
Fortunately not all coffee fragrances are one-note wonders or avant-garde disasters. I have come to love one that was intended as a masculine, but that has not stopped me from keeping it in regular rotation. Eau des Iles by Maître Parfumeur et Gantier hits just the right balance of coffee, spices and woods so that its coffee aspect is the essence of the roasted bean itself and not a sugary beverage. It is also quite smoky, and you may even think it's excessively so unless you have ever smelled Tauer Perfumes' Lonestar Memories, beside which all other smoky perfumes hang their heads in shame. I don't find Eau des Iles to be too smoky for my taste, perhaps because I really like the aroma of very strong dark coffee beans, and I enjoy grinding my own so I can revel in the powerful fumes as they rise up. The bracing bitterness of an espresso or French roast is perfectly captured in this perfume, weaving in and out of the other notes to create an aura of dark mystery.
An intriguing feature of this perfume is that there are unexpected elements paired with the coffee, including basil, thyme, unnamed “exotic fruits” and ylang ylang, as well as both vetiver and patchouli in the base, and for once the vetiver wins, giving it a pronounced green facet and adding to its wearability. Now some people find this perfume interesting but not very wearable. Marina's take on it was that she found it to be highly original but unwearable due to the smoke. Now I am highly sensitive to smoke, so I have no idea why it's not a deal-breaker for me as well. A few weeks ago I awoke from a sound sleep in the middle of the night because I smelled something burning, and it set off my inner alarm. I got up to make sure it was not in my house, and then I thought maybe my neighbor had burned something in their fireplace, but it smelled wrong for that. I was just about to go outside to see what was happening when I heard the sirens of several fire trucks heading down a nearby road. The next day I found out there had been a house fire - more than three miles away from me! I think the smoke in Eau des Iles is so entwined with the roasted coffee and patchouli that it does not smell like the “bad” kind, the smoke from a dangerous fire that would make me recoil instinctively, but more like a hearth fire, signaling home and comfort instead of fight-or flight.
Recently there was a rumor that this house was pulling out of the U.S. market, but that was not the case, and it is widely available at both finer perfume shops (see their website to find out if one is in your city) and better online emporiums such as Luscious Cargo. I received my bottle as a gift in an online contest. It is sold as an Eau de Toilette only, and the 3.3 oz. Size has a retail price of about $120 USD, though if you poke around online you can find it for less, usually around $80. Lasting power is nothing short of legendary, especially for an EDT, so the big bottle would be an excellent investment. I have always admired the fragrances from the Jean Laporte era of both Maître Parfumeur et Gantier and L' Artisan, and before that his eponymous line that is sadly gone. The newer ones in the MPG line have thankfully been very good too. I just wish they could be had in smaller sizes, and maybe in a coffret of miniatures. The house does not have a sample program, so you would need to find a retailer that does, such as Luscious Cargo or Luckyscent. With so many quality scents in the lineup, it would be nice to be able to try them in smaller doses before committing to buy the big one.
Image credit: Coffee bushes flowering in the tropics, from the redorbit.com knowledge network