No Mutiny On This Bounty: En Voyage Perfumes Nectar des Îles & Vents Ardents (And a Prize Draw!)
Haven't we all dreamed of the tropics at one time or another, the perfect Paradise where everything is soft and lilting and musical, carefree and full of vibrant life and color? We envy the idea of island life even though the reality of it is certainly not all that easy for those who are born to it, but there is something so irresistible about it, a primordial pull that can make even the most jaded city dweller drift away on thoughts of palm trees, brightly tinted sunsets and lifestyles where no one really cares what time it is. Perfumers have known this about human nature for a long time, and they have given us a multitude of fragrances built around the theme of tropical aromas, from the simplest colognes aimed at the Hawaiian tourist trade to elaborate constructions that reference every possible icon of smell that might be deemed “exotic.” Unfortunately, in many cases the same attention to quality is not paid to this style of scent as it might be for more serious types, with some notable exceptions of course, but cheap and cheerful concoctions with a throwaway aesthetic are frequently the hallmark of the breed. I am here to tell you that it does not have to be that way.
I had heard of perfumer Shelley Waddington's line of fragrances, and I knew that she created custom perfumes for her clients, but I had never tried anything in the line. So I was more than a little curious when I had the opportunity to test the newest launches from En Voyage Perfumes, Nectar des Îles and Vents Ardents, the latest in her Odyssey Collection, as I had no idea what to expect. When the samples arrived, it took me almost no time at all to understand that these are no ordinary perfumes; they are both of exceptionally high quality and deserving of exposure to a much broader audience.
These two fragrances are actually the products of a collaboration. Nectar des Îsles was created by a talented Puerto Rican perfumer named Juan Manuel Perez, whose company Exotic Island Aromatics makes soy candles, soaps and other scented products. A line of perfumes is coming soon, and after smelling this one I can hardly wait for that to happen. It is at heart a gardenia and tiare flower scent, with other ingredients adding much interest and depth, but there is nothing heavy or cloying about it. It reminds me a little of the style of Isabey Gardenia, not as bright or fruity as that, yet with the similar quality of not smelling like a clichéd gardenia soliflore; it does not have that buttery or “blue cheese” aroma that gardenia scents can sometimes develop. It is intended as a feminine fragrance, and it speaks softly and gently, a murmured breeze caressing the skin on a sleepy island day when the humid air carries every nuance of flowery delight. It is nuanced and quiet for a white floral and does not become too heady or indolic on me, and if it were going to do that, my skin is the perfect testing ground; I amplify white florals to a fault, but this one works even in the office, although work is the last place I want to be when I have it on, because it's so transporting and dreamy. It's an unusual combination of distracting sensuality, soothing calm and elegant wearability. Lasting power is very good and it will happily stay with you for many hours; after a long day at work it still smelled fresh and inviting on my skin.
The official list of notes for Nectar des Îles: Top: Wild Oranges, Mandarin, Green Citron, Osmanthus Nectar. Heart: Fresh Gardenia and Tiare petal accord, Absolutes of two frangipani species, Ylang Ylang and Jasmine auriculatum. Base: Sandalwood Absolute from Vanuatu, Tahitian Vanilla, Amber and Fine White Musks.
Shelley Waddington composed Vents Ardents (“Ardent Winds”) to be an idealized masculine fragrance, but there is nothing about it that would make it fit neatly into any category arbitrarily determined by gender. It is a symphony of tropical notes that does not smell like anything else in my experience with this genre. There is no jarring synthetic “marine” aroma, no suntan oil, and no coconut, and any pineapple it may have is subsumed into the delicious mélange of other fruit accords. It's a panoramic blend of every island fantasy yet it's not beachy or overly familiar in the way of so many other perfumes that have staked out this territory. Plump and juicy tropical fruits including my beloved mango, tobacco, rum, dewy florals, Tonka bean, golden amber, woods and just a touch of vanilla conspire to create the island paradise perfume of my dreams. It is exactly what I have wished for so many times and been disappointed by just as frequently, the other candidates being too sweet, too kitschy, too fleeting, or ultimately just not interesting enough; this is what I was foolishly hoping for with the new mango-centric Escada Taj Sunset that I recently tried, and I got something a little bit like it for only a brief time before it faded to anonymous prettiness. Vents Ardents is exponentially better, and it makes one wonder why a company with so much money and clout can't come up with something as marvelous as this fragrance from a tiny niche house!
You might think from a reading of the notes that Vents Ardents sounds a lot like L'Artisan's Havana Vanille, or others scents in that general style, but it's not even close. That one has a “manly” heft to it with its very strong rummy character and lots of wood and tobacco, while everything in Vents Ardents is perfectly balanced and seamlessly integrated, each delicious note folded into the next like cargo tightly packed onto the most fragrant ship that ever sailed the tropical seas. It's sweetly fruity but not too much so, only gently woody, with traces of tobacco and vanilla weaving through the other notes. What came to me when I had worn it for a while was the idea and sensation of bounty, a rainbow array of riches spilling over with exuberant smells and tastes, and Shelley has brought it all together in one place for our enjoyment. I for one just can't get enough of it; the men are going to have to share this one! Longevity is also very good.
Notes for Vents Ardents: Top: Curaçao, Wild Oranges, Bay Rum, Tropical Fruits
Heart: Venezuelan Tonka Beans, Heliotrope, Magnolia, French Narcissus
Base: Amber, Mahogany, Tobacco, Oak, Driftwood, Musky Vanilla, Balsams
These two fragrances were designed to worn by a man and a woman to complement one another, but they can also be layered together and have been formulated with that in mind, so I tried that too. Oh baby, this one goes to eleven! Intoxicating is the word for this effect, as the florals in Nectar des Îles put an extra glow of polish on Vents Ardents' fruits, and in turn the fruit notes make the white flowers in the other even more voluptuous and narcotic. I strongly recommend having both of them so you can try this; it works better than any other fragrance layering experiment I have ever tried. Both are available in Eau de Parfum for $40 USD for 1/2 ounce or one ounce for $70 from the En Voyage Perfumes Web site. Please read other reviewers' impressions of these perfumes on Shelley's Carmel Perfumer blog and Perfume Pharmer.
The prize draw is especially attractive, because Shelley has commissioned a limited number of gorgeously adorned “message in a bottle” glass flacons that look like what might wash up on the shore of a perfect white sand beach in a fairy tale, and the perfume samples, one of each fragrance wrapped in handmade banana leaf paper, will be inside them. These precious vessels will never be for sale, so the winners will have a real collector's item to treasure. The prize draw is open to all: Shelley will ship worldwide directly to the winners! There will be two winners this time, so please tell us which one of these perfumes you would prefer to try in your comment, and if you like, let us know what your own favorite tropical style perfume is.
Image credits: Photos by Rich Waddington, courtesy of Shelley Waddington. The gift box dual presentation is designed for a bride & groom. The “message bottles” shown are what the winners of the prize draw will receive.
Full disclosure: The perfume samples were sent to me by Shelley Waddington gratis for testing purposes.