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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Van Cleef & Arpels Collection Extraordinaire – And a Prize Draw

By Donna

When I first heard about the pending release of six perfumes at once from the prestigious jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels I thought oh boy, another bunch of half-hearted and badly done fragrances rushed to market for the holiday season. Then I thought more about it, and they did do a great job with First and Murmure, but it’s been awhile since they did anything splashy or memorable. They don’t get a lot of publicity for their perfumes either so who knows if any of those “First” flankers and derivatives were any good? So it got my attention when Octavian Coifan gave the Collection Extraordinaire his seal of approval over on 1000 Fragrances. He is a perfumer, writer and industry insider who understands the technical aspects of perfumery better than I ever will; I just know what I like. I recommend that anyone who has not read about why he thinks they are good should do so, I certainly learned a lot and I can’t improve on his impressions. A different perfumer composed each of these fragrances, and they are all very different from each other, yet they share such a unified aesthetic that it would be easy to think that they are all the work of one person.

When I received my samples I tried them all briefly and I got a good feeling about every one, which was unusual; there is generally at least one dud in the bunch in these multiple releases. I decided to wear each one by itself for a whole day and see how they held up. I began with Orchidée Vanille (by Randa Hammami), the sweetest one by far. It is indeed sweet but in the manner of the original Hanae Mori fragrance, it’s light, happy and delightfully hazy and never cloying. I happen to love vanilla anyway, and this is a clear vanilla orchid interpretation, leaving no doubt as to where vanilla really comes from. Remarkably, I did not find it to be gourmand at all, because the treatment resembles vanilla-scented flowers more than anything. I absolutely love it and I want a Jeroboam of it.

Next up was Muguet Blanc (Antoine Maisondieu), and since I am a lover of lily-of-the-valley from way back, my standards are high for any interpretation of this accord. (As Octavian points out, it is impossible to extract the scent from this flower so all “muguet” perfumes are accords made up of elements that simulate its fragrance.) All I can say is that they really hit it with this version. It manages to be both traditionally chilly and uniquely abstract. Clear as a bell and so immediate that you can almost feel the cold ground against your cheek as you bend down to smell the diminutive blossoms, and at the same time cerebrally disciplined; it will not turn watery or sour on skin over time. This one joins Diorissimo and Muguet de Bonheur in my personal pantheon of muguet all-stars.

More forest delights were to be found in Bois d’Iris (Emilie Coppermann), which started out with a dry woodiness that began to turn sweet rather quickly, and I wondered where it was headed, fearing the worst, until I realized that it was not going all gourmand on me but that the vegetal aspect of orris root was giving way to a delicious violet shored up with creamy woods. It never turned the corner into the powdery iris, found in so many perfumes, which I don’t really like as much as I do the more natural style. As with the Muguet Blanc, I could imagine myself sniffing violets in the cool spring air with the smell of the earth and last year’s leaves mingling with their sweetness. Another winner!
Gardenia Pétale (Nathalie Feisthauer) is so sheer for a gardenia scent that I was sure it would fade in no time. Wrong again – it persisted very well, and remarkably for such a transparent rendition it really does smell like gardenias, buttery and rich, while never being heavy or going over into the dreaded bleu-cheese-over-stale-popcorn territory. There are just enough green notes and other florals, including white lily, to keep it restrained while still smelling very much like a real gardenia blossom, although one surrounded by other flowers in a paradisiacal garden. I have no idea how this was accomplished but I don’t care, I just want a bottle. At last a real-smelling gardenia perfume to wear in polite company, as it stays close to the skin while remaining true all day long.

Along with Bois d’Iris, Cologne Noire (Mark Buxton) is one of the two nominally unisex fragrances in the group. It’s entirely without sweetness but I would not really call it dry either. It is done in the classic “masculine” aromatic style with a hint of florals and just enough incense to make you wonder if that’s really what you smell. This is another one that I was certain would be fleeting but it lasted about six hours, which for cologne of this type is impressive indeed. It is also blessedly without that aggressively pushy and sharp woody/amber thing that far too many masculine scents have, even though it does have benzoin and cedar in it, which makes it perfect for women to wear too.

I saved Lys Carmin (Nathalie Cetto) for last because I felt that I would judge it the most rigorously. I have grown and smelled a lot of lilies, they are my favorite flower, and the scent of Oriental lilies is to me the most sensual and delicious floral aroma of all. To some people lilies are just too much, as their dizzying headiness can actually affect the mind adversely if one is exposed to them for long periods. (I guess that would explain a lot about me.) Fragrant lilies are fleshy, spicy, sweet and indolic all at the same time, and their perfume is too heavy for many. For my part I would be happy to be locked in a room with great towering bunches of them and I am always looking for a lily perfume that does them justice. Lys Carmin has somehow managed to capture the odd fleshy quality that Tania Sanchez says smells like “Easter ham” in the book Perfumes: The Guide. I laughed out loud when I read that, because it’s the best description I have come across; the spiciness, the sticky sweetness, and yet the enticing aroma of succulent flesh is there too, underneath it all. Furthermore, this perfume gets that part right with an ingenious combination of accords and still manages to be civilized about it. It’s not the cold perfection of Serge Lutens Un Lys, it’s warmer and softer and highly wearable. If I got my true wish, it would be bigger, more like those room-filling lilies I love, but then I couldn’t leave the house wearing it. For life in the real world this is the next best thing.

This collection is a very pleasant surprise. It avoids the worst of today’s trends while embracing the best that modern perfume science has to offer and it uses the chosen materials exceptionally well. I commend Van Cleef & Arpels for not taking the easy road and producing fragrances that are just okay, which they could have done and still come out on top considering what passes for a decent perfume these days. The price is $185 each for 75 ml, which is not cheap but is pretty reasonable if you factor in the quality, since there are many perfumes out there costing a lot more which are not nearly as good as this group. They are quiet and refined, no overpowering sillage here, but I found lasting power to be very good for what they are, and furthermore they held their character and did not turn disappointing after fifteen minutes (or less) like virtually all the department store scents I have tried recently. As always, try before you buy, but these all get my vote of confidence.

As much as it pains me to do so, I am giving away a brand new full sample set of all six perfumes, so if you are interested please say so on the comments, and I will draw a winner by random name generator the week after this post appears. Commenters posting as “Anonymous” who do not include a name in the body of their message will not be entered. (U.S.A. addresses only please, I am unable to deal with items requiring Customs paperwork because of my work schedule.)

Image credit: Oriental lilies, photo © by the author.
Thanks to for the names of the perfumers.

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Blogger Vanessa said...

Lovely comprehensive reviews of this collection...but I don't know if I'm thanking or cursing you, because the more I read about it, the more my wallet cringes in fear :) Please do enter me the sample draw!

12:21 AM EDT  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

Oooh, I'll throw my name in, as I was intrigued by these when I sniffed them a few months ago. Thank you for the review and draw! I kind of hope I don't like any, given the price point.:-/

12:23 AM EDT  
Anonymous Holly said...

Please include me! These sound wonderful, I would love the chance to try them.

12:27 AM EDT  
Blogger ahsumaker said...

All this blog buzz and good reviews have me wanting to try all of these. Please count me in the drawing!

12:55 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lily and muguet? I'm in! By the way, what did you think of DK's Gold?
Great reviews,

12:58 AM EDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'd love to sniff these! Thanks for your generosity, and please enter me in the draw. ~Jean

1:25 AM EDT  
Anonymous maitreyi1978 said...

I am excited by the muguet one. Please enter me in the draw.

2:43 AM EDT  
Anonymous Chris G said...

What a great review! Please enter me in the drawing - thanks.
Chris G

2:48 AM EDT  
Blogger Tama said...

I'd love to be in the draw. Nice comprehensive review - I am very interested in sniffing these.

3:34 AM EDT  
Blogger Janet said...

Cologne Noire sounds fantastic...and I was blown away by what you had to say about lilies! Please enter my name in the contest. Thanks!

4:51 AM EDT  
Anonymous Nita said...

Wonderful review! Please enter me in your drawing!

7:20 AM EDT  
Blogger Occhineri said...

I saw these at Neiman Marcus by didn't have any skin space left to try them--please enter me in the drawing!


7:26 AM EDT  
Blogger Kathryn said...

In a year of reading every perfume review I could lay my hands on, I've never seen such unanimous raves. I would love to smell these. Please enter me in the draw.

7:50 AM EDT  
Blogger EileenS said...

Lovely reviews, Donna! The Muguet Blanc and Bois d'Iris both sound good, If the quality is there, most of them could be real winners for me. The Orchidee Vanille seems less up my alley, but if it's not cloying or gourmand I'll give it a whirl. Please enter me in the draw!

7:52 AM EDT  
Blogger Sue said...

Thanks for the lovely and comprehensive review! I'm excited that VC&A executed these scents so well. Please enter me in the draw!

8:10 AM EDT  
Anonymous dleep said...

Wonderful reviews. I would love to be included in the drawing. Thank you.

8:11 AM EDT  
Anonymous RachaelG said...

Great review, Bois d'Iris is especially peaking my interest. Please include me in your generous prize draw, and thank you!

8:26 AM EDT  
Blogger queen_cupcake said...

Thanks for this review: I am going to read Octavian's review just as soon as I finish writing this comment. Please enter my name in the drawing for these scents. I do love First, and am glad to hear they have some more winning frags coming along.

8:49 AM EDT  
Blogger Gator Grad said...

I tested the Orchidee Vanille on skin several times and was able to detect the orange and chocolate notes (though not at all gourmand on me) after several tests. I really like this one, and I've seen several comparisons to the earlier Hanae Moris-- I'll have to check those out. I recall them being candy-sweet, which OV was not.

I'd really love to test the rest. In the store, the Muguet was sharp on me (and I like frags with sharp edges). Please enter me in the draw.

8:52 AM EDT  
Blogger Mals86 said...

(Jumps up and down, waving arms) ME! Pick ME! Me me me! Over here!

I always enjoy reading your reviews, Donna, especially because we seem to have similar tastes, and I know that if you like something there's a good chance I'll like it too.

9:13 AM EDT  
Anonymous Fernando said...

These do sound very interesting. Can it really be that VC&A have put out a set without falling into the curse of "only one of three is any good"? I'd like to know, so please enter me in the draw.

9:14 AM EDT  
Blogger thescentmuse said...

I am intrigued! Another fabulous review..please include me in the draw.

9:33 AM EDT  
Anonymous Lora said...

There has been so much buzz around these fragrances lately - they must really be good to get the blogosphere humming like this! Please enter me in the draw.

9:36 AM EDT  
Blogger Kater said...

Ooh! Please enter me in the drawing! I've been looking for a good lily scent that isn't so strong it'll knock people over...


10:06 AM EDT  
Anonymous Margot said...

After reading your comprehensive review of this collection, and the comments of other reviewers, I am very interested in trying these, especially the Muguet Blanc.
Thank you for the drawing, Donna!

10:20 AM EDT  
Blogger Prettywitty504 said...

I'd love to try these; put me down for the drawing, please!

10:21 AM EDT  
Blogger Janet said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:34 AM EDT  
Anonymous gautami said...

Lily, Muguet, Gardenia - all sound wonderful.
You are so generous! Please enter me in the drawing.

10:35 AM EDT  
Anonymous Janet in CA said...

These sound beautiful! Please add me to the draw.


10:36 AM EDT  
Anonymous Nina Z. said...

Oh, I'd love to be included in the draw. After reading all the wonderful reviews of this collection, I went to NM just to sniff them! But a person can only take in so many new scents at once. I was really drawn to the Orchidée Vanille. But the SA said, no samples!

10:39 AM EDT  
Blogger ScentScelf said...

Donna, thanks so much for your impressions! Indeed, the intertubes have been humming with love for this set...and I value each contribution, because you the more information and impressions I can get, the clearer the picture in my head. And in my nose. ;)

I really think I am all about the Iris, but there isn't one I wouldn't like to sample! How generous of you to offer a chance to take your "tour" of VCA.

10:57 AM EDT  
Blogger Aimée L'Ondée said...

I tried these at the Houston Galleria's Neiman Marcus just this past weekend and was floored by the Bois d'Iris. They wouldn't give me samples, of course (stamps foot petulantly.) It was just gorgeous. I'd love to be entered in the draw, thanks!

11:09 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd love to be included in the draw, and thanks for the review!


11:11 AM EDT  
Anonymous kathleen said...

I am so keen to try these. Please include me in the draw.

11:34 AM EDT  
Blogger Dusan said...

Just dropping in to say how much I enjoyed reading your impressions of Collection Extraordinaire, D! I am clearly most drawn to the nominally unisex ones, but would love to try them all as they seem to have generated so many ahs and ohs in the blogosphere.

11:37 AM EDT  
Blogger Dusan said...

Not sure if I was clear enough that there's no need to put me in the draw :)

11:40 AM EDT  
Blogger Marko said...

Please enter me in the drawing -with all the wonderful reviews of theses scents (including yours) these six fragrances have shot to the top of my "must try" list. Thanks Donna!


11:44 AM EDT  
Blogger roberta.macdonald said...

I'd love to be entered into the drawing. They all sound lovely. Thank you so much!

11:51 AM EDT  
Anonymous lilacskin said...

interested? lord, yes! please include me in the drawing...if my curiosity about any new gardenia and/or lily scent wasn't enough, this lovely (and persuasive) review would be. and for some reason recently any frag described as 'chilly' gives me goosebumps (of the good kind).

12:09 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd love to be part of the sample draw. Glad to hear they've done a good job on their lily of the valley fragrance. It's my favorite, but a difficult accord to nail - most turn cloying or sour on my skin.

12:53 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Put me in the drawing.

1:22 PM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Oh, man, another rave. No need to put me in the draw, D., but I'm definitely going to sniff these as soon as I can.

1:53 PM EDT  
Blogger sunnlitt said...

Wow, what a wonderful review. You seem to be smitten. And, you seem a bit surprised that you are so smitten!!
I would love to be entered in the draw. Thanks so much..

2:16 PM EDT  
Anonymous kim pp said...

I had an opportunity to sniff them real quick a couple months ago and recalled orchidee vanille smells very nice. Nice review!

3:14 PM EDT  
Anonymous kim pp said...

OOPS. Forget to ask to enter me in the drawing. Thanks.

3:17 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would love to sample these. Please put my name in the hat, and I'll hope to get lucky.
-- Gretchen

4:06 PM EDT  
Blogger Cynthia said...

Ooh ... pick me, pick me. I have only been able to smell these on paper as they were out of samples when I was at NM. I couldn't even begin to do the two that I sprayed on me justice since I had so many other things sprayed here and there.

I loved the Mueguet Blanc on paper and am dying to see if it would live up to its auspicious beginning on skin.

4:18 PM EDT  
Blogger Jen said...

I've ignored all the other sets that have been released recently because it just seems like too much at one time to me. However, your review has me intrigued about these. Please enter me in the draw.

4:52 PM EDT  
Blogger Morgan P. said...

Oooh, enter me please! These all sound delicious, particularly the iris and Noire frags.

Morgan P. (Longtime lurker and big fan of your site) :)

5:32 PM EDT  
Blogger Nancy said...

Oh please enter me in the draw. These scents are captured and envisioned by you and what fun to try one for each day....with a day of rest(?). Merci!

5:49 PM EDT  
Blogger Scott said...

Please include me in the drawing...I've been following the recent reviews of this exclusive line on the blogosphere, and have no time to hunt down samples myself. Thanks for the opportunity!

6:04 PM EDT  
Anonymous dissed said...

I would love to be included. Bois d'Iris sounds intriguing.

6:44 PM EDT  
Anonymous HemlockSillage said...

Thanks for your reviews. I spritzed the Lys and Muget, one on each arm, and then spent the next few hours with my nose glued to my wrists. . .

They all sound lovely, and I'd love the opportunity to spend time evaluating them all. Everything I've read in the blogosphere, including your review, excites me about the collection.

Just wish I had a nice sales assistant who'd share a sample. Clue us in on how you scored the entire set :D

8:14 PM EDT  
Blogger elle said...

Don't need to be entered into the draw as I already have samples of all of them, but just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading your reviews of them and am definitely going back to resample Muguet Blanc this evening. Only have a vague memory of it, so clearly failed to give it enough time - one of the problems when you have six released simultaneously.

9:02 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Thanks so much for commenting, everyone! I see that I am not the only one on board for these lovelies. Everyone who wants to be entered will have their name added to the list, and I won't draw the winner until next week so there is plenty of time to add your name. I just wish I had more sets so everyone could have one!

HemlockSillage, I got lucky on eBay - someone had just listed two sets and it was a "Buy now", no bidding, so I snapped them up fast -I may not have known enough to do it had I not read Octavian's reviews, so I have him to thank. With all the new things coming out it would have been easy to lose them in the shuffle, so if you don't win this draw, you might get lucky too. (The seller said they were freshly decanted at a Neiman-Marcus, so there are SAs in the world with hearts after all!)

Marla, I do like DK Gold but it does not speak "lily" to me the way Lys Carmin (or Un Lys)does - too much else in the way. Great scent, though.

Mals86 - I think we are now officially Scent Twins. :-)

Lilacskin, the Muguet Blanc is plenty chilly for you I think - but not cold, if you know what I mean. Just atmospheric. :-)

9:46 PM EDT  
Anonymous birdwingwhir said...

Thank you, Donna, for the lovely reviews! The enthusiasm for these on the various perfume blogs has got me quite intrigued. Please do enter me in the draw!

10:39 PM EDT  
Blogger Jenn said...

Wow I would love to try these fragrances!!! They sound wonderful!

11:27 PM EDT  
Blogger DWR said...

Oooh! Enter me! I'd love to sniff these...

11:44 PM EDT  
Anonymous Claudia0219 said...

AHHHHHHH.......i can hear the Vanilla Orchid calling my name, would love to be entered in the draw

1:12 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to be included in the drawing, thanks. Alica -

2:37 AM EDT  
Blogger Divina said...

Waaaaaah you got to test those!!! I'm jealous!!! Can't wait to smell them myself. Please enter me in the draw dear Flora!

6:54 AM EDT  
Anonymous Candice said...

I think many of these sound beautiful...please enter me in the draw:)

7:24 AM EDT  
Anonymous Marietta said...

Wow! What a generous offer!
I too, would love to be stuck in a room with an armful of oriental lilies.
Please do enter me in a the sample drawling.

7:59 AM EDT  
Blogger mim said...

please, please enter me! this giveaway sounds fabulous!

12:58 PM EDT  
Anonymous maggiecat said...

These sound lovely - I've read a lot about them lately but not had a chance to sample them. Please pick me so that I can sniff in the privacy of my home, far away from the temptation of the perfume counter!

3:51 PM EDT  
Blogger Proximity said...

I would love to be included :) I'm so interested in smelling some of these fragrances!

6:34 PM EDT  
Blogger Charlotte Vale said...

I'd love to try these. Please enter me in the draw!

10:29 PM EDT  
Anonymous Cynthia L. said...

These sound wonderful. Especially the gardenia one. Please enter me in the draw, and thanks for the great review.

11:04 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please enter me as well. So far these seem to be getting pretty good reviews from the perfumistas. I'd love to try them too. Thanks!
Laura M

12:45 AM EDT  
Anonymous Parfymerad said...

I don't know if the draw is still open, but given that the consensus on these seems to be that they're of a gloriously high standard, I would love to try them. Thanks!

9:13 AM EDT  
Anonymous maggi said...

Thanks so much for the review, detailed as always. ANd please enter me in the draw.


1:15 PM EDT  
Blogger Deanna said...

I'm definitely interested! Please enter me :)

2:08 PM EDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

These have been piquing my interest with all the reviews. Especially the gardenia. Please enter me in the draw! Thank you.

6:52 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh they all sound so heady, exotic and delicious - all the things I am craving right now. I have lived in bone-dry florals and dusty musks for months and am yearning for a change. I must cross my fingers and hope to have the luck of the draw! ;-)

9:24 PM EDT  
Blogger michelle said...

Please enter me in the draw, I would love to smell these.

12:04 AM EDT  
Anonymous Lavanya said...

Would love to be entered in the draw!

1:47 AM EDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

Please consider me as well. I am searching for the perfect lily of the valley scent so I am very interested in Muguet :)

10:23 AM EDT  
Blogger jwpianoboe said...

Thank you! I would love to be entered in the drawing.

11:37 PM EDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

Something I am actually looking forward not a gourmand. Please enter me, thank you.

7:35 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Thanks so much to everyone who entered, the prize draw is now closed and the winner will be announced soon. Good luck!

11:53 PM EDT  

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