“What’s that you’re wearing? It’s gorgeous!”
I got various forms of that comment more than once as I was giving Eau de Magnolia more skin-tests that strictly needed to do a write-up. And from perfumers, no less, i.e. the people least likely to be intrigued and impressed, if only because they usually think of the way they’d have treated the theme…
The scent of magnolia is particularly tricky to turn into fine fragrance while keeping it figurative. It's just about as hard to pin down as a Southern Belle flirting full steam ahead. While it has tremendous volume when if wafts from the tree, it has a somewhat static, hazy quality to it: citrusy soap froth, held aloft by indole. Sandrine Videault often mentioned it when she was working Magnolia Grandiflora, which had actually started out as a home fragrance just like Carlos Benaïm’s own Jurassic Flower. Her solution was to turn it into a chypre (to read a short excerpt from her thoughts on the subject, click here).
This was also the option taken by Frédéric Malle and Carlos Benaïm. The perfumer had noted that the evaporation structure of magnolia was chemically closer to cologne than to white or rose-type flowers. They decided to use that as a springboard to revisit the luminous, chypre-cologne hybrids of the early 70s.
Eau de Magnolia verticalizes the scent of its namesake by using the connection between grapefruit and vetiver as a garden stake. That stake is stuck in a patchouli and tree moss bed – both of which, like the vetiver, are fractioned qualities, distilled to shave off any earthy, moldy or camphoraceous jags. Because these are smoothed-down versions of the ingredients, bolstered by cedar which Malle calls a “colorless wood” in the press kit, they don’t warp the olfactory form of the magnolia. The facets remain legible, but in a teasing, out-of-the-corner-of-our-eye way: two of the “Where’s Waldo” molecules of the perfume world, indole and linalool, used in hefty doses, keep the scent as blurry and shimmering as a heat haze induced mirage.
And indeed, for all its freshness, Eau de Magnolia does also convey steaminess – honeyed dew evaporating from petals in the morning sun. The moistness, very much a part of the scent of magnolia, is expressed by a faintly aqueous fruitiness (which shouldn’t send calone-phobes screaming for their mothers).
Despite their differences, Eau de Magnolia shares some of La Panthère’s qualities: great volume and long-lastingness, a silky yet translucent sillage, and that haziness that marks them as contemporary iterations rather than tribute-band versions of classics.
In the press material, Frédéric Malle states he was thinking of Edmond Roudnitska’s streamlined style in the final stages of the development – at the launch, he told me that though Roudnitska had worked for years on a magnolia, it was probably impossible to achieve it without a headspace. Clearly, with Malle as a scent-whisperer, Carlos Benaïm’s head was in some sort of Roudnitskaesque space when he worked on Eau de Magnolia: it has the radiance, balance and sense of rightness that would do Diorella’s author proud (though he’d probably think of the way he’d have treated the theme).
Eau de Magnolia will be available in June.
Illustration: Cy Twombly, Untitled.
 When I reviewed Magnolia Grandiflora, I actually mentioned the fact Sandrine didn’t have IFF headspaces to work from, though as I didn’t know about Eau de Magnolia yet, I mentioned Ropion’s work on the tuberose.
 The tree moss has been treated to remove the two allergenic molecules responsible for restrictions on its use, and slated to be banned by upcoming EU regulations.
 Linalool turns up in citrus oils, lavender, geranium and rosewood, but also in jasmine and orange blossom
Eau de Magnolia and La Panthère are the two fragrances that are haunting me since I tested them both last Saturday! I'm finding some similiraties too and love especially their rich rooty, mossy, "grown up" drydowns. I must try EdM more properly and calmly, you know a new Malle is always so exciting!RépondreSupprimer
I agree, a new Malle is always quite the event. And I'm glad I'm not the only one to find similar vibes in the two scents -- of course, both are based on IFF floral headspaces which may account for part of that.Supprimer
That's a lovely review and may even prompt me to seek out a sample of Eau de Magnolia, though where I live Malle can't be sampled except by purchasing samples, and they are not cheap. But I'm also thinking about 'tribute-band versions of classics'. Much as I love classic fragrances, retro-style fragrances and even good re-formulations sometimes just try that bit too hard. I'm left craving something beautifully composed, with good materials, but which is a fragrance for the times we live in. Hermes seems particularly good at this, both in its regular and exclusive lines.RépondreSupprimer
Annemarie, I know what you mean about those "trying too hard" fragrances: niche initially defined itself by a retro, "let's do'em like they used to" discourse, but the pioneers like Lutens, Malle (or L'Artisan, especially during the period where Pamela Roberts was creative director) certainly didn't work in a retro, quotational style. Whereas what I would call the Roja Dove school of revivals does... which reminds me of those faux Louis-something furniture you can buy on the Faubourg Saint-Antoine in Paris.Supprimer
Taking into account that the new edp Matin d' Orage has a pronounced magnolia note, how do you rate it? Any similarities to Eau de Magnolia?RépondreSupprimer
I find the new version of Un Matin d'Orage "chewier", somewhat fruitier, definitely more vanillic and closer to a bouquet with the added tuberose... as though it were moving a bit closer to Songes. At the same time, the magnolia note is somewhat cooler and ozonic in both the edt and the edp of the Goutal than it is in the Malle. I find the latter mistier, while the former gives more of an impression of raindrops hitting petals. Let's say the Malle is happening later, after the "orage"...Supprimer
That was my thought. I definitely get the vanilla but also an unexpected juiciness that lasts and lasts.. I'll try the Malle and see!RépondreSupprimer
Report back when you do!Supprimer
So, having tried both, I feel there is room for the 2 interpretations. Malle is fresh and cologne-ish, so it's become my summer staple. Malle has done with magnolia what Arquiste did with gardenia for boutonnière n°7, and Goutal has taken Le Labo approach to magnolia like they did with Lys41; creamy and indulgent with a dessert like vanilla drydown!Supprimer
I mean what Le Labo did with lily! Sorry!Supprimer
Couldn't agree more! Happy you've find a new summer staple. It's become one of mine too.Supprimer
I've started stalking my Saks Fifth Ave to try this as soon as possible. A new Frederic Malle is always good to try, but your review makes this sound perfect for summer. Here in Texas, the magnolias are in full bloom, and whenever I can reach them, I go in for a sniff. Can't wait!RépondreSupprimer
Here in Paris we don't have that many magnolias, so I'm curious to know what a connoisseur will say about this... Please report back!Supprimer
In my neck of the woods (central TX) the magnolias can be 30 feet tall and covered in hundreds of blooms. You can smell them a block away - a light, lemony cloud that is noticeably different than what you smell when you put nose your smack down in one (which I can never resist doing). It's like two delicious smells for the price of one. The petals feel like expensive stationery, thick and silky, and closer in the sweetness has a woody quality you don't get from further away. They are amazing, one of my very favorite smells in all the world. I hope to goodness I can get a snort of this while I'm in NYC this July. It sounds divine.RépondreSupprimer
Wow, that description sounds so incredibly divine... How can any perfume life up to it?Supprimer