Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dans Tes Bras by Frederic Malle: fragrance review

It would not be an overstatement to say that the “library” comprised of Frédéric Malle edited tomes of olfactory literature is one of the most stimulating lines in modern perfumery. Now perfumer Maurice Roucel gives us another volume to gnaw our teeth on, Dans Tes Bras (In Your Arms). Their previous collaboration on Musc Ravageur (2000), a best-selling vanillic oriental that despite the name has more of a pronounced spicy, sensual accord than the musky effluvium of a warm body à la Muscs Kublaï Khän, managed to entice even those afraid of the risqué intimacy of the latter.

Dans Tes Bras aims for a new interpretation of sexiness:

“The deep and lasting odor of warm skin, with all of its salty hints and rich overtones. A fragrance carved with hefty chunks of cashmeran, sandalwood, musk and patchouli, reinforced with salicylates and incense, softened with heliotrope, colored with a violet accord. An intimate but deep sensuality, an exalted skin scent, the real essence of the perfume”.
Dans Tes Bras communicates seduction and generosity in an amalgam of masculine-like nuances simultaneously clean and dirty, like a man confident of his prowess enough to show a tender side as well.

Scent Profile

The habitually damsel-like violet note is treated here as an unforeseen touch of freshly turned soil with the merest sprinkle of powderiness due to heliotropin, the unifying element with Roucel’s much sweeter and tartly fruity Insolence Eau de Toilette, its hairspray-opening and all. Green bittersweet patchouli and abstract woods create a bodily landscape of earthy delights which blooms with every passing minute. I do not significantly perceive frankincense smoke, even though it is there, while Six’s impression of fields of mushrooms is another image for the wet undergrowth that arrested my perception: favorably. The creamy, discreetly musky summation stays poised on skin for hours radiating warmth. In sum Dans Tes Bras makes me yearn to don a pair of breeches and trudge along bucolic sceneries of still humid, autumnal beds of decaying leaves accompanied by roborant company.

Maurice Roucel, an autodidact starting at Chanel’s Fragrances Laboratory in 1973, is a sensuous aesthete, with streamlined formulae as his signature evident in such marvels as 24 Faubourg, L de Lolita Lempicka and the missile-in-the-air Insolence. It is therefore of great interest to see how he proceeded with Dans Tes Bras.

Composing Dans Tes Bras

Violet, a symbol of ancient Athens where it was used in scenting wine and Napoleon Bonaparte’s favorite flower, is a complicated matter in perfumery for two reasons: First the natural extract of viola odorata (sweet violet/English violet), although it exists, is rarely used for reasons of cost and versatility. Secondly because there is a distinction between violet flower and violet leaf: the two have a world of difference in terms of odor profile, but that’s not always clear in fragrance descriptions. The flowers have a sweet, powdery ~and when fresh slightly spicy~ note, while the leaf is earthy, green with a cut-grass feel.

The symbolism of violets as emblematic of death at an early age is apparent in the John Everett Millais painting "The Death of Ophelia" and violets which stood for constancy or devotion were traditionally used in mourning. Most people however associate violet with Parma Violets, a violet-flavoured confectionary manufactured by the Derbyshire-based company Swizzels Matlow; or alternatively, depending on cultural memories, with Violettes de Toulouse, violets preserved by a coating of egg white and crystallised sugar still made commercially at Toulouse, France. These tender, playful associations might account for the popularity of several sweet florals in the market, such as Drôle de Rose, Lipstick Rose and indeed Insolence.In violets along with terpenes, a major component of the scent is a ketone compound called ionone, which temporarily desensitises the receptors in the nose; this prevents any further scent being detected from the flower. Ionones were first isolated from the Parma violet by Tiemann and Kruger in 1893. The discovery of ionones enabled cheap and extensive production of violet scents, cataclysming the market with inexpensive violet colognes which became au courant. The ionones palette ranges from the scent of fresh blossoms to mild woodsy sweet-floral tonalities, while methyl ionones possess a stronger woodsy nuance, similar to iris rhizomes, binding woody and floral notes perfectly such as in the masterful Lutens creations Féminité du Bois and Bois de Violette. And let’s not forget that Roucel was the composer of the mournful, cooly wistful Iris Silver Mist for Lutens focused on the nitrile Irival too!

Violet Leaf absolute on the other hand smells herbaceous with an oily earthy nuance and naturally includes salicylates, more on which below. Octin esters and methyl heptin carbonate are used to render the floral green violet leaf odour with watery accents of melon and cucumber, customary in many modern masculine fragrances and the family of fougères (an aromatic group based on the accord of lavender-coumarin-oakmoss). It also gave the older version of Farhenheit its distinctive feel. If you want to get a good impression of violet leaf in a contemporary composition, smell Eau de Cartier. Several of the greener violet fragrances in the market such as Verte Violette by L’artisan or La Violette by Annick Goutal explore those aspects.
In Dans Tes Bras the tone comes from Iraldeine, a base that helps recreate the freshness of violet flowers. The aromachemical α-n-methyl ionone became commercially available around 1935 in Haarmann & Reimer's Iraldeine Alpha rein and Givaudan's Raldeine A (the main constituent of Fath’s legendary Iris Gris) which Ernest Beaux ~good friends with Leon Givaudan~ is said to have included in 25% concentration in the long-lost Mademoiselle Chanel No.1 from 1942-1946 (as analysed and publicized in 2007 in Perfumer & Flavorist magazine).

Benzyl Salicylate (benzyl ortho hydroxy benzoate) is an almost colourless liquid that has a mild balsamic, sweetly floral note possessing excellent blending capabilities. Often used as the foundation for heavy florals such as ylang, gardenia, jasmine, lily etc., it is also used in functional products such as soap, shampoo and fabric softener. Along with Methyl Salicylate, salicylates “turn the most banal floral composition into a real perfume, with majestic weight and sweep” divulges Luca Turin. However some people are anosmic to it, including some perfumers. Guy Robert could not smell benzyl salicylate at all, but could instantly recognize its presence in perfume: “I recognize it as if it were a friend seen from behind in a crowd, by the cut of his shoulders”. Indeed in the words of nose Bernand Chant “it produces a diffusing, blooming effect very pleasing to the public”. Many orchid fragrances are built on salicylates, while the mysterious emerald glow of the vintage Je Reviens is also due to them. Coupled with eugenol and isoeugenol, the effect becomes almost carnation-like with its clove tint. The magic of benzyl salicylate can be best experienced in the archetypal floral bouquet of L’air du Temps featuring an overdose of the ingredient. Its progeny included Wind Song, Norell, Estée, Charlie, even Angel! However the recent restrictions on the use of benzyl salicylates have taken their toll on many floral fragrances, L’air du Temps included, which simply do not smell as they used to.

Methyl salicylate (salicylic acid methyl ester or oil of wintergreen ~because it is present in lots of evergreens such as birch and also rhododendrons~ and commonly featured in arthritis and muscle body rubs but also in Life Savers) has a green glow with camporeous aspects. Naturally occuring in tuberose, jasmine and hyacinth absolutes, as well as ylang ylang and neroli oil, it provides that characteristic eucalyptus-mint nuance of Tubéreuse Criminelle and to a lesser degree Carnal Flower. It is also a big ingredient in birch tar, used in Russia in treating leather and therefore associated with Cuir-de-Russie-themed fragrances, modernly interpreted in Dzing! and Bulgari Black. Also present in cassie absolute, so it seems to be the bridge between those and Une Fleur de Cassie; the connection being that acacia bark (the inspiration behind the latter) was also used in treating leather, in France.

Finally Cashmere Woods or Cashmeran, a favorite of both Roucel and Malle, is a IFF patented, complex aromachemical that provides a beautiful, velours note with diffuse nuances of earthy-wood and spicy notes (pine, patchouli), fruits and flowers (heliotrope, red fruits, apples and jasmine) and is softly musky-vanillic, entering Dans Tes Bras at the appropriate dosage. It's featured in Ysatis, Amarige, Michael, Lacroix Rouge, Perles de Lalique, Beautiful Love and many more.

Dans Tes Bras is thus an excellent example of a fragrance in which analysis makes for much better understanding and appreciation.

Official Notes:bergamot, cloves, salicylates, violet, jasmine, sandalwood, patchouli, frankincense, cashmeran, heliotrope, white musk

Dans Tes Bras has been available in Europe since September ’08 and will become available in the US this coming October, in Eau de Parfum bottles of 50ml/1.7oz and 100ml/3.4oz through the appointed select doors and the Editions des Parfums site.

Pic of actor Ken Watanabee originally uploaded on MUA, I believe it's by Anne Leibovich. Bottle pic via F.Malle


  1. I can hardly wait to try this- I have been literally so busy I haven't been able to get to one of the 2 shops that stock FM- a case of so near but so unnavailable.

    I love the picture of Ken Wattanabe- I am swooning!

  2. Thanks for the link to my earlier preview!
    Upon further skin testing, I found the wet earth note to be rather evanescent, but the minty-camphory aura of methyl salicylate was quite persistent and dominated the whole composition.
    It's a very interesting, original take on violet, isn't it? I must say that on the whole, Dans Tes Bras is the most original new composition I've smelled this season. I'll need to test this quite a bit more to know if I'd really wear it, though... It's that surprising!

  3. Hello, E. Yes, analysis does make for better understanding and appreciation. Or, if not appreciation yet (I have not tested it), then anticipation. I particularly found it fascinating what you said about the methyl salicylate connection with Une Fleur de Cassie. It's a bit like experiencing all these different fragrances as being in a dialogue together (or perhaps the perfumers are in dialogue with one another?)

  4. Oh dear, this is the best-sounding new release in ages. I'm hyperventilating slightly;-)

    The salicylates are especially intriguing, since sweet birch is one of the most beautiful scents I know. The combination with violet and heliotrope almost has to be fantastic.

    Thanks for the lemming, E--and as always, for the edifying post.

  5. Thanks: you made my day. :-)

  6. Made my day too! Sitting here in my cubicle in downtown Austin, and I'm supposed to be copyediting something, but instead I'm dreaming of nuzzling horses on a moody beach with Ken Watanabe. *sigh* That's such a gorgeous photograph. I remember it--I think it's an Annie Leibowitz from a Vanity Fair spread several years ago. If the perfume smells half as good as that picture, I'm so there.

  7. Rose,

    it's definitely one of the most sample-worthy things this autumn. Do get thee to your Liberty or Scenteurs and try it out, I am interested in what you think :-)

  8. D,

    you're very welcome: after all you had the privilege of being there almost as soon as it got in the store.
    The patchouli-violet combo is very interesting, produces a smooth cozy feeling, stays long on too!

    And who else by Malle would encourage the analytical approach to how the formula is really constructed? Enough with the fantasy, in with the informed choices; I applaud this.

    Do try it again and again, I am interested in your subsequent impessions.

  9. J,

    I hope you do try it out and report back to me about how it struck you. It's not a classic feminine, nor is it a classic masculine.

    Love your phrase, how perfumes are in a dialogue with each other, or rather the perfumers are: it makes for fascinating historical perspectives as well as the always stimulating discussion of influence and furthering one's idea...subjects near and dear to my heart.

  10. M,

    thank you for the wonderfully kind words.
    I think you will find it interesting and possibly to your taste: it would go wonderfully with hiking! It's also very erotic in a discreet, understated nonw-too sweet way (antithetical to the calorific Musc Ravageur) which has an intellectualised air about it.

  11. Helg, love the image you have going there. This sounds like one heck of an interesting scent; but will I smell it? I admit for some reason I never really make it to the Malle's very often.

  12. Aimee,

    don't let me mess with your deadlines, though, huh? ;-)
    Seriously, fragrance is very individual, but I find DTB is quite interesting and exudes a serene feel that I tied to the image in my mind: has a masculine vibe, but not hitting the chest in vain displays of unncessary agression, nor is it limp-wristed and apologetic either.

    Thanks for the photographer credit, I believe you're 100% right!

  13. Jen,

    it'd be a pity to miss on the Malle line. I am not sure this one is of your particular taste (maybe too earthy?), although I believe L'eau d'hiver would fit wonderfully (can't recall what you think of it right now, please enlighten me)

  14. I wish I remembered this more than I do right now.

  15. I hope you try it again soon (psst, mailing you)

  16. perfumeshrine, quite honnestly I 'm not a great fan of Malle 's fragrance line. His self-proclaimed concept is "I work with the greatest noses/perfumers of our times who are given complete artistic freedom with no budget restraints" but in the face of that I find his fragrances rather disappointing, they 're all 3 stars fragrances (Perfumes the guide), not terribly bad but definitely not masterpieces. Musc Ravageur doesn 't come close to Musc Koublai Khan in terms of artistic and execution complexity, true its top/middle notes are interesting but after 45 min all is left is a cheap ambery vanillic drydown on the skin. I haven 't smelled Dans Tes Bras but my feeling is that it 's probably more mainstream than Insolence edt/edp. To me the Malles are pretty scents composed with high end materials and that 's just about it.

  17. Emmanuella,
    I find the line "stimulating" like I said: more for the concept and the aesthetics rather than the smells itself which is also a valid point, I'd surmiss.

    I agree that L de Lempica is Roucel's superior take of the recipe of Musc Ravageur, which for some unfathomable reason passes as outré, when in fact it's not especially musky; nowehere near MMK which is really the best animalic musk I know barring the real thing. I prefer MR in the oil, btw, much quieter and less "fattening".

    Yet, there are things I like: Carnal Flower is very well rendered, very realistic (although Tubereuse Criminelle is more individual assuredly); Iris Poudre is an elegant companion in my personal life, suits me well; Fleur de Cassie has the old-fashioned vibe I appreciate (and an association I would divulge in the future perhaps); Vetiver Extraordinaire is really vetiver-ladden, no kidding!

    L'eau d'hiver, Bigarade and Angeliques are rather coherent and in tune to the creator, although I do prefer Apres L'ondee, Eau de Cartier and Declaration, the underlying dialogue-participants and incubators ;-)

    Then again there are things I don't like: Lipstick Rose is too much, too waxy, rather vulgar to my eyes (nose?), En Passant ruins the lushness of the raw material and its indolic facet with an unrelated note of cucumber and yeast (I'm harsh, I know)...

    I would be interested in your take on DTB: it has the weird aura of the Insolence EDT (which we both like I recall) in small part, without any of its sweetness or tartness. It's quite earthy and much, much quieter. An interesting take.

  18. Whoa.

    Whatever my ultimate impression, you've made my day with honest anticipation. It's nice when heart and mind are both racing over for a chance to sniff...

    ...hope I get the chance soon!

  19. perfumeshrine, DTB hasn 't been released in the US yet. Lipstick Rose could have been as interesting as Insolence but there 's something that wasn 't working for me, I actually bought it three years ago until one day realised I never wore it so it ended up on ebay. MR suffered the same ebay fate, a fragrance that I felt I had to have in my collection but everytime I wore it, it always turned sweet and vanillic in a generic way and for a supposedly ravaging scent men never complimented me; not good!

    I 'm dying to smell Insolence edp which hasn 't been released in america either (I asked about it at the Saks Guerlain counter in New York City, some ignorant Guerlain floor manager had no idea what I was talking about and actually thought Insolence edt was an edp until I proved her wrong and you know what? She didn 't really feel embarassed actually, I 'm sure she thought I was the crazy one!).

  20. The Malle's aren't in Liberty until October so I have to go to Senteurs on Saturday- until then I keep imagining what this might be like

  21. Gah.....they're making this difficult for you I see. Well, hope you find it at least interesting (it's nothing Apres L'ondee and L'Heure Bleue and that genre, tho!)

  22. Helg, I tried L'Eau d'Hiver on my skin, and it was so light I could barely smell it; it should be up my alley but I think a musk is used in it that I am anosmic too, sigh...

  23. A ha! That's interesting to know. It is light, that's true. Sorry about that: short question though ~was it from a dab on sample or spray/tester? I find that spraying usually gives on a much fuller effect of a fragrance.


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