Monday, July 21, 2014

L'Artisan Parfumeur Premier Figuier: fragrance review & history

Composed by perfumer Olivia Giacobetti exactly 20 years ago in 1994, Premier Figuier still remains one of the very best out there, conjuring a vivid image of late August days spent in the Greek countryside when cicadas are loudly singing at the scorching hour of noon and people hot and weary from a sea dip are sitting beneath the shade of the fig tree to enjoy their Spartan meal of fresh fruit and cool, still water. The coconut curls note is rounding the foliage with just the right sweetness and provides an euphoric touch.

via behance.net

Giacobetti in an unstoppable strain of fig-producing mode, went on to create an Eau de Parfum version to the best-selling Premier Figuier, baptized Premier Figuier Extreme (2004), highlighting the rounder elements and extending its stay. She also created Philosykos for Diptyque, two years after her seminal "first fig tree" for L'Artisan. Philosykos, the friend of figs.

The re-creation of the smell of fig trees in perfumery is possible thanks to two crucial ingredients: stemone and octalactone gamma. Stemone (Givaudan tradename) imparts a green, fresh tonality like mint that combined with octalactone gamma (prune-like) evokes the earthy, sticky green of fig leaves (a smell of dry earth, scorched by the sun of a hot place with a hint of bitterness) and the milky sap of the young fruit plus the acid green of galbanum. The always handy Hedione (a fresh jasmine note, Firmenich tradename) and Iso-E Super (a dynamic and shape-shifting woody synthetic, IFF tradename) are often utilized to bring “lift” to the genre. The coconut note is an important part, not because it imparts a tropical feel (figs grow in the temperate zone) but because the young fruit sap contains a sensitizing "milk," a lactonic note. Coconut is also lactonic, i.e. milky in nature, hence the inclusion more realistically brings to mind the fig tree burdened with its succulent-to-be load. The milky note isn't a random thing, nor has it escaped attention through the ages. The classical Greek writer Athenaeus of Naucratis writes in Deipnosophistae how rural populations were making cheese out of milk by curdling it using the twigs and leaves of the fig tree. It is even described in Homer's Iliad!

via pinterest

It's not decided whether Giacobetti was intimate with this bit of classical knowledge when she added a milky, butyric note into the green woody skeleton. All I know is that in Premier Figuier it was crucial that the tempering of bitterness (naturally occurring in the fig leaf itself, smelled best when crushed between the fingers) with the sweetish milky note is done just right! The effect is not too dissimilar to an apricot (another lactonic note in fragrance) run under fresh water and opened in two halves in a cool yard. While wearing Premier Figuier I am often reminded of this little fact as I receive compliments on the "apricot scent" on me… :-)


  1. "premier figuier" is a lovely scent, very true to the fig fruit/stem smell. never thought of it as apricot-like, but i will buy an apricot first chance i get to see...such a perfect summer scent, the fig.

  2. As I am spending my vacation on the Aegean island I was born, I am hit with the smell of fig trees (full with small still unripe fruit on them at the moment) every day. The smell now is discreet, bitter and airy. Soon when they ripe, open and fall and start rotting on the ground is another thing. Back in town whenever I am at a department store I always take a whiff of either philosykos or premier figuier and though both do the trick and I'm momentarily (and with a sigh of content) transported to the island, being here now I find both perfumes, no matter how masterfully made, somehow lacking the real thing. But for those almost guilty moments, when a stolen sniff takes me to a summer day just like this one, walking under the shade of fig trees to my favorite beach, I will confess- Long live the fig!

  3. Miss Heliotrope01:48

    I appreciate your detailing why the coconut is used, but I find the constant assumption that tropical equals summer is a tad unfair. As someone who also lives in a temperate zone, I find the extreme dry heat, the dust, the blanched with sun look on everything - even the smell of extreme dryness from the sun in washing & the air - is fabulous (& goes with the figs) on its own - there are different sorts of hot places, and the dominance of tropical as an ideal seems to me to lack imagination at times.

    (Mind you,the two girls in your picture really ought to be avoiding any sort of sunny heat).

  4. Dina C.13:18

    LAP Premier Figuier Extreme was one of my very first discoveries when I started my perfume hobby. It was instant love for me. I love the woodiness, the green galbanum note, and the fig tree plant. Thanks for featuring this scent and teaching me more about it, Helg. :-)

  5. Interesting. I remember years ago having a decant of this but found the green notes took over on me (does this have any galbanum in it?) so it didn't become much on me. I did have much more like luck with her Philosykos creation though.

  6. Anonymous16:21

    do you have a preference between Premier Figuier and Premier Figuier Extreme? i am not sure which one to buy...

  7. NFS,

    this is what people tell me. Apricot. I think they're interpreting the lactonic note as such.
    Yes, figs are lovely. Especially when consumed! :-D

  8. N,

    nothing can come close to the real thing. Probably because it's such a complex set of smells on an island which makes the fig tree gain nuance and depth: the salty air, the shade, the dust on the leaves (notice how everything looks dusty on a fig tree?) and the heat of the earth rising...maybe a drink of ouzo, some goat's cheese and the far away scent of charcoal roasted seafood too? :-)

    Hope you enjoy yourself this summer! Καλές διακοπές!!

  9. C, good observation!
    I suppose it's a bit of the American notion seeing as Hawaii is the closest (to Americans) to what "eternal holidays in the sun" stands for and it's indeed tropical.
    But in the Med and in Northern Africa and in Australia and in some places in the Far East heat and summer is quite a different thing. It takes all kinds.

    The girls were actually conveying well the concept of shade. Shade is what I associate most with fig trees (because they make such a thick, welcome shade). Not sun. I love the shade. :-)

  10. Dina,

    you're very welcome, what a lovely first discovery and a surefooted first step into such a rewarding and rich journey, eh?
    I think we will always remember our first "enlightened" discovery, because it opened up exactly this new door to a new appreciation. Thanks for commenting!

  11. Jen,

    indeed it has galbanum. It conveys well the bitterness of the leaf. The sweeter fruity notes are there as a counterpoint, as fig trees combine bitter with sweet.

    Philosykos is a bit warmer. It's masterful and a hugely influential scent. Enjoy!

  12. Anon,

    I tend to prefer the regular Premier Figuier myself. I would only recommend the Extreme if you have issues with longevity with the EDT by L'Artisan. It's not wildly different from the regular though.


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