Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Lancome Magnifique: fragrance review and musings

C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre. (It is magnificent, but it isn't war).
~Pierre Bosquet

Lancôme presented their latest fragrance Magnifique to the press featuring their new ambassador, actress Anne Hathaway, at the Grand Palais in Paris. Talented and pretty stars are nothing new in the Lancôme galaxy and their previous choice of Kate Winslet as new face of Trésor had me enraptured. Hathaway (who had professed a predeliction for Chanel's Chance) is equally lovely in a Snow White suit instead.
Magnifique set out to olfactively interpret the colour red, from the bottle, to the colour scheme of Hathaway's dress, to the admitedly cheddar-heavy US print-ad. Hence to avoid the latter factor, I chose a picture from the upcoming Peter-Lindberg-directed commercial, in which Hathaway poses as a cross between a Nikolaos Gyzis and Edward Hopper model.

Technically, Magnifique is a spicy woody floral, composed by Firmenich perfumers Olivier Cresp and Jacques Cavallier (a collaborating duo on many popular fragrances).
The inspiration, according to Woman's Wear Daily was Nargamotha/cypriol (Cyperus scariosus). Nagarmotha is a plant of the Cyperaceae family, also called Nagar Mustaka, which grows wild in the Madhya Pradesh region of India. Highly-prized for its roots, it is often used in compounding perfumes (especially since it acts as a fixative and is quite economical), in the manufacturing of soaps and incense sticks, as an insect repellent and for medicinal purposes. Associated with milkweed, Indian nard, jatamansi and fekhand, it appears in the spells of Vashikarana: It's said that a man applying it to his forehead is assured of a long series of successful love affairs!
Steam distillation of the tubers of cypriol yields 0.075-0.080% of an essential oil, the principal content of which is cyperine. The smell of nagarmotha is woody, earthy and quite lingering; it mostly conjures a hybrid between cedar, vetiver and patchouli, with fleeting touches of cinnamon and frankincense giving a churchy feel.
Reportedly, Cresp and Cavallier came upon it while in India and liked it so much that they opted to include its essential oil in their Magnifique fragrance. Somehow this is my first stumble: really? Such acclaimed and experienced perfumers were unaware of this old ingredient and just now discovered it?

What is naughty is that there is a perfume product thus named, produced by Innospec:

"A group of fragrance industry experts has given an enthusiastic review to three of Innospec's products- Cypriol, Vetimoss, and Verdirosa. The occasion was the British Society of Perfumery symposium, held last month [July] at Towcester. Lester Bowman, head of Innospec Active Chemicals for Europe, the Middle East and Africa gave a talk to the group, and Peter Whipps, a freelance perfume expert presented the three fragrances. Cypriol, which has a spicy floral fragrance, was presented in a linden blossom room spray and peach base, where it confers the rich, natural aroma of real flowers. As well as offering good odour of its own, Cypriol has a substantial floralising effect on any fragrance".
(Source Innospec)

Cypriol has been rather popular lately: a component of the latest Musc Nomade by Annick Goutal as well as Dzongha by L'artisan (where it is noted as a Papyrus note, Cyperus Papyrus, a member of the same family), Rose Kashmirie by Parfums de Rosine, the newest By Killian Prelude to Love, and Tom Ford for Men ~latter claimed to be the first to use cypriol: "that slightly dirty, sensual, sexy smell...It's not the same as natural musk used to be, but it has a bit of something that some people would think slightly dirty...I think it's warm and sensual." That claim is of course an euphemism, to put it politely: they probably publicized the fact first, since cypriol use goes as far back as Xeryus, a floral woody semi-oriental masculine by Givenchy, developped by Firmenich, in 1986! And if I am not too mistaken in Eau d'Issey pour Homme too in 1994. They're seriously putting us on, it seems!

To revert to Magnifique and how it smells, Lancôme didn't veer off far on their use of their emblematic rose, a note used in most of their fragrances under one guise or another (with the exception of mighty crispy O de Lancome): many perfume lovers report a profound love for Mille et une Roses, while the peachy-rosy Trésor has its own ardent fans.
There is indeed a round rose nuance in Magnifique that veers into fruity-jammy; still, the fragrance is not considerably floral, less so rosy in the flowers-on-the-stem kind. Rather Magnifique starts as a lightly effervescent, spiked-soda sort of fragrance,with a light peppery bite and sweet fruity tonalities defying the listed cumin, as the fragrance does not present any sweaty side at all. Nor is it especially woody, which is a suprise after all the insistence on that aspect, although the nagarmotha essence does make a solid appearence; the woods are pale, pleasantly powdered but ultimately vacant-eyed and unchallenging, ready to smile and strike their best side for the camera (and yes, they do know which is their best one!). If you have watched "Diary of a Princess" with the lovely Hathaway, they're the "after" part, even though the "before" wasn't that wild either...

"The challenge was to work on wood", Cresp claimed nevertheless. Why challenge? Due to the slim number of woody juices aimed at women, since woody notes are traditionally regarded as masculine. There is of course a handful which are excellent and not masculine-smelling at all: the iconic Bois des Iles by Chanel, intent on sandalwood; the notorious Feminité du Bois by Shiseido or Dolce Vita by Dior, both focused on cedar. Then again there are fragrances that pose an androgynous spin such as the chic Sycomore, the latest in Chanel's unisex Les Exclusifs line, fleshing out vetiver.
A similar risk was taken by Lauder's newest feminine, Sensuous, a very similar to Magnifique ~albeit milkier and heavier~ composition which tries to change the demographic to a lower age group than the typical Lauder clientele according to Chandler Burr.
Therefore the challenge seems to be on the business side more than on the olfactory one!

There appear to be segments of other ideas in Magnifique: the sweet patchouli vibe of Attraction, Lancome's own less successful previous release from 2003 (which might illustrate the fact that discarded mods never trully get discarded ~and please consider the discontinued lactonic woody Feu d'Issey by Cavallier there too, will you?), or the fruity woodiness of Gucci by Gucci; maybe even the jammy earthiness of Rabanne's Black XS, as well as Dior's Midnight Poison or Elle by Yves Saint Laurent (latter two notably by the same noses).
Which brings me to an interesting question: what segregates some of the above as "modern chypres" in taxonomy, while Magnifique is a "woody"? The edges blurr in my mind and it seems to me that "woody" has now become just fancy jargon to denote edginess, a sort of fashionista It-term; I predict we will be hearing it often from now on, mark my words.
Furthermore, woody fragrances often cross borders in niche lines, being shared by both sexes, which brings me to my next point: The derivative aspect of mainstream brands trying to replicate niche trends is a manifestation of both the market's oversaturation with offerings that focus on tired vogues (the avalanche of fruity florals and trite gourmand vanillas for women, the conventional citrus woodies and screechy marines for men) as well as the desire to tap into the pool of perfume lovers who scout the micro-niche lines for something different, but cannot always have it readily accessible due to exclusivity.

Magnifique is commendable for turning its back on tired concepts. It can thus be viewed as a step in a good direction, but also as the height of cynicism in fragrance business in view of the above. I will give them the benefit of the doubt for now and hope that more companies in the mainstream sector try to diversify.

Official Notes: mandarin, saffron essence, cumin, cinnamon, Bulgarian Rose essence, absolute of Rose Mai de Grasse, jasmine, Australian Sandalwood essence, Indian nagarmotha, vetiver.

Magnifique comes in 50ml/1.7oz and 75ml/2.4oz of Eau de Parfum concentration (with accompanying Bath Cream and Body Lotion in 200ml containers) and has just launched in the US (initially as an exclusive to Bloomingdale's). It will be available around the world in September through major department stores.

For those able to read French, please visit my good friend S. on Ambre Gris for another view.

Pic of Anne Hathaway courtesy of I'm not Obsessed.Bottle pic courtesy of Fragrantica.


  1. Dear E-
    While this 'augurs ' well-
    And it's pretty enough, it merely 'whelms' me-
    For lack of better phraseology.

    [BTW- I sent you an email on 8/1- check it out ! I loved my package !!!]


  2. I agree, dear I. Although it's nice that they went towards another direction, I was stifling a yawn...

    PS.Off to go check, don't think I got it; if not too much trouble, maybe resend? *pleading puppy eyes*

  3. Good grief Anne is a gorgeous girl! I am literally cracking up with all this cypriol nonsense (Tom claiming to be the first to use it, now Lancome making out that their two perfumeurs had an Indiana Jones experience in finding it, reality: has probably sitting around for quite awhile, and finally everyone is going, well in Europe anyways, "wow this smells good.") I will be taking a sniff of this.

  4. Jen,

    thank you for your comment. Anne certainly is beautiful! Has a refreshingly "pure" beauty (and gorgeous skin!).

    I was cracking up with the cypriol too!
    I don't want to be super cynical and deduct that they have all just found a great source that supplies it cheaply and readily... ;-0

  5. Helg, you nailed it with that cypriol business. It's just been popping up a lot, hasn't it? I think it was probably used before and not named in the listed notes (probably buried under vetiver and patchouli, as aspects of it evoke both). Or, as you say, some new synthetic came out and became all the rage.
    I vaguely remember when Nathalie Rykiel claimed that the new Rykiel perfume "was the first to use lavender and incense together", when Encens et Lavande had been around for years.
    Your post is essentially about marketing a mainstream superlaunch, and brings many interesting elements into discussion. Brava!

  6. Haven't seen it over here yet Helg.

  7. Thank you D, I appreciate your kind words.
    I think what you say (that it was buried under/masqueraded as vetiver and patchouli) must be true.
    Cresp also claimed that Magnifique is the first feminine to use Nagarmotha, which is rather innacurate if we consider Rose Kashmerie from 2007, but perhaps he was meaning in the mainstream sector? Perhaps Nathalie Rykiel was of the same mind (thus designating E&L to a very small niche) Could be...
    I'd hate to think otherwise!

    It seems to me that there is a very thought-out plan of manipulation going on on many levels, with both mass and niche offerings.

  8. M,

    you're right, I think you should be expecting it in September. I got my decant from a very kind friend who was able to secure her own through roundabout ways.

  9. Hi, E! Your discussion of the Cypriol stuff had me laughing out loud this morning. I've heard that L'Artisan's Timbuktu also has it. Perhaps I'll try to track down some essential oil of cypriol when I'm in India myself next year.

  10. Hi J!
    Yeah, isn't it funny in a twisted way? You should try to smell some.
    Do you like Timbuktu I wonder? It's strangely incensey and vegetally sweet.

  11. Anonymous07:20

    Coming this way via your recent comment about Secret Obsession on NST. I love the way you write so thoroughly on the composition of these creations and the sort of cross-pollination of ideas and themes that run through them. I know I've stopped in here before, but I must read you more often when I really want to think analytically about fragrance and also get more of an education about the science behind it. Thank you.

    Funny, my reaction when reading this was similar to Jarvis's above; i.e., "I must get hold of a small sample of cypriol." Interestingly, Timbuktu is one of my favorite fragrances.

  12. Joe,

    thanks for stopping by and hope to see you often here. The readers' support means a lot to me.
    Thank you also for your most kind words on the work done on Perfume Shrine: trying to be a little different, a little more analytical as you say. (Hope I am not boring people stiff! LOL)

    You should get some cypriol, if you can, it's a very interesting note, has a very pleasing floral-woody vibe.
    Timbuktu is fascinating on many aspects, I have focused on it on my Incense Series.
    As you probably are as well, I am very glad more people are joining our little club now that Turin has praised it so.

  13. Anonymous19:07

    I actually ended up going directly to ebay and buying some cypriol/nagarmotha and a couple other essential oils -- who knows what the quality will be as it was only about $5 for 5ml, but at least I'll get a sense. I've been wanting to explore pure absolutes for awhile now and this is my excuse to start.

    I'll have to check out your ruminations on Timbuktu as it really is in my top 5. Also, I wouldn't say your analytical approach is boring -- I think it would be a bit more than I could absorb while "infosnacking" at work, but when I'm reading at home with more time I really like to appreciate the fragrance science behind some of this stuff (when it doesn't totally go over my head). Thanks!

  14. Joe,
    you're very kind, thank you for saying so!

    I am very happy you bought cypriol. I think you will at least get an idea and it might open up questions to search for later on: always a good thing!

    Looking forward to comparing notes on Timbuktu! Do let me know what you think on my take.

  15. Hi Helg,

    Once again I find myself led by the nose to your brilliant blog.
    You, of course, know I'm an American niche perfumer, but many of your readers perhaps don't. I was just doing an internet search for Vetimoss. Lo and behold, YOUR site pops up, so here I am reading your interesting article about it!
    Vetimoss is indeed nice stuff. –Very much like rich, fresh, damp soil. It goes well with Scentenal, an aldehyde (note the al ending), a chemical class you've written very intelligently about. It's watery, fresh, mossy, mild but pervasive and to me, at least, very pleasant. Funny thing is, I was merely trying to find a source for Vetimoss since my usual supplier, John D. Walsh, Inc., curiously no longer lists it.
    –Wanted to say hello anyway;-)

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