Monday, January 26, 2009

Honore des Pres fragrances by Olivia Giacobetti: presentation & perfume reviews

A capella, the musical term that denotes singing without supporting instrumental accompaniment is the analogy that Honoré des Prés, a new niche brand, is bringing to illustrate their unadulterated pureness due to nothing more than Nature's and the artist's gift.
In essence, this is a new line of organic fragrances 100% natural and EcoCert organic (the company uses the term Purs Extraits de Nature), using natural materials from Robertet in Grasse, famous for its quality products.
Although a fervent desire for "green" products has been raising its head for a while and the cosmetics and skincare industry had been attending to that need for quite some time with honest and not-so-honest claims, the all-naturals fragrance niche was circulating below the radar for too long, often due to "mud-slinging" via well-known critics who de facto dished the whole aesthetic and concept as either fundamentalist leftism or air-headed paganistic feminism. Sometimes indeed some fragrances are not on a par, but not always. We're pleased that this is slowly changing, even with tiny, baby steps, now that Melvita and L’Artisan Parfumeur*, as well as American brands like Tsi-La and Rich Hippie, have jumped on the bandwagon. And what better example to illustrate it than a Parisian brand, fronted by an industry-renowed perfumer? The name of the line itself is a contraction of rue Faubourg Saint-Honoré and Saint-Germain-des-Prés, very bourgeois endroits in Paris. The founder was allegedly inspired by his sister, Bonté, who on one sad rainy afternoon, sipping something at Café de Flore apparently taken by the spleen, wondered about such a possibility wishing "to be free to love remarkably original scents" that would not trigger asthma attacks. Or so the story goes!

Honoré des Prés teamed up with fragrance designer Olivia Giacobetti, one of the most talented noses of the younger generation to whom we owe numerous compositions for such prestigious houses as L’Artisan Parfumeur, Agnès b., Hermès and her own baby, IUNX fragrances. Giacobetti is famous among perfumephiles for the way she highlights transparent creations with arresting, figurative effects and she showcased her style amply here. The line is comprised of 5 perfumes all launched in 2008: Chaman's Party , Bonté’s Bloom, Nu Green, Sexy Angelic and Honoré’s Trip. It is the last one which ~as per the official info~ was composed for and by Honoré (whoever he is) himself (whatever that means).
The fragrances themselves are pleasant and refreshing with varying degrees of interest to my nose. My friend Denyse (Carmencanada from Grain de Musc) was quite taken with the style exhibited in her own reviews, wondering: "How did she manage to make fragrances that actually smell pretty much like fine perfumery, given her constraints?" and "there isn’t a whiff of health-store self-righteousness in them; at no time, thankfully, does aromatherapy spring to mind." I'd have to agree with these pronouncements and plunge into a more detailed deconstruction henceforth:

Chaman's Party
Starting with the most substantial in terms of heft, Giacobetti exhibits a smokey, almost incensy side with an earthy vetiver-and-woods accord built on Haitian vetiver and smooth guaiac (lignum vitae) that lasts rather well. The brand talks about "top secret aphrodisiac ingredients" on the top notes as well as it being inspired by "a tree-house experience and total immersion in the heart of the virgin Amazon forest". Let's just say that should the former and the latter be actually combined I wouldn't want to stay around to see the mosquitos; never mind the snakes! Still, the shamanistic vibe proclaimed is audible and the composition is slowly roaring its sensuous and mysterious message. I was absent-mindedly oblivious to both the "sacred" basil of Egypt (I assume Ocimum sanctum which is more pungent than the sweeter varities, but also ritualistically used in ancient Egyptian funeral wreaths) and the "dried clove flowers of Madagascar" (call me clou de girofle) while it lasted, as I was completely immersed in the depths of vetiver, but they contribute nicely to the effect. It's good juice, dry and mystical, and won't contribute to having your perfumista card revoked.

Bonté’s Bloom
Effortlessly pastoral and my favorite of the line, Bonté's Bloom has an immediately appealing lustre of green-grey pearls scattered on a silky antique pashmina, rendered through the fuzziness of sage and chamomille which might be the very infusions Bonté was sipping on that rainy afternoon when the epiphany of an all natural line came in the imaginary tale told on the Honoré des Prés site. A delicate, subtly powdery floral ~thanks to a smidgen of orris~ with herbal touches, it epitomizes the individual style of an unpretentious romantic who enjoys long walks along the sunflower fields when the sun is slowly progressing on its nadir. Then again I have been known to enjoy this sort of mad Van Gogh à la campagne before and to its credit, it lasts for a while on my skin.

Nu Green
Officially said to be based on mint, rose and Indian botanical musk (they must be referring to ambrette seed/abelmoschus moschatus) on a backdrop of tarragon and cedarwood, the composition opens swiftly in a rather rosy-ambrette note that reminds me of No.18 by Chanel garlanded by leafy greens, and not anything else I can discern but even this dissipates in a flash, leaving only a trail of indescribeable nuance. A case of name being true to the scent!

Sexy Angelic
Almondy gourmands have a huge following among perfume wearers and the reason is not hard to see: Gustatory touches appease both the glutton in us and the dieter who has cravings denied. Although I am not exception to either the glutton or the dieter, personally I am not this genre's greatest fan with select few exceptions. All too often they have a reputation of sexiness as well, which is making an appearance through the official info here: "Inspired by a deliciously sweet experience of French candies from Aix-en-Provence (ie.calissons). The pure secret of seduction used by French women to meet their Prince Charming. It is currently used for a game between boys and girls in nightclubs, in luxury hotels or in the office". I'd like to know what sort of game that is which is fit for both the office and the luxury hotels. Is it naughty? Ah, OK, if it's in luxury hotels... I couldn't operate if it were cheap ones! Seriously, if this weren't tongue-in-cheek (which it is) but rivaling the Elixir Charnels claims one would expect the worst.
And yet Giacobetti exhibits an interesting, clearly three-tiered compositions here: First, there is the anisic and bitter almond opening which evokes a box of almond macaroons fresh off the oven; not my thing but probably just the thing for 99,99% of people and even I have to admit it's perfectly executed. Then there is the least appealing -to me- phase in which a seemingly magnolia-like aroma is entering with a hint of lemony, ahem, intimate male juice note. My opposition lies not in the potential "gross" factor but the incongruity with a gourmand concept (it works mighty fine in Sécrétions Magnifiques for instance). And last but not least a creamy, milky, almost sandalwood-like drydown that stays as a skin-scent for a little bit and is yummy.

Honoré’s Trip
This hesperidic cologne is of the refreshing kind which one can imagine on athletic types who have a run through the lawn even before they drink their first cup of coffee green-algae-froth of the day and then put their tennis gear to hit the court in earnest. Big on orange and mandarin with some spicy touch that provides a welcome piquancy to the wholesome, it's pleasant, but not earth-shattering and I can justify its inclusion because of the need of a citrus cologne in a line that puts so much emphasis on natural essences (The essential oils of hesperidic fruits are amazingly easy to extract even by hand and thus tangibly visible and "real" to the consumer).

The downside of the fragrances is they are very fleeting (according to Octavian to the point of being eaux fraîches), some more than others, due to the very nature of most natural materials and the lack of the usual synthetics that help anchor and make radiate most of the fragrances of other lines, such as synthesized musks (Galaxolide, Tonalide etc) or woodies/florals (IsoE super, Lilial et al) or even flower absolutes (those necessitate the use of volatile solvents which have been veto-ed by the specific line and EcoCert, although other all-naturals perfumers use them to good effect)
Alas, longevity is a sore point for many all-naturals fragrances which is technically difficult to surpass even for the most talented, such as Giacobetti. The drawbacks of masochistically choosing to compose a translucid, diaphanous opus present themselves even more as the naturally thick and viscous natural resins and balsams that could have been utilized for a perfume equivalent of a Baroque oil painting (orientals, deep chypres) do not lend themselves easily in aquarelles.
On the other hand, the fragrances contain no phthalates (a major concern for pregnant women as recent studies indicate the risk of producing male foetuses with endocrine problems and subsequent testicular cancer), no petrochemicals, no additional colourings, no animal ingredients and they are not tested on animals; and if you are concerned with those things you should be more than catered for, even if for a brief while.

Eau de toilette spray 100 ml, between 128€ and 148€. Official site: Honoré des Prés. (The site is charmingly tongue-in-cheek and upbeat, with an imaginary clan of des Prés uttering various ~isms and thus worth a visit!)
Currently available only in France but with plans to bring them in the US later on.

Photo © by Helg/Perfumeshrine

*I have been recently informed by my reader Trish that L'artisan exclude petrochemicals and phthalates from their formulae.


  1. E,
    Can you hear my heart beating faster just reading this?!?!

    Wow, I am so thrilled about OG's new line. This is a very exciting new development and only serves to legitimize the movement to green-up the perfume industry. Very cool!

    Hey, did you get my email BTW?


  2. T,

    I am glad you are excited! I did think of you when researching about this.
    I also thought it was a development to tilt the pendulum in a different direction and it can only herald more (perhaps not strictly organic) comparable projects and lines. Yes, it's cool.

    I have replied to your mail, hope you enjoy! :-)

  3. Ah, the vicarious pleasure I get out of reading your reviews, E. Reading you is better than online window shopping, and easier on my wallet. All these (except for the Sexy Angelic) sound very intriguing, especially Chaman's Party, which is probably perfect for me--air-headed, paganistic feminist that I am. ;-)

    The note about them being fleeting makes me wary of even thinking about shelling out the cash for any of them, however. That is a pet peeve of mine. Anya's and Ayala's scents don't disappear in an instant, so it is possible to make naturals with some staying power. Can it be only the presence of absolutes that gives a natural scent stamina?

  4. Anonymous16:56


    I wanted to know more about this line so I'm glad you wrote a lovely review.

    As for the "nature vs. nurture" perfumery debate...I've been on both sides now and, to be honest, the answer, as you know, is quite complicated to say the least. (It's time someone write a book solely on the subject...without bias, please!)

    Well, while the traditional solvent extract absolute is out for natural/organic perfumery (no contest there)...if I'm not mistaken brands can still use CO2 extracts--and perhaps blend them with steam distillation for a different effect when appropriate? In addition, much to the displeasure of organic advocates, I actually like the idea of using naturally identical molecuoles in order to protect the environment--you know, linalool for rosewood and muscone for tonkin musk that sort of things.

    Anyhow, just my two cents--I don't like it when people get really righteous about things. (Can't stand the condescending tone to be honest.)


  5. As someone who leans towards the natural side of things, I do see the merit in using synthetic aromatics to protect the environment as Albert said. Just as long as it is done in an eco-friendly way and done without the use of petrochemicals.

    And yes, righteousness on either side is tiresome. For example, even though I was pleased that Chandler Burr gave Patyka's Boise a favorable review in the NYT, I was very disheartened by his condescending tone towards natural perfumers. It was hardly necessary.

  6. Interestingly, the Honoré des Prés website is totally devoid of any self-righteousness or sanctimoniousness (pity it's only in French, for the moment at least). They treat organic as the latest form of (tongue-in)chic, which is refreshingly Parisian.
    Bittergrace, should you ever have the chance to try these out -- the owner tells me he was presenting them in New York last week -- you'll see that Chaman's Party is actually quite long-lasting: the only one that is, in fact. I would snap up Bonté's Bloom if it had more tenacity. I plan to test it on fabric in warm weather to see if it improves. It's utterly lovely.

  7. M,

    am I flattered! :-))
    Well, Chaman's Party would be indeed perfect for you and it seems to be rather lasting that one (probably because the notes lend themselves naturally to it).
    I think it's not only the absolutes, but the resinous and balsamic materials that those two use which anchor the scent: it's harder to do in lighter, airier compositions, though, such as the style of these.
    And I believe both Anya and Ayala use ambergris and choya nak which are also fixatives (but I realise an Ecocert line might object to). Perhaps if they see this they might tells in more detail how they do it.

  8. A,

    thanks for chiming in. I think I had differentiated in the past about the CO2 extractions, which some all-natural perfumers use to good effect. So, yes, it's definitely doable. Why they don't here (assuming they don't) I don't know.

    It's a complex issue from both sides and not easy to take a position in. It has been at the background of my mind for years.

  9. T,

    certain synethsized materials do benefit the environment, that's true.
    Perhaps the crude oil which is the basis of petrochemicals however could be argued to be a de facto natural product? It's rather more of a case by case issue, I believe.
    As to Patyka, I read the article and it seems fairly positive to the brand to me. Perhaps the same complaint. Maybe a little bit of that previous dismissal on certain things. But he has generally relaxed quite a bit.

    I think we're on the vanguard of new developments in this field. ;-)

  10. D,

    so good of you to chime in and support my case for the style. Yes, the site is a hoot, very clever! I think there is an English version uploaded too, however.
    We should snap Bronte's Bloom and share it among ourselves :-) It's excellent!

  11. Oh, now there goes my one "sour grapes" rationalization for not pursuing Chaman's Party. ;-) Any idea who's going to carry them in New York?

  12. M,

    I believe it would be carried by one of the usual suspects: Aedes seems very a propos, it being a Giacobetti thing and them being so attuned to Parisian brands. Maybe New London Pharmacy?
    I think you might mail them and ask! And if you find out, let me know as well :-)

  13. E,
    Yes, Burr was very complimentary about Patyka. I just wish he'd stayed away from language like "fanatic" and "fundamentalist". It's inflammatory and took away from the points he was trying to make....IMHO.

    And yes, oil can most certainly be argued to be natural, but maybe not "green" or desirable from an eco/political/health stand point. Esp since some petrochemicals are potentially harmful (like phthalates)

    But back to the OG line! I cannot wait to try them out in the spring when they arrive stateside :-)
    Chaman's Party sounds particularly wonderful!


  14. Ah, I think he likes the word "fundamentalist" (opposing the practice) because he has been expressing it for matters unrelated to perfume for long and with passion. Perhaps this is what made him say it?

    Chamana's Party is really a quite earthy scent and strikes me as deep "green". :-)

  15. love my von euserdorff patchouli candel

  16. i adore sexy angelic but
    it does NOT last on me? anyone
    else have this issue?
    i asked and was told it is ORGANIC
    but for the price? i would love
    to enjoy it longer.


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