Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Narciso Rodriguez Essence: fragrance review

Narciso For Her by young, hip and understated designer Narciso Rodriguez had me at hello all those years ago with its delicious musky trail that is too sexy for words, yet polished enough to pass off as classy; ever since the brand has me curious as to what they come up with next. Proving to be a mega-trendsetter ever since its launch, Narciso for Her catapulted the market into a gene-pool sharing the same musks and "clean" synthesized patchouli bases shaped into the beautiful but traitorous dress of the "modern chypré"; in moments of truth and Sundays' waking up too late after a night partying next to delicious-looking strangers those scents shed that pretentious dress for the comfortable and more accurate flannel PJs of "woody florals with musks" and that's perfectly all right by me. But I digress... Luckily for all of us, the tremendous success of Narciso For Her didn't wind the Rodriguez brand into mechanically and pacingly launching myriads of "flankers"; with the exception of slight differences between the original range itself (eau de toilette vs eau de parfum vs parful roll-on vs Musk For Her oil) and the masculine counterpart issued one year ago, they have restrained themselves into an elegant rhythm which I respect.

Essence, Rodriguez's newest feminine fragrance, didn't grab me as much as Narciso For Her initially did, but that doesn't mean it is a bad fragrance; on the contrary it has a strangely insidious, undercurrent appeal of being made by very skilled hands who were given a not-too-precise-brief and although I am snobishly trying to write it off as repetitive and trite, I can't really. In Essence Rodriguez collaborated again with Beauté Prestige International, the Paris-based fragrance division of the Shiseido Cosmetics Corporation, aiming to capture a "sensual and luminous fragrance with a modern heart of musc enhanced by radiant notes of rose petals, powder notes of iris and hints of amber resulting in a floral, powdery musc fragrance". It doesn't sound terribly exciting, it utilizes the same well-known notes that Narciso Rodriguez obviously loves and I bet that the Spanish-born perfumer Alberto Morillas of Firmenich ~at once a classicist and a modernist and amazingly prolific in his almost 40-years-long career~ could have provided the formula with both hands tied behind his back and blindfolded at the drop of a hat! A recipient of numerous awards, among them the coveted Prix Francois Coty in 2003, Alberto Morillas is responsible for such bestsellers as Armani's Sensi and Aqua di Gio, Bulgari Blu, Omnia and Thé Blanc, Carolina Herrera Chic and 212, Cartier's Le Baiser du Dragon , M7 for YSL, Marc Jacobs Daisy and of course another huge influence on the market: Flower by Kenzo. The man knows how to attract the audience's loyalty, therefore enough said.

The overall effect of Narciso Rodriguez Essence is a clean unctuous almost soapy/aldehydic scent with classical mementos of White Linen minus some of the sharpness and Chanel No.5 minus the sweet florals or the skanky sexiness of lacy panties underneath prim suits, yet with an eerily reminiscent warm-skin-feel that the original Narciso for Her possessed as well. The clean musks featured, with their lathery bubbliness, have their lineage in Morillas's 212 and Daisy, while the powdery segment takes a page off Flower. Little development happens from the initial dryer-sheet sharply aliphatic and abstractly floral opening to the polite muskiness skin-like effect of probably Ambroxan*, (wishful-thinking) Muscenone** and Habanolide**. For what is worth the current modern white musk accord was first created by Alberto Morillas himself in Emporio Armani White for Her (combining Habanolide to Helvetolide**) and he used Muscenone in both Flower and Vanille 44 for niche brand Le Labo. The whole pared-down approach reminds me of the Escentric Molecules line. Although the powdery hazy effect is often attributed to iris, I do not detect any of its melancholic earthiness in the composition, same as with Infusion d'Iris by Prada which utilized a similar approach to the upscale-shampoo-latheriness vibe which seems to be all the rage now (judging by even such offerings as Chanel's Beige from Les Exclusifs). Luckily for the anosmiacs to Narciso For Her it seems to be rather different, enough to maybe give a jolt to their hypothalamus and be discernable to them.

Rodriguez wanted Essence to represent duality: "the intense and the ethereal, the simple and the complex" with an emphasis on "sun's purity" which reminds me of the "solar musks" accord of his first feminine perfume. I guess it's shorthand for "clean and warm" which Essence most certainly is. Lovers of that unperfume-y aspect as well as adventurers of all things delicately musky should flock to at least try it, the rest might find it non remarkable or even unpleasant in its screechy soapy tonalities which overstay their welcome impressively. It's pleasant enough for people into that genre, quite unisex and rather fun (for the price asked) to wear when that Sunday in flannels comes around once in a while, although not as enjoyably fulfilling as the original Narciso for Her is.

The bottle glows from within its mirrored core, round in its glass curvaceousness, created by noted industrial designer Ross Lovegrove (recipient of the prize Royal Designer for Industry in 2004 and art-exhibitor at MOMA and Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Centre Pompidou in Paris as well as the Design Museum in London). The eye-catching design is almost a futuristic, rounded interpretation of the original solid and austere Narciso For Her flacon.
The advertising campaign shot by the lens of Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin
features supermodel Catherine MacNeil to whom Narciso "was drawn to instinctively".

Notes for Narciso Rodriguez Essence:
iris, rose, benzoin, modern musks

Narciso Rodriguez Essence is available in Eau de Parfum 50ml/1.7oz and 100ml/3.4oz exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue from March and globally in April.
Ancilary products include a body lotion, a bath and shower cream and a deodorant spray.

Ad pic via , soap courtesy of

*Abroxan is a synthetic aromachemical mimicking the ambergris sensuous note.
**Muscenone, Habanolide, Helvetolide are gtrademark names for different varieties of synthetic musks.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Wow - thanks for this writeup... my wife and I adore Narciso for Him/Her, and this is definitely one to try. I'm excited!

  3. it sounds interesting, perhaps more the time scent to For Her's night time? I think when you have such a great scent it must be very hard to follow it up.

    If I weren't a perfume a holic For Her is the sort of scent I can imagine being my holy grail wear whenever scent because it's gorgeous but it's appropriate for most occasions (with a light hand!).

    Thanks for the info, looking forward to spritzing!

  4. This fragrance doesn't quit; I sampled it before bed, and it's still there- very tenacious.

    I agree , it's very skillfully executed.
    Can't decide, just yet- how I feel about it, but right now , I'd venture that Musc Nomade would edge this out of the way [ just sayin''s only me, LOL].

    I love that you put so much into your work.
    It makes me tired, just to THINK about it !

  5. Anonymous14:38

    Hi E,

    Great review of this. Your observations are right on.

    But.... this scent was a screamer on me. Meaning it got louder and louder and louder while in the drydown process. As soon as I got home, I raced up the stairs and scrubbed this one off.

    The opening of Essence is great. It's understated and radiates a sunny warmth. But then BOOM! It gets obnoxiously strong out of nowhere.

    I can't stand White Linen and maybe that's why Essence did not work out for me.

    I do think the duality you wrote of was captured here in Essence. So, kudos for that.

    I'll stick with NR For Her. Much easier on my nose. ;)


  6. helg your reviews are such fabulous reading. this new NR sounds lovely, you "had" me at soapy & White Linen. i wonder when canada will have this.

  7. Anonymous17:00

    The bottle is gorgeous. I can't smell any of the original NRs for women in the various concentrations (the oil, then there are two others? I think.) But this one I can smell just fine. I wonder, since you're more familiar with the musks than I am -- are they perhaps different? I already know I'm anosmic to some musks; it's frustrating to get the sense something's there and not be able to smell it. NR regular might as well be water. On the other hand I was sniffing it with a friend who finds regular NR lovely, and she can't smell the Annick Goutal Musk at all! I find that very strong. Musks are odd.

  8. Kalispera Dimitri!
    Thanks for stopping by and commenting, I know you're a fan of the original Narciso. :-)
    Be warned that this is rather different although the same "abstract" skin-like quality is there, but with a "cleaner" mood. Worth checking out anyway!

  9. K,

    there's definitely truth in what you say: how can one top up one of the major trend-setters of the last decade? A whole new genre came through and after Narciso!
    Still, there is some interest in this one, if only because it has that warm skin feel. I prefer Narciso myself, but it might appeal to those who can't really smell Narciso (especially the Musc Oil).

  10. I,

    thanks for saying so. :-)

    It's phenomenally tenacious, taking into account I took a shower and it was there on my wrists afterwards. Even enhanced by the hot water!!

    I think Morillas knows perfectly well what to do, but the project is a bit "do us something familiar but with a cleaner twist" and that doesn't always produce super-exciting things. I prefer Musc Nomade myself, it has something misplaced which is a little "barbaric" and thus very appealing to me. ;-)

  11. D,

    thanks, honey. I believe it gets enhanced by certain parameters. It was quite all right on my skin until I took a hot shower and then "zdooop!" it became quite prominent! I don't know they have managed to do that. It's very lasting, especially for such a transparent, "clean" scent.
    I ADORE Narciso, so I don't think this new one will replace it, but perhaps it might be fun from time to time (keeping my samples for further evaluation before deciding if I want a small decant or not)

  12. Oh Dawn, I forgot:

    and much as I appreciate WL technically (surely a fit of aldehydic superpower plus extraordinary lasting power) I can't really wear it either: there is a sharpness which makes it better smelled on other people than on me.

  13. J,

    you are very kind, thanks so much for all your support.
    If you like clean musks and soapy aldehydics, you have a good chance of liking this one!

  14. M,

    hi honey, thanks for stopping by!

    You're certainly not alone in not being able to smell Narciso, LOL! I have heard numerous people complaining about the Narciso range, especially the Musc Oil and the roll-on. The Narciso brand is certainly quite confusing, perhaps I should do a detailed breakdown again so that it's clearer to some people who are wondering (it's one of the questions I often receive in emails). I hate when companies do that and make us have to ask a million questions when buying/ordering something...

    I think you might be able to smell either the EDT or the EDP, as they're slightly different, and because they're both quite different from the Musc Oil which is indeed very subtle (I mean, meant to be subtle, even to people who are *not* anosmic to this combo of musks).

    And I agree with you that the Goutal Musc is rather strong; in fact it reminded me of the delicious warmth of MKK by Lutens in some parts (although with a more "herbal" quality) but I can see how someone might be challenged to really smell it. I believe the Goutal might be using Exaltolide and also 12-methyl-13-tridecanolide, from angelica root (NB:haven't confirmed though!)

    Can you smell Glow? It's full of Habanolide, an interesting variant and I think it might be at play on this new offering too.

    In general I believe it's the lack of sharpness of musks (they're such heavy molecules) that they have this low-humming tone which is detectable subconsiously and not really perceivable as a high-pitched voice is at close proximity. Like the bass on a car player when someone is speeding with open windows which is heard when in great distance but really unperceptible when it comes close, know what I mean? It needs to be kinda isolated to be pinpointed as such.
    I should devote more time to musks here on the blog, they're very challenging and intriguing molecules/fragrances.

    For some strange reason I haven't yet come across a musk fragrance I can't smell, which of course might explain my fascination with the genre anyway, but that's beside the point. The thing is perfumers do use multiple variations to produce the effect because most of us are anosmic to one or the other component. So it's perfectly possible that a fragrance with mostly musks smells very subtle to most of us, as we're perceiving one or two of those used and not all of them. Usually however they're used to do that "sfumato" thing and cover up the imperfections of more angular compositions when they're in a blend. I'm not sure if this is commendable though!! :-))
    Would you agree?

  15. Anonymous01:26

    Hey Jane Daly - Holt Renfrew in Toronto carries this. They had samples at the Sherway Gardens location on the weekend.

  16. Very useful tip, thanks for posting it!

  17. Anonymous13:04

    Love it that you mention the (aroma?)chemicals. To read about a perfume is so very much more interesting that way.


  18. Thank you Maltesia for your kind words. I appeciate your feedback. I think it's interesting too, which is why I try !~when able!~ to include such info as much as possible in a comprehensive way for everyone. Glad you're enjoying! :-)

  19. Anonymous13:11

    Actually... not just MENTION, but ELABORATE. It makes wonderful reading.


  20. Aww....(blushes), thank you!
    Well, I try my best, I guess.

  21. Michelle20:44

    I bought NR FOR HER and when I first spray it I smell rubbing alcohol. I've NEVER experienced this in my life. Is this normal or did I get a fake?

  22. Michelle20:50

    It's EDT and I've never bought this scent before is why I'm wondering.

  23. Michelle,

    thanks for stopping by and for asking this!
    I believe many people are anosmic (i.e. can't smell) to this one, especially the top notes. Although there are a lot of fakes around, if you bought it from a reputable seller/source, then it just might be the above reason. Perhaps try the EDP as well to see if there is any difference. It might help, as some people report smelling that one better (although the two do bear differences in their scent)


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