Friday, July 10, 2009

Etro Messe de Minuit: fragrance review

Speaking of the ethereal allied to the feral in fragrances while reviewing Tubéreuse Criminelle by Serge Lutens, I had tied the former to that other "otherwordly vampire of piercing eyes which draw blood inveigling us into submitting willingly to its almost sacral fangs", Messe de Minuit by Etro. To say that it is the most arresting in Etro's elegant line is no exaggeration, but neither would it be an overstatement to claim it has the most striking mien in current perfumery!
Messe has the admirable quality of producing gut-instinct reactions in everyone who comes into contact with it much like the Cloisters in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC or the haunting executions chamber of Madame Tussaud's in London. Like the distant cousin who is neither elegant nor pretty, but when she sits on the piano everyone is mesmerized into attention, Messe de Minuit has a way of making you fall under its spell. Wearable it is not for most social occasions, even if one loves it like I do, so my personal solution for enjoying its wonderfully witching emissions all the time has been the discovery of the exquisitely luxurious candle: In its thick glass jar with its wide golden lid with the Etro logo on, it decorates my study at home, besides my old books collection and my antique camera from the first decade of the 20th century. Opening the lid equates a religious experience that reminds me poignantly of my own mortality, much like listening to the Commentatore scene of Mozart's Don Giovanni does, when he appears booming "Don Giovanni a cenar teco m'invitasti".

Even though the name (Midnight Mass) alludes to the catholic service of Christmas' Eve, in my experience the fragrance changes considerably depending on the season/climate, from the chillier crypt mustiness of the wintertime to a sage-like fuzzy warmth and gingerbread tonality in the warmer months. It in this frame that the fact la mama Sofia Loren chooses to wear it in the balmier nights of the South should be evaluated.

Introduced in 2000 by perfumer Jacques Fiori of Robertet (his tour de force in his many compositions for the textiles & fashions Etro line, founded by Gimmo Etro in 1968), Messe de Minuit starts damp and musty and brightly citrusy, with a scent that reminds me of raw pleurotus mushrooms left in the fridge for a couple of days. In this regard it is the shadowy mirror image to another citrusy incense fragrance from Etro, the more luminous Shaal Nur. The herbal and mildew-like quality gives a compelling weirdness to the perfume. The opening note also reminds me of the aromatic, herbal tête of the Slovakian liqueur Slivovica, but also of a frenzied July unearthing artefacts in the cave of Le Portel in the Pyrénées under the alternating hot sun and the cool shade of the archeological sheds.

While Messe de Minuit is touted to be "an incense fragrance", its core is nowehere near other popular incense fragrances. Passage d’enfer by L'artisan Parfumeur, Comme des Garcons Kyoto and Creed's Angelique Encens (all wonderful!) are completely different; they present a more serene attitude that still has a beguiling quality about it, drawing you closer, not further. Messe de Minuit on the other hand creates a needed apostasy. It also doesn’t possess that rich, resiny, sweet, smoky quality that I associate incense with, perfectly exhibited in Comme des Garcons Avignon or Armani Privé Bois d’Encens. It is as if the REMNANTS of incense smoke have settled down and been dampened in a old Paleochristianic temple. No holy smell , no passage of angels , no spiritual elevation. On the contrary , this is an abandoned abode , a lonely place deserted by man and God that has been festering demons and evil spirits , unhealthy and perverse. I can definitely see the face of the Antichrist in the background….
And then , what a surprise! It becomes really warm, quite spicy and deeper with bitter myrrh and sweetens considerably thanks to the amber and a touch of honey, almost urinous but not quite. Those old demons know how to play tricks on you. They put on a slight smile to beckon you in and eat your soul. And it also becomes earthy and “dirty” and makes you wonder about a certain frustrated humanity they once had that has become a distant memory to them. And it lasts, as if damnation will be forever. As it should be. I can see Anne Rice’s vampires wearing Messe de Minuit effortlessly while cruising in the human world.

Notes for Etro Messe de Minuit: Orange, bergamot, tangerine, galbanum, honey, labdanum, incense, myrrh, cinnamon, patchouli, amber, musk

Messe de Minuit is available in Eau de Cologne concentration at Luckyscent in the US, Senteurs d'Ailleurs, Liberty and Escentual in Europe. The packaging has recently been redesigned (black & white design, silver cap), depicted hereby is the (prettier IMO) older one. The matching candle, which is gloriously fragrant even unlit, is available at Fragrancenet.

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Incense Series

Carlos Alvarez and Ildebrando D'Arcangelo in the Commendatore scene XV of the second act of Mozart's "Don Giovanni", originally uploaded by gtelloz on Youtube
Photography Roman Shadows by 3Lampsdesign


  1. And because I am a dork that sounds like the perfect Halloween scent.

  2. Anonymous15:46

    Sigh. Sometimes I wonder if I'm addicted to perfumes, and sometimes I wonder if I'm addicted to the writing about perfumes. In any case, you've sent me off ordering a sample of this, as it appears that whether I love it or loathe it, I simply must experience this, at least once. Thanks for the review.

    Karen M

  3. dinazad15:59

    For the life of me I can't understand that MdM evokes mildew and darkness to most fragrance lovers....
    I do associate it with churches, but only because of the name. The tiny churches dotted all over the Pyrenees. But mostly the dry, thorny, resilient and often fragrant vegetation of the crags and hillocks the churches stand on. On a hot August day. MdM is all herbs and heat to me, and if I try another churchy association: herbal incense, the mixture of fragrant herbs used in poorer churches all over the world, mixed with a very few grains of incense, to make the expensive stuff last longer. Again: herbs and heat. No vampires, no crypts, no mildew. I'm funny that way.

  4. Jenn,

    LOL, that would limit it to one time a year in the US, though. Let's propose my native more extensive (3 weeks plus) duration of such festivities: the Carnival. :-)
    Seriously, I like to wear this when I'm alone and in an introspective mood, it has a comforting smell of old books.

  5. Karen,

    perish the thought that I am enabling, eh? ;-) Glad the review has produced such urgent feelings that the scent is also bound to instigate. I am looking forward to hearing your impressions.

  6. Z,

    darling, how are you? So happy to see you posting!
    Your poetic perspective isn't foreign to mine, I can certainly see how the evocation of grassy, herbs-incense is dominating your thougts.
    I find Messe de Minuit a schizophrenic scent; it has a dual personality of light and shadow, coolness and heat. I recall first testing it in Scotland, where it seemed almost chilly to me, and then taking it along on a trip to Cyprus, where it bloomed in completely unexpected ways, very sage-herbal with a gingerbread edge. The duality was striking! Weird...Have you ever had a scent change so much depending on the weather on you?

  7. dinazad16:30

    Hi, dearest! I'm fine, thanks - but busy with my new apartment and the biiiiig balcony attached ;-))

    My personal dual monster is Mandarin Mandarine (or is it the other way round?) In summer I only get a pretty unwashed vibe from it (now here's a scent I would associate with dungeons, urine-soaked straw, boils, dried blood, and all kinds of nasty smells) In winter it's like carrying around my own personal grove of blossoming orange trees. Lovely.

  8. Rappleyea19:36

    Wonderful review! This has long been on my 'to sample' list, and now you've pushed me over the edge. Your reviews tend to do that! ;-)

    I can't wait to test it as I'm having a hard time reconciling your description with the notes list.

    Have a great weekend.

  9. I've got a sample of this lurking somewhere. As I recall, I found it evoked the feeling of eating candy corn in a dungeon. It was an intriguing but not very pleasant experience. After reading your review, I feel an urgent need to try it again. If I can unearth it...

  10. How timely; I just arranged today for a sample swap that will include a sample of MdM, which I have been curious about for awhile (I recently sampled Shaal Nuur, which is incredibly lovely).

    I have always gotten the impression from other comments that MdM is similar somehow to Avignon, though I also get the impression that it is far more complex. Your review here certainly suggests that also. Avignon is wonderfully tranportive, but it is rather one-note frankincense/church incense to me; I don't get much depth from it. In any case, thanks for this review, and I'll be looking forward to my sample.

  11. D,

    oh darling, you're so kind!
    It's really a schizophrenic fragrance, it has an interesting duality and it's nothing like anyone would expect it to me, a must-smell for sure!

    Hope you have a most enjoyable weekend!

  12. M,

    your description is hilarious and I guess not far from the truth, although for me personally it is a good smell, in its weirdness.
    Hope you find it!

  13. Z,

    sounds like you have a full plate and congrats on the new appartment!!! (how nice for you!)

    Mandarine Mandarin can be like that, very true. I get a putrid, moldy smell of spoiled citrus peel at some point, which is interesting to say the least and then it opens up as an oriental, very lovely. It's not an easy one, however! It's for the seasoned perfume lover.

  14. Joe,

    if you like Shaal Nur, you might like Messe too, although they're different, one is refreshing, the other plays on cool and warm. They share that common citrus and incense cord.

    I believe Avignon is fabulous in its evocation of orthodox incense (which I know very well, obviously, and absolutely love) but it lacks the nuance of other incense fragrances as you say, it's lalalala for hard-core incense fans. The rest might benefit from more multi-layered mixes, such as the original Armani Mania (the black cap one), or Passage d'Enfer. Maybe my Incense Series might provide ideas for you.

    I will be eager for your impressions when you test Messe!

  15. Anonymous22:18

    Beautiful post! I have yet to try this scent, but the bottle is simply georgeous.

  16. Thanks for the wonderful meditation on a personal favorite. It truly is a strange fragrance. Wonderful strange. The biggest difference to me between incense fragrances like Avignon and Messe de Minuit is its dampness. That sense of moisture is unique to it. Avignon and its comme des garcon kin have a vaporous quality--not exactly the smoke of incense, either. Too arid for that. I agree, sometimes when I pull MDM out, I think, is THIS the same fragrance as the one I last put away? Sometimes the citrus aspect is foregrounded, making the whole thing feel a little more tangy, a little more piquant. I would place MDM alongside not just Shaal Nur but Palais Jamais, which also has that odd mercurial character, wafting from one distinct impression to another. Also a wonderful fragrance, it smells sometimes like fragrant ash, other times like seasoned vetiver. Do you like that one at all?

  17. Alexandra18:34

    Hard to get online. I don`t think that luckyscent sells this, others ship only within EU. Eh...
    Great line, Etro.

  18. L,

    thank you darling! The bottle has been recently redesigned but I haven't seen it up close yet to determine if it's better or worse than before. I really love the older design, though, to be sure!

  19. Brian,

    I am very happy to find like-minded people through this venue and I like that we share a favourite. It is as you say, wonderfully strange and I find it strangely comforting, especially in warm weather like the one we're having (Did you get a little glimpse of it, when in our midsts?) :-)

    I haven't thought of comparing with Palais Jamais, but will do so now! Thanks for suggesting it. I like that one quite a bit, although not as much as Messe.

  20. A,

    maybe they stopped carrying it? I think they did once upon a time. Aedes should have it? I know FIF ships outside Europe as well, although the shipping might be too much.....

  21. Gloria17:27

    I have Messe de Minuit. It is a wonderful fragrance. I do not however wear it for social reasons. I am very social and usually want to share my scent with all. This scent is very private. I wear it alone. Truthfully, when I cannot sleep.....this is the BEST scent to wear to bed. Why I do not know? It is a mystery.

  22. G,

    it IS a private scent. I totally get what you're saying.
    I have the candle on my desk and light it when I want to concentrate and feel serene. Uncanny!! (we think alike)


  23. Sadly it's been reformulated and the magic is gone. I am searching for a vintage bottle (along with another Etro - Palais Jamais) and am finding these in gold cap versions to be very scarce. But I will not be denied.


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