The Great Escape

– a review of Parfums Micallef’s ‘Ylang in Gold’

As you bask in the Sauternes-tinted light of a a perfect September day when all of nature overflows, as apples glow their ruddy hues among the dark green leaves and plums sparkle amethyst in fruit bowls and on trees, I have some disquieting news for you. Before you know it, these beautiful Indian summer days will give way to the winds, the rain, the dark and the looming chills of winter, and the very idea of sunshine, of heat, of flowers, the perfumes of fruit and all that make living and breathing so effortless and easy…will seem nothing so much as a feverish dream.

It is usually in November that my fantasy life kicks into high gear and makes me dream impossible dreams. Dreams extending stories I want to write, dreams I want to make real, and last but never least in this cool, Nordic clime… the most heart-rending dreams of all – dreams of making that Great Escape to a tropical beach, where the waters beckon in impossible blues, where trade winds rustle in the coconut fronds, where flowers bloom in incredible hues and perfume the air softer than silk, and the only footprints on the pearl gold borders of sand and sea are the footprints I want to see.

In other words, those interminable months between November and March are when I miss the sun, the heat and the green the most, and if I can’t get a one-way ticket to the Seychelles, Hawaii or Mauritius, I can at least breathe in those tropical airs on my skin through a tropical perfume, the perfect antidote to that dread November darkness.

Lo and behold, I found it too, all in a moment of looking the other way, an instant when ‘tropical’ and ‘beautiful’ were the last things on my mind.

The very luxe perfume house of Martine Micallef, based in Grasse but with a stunning boutique in Cannes, has been on my radar for some time, being mentioned every so often on the perfume boards and Facebook groups I participate in. Martine Micallef – both a perfumer and a painter – has gained a loyal cult following both for her exquisite and extensive line of perfumes and for the stunning, handcrafted works of art that contain them. So when the rumors and the posts about her new release, Ylang in Gold, made the rounds, I was – as always – curious to try it, while my inner cynic whispered right along with my bank account…

It can’t be that good. It just can’t.

Save me, someone, anyone, because…ah, no!

It is.

This is Martine Micallef’s ode to that sunshine-bright tropical bloom named in its native tongue “Flower of Flowers”. Ylang ylang adds its lush, sensuous, fragrant colors to the heart notes of many, many perfumes, including not a few classics everyone knows. It can be a little heady, fruity, unmistakeably exotic in feel, but give it a chance to shine in that perfumed spotlight, and it can steal not just the show, but your heart.

A Comores ylang flower

The most surprising thing about Ylang in Gold – which is nothing short of a very big surprise – is it contains no ylang ylang at all. Instead, an accord of mint, magnolia and lily of the valley somehow by some serious sleight-of-hand fools the mind and the nose into thinking that very heretical thought…this is as delicious, as seductive as ylang ever gets!

This is a perfume that will twist and turn and pirouette in surprising ways on the skin for hours on end, and the first surprise is the bright, herbal, slightly bitter burst of its lemon-yellow-green opening. This was not what I anticipated from something called Ylang, and as my readers well know, I like surprises, in life as in perfume.

But this is no mere ‘perfume’. In only a few minutes, that flower of flowers – the ylang that is anything but itself – dances out its ethereal pas-de-ballet in a perfectly en point blend – I can smell rose, the nutty green lily of the valley, the magnolia – that all somehow manage to convey a new and dazzling self as shimmering and effervescent as the 24K gold flakes in the bottle, adding a decadent, luxurious, nacré Midas touch of their own as you apply. (It is also possible to buy the perfume without the gold)

Coconut – which can go either good or bad on me and sometimes be a deal-breaker – is never far behind, and in this seamlessly orchestrated blend I can close my eyes and find hints of banana (although only a hint), the sweet vanilla of the base pinned well away from anything resembling ‘gourmand’ or ‘dessert’ by the musk and the moss. Ylang in Gold evolves sweet, but never cloying, as creamy and luscious as all the most luxurious coconuts are, right off the palm…

I’m no stranger to tropical perfumes, and know no more perfect time to wear them than right when the dreary dregs of autumn and winter threaten to drag me beneath the withered leaves, when I want and I need to laugh in winter’s despite and remember those dreams of sunshine and heat, improbable blues and impossible blooms. Once upon a time, when this woman was no island, the glory that was Fidji was one such instant getaway. More recently, Carnal Flower and Bombay Bling have captured my imagination and taken me far, far away from all that is mundane, drab and dull, as they surely always will.

Now, I have Ylang in Gold, very similar in mood and feel although otherwise nothing like them – think happy, think joyous, think as bright and as smooth as the sand beneath your feet, as soft and as plush as a tropical flower, as compelling as any fevered November dreams of…The Great Escape.

Am I there yet?

Notes: Tangerine, geranium, sage, rosemary, Artemisia, ylang, rose, sandalwood, lily of the valley, magnolia, mint, coconut, vanilla, moss, musk.

Parfums Micallef Ylang in Gold is available from First in Fragrance and in 39 countries worldwide.

Disclosure: A sample was provided for review by Parfums Micallef, with thanks to Sandrine. Image of the bottle used by permission.