Honeyed Luxe

honey dripping

– a review of Parfums Micallef Le Parfum Denis Durand Couture

When most people think of haute couture these days, they think of the few designers left who are true couturiers, red carpet events, movie stars and celebrities, those made-to-measure evening gowns the rest of us can only imagine. You might wonder at the exorbitant price tags, the extravagant details, the level of skill les petites mains demonstrate in beadwork, embroidery, pleats, lace, folds and the razor precision of cut and fit.

As someone who has handled a true couture gown (a vintage Balmain from the Fifties), I’ve always marveled at the inside, which is where I think couture really distinguishes itself. For an haute couture creation is at least two gowns in one – not simply the gown the rest of the world will see but a whole hidden universe of built in improvement underneath to accentuate and emphasize and blur those human imperfections away the world never needs to know.

I can imagine that would add a lot of extra va-va to your voom, knowing that no matter what happens, you are truly stunning – inside and out and from every conceivable angle.

There’s nothing new about that fertile field of mutual inspiration between perfume and couture – indeed, it’s been a mainstay of fashion and fragrance since the days of Charles Worth.

Now, in this relativistic anything goes ready-to-wear age, we have another collaboration between perfume and haute couture, only this one comes with a twist.

Denis Durand, a couturier based in Cannes whose work was featured on several stars at the recent Cannes Film Festival, commissioned a perfume from the house of M. Micallef, and just as it would be fair to say Martine Micallef has a definite fragrant aesthetic all her own, so too Denis Durand has a distinct feminine fashion forward fingerprint, which is how Le Parfum Denis Durand Couture came to be – henceforth referred to as Parfum Couture.


If you think the creation pictured above is stunning, take my word for it – Parfum Couture is equally breathtaking – at least, it certainly took my breath away. This is a dizzying, impossibly opulent perfume bordering on the decadent, and if Denis Durand had hoped for a reflection of his eponymous designs in a Chantilly lace-wrapped bottle, made with all the precision, layers and meticulous care of haute couture, then Martine Micallef and her in-house perfumer Jean Claude Astier accomplished that intimidating task with flying colors – and all the intricate curves and twists of that Chantilly lace.

A chic blast of cinnamon – not the usual sweet cinnamon often found in perfumes, but dry and fiery –  starts the show with its own fireworks display, teemed up with tangerine, so say the notes, but this cinnamon takes no prisoners and I get only a holographic impression of a green tangerine – like the flash of a sequin or a startling, drop dead sexy detail under the Klieg lights – before it’s gone.

Parfum Couture reveals its secrets slowly and in stages, each curving back and forth, up and down through the top, heart and base notes like an appreciative eye looking up and down la ligne and enjoying the view. The notes say Bulgarian rose, orange blossom, honey, as if to find the olfactory equivalents of lace, satin, faille and velvet and somehow breathe all of them whole into one vision – and such a one…

Into the heart, peeking just a little down this devastating décolleté, a slippery, slithery, satin flash gleams, and at this point, I’m no longer thinking of haute couture so much as the timeless feline growl of Eartha Kitt. That cinnamon made you look, but this tigerish, sensuous growl is what keeps you looking – and sniffing.

Animalis and honey, says the notes list, and there was some speculation on the fragrance boards about what Animalis is. A combination of labdanum and castoreum – which goes a long way to describe the overall effect – or else a compound made by Synarome used in many perfumes to illustrate that slightly predatory, feral purr that underpins the structure of Parfum Couture along with that liquid, golden – there is no other way to say it – honey, like a silk charmeuse glissade cascading off a pearly shoulder.

This Chantilly lace babe is every bit as wild at heart as that dress pictured above would suggest, but there’s much, much more to this slinky siren, and she hasn’t finished with the likes of you just yet.

She’s also not quite so feral as she seems, for that honey, a wild, very natural smelling, floral honey note that sings until the end – at least on me – when some long hours later – say, watching the sun rise over the Croisette – a soft, musky sandalwood remains to sing of a Night  – and a moment? – to Remember.

If you like your Orientals – and indeed, Parfum Couture is very much an Oriental – super-refined, super deluxe, super-powered and super surprising, then Parfum Couture is for you.

I can emphatically appreciate Parfum Couture’s curves and twists and catwalk turns. I do have one small problem.

Honey in perfume is one of my personal fragrant anathemas. I can eat it – as indeed I do. I can appreciate honeyed perfumes on everyone else but me. My skin amplifies honey notes to such an extent, it seems to expand them exponentially until they’re all I can smell for days afterward. Which is why I can never wear this wonder of fragrant and fashionable engineering, but I know plenty of people will, just to imagine themselves wrapped in the bespoke, breathtaking splendor…of couture, a honeyed luxe kiss they will surely make all their very own.


Notes: Ceylon cinnamon, Italian tangerine, Bulgarian rose, honey, orange blossom, Animalis, sandalwood, patchouli, white musk.

Le Parfum Denis Durand Couture is available at Luckyscent, First in Fragrance and Jovoy Paris.

Disclaimer: A sample was provided for review by Parfums Micallef.

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.