Friday, January 11, 2013
The Best of French Beauty: exceptional niche fragrances from Parfums M. Micallef
There are 2 kinds of perfumes: the ones created by a marketing team, formatted to please most and sell like hotcakes; and the ones created by passionate artists who want to share something precious. Fragrances by M. Micallef belong to the second category. They're certainly not as affordable or as easy to find as the first ones, but when you wear them, you feel special. I've been very lucky to try some of them, and I can assure you that they are different. They would make an amazing Valentine's Day gift by the way, for someone who's very special to you and deserves the best (the brand has fragrances for both men and women).
The maison, based in the world capital of perfume, the French town of Grasses, was born in 1996, when Martine Micallef and her husband decided to found a brand that would only produce exceptional quality. Rare and expensive natural essences, such as Jasmine, Agarwood or Bulgarian rose, are used in the fragrances rather than their widespread synthetic copies. Martine, who was a beautician and a painter, wanted to unite art and perfume by painting and decorating the bottles herself.
Besides their permanent range, Parfums M. Micallef releases a unique Art Collection each year with new and exclusive fragrances in hand-decorated flacons and coffrets. In 2012, Martine Micallef created the Art Collection Vanille, a line of 4 themed interpretation of Vanilla. She adorns each bottle by hand in her art studio: the flacons are dressed in raw-looking linen and each box is hand-painted. Traditional French Haute Parfumerie at its best!
The 4 scents are all built around natural Bourbon vanilla oil from Madagascar, and I have been able to try each one of them. Let me start by saying that I'm not usually a fan of vanilla in fragrances... so I was probably not the easiest person to convince! I did, however, enjoy discovering all 4 scents, and my personal taste drew me more specifically to 2 of them: Vanille Cuir and Vanille Marine.
I couldn't choose a favorite between the two, but let's start with Vanille Cuir (cuir means leather): head notes of mint, lavender and bergamot, heart notes of cinnamon, cumin and orange blossom, and base notes of tonka beans, vanilla, cedar and sandalwood. The blend is so perfect and round that, to be honest, I cannot detect ANY of the specific notes. They just combine to create a very original leathery, warm scent, that men could wear too.
I love to wear it when I want to feel sexy, yet not overly feminine. It has the attraction of raw, authentic, sensual things. Whenever I smell it, I feel like I'm wearing a comfortable leather jacket over a cashmere sweater, having a good strong coffee and smoking under the rain (don't worry, it doesn't smell like smoke!). This is definitely not a sweet, girly vanilla, but a complex, confident fragrance.
Then, there's Vanille Marine. A whole other atmosphere, with head notes of lemon and black currant, heart notes of vanilla and white flowers, and base notes of benjoin, musk and wood. Again, the unique scent takes me somewhere, the waterfront this time, although I can't recognize any of these familiar odors.
This fragrance definitely evokes the sea, with a hint of sweetness to balance the salt. Again, it is not excessively feminine, more like a refreshing memory of summer that you carry with you. This one surprised me the most, because I didn't think that combining vanilla with aquatic notes could create anything good... well, it's more than good, it's a fragrance that arouses sensations and emotions in you and makes you travel.
The other 2 perfumes in the collection are a little more classic, and I think a lot of people will enjoy them. They're just not as "me" as Cuir and Marine.
Vanille Fleur is a floral scent with a head note of peach, heart note of rose, and base note of vanilla. Here again, the vanilla is not too sweet or overpowering, and the result is very balanced.
Vanille Orient is bolder, with vanilla as the head note, sandalwood and vanilla flower as the heart notes, and musk and amber as the base notes. I find it spicy and intriguing, but also a little stronger than the others. Fans of oriental fragrances should try this original interpretation.
Where to find: Parfums M. Micallef is very selective in their distribution and the full list of retailers is actually a secret! You'll find them in luxury perfume stores that specialize in niche brands. In California, you can buy the brand in San Francisco (Jacqueline Perfumery, 103 Geary St) and Los Angeles (Scent Bar, 7405 Beverly Bvd). A selection of the line is also sold online on luckyscent.com and parfum1.com
The Art Collection Vanille retails for $145 for 50ml and $225 for 100ml.
Disclosure: I received samples sent by PR for review. This post reflects my honest, personal opinion about the products featured.