Noël au Balcon (lit. Christmas at the Balcony) was initially issued for the Holidays 2007 as a limited-edition fragrance. It has now been included in the permanent collection of Parisian niche perfume house Etat Libre d'Orange.
With Christmas 2009 looming, I thought it might be the appropriate time to review it during the period of Advent to gauge its Holiday spirit. Having become a permanent addition to the fragrance house catalog, it might also be interesting to see how a seasonal limited-edition could be versatile enough to be thought to be a year-long offering. Well, this is maybe not such a problem since Nuit de Noël by Caron famously lives beyond the Holiday season.
The name of the fragrance which may sound a bit puzzling is a play upon two different expressions: "Noël au balcon, Pâques au tison" + "Il y a du monde au balcon." The first locution means: if the weather is mild enough to be standing outside on the balcony at Christmas time, then Easter time will be spent by the fireplace as one can predict that spring will be cold. The second expression, meaning literally, "there are folks at the balcony", is actually a racy comment on the appearance of a lady endowed with a generous bosom...
Etat Libre d'Orange live to talk dirty, an activity which has literally become their bread and butter. So this time they had a vision of a stacked lady crashing a Christmas party.
Noël au Balcon thus promises that "this girl is a gift for well-behaved men. The one who bursts in a party and suddenly makes you want to believe in Father Christmas. Half-way between a temptress and a dancing queen, temperature rises just by her presence. To hell with "global warming." She's here to have fun, no matter what. Heavenly lightness in December..."
In this typical passage of unbridled ELO humor and wit, you get the message that the perfume is probably going to be saucy. You might think something sweaty, cumin-y since there is nigella or black cumin listed.
Notes are: mandarin, vanilla, honey, orange blossom, apricot, red chili, patchouli, musk, cistus, cinnamon, nigella
The perfume is actually very well-behaved like Don't Get Me Wrong Baby, I Don't Swallow and unlike Sécrétions Magnifiques. Black cumin is used more with a spicy potpourri effect together with chili and cinnamon than to mimic sweat. The girl's only sin might be glutony. They don't say where she is eating her glacé, crystallized mandarines mind you (a typical Christmas-y sight in Paris), maybe atop a manly cumin-y chest but the scent itself does not betray any sense of racy behavior really.
Noël au Balcon composed by perfumer Antoine Maisondieu is a gourmand oriental with a chypré facet. It is to my nose a variation on Gaultier2 which was created by Francis Kurkdjian a year before in 2006. I had said at the time that I thought it was the perfect Christmas scent. Well, it seems that Maisondieu agrees because this variant is extremely close.
The perfume opens on an impression of crystallized mandarines (or dark orange marmelade) lightly brushed by herbs with furthermore some caster sugar sprinkled on them. This fruity citrusy facet is what helps it distinguish from Gaultier2's both honeyed and almond-y ambery body, but otherwise we encounter the same typical sensations of nectar of the gods and brittle sugary almonds.
The spicy facet is another addendum and it remains discreet. When you smell it long and hard enough you start thinking of Youth-Dew because of the spices and musk and amber, but it's a fleeting impression, nothing that characteristic.
What is more subtly distinctive is the texture of the development which is more sustained, resinous, denser, moister and saltier. The vanilla is a darker grade. The composition seems to want to alight finally amidst ambergris cushions for the rest of the night but then it becomes lively again thanks to the citrus' comeback bringing lightness and lift to the gourmand oriental, transforming it from a nocturnal scent into a solar one with a chypré effect.
The longer drydown is deliciously ambery thanks to the labdanum.
To me, Noël au Balcon could be the result of a friendly cookout competition between Francis Kurkdjian and Antoine Maisondieu following the same recipe and Maisondieu insisting on adding his own spices, preserved mandarines and other secret ingredients. There are times like this when drawing a distinction between niche and mainstream fragrances seems like an exercise in futility except to acknowledge the marketing positioning. The qualitative cistus/labdanum longer drydown here might be the only giveaway.
Give Noël au Balcon a try if you are looking for a warm orangey ambery and spicy scent with a cosy gourmand facet. Somehow I see tea lovers appreciating this scent as there are vague lemony black tea-like tonalities to it.