When it comes to choosing a perfume gift for the Holidays, a question you might ask yourself is, is it time to offer the most luxurious version of a fragrance composition? Will people appreciate it? The flacons are minute; they don't look that impressive - do they smell impressive?...
With extraits, we might still be in a social age which parallels the 1950s when fragrances were not bought by women as commonly as it happens today, but offered to them by men. Still, if women today have little qualms about buying perfume for themselves in the forms of eau de parfum and eau de toilette, on the other hand, extraits or "parfums" as they are called simply in French are still the purview of romantic gifts.
One of the reasons might be that edps and edts still convey a sense of practicality. Many women might justify a fragrance purchase by thinking that it will help them smell good, lift their morals, make a better social impression, but not to the point of electing to buy an extrait as it still signals luxury.
Another constraint put on the purchase of extraits today is that they are seldom available for testing. Guerlain counters offer that possibility, but not many brands do.
At Sephoras certainly, extraits are kept like inaccessible museum jewels behind glass to be looked at, admired, but not tested.
You are supposed to trust the myth of the extrait as the ultimate form of perfumery. Guess the smell, or better still, buy blind, extrapolating from the testers offered for the lesser concentrations. Since extraits are not launched today as automatically as in the past, they cannot be called the golden standards of perfumery anymore. Playing with concentrations and concentration denominations has become a more complex creative game.
This also serves to underline the fact that an extrait very much remains a symbolic purchase, much more so than for the other concentrations. It is an act of faith in the art of perfumery, but also an act of faith in a relationship.
Extraits can smell however significantly different. Some perfume compositions are much better as extraits while other formulations are more versatile or perhaps even less nuanced and heavier in extrait concentrations.
If you are looking for a chypre, I can recommend buying Paloma Picasso in extrait version as a special treat. It's qualitatively and objectively better, although the eau de parfum is great too. But the parfum makes the formulation sing in harmony the most.
Shalimar by Guerlain too is more interesting and richer in extrait. It is really worth it to go for its most accomplished expression in this case especially at a time when the lighter concentrations have become less satisfying due to industry regulations. Vol de Nuit is alluring both as an extrait and as an eau de toilette, with different effects. On the other hand, Samsara in extrait is richer, but also heavier and less melodic in the end.
Chanel No.5 is one of those perfume compositions that offer different and equally interesting and competing personalities across the concentrations available. The pure parfum might be a welcome gift for the Holidays but the eau de parfum is also not to be sniffed at and the eau de toilette with its slightly rawer, more modernist personality might even turn out to be a favorite for some. The parfum form therefore in the case of No.5 brings a more luxurious experience from a multifacetted perfume.
Chanel have recently launched a series of Extraits based on the Les Exclusifs namely for Beige, Jersey, 1932 and then, an extrait version of Coco Noir too.
How do they smell like?
Coco Noir Extrait is at its most animalistic offering a dirty nuance of civet while being at the same time citrusier. There is the typical "slow-burn" effect of the pure parfum which seems to behave like a black panther predator ready to pounce on its chosen victim. The muscles and the body are compacted and intense ready to spring forth. The composition has more tension than the eau de parfum. The fruity-floral and chypre notes develop closer to the body. The base of the parfum has earthier and more complex accents of patchouli, which for this reason alone is worth considering to offer. When the pure parfum starts to unfold a creamy, peachy accord bordering on milkiness, then you do take a final mental note to recommend this version without hesitation.
Jersey Extrait has more of everything. The lavender bursts open explosively in the head notes. It's also now wrapped in caramel with a hint of licorice - a natural facet of lavender - and fresh, aromatic notes. In the end, it chooses to develop a white, transparent and round ambery trail but the white musks are a bit harsh. I expected the Caledonian sandalwood to make a more triumphant entrance. It seems that the pure parfum composition does not add significantly to the eau de parfum experience, so you could still decide to offer the edp. It is warmer, more intimate a feeling, but there is no amped up complexity. The ingredients just behave with this "slow-burn" effect which is characteristic of extraits. This is a lovely, soft and cottony kind of extrait with a comforting woody creaminess, but it is not very teasing to the mind. It does however have an excellent chypré projection.
Beige Extrait develops the loveliness of its white floral bouquet, especially frangipani and hawthorn, in a lusher but also crisper fashion. The florals initially feel like a more animalic presence soon however they lose this edge. The new composition has become less romantic and more to the point, garnering more force even though its hawthorn note is still delicate. If Beige edp made me think of lace, Beige extrait makes me think of chinchilla initially. It's more assertive despite its soft-focus leanings. The development, I find, lacks complexity as the drydown tends to end in an impression of linden blossom and honey as the white musks, once again, appear too close to the surface. But for a more forceful soliflore impression, it is good.
1932 Extrait opens with undeniable seduction. It smells of woods, fruits but also rum which is a new sensation I get from this compositional twist. It is complex to the point of being a bit undefinable. It does add a new layer of meaning to the original eau de parfum. Together with Coco Noir extrait, I would recommend this one as really worth having in pure parfum form. The cedarwood is both dusty and strong. There is lift to this version - and ampleness. The longer drydown is animalistic, revealing different stages of animalic humors. It seems to end up on a note of salty, sweaty and licked skin - with a nuance of saliva. This might even seduce a man. Ultimately, this is the version of the four which I find the most impressive.
I haven't smelled Dior Diorissimo as an extrait for a long time, but it was once great in its parfum version. In general Dior have offered good richer and balanced versions of their lighter concentrations in the Elixir range, or the Absolu versions, so it looks like it is a safe bet to offer the most luxurious versions.
Caron specialize in extraits offering them to be drawn from crystal fountains into different sizes of flacons. They might be the only remaining perfumers who first and foremost think "extrait formulation" before diluting and rebalancing the effects in the lighter concentrations. Nowadays, extraits are follow-up compositions rather than cardinal, guiding ones.
Hermès launched Terre d'Hermès Parfum in 2009 for men after the success of the fragrance was confirmed. It is a beautiful interpretation of the original. There is added beauty to it, so, yes, it is worth it. It's a democratic parfum in fact, available for testing and priced similarly to an eau de parfum.
In niche too, there are Extrait offerings. Aesop Marrakech Intense in perfume oil is even more pleasurable an experience. The spices explode and the composition is just more forceful without being over-insistent.
Kiöri is also a great option for an extrait in perfume oil. The composition is reminiscent of Angel by Thierry Mugler but somehow bonified and mellower, behaving more like an extrait: at once more intimate and with a show-stopper of a sillage.
In the end, to judge whether or not you want to offer an extrait over other forms of a perfume, you need to assess the complexity level of the composition. A pure parfum ought to be more complex, more impressive, otherwise, it is not worth buying it. Buying a pure parfum just for added lastingness is not necessary because you can instead use lotions, body milks, or even wear scarves to retain an olfactory presence longer. It is essential that an extrait ought to not be just richer, but more multi-layered and complex too, offering a more luxurious intellectual impression to the mind and senses, not just more showiness.