Van Cleef & Arpels Moonlight Patchouli ≈ A True Perfume (2016) {Perfume Review & Musings}


Van Cleef & Arpels Moonlight Patchouli Eau de Parfum Review

« Wow - a sumptious patchouli, » you think as you take your first inhale of Moonlight Patchouli by Van Cleef & Arpels, the latest addition to the Collection Extraordinaire.

You are transported to an oniric forest in which creepers are made of the substance of dreams, leather, and (a gorgeous) iris. The brand describes the latter ingredient as being « powdery », but to my nose it is more suggestive of fresh velvet; the authentic, rooty accents of a beautiful quality of orris betray the hallmark of luxury...

Perfumer Sonia Constant of Givaudan has created a rich, tangled vision of the legendary ingredient offering olfactory depth and the possibility for the mind to leave on a journey. It is as if the perfumer had wanted to go back to the dark, humid forest in which patchouli leaves grow, immense - metaphorically speaking - and tropical. The advert which represents light-green Pogostemon cablin leaves outlined on a nocturnal background is on point, I realize after checking back on the initial announcement for the launch.

With this perfume, luxury is redefined for a time as its cognate, luxuriance. The composition is lush, like equatorial nature is, with a vibrancy and lust for life that it is hard to fully comprehend if you have not been subjected to its effect. It is a bit miraculous. It, however, never feels « tropical » in the stereotypical sense you might expect from an Escada, or, say, even Songes by Annick Goutal. We're not on a pre-coded island retreat - palm trees and frangipani are out.

Perfume connoisseurs will appreciate the paradoxical, tropical use of the beautiful, temperate and cool iris note, which here rests on a blend mixing three Mediterranean origins: Italy; France; Morocco, to ensure that it be stable and reproducible. It's been hydro-distilled from iris / orris rhizomes, which were cultivated for three years in the soil and dried for a further three years. The perfumer fleshed out all this natural bounty with the synthetic material Iris aldehyde, to add more facets and power to the note.

After an initial rush of excess, the composition takes on a more restrained pace, but this turns out to be only a passing illusion of lull. The intensity has just shifted from an extrovert mode to an introvert one. Now, there is a sense of contained, but still real passion. The perfume, however, now smolders rather than explodes.

The fragrance becomes ambery, sweet and darkly glowing. The patchouli is perceptible, but it is never dominant. It's been polished like a pebble stone by the sea. One of the aims of this work was to recreate a sophisticated patchouli. The bigger-than-life earthy smell has been cooked rather than served raw; it has been harvested, cooked, seasoned, filtered, and prepared/polished to become domesticated, civilized, but also dreamy.

Van Cleef & Arpels stress that men will make the leather facet emerge more while women will have more affinities with the floral one. This might well be mostly a cultural and symbolic construct, although I've encountered similar contrasts, at times. To the nose, the iris meshes with the sueded leather; the Bulgarian rose is more central a focus in the middle of the development, with its fruity accents. Then, the drydown is darkly musky creating the impression of a « black musk ». While animalic, the final impression of the fragrance is never jarring and problematic, like I've experienced it with Guerlain l'Heure Bleue recently.

Moonlight Patchouli is a fully fledged composition. So many fragrances today are unsatisfying at some point in their development. Too many perfumes take shortcuts creating « holes » in their design. It is refreshing to encounter a perfume composition which is equally compelling from top to bottom and which does not make you think of the market competition. In other words, it is a fully confident perfume. This translates into a true perfume, and a wearable one, and a pleasurable one at that.

In the plastic era of « fake-news », we become even more aware of the misguided possibility for a cohort of perfumes to fake it (in a slightly different sense). So, this is calling attention to one of the « true perfumes » out there in the world, one which exemplifies the difference between a perfume-truth and a story-truth.

Notes : Bulgarian rose, iris, leather, fruits and patchouli.

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