Over the years, multiple new incense scents have been released (many to much fanfare), but Messe de Minuit remains my favorite incense scent. I own all three versions so I will give some brief thoughts on all three.
Original version (round label): This is the driest version of the three, by far. Frankincense resins, dusty stone, and remnants of candle smoke. I do not get any orange in the version. Lives up to its reputations as the most gothic version. Longevity is good despite being an EDC.
Second version (square label-gold cap): While you can still tell this is the same scent as the original, this version is more sweet with the added pronounced orange note. However, other than this change, this smells of almost pure frankincense resin oil. Not quite as dusty or dry as the original, but very nice. Longevity is superb.
Third version (square label-silver cap): This version picks up from the second version, but the honeyed orange pomander note is much more pronounced. It does eventually dry down to the resinous character of the previous versions. Despite the naysayers, I also love this version--it's extremely comforting in cold weather, and always puts a smile on my face.
No matter what version you choose, you can't go wrong. You wont get the (somewhat artificial) smokey frankincense effect that Avignon and Cardinal offer, but the effect and imagery is still incredible. MdM remains my favorite incense scent, slightly edging out L'Eau Trois and Cardinal.
08th September, 2015 (last edited: 07th September, 2015)
Preamble: I own the second formulation, with the square label, red paisley box and golden cap. It is a total changeling of the first formulation and they are fundamentally different. I can’t speak to the third formulation’s character but have read that it heavily diminished the smokiness in favor of an uncomplicated bright citrus/wood/oriental character.
Discrete rays of sunlight filtered through rising smoke.
Think of it as an olfactory chiaroscuro, with this contrast most perceptible in the opening. The citrus accord’s exact members are indefinite---I detect bergamot most prominently and can’t be sure of the rest. Its effect is an opening that is both uplifting and searing. (The furthest thing from a clean, mild-mannered orange blossom you can imagine).
While the citrus is winsome in its own way and hardly unpleasant, its own character is heavily colored by the eminence grise of the fragrance---the incense accord. Myrrh, cinnamon (a delicate, almost floral Ceylon cinnamon, that is) and amber combine to yield a smoky sweetness that I cherish each and every time I wear this fragrance. Calling it “sweet” isn’t exactly a faithful or exhaustive description---nothing about the sweetness here is edible or conventionally comforting (though I confess I find it so). These heart notes are compelling and hold on like a vise. In this second phase, this newly-dubbed ‘eminence grise’ incense accord comes into its own and is not thrown in such sharp relief as it was formerly.
The drydown is satisfying and languorous, and sees the small presence of various earthen notes increase. (e.g. sandalwood and patchouli) Those who miss the pungent mustiness of the scent’s first formulation might find its semblance much diminished here.
Messe de Minuit’s longevity is wonderful, lasting up to a half-day on me. Its projection is surprisingly restrained, given the power behind some of the ingredients (Not full-throated, its projection feels weaker than average but much stronger than a skin-scent).
While it is intense and somewhat serious, I find Messe de Minuit's interplay and nuances sprightly and consequently wear it whenever I want to feel privately, lucently happy.
ln the opening l get a dense accord of bittersweet candied citrus peel with spices, soon joined by dark woods & patchouli. Over the next couple of hours, a thick, labdanum-rich amber comes to the fore, dominating the rest of the drydown, & reminding me of heavy, sweet ambers like Anne Pliska or Ambre Precieux. Projection is low, but it's still going thirteen hours in.
l am sure this is the most recent formulation, but l still expected to find something of the meditative, damp, cold stone vibe that l've read about, or at least some incense. This, however, is a warm, rich winter scent rather evocative of Christmas, & nicely done.
This is a seriously polarizing fragrance, it seems. Both in the fragrance itself and the way it has since evolved. If you're planning on buying a bottle of this fantastic scent, be aware! The second formulation is a far-cry from its 1994 red-paisley predecessor. The former adds a strange, overwhelming citrus note to the fragrance, and I'd argue those in search for something more haunting and cold may be left disappointed. There's yet a third formulation that I've yet to try but is apparently even further removed from the original.
That aside, the first formulation--which I'm interested in reviewing--is damp, mold, dank incarnate. Think cold stone, still water, moss and mustiness. It's decidedly "wet" and subdued (almost tragically so. I wish this were an edp or it had a bit more sillage or heft) but dries down to an almost sweet incense. This is a NICHE cologne. Not vibrant or palateable to the maintream in the slightest, but I say this in the fondest way possible. I love it. It's the most evocative fragrance I've found in my search for a sombre smell. People have likened it to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, or a Catholic cathedral Mass (Aptly named, Etro.). I'd say that's right on the money. It's a hard find, but honestly worth the search if you have an interest in such a reminiscent smell. I've heard people say nothing comes close to capturing the aforementioned notes like this scent, and in my 30+ sample search for something similar before I finally found Etro's Messe de Minuit eau de cologne, I'm afraid that they're right. It's chilling and perfect.
Messe de Minuit (vintage '90s EDC version) is another peculiar and mysterious scent from the "golden era" of Etro parfums. It opens with a really balsamic, vibrant citrus-herbal accord of aromatic herbs, candied citrus notes which manage to smell sweet and sugary but at the same time much bitter and fresh, on a resinous base of olibanum and "something" which I am unable to identify which smells quite dense, sticky and carnal, like a lighter version of castoreum. The scent is undoubtedly unique and intriguing, it's a dusty, Oriental, mystical blend, really luminous (in a rather unusual way – a "grey morning" transparent luminosity, forget any predictable "summer" light) but at the same time dark. The balsamic is all over: balsamic herbs, balsamic resins, balsamic incense. Finally the sugary feel is also peculiar and compelling, it's not a gourmand sugar and not fruity, it's more a really spicy, resinous, almost "fizzy" sweet note, with just a taste of citrus. A lot of interesting contrasts and nuances going on. In a way it's surely an "incense" scent, although more earthy, organic, spicy, herbal than most of others – plus the incense is resinous, thick, Oriental, so don't think of any dry, synthetic, austere incense à la Avignon (to which Messe de Minuit, at least this early version, has not really much in common). The incense here smells more of dry myrrh, church woods, stale nuances of dusty furniture, old books, with a thin breeze of cold air. It fascinates me a lot how this scent recreates a mystical mood avoiding a bomb of incense, it's rather a really well played harmony of other "ambiental" suggestions – woods, furniture, flowers, dust... really meditative and captivating, surely a memorable and unique fragrance. The only "con" is that it's quite bold and long-lasting, and being fairly peculiar, it may not be the safest scent for a blind buy – in other words, it's not really versatile and "crowd-pleasing", better try it. Surely worth it!