Ozonic violet, once one gets past the strong suggestions of hairspray and wet wipes that cloud its opening. It’s the big dose of ‘clean’ musks giving that impression and they need a bit of time to settle. For an unreal, hazy, almost abstract offering it’s a bit unusual to have flashes of natural scents coming through. But there’s clove popping its sweetly medicinal head above the fog, a hint of something coniferous, and a pronounced heliotrope note that pairs easily with the violet.
Dans tes bras is a blur, a smear (cashmeran is famous for greasing the lens of many a sharper creation), one of those noodling tone poems that seem to begin and end without a sense of beginning and end. It sits squarely within what critics call the ‘soulless’ ethos of the Malle line. But for all that I found it curiously beguiling, its softness coupled with what comes across as utter indifference to the wearer has a strange push-pull to it – like clasping a refrigerated teddy bear.
Ultimately, though, I found it too underpowered to take seriously.
Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle launched in 2000 with a rock-star lineup of perfumers, including Maurice Roucel, who composed the culty Musc Ravageur for the brand. Art direction and commissioning independent perfumers was nothing new in 2000. In fact, it was the founding model of niche perfumery. Early examples Diptyques (1961), l’Artisan Parfumeurs (1976), Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier (1988) were still going strong. The Serge Lutens brand (1992) had attained permanent revolution and were the leader in experimentation.
Hip and trendy were taken, so Frédéric Malle took a different approach with his line. The strategy of the initial roster of FM perfumes was to emphasize quality and distinction. Perfumers were apparently given the edict and the budget to create perfumes of impeccable caliber and taste. Same principle as Amouage, different sensibility. The nine perfumes in the initial launch wore their perfumers on the label, reflecting Malle’s belief in the artist as well as his line’s concept of authorship and publishing. The art direction focussed on the perfumers’ signature styles. Olivia Giacobetti’s En Passant had her characteristic water-color dynamics. Angelique Sous la Pluie demonstrated Jean-Claude Ellena’s expertise with transparent tones. Edouard Flechier’s Lys Méditerranée fits his history of oversized narcotic florals. And so on.
Malle and Roucel were an ideal pair. Malle directed perfumers to work within their sweet spots and Roucel had a history of exploring a compositional motif over the course of years. Musc Ravageur was a tailored version of Alain Delon Lyra, a Roucel fragrance from 1996. Roucel would go on to create le Labo Labdanum 18, Helmut Lang EDP/EDC and Missoni by Missoni, variations on the same aromatic/musk/vanilla-chocolate theme.
Roucel and Malle collaborated again with Dans Tes Bras. Roucel had made violet the principle note of his hairspray-fantasy, Guerlain Insolence in 2006. He punched up the violet and the volume in the 2008 Insolence EDP. Dans Tes Bras, a violet perfume of a very different cut, was released the same year. If Insolence candied violet, Dans tes Bras fermented it. If you can imagine scent-scape of violets and toadstools growing out of vinegar-soaked concrete you’ll catch the shape of the perfume. It’s a doughy floral musk with notes of soil, salt, spice and sour skin. Our nose/brains are conditioned to try to sort scents. Materials that emulate botanicals are assessed for how ‘natural’ they smell while identifiably synthetic qualities aren’t expected to feign realism. Dans tes Bras flips the expected and uses floral notes like heliotrope and violet that smell for lack of a better word, unnatural. With an apparent overdose of cashmeran, the synthetic side of the perfume smells remarkably like something you know, namely concrete sidewalk drying after a rain .
Most Malle perfumes land in identifiable categories, the result of deliberately chasing the ‘best in class’ distinction that the Malle line aspires to. The risk is that many of the line’s perfumes can be seen as simply extra-fine versions of department store perfumes. Dans tes Bras, not so much. In a line that leans heavily towards florals it is the least conventional of the lot.
The Malle line seemed like it was headed for a soft landing even before Estée Lauder purchased the brand in 2014. Eau de Magnolia, Cologne Indelible and Monsieur were a citric floral-chypre, a concentrated eau de cologne and a Soli-patch. Finished and tony but a bit dull. I assume that each perfume in the Malle line will be looked at very closely by the Lauder accountants. If there is a thinning of the line, florals in particular, will Dans tes Bras make the cut?
I admit that I was rooting for Dans Tes Bras to be a winner even before I’d smelled it, because it’s considered the edgiest entry in a brand that focuses on giving us the most super rich, but straight-forward versions of single notes or styles. I kind of like the idea of the quirky one in the bunch being a soul match for me. I had smelled it briefly on a trip to Brussels and in a flurry of twenty other fragrances all competing for nose space, its pale, violet-tinged reticence intrigued me. But when I ordered a sample to investigate further, I discovered certain problems with it.
First of all, the weirdness of the fragrance – which comes from the interplay of the loudly synthetic elements (cashmeran, a woody-ambery sandalwood amplifier like ebanol or javanol) and natural-smelling green and floral elements (violets, heliotrope, I think mint or something aqueous) – does not go nearly far enough to catch my attention. It's weird, but not weird enough.
I’ve been playing around a lot lately with M/Mink, and although I’m not sure I like it enough to buy it, I find that the line between industrial and natural in that scent constantly shifts around, so all my attention is bound up in trying to unwrap the elements from each other. Dans Tes Bras, in comparison, has a little oddness to it, yes, but doesn't carry it forward in any compelling way. Once you’ve identified the elements at work to produce that salty, green, musky tinge it carries, the fragrance has nothing left to show you. It doesn’t help that it becomes ever more synthetic in feel as the day wears on, developing a soapy, shrill accent that runs perilously close to Windex or windscreen wiper fluid.
Now, I don’t mind references to industrial or bathroom products if they’re paired to really natural, earthy notes in a conscious effort to ground them – the bleach and toner ink played against dry patchouli and honey in M/Mink, for example. In Dans Tes Bras, though, the functional product notes are too unadorned, and I don’t find it pleasant to catch whiffs of Windex as I’m moving around the house. As a busy mum whose fragrances often encounter cruel treatment at the hands of washing up liquid, hand-soap, and latex gloves, I’d rather not cultivate that aura deliberately.
The clincher in the deal, though, was Dans Tes Bras’ eventual resemblance to Dries Van Noten, in particular that nutty, sawdusty sandalwood in combination with the “poured concrete” fuzziness of cashmeran. Dans Tes Bras is saltier and more floral, and Dries Van Noten more vanillic, milky, but ultimately they share that same cashmere-blanket level of blandness that I just cannot appreciate. My apathy comes partly from the fact that it all melds into one pale mass, with nothing differentiating one note from another, other than an abstract impression of something salty, like licking minerals off a sunny rock. In the end, it smells pleasant but banal, like the scent of eye drops or miscellar water squirted onto a cotton wool ball.
To sum up for you lazy bastards who didn’t make through all of that (TL:DR), Dans Tes Bras is not weird enough to be interesting, and not beautiful enough to lust after for beauty’s sake.
I like this one. It's wearable. It smells modern and comfortable, mixing synthetic and natural ingredients reminiscent of the Guerlain Samsara I tried recently: adding synthetic flair to sandalwood and jasmine; in this case with a hint of a smell I associate with the color green: a floral smell that seems to include the stems.
Well, despite I really, deeply dislike this brand, its approach to perfumery and its utter pretentiousness, I must admit Dans tes Bras is probably one of the nicest offerings by Malle (that says it all). Still dull for its price range and with a quite mediocre evolution, but well, there’s worse than this. It opens as a laid-back, cozy, simple yet quite refined and clean – a soapy, warm, talc and soothing kind of “clean” - powdery scent which blends a sparkling bergamot head accord, a rich, pastel lavender-violet-heliotrope heart and a smooth, warm musky-vanillic base enriched by Oriental notes of (I think) tonka and soft woods – for once, I clearly get a decent sandalwood reconstruction, with its proper “milky soapiness”, refreshed by an edgy note of cedar. All tinged with a very pleasant and subtle whiff of earthiness, avoiding any plushy-sweetish gourmand effect often associated to this type of compositions. On the contrary, Dans tes Bras feels initially very airy and actually quite simple too, with no traces of the “complex sumptuosity” that you often find in this type of Oriental powdery scents. Synthetic as hell, but well played.
So, a classy and affable Oriental cloud of talc at first, with powdery-floral-woody notes a bit in the vein of Villoresi Teint de Neige, or Boucheron Jaipur, with quite some differences though: smoother, cleaner, way simpler, much fresher, less sweet and completely “un-spicy”, more focused on gentle notes of violet and heliotrope paired with crisp woods and pine-infused balsamic notes of lavender. I really appreciate the initial herbal-balsamic vein which brings in a touch of “fresh air” and makes Dans tes Bras smell like a weightless, almost “healing” interpretation of a classic powdery Oriental floral scent. It feels extremely soapy and comforting to wear, and it performs quite well, with a transition towards a drier, earthier... and sadly, so much more mediocre drydown, which just like a beautifully painted Barocque trompe l’oeil concealing your crappy toilet, reveals the “hidden nature” of this fragrance: a flat, extremely synthetic base of “white flowers”, musky violet and generic “soft woods”. Not abysmal, but it’s always disappointing to see some “magic” vanish away so soon, especially if you’ve just spent a hell lot of money for it. I wonder if niche brands work with marketing agencies providing them with reports calculating the average time a customer needs to try a scent, complete the decision process and pay for it, and compose their scents accordingly. The transition is truly sudden here – from an almost-very-good fragrance to a cheap fabric softener.
Nonetheless, despite the disappointing evolution, I don’t feel bashing this scent. Or well, just a tiny bit. Even if it smells more and more cheap as minutes pass, it still keeps a pleasant presence on skin. So overall I would surely consider this not full bottle worthy at that price, not even half of it, but if you get it as a gift and you inexplicably resist to the temptation of making some good money out of it, I guess it can be nice to spray this for a sunny morning out for grocery shopping – completely pointless, but I guess it’s the kind of nonsense bourgeois “shabby chic” acts many Malle’s customers love.