Dries Van Noten is a bit of a head-scratcher for me. I've been through two samples and half a travel mini of it trying to figure out why it is not pushing any of my buttons when – on the face of it – it should have been a slam dunk for me. After all, I am a fan of many of the Editions de Parfums de Frederic Malle, I love sandalwood and creamy gourmands, and I happen to be a massive fan of the work of the designer Dries Van Noten. But I keep coming back to the same conclusion: Dries Van Noten just doesn’t smell as exceptional or as unusual as you might expect from a perfume that costs €190 a bottle.
In particular, there is an unappetizing, quasi-gourmand smell to this that is off-putting to me. Something in the combination of the musk, cashmeran, saffron, and woods brings to mind the oily but also floury smell of ground nuts mixed with spices used as a dry mix for making walnut crescents, a traditional cookie throughout the Balkans, Turkey, and Georgia. Ground walnuts are so popular where I live that most housewives will use them as a replacement for flour in their cakes. This almost savory, mealy smell pervades even the smallest of corner grocery stores. Personally, I find the smell as unexciting as the cookies themselves, which always seem to crumble into an insubstantial dust the moment you lips touch them. Much of Dries Van Noten smells like this to me, hence my lack of enthusiasm.
The vanilla and the woods in the base offer a pleasant creaminess, but to my nose, there is also a very synthetic-smelling surround system at work. The musky, fresh-paint smell I get must be cashmeran, which is not something I find unpleasant per se. But when it is coupled with a sugary cotton candy note (ethyl maltol), it all proves to be one synthetic too far for the delicate sandalwood.
And as a sandalwood lover, the sandalwood note here is a disappointment – it lacks all of the nuanced and varied tones I have grown accustomed to in fragrances such as Bois des Iles and Santal Majuscule. I am far from a Mysore sandalwood snob – I don’t mind if neither the Chanel nor the Lutens I just named contain a single drop of the original Mysore stuff. What I appreciate about those perfumes is that they use an array of notes to suggest the full range of the smell of real Mysore sandalwood – the sweet, the creamy, the slight lactic sourness, green aspects, and rosy notes – thereby making an artistic statement rather than just a grouping together of raw materials. Much has been made of the use of Mysore sandalwood in Dries Van Noten. But since it doesn’t shine in this composition, I wonder why they bothered.
But most of all, I am mystified as to why a designer as eccentric and as bold as Dries Van Noten has been honored by a perfume so essentially boring. I’d understand if his clothes were ‘beige’ or safe, but they are not. Dries van Noten is a daring and much-admired designer who combines ideas from art and architecture with his design approach.
I remember in particular his 2008 Spring/Summer collection, in which he used the colors and aesthetics of Francis Bacon paintings as a starting point for the clothes – all unhealthy flesh tones contrasted with jewel-like blues and greens. The clothes looked strange but also exciting and -gasp! Somebody call Anna Wintour! – wearable. When I fantasize about having the budget for designer clothes, I always think longingly of this particular collection. So, with all the signs of an urbane, world-traveled designer in front of them, why they decided to make his fragrance smell like raw cookie dough mix is a mystery to me.
For the first few minutes I just got a lot of wood, and then for about an hour as it developed on my skin, it was almost a dead ringer for the current formulation of L'Heure Bleue EDP! That's not something I ever expect to experience. But it's got a really similar mix of austere and Asian incense-smelling sandalwood plus yeasty, doughy pastry and vanilla. Not an edible gourmand, but leaning that direction in a way that's similarly weird and comforting at the same time.
I didn't get the rose/iris/anise that's in L'Heure Bleue, or any florals, really, and the drydown of Dries is more woody than Guerlain powdery. Yet there's a ton of shared ground at the midpoint of development, at least with my chemistry. It's complex enough that I imagine it smells completely different on others!
The warm ambery vanilla and wood drydown lasts a long time.
The opening of this is absolutely amazing; semi-sweet vanilla, almost gourmandish. The drydown is overly powdery and pungent.
I can however appreciate the authenticity of the sandalwood/vanilla opening, and I can see this being coveted by some. Also, I continue to come back to my sample because it's intriguing. This could be a potential future buy.
28th December, 2014 (last edited: 13th January, 2015)
Huge thumbs up. My first couple of applications were in the summer. The timing wasn't right even though it made an indelible impression. Fast forward to December. With a heavier application this not only hits the mark, but goes way beyond. Amazing sillage and longevity! Creamy vanilla, gourmand like a Belgian pastry just as advertised. Beautiful undertones of saffron, sandalwood, and a balmy affect pull it all together into a concoction that will make your significant other want to eat you up. Perfect with a cozy wool sweater for either sex. Lots of compliments on this one. If you're not comvinced at first, give it a couple of wearings.....it will grow on you. Top five Holiday fragrances of all time!
A gourmand hymn to sandalwood...
Dries Van Noten is the first in a series of "portraits" by Frédéric Malle of people he admires. In this case, the eponymous Belgian fashion designer. This was actually made as a huge "thank you" note to the designer, who supported Frédéric Malle by selling his fragrances in his store in Antwerp from the very beginning. He also uses an unconventional yet very warm and human touch in terms of fashion style (he famously said he would never make a piece of clothing which could never be sold in a store, so no "haute couture" or "exclusive" collections like most other big fashion labels), and that was also something that Malle admired.
In this creation, Malle's "perfume portrait" of the designer, he took inspiration from the designer's hometown, Antwerp, and the (Flemish) culture of northern Belgium. Essentially, Frédéric Malle here created a sandalwood composition, because sandalwood is warm and inviting when used in perfumes (it's often considered a "second skin" type of scent), and that sandalwood is boosted with vanilla, lots of it, and musk, saffron, jasmine, bergamot and cashmeran, a synthetic molecule which smells like slightly woody, musky human skin (this was used quite a lot in Frédéric Malle's other release Dans Tes Bras, a fragrance which literally translates as "in your arms").
So what do I get from it? Well, to me it comes across as a borderline gourmandish, (very) creamy sandalwood, vanilla, saffron, jasmine, bergamot musk combination. In fact, it has a touch of Shalimar (the jasmine, vanilla & bergamot combination). But to me it's more creamy than Shalimar (it's actually closer to Samsara in my opinion), it's a lot like a pastry. Which makes sense, because Malle also drew inspiration from the sights and smells of Belgium, including it's food. Food such as waffles, crêpes, and biscuits. I find this a very warm and inviting fragrance, the sandalwood here is extremely authentic (Malle lists it as Mysore Sandalwood but it's actually Indian Sandalwood (name: santalum album) grown in Australia). This is not a synthetic sandalwood substitute, this is the real stuff, but obviously enhanced with other synthetic ingredients such as Sacrasol which Malle describes as "an ingredient halfway between sandalwood and vanilla", and ethyl-maltol which is an ingredient used in many gourmand fragrances (ie the "candy" note in Thierry Mugler's Angel).
I think if you like you're scents warm, rich and comforting, you'll like this one. If you like a gourmand twist to fragrances, you'll like this also. It's strong, as in it lasts a long time (8-10 hours on skin, and even lasts weeks on clothes), but it sits very close to the skin after the first 2 hours. But that's a good thing, as the natural sandalwood, musk and vanilla compliments the skin beautifully and really makes it come alive. In my opinion this is a perfect one for cuddling with someone on the sofa by the fire. Perfect in cooler weather, with a wool or cashmere sweater. It's very "comfy" in warm and sexy way.
Some people have labelled this a "safe" fragrance from
Frédéric Malle (who is known for making "unconventional" fragances), but I think this is worth the price alone mainly because of the (very) authentic sandalwood oil concentration, and the way it is used in this perfume (and Malle always uses high concentrations of natural raw ingredients in his perfumes - for example the Vetiver in Vétiver Extraordinaire, or the Tuberose in Carnal Flower). It should be on your list if you live in a place with cool weather as I think this works great on those warm, indoor settings by the fire, with a loved one by your side. I don't see this as a disappointment, I see this as another great creation from Frédéric Malle, this is a gourmand hymn to sandalwood... and I love it!