Sometimes I surprise myself. Often days (‘fragrant outings’ I call them) can be filled with myself walking around with a pocket-sized leather notebook in hand and a fountain pen filled my favourite blue-black ink going around and smelling fragrances and promptly taking notes. This occurred the other day when I revisited the Frederic Malle line of fragrances.
It was mid-december and the stores, despite the lateness in time, were still very busy; approaching christmas always puts everyone in the desperate and frantic mindset. I didn’t have much time or enough silence to properly ‘figure out’ a fragrance in a store, and so I sniffed things on an initial basis. I either liked something or I didn’t, but regardless of that fact I still rushed around and took notes. When I reached French Lover I hastily wrote down the following: “Green. Vegetal. Miss Dior Galbanum. Spent matchsticks. Uncoordinated opening.” I then spritzed French Lover generously onto my wrists.
I surprised myself because when I sprayed this on the card I was overwhelmed with a rush of notes calling to mind the sticky greenish brown sharpness of Miss Dior (Originale) and its wonderfully syrupy thick galbanum. It was only when I stopped and looked at the Frederic Malle website did I realise galbanum was a central theme – with it actually referencing Miss Dior (Malle’s and Bourdon’s mothers both wore Miss Dior).
By the end of the night I was sold. I had to have French Lover for its challenging nature.
French Lover by Pierre Bourdon for Frederic Malle is a fantastically upfront fragrance. It is a case of overdosing taken to the extreme with fragrant notes given the plump and fulsome treatment. French Lover seems to fulfil the overused male mould for masculine fragrances in which more is never enough – nor probably ever will be. This is a powerful fragrance, and the brutal opening is a testament to this fact. French Lover is concurrently raw as it is refined, and I think the name ‘French Lover’ is absolutely perfect. It is dirty, crosses social norms and enters the taboo; with the idea of messy and tumbled white bedsheets, white dress shirts stained a lipstick red and an attractive suggestion of sweat coming to mind. French Lover is altogether elegant extremism, excess and maximalism, untouched solidity, and serene virility. It is a lesson reflecting the importance of raw materials and how sophistication can be achieved as a result, and why a sense of novelty mixed with recollective charm is important.
The opening is frazzling! It is dry and reminiscent of spent matchsticks, in which the scent is sharp, delivers itself immediately and is lightly phosphoric due to its raw vegetal facet with a brazen woods and incense note. Spent matchsticks or the burning smell of gunpowder (whatever suits your nose), this is the smell of a soldier out of combat in a rainforest.
A strong galbanum note adds an offensive greenness much like Miss Dior. It is like old and verdant wet leaves with a pungent earthy freshness. Galbanum has mixed with high voltage woods, and sharp angelica and pepper notes creating a neon effect shining a camouflaged green hue that is both bright and luminous. We have the classic contradiction of dry and wet present in many fragrances designed for the upper market, however unlike the others, this opening seems to last longer than what it should comfortably be.
It starts green and morphs into a dirt brown as vetiver and cedar wood become more prominent. I enjoy the lack of sweetness – as often perfumes tame the edge using a hint of citrus or vanilla, all are absent in French Lover. This continues to be dry like a red wine from beginning to the end, lifted only slightly by an aromatic yet bitter angelica facet. Incense hovers over the composition giving mysteriousness whilst patchouli and crystal clear musks adds a lush feature.
In some respects, this fragrance is thundering like a brute dressed in the finest silks and wool – and no matter what, you just can’t take the beast out of his habitat! French Lover contains accords built around the naturally complimentary ingredients of cedar, vetiver, amber and incense (says Malle). Nevertheless, these complementary notes clash with a light, floral-esque accord (iris, pimento, galbanum) at the heart of the fragrance, delivering a seemingly contradictory vegetal freshness and a carnal sense of severity at the same time.
At once a lush green and a raw brown, both individual aspects ring at a level so high and at odds with each other that it is interesting to see how they work in harmony with each other. On paper they shouldn’t work –
And yet they just work! The notes in French Lover are sour, yet smokey enough to offset one another; whilst also being at the stage just before being declared dirty.
Subjective rating : 4/5
Objective rating: 3/5