Inexcusable Ropion: Cologne Indélébile from Frederic Malle and Soul by Costume National

No perfumer is without their faults.


Cologne Indélébile From Frederic Malle
Original Score: 5/5
First Posted July 2, 2015

Maxim: Divorce functionality from critical scent analysis.

Fragrance isn’t practical, and judging Cologne Indélébile on that merit was plainly spurious of me. That ought not to be a condition in judging perfume, because when has art ever been functional or practical? It is then only appropriate that my view of Cologne Indélébile trims itself down from the original perfect 5 that I gave it. It is a murky creature. An elegantly shaped brick, but a brick no less.

And so I strip away from this scent its functionality as a cologne that lasts, and lasts, and lasts, and I am left with a sea of white musks. Good musks no doubt – drowning the bitter meets white floral heart punctuated with lemon.

Colognes generally contain a purity about them, which isn’t necessarily done through citruses. Contemporary brand Atelier Cologne is a good example of this (despite not capturing my style), and Jean-Claude Ellena is a considerably better example, especially considering his take on narcissus and gentian flower. An overload of musk draws purity away from the center. Gone is a radiance akin to refracted light through a polished crystal, and instead Cologne Indélébile smells damp and murky.

What this does is make every other note appear dubious, in a way that despite being of excellent quality, it stifles the shimmery pureness you’d get from such high-quality citruses and florals with their resounding, enigmatic hum. While the musk may be good too, it is contextually wrong and out of balance. Instead of providing a thin yet concrete foundation, the musk moves into a grey sheen and forms a considerable bulk of the structure.

There’s a touch of animal in there, hinting at some sort of movement towards reinvention of the genre, but that metallic cloyingness adds an abrasive roughness stopping the purr from developing further in a sensual manner. The scent begins to feel practical: it is not a foremost beautiful object, but a technical challenge, and to conquer this challenge beauty resultantly had to suffer. Never.

Subjective rating: 2/5

Objective rating: 2.5 – 3 / 5

Soul by Costume National

Maxim: Considerations of how a perfume falls into a ‘trend’ exist within external logic.

Maxim: Historical perspectives are elements of external logic.

Soul is at best a decent scent of lukewarm proportions, demonstrating the dying end of this West meets oud trend. Soul falls at the end of the progression, which roughly began as timid, reached its zenith and continued downhill from there. Soul is at the upper levels of the downward slope, where being edgy and unique on the theme is difficult.

From my perspective, Soul is a superfluous reestablishment of the Middle Eastern theme which rests on a base of already insipid Costume National cliches. The chunky frame of bold synthetic amber and musks twinged with fresh aromatics is borrowed and lends itself to oud, vanilla-lined ambergris, and patchouli. When considered in that way, it is easy to see why Soul appears as exhausting.

I suspect Costume National knew oud was tiresome within the mass market (working on the principle of charity and hoping they just didn’t want “another oud”), and so the composition favourably makes oud less obvious yet still present in a sort of glowing manner, admittedly less effective than Heeley’s superlative Phoenicia. This gives a tang of sweetness that works sublimely with vanilla and ambergris effects enlivened with something nice up top. Or perhaps Ropion too was exhausted with oud.

Altogether it is reminiscent of M7, but in this instance it’s cloying in its linearity, and nondescript beyond those Middle Eastern additions (hence explains my distaste for the other Costume National scents) – instead Soul is carved from ordinary and fixed oriental notes rather than constructed while every other note just seems redundant in the mix.

If you want an interesting wood with warm around its edges, some protein and a saline hum, Dries Van Noten is the obvious choice.

Subjective rating: 3/5

Objective rating: 3.5/5

4 thoughts on “Inexcusable Ropion: Cologne Indélébile from Frederic Malle and Soul by Costume National

  1. I enjoy and appreciate that you revisit your assessment of a fragrance from time to time. The development of your nose and your changing aesthetic is evident. My opinion of many fragrances changes over time, and something I couldn’t appreciate then I appreciate now. Great work.

    • Hi Dónall. Thanks for commenting. Yes – not early is my changing nose and aesthetic something that has evolved, but from that also my desire to be more and more transparent as a reviewer. See you around! -Liam

  2. I also applaud your attention to previous reviews in light of your ever developing sophisticated nose, and wonder about things I have written in my blog from years ago and whether they ought to be reconsidered also.

    Your note about commercialisation of oud reminds me that I saw one of those horrid men’s deodorants in the supermarket recently labelled “oud” something. Really? (And FYI I was passing through that section and certainly not browsing).

    I challenge your statement about art not being functional: I specialise in a modern rendering of ancient art that was not considered art at all in the epoch wherein it was created. It was entirely functional, (although beauty was not a concept lost on the peoples of that era either; as an aside, it appears that they regarded scent in a similar fashion).

    • Thank you as always, sir.

      Regarding the oud trend – that is surely an indication that the trend is at the dying end now.

      I am positively thrilled that you picked you up on my functionality comment, perhaps a little swift of me, and certainly an invitation to reflect on such a statement on a philosophical level. I initially had the statement read as: “when has beauty even been functional?”, but then I know people find beauty in architectural and mathematical design. Your example also holds itself well here. Perhaps this is the perfect time to draft this consideration as a musings post! March, me thinks!

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