Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.
Along with Jo Malone and Susanne Lang, Donna Karan joins the ranks of the lines offering mix-and-layer options. The concept of Essence Collection is interesting in that it offers a hands on approach to perfumery by presenting fragrances in the form of single note blends, thus making the process of layering less intimidating even to those who generally avoid experimenting. If suggestions to layer Le Mâle and Mitsouko may sound outlandish, combining lavender and labdanum appear to be less so. Moreover, the oil versions of Essences are speaking to the current interest in aromatherapy, with the image of the line presented as wholesome, down to earth and approachable, while nevertheless sophisticated.
The essences in the range are best envisioned as soliflores, fragrances focusing on the single note, rather than essential oils, because they are certainly not all-natural, single ingredient compositions. …
The EdTs and the oils can be layered at will, as the choice of four fragrances was made keeping the potential layering combinations in mind. One should not fear wearing the oils undiluted (which cannot be said about the real essential oils), since they are already contained in the fragrance oil base. The EDTs and the oils can also be worn on their own, however I find that they are somewhat lacking in tenacity, and frequent reapplications are required.
Lavender (1) is a classical soliflore, with the sweet tonality and the vivid herbaceous element. It layers especially well with Labdanum (4), a fragrance meant to resemble the balsamic and honeyed scent of resin emitted by rockrose bush. Often used in amber and leather accords, labdanum has a good affinity with lavender, thus, combining two Essences produces an interesting result.
Jasmine (2) has a touch of greenness and indolic richness. As a jasmine soliflore, it is pleasant, without an overly rich animalic facet, and as a layering option, it might be best selected for Wenge (3), a fragrance reminiscent of the dark African wood with a deep, sweet quality accented by the caramel redolent smoke. It is one of the elements that make Donna Karan Black Cashmere such an exotic composition, and it is by far my favorite from the quartet. Besides Jasmine, its other successful partner is Labdanum, the honeyed element of which harmonizes with the sweetness of Wenge, while the balsamic darkness tempers the rich quality of the pairing.
While the process of considering various layering options is appealing, it also means incurring a rather high expense ($165 and $90 for the EDT and the oil, respectively), and in all fairness, I find it difficult to justify for myself.