Parfums de Nicolai Odalisque : Fragrance Review

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Dianaagron

Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

Among the ever growing niche area of the fragrance market, I would not hesitate to name Parfums de Nicolaï as one of the best. Created by talented perfumer Patricia de Nicolaï, the collection contains some of the most memorable fragrances available today. The dreamy darkness of Sacrebleu, the exquisite gracefulness of Le Temps d’une Fête, or the moody elegance of New York speak of its creator’s original vision and her ability to marry modern themes with classical forms. My favorite Nicolaï fragrance is Odalisque, which despite its name does not advertise its seductive nature. Rather, Odalisque beguiles with its striking combination of fragility and strength.

The drama of Odalisque is based on its arresting lily of the valley and chypre (mossy) accord. The top notes of bitter galbanum and bergamot set the refrain that repeats throughout—dark, intense and moody. As Odalisque dries down, the floral notes unfold like rolls of heavy silk. The heady richness of tuberose succeeds the dazzling brightness of lily of the valley, with sheer rose and jasmine lending further complexity. The dark green, inky undercurrent of moss and patchouli languidly frames the classical floral heart.

Even though Odalisque has been reformulated to comply with the IFRA standards for oakmoss, I still find the character of the original to be preserved. The dark layer under the luminous floral notes gives Odalisque a truly memorable and distinctive character. It does not smell like a garden on a summer day, nor does it evoke stables like some other heady white floral blends. Instead, it conjures a modern day Lady Godiva image—warm skin, horse mane and red lipstick.

Although it seems almost crude to mention money when discussing the artistic merit of Nicolaï fragrances; nevertheless, the subject should be raised. For the quality of the perfume, the price is not just reasonable, it is a true bargain!

Parfums de Nicolaï Odalisque includes notes of bergamot, mandarin, galbanum, jasmine, lily of the valley, tuberose, ylang ylang, patchouli, oakmoss, amber, and castoreum. Available from First in Fragrance, Beautyhabit, Luckyscent, New London Pharmacy, The Perfume Shoppe and directly from the Parfums de Nicolai website. 30ml, $45, 100ml, $130

Sample: my own acquisition

Image credit: Dianna Argon via zetaboard

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50 Comments

  • Gisela: Great review! I was looking forward to it – next week I will be in Paris for a few days and was thinking about buying a small flacon of Odalisque, but was almost scared away by lamentations about the reformulated version. I still love Le Temps d’une Fete despite its partial loss of oakmoss, so probably Odalisque will work for me, too. Thanks for the encouragement! 🙂 May 2, 2011 at 4:53am Reply

  • Alice C: I reached for my sample to sniff it again. I had tested it once after receiving the sample in a trade as lagniappe. There were only drops then. Now it is only fumes; it is lovely! At that price, a bottle may be in my future. 😉 May 2, 2011 at 8:41am Reply

  • karin: Yes! A reason to ignore the terrible packaging. So thrilled to see a company place their focus and $ on the juice, and not on flash… May 2, 2011 at 8:43am Reply

  • Grusheczka: I absolutely adore this brand, but I wish they changed their packaging somewhat to reflect just how exciting and well done the fragrances inside them are. I love how they offer small, affordable bottles. Odalisque, Juste un Reve, New York and Sacrebleu are some of my favorite fragrances, ever. Thanks for the post and spreading the word about this fantastic brand! May 2, 2011 at 8:54am Reply

  • Hilary: I don’t mind the packaging at all, I just worry that the brand will go out of business if they don’t get their act together. The website is terrible! But as long as they keep making their wonderful, inexpensive perfumes, I’m happy! May 2, 2011 at 9:08am Reply

  • karin: They changed their website recently, though it’s not much better than it was before! May 2, 2011 at 9:15am Reply

  • jtd: I was long a fan of Odalisque. So languid but so definite. It was my favorite from the PdN line, a line that include some of the best fragranes available. The reformulation, though, is heatbreaking. It feels as thought the entirety of its chypre facet has been removed and not replaced. As if it had been labotomized. May 2, 2011 at 9:48am Reply

  • mals86: I’m still not sure why Odalisque hasn’t won my heart. I think it’s lovely, well-done, distinctive… but I do not love it.

    Ah well. I shall just buy another bottle of Le Temps d’une Fete instead. And perhaps a small one of Juste une Reve. Or Week-end a Deauville.

    I admit to really liking the small 1-oz bottles. Rectangular, but sloped, they fit in the hand nicely and are a pleasure to spray. I agree, PdN is a true bargain! May 2, 2011 at 9:56am Reply

  • Victoria: If you do not mind Le Temps d’une Fete in its post-oakmoss state, you will find that Odalisque has fared well. In comparison to some other reformulations I have been smelling recently, it is a stellar one.

    I just love PdN! May 2, 2011 at 10:22am Reply

  • Victoria: I would be ready to pay more for a fragrance of such originality and quality. So, $45 is a bargain indeed! May 2, 2011 at 10:23am Reply

  • Victoria: True, the packaging, the lack of a single color on all labels, the names, it all detracts from the image of this exceptional brand. I so wish they got their act together on the marketing front. May 2, 2011 at 10:23am Reply

  • Victoria: Those bottles look worse than the stock bottles I use for my decants! I do not mind the smaller 1oz bottles though, yet I still wish they were more elegant. Yet, the beauty of the fragrances makes me forget and ignore the rest. May 2, 2011 at 10:24am Reply

  • Victoria: That’s actually my main concern too.
    On the other hand, as Karin said above, it is refreshing to see a niche line that does not go the uber-luxurious way in terms of its packaging (yes, by Kilian, I am looking at you!) and focuses on what is truly important. May 2, 2011 at 10:26am Reply

  • Victoria: Good call, they did. Although I also did not find it all that much better. May 2, 2011 at 10:26am Reply

  • Victoria: I can see how it would be heartbreaking, especially if you were wearing Odalisque for a long time. These days, I try not to judge the reformulations too harshly, knowing how truly difficult the replacement of oakmoss in formulas can be. As long as the character is preserved, I am glad to give it good marks. May 2, 2011 at 10:28am Reply

  • Austenfan: When I see those bottles I just think that this whole line is a triumph of content over packaging. I actually wouldn’t mind seeing more of that in an age when everything is polished up to look great no matter how bad the product may be. I adore that wonky website. They have good customer service though, and the few times that I got in touch with them by either mail or phone they were friendly and helpful.

    My favourites from Nicolaï are Sacrebleu and New York. But I do love and admire Odalisque, though I don’t wear it that much.
    Thanks for another great review! I also loved Luca Turin’s reviews of some of the Nicolaïs. Sacrebleu, Odalisque, Le Temps d’une Fête and New York are very beautifully described. May 2, 2011 at 10:34am Reply

  • Victoria: Juste un Reve and Weekend a Deauville are on my list to revisit. I used to love Juste Un Reve.

    Another pleasant discovery was Vanilla Intense, a lavender-vanilla pairing, not at all a typical creme brulee vanilla. I was even worried at first that Luckyscent has mislabeled my samples! May 2, 2011 at 10:34am Reply

  • Victoria: I love reading his reviews when he is utterly in love with something. His prose becomes exquisitely poetic!

    Yes, I have to agree with you on your first point. I just wonder how much more successful it would have been with a better presentation. Yet, maybe not… As I have seen with some niche lines, the bigger they grow, the less coherent and interesting they become. May 2, 2011 at 10:38am Reply

  • Suzanna: I agree with Austenfan about the packaging; my last de Nicolai purchase was the small bottle of Vanille Intense in its plain delivery. But this is fine. It sort of reminds me of e-tailer/niche lines that don’t pour money into bottle development but rather into fragrance.

    Odalisque is an adult LOTV thanks to the field of moss in its base. Moss is unexpected against the delicacy of the LOTV flower; it roughens a bit where something else might soften. It’s memorable in Odalisque, as you point out! May 2, 2011 at 10:47am Reply

  • dee: Five Stars?! Wow, that is really something! I’ve only tried, so far, two fragrances from PdN: Kiss me tender, which was beautiful but not for me; and Vanille Tonka, which I’ve only just acquired and worn one time. So far, VT is beautiful, but nothing I need to own. Not nearly enough sampling to get a feel for the line— However, if Odalisque has earned five stars from you, then I must sample it! 🙂 May 2, 2011 at 12:13pm Reply

  • March: Love Odalisque. Love, love, love. I wound up with a spray sample and it was one of the scents I immediately got online and bought a bottle of. The PdNs are indeed a great value for the price. I think I have several now, and probably wear them more than others… Sacrebleu I’ve never developed the proper appreciation for 🙂 but off the top of my head I wear Fig-Tea, Maharanih, Turquoise and her fireplace one (Coin de Feu? or something like that.) May 2, 2011 at 12:47pm Reply

  • Lavanya: OMG, V, Lily and Oakmoss?- I have to have to sniff this. Forget my mom- I think I need this…:)
    I love their price point and the fact that they have small bottles..Their packaging isn’t great but I am willing to sacrifice that for the current price.. May 2, 2011 at 1:31pm Reply

  • OperaFan: I adore Odalisque – it reminds me of happy times in my childhood although I cannot say exactly why, when or where – just childhood!
    I think by the time I got my 1st sample, in mid 2009 the formula was already changed, but I liked it so much it really didn’t matter. It’s what I call a gentle chypre, and those are the types of chypres I favor most. May 2, 2011 at 3:41pm Reply

  • KilimCrazy: I just bought some things from their new website. It is clear and easy to use. May 2, 2011 at 4:46pm Reply

  • Victoria: You are right, I also find that oakmoss lends a certain sophistication to the fresh floralcy of Odalisque. Everything about this fragrance is memorable.

    The small bottles are so convenient. I love to bring them along when I travel.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 2, 2011 at 5:06pm Reply

  • Victoria: Kiss Me Tender is disappointing. It smells like a piece of Tresor. Not that exciting and rather harsh. VT, on another hand, is an excellent vanilla.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 2, 2011 at 5:07pm Reply

  • Victoria: I have more of an admiration for Sacrebleu than a strong passion. It is too sweet for my tastes. Yet, it is gorgeous, no doubt.
    Maharanih is the one I need to revisit, so I appreciate your mention of it, March.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 2, 2011 at 5:43pm Reply

  • Victoria: You definitely need to sample it. Such an elegant, original composition. My top Nicolai favorite! 🙂
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 2, 2011 at 5:44pm Reply

  • Victoria: Gentle chypre is a perfect description. You know, it does remind me of my childhood summers somehow… I realize that I have a nostalgic connection to Odalisque, and I also do not know where this nostalgia stems from. All in all, it is love…
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 2, 2011 at 5:48pm Reply

  • Victoria: It is easier to use for shopping now, that's true.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 2, 2011 at 5:49pm Reply

  • Lynn Morgan: Sounds divine; I will have to give it a sniff. After all, better a houri than a ho! May 2, 2011 at 8:13pm Reply

  • Eric Brandon: I of course ordered a sample after Mr. Turin’s gleaming review. After a promising start (I put it on again to make sure nothing’s changed), I notice an oily accord of moss, galbanum, and LotV that, though it’s not a scrubber, does churn my stomach a wee bit. It’s so dense and slick that I can’t even…. I do wish I liked this but it makes me uncomfortable to wear.

    This is my only sample so far of the Parfums de Nicolai range but I am anxious to try others. May 2, 2011 at 8:23pm Reply

  • Victoria: So so true! 🙂 May 2, 2011 at 10:26pm Reply

  • Victoria: Eric, I can completely see that. It is not a light, delicate fragrance, and it is even strange to encounter that rich, creamy note alongside the sparkling lotv accord.

    I highly recommend New York and Patchouli Pour Homme. The latter is much more interesting than the name implies, as patchouli is only one facet of it. May 2, 2011 at 10:27pm Reply

  • Uella: I agree with you Victoria, Parfums de Nicolai is one of the best niche fragrance line on the market and they’re very affordable. Unfortunately the London Pharmacy in New York doesn’t carry everything, for instance they had Le Temps d’une Fete tester but no bottles, small or large, they haven’t ordered Weekend a Deauville yet, I had to buy these two from Luckyscent in California.
    Odalisque is a beautiful perfume but I think I like Le Temps better, have you tried Weekend a Deauville? May 3, 2011 at 3:39pm Reply

  • Victoria: Uella, I had a similar experience with the New London Pharmacy. So, now I buy mine either from Beautyhabit or Luckyscent, because the London Pharmacy never has what I want. I also finally ended up just ordering a sample of Weekend a Deauville from Luckyscent, because I have not tried the new version.
    I hope that it will arrive this week, and I will report back. May 3, 2011 at 7:15pm Reply

  • Uella: Victoria, I just happened to be near 23rd St and the West Side this afternoon so I decided to go to London Pharmacy, like always they had a few testers but no bottles and I was told again that they were going to order more but I already heard that song six months ago so I asked if I could buy the tester of Odalisque. After the approval of a certain Elaine in the back of the store, I was able to buy the Odalisque 1.0 oz tester that was brand new. They told me 20% off of $42 so I ended paying $33 and change for this wonderful perfume! I think your review had something to do with this too 😉 May 3, 2011 at 11:02pm Reply

  • Victoria: Uella, fantastic! What a bargain too. I'm glad that you are enjoying Odalisque. Like you, I have a hard time deciding between it and Le Temps, so I let my mood dictate my choice. 🙂
    Might need to stop by the London Pharmacy myself this week.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 4, 2011 at 8:51am Reply

  • Nancy C.: Right now I’m in Vegas on vacation. When I was deciding what perfume to bring, it came down to Le Temps D’une Fete or Odalisque. I chose Odalisque because it’s very very pretty but has an edge to it which is rich and a bit dark. It’s quite sophisticated for a lily of the valley. I consider it a must have and the price can’t be beat. May 4, 2011 at 7:30pm Reply

  • Victoria: So, I was there today, but they do not have Odalisque. On the other hand, a lady said that she can place an order for me to pick up later. I think that I will just buy my replacement bottle from Luckyscent. That might be less hassle in the end. May 4, 2011 at 9:15pm Reply

  • Victoria: That’s what I love about Odalisque also–that dark, rich facet. It lends something haunting to the fresh floral heart. May 4, 2011 at 9:16pm Reply

  • Uella: Victoria, did you tell them about me buying the tester? ha! ha! On the second thought, I think I like Odalisque better than Le Temps because it stays very good all the way. Le Temps final drydown is not as beautiful, I get musk and synthetic woods, I wish it retained more of its green florals. Odalisque performs better from start to finish. May 5, 2011 at 1:01am Reply

  • Victoria: Uella, I just asked if they had any Odalisque, and they mentioned that they placed a special order for someone last week, but that none is actually at the store.

    I also find that Odalisque is technically more perfect. It retains its character and does not fall apart in the drydown. Le Temps loses its momentum at some point, which is why I gave it only 4 stars and 5 to Odalisque. May 5, 2011 at 11:23am Reply

  • Carla: Wonderful review! I ordered Odalisque and Le Temps d’une Fete just a few weeks ago. Odalisque colored my second-to-last visit to Paris, since I sprayed it on at the Nicolai shop there and it held my attention all day as we wandered around my favorite haunts in the 1er arr. Odalisque is not like other white florals at all. The base of moss and patchouli you mention give it incredible depth. I loved wearing it when it rained last week. It’s fresh but warm. I too might give it a notch more than Le Temps in a rating game. May 5, 2011 at 12:38pm Reply

  • Victoria: What a beautiful memory! I associate Paris with Caron Tabac Blond, probably because a helpful SA literally drenched me in it once, and I spent the entire trip trailing Tabac Blond on my coat and scarf. I fell in love with it right then and there. May 5, 2011 at 2:30pm Reply

  • Carla: My last visit to Paris was all about discovering Sarrasins, which is such a beautiful perfume. I find it has good longevity, too. May 5, 2011 at 3:59pm Reply

  • Victoria: Sarrasins is fantastic! A true, rich jasmine on the most luscious leather base. Serge Lutens’s jasmines are truly some of the best I have smelled. Nothing comes close, with the exception of By Kilian Love & Tears. May 5, 2011 at 8:58pm Reply

  • xenia: I feel the need to add to the price aspect of this brand. Each time I go there I buy a bottle, each time I go to any perfume shop/location I wish I could buy a bottle. And this difference overshadows everything, including lack of space in the shop and, perhaps, not too stylish bottles. I just wish that could be said about most of the brands, so it could be more about the fragrance then about my life style and my life choices, which I have to admit, did not lead to a million somehow 🙂 May 6, 2011 at 9:02am Reply

  • Victoria: I agree, I feel the same way. And whenever I spot a bottle of Nicolai on my dresser, I reach for it without fail. Regardless of what other fragrance I wanted to wear.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile May 6, 2011 at 9:59am Reply

  • hongkongmom: Hi Victoria
    I just received three perfume strips from PDN. They are sprayed onto paper and put into plastic.
    I have Sacreblueu, Les temps dun fete and odalisque…love them all and am having a really tough time choosing…at first sniff odalisque was 3rd and last sniff 1st….perhaps two small bottles of two? On first sniff sacrebleue was first, last sniff second…and really its all mixed u- What r ur thought on sacrebleue? May 13, 2011 at 4:08am Reply

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