Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.
The main thing I liked about Balenciaga Paris was that it smelled unlike anything else on the fragrance counter. The scent contained within its pretty faceted bottle seemed to have arrived from another era—green, pepper, with a distinctive mossy violet note that is as au courant today as satin gloves and fur stoles. It possessed none of the affected glamor of a period piece, being sleek, modern and refined. However, as I wore Balenciaga Paris and experienced it in various settings, I came to realize that its polished aura is its main downfall. It is so smooth and refined that it lacks a presence. Not every fragrance needs to make a statement, but it should have enough character to be remembered. Unfortunately, in the long run, this is not the case with Balenciaga Paris.
The composition opens up on one of the best peppery green accords I have smelled in a while. The breezy freshness of green stems combined with the cucumber peel brightness and the woody richness of pepper has an exhilarating effect. The sweetness of violet flowers softens the sharpness of green notes, while lending a teasing, coquettish facet. All through its development, Balenciaga Paris alternates between a cured tea leaf and a spring flower bud, a fascinating interplay of effects. Once the composition enters drydown, it hits the earthy woody notes, and its verdancy assumes a smooth, caressing quality.
All of these interesting facets are obvious when one studies the drydown on skin and paper with some degree of concentration. In regular wear, I found myself forgetting that I had any perfume on and I could not even recall the scent once I washed it off. Of course, a poor tenacity and a weak character do not necessarily go hand in hand. There are plenty of light scents—most of Jean-Claude Ellena’s portfolio, to be precise—that have distinctive, memorable characters, even if their tenacity on skin leaves a lot to be desired. Balenciaga Paris, on the other hand, seems a bit like a wallflower.
This year, Balenciaga added L’Essence to the collection, a stronger, bolder variation on the original Balenciaga Paris. My first impression of L’Essence was amber. It has a sharp woody-ambery note that runs through the whole body of the composition. If Balenciaga Paris places its accents on the violet and green notes, L’Essence plays with the crisp woods. It is richer and sweeter, with the softness of vanilla and musk layering the base. If Balenciaga Paris had unusual elements, L’Essence feels more familiar. In the end, while it is longer lasting, it still does not have a particularly memorable character.
Balenciaga Paris includes notes of black pepper, pink pepper, violet leaves, violet, cedarwood, patchouli, and vetiver. L’Essence contains green leafy notes, violet leaves, violet, cedarwood, patchouli, vetiver. Available from major retailers. Balenciaga Paris Eau de Parfum: 1.7 oz, $95, 2.5 oz, $130. L’Essence Eau de Parfum: 1.7 oz, $95; 3.4oz, $130.
Sample: my own acquisition