Nicky Verfaillie Grain de Sable : Vintage Perfume Review

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I have to thank my reader Jill for helping me discover the vintage perfume gem that is Nicky Verfaillie Grain de Sable. Jill contacted me to add a couple of fragrances to the Long Lost Favorite Perfume series I started to run on Fridays, and Grain de Sable was one of them.  “I had never smelled anything like it then, and I still pine for it,” explained Jill.  As it turns out, she keeps company with Luca Turin in her love for Grain de Sable. Luca called it an “obscure masterpiece” in his NZZ Folio article, and it was to him that I turned for help.

When Jill described Grain de Sable and its pebble shaped bottle, I realized that I’ve seen this fragrance at various discount shops in New York’s Midtown. However, I had never been tempted to buy it. A little research uncovered that Monique Verfaillie started out as a fashion designer before launching her own line in the late 1970s. Grain de Sable, created in 1980, was later presented as part of a perfume trio with Grain de Folie (1982) and Grain de Passion (1985).

I wrote to Luca asking whether my search for Nicky Verfaillie was worthwhile. He responded that Grain de Sable is one of his all-time favorites.  “The fragrance was extraordinary and to my knowledge unique,” he said. “It was an all-out ripe sweet melon accord with a papaya garbage angle, in spirit not unlike Christian Dior Diorella but without the citrus backbone, in a more amorphous background, i.e. an early ’80s abstract floral like Balmain Ivoire or Madame Carven. No aldehydes, very watery and transparent fragrance. The overall effect was intensely languid and elegant and had an unwearable morning-after feel that I feel sure contributed to people staying well away from it.”  Tania Sanchez, his co-author on Perfumes: The Guide, also named Yves Saint Laurent Champagne/Yvresse  as a possible contender.

Armed with this information, I tracked down a mini of Grain de Sable for the bargain price of $15. Nicky Verfaillie’s archives describe Grain de Sable as a green floral, a perfume style in which the floral notes get a boost from an accord of crushed leaves or grassy notes. The ripe fruity notes described by Luca and Tania are obvious from the outset—nobody would mistake this luscious ripeness for the zesty lychee compotes ornamenting the top notes of many fruity fragrances today. This is what gives Grain de Sable its unique twist, but also as Luca warned, it  makes the perfume a challenge to wear.

Besides the voluptuous Diorella and Yvresse that have a similar overripe fruity note, I would also recommend that Jill smell Frédéric Malle Le Parfum de Thérèse with its warm cantaloupe. Grain de Sable has a refined green note that remains bright and clear, while its floral heart is a sheer medley of jasmine and rose. Diorella leaves behind a patchouli trail, Yvresse embraces you in a fold of vetiver and moss, and Le Parfum de Thérèse caresses with its tangy leather accord. But Grain de Sable continues to tease with its fruity notes.  A grain of sand is a fitting name for a perfume that smells like a day on the beach—warm skin, salty breeze and a brightly colored cocktail included.

Those who are curious to smell Grain de Sable should check online discounters and Ebay offerings. I see it popping up in my searches time and again.

Image: Grain de Sable advertisement from Parfum de Pub.

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35 Comments

  • Erin: I used to read the NFF Folio articles every month and didn’t remember this one — I guess I assumed it was obscure and impossible to find, because of it being housed at the Osmothèque. What a beautiful bottle! Will have to see if I can find it around here, because the juice seems to fit my tastes, too. (I’m one of those rare perfumistas who loves melon…) April 20, 2012 at 9:30am Reply

    • Victoria: The bottle is very pretty. I have a mini, but I can imagine how beautiful it must be in a full size. The shape of the bottle reminds me a bit of Donna Karan Black Cashmere–smooth, elegant. April 20, 2012 at 6:05pm Reply

  • Suzanna: I had a bottle of Grain de Folie back ten years ago that I must have purchased in a department store. It, too, had some big fruit notes and I recall it being nearly identical to a scent called Princess Marina de Bourbon (which I think Marina at PST wrote about) and which I also bought at a department store.

    This post makes me want to hunt down the other two. Challenging fruit notes interest me (e. g. Byredo Pulp)! April 20, 2012 at 9:33am Reply

    • annemariec: Thanks for the mention of Princess Marina. I enjoyed Marla’s reminisce about that one. I still have a mini, which I bought cheap at a discounter at least 10 years ago. That was way before this little virtual perfume community had sprung up, and I could never place Marina in any sort of context.

      That is also the lovely thing about Victoria’s ‘Long-Lost’ series. Suddenly you can hear from people who were travelling with you, had you but known it, wearing the same perfume all those years ago! April 20, 2012 at 5:56pm Reply

      • Victoria: Annemarie, that’s exactly what I was thinking as I was searching for GdS and then reading the comments here. I originally hoped that the series will help us to find replacements for the perfumes we missed. But it seems that by talking about these long lost perfumes, we talk about our memories and reminisce about other times.

        It still amazes me to think that thanks to the new communication technology we–who are separated by so many miles!–can all meet in one place and share our passion for scents. April 20, 2012 at 6:40pm Reply

    • Victoria: Ah, Princess Marina de Bourbon! That’s another rare treasure. The best thing is that it is available for $15-25 at the discounters. And it smells more expensive than some niche perfume offerings that retail for hundreds of dollars. April 20, 2012 at 6:32pm Reply

  • Jillie: Thank you for your detective work on my old favourite. I must say that I think I was too young at the time to appreciate the individual notes – I just loved wearing it and used to get many compliments when doing so. It’s strange that it features melon so strongly as I always steer clear of this if I see it listed in a perfume! But it makes sense, as I have always liked Prescriptives’ Calyx and people often refer to the “rotting” fruit aspect of this, something it would seem to share with GdS. And I used to wear Diorella a lot. Perhaps I accidentally stumbled on replacements all by myself!

    Thanks again for featuring this, and writing so evocatively about it, and for making me quite “chuffed” to think that you and Luca share my high opinion of this! April 20, 2012 at 10:40am Reply

    • Elisa: I have never smelled this one, but when I read the description I immediately thought of Calyx! April 20, 2012 at 3:53pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, I loved researching this one. I had no idea what to expect, but that’s the best part of any search. Thank you for suggesting this little gem.

      I used to wear Calyx when it first came out, and I also loved that melon/papaya note in it. April 20, 2012 at 6:43pm Reply

    • Jil: Grain de Folie such a wonderful fragrance, I use to wear until I could not find it..After a very long seach I found the perfume and smaller bottles at Thefragrancefactory.com January 10, 2013 at 4:43pm Reply

  • Jillie: Oh, I meant to say that I have never smelt Parfum de Therese, but am now keen to seek it out. And I am still reeling a bit thinking about how I was wearing a perfume that was “a challenge to wear”. Me …. daring!? April 20, 2012 at 10:54am Reply

    • Victoria: 🙂

      As others mentioned below, Emotionnelle by Parfums Delrae is a must try if you like these rich melon notes. It is so exuberant and vivid. I love Diorella, and while I generally don’t like melon-cantaloupe type effect, in those fragrances, it is addictive. April 20, 2012 at 6:46pm Reply

  • Alityke: Oh my word! My husband and I were NOT imagining it then! I bought a bottle of this from Athens airport in 1985 and was wearing it when I met my husband.
    Being a longterm wearer of Diorella I know why I loved this but it also resembles Dune in that it does smell of the beach though GdS is more 80s sun lotion and Dune is more dry suntanned skin.
    I have only ever seen 1 tester on eBay but will keep trying April 20, 2012 at 11:19am Reply

    • grain de musc: Alityke, I was thinking of Dune while reading the review… Glad you confirm my feeling. April 20, 2012 at 6:23pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m wearing Dune and GdS right now on different arms, and I can see what you mean about the beach character. Not exactly like Dune as far the fragrance, but the languid, sand-in-your-toes feel is there. That’s what I love about Dune, and I can’t really understand why it is described as bleak. Maybe, it is some association that I don’t have. April 20, 2012 at 6:47pm Reply

  • Andrea: I read the comment about sun lotion; I’m curious about whether or not it smells like Coppertone or Bain de Soleil? I am always looking for a Bain de Soleil-type frag to remind me of growing up in Miami in 70s-80s… Bobbi Brown Beach was close but induced a huge headache, so it went back. April 20, 2012 at 1:58pm Reply

    • Victoria: Have you smelled Fire Island by Bond No 9? It smells very much like Bain de Soleil to me. April 20, 2012 at 6:49pm Reply

      • Andrea: Thanks, Victoria! I’m off to search for a sample online… Beach, here I come! April 20, 2012 at 7:48pm Reply

  • Austenfan: Oh, I will have to hunt for a small bottle of this. I simply love melon in perfume, especially overripe melon.
    Another lovely “melon” fragrance is Emotionelle by Delrae. It reminds me a bit of Thérèse, although it feels more carefree somehow. April 20, 2012 at 2:15pm Reply

    • Alyssa: Yes, would definitely recommend Jillie smell Emotionelle along with Parfum de Therese–they are figuratively and literally in the same family. PdT from Roudnitska pere, Emotionelle from his son, Michael. April 20, 2012 at 3:49pm Reply

      • grain de musc: I second the recommendation of Emotionnelle, which Michel Roudnitska actually did compose as a tribute to Le Parfum de Thérèse without peeking at the formula.
        And I agree with Austenfan: it’s got a looser, lusher feel to it than its model… April 20, 2012 at 6:21pm Reply

        • Victoria: I like the idea behind Emotionnelle. In fact, the whole Parfums DelRae is fantastic. The fragrances are distinctive, memorable, very well-done. April 20, 2012 at 6:54pm Reply

    • Victoria: 4th! I completely forgot about Emotionnelle, but you are right, it is a must try for anyone who loves overripe melon notes. April 20, 2012 at 6:50pm Reply

  • Alyssa: I really love that bottle. And I love PdT and occasionally enjoy Emotionelle so will keep an eye peeled for this one.

    I can tell this Friday series is going to wreak havoc on my wallet, V. April 20, 2012 at 3:50pm Reply

    • Victoria: Some of these fragrances can be found quite easily (Grain de Sable might require a search, but I don’t remember it being expensive online). At least, while the stocks are plentiful!

      I love talking about things that are gone and vanished. I’ve gone pretty good at letting go, but the nostalgic part of me loves to reminisce. 🙂 April 20, 2012 at 7:00pm Reply

  • Nancy: Wow! I remember exclusively purchasing Grain de Sable from Henri Bendel (when it was still Geraldine Stutz’s HB). I don’t remember the scent itself, but this long lost memory of a scent is appreciated. It was also the shape of the bottle and the feel of it too that felt good in the hand. For some reason, I was also reminded of Sonia Rykiel’s Seventh Sens. She created many beautiful fragrances and I understand this was totally discontinued years ago unless someone is familiar. Thanks for this article. April 20, 2012 at 4:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, thank you for mentioning 7eme Sens! I haven’t seen it for ages, but I remember that my aunt had a bottle of it at one point. I checked through my notes, and I see that I listed it as a chypre, underlining that I smelled honey and cardamom in it. Mmmm, now I feel like searching for a sample.

      When I first came to the US, Henri Bendels seemed like the epitome of elegance to me. It was my Tiffany’s. I couldn’t afford anything there, but I saved up some money to buy a pair of martini glasses. My mom still has them. 🙂 April 20, 2012 at 7:04pm Reply

      • grain de musc: As far as I remember, 7ème Sens had a whopping dose of costus in it — an IFRA no-no now. It was a very distinctive scent, much admired in the industry. Sadly, the Rykiel perfume license was pretty badly handled… April 21, 2012 at 4:33am Reply

        • Victoria: D, do you remember when it was discontinued? This is one of those scents that make the 1980s such a fantastic decade for perfume. April 21, 2012 at 1:41pm Reply

      • Erin T: A friend of my parents, a non-perfumista, once went by me at a party, smelling fabulous, and I had to ask her what she was wearing. It was 7ème Sens, and she was in mourning, because her bottle was almost gone and it was the only perfume she ever wore. I managed to track down a bottle for her and she was very grateful. I remember thinking it was strange you never heard about the Sonia Rykiels — interested, but not surprised, to learn 7ème Sens was admired in the industry and the line has been badly handled. April 22, 2012 at 10:38am Reply

        • Victoria: That’s a great story, Erin!
          There are so many of these brands that created great fragrances, but that vanished either because of timing, regulations or a lack of a good business strategy. April 22, 2012 at 11:12am Reply

  • Gail Vinett: We first found Grain de Sable at Alchemist in Denver 30 years ago. A subtle fragrance that we long for still. August 11, 2012 at 10:06pm Reply

  • kellie green: I’m wondering if anyone can comment on the difference between Grain de Sable and Grain de Folie? I remember GdS from days long gone and have just ordered a bottle – so excited! But I’ve been offered a second bottle, of Grain de Folie, for free shipping and am not sure… any thoughts? February 21, 2014 at 7:19pm Reply

  • cheryl: dying to know where i might find GRAIN DE SABLE by NICKY VERFAILLIE.
    thanks September 1, 2016 at 6:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s not available anymore. Your only bet is to search on Ebay. September 2, 2016 at 5:17am Reply

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