Perfume names can be tricky. Noir leads you to imagine something glamorous and wickedly mysterious. You read Sport on the perfume bottle and before you even smell the top notes, you anticipate sharp citrus and lavender. Based on the name Etat Libre d’Orange Bijou Romantique, which in French means “a romantic jewel,” you’d expect something suitable for women who love kittens and wear far too much pink. I can almost hear Emily Howard from Little Britain saying, “It’s a lady’s perfume, and I’m a lady, you see.”
Now, as a woman who loves kittens—and really, who doesn’t!—and has enough pink accessories to dress up the whole city of Brussels, I don’t mind frilly and girly perfumes. But it’s not fair to call Bijou Romantique a frou-frou fragrance. It has a dose of retro charm thanks to its delicately powdered iris and jasmine, but the earthy vetiver and peppery bergamot give it an elegant austerity. Take a deeper inhale, and you suddenly realize that it’s a sibling of Shalimar, one of Guerlain’s crown jewels and the grandest of grand parfums.
Bijou Romantique was created by perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui, who already captured my heart with Like This. Her second perfume is less eccentric and adventurous, but it’s equally complex. The citrusy start is a refreshing prelude to the creamy and soft layers that follow. At first, you’re immersed in a cloud of white tuberose petals, then you’re caressed with velvety iris and amber. A herbal note of sage tempers the sugary edge of Bijou Romantique and gives it a green, tangy accent. Imagine that you’ve just rubbed fuzzy sage leaves and smoky vanilla beans between your fingers, and you have an idea of what Bijou Romantique smells like.
The drydown becomes even more refined once it’s colored by the darkness of leather and woods. This soft, warm finale reminds me of vintage purses, their leather having absorbed the perfume of violet bonbons and rose scented lipstick. Perhaps this is the reason why I imagine Bijou Romantique paired with a 50s style full skirt dress and red lips. As Jessica says in her review at NST, Bijou Romantique is “elegant and a little mysterious, but still approachable — and yes, romantic.”
Unfortunately, Bijou Romantique and I aren’t meant to be, my romantic streak notwithstanding. The deal breaker for me is a warm plasticky note in its drydown. It doesn’t appear right away, but once the perfume comfortably settles into the plush vanilla and vetiver base, this nagging artificial sweetness grows stronger. The more I keep wearing Bijou Romantique, the more I notice it, to the point that it ruins my entire experience of this otherwise lovely fragrance. My vintage dress might have to wait for another perfume ornament.
Etat Libre d’Orange Bijou Romantique includes notes of bergamot, Italian lemon, pink pepper, ylang-ylang, sage, iris, coconut, vetiver, benzoin, and vanilla. Available from Henri Bendels and online from Luckyscent. 50 ml Eau de Parfum/$99
Sample: my own acquisition
Photography © Bois de Jasmin (top image)