Not just another simple cologne. Elisa on Parfums de Nicolaï’s L’eau Mixte.
If there’s one perfume category I’ve heard people call “boring” the most, it’s citrus. Perhaps it’s because there is less variation among citrus scents than, say, orientals or florals—a rose perfume, a tuberose perfume, and an iris perfume smell nothing alike, but lemon, orange, and grapefruit have a fair amount of olfactory overlap. Or maybe it’s because citrus scents don’t—can’t—evolve much on skin because they don’t last long enough to evolve; they are fleeting, volatile molecules by nature, destined to be top notes.
I must admit I have some of the same reservations about citrus-centric perfumes. I’ve got a few in my collection, and on a hot day, a few spritzes of a crisp citrus chypre like Clarins Eau Dynamisante or Monsieur Balmain hits the spot. But I don’t reach for them often, and I almost always end up putting something else on later. So to make me sit up and take notice, a citrus scent has to be pretty unusual.
L’eau Mixte, Parfums de Nicolaï’s eau de cologne release for summer 2010, was the first citrus to take me by surprise in years. Primarily a grapefruit perfume, it manages to be both refreshing and rich, hitting so many pleasurable notes at once—sweet, tangy, green, herbal—that it feels like getting out of a car to breathe in a big lungful of cool mountain air. Most citrus scents have a bracing quality, but L’eau Mixte is exceptionally bracing.
The complex top notes are tart and aromatic, like the sweet, fragrant oils on your fingers after you peel a grapefruit, along with the more bitter notes of dried orange peel or bergamot tea. A hint of mint adds a tingly freshness. There’s also a big hit of pungent blackcurrant, with its grassy, leafy, and sour-berry aspects. It’s the blackcurrant that turns L’eau Mixte pink, even sunset-colored in my mind, rather than orange or yellow. Like a great Campari cocktail—the Negroni is my favorite drink—it gets the mix between bitter and sweet just right. The floral notes, jasmine and what smells like green orange flower, are there just to fill it out, not to steal the show.
Citrus scents are traditionally associated with summer, but this one is full-bodied and long-lasting enough that it transitions well into fall, especially if you live in a climate with sunny Indian summers. The oakmoss in the woody vetiver base is not pronounced enough to make L’eau Mixte feel like a true chypre, but it does give the whole an earthy, rounded feel. There’s also a slight vanillic quality to the musk, so it gets sweeter as it dries down. (Some find grapefruit intimidatingly bitter; this might win you over.)
If you love grapefruit and blackcurrant together, as in Guerlain’s Aqua Allegoria Pamplelune or Moschino Funny!, give L’eau Mixte a try—it’s beautifully done, especially at Nicolai’s temptingly affordable price point.
Parfums de Nicolaï L’eau Mixte includes notes of blackcurrant buds, peppermint, lemon, cinnamon, rose, jasmine, vetiver, oakmoss and musk. Available from Lucky Scent for $45/30 ml or $115/100 ml.
Painting: Raphaelle Peale, A Dessert (Still Life with Lemons and Oranges), 1814, oil on panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington, via wiki-images.