Intended or not, Frédéric Malle Eau de Magnolia is an answer to two challenges: creating a novel cologne and capturing the elusive aroma of magnolia. The first is complicated, because cologne is one of the most popular genres, and recasting it in a new way requires some creativity. The second is due to the magnolia’s character. The scent blends citrus, rose and soft leather, but the main impression you get from smelling the waxy white petals is not of heady, lush perfume, but of exhilarating freshness and fizz. You can almost feel the champagne bubbles bursting before you notice all other facets.
Translating this sparkling effect into fragrance is more complicated than it seems in our age of high-tech tools. I smelled through a fair share of magnolia accords at one point to conclude that 90% of them smell either like furniture polish or bear no relation at all to magnolia. Which is why Eau de Magnolia comes as a surprise. It captures the nuances of magnolia, while setting them into a frame of citrus and moss. It makes for a beautiful arrangement.
Frédéric Malle worked with perfumer Carlos Benaïm on Eau de Magnolia, who in turn, relied on a study of magnolia’s aroma by IFF scientist Braja Mookherjee. But the resulting perfume isn’t an approximation of nature; it includes plenty of fantasy elements. For instance, Benaïm’s magnolia starts out with a zesty burst of citrus–green, slightly bitter and pleasantly sharp, but under the rind you notice earthy rose and dewy jasmine. Take one more inhale, and green leaves dusted with honey-yellow pollen come into relief. Wait a bit longer, and you’ll be wrapped into a tissue-thin veil of vetiver roots and pale moss.
The novel cologne aspect of Eau de Magnolia is its dose of floral notes. Malle suggests the fragrance for both men and women, and I not only agree with this recommendation, I would love to smell this kind of effervescent, elegant scent on men, in lieu of the traditional herbal-citrusy colognes. A hint of salt takes the sweetness out of flowers, and the driftwood and spring breeze motifs give Eau de Magnolia a cool, fresh character.
Eau de Magnolia wears like a gauzy, flowing garment, but in spite of its lightness, it lingers on skin and announces its presence clearly. It makes me anticipate the warm summer days, when it can accompany me on my walks around overheated, dusty Brussels. Or on days when I’m stretching on the balcony with a book. Or when I’m meeting my husband at a wine bar after work. Anyway, you get my point. It’s an easy to wear, versatile fragrance.
If you like perfumes Arquiste Boutonniere no.7 and Malle’s own Lys Méditerranée, Eau de Magnolia will be likewise a good fit. Is it an exact rendition of a southern summer dropping magnolia petals? Not exactly, but the overall effect is so fresh, surprising and uplifting that I, for once, don’t have any qualms.
Frédéric Malle Eau de Magnolia Eau de Parfum includes notes of bergamot, magnolia headspace, vetiver, patchouli, cedarwood, amber, and tree moss. It is available at Frédéric Malle’s boutiques and department store counters. 10 ml/$125, 50 ml/ $175, 100 ml/$255.
Photography (top image) by Bois de Jasmin