Lancome Cyclades : Perfume Review and On Duty-Free Shopping


Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

Given the fact that flying is such a nuisance these days, I can do without olfactory ennui at duty-free shops. However, unless one chooses to stock up on the old favorites, the duty-free shelves offer little olfactory excitement. The choices range from uninspired to comical. By way of example, Dior and Givenchy seem to favor pale fruity-florals and lots of pronouns (Dior Me, Dior Me Not, My Givenchy, My Givenchy Dream). Bali in Kenzo’s inexplicably named 7:15am in Bali smells like a vodka cocktail. Then, I am led to conclude that the only thing that caused Azzaro to name their travel retail scent Jetlag was perhaps being in such a state indeed. On the other hand, what could be their excuse for Cockpit? …

In light of all this, I expected Lancôme Cyclades (named after a Greek island group in the Aegean Sea) to be yet another fragrance to forget soon after leaving the airport. If I still feel ambivalent about it, it is nevertheless memorable. The scintillating bergamot and pettigrain notes set over a plush, Ombre Rose* like drydown of rose, musk and vanilla make Cyclades a pleasant departure from the usual fruity-floral fare. The vibrant citrus notes have the complex, peppery fizz that characterizes natural bergamot oils. The uplifting start provides a perfect contrast for the warmth that takes over once the initial sparkle fades. Cyclades has simultaneously a classical softness and a modern clarity. A touch of green fig paired with warm woods reminded me of a likewise contrasted sensation of Un Jardin en Méditerranée by Hermès—crisp and soft, floral and woody.

The drydown is where Cyclades falls apart. The voluptuous softness wears off, revealing the bare bones of the composition, musk and dry woods. As time goes on, the only thing that is left behind is a pale vanilla musk. Within the initially rather sophisticated composition, this bland accord seems like a nod to the contemporary definition of an inoffensive perfume. Thus, after a promising start Cyclades fails to take me further than a neighborhood mall.

The more I think about the duty-free scents, the more I wonder why, by and large, they are so uninteresting. Afterall, are not the excitement of travel and the lure of faraway destinations the best sources of inspiration for creators?

Lancôme Cyclades includes notes of neroli, bergamot essence, oleander, jasmine, white musk and vanilla hyperabsolute. Available at the duty-free stores, as are other fragrances mentioned above.

*Jean-Charles Brosseau Ombre Rose is a classical fragrance created by Françoise Caron and released in 1981. It includes notes of ylang-ylang, rosewood, honey, peach, iris, lily of the valley, rose, sandalwood, musk, coumarin, vanilla. The delicious softness of this floral oriental made Ombre Rose quite legendary.



  • risa: This is an excellent post, V! I actually started my fragrance wardrobe expansion in duty-free, back in 2000 when the dot com era gave young adventurous people more money and sent them more places. I was traveling to London every other month to visit a boyfriend, and one of our great pursuits together were new fragrances to try. (He acquired the Serge Lutens Petit Livre for me in 2001, when it wasn’t sent to the US.) So every time we traveled, we would buy a new fragrance that we could share.

    Lucky me – my duty-free experiences were quite interesting in 2000-2001. Calvin Klein’s Truth was released then, which was a fascinating unisex at the time, though now with my deeper education in scent I find it slightly shallow. I found Paco Rabanne’s Ultraviolet there, and it remains a favorite of mine – but admittedly, I love the packaging so much I’m considering myself biased despite compliments. I also found Givenchy’s Oblique Rewind there – a fragrance I’m terribly sorry is gone.

    These days I, and most of my dot com friends, travel far less and spend less money in duty-free. I can’t help but think that there is some correlation between the two… particularly since now everyone I know who goes through duty-free spends more time perusing the booming skin care lines or the alcohol list instead. June 3, 2008 at 2:42pm Reply

  • carmencanada: I’ve only bought two bottles in the duty free shops, and then only because they were new releases I waited for the opportunity to get at a slightly lower price (there are no discounters in France for fragrance). Even the classics are not easy to stock up on: they never seem to have the concentration you want. As for duty free only scents, I’ve tried to track down a couple of Guerlains (Vetiver pour elle, a Vol de Nuit flanker) without success, and the others seemed to be aimed at bored girlies. I suppose duty free shopping needs to be set at the lowest common denominator: that seems to be the general idea, anyway. So the duty free exclusives embody the epitome of fruity-floral blandness. June 4, 2008 at 2:10am Reply

  • Tania: LOL! I haven’t seen “Jetlag”—that’s even funnier than Cockpit! I suppose no sensible fragrance brand would agree to imprison a top-rank fragrance composition in a Duty Free exclusive, but then, why have any at all? June 4, 2008 at 8:54am Reply

  • March: Natural bergamot oils have a peppery fizz? So *that’s* what that is. I love that effect in the top notes, was not sure what caused it (I run across it every now and again, your description is perfect).

    I fell in love with Feminite du Bois in duty-free, so all is forgiven. I’d never seen a bottle elsewhere.

    Do you feel like your training as a perfumer has changed the way you feel about fragrances? More specifically, does your increased technical ability to dissect things make it a more detached process? Does trying a new fragrance conjure less emotion and more technical attention? June 4, 2008 at 9:12am Reply

  • March: Thanks, V — that is exactly what I meant. I was hoping that your knowledge was adding to the experience, rather than detracting from it. It would be sad to think that the ability to dissect a fragrance professionally meant a corresponding decrease in the ability to experience it emotionally as a whole, so to speak. I suppose in my mind I was thinking of a great chef, tasting an unknown dish and wondering, is that coriander? Rather than just thinking, you know…. mmmmmmmmmm. Since I’m not a great chef I’ll never know! 😉 June 4, 2008 at 10:22am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Risa, I also find that much depends on the terminal one uses. I have made the best finds flying through Brussels.

    I also had my days of flying to London twice a month. Perhaps, we might have even been on the same flight together. 🙂 June 4, 2008 at 8:50am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Risa, I also find that much depends on the terminal one uses. I have made the best finds flying through Brussels.

    I also had my days of flying to London twice a month. Perhaps, we might have even been on the same flight together. 🙂 June 4, 2008 at 8:50am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: D, I think that marketeers see duty-free as a place where people buy once on a whim and never again, therefore they do not put much effort into the fragrances. However, it actually could be a very interesting place for trying out something new and different. After all, people might be willing to take more chances in such a different setting.

    Vetiver Pour Elle was a good example of a fragrance becoming so successful in the duty-free that it was added to the regular repertoire. By the way, that Vol de Nuit flanker is no other than Attrape-Coeur. June 4, 2008 at 8:56am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Tania, it is tantamount to calling a fragrance “Headache.” I mean, really what were they thinking?! The irony is that neither Jetlag nor Cockpit are awful. They are nice, presentable masculines. June 4, 2008 at 9:00am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: March, I also bought Feminite du Bois in duty-free, as well as Chanel No 5 parfum, various Hermes and Dior fragrances. It is never a loss, but I just wish that duty-free exclusives were more exciting.

    As for your last question, I had to think about it for a moment. Exploring what I love in an analytical manner is one of my character traits in general, so for me, it is natural anyway. As I learn more about technical details, I do look for them first–how is the fragrance constructed, what new and interesting does it bring, etc. However, I would not agree that the process is detached from emotion. It is impossible, because scent affects me on such a visceral level. I find that the more I learn about perfume, the deeper I can appreciate it. So, my training makes me love the fragrances I admire even more, because I can understand what makes them great. June 4, 2008 at 10:07am Reply

  • Sveta: I always look forward to duty-free but often it’s disappointing. But your review of Cyclades made me curious to smell natural bergamot. Where can I find it? June 4, 2008 at 2:13pm Reply

  • Linda: What a funny review! I agree with you on Jetlag and Cockpit. Do they really have to be so air travel specific? LOL! June 4, 2008 at 4:15pm Reply

  • beecee: I bought Cyclades at duty free shop at the Mexico City airport. I agree with you–it starts off great–that’s why a I bought it even though I’d never heard of it before. But it quickly fades. I can barely smell it by the time I’ve left the house in the morning. June 4, 2008 at 5:58pm Reply

  • carmencanada: Attrape-Coeur? Oh well, then I’ve got it, both in the Guet-Apens version and the current one… I was sure it was called “Vol de Nuit + something or other”… I quite adore it, haven’t even analysed why.
    I agree about your assessments and also wish perfume companies were a bit more adventurous with their duty free offerings. Give us something to look forward to while waiting the three hours previous to transatlantic flights! June 4, 2008 at 5:06pm Reply

  • Marina: Believe it or not, I miss duty free 🙂 I always have a blast there and get lots of stuff I don’t really need. Traveling stress-induced shopping madness 🙂 June 4, 2008 at 5:13pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: March, oh yes, I smell Apres La Mousson and I think “Melonal? Cardamom? Inonones?” Just as I taste a dish I like and think “Red wine? Ginger?” However, that is just my personality in general–loving means dissecting for me. 🙂 June 5, 2008 at 8:44am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Sveta, Eden Botanicals online carries samples of various oils. Or you can check my links page for other sources. June 5, 2008 at 8:47am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Linda, I guess that they really wanted to get the point across! June 5, 2008 at 8:49am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: D, it is called Vol de Nuit Evasion. Not sure why they decided to relaunch Attrape-Coeur in that form, but I will take it over Love is All. June 5, 2008 at 8:54am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Marina, I agree, I love duty-free too, which is why I even manage to keep track of what scents I find there. However, I just long for something more exciting. June 5, 2008 at 8:55am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Beecee, I agree, those top notes are so beautiful, but then hardly anything interesting is left behind. June 5, 2008 at 8:56am Reply

  • Mimi: I really enjoyed your musings on duty-free shopping, and couldn’t agree more about the blandness of it all. I’ve been lurking on your blog now for several months and have been tempted to post by the news that Attrape Coeur has been reissued under yet another name. Is this true? Is ‘Vol de Nuit Evasion’ Guet Apens/Attrape Coeur?? Unreformulated? And do you have any information about when it was/is being launched and availability? Sorry to go off topic, but I really have been dying to try this scent for the longest time. I’m now apprehensive, as I’ve found Vol de Nuit doesn’t really suit me, and I had understood that Attrape Coeur was nearer Mitsouko in style. Would be interested to know if it’s closer to Vol de Nuit after all. June 6, 2008 at 7:37am Reply

  • Borhane: Having flown to europe at the beginning of last week, I must confess I almost feel the same towards duty free shops. Almost… except for the fact that I got to sniff a few rarities for a newbie, north american, wannabe perfumisto like me: most memorably, the drop dead gorgeous feminité du bois… To increase the boredom, I realized that the prices in the duty free stores I visited (montreal, zurich) are barely lower than the market prices I am used to (montreal), and significantly highet than the prices of the discounters I usually go to… The bottom line is that, unsurprizingly, I am much more excited about the things I can find in good european stores (malle (!!!), fountain caron, après l’ondée…) than in the airports. This means I shouldn’t complain! 😉

    b June 11, 2008 at 8:24am Reply

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