So, chocolate-themed fragrances. I am more of a fan of animalic chypres and orientals myself. There are times, though, when I do get a craving for a perfume that smells just like chocolate. It is very low-brow of me, I know. But what can I say – the desire exists, so I frequently (more frequently than I would like to admit) order samples of fragrances with chocolate notes. Here are a few of my recent explorations into this particular note.
Chocolate Greedy by Montale
I am not too sure if I am attracted to, or repulsed by Montale’s Chocolate Greedy. Perhaps it is the fact that, on me, Chocolate Greedy is as much about the smell of wheat as it is about the chocolate. Specifically, Chocolate Greedy opens on an orange-chocolate-wheat note that is strongly reminiscent of a brand of low-fat chocolate digestive cookies marketed to women, called Wellness. These cookies have a thin scraping of (low quality) baking chocolate, a hint of orange, and a flat, dry biscuit with a very leaden, ‘wheaten’ texture. These cookies are cynically marketed as the type of product women can scoff down with no feelings of guilt while trying to ‘reduce’. All utter bollocks, of course, because they contain something like 150 calories each, and when women do this to themselves, it morphs from cynical misogynism into willful masochism. Anyway, the opening is kind of wheat-y in a way that instills shame and self-loathing in me, no Wellness biscuits required.
Chocolate Greedy eventually evolves into a milkier thing, kind of like a cup of hot chocolate made from powdered cocoa. The wheat aspect also changes slightly from a ‘soggy biscuit’ or ‘breakfast cereal’ smell into something dustier, and drier. At this later stage, I get a more pleasant association from it, akin to dipping my favorite chocolate biscuits – the Pan di Stelle from Mulino Bianco (a dry, powdery cacao cookie that kind of have no real chocolate taste but a pleasant, moreish ‘snapping’ texture) – into a mug of drinking chocolate. At no stage of this, though, do I get the rich, dark, melting texture of high quality dark chocolate, and that is the very thing that I’m chasing. I think I will hang on to my little decant of Chocolate Greedy, though, because in the absence of anything better, this will have to do the job the next time I am jonesing for a dark chocolate fix.
As a little end note, I should probably warn people that you shouldn’t, under any circumstances, try to lick yourself while wearing Chocolate Greedy. Since hearing that Pierre Guillaume sometimes licks his own wrist at trade shows and product launches to demonstrate how safe the Parfumerie Generale perfumes are for general consumption (apparently he uses Coze to prove his point), I have idly started to lick my own wrists too, with wildly varying results. I can confirm, for example, that anything PG is eminently lickable – no harm shall come of you (although the chances of it being as sexy as when Pierre does it are slim to none). But Montale’s Chocolate Greedy almost gave me a third degree burn on my upper lip, so don’t lick yourself when you have Chocolate Greedy on.
Zeromolecule’s Nerocacao is not as full-on as Montale’s Chocolate Greedy, although it does contain a very similar chocolate-drinking-powder accord up front in the first hour or so, and also something of the chocolate (wheat) cookie note I found so prevailing in the Montale. However, the differences between the two of them become apparent very quickly. The Zeromolecule is at once far more gauzy and sheer than the Montale, and also far less literal in its take on chocolate, by which I mean, it smells more like a proper perfume and less like an actual foodstuff. There is a pleasant fruit note dancing around the edges during the first hour, which I really enjoyed – perhaps a hint of orange liquor and some juicy red berries? I don’t know – I don’t see these notes listed.
This is all good, and at this stage, I’m inclined to give it to the Zeromolecule. However, on my skin, Nerocacao fell apart at the seams within the hour. All hints of dark chocolate drained away and what I was left with was a thin vanilla scent that has (distressing) notes of a heavy, cheap-ish coconut liquor, the type of monstrosity you bring out at Christmas for the elderly relatives in the hope that they will get merry and then leave you the hell alone. Imagine a festive, chocolate-flavored Malibu minus the pineapple, and you are almost there. Also, despite being an EDP, it has none of the richness and heft I would normally associate with this concentration. It is practically toilet water strength by the end of the fourth hour. I can’t believe I am saying this, but compared to Nerocacao, the Montale version is starting to look like a solid piece of work.
Coco Blanc by House of Matriarch
The notes for this read like a wet dream for any gourmand lover: Sandalwood absolute, massoia lactone, Hawaiian vanilla, chai spices, butter, special reserve vintage musk. But this is far from a simple, creamy gourmand, and in my opinion, takes a bit of time getting used to. On my skin, Coco Blanc opens with a piercing note of raw Massoia, in all its oily, wood-alcohol splendor. It is sharp, pungent, and rather hissy – almost like hairspray. Thankfully, the sharp oiliness dissipates rather quickly, leaving behind a creamy, buttery fug of Massoia lactones – all the shades of fig and coconut in the flavor rainbow. All in all, it’s an immensely cozy and inviting sort of smell.
The top part – scads of dairy-rich elements such as butter, cream, and vanilla, plus the coconut notes – kind of smell like those Ferrero Rocher chocolates called Raffaello. In particular, the part past the desiccated coconut and the crisp shell where your teeth sink into the creamy white chocolate filling. Eating this filling always feels like eating pure, raw cocoa butter. It doesn’t really taste of anything – it’s more of a texture than a taste.
But what makes this a clever fragrance is the fact that this Raffaello sweet is nestled within a darker, muskier layer that gives it an altogether grown-up character. The musky, woody layer feels a bit dark and gritty to me, and so stops the fragrance from tipping too far into overly rich, dopey gourmand territory. In other words, it’s a proper perfume.
I don’t pick up much chocolate here beyond the slight Raffaello connotation, but really, what is white chocolate except a waxy representation of milk and butter anyway? I sometimes eat the stuff, but I would be hard pressed to give you a description of what white chocolate actually tastes or smells like, beyond the general descriptor of ‘milky’. Towards the very end of the drydown, perhaps eight hours in, I do get what smells like a big old mug of hot milk, the kind you sipped as a child before bed. It is insanely comforting. For an all-natural perfume, Coco Blanc is very strong, and its longevity is incredible. I smell it on my scarves and coats for days afterwards. Out of all the chocolate perfumes I’ve been trying lately, this is by far the most arresting and accomplished.
Les Elixirs Charnels – Gourmand Coquin (Guerlain)
Gourmand Coquin opens up with a Guerlain cherry enrobed in a thin shell of dark chocolate and syrupy maraschino liquor, smelling exactly like those cherry liquor chocolates you can pick up at the till in the grocery store. It transitions into a smooth creamy vanilla, with liberal dustings of powdery cacao and rose petals. The scent is round, sweet, creamy, very Guerlain in a way – but, in general, quite undeserving of the grand heritage of a house that still produces something like Mitsouko on spec after all these years.
It also is a bit dull. Not in the sense that it is boring (although it is pretty boring) but in that it is like a completely round object with all its edges sanded off, and thus without any light refracting off the object’s surface at all. This scent desperately needs a rough, spiky edge to act as counterpart to all that smooth, sweet, boozy roundness. But there is nothing in the base that provides that contrasting ballast, and without it, the scent ends up feeling like you have been eating dessert all day – which is nice at first but then you start to actually miss your greens or your carrots. The drydown smells like Palmer’s Cocoa Butter lotion, actually, which is a somewhat bittersweet realization considering the astronomical price of Gourmand Coquin.
I am kind of neutral on this, because it is well done in the rich, Guerlain style, and if sugary smooth gourmands are your thing, you will probably go crazy for this. For me, well, to spend almost $300 to smell exactly like those cherry liquor chocolates everyone leaves at the bottom of the tin equates to a certain type of madness.
CiocoSpesizissimo by Hilde Soliani
Apparently, Hilde Soliani created this perfume to capture the scent memory of her grandmother’s homemade liqueur with notes of spices, basil, pepper, white and dark chocolate, tomato leaf and woody notes. It’s an interesting take on the chocolate theme, to be sure, because it introduces a fresh, herbal transparency to the mix, which serves to lighten the heft of the cocoa notes. The dark chocolate note starts out crisp and defined, like a square of thin, ultra-dark chocolate that breaks off from the rest of the bar with a pleasing snap. It is also spicy and peppery. Quickly, though, the green, herbal elements push through, which give the dark chocolate a minty feel. It’s kind of musky, dirty, and woody in feel: the chocolate element here is definitely not of the edible variety. I like its freshness, as well as its lack of literalism.
Overall, though, I don’t find this fragrance to be particularly satisfying. One reason for this is that I find the mash-up between watery, green garden elements and the dark chocolate to be a dissonant pairing at heart – and it also ends up somewhere in the territory of mint ice-cream, which I am sure is not really what the perfumer intended (surely?). Also, the projection and longevity leave a lot to be desired. It is an ambitious scent, but it falls off a ledge somewhere after the first couple of hours and quietly dwindles into a musky skin presence that makes you yearn for the bold and unusual beginning to be replayed from the start.
Ore Extrait by Slumberhouse
There are aspects of Ore that I do like, and aspects that prevent me from completely enjoying it. Let’s start with the things I like first. The thing I appreciate most about this perfume is that it has layers and layers of textures that seem to shift and morph under your nose – at times, it is purely dry and earthy, and at others, it is purely waxy and creamy. This interplay of textures keeps things interesting. Also, the first time I tried Ore, I thought I could smell a very interesting note of either leather or wood that has been massaged with a wax or oil. It kind of felt like an old library where the ancient furniture and books have been lovingly taken care of over the course of years and years. Again, it was probably that strange interplay of dust, earth, wax, and oil creating that impression. But once I had read the notes for Ore, strangely enough, I didn’t get the waxed leather or wood impression on any of my subsequent wearings. Either way, that brings me to the other strong point I see in Ore, which is its extraordinary balance between gourmand notes and non-gourmand notes. It is creamy and comforting, but not edible. Certainly, it is not sweet. I appreciate that.
Now to the aspects of this that I don’t quite warm to. First off, although the dusty cocoa notes are unsweetened, they are also not dark. What I mean to say is that I get a milk chocolate vibe to this, not the good, dark, expensive stuff. If I am going to enjoy chocolate in a scent, then it has to be the black, bitter kind (like the one in Coze) that plays up the adults-only edge, or else a creamy, powdery presence that is there only to provide a textural contrast to the damp earthiness of patchouli (like in Coromandel). Here, the milk chocolate note is not really balanced by anything bitter or earthy. Instead, the inherent waxiness of milk chocolate is somehow matched by the waxiness or oiliness of the balsamic woods underneath, so there is nothing to really punctuate the sea of bland, creaminess.
Also, there’s a bit of an “off” quality to the chocolate note here. What this type of chocolate note most reminds me of is a bar of milk chocolate that has spoiled, perhaps in the heat, perhaps from being abandoned down the back of the sofa for too long – but when you open the wrapper, the edges of the chocolate has gone all grey-white and chalky. If you’ve ever put such a sorry-looking bar of chocolate in your mouth to taste (don’t judge!) then you will understand what I mean when I say that it is, all at once, dusty, stale, chewy, waxy, and yet, somewhere lurking underneath, there is a glimpse of the true taste of the original chocolate. For me personally, the payoff is meager enough reward for trouncing through all that ephemera.
I find that Ore dries down to a rather simple, creamy, flat smell reminiscent of plain old Palmer’s Cocoa Butter. If that is something you like, then this will really hit all of your pleasure points. Personally, the smell of Palmer’s Cocoa Butter reminds me of being hugely pregnant last summer and having to rub tones of that greasy stuff over my big ole belly twice a day. So the smell of cocoa butter scented anything acts as a sort of unpleasant Proustian madeleine, conjuring up images of chafing thighs, waddling, and generally being unable to get out of a chair unless yanked up by the arm. So, in general, a very long-lasting cocoa scent, semi-gourmand, brilliant use of different textures, and I can see how this might be very comforting, but ultimately not for me.