Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Italian Job: L'Erbolario Méharées review

Bologna ~ Source: Gaspa via Wikimedia Commons 
Right, so my last post was all about taking stock of my SABLE (Stash Above & Beyond Life Expectancy) and taking active hypothetical steps to cut it back to a more manageable / less haunting quorum of some 30 bottles.  That was on the Friday. On Sunday, I received this text message from my Lush Flower's Barrow-wearing friend Jane, who does the merchandise for my favourite band - who happened to be playing in Bologna last weekend:

"I remember you saying about buying you some perfume here.  We've just walked past an open perfumerie and I wondered what you wanted?"

Which prompted the following shaming exchange:

"Oh, I say.  It was a specific brand called L'Erbolario, and the scent is Méharées.  Will try to find more info - there is a dedicated L'Erbolario shop in the centre..."

"If you can find its address I'll look.  It isn't the one we just passed."

Source: Fragrantica

Thirteen texts later, I was trying to steer my GPS-less friends towards the L'Erbolario store like some kind of rudimentary air traffic controller:

"Okay, if you have a square, Piazza Roosevelt is the right hand side, Cesare Battisti is the left hand side and Via Ugo Bassi is the top side - does that help?  So if you are heading north on Cesare wotsit turn right when you hit Ugo Bassi and it is a couple of doors down.  Or ask someone? 'Dove Via Ugo Bassi per favore?'"

(Reader, don't try those directions - or that Italian - at home.  I mean abroad.  I sent my friend and her husband round what could euphemistically be termed 'the long way', however, they were very sporting about it, explaining much later in an email that if I hadn't made them go round the houses they would have missed some splendid architecture and that all-important tourist attraction of a public convenience.  So all's well that ends well.)

There was a disconcertingly long pause after the text with all the directions, but I knew there must have been an orienteering breakthrough when I received this tantalising query:

"Is it the 50ml perfume?"

Quickly followed by:

"Done.  21.5 euros and it was all so lovely I have bought a Patchouly for myself. : D"

Jane's husband in triumphant pose outside the store

Well, that was a turn up for the books, as my friend is vegan and a Lush / Gorilla loyalist.

Anyway....without further ado I will have to explain myself, won't I? - what on earth was I doing making a purchase of a full bottle - even by proxy - when just two days previously I had compiled a list of my desert island collection of perfumes...on which L'Erbolario Méharées was conspicuously absent.  In my defence, I did think of including it, but Annick Goutal's Musc Nomade pipped it to the one and only 'cosy or naughty musk' spot.

So the only way that I can square this latest full bottle acquisition with my conscience is that it was:

a) cheap
b) purchased in fulfilment of a prior request - you know, like a will you forgot to revoke.  Sure I could have said: 'No, thank you, I am really not bothered anymore' when Jane texted me in the first place, but that would have felt churlish somehow, as she was over there, in situ, and all primed to do this errand for me.
c) I did say I would reserve the right to change my mind, so I will hereby effect a straight swap with Musc Nomade, to keep the numbers square.
d) I am allowed to be a bit bonkers - on any front, really.

Reprising a) for a moment, 21.50 euros is ludicrously cheap for a scent that is in fact a very creditable dupe of Frédéric Malle's Musc Ravageur.  I was first introduced to Méharées by Odiferess when we met up in Manchester last November - she gave me a sample and some moisturiser infused with the scent that she had knocked up herself using a neutral base cream! Champney's eat your heart out. ;)  Odiferess positioned Méharées to me as a Musc Ravageur copy, and the likeness is telling - for a fraction of the price.  (About a fifth, based on a 50ml bottle.  Just checked Liberty's site and it is retailing for £105 there.) The resemblance also caused quite a stir on the Basenotes men's forum - and they don't take any prisoners as we know.

My Méharées starter kit from Odiferess

Here are the notes for Musc Ravageur:

Top notes: lavender, bergamot
Middle notes: clove, cinnamon
Base notes: gaiac wood, cedar, sandalwood, vanilla, tonka, musk

All we can glean about Méharées is that it features myrrh and sweet date.  It does have a fruity aspect, certainly, and a distinctly spicy kick to it, though I would be hard pushed to name names.

The best way I could describe the difference between the two is to say that Méharées is slightly lighter, cleaner and more vanillic, whereas Musc Ravageur has more oomph - more of an animalic undercurrent to it - but the resemblance is still very marked.  Méharées is at the cleaner end of what a friend of mine would perhaps term 'rude business' musks, but rude it remains.  This scenario is qualitatively comparable to Lidl's Suddenly Madame Glamour as a cheapo copy of Chanel Coco Mademoiselle.  The Lidl perfume doesn't have the same patchouli-centred depth and heft to it as Coco Mademoiselle, but the scent itself is eerily close.  Yes, for those of you familiar with the Lidl copies of mainstream fragrances, just imagine that if Lidl brought out a me-too of Musc Ravageur called 'Suddenly Seduction' (because the titles are never too obvious), it would be very much in Méharées vein.  They just couldn't afford as much of the raunch factor maybe, whatever musk molecule that might be.  And that may even suit some people.


I also tested Méharées against Les Parfums du Soleil's Soir de Marrakech.  My own mini-reviews of the latter (here and here) - some four years ago when I had a limited frame of reference - liken this one to PG L'Ombre Fauve and Tauer's LADDM. To me now, Soir de Marrakech is more vanillic and gourmand, with a dark fruity twist that could also be from dates, though I see none listed.  I now actually feel it is firmly in our Musc Ravageur territory, but with an amber/patch/vanilla undercurrent that does still evoke for me a more delicate interpretation of the barnyard earthiness of L'Ombre Fauve..

For Odiferess's (considerably more deconstructed!) take on Méharées, hop over to her review.  She is also reminded of Chopard Casmir, which I can definitely relate to 'atmospherically', though I find Casmir too plasticky for my taste.  Méharées is in another quality league, I'd say, which is all the more remarkable at this price point. Unfortunately the shipping, even within the EU, adds about 50% to the bottle price, so the best way to bag this bargain scent is clearly to take advantage of a friend passing through Italy...;)

Oh, and you can tell how much I like this perfume, because I could be bothered to put both its acute accents in. And lately I have found accent insertion far too tedious, and have been gradually phasing them out and hoping nobody would notice.

PS I should also mention that I am off tomorrow for a week, attending some gigs in Germany, and hopefully doing some high end sniffing in Berlin, where I will have the most free time.  I am not selling the merchandise on the tour this year - my friends have assumed that role on a more or less permanent basis - but the job of part-time BlueTack removal operative (from the sample posters) is always open to me, plus I may be called upon to do a bit of ad hoc interpreting and translation. ;)


  1. Love it! What great pals you have, Bonks!!

    1. Hi Carol,

      I do! It was nice of them to remind me of my submerged lemming. ;)

  2. Vanessa, we need to go to Italy..
    I've just re-read my old review and noted my use of the word valium. The more I wore Meharees, the more I found it increasingly sedative. I think it's the lack of top notes, it's very sleepy and relaxing. Do you find the same sensation?
    Enjoy your new bottle and thanks for the mention.

    1. Hi Sarah,

      Italy has a lot of high end perfumeries, it would seem. I have just remembered that Olfactoria featured one in Bologna itself, though I don't suppose that was necessarily the one my friends passed.

      Interesting that you find Meharees soporific. I find it restful, certainly. I definitely find it a more wearable take on Musc Ravageur - almost an office-appropriate version, if you will, though there is that hint of skank all the same.

  3. Great story! I wonder what other substitutions in your desert island collection you'll have to make after your next trip? ;)

    I've just recently tried Musc Ravageur for the first time and thought it was nice but it's not going to my deserted island.

    1. Hi Undina,

      Re further substitutions, I almost dread to think! If I succumb to Unter den Linden, that would be acceptable, as it is 'on-list', but I am trying to resist such an outlay.

      There is something a bit too 'in your face' about regular Musc Ravageur not to make me feel a bit self-conscious wearing it. I am not sure if I have *ever* worn it in fact, as opposed to testing it. Meharees makes less of a statement, for sure. I am not sure that I actually prefer it to Musc Nomade - I am going to have to do a side-by-side comparison now - but Musc Nomade has never been less than £50, even in T K Maxx, so it is no contest, really.

  4. How amazing to purchase, sample and enjoy perfumes from distant lands! I wish I could go back in time to my teen years when I spent two weeks in France and buy perfumes! :)

    1. Hi Lian,

      I hope you get back to France some day - it is truly 'Perfume Central'. I see you are also blogging. ;)

  5. d) is the perfect justification. You don't need any other.
    Meharées is lovely and actually available here. Might smell it again in your honor.

    1. Hi B,

      Thanks for that. I must say d) is a bit of a workhorse excuse of mine...;). And I have to tell you that in your honour I sought out and am wearing a spritz of Eau de Narcisse Bleu (name is approximate). Very lovely it is too. The perfect blend of crisp and muzzy.

  6. Love the image of you guiding Jane and her husband in to land at the perfumerie! Fun story.

    I think you're entirely justified to get this on all counts. Hope you're wearing it and having fun.

    1. Hi Tara,

      It was rather a comical episode, and makes you realise how hard it is to give directions to someone if you don't know which way they are pointing.

      Thanks also for your endorsement of my shamefully 'off-list' purchase! We had the bottle handover last night in Berlin and am wearing Meharees today. The band have all had a sniff of the nozzle already but I am running ahead of my next post...;)

  7. Let it also now be on your conscience that I have added Odiferess' blog to my list of several thousand after I had sworn to add no more!! (jk at the several 1000 but still - it does feel like that - I just cant get enough.)

    I do know what you mean though about "shameful" acquisition when you've made a vow before god and country to stay within the lines. A month ago I went to The Perfume House with a friend who wanted to try some Serges, with my willpower firmly in check and a determination not (to buy anything) seen since Genghis Khan marched across the steppes.
    Disgustingly I went home with a bottle of Jasmin et Cigarette and Santal de Myesore. I have no defense...

    1. Hi SallyM,

      Sorry but glad to have introduced you to Odiferess! New bloggers are surfacing all the time and if it is any consolation I struggle to keep up with my reading list too!

      Amused to hear that your willpower has also crumbled in the face of temptation. All too easy to do, what can I say? ;)

  8. I have a few writer friends who fell hard for Musc Ravageur lately (I enable. It's so much fun.) and might love an alternative... it's a shame we can't get L'Erbolario here in the US.

    1. Hi Mals86,

      Good for you with your Musc Rav enabling. ;). Sorry though to hear that L'Erbolario has not made it across the pond.

  9. What a nice end run around the high price of Musc Ravageur! I never figure these substitutions out in time to save any money and admire the acumen of those who do.

    If you are going to Berlin are you smelling any April Aromatics?

    1. Hi Blacknall,

      It's true that I appear to have won here, but I need the savings made to offset my many expensive mistakes in the past. ;)

      I am in Berlin now, actually, but I go home tomorrow and the shops are shut today. Not sure if I will do any sniffing while I am here after all, though I did at least try the April Aromatics scents in 2012, which was the last time I was here. My impressions were sketchy even at the time, so I would have revisited the line if I could have got back.