Saturday, 30 September 2017

Le Civette & Unicorn: Figue de Collonges, Vetyver Coeur, Buddhas Orange, Mille-Feuille, and Lune de Turenne mini-reviews

Well, my French holiday in the Limousin seems a distant memory now that autumn is enveloping us in its dank, leaf mouldy folds, but I promised you a Part 3 in my series of posts about the trip, in which I would feature the fragrances L and I sampled at Le Civette & Unicorn, the bijou artisanal perfumery upon which I was so delighted and surprised to stumble.

So accordingly, I am sitting down with a cup of tea - I draw the line at a tisane (alien, frondy things) - in one of my duo of rustic mugs from nearby Turenne, having spent some more time this week testing a selection of perfumes from Le Civette & Unicorn's signature range. It bears repetition that the fragrances have a very high percentage of naturals in them - as high as 'P' the (English expat!) nose could contrive, basically. And now I am ready to channel happy memories of my stay with L by writing up my impressions of these scents. Which have made the journey back to Britain much more successfully than retsina is famously wont not to do after island hopping holidays in Greece. Oh, and the mini-reviews that follow are in no particular order.


P and his wife describe this fig-based scent as the 'marmite' in the collection, and on first sniff I wasn't at all sure about it myself. However, Figue has grown on me over time, and its curious accords continue to tantalise and intrigue. From Le Civette & Unicorn's website:

"The end of a summers evening, underneath a fig tree, savour the sweetness of the fruit and the freshness of the leaf."

Now we are not even at Buddhas Orange yet, but note that P seems to be refreshingly parsimonious with his apostrophes. He is also parsimonious with note lists, come to that, and if you are relying on yours truly to 'parse' the notes in Figue you'll be waiting a long time. P did mention that he wanted to capture every bit of the fig tree - and there is a strong woody vibe to the scent for sure, not just woodiness - but also (to my nose) almost a whiff of liqueur in an aged oak barrel. Don't ask me what liqueur, as I am on shaky ground with spirits once we get beyond gin. But something sweet and woody and seemingly laced with alcohol.

My own trials at sniffing 'the whole of the fig'

Going back to his 'capturing the whole fig' mission, P mentioned that he likes to take fig leaves and rub them between his hands to release as much of the aroma of the plant as possible. I can't recall if he does the same with the actual figs - I am thinking that could get messy. And amusingly, L remembers P saying that he rubs the fig leaves between his thighs, but I have double-checked with P and this turns out to be a 'figment' of her imagination. Maybe the mention of 'fig leaf' subliminally relocated the crushing action to a lower part of the anatomy... But moving on, Figue de Collonges has that oddball quality that sets it apart from other fig scents that are more accessible and fruity, and I reckon it would appeal to lovers of niche scents that really smell different from the herd. (That's the scents, not the lovers, though they may do too.) Think Ava Luxe Fig Wood as your starting point but with a dark, unfamiliar twist.

Some weeks later...


Without further ado, here is the un-apostrophised Buddhas Orange. I just want to make it quite clear to readers that this has Nothing To do With me. Now had it been reversed as 'Orange Buddhas' that would have been perfectly fine. I have found quite a lot of orange buddhas in Google images, as it happens, whose significance - apart from being imbued with a Tango'ed glow - I have yet to fathom. A little bit more digging reveals that 'orange buddhas' are a type of pill. And no, don't ask what kind, but suffice to say we are not exactly talking Haliborange.**

Source: Wikimedia Commons (via Milei.vencel)

"A Sandalwood Heart with notes of orange and incense which reflect the spirituality of the Buddist temples.  An invitation to travel to faraway places."

As you can see, P is up to his random capitalising tricks again here, while also engaging in a spot of 'h' dropping, all of which I find frankly endearing. And we have references to three notes in the composition, which I might just about have managed to guess myself. Buddhas Orange is probably in my top two of the perfumes I tested: the orange of the opening is bright and fruity, with a rosy facet; you can already detect the undertow of wood and incense, which gains prominence as the scent develops. There is also a light dusting of spice throughout - cinnamon, clove? But it is very subtle, and I doubt that it would offend even those who are 'agin' spicy notes as a rule. Buddhas Orange has a meditative quality, but the upbeat orange note stops it from veering into more austere monastic territory - the perfume equivalent of one of those Trappist orders, say. It reminded me a little of Baume du Doge, but without the heavier dollops of spices and vanilla in the base. It is simple but effective, conveying an upbeat cheeriness grounded by zen-like calm.

Source: Exquisite Artz


This was L's favourite, though I don't believe she has any prior exposure to vetiver as a note in perfumery. I am not really a fan myself, but this scent makes it into my top three, on account of the stunning incense in the base, that was particularly amplified on L's skin, though not so much on my own. I kept catching whiffs of her sillage as we walked around Collonges after our visit to the perfumery, and simply had to lean in and sniff her every time, however 'Well of Loneliness' that may have looked to passersby. You may recall from my earlier post that Vetyver Coeur is thought to be the first perfume in the world to use Malawian vetiver. Here again is the amusing story of P's involvement in its production. Vetyver Coeur gets a much fuller write up on the website too, though I shall only quote a couple of snippets:

"Our very special Vetyver Coeur fragrance is made with special high altitude Lavender, Tonka Bean absolute and 13 other essential oils to make a beautifully smooth, rich woody fragrance. Its aroma is clean, complex, subtle..."

"For both earthy men and women." Ha! Great. ;)

I would not have known Vetyver Coeur had lavender in it, never mind a special high altitude variety, and I am usually good at picking out the note, being even less keen on lavender than I am on vetiver. So it is all the more of a testament to the fragrance that I liked it as much as I did. Not so much the opening salvo, mind, which read a bit 'grassy', strongly earthy and manly on me - still with incense present from the off, but in a back seat role at this point - but definitely as the scent wore on, and became suffused by the soft and creamy tonka bean.

Source: MAJI Project, Malawi


When I hear the word mille-feuille, I can't help but think of those layered pastry slices filled with patisserie cream/custard. Especially the one Nick Gilbert ordered at a perfume meet up in Shoreditch, which struck us as the epitome of such a delicacy. I may even have photographic evidence somewhere. I do!

The particular mille-feuille which lends its name to this fragrance is in fact "l'achillĂ©e mille-feuille', or 'yarrow' in English. 

"A fresh perfume inspired by the Correzian Countryside: the spring sunshine, the hay, the warm flowers with notes of sugar and wood."

Now the French text on the website has the actual word for yarrow rather than 'warm flowers', which doesn't give English readers much of an idea of how the scent smells. The opening of Mille-Feuille is a big soapy spring bouquet, shot through with something astringent and more herbal that isn't immediately identifiable to my nose. My elderly friend thought the opening smelt a bit like shampoo and I know what she means. (Herbal Essences shampoo, maybe?!) You could be forgiven for thinking Mille-Feuille was more conventionally synthetic - more mainstream, say - yet this wrongfooting impression is shortlived, for soon the singular scent of yarrow emerges and hits its stride. It is a little bit like chrysanthemums,, I am at a loss to say quite what it smells like! By the far drydown, Mille-Feuille is down to a few hundred leaves and is a sherbety, faintly herbal whisper. I can't think of another perfume with yarrow in it - or certainly none with yarrow to the fore like this - so hats off to P for daring to showcase the flower in this way. But then the whole collection of Le Civette & Unicorn is inspired by the local area and/or his travels, and is categorically not driven by any 'safe' and obvious commercial considerations.

And I can't leave any consideration of yarrow without a passing reference to the flower's genus of Achillea, named after the Greek hero Achilles, he of the Trojan wars fame. Achilles learnt about the medicinal properties of the plant from Chiron, the elder centaur of Greek mythology - not the model of Bugatti, just to be clear. For this reason yarrow rejoices in a bunch of other graphic names, mostly to do with the business of administering first aid: "nosebleed plant, old man's pepper, devil's nettle, sanguinary, soldier's woundwort, and thousand-seal."

Source: Wikimedia Commons (via Fritzflohrreynolds)


And here comes my favourite scent of the lot, and the one with which I have the most personal associations...

"On top of Turenne Hill at night in the summer, watching the full moon rise, a soft breeze breathes by you carrying the scent of the warm night and white flowers."

My mugs from Turenne

On the night of her birthday, having already sat outside in the garden from 6pm till 1am drinking, eating and talking (account of my shopping exploits here) - oh, and half of that time in near complete darkness! - L suddenly suggested we go for a postprandial stroll. I am pretty sure that the amount of drink we had both imbibed that night had a lot to do with her making the suggestion - and with my eager acceptance of it. Even at that late hour it was invitingly warm, and we were the only people still up in the now silent village. Soon we had passed the last house and L led us down a wooded lane by the side of a field. The moonlight created a dappled effect through the canopy of trees overhead, lighting our way along the stony track. Eventually the path disgorged us into open countryside - a field with a vast wraparound view - for this part of the Limousin does the kind of enormous horizons I normally associate with certain US states. The sky was a deep inky blue, dotted with constellations of stars, while broad spokes of light radiated out from the nearly full moon in all directions like the pointy ends of a jester's hat. Indeed the 'man on the moon' had something of the look of a sad Pierrot about him. And so we stood there in awe staring at the huge sky, with only a chorus of crickets for company, before finally stumbling back to the village and our beds at gone 2am...

Now that wasn't 'Turenne Hill' of course, or any hill for that matter, though we did go up it the next we certainly had our fair share of Lune outside L's village that night!

Turenne Hill!

As for how this scent smells, it is a pillowy cloud of jasmine and honeysuckle - sweet, but not excessively so, thanks to the addition of another sprinkling of spices and a touch of oakmoss in the woody, musky base. But sweet nonetheless. And even though those notes might sound familiar enough in themselves, I cannot think of another perfume that smells like Lune de Turenne. As with Mille-Feuille and yarrow, there aren't too many scents that I can bring to mind with honeysuckle in a leading role. I like Lune de Turenne very much because of its undemanding, dreamy quality. The white flowers are demure rather than raunchy, and the overall impression is of a scent that is diffuse and fluffy - almost marshmallowy, but not in a tooth rotting way. The same vibe as Prada Candy, maybe, but less gourmand, and with a white flowers spin on that. 

P's idea of 'samples'(!)

So there you have it. Just five examples from Le Civette & Unicorn's signature range - with its strong natural bias, quirky vibe, and affordable price tag. (The bottles range from 22 euros to 58 euros for a whopping 100ml, all in eau de toilette strength.) And though P was more than generous in his supply of samples as you can see above, I can promise you that I was always planning to feature the range on here even if I had only had my paper strips to go on. In which case this review would have been in a long time ago! ;)

** Editor's note: Following a subsequent exchange with P, I have established that he was hitherto unacquainted with the aforementioned orange pills, and accordingly any link between the scent Buddhas Orange and certain transcendental experiences beyond those normally achieved by orthodox meditation techniques is entirely coincidental. P couldn't resist engaging in a spot of googling himself, mind, and came up with this quote, which tells you everything you didn't need to know about these happy pills and their devotees(!).

"orange buddhas are the perfect pill yo 
i love em, and they are my fave. they give me the mood that i want, like when i wana dance, ill have a speedy roll, when i wanna chill, ill have a mellow roll."


Hamamelis said...

What an absolute treat to read your post and be transported for a moment to summer and wide open spaces and moonlight and stars. I will order samples being still in a naturals scent period.I am glad you reviewed them! And the mugs are gorgeous.

Vanessa said...

Hi Hamamelis,

So pleased you enjoyed the post. I was very aware that I am still writing about summer scent memories at a time when some bloggers are already onto their "Top autumn perfumes". That would be more weather-appropriate for sure, but then I have never been one for convention. ;) I would gladly send you samples, but you know how problematic it is for me to post things abroad, sadly.

Undina said...

I'm glad you finally did this last part about your vacation; and it's very fortunate that you had samples to do it at your own pace, not being limited by a short-lived trace of perfumes on paper strips.

About figs: I think you failed your "whole gig" experiment: twigs give much stronger scent than leaves - and you don't even have to process them that hard, with your fingers or other parts of the body ;)

Asali said...

These days I seem more drawn than ever to artisan perfumes and vintage. I find my nose is tiring of white musk and blonde woods etc and the more "niche" is using those cheap'n'easy notes,, the more disillusioned I get. Ah well, it's a rainy Monday so bear with my sulk 😊 Anyway, you brought a ray of sunshine to me as I imagined the perfumery og 'le civette & unicorn'

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I have been meaning to for a while, but the Irish and Belgian trips kept me busy, and the job in between. I am indeed lucky to have samples to test again at my leisure.

Oh, good point about the fig tree experiment. Well, I got the leaf and fruit from my friend Gillie, so will ask her for a twig next time I am round!

Vanessa said...

Hi Asali,

I sensed that about your current leanings from recent blog posts and our conversations generally. I am largely over musk and blonde woods myself, but do make exceptions on a case-by-case basis. I remember when I started out in this hobby, that was my preferred base, actually, and 'Floral woody musk' my favourite fragrance family overall.

Happy to bring you sunshine, however unseasonal!

Odiferess said...

Ooh Vanessa, I love the idea of Jasmine and Honeysuckle.
Honeysuckle is hard to find in fragrance isn't it? I really miss Trish McEvoy's (discontinued) Gardenia No 4 which smelt as close to honeysuckle in the evening as anything I've ever smelt in a bottle.
Have you ever tried any of the Italian Caprifoglio scents? I wondered about Santa Maria Novella or L'Erbolario but have yet to get my nose around either. Yves Rocher's Caprifoglio is sadly a kind of tart lav cleaner whiff with none of the lovely sticky floral loveliness.

Vanessa said...

Hi Odiferess,

I remember that Trish McEvoy's gardenia scent - Gardenia Musk? I may even have a sample of it still somewhere, probably donated by you! I would give it back if I come across it. I own AG Le Chevrefeuille which is honeysuckle with a tomato leaf twist(!). Obvious, really.

I haven't tried any Caprifoglio scents (great word for it) and have dabbled in L'Erbolario - Meharees to be specifc, which I remember you rating. But not for anything approximating to a honeysuckle scent.

Anonymous said...

We discovered the shop ourselves late in 2017 and bought the 19500 Pour Homme for my hubby for Christmas. I re-ordered using the website for Christmas 2018 as it's gorgeous and priced at a reasonable 24 Euros for 100ml. I just love the smell of it on him, I only wish I was able to describe it like you can!

Vanessa said...

Why, thank you, and am pleased you discovered the shop, and its very inexpensively priced wares. It just goes to show what fat profits a lot of the brands are making! Glad your husband has found a scent you both love.