Eau de Magnolia is the latest release from the luxury fragrance house, Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle (or “Frederic Malle” for short). It is an eau de parfum which debuted this month, and was created by Carlos Benaim.
Eau de Magnolia is intended to be a “fresh chypre” for the summer, and employs an unusual technique called “headspace.” The Malle’s website states:
This time the conversation between Frédéric Malle and Carlos Benaïm was on the headspace analysis of the magnolia and the fact that this flower is closer to an Eau de Cologne than to a classic flower. Carlos then suggested to magnify the hesperidic equilibrium of the Magnolia to enhance the Eau effect and to add a woody vibration to give it depth and sensuality. The result is a fresh chypre, an extraordinarily transparent and very natural smelling note, animated by a somber base (vetiver, patchouli) that gives it a touch of mystery. A timeless summer perfume. [Emphasis in the original.]
Fragrantica lists its notes as follows:
Top note is calabrian bergamot; middle notes are magnolia, vetiver and patchouli; base notes are cedar, moss and amber.
The “headspace” technology used for the ostensibly central magnolia note might give you a better understanding of what this fragrance is (or is not) about. A site called LabHut has a very detailed discussion of the scientific methodology, but Wikipedia‘s version is more succinct:
Headspace technology is a technique developed in the 1980s to elucidate the odor compounds present in the air surrounding various objects. Usually the objects of interest are odoriferous objects such as plants, flowers and foods. Similar techniques are also used to analyze the interesting scents of locations and environments such as tea shops and saw mills. After the data is analyzed, the scents can then be recreated by a perfumer. [...][¶]
One of the early pioneers of this technology includes Roman Kaiser who used it to measure and characterize the scents of tropical rainforest.  Headspace techniques has since been used extensively to sample in vivo floral headspace of a large variety of numerous taxa and their aromatic compounds such as fatty acid derivatives (aldehydes, alcohols and ketones), benzenoids and isoprenoids.
The headspace equipment involves a hollow dome or sphere-like objects which forms an airtight seal and surrounds the objects of interest. Inert gases are passed into the space containing the object or a vacuum is established such that the odor compounds are removed from the headspace. These compounds are in turn captured using a variety of techniques among them cold surfaces, solvent traps, and adsorbent materials[....]
Eau de Magnolia opens on my skin with brisk, cool, chilled lemon in a thin, clean bouquet. The citrus feels like a cologne, and is infused with clean musk and a hint of deeper greenness from the oakmoss. There is no magnolia at all on my skin in the opening moments, just a green scent dominated by lemon. I realise that there are differences between lemon and bergamot and lemon, but Eau de Magnolia lacks the latter’s richer depth, warmth, and sweetness for much of the first hour. It’s just lemon on my skin, a lot of lemon.
There is a sharpness to the note that I don’t enjoy. I suspect it’s due to the clean, white musk, but one of the times that I wore Eau de Magnolia, I briefly wondered if there were ISO E Super used as well. It wasn’t clear to me, as it was very subtle and had merely a peppered, woody, vaguely synthetic buzz the way that ISO E Super can sometimes demonstrate. It only appeared that one time, so I’m not sure if it was there, or if it was actually the cedar and musk combination that was to blame. It is probably the latter, as my skin tends to amplify white musks.
I’m very sensitive to the note in large quantities, and I must say I found the synthetic, green cleanness in Eau de Magnolia difficult. The white musk lends a very sharp quality to the citrus that reminded me strongly of the note in Mona di Orio‘s Violette Fumée. Here, the musk is also indelibly intertwined with lemon, from beginning to end on my skin, and it occasionally gave me a small headache when I smelt Eau de Magnolia up close for too long.
Putting all that aside, let’s talk about the magnolia. I think it is such a beautiful flower in terms of both appearance and smell. While magnolia can have a lemony nuance, I always associate it with other things: velvety, narcotic, deeply luxurious unctuousness and richness. The word “butter” sometimes comes to mind, thanks to the custardy quality of the lush flower.
With Eau de Magnolia, I had expected a lighter, thinner, more summery take on its rich aroma. Er…. no. Not on my skin. For most of Eau de Magnolia’s life, the “magnolia” is generally either a floral abstraction, mere creaminess, or completely nonexistent. As an actual magnolia, the note only appears for a short period of time on my skin.
Eau de Magnolia shifts by incremental degrees in the opening hour. About 15 minutes in, the oakmoss (or “tree moss,” to be precise) becomes more prominent, imbuing the lemon with some body and nuance. It feels like a dry, cool, slightly austere note. It is not the a very plush moss, but it is also not a purely mineralized, fusty, dusty variety either. Ten minutes later, a tiny, very muted, fragile streak of creaminess awakens in the base. It doesn’t smell like magnolia, and is thin, light, and abstract.
The magnolia finally steps daintily onto center stage at the end of the first hour. Instead of lush, heavily narcotic, floral richness, this is a light, lemony nectar, though it has a tiny whisper of the velvety qualities of the flower.
It combines with the other notes to create a scent that, for a short period of time, is a light, floral lemon mousse with clean, white musk, all lightly sprinkled with peppery cedar. The lemon finally feels more like bergamot with a touch of sweetness, but the moss has retreated to the sidelines to sit beside a very green, vaguely minty vetiver. Both work indirectly to contribute to the overall aura and visual of a very green scent, but they’re not very significant elements on my skin.
In truth, even the magnolia is a very muffled affair. It is more of an undercurrent of floral creaminess under a thick layer of lemon than the star player. I am not a scientist to understand all the “headspace” stuff, but the result feels more like an abstract, ghostly approximation of diluted magnolia than anything truly characteristic of the flower. The note weaves in and out of Eau de Magnolia, but what emanates from my skin from the 2nd to the middle of the 4th hour is primarily lemon mousse with clean, white musk, peppery cedar, and droplets of dry moss. The “magnolia” increasingly turns abstract, more of a lemony, green-white floralacy with cool crispness and clean greenness. Then, at the start of the 5th hour, it fades away entirely.
What is left is a very blurry, woody, slightly dry, citric cologne. Eau de Magnolia is now mostly lemon with peppery cedar, white musk, and a vague suggestion of mossiness. The scent is crisp, green, fresh, and clean, but there is no creaminess or magnolia. On a few, brief occasions, there is a ghostly echo of something potentially floral and white lurking in the shadows, but it is mere echo and fleeting. As time goes on, Eau de Magnolia turns sheerer and more abstract. In its final drydown, it’s a clean, fresh citric blur with some woody and dry undertones. And it dies away in the same way.
All in all, Eau de Magnolia had good longevity and moderate projection on my skin. It lasted 11.25 hours with 3 big smears amounting to 2 small spritzes from a bottle, and just over 10 hours with less. Keep in mind, however, that my skin holds onto scents with a heavy amount of clean, white musk for ages, perhaps much longer than would be the case for others. Eau de Magnolia initially opened with 3 inches of projection, which dropped down to an inch at the 1.75 hour mark. It only became a skin scent on me by the start of the 4th hour. Again, my skin amplifies white musk and any notes that it may be strongly combined with, so keep that in mind.
Regardless of skin chemistry, I think you will experience a very light, airy fragrance. Frederic Malle references a “cologne” in his website description for Eau de Magnolia, and I think that sums up part of the fragrance’s character. It is intended to be a refreshing “summer” fragrance, and that is precisely what it is.
I am not the target audience for a scent like Eau de Magnolia. I don’t wear citrus fragrances, colognes, or fresh, green scents; and I abhor heavy doses of clean, white musk — in anything. However, putting myself in the shoes of someone else, I think people who enjoy either lemony, crisp, clean, or green fragrances will probably find Eau de Magnolia to be perfect for a hot summer’s day, especially if they’re not looking for anything complex or full-bodied.
On Fragrantica, Chanel‘s Cristalle Eau de Toilette seems to be mentioned a few times in early reviews, and I suspect the Cristalle woman (or man) is Malle’s perfect audience for Eau de Magnolia. Cartier‘s Baiser Vole comes up in one comment as well. A sample of people’s thoughts:
- At first it goes on all fresh green floral, it even has an aquatic facet. While it was very pretty, I was not too impressed, I even found it a bit sharp . But two hours later, oh wow: the wood and oakmoss come out; it’s still nothing heavy, but it is oh so gorgeous! I found it reminded me of Cristalle, although they smell differently; they share the feel. [¶] I am not sure about sillage, but longevity was great: I could still smell it on my wrist 8 hours later after a hectic day traveling. [...] Eau de Magnolia is just lovely. It is definitely a late spring/summer scent.
- I could not make out what kind of flower it was, but it smelled kinda “pure white flowers”. Not powdery at all, but kind of “moist or wet” it you get my drift. A little bit lemony, but without any acidity in it.
- I wore Chanel Cristalle in high school and college and it just doesn’t work for me anymore, Jo Malone Orange Blossom for the past few years, but that also was not working on me. This is a more sophisticated and elegant alternative – the way I wanted Cristalle to smell on me with the freshness of Orange Blossom (even though there is none in the fragrance) plus it smells a bit like Jurassic room spray which I adore.
- It is a beautiful hesperidic, green magnolia chypre interpretation : don’t expect a lush magnolia, no it opens very citrusy (bergamot, grapefruit) and what you get is an “abstract” almost ethereal magnolia, more the aroma’s from the early blooming flower buds, green, crisp, rather than the rich intoxicating scent of full blooming magnolia’s. The reason why i changed my mind finally is that it reminded me a lot to Cartier Baiser Vole, even if they don’t share at all the same notes, at least on my skin [....] [Emphasis to names added by me.]
Two early reviews on Basenotes from people who have tried Eau de Magnolia are not very positive. The first comment below is from a man, the second from a woman:
- To say the truth – I was disappointed. some women could wear it, not men.there should be some secret, however from the first wearing and smelling on the card I smell some sweet honeyed flowers with a very vague reminiscence to cristalle (more EDp than edt).i used to dislike dans tes bras, portrait of a lady.now I love them and find them unique.with magnolia I doubt I would change my mind – too simplistic,even reminiscent to mainstream scents. for some women who like sticky florals,it could work well.eau de magnolia does not overcome cristalle or diorella.Too simplistic
- sparkling, transparent, rather lightweight, with the eponymous note appearing in all its beauty at a certain point but fading rather quickly in a mossy drydown. It’s not love at first sight for me, but I’ll try it on again.
Bloggers thus far seem to love Eau de Magnolia, and they do find it to be a magnolia scent. Bois de Jasmin writes, in part:
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. [...] 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. [...][¶] 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.
Neither jasmine nor rose is mentioned in the perfume notes, so it must be part of the fantasy aspect that she describes. Yet, taking the Bois de Jasmin review as a whole, Patty at The Perfume Posse had a similar interpretation of Eau de Magnolia’s general feel. Her positive review reads, in part, as follows:
[The IFF study] found that magnolia – ordinarily badly translated in perfume world – starts with a fresh citrus. That’s how Eau de Magnolia opens – bracing, crisp green citrus. There are softer notes that blend in and start to shape this magnificent magnolia. Woods and amber with a little moss and somehow buried in all of this lush woodsy green is a little magnolia. It starts small and blends outwards, incorporating everything that magnolia does, becoming bigger until it is the whole thing. [¶] It’s really brilliant and subtle and lovely and something that I’ll be wearing all summer [....]
I obviously feel differently about the scent, which I find to be underwhelming, largely linear, bland, very sharp at first, and with only occasional bouts of an abstract “magnolia.” I also think it feels like a commercial, mainstream scent. However, as I said earlier, I’m not Eau de Magnolia’s target audience, so you have to put my feelings into context.
If you like green scents and extremely light, thin, citrus colognes, then give Eau de Magnolia a sniff.