I’ve long been curious about the Italian house of Maria Candida Gentile whose founder who is the only Italian to ever earn the prestigious title of Maitre Parfumeur. So, I bought samples of several things in her Classic Collection, and will focus today on Noir Tropical and Exultat. The first is a dry, dark, woody vanilla, while the second is an citric, incense, woody violet fragrance. Thus far, I’m left cold by one, and actively loathe the other. I’ll look at each fragrance in turn.
Noir Tropical is an eau de parfum that was released in 2013, and is intended to be a gourmand oriental vanilla. While the press release talks about the vanilla as a “femme fatale of a film noir set in the South Seas,” the description on Maria Candida Gentile‘s website simply says:
Seductive but not suffocating, its trace wafts upon the skin for long, revealing the characteristics of its nature: vegetable, aromatic and gently gourmand.
Noir Tropical’s notes are equally simple:
Bergamot, almond accord, vanilla, rum.
Noir Tropical opens on my skin with boozy rum, vanilla, and dark woods. It is a mix that is rich, but not too sweet. It is definitely not syrupy, thanks to the mysterious wood element that is not included on the note list but which is a big part of the scent on my skin. Lurking in the background is a touch of bitter-sweet almond paste. It’s really lovely, but, alas, it dies very quickly.
What surprises me is the rum which has an unusual dryness. There are no stewed fruits, or raisins in heavy syrup here. Rather, the note smells more like the wooden caskets in which the alcohol may have been steeped. All of this impacts the vanilla, turning it away from the dreaded, girlish sugar-frosted icing to something darker, drier, more adult, and more oriental in nature.
Noir Tropical shifts quite quickly on my skin into its main, singular, and rather linear core. In less than 10 minutes, the almonds vanish, the rum retreats to the sidelines, and the scent grows even woodier. At the end of the first hour, Noir Tropical is a dry woody scent with a light touch of booziness and a good dose of creamy, dark vanilla. The latter is nice, and feels as though the black paste from inside a Madagascar bean pod had been mixed with eggy custard. Yet, ultimately, Noir Tropical is a scent that is really more boozy, vanillic woods on my skin, than boozy, woody vanilla. The vanilla merely pokes its head out from behind a thick wall of what feels like dry guaiac.
And therein lies part of the problem for me. I simply am not very keen on the key wood note. Noir Tropical has some pretty bits, but not once in all the times I’ve worn it have I been wowed by the scent. One reason is that I find a slight staleness to the wood, deep in its depths. There is also an occasional (albeit insubstantial) suggestion of mustiness. The latter is a fleeting note and quite ghostly when it does pop up in the far distance, but I can detect it enough to have some hesitation about the scent.
The significantly larger problem for me is that Noir Tropical simply feels flat. I don’t mind the fact that it’s an incredibly linear fragrance, but it feels one-dimensional, even with that rum on the sidelines. The perfume has no buoyancy, no vitality, no spark. It’s hard to explain, but there is something about Noir Tropical which feels enormously hollow. All surface images, ostensibly seeming dark and rich, but, in actuality, more like a rubber balloon that lies lifelessly on the skin, flaccid and empty.
It’s also dreadfully boring to me. So boring that I can’t even hate the fragrance. What’s to hate? It’s just… there. From start to end, Noir Tropical is a vaguely smoky woody fragrance infused with dry rum and dark vanilla, and that’s it. Linear is fine, but linear without a spark or character is akin to watching paint dry.
Noir Tropical smells rich up close, but sheer, and I was continuously sure that it was about to die at the end of the 5th hour. An hour later, I was convinced it was gone, and the same thing an hour after that. Yet, Noir Tropical drones on tenaciously, clinging to the skin as a wisp of dry, guaiac-like woodiness with a trace of boozy vanilla. Finally, 9 hours from the start, it really and truly does disappear.
I seem to be in the minority when it comes to Noir Tropical, at least judging by the fact that the scent is popular enough to be sold out at every Northern American retailer which carries it. So, I was surprised to find that the handful of reviews on Fragrantica were mixed. Amidst those who think Noir Tropical is “beautiful,” “dark,” or “fabulous,” others find it either perilously treading the line to “dull,” or say that it is “not original, just a nice vanilla fragrance.” A sampling of the various opinions:
- It smelled so good from the stores bottle. Spicy, fruity(pineapple), and vanilla. After Applying on the skin the ”dark” notes were gone right away and I was left with a powdery vanilla and almond. Identical on my skin to Mandorlo di Sicilia Acqua di Parma. Just like mandorlo di siilia , its best in humid hot climate, has great lasting power and silage. However it is ”noir”, not original, just a nice vanilla perfume.
- This is Lovely! [¶] It’s very ‘Noir’ like the name says, starts sweet with vanille, the drydown is warm, smoky ‘dark’ and stays that way. Very much pirate-y ‘Tropical’, really beautiful.
- Not being really fond of Vanilla scents I must say NOIR TROPICAL is fabulous and the closest to a real black and moist vanilla pod a scent can be. Did not discover too much of a citric note in it, neither could I make out the almonds listed but the blend is fantastically realistic Vanilla. It rises up slowly and stays like that for many hours on skin, on fabric even longer.. Nevertheless a bit of a too edible smell for me, personally.
- I like the concept, and I got quite surprised once I read the pyramid. This is what I smell here: vanilla, anise, fresh and transparent balsamic notes, a shady and dusty patchouli base with a hint of ambery/cocoa dry sweetness. I am surprised there is little of this and instead there is rhum and citrus – which I do not really smell, at any stage. Fascinating tricks of the nose. However, overall much “organic” and dry, simple, silky and also pleasantly gloomy – so is the vanillin-talcum drydown, aerial and elegant. On the thin line between delicate and dull, sadly dangerously tending more towards the latter.
What was interestingly to me were the Longevity and Sillage votes on Fragrantica. The former are all over the place, with just as many people (3) voting for Poor Longevity (30 min to 1 hour) as they did for “Very Long Lasting” (12+hrs). There is more consensus on Noir Tropical’s sillage: 6 votes for the weakest category (Soft), and 7 for Moderate.
Basenotes has 3 reviews for Noir Tropical, and all 3 are merely ambivalent “Neutrals.” As one person put it, “there is nothing [in the scent] that stands out.” No, it doesn’t, though, again, enough people seem to love Noir Tropical for the fragrance to sell out. Obviously, it’s a matter of individual tastes.
Noir Tropical may have felt like watching paint dry, but apathy wasn’t a problem with Exultat. It triggered immense loathing, and my lip is practically in a snarl as I write this. God, I dislike this fragrance.
Exultat is an eau de parfum that was released in 2009, and which is accurately classified as a “Woody Aromatic Citrus” on Indigo Perfumery’s website. Yet, the official description for the fragrance makes Exultat ostensibly seem like an incense fragrance. It isn’t one, in my opinion. Nevertheless, on her website, Maria Candida Gentile says:
A visit to the Church of Saint Lorence in Lucina during the hour of Vespers “provoked” the fantasy of Maria Candida, for the creation of Exultat. An evocative and spiritual perfume, which blends trascendence and matter, holy and lay. Into Exultat, Violet and Vetiver overlap and merge with Incens of Somalia, but the absolute of Violet leaves gives a touch of depth and spirituality to this creation.
Exultat’s notes include:
Lime, Brazilian bitter orange, Olibanum, Somalian incense, Sicilian orange, Violet, Violet leaves, Haitian vetiver, and Texas cedar.
Exultat opens on my skin with incense that is sharp, cold, and filled with a jangly, metallic steeliness. There is a brief sense of clean, white aldehydes, but it vanished within seconds, as Exultat turns warmer and sweeter. To my surprise, something similar to a caramel, woody-amber floods over the incense, and mixes with the scent of toasted hazelnuts. The latter makes me briefly wonder if Exultat has sweet myrrh or opoponax, as well myrrh and olibanum.
The liturgical, “Churchy” elements are soon joined by a citric bitterness. Initially, it feels a bit abstract and nebulous. Nothing in Exultat ever reads as orange on my skin, but the note quickly takes shape as bitter lime. In the background, tiny wisps of cedar and vetiver flicker wanly and bloodless. For the most part, Exultat’s main bouquet in the opening minutes is of multi-faceted incense infused with nutty, caramel warmth, very bitter lime, and a touch of metallic sharpness.
At first, I don’t mind that metallic element. It generally hovers in the background, and reads vaguely like a cool, woody “violet,” but with quite an abstract floralcy. I wish it were smoother, instead of feeling so angular and steely. Even in the opening minutes, it reminds me of piercing shards, so it was quite a relief when I thought it was only a minor element and that Exultat’s dominant focus was on incense. How I was mistaken….
Fifteen minutes into its development, Exultat shifts into second gear. The caramel amber impression fades; the sweet nuttiness that felt like opoponax retreats to the sidelines; the steely, metallic note slowly begins to transform into something vaguely resembling a bad, synthetic violet; and the lime begins to blast away with an increased bitterness and sharpness of its own. Exultat still has some warmth mixed in with the coolness, but it no longer reads like amber. Even worse, the fragrance is taking a sharp turn towards the synthetic, thanks to the “violet” note which I suspect is some sort of woody ionone backed by seriously hefty amounts of whatever synthetic is used to replicate the peppered violet “leaves.”
Most violet fragrances these days use some form of what is called an ionone, a synthetic discovered in 1893 by Tiemann and Kruger. The most straightforward, concise explanation I’ve found to share with you comes from an article in Cosmetics Business by Rhona Wells. It states, in part:
The ionones and methyl ionones, which were also discovered by Tiemann in 1893, are among the most important and versatile aroma chemicals. This discovery was revolutionary, changing the face of modern day perfumery as the ionones (along with their analogues and derivatives such as irones, damascones, iso E super, koavone and timberol) are currently incorporated into almost every fragrance.
The ionones range from a scent that is reminiscent of violets in full bloom to an aroma of soft wood overlaid with violet sweetness. The methyl ionones are stronger, with a more pronounced orris and wood tonality.
The Perfume Shrine has a much more detailed explanation that is far from straightforward or direct, but it does point out the critical olfactory differences between violet and violet leaves, both of which are incorporated into Maria Candida Gentile’s Exultat:
violet and violet leaves are not interchangeable. Indeed they’re quite different, from the romantic, retro powdery feel of violets to the cucumber-metallic-oily effect of violet leaves which adorn not only greener violet scents, but also many masculine colognes.
Whatever violet synthetics have been used here in Exultat, they feel shrill, metallic, harsh, and piercing. Even worse, they take over the show at the start of the 2nd hour. The incense retreats to the sidelines, all warmth or toasted nuttiness has died, and Exultat is now primarily a harsh, piercing dagger of a violet scent infused with extremely bitter lime and a flickering suggestion of smoky incense. I suppose there is a sense of woodiness hovering mutely in the background, supported by a woody-green vetiver deep in the base, but the “woods” feels abstract and are quite overwhelmed by the steeliness of the violet.
The whole thing feels oddly flat for such an aggressively sharp scent. Like Noir Tropical, Exultat lies flaccid on the skin, dominated by a few key notes, but lacking any general spark or vibrancy (except of an unpleasant nature). The bouquet may be strong due to the aromachemicals, but the scent itself is thin and sheer with soft sillage right from the bat. Using 3 really enormous smears, equal to 2 good sprays from a bottle, Exultat opened with 2-3 inches of projection at first before quickly dropping down to only half an inch after 40 minutes. There, it stayed for several hours, until finally turning into a skin scent at the end of the 6th hour.
Exultat continues to be primarily a violet scent infused with acrid lime and incense until the middle of the 3rd hour. At that point, two new elements seep up from the base and burst onto center stage: vetiver and peppered violet leafiness. Together, they add greenness and even more bitterness. On occasion, there is a whisper of soapiness, but it is muted and far overshadowed by the increasingly powerful vetiver note which feels woody and always synthetically shrill.
For hours and hours, Exultat continues apace as a flat, unpleasant mix. Harsh, metallic “violets”; peppered leaves; sharp vetiver; and acrid lime, all ensconced in an abstract cocoon of something that is only vaguely smoky. I hate every single bit of it. Passionately. Which naturally means that Exultat lasts for ages on my skin. All in all, the bloody scent endured for 10.5 hours, with me snarling at my arm for most of the time.
Exultat generally receives good reviews on Fragrantica, with a lot of people finding the violet note to be candied, as opposed to how it appeared on my skin. “Alfarom” writes, in part:
Exultat opens with bitter notes of orange and lime which pair perfectly with the massive dose of frankincese immediately detectable since the very beginning. Simply fantastic in its severity. A candied violet note, which I’m usually not a big fan of, takes over right away smoothing the general austerity and leading the composition towards more friendly territories where the incense brings to mind of clean liturgical vestments stored in antique chests of drawers. Slightly dusty, slightly powdery with a good dose of mistery. The violet-incense accord settles down and merges with a thick base of cedarwood and vetiver giving birth to an incredibly long lasting drydown which, together with the opening, is the best part of this composition.
Do I like it? Not completely. I actually can’t get past the candied violet driven mid-phase (in this case, this is just a matter of personal taste) but, if you’re fine with the accord, Exultat represents one of the most original renditions of liturgical frankincense.
Respect. [¶] Rating: 8/10
Another admirer did not find Exultat to be an incense fragrance at all. “Nonsisa” writes:
Exultat opens with a blast of citrus fruits and a lot of sweetness; almost candy or sugar like. Then it emits it’s violet and woodsy notes conducted by vetiver and something that wants to be incense. The latter is a farce imo. I’d go that far to say: This is not an incense scent.
What I do admit is that it is leaning towards the feminine gender.
Incense y: No
On Makeup Alley, the lone reviewer is similarly underwhelmed over the lack of sufficient liturgical incense, as well as by Exultat’s general flatness:
I’m drawn to churchy incense and was eager to try this one because it is dominated by cedar, which really sings on my skin. Olibanum is also in the mix and the florals are represented by violet. Very disappointed that this was just so flat. While expecting an olfactory church choir, I encountered merely a low moan. Heeley Cardinal and CDG Avignon have more strength and sillage. (Best of all is the original Montale Full Incense.) Exultat is in this category, but hardly lives up to the others mentioned.
For one blogger, Parfumistans, Exultat seems to have had almost as much vetiver in its drydown as incense, and that vetiver is one of the differences she found between Exultat and Maria Candida Gentile’s other incense fragrance, Sideris. The review reads, in part, as follows:
Where Sideris performs some obscure, almost decaying sweet elements, the impression of Exultat is cleaner, cooler and much drier. Exultat emphasize the dry, woody aspects of incense at some stage the wood in Exultat smells as it’s just sawn. A light supporting violet note is also distinguish Exultat from Sideris and there is also an obvious note of vetiver in the woody base that contributes to the green, woody, dryness of Exultat. To me Exultat from the later part of the middle notes and further during the dry down could count as an vetiver fragrance. It’s a really green and brisk vetiver, not smoky or plate-powderish in character. On the masculine – feminine spectra (if someone cares), Exultat is the masculine and Sideris the feminine one, even if they both are unisex.
I agree with some of her findings, but I don’t share her enthusiasm for Exultat which she rated as Four Stars.
In truth, I haven’t liked any of the Maria Candida Gentile fragrances that I’ve tried thus far. I’ve tested four out of six samples thus far, and my reaction has ranged from the boredom, to apathy, to indifference, to outright loathing. All the fragrances were flat and hollow; none felt refined, elegant, full-bodied, or interesting in a good way. At best, they’re just… there, droning on as moderately decent scents without enormous character, flair, or substance. At worst, they feel like an ordeal. Perhaps I’m simply missing something. Then again, they say ignorance is bliss….