The buzz on Couvent des Minimes‘ Eau des Missions Cologne was loud, excited, and almost uniformly insistent: it was a bargain beauty that was an exact copy of Guerlain‘s very expensive Spiritueuse Double Vanille (“SDV“.) Or so everyone said, from perfume groups to Fragrantica reviews. One major reason for all the excitement was the price. Guerlain’s boozy, smoky, dark vanilla costs $260 for 75 ml. Eau de Missions is $38 for 100 ml, with smaller bottles available for even less on eBay. By the admittedly crazy, skewed standards of the niche world, that made Eau de Missions practically “free.” So, I bought one of the eBay bottles to see what all the fuss was about. And it’s true, there are strong similarities to SDV. However, unlike everyone else, I don’t think the two fragrances are identical.
Eau de Missions is a cologne that seeks pay to tribute to the Franciscan missionaries who lived at the Convent, and to the Order’s “benevolent journeys” around the world to help the poor. The fragrance actually has several related names, and it can get confusing at times. The name on the actual bottle says Eau des Missions Cologne, but Couvent des Minimes’ website puts it on two separate url sites as Botanical Cologne of the Missions and for Eau de Missions Vanilla Fragrance. On Fragrantica, it’s called Cologne of the Missions. Elsewhere, I’ve seen “Eau de Missions Botanical Fragrance.” If you’re looking for the fragrance and don’t know if you’re getting the right one, don’t worry about whether your bottle says “Botanical” on it or not; just look for the bottle with a purple-blue label and with liquid that looks a bit peachy in colour.
Now that we’ve gotten the name issue out of the way, let’s move onto the notes. Couvent des Minimes describes Eau de Missions, in part, as follows:
Thanks to its Original Recipe combining comforting Vanilla with 5 Plants selected for their beneficial properties, this rich, sensual scented water perfumes the skin with vanilla notes.
•Vanilla : comforting
•Centella Asiatica : revitalizing
•Myrrh : repairing
•Benjoin: source of well-being
•Chinese Camellia : protective
•Virginian Cedar : invigorating
A few comments on the notes. I’ve never heard of Centella Asiatica before, but my internet research tells me that it’s a plant that is also called Gotu Kola. It’s part of the parsley family, has been used for centuries in folk medicine, and has a “fragrant” smell that is supposedly spicy and woody. As for the “Benjoin,” my bottle’s ingredient list indicates that it’s actually styrax benzoin, the darkest and smokiest of all the resins.
Eau de Missions opens on my skin with very boozy, rum-like vanilla that is infused with lemon, dry cedar, and darkly spicy, smoky resins. The lemon is sharp, but the vanilla is truly lovely with a deep, rich aroma that isn’t ridiculously sweet or painfully sugared. It’s like a dark, rather alcoholic, Bourbon vanilla with a faint whisper of creaminess underlying it, instead of the more common vanilla custard, crème anglaise, or sugared icing varieties. The cedar and the fresh, crisp lemon cut through any potential excess, while the smokiness of the styrax keeps the vanilla on the darker side. Don’t get me wrong, Eau de Missions is a very sweet fragrance, but it doesn’t feel suffocating, cloying or gooey, and it’s all thanks to the other notes.
The citrus is one of my only problems with Eau de Missions. I think it smells very sharp, and it’s far too great a presence in the overall composition. It doesn’t help that I’m not a fan of heavily citric fragrances to begin with, or that the lemon lasts from the beginning almost to the very end. I actually have a second Couvent des Minimes fragrance that I bought accidentally because of the overlap in the various “Cologne” names, and it has even greater sharpness from the exact same lemon. I can’t go near it, or bear to have it on my skin.
Yet, to be fair, these are all colognes that are intended to be refreshing body splashes or “scented waters,” so the lemon is an understandable component. In the case of Eau de Missions, it was probably seen as necessary, not only to provide that “invigorating,” crisp feel but also to cut through the vanilla and keep it from being overly sugary. Still, I can’t help hating the note, and its shrill, very dominant presence in Eau de Missions ruins the fragrance for me completely.
Let me be clear about few things, though. This is a personal issue of individual tastes; I’m not expecting high-end, luxurious quality or depth; and I’m not criticizing Couvent des Minimes at all. Given their extremely low prices, it would be wholly unfair and ridiculous to expect any of the scents to include expensive bergamot, or to have the smoothness and richness of a $250+ fragrance. (Plus, for what it’s worth, I think the citrus in a lot of mainstream Guerlains is also sharp and unpleasant, and I’ve heard from a very reliable source that Thierry Wasser himself isn’t happy with the quality of the bergamot.) My point here is not to unfairly slag Eau de Missions, but to explain a big part of the fragrance and why it was a problem for me.
For the most part, Eau de Missions’ core essence doesn’t change much. It is a linear scent, and 95% of its bouquet is a very dark, boozy vanilla with lemony freshness, cedar woodiness, and resinous, spicy smokiness. Some of its secondary notes wax and wane in terms of their prominence, but that never detracts from its main bouquet. Still, there are subtle changes over time. Ten minutes into its development, the smoky, spicy, and lemony traits grow stronger. At the end of the first hour, the myrrh pops up, but it is a very muffled note that is vastly overshadowed by everything else.
About 90 minutes in, the perfume shifts. The boozy rum weakens a little, while creaminess awakens in the base and starts to creep upwards. At the same time, something vaguely floral whispers in the background. It feels indistinct, and it’s impossible to identify any particular flower, but the general impression is of soft, white petals. It’s only a whisper, though, and one that is heavily muffled by the omnipresent lemon which continues to feel sharp and thin to me. What’s interesting is the smokiness. It seems to veer between an incense-like quality, something that is like smoky, singed woods, and something that is much more balsamic, sticky, and resinous in feel.
The most significant changes involve Eau de Mission’s sillage and body. Using 2 small sprays, the fragrance initially opened with 5 inches of projection which is a lot for a mere cologne. In fact, Eau de Mission projects more than several eau de parfums that I’ve tried lately. Yet, as a whole, this is a lightweight scent with a very airy feel, and with far greater freshness than you’d expect from such a rum-like, dark vanilla. The silage does drops, though: it’s at 2.5 inches after 10 minutes; at 1 inch after 2 hours; and at 0.5 by the end of the 4th hour. The perfume turns even thinner in feel at the start of the 3rd hour and is almost gauzy, but it takes 4.5 hours for Eau de Missions to turn into a skin scent on me and it lasts well over 10 hours, depending on the quantity that I apply. I find the numbers rather astonishing for a cologne, which is the weakest of all fragrance concentrations. Colognes from Jo Malone barely project or last 2 hours on me. In fact, an all-natural eau de parfum that I recently tested took a mere 20 minutes to drop to 0.5 inches in projection, and only lasted 6 hours.
Eau de Mission’s nuances shift again at the start of the 5th hour. The floral whisper has disappeared, and the creamy undertones are much weaker. At the same time, the cedar and styrax resin are stronger, making the overall scent slightly drier in nature. The blasted lemon is still there, but it seems more like general sharpness now than a clearly delineated, individual note. Eventually, even that retreats to the sidelines, leaving a scent that is mainly vanilla with woody undertones and a touch of creaminess. All in all, Eau de Missions consistently lasts 10.5 to 12 hours on my skin, depending on whether I apply 2 sprays or 3, but I have to put my nose actually on my skin to detect it after the end of the 7th hour. I’ve seen some people write on Fragrantica that they had some issues with the longevity, and some of that may be due to the perfume’s lightness but skin chemistry is going to make the greatest difference.
Speaking of Fragrantica, almost all the reviews there are positive, calling it a “beautiful vanilla” or using words like “stupendous” in all-caps. A rare handful are less enthused, calling it candy sweet and nothing special. Again and again, Guerlain‘s Spiritueuse Double Vanille comes up, with people saying Eau de Missions is a “dead ringer” or a “clone.”
Personally, I don’t think Eau de Mission is a “clone,” even putting aside the inevitable differences of depth and quality between a $260 eau de parfum and a $38 cologne. For one thing, I found SDV to be quite a rum-raisin, fruity, dessert-like fragrance in the vein of Hermès‘ Ambre Narguilé or Tom Ford‘s Tobacco Vanille. In fact, there was such an overlap between the fragrances, that I didn’t even analyse SDV in great detail, relying on references or comparisons in depth or degree.
Eau de Missions shares the boozy vanilla of the other fragrances, but I think it’s a fresher, crisper scent thanks to the strong lemon, and it’s not heavily food-oriented, let alone fruited. For example, I never felt as though I was wearing an apple-pie, rum-raisin cake, as I did with the Hermes, or a Christmas plum pudding as I did with the Tom Ford. Eau de Missions feels more purely vanillic, even if it is a boozy variety. However, the rum traits are weaker than in SDV, while the smokiness often feels much stronger. And, again, there is no fruity quality, to me, only a lot of lemon, which wasn’t a factor in any of those other scents.
Eau de Mission’s smoky take on vanilla also struck Patty at The Perfume Posse. Her very positive review sums up the fragrance as a “vanilla incense comfort stew,” and adds that it is
[b]asically fabulous incense smothered in smoky vanilla. I can’t decide if I like it better as vanilla or incense, then decide I don’t care, it fits both. It’s not complex warmed vanilla incense, but I’m thinking it doesn’t need to be. Unlike some vanillas, t’s not too big on the waft it gives off. You won’t choke anyone in the office unless you dump the bottle on you[.]
Les Couvent des Minimes Eau de Missions is a bargain gem of the very best kind – it smells great and costs almost nothing. Now, it’s not going to last all day, though the vanilla in it will linger quite long, but at this price, who cares? Just spray more on.
Couvent des Minimes is widely available at Ulta, Beauty.com, Boots, Marrionaud, Amazon, and various drug-store beauty chains. I’ve long been addicted to their various Shea & Honey products, and I’m crazy about their fantastic Orange Blossom body cream in a jar. (It’s rich but thin, non-greasy and light, with a lovely, intoxicating fragrance that is close to that of real orange blossoms.) I don’t love Eau de Missions, but I think that it’s a gem for the price that is bound to appeal to fans of dark, boozy, gourmand vanillas, especially those who don’t share my citrus/lemon issues and who enjoy sweetness in their fragrances. So, give Eau de Missions a sniff or order a sample. After all, who doesn’t love a bargain?