Close your eyes and imagine palatial, perfectly manicured, green gardens, perhaps in Verona’s Giusti Gardens or Rome’s Villa d’Este. An endless vista of green is covered by a powerful but translucent web of embroidered lace made from fresh white petals. Magnolia flowers drip a milky juice that smells like figs. Orange blossom buds have just started to unfurl and waft a delicate scent that is as green as the tuberose and jasmine that encircle the garden like tall statues. Ylang-ylang hovers in the shadows, while creamy white trees stand as sentries in the distance, shedding benzoin and a wisp of delicate, warm powder like their equivalent of pollen. The wind blows little puffs of vanilla over the gardens, but this is not a tale of sweetness. It is a rhapsody of spring, celebrating the marriage of the freshest white flowers with greenness, as a choir of soft woods surrounds them to sing their praises. It is the tale of Lace Garden from Téo Cabanel.
I should disclose at the start that I have a huge soft spot for Téo Cabanel Parfums. Their scents are always solid and high quality for a really reasonable price. I admire that they work hard at putting out the best scents they can, one a year, instead of a deluge every few months. They aren’t driven by greed or commercialism, don’t put out flashy campaigns, or don’t try to be provocative for the sake of appearing “edgy.” Instead, they seem to care only about the actual scent and its quality. Plus, they’re so hugely under-appreciated that they seem like an underdog in the perfume world, which always brings out my protective side. All of this is separate from the fact that this small, relatively unknown perfume house makes one of my favorite modern fragrances (Alahine). When you add in the house’s fascinating history — complete with the notorious style icon, the Duchess of Windsor, as its most ardent fan — and the fact that I’m a history fanatic, then Teo Cabanel becomes a brand that I always root for.
Nevertheless, I always try to be as objective as possible, so I freely admit that not all their scents work for me personally, and none have bowled me over like Alahine with its intense, smoldering distinctiveness. Barkhane was fantastic and like a brother to Dior‘s famous Mitzah, but also very flawed. Meloé was elegant and enjoyable, but I’m not one for fresh, citrusy, aromatic scents. Hardcore rose soliflores leave me cold, so I wasn’t moved in the slightest by the much-admired Oha. Lace Garden, however, is right up my alley and the first Téo Cabanel scent in a while that I would consider buying. Much of that is due to a superb first half and the perfume’s very evocative, fluid elegance.
Before I get to Lace Garden, though, I hope you’ll forgive a small digression to briefly summarize Teo Cabanel’s history, given just how many people are unfamiliar with the house. It was founded in 1893 in Algeria by Théodore Cabanel, a talented, very prolific perfumer who moved to Paris in 1908 where he developed well over 150 different perfume formulae. He fast came to the attention of high society, and became a favorite of the Wallis Simpson, the woman for whom King Edward VIII famously gave up the British throne. As Duchess of Windsor, she refused to be without two of Cabanel’s fragrances (Julia and Yasmina), ordering bottles in massive quantities, and Cabanel became her official perfumer.
Unfortunately, over time, the house faded away, but it was reborn in 2003 or 2005 under the direction of Caroline Illacqua who had a distant connection to Cabanel’s daughter. Illacqua brought in Jean-Francois Latty, a very famous perfumer who had created YSL for Men, YSL‘s Jazz, Givenchy III, Van Cleef & Arpel‘s Tsar and, allegedly, Drakkar Noir as well. (If so, I assume he worked alongside Pierre Wargnye who is usually credited with that famous men’s cologne). Latty is now the in-house perfumer for Téo Cabanel and creates all their fragrances, including Lace Garden.
Lace Garden is an eau de parfum that was released in Europe at the start of February. On its website, Téo Cabanel describes it as follows:
Imagine a French garden bathed in soft light: you are experiencing Teo Cabanel’s delicate and romantic Lace Garden perfume… The delicate scents of white flowers have woven a veil of soft lace as an ode to timeless feminine grace.
Let yourself be swept away by just its touch of light lemon ylang-ylang. Now lean closer into the heart of a lavish bouquet of jasmine, orange blossom and tuberose where mysterious magnolia awaits to be discovered. Generous vanilla tints are magnified by a hint of benzoin. In a final wooded powdery accord, Lace Garden rewards your skin with a divine sensation.
The succinct list of notes is:
Lemon, Ylang-Ylang, Magnolia, Orange Blossom, Jasmine, Tuberose, Benzoin, Vanilla, Powdery & Woody Accord.
Lace Garden opens on my skin with a momentary burst of bright, fresh and natural orange blossoms infused with brisk lemons, but they are quickly overwhelmed by waves of dewy, non-indolic, almost green tuberose and milky, petal-soft magnolia. Slivers of woodiness and sweetened benzoin clamour at the edges, while tiny dabs of vanilla hover in the distant background.
What captures my attention is the unusual character of the strong magnolia note. First, the flower is not thick, tropical, buttery, or almost suffocating in its humidity the way magnolia can often be in perfumery. Second, I’ve never encountered the unusual sort milkiness that the flower has here. It smells like the milk of a green fig, mixed with the lightest drop of coconut milk. The result is a silky, white floral note that is almost refreshing in its greenness, while also being sweet in a really natural way.
The tuberose and magnolia may be the main centerpieces of Lace Garden’s bouquet in the opening hour, but the notes are constantly realigning. After only 5 minutes, the lemon and orange blossom drop back, while the jasmine takes their place. 10 minutes after that, Lace Garden grows greener, woodier, and figgier, creating a scent that is more than mere white flowers and seems to incorporate the whole garden. Then, for a little while, the tuberose overshadows the magnolia, with the greenness, figgy milkiness, and woodiness trailing several steps behind. But, to my surprise, 40 minutes in, a relay race begins between the various flowers for supremacy.
The jasmine briefly takes the baton from the tuberose to run beside the figgy, milky magnolia at the head of the pack. Then, the orange blossom moves up to take over. Yet, ten minutes after that, the tuberose and magnolia reemerge as the dominant leaders once more. Throughout this constant back-and-forth, you can sense the ylang-ylang stirring slowly, flexing its muscles on the sidelines, as if it were doing warm-ups in preparation for joining the race.
It’s a complete kaleidoscope but, to be honest, one has to sniff up close constantly to notice a lot of these changes because they are subtle. Complicating matters further is the fact that Lace Garden smells quite differently from afar than up close. From a distance, Lace Garden smells primarily of a green, fresh tuberose that is almost diaphanous in nature and mixed with other, hazier florals and streaks of woodiness, all within a woody cocoon. Well, on left arm at least. On my right arm, Lace Garden was blasting away magnolia far more than tuberose.
If the breakdown of the first hour is hard to outline with specificity, there is one area of absolute consistency: not a single one of these flowers is indolic, blowsy, ripe, buttery, fecal, or mentholated in nature. All of them feel fresh, crisp, and green, as if they were just picked off the tree and then covered in the magnolia’s figgy milk. Furthermore, each flower feels as though it has been used in careful consideration of the overall balance. While you can clearly detect each note and each individual edge in the opening stage, they are all seamlessly melded into a greater whole.
The overall result is a truly exquisite first few hours, and the most Spring-like floral that I’ve encountered in a while. I wish I could adequately convey just how natural, green, and fresh the flowers are; how they simultaneously convey a sense of diaphanous translucency, white light, and emerald greenness; and how their realistic delicacy has some surprising strength (and sillage) to it. Lace Garden is not super complex or edgy by any means, but its simplicity feels like a really nice mix of the classical floral style with modern elements, not to mention an equally modern, airy freshness. And thanks to the unusual magnolia and its figgy milk, Lace Garden also feels different from the average tuberose/white floral blend.
I even like the subtle cleanness that hovers in the background, which says something since I’m pretty sure white musk is part of the perfume and you know my feelings about that note. At first, the cleanness is almost imperceptible, but that changes roughly 40 minutes into Lace Garden’s development when the musk grows in strength. Yet, even then, it never bludgeons you over the head the way the vast majority of mainstream scents do. There is merely a natural sense of freshness, as much from the flowers themselves as from the white musk.
Perhaps the thing that impresses me the most is the sense of expertly crafted contrasts. Lace Garden feels simultaneously:
- rich and strong, yet airily light and delicate;
- crisp and green, but also heady, full, and creamy;
- easygoing, but also elegantly sophisticated.
Or perhaps it’s the fact that Lace Garden’s fluidity feels both effortless and really chic. Its greenness gives the scent a sophisticated crispness, but there is just enough warmth and sweetness to avoid hauteur. At the same time, the lack of indolic, lush, skanky, or ripe elements ensures that the bouquet never tips into the sensuous realm. I suppose one could consider the scent “romantic” by virtue of the flowers it has chosen to use, but Lace Garden is too fresh, natural, and bright to feel that way for me. It’s not languid, indolent, or sensual enough.
For me, Lace Garden’s vibe is a breezy, casual elegance with the sort of cool effortlessness that feels more Italian than anything else. The fragrance may have been inspired by French gardens, but it took me back to Italy, evoking images of willowy women wearing flowing white in some of the famous gardens there. In that sense, it really reminded me of Vero Profumo‘s Mito in style, though the two fragrances are nothing alike in terms of anything but crisp floralcy. I far prefer Lace Garden and think it is much more appealing, but my tuberose obsession obviously plays some part in that.
I realise all of this sounds utterly perfect (to a white floral lover, at least), so I want to make it abundantly clear that Lace Garden is not without its flaws. First, it is ultimately a very simple scent. I really want to emphasize that, though I personally happen to think its simplicity in the first hour is deceiving. Unfortunately, though, you do have to focus and pay attention to see all the nuances and layers. The fact that the perfume appears even simpler from afar than up close doesn’t help matters much.
Second, Lace Garden’s moves a little too quickly from being a subtly shifting kaleidoscope into an unfocused mist. 90 minutes in, it becomes harder and harder for me to separate out the various accords. Up close, the individual flowers are melting into each other. From afar, the scent trail is merely the simplest tuberose bouquet, albeit a wonderfully fresh, green, and bright one.
The result of the blurriness and simplicity issues is a fragrance that doesn’t change much and feels quite linear. At the 2.5 hour mark, Lace Garden has dissolved into a soft haze of white florals just barely dominated by the tuberose but now fully infused with woodiness. In fact, the soft woods have become such a significant part of the scent that I would say the balance of notes is 65% green-white florals, 35% woods — with the numbers tipping more and more towards the woods as time passes. Meanwhile, the figgy milk has disappeared; the lemon is still a tiny blip on the periphery; the clean musk is more pronounced; and the ylang-ylang has given the entire fragrance a velvety soft texture. In the base, the benzoin is beginning to awaken and to make its slow climb upwards. An hour later, it joins the main notes on center stage, adding the thinnest veil of powder on the woody florals, though Lace Garden is not a powdery fragrance as a whole.
The middle of the 5th hour marks the beginning of Lace Garden’s long drydown phase, and the fragrance is starting to feel more like a floral woody musk than a pure floral. Another change is that the orange blossoms have now replaced the tuberose as the dominant flower. What is fascinating to me is that, when I put my nose right on the arm, the orange blossoms emit tiny puffs of something that smells exactly like honey almond cream or honey nut shea. It must be the result of the vanilla and benzoin but, whatever the reason, I wish the almond-like, nutty, honeyed sweetness were a substantial part of the drydown or more easily detected. It is not. Instead, the main bouquet is a simple mix of orange blossoms and white woods, flecked by slightly powdered benzoin with tiny dabs of creamy vanilla. The other flowers have disappeared into a haze.
Honestly, I find the rest of the drydown to be both incredibly dull and a disappointment, so much so that it tempers my enthusiasm for the fragrance. It doesn’t help that its an incredibly long phase and without much change. By the 7th hour, the benzoin-laced woods have fully taken over, and the orange blossoms have turned abstract. At the same time, the vanilla grows stronger, though it’s not really like vanilla per se; it’s more like tonka creaminess than actual vanilla. The white musk still hovers about and might be the reason why the flowers have turned slightly soapy, though orange blossoms can do that on their own.
In essence, Lace Garden now smells like slightly sweet, warm woods lightly streaked with something vaguely approaching orange blossoms, then covered with a thin layer of cleanness and dusted with vanilla-ish tonka that slightly powdered. In one of my tests, the cleanness was quite strongly soapy around the 10th hour, but it was much less so in my other test. In its final hours, Lace Garden is a mere wisp of woodiness that is barely floral but very clean.
Lace Garden has enormous longevity on my skin, good projection, and good sillage. Using 3 smears equal to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle, it lasted more than 13 hours. In two separate tests! (In one, the actual number was 15.75 hours.) Granted, I had to put my nose right on my skin to detect it after the 11th hour, but those numbers are astonishing for my wonky skin, particularly as white florals are the category that die the quickest on me. It has to be the woods, benzoin, and musk that kept it going. In terms of projection, Lace Garden opened with a very airy, light, but surprisingly strong cloud that radiated 3 to 4 inches. That figure dropped to 2 inches at the end of the 2nd hour, and became a skin scent after 4 hours. However, Lace Garden released a scent trail regardless of whether I moved or stood still, and did so well into 9th hour. I’m amazed. The sillage isn’t huge for most of Lace Garden’s lifespan, and the perfume emits only small tendrils, but the first hour was quite a different story. The scent trail seemed to extended more than a foot or so, which is enormous for such a seemingly delicate, airy fragrance.
I think I had substantially more luck with Lace Garden’s longevity and sillage than Parfumistan who is the only other blogger to review the scent. She called it “fleeting,” though she loved Lace Garden and shares many of my feelings about its high quality, its spring-like vibe, and its elegance. Her review reads, in part, as follows:
Lace Garden is a delicate, white floral bouquet which starts with accords highlighten a transparent tubereuse with its classical white flower supporters; jasmine and orangeblossom. The tubereuse is less prominent and more integrated with the rest of the bouquet than in L’Artisan La Chasse aux Papillion or Annick Goutal Gardenia Passion which ar two classics that comes to my mind, when it comes to the tubereuse part, wearing Lace Garden.
She found Lace Garden to be a “lovely, very feminine” fragrance that smelled natural with “no traces of the artifical notes smell which often are present in contemporary ‘high-octave’ florals.” For her, it would be a perfect bridal scent, as well as a general spring and summer one.
On Fragrantica, only one person has tried Lace Garden, and it is a glowing review that also concludes Lace Garden feels both bridal and very feminine. Significantly, it comes from someone who isn’t a hardcore tuberose lover. “Rickydebarco” writes that she normally finds tuberose fragrances to be “too ‘diva-ish'” but “this one is perfection.” Her review reads, in part, as follows:
This new offering from Teo Cabanel is a must try for tuberose and ylang lovers. It opens with a sugary lemon and creamy ylang, which is joined by a buttery tuberose, accented with some jasmine and neroli to tone it down a bit, but tuberose is what stays with you.
The drydown brings in lovely woods, a bit of vanilla to soften and some benzoin to make it last. Although the description lists powdery notes, this is not a powdery fragrance to my nose. It is lovely, creamy, a bit of indoles in the development to give it a sexy vibe, and long lasting. This beauty stayed with me for 12 hours and it even has a tiny bit of sillage left after 12 hours. I used only 2 sprays and it projects well, but in a feminine way, not in a take no prisoners way.
Lace Garden does make me think of lace. It would be a perfect wedding day perfume or the perfect evening scent to go with some new lacy lingerie. Uber feminine, sexy and altogether divine!
I agree with much of that, including the fact that Lace Garden isn’t really a powdery scent, and I clearly had a similar experience in terms of longevity and sillage. However, with apologies to Ricky, who is a reader of the blog, I’m less enthused by the drydown. It was okay, but dull. Generalized “floral woody musks” do little for me, and this version lasted too long in too simplistic a fashion for my tastes. I would have been happier had there been more obvious floralcy (or else, more of an ambered, balsamic feel) on my skin, less haziness, and more delineation. Basically, more character of some kind. Skin chemistry obviously plays a role in terms of what showed up on me but, if this were a $450 Roja Dove or Amouage scent, I would be quite scathing about the drydown.
However, price does make a significant difference in terms of one’s expectations (or finickiness) and Lace Garden is not a $450 fragrance. The 50 ml bottle costs €115. In America, Téo Cabanel florals generally retail for $110 in that size. That’s extremely reasonable for such a high-quality line. In the case of Lace Garden, the beauty of the first few hours is well worth that price, even with the less-than-thrilling drydown. It is the most Spring-like fragrance that I’ve tried in a long time, and a far better floral than both the recent Sunshine from Amouage and Serge Lutens‘ new La Religieuse. Hands down, and by a mile.
Lace Garden is not yet available in the U.S., and it’s also not listed at many European retailers which normally carry the brand. However, Téo Cabanel has a very affordable, sample discovery pack for €9.50, and they ship worldwide. For American readers, the Euro’s current valuation against the dollar makes their prices even more affordable. (Right now, the €115 bottle comes to about $123.)
In short, Lace Garden has evocative, effortless elegance, and I think it would appeal to any woman who loves white florals. So if you’re looking for the perfect Spring scent where the flowers skew fresh and green instead of skanky and indolic, or if you’re a tuberose lover, then Lace Garden should be at the top of your list of things to try.
DISCLOSURE: My sample was courtesy of Téo Cabanel, Paris. That did not influence this review. I do not do paid reviews, my views are my own, and my first obligation is honesty to my readers.