An ode to trees in three parts, from their dark roots surrounded by damp earth and wilted flowers, to their leaves and inner essence, all the way up to their outer canopy and the sky around it — that’s the goal for a trio of new fragrances from Les Liquides Imaginaires. Saltus and Tellus represent the first two stages in this vertical progression, and will be the focus of today’s review.
Les Liquides Imaginaires is a French fragrance house co-founded in 2013 by Philippe Di Méo. According to his website, the goal was two-fold. The first was to return perfume to its essential origins, both as a ceremonial ritual where incense and resins were burnt as a sacred offering to the gods, and as something that triggered dreams, bewitching fantasies, and new worlds for the individual. The second goal was to create new, modern rituals centered on bewitching, new objects.
Les Liquides Imaginaires releases fragrances as a thematic collection of trios. The last one was called Eaux Sanguines, and was centered on alcoholic beverages such as port, red wine, and champagne. I always wanted to try them, not only because I love boozy fragrances of all kind, but also because the brilliant photographer (and now my friend), Roberto Greco, had such a gorgeous rendition of Bloody Wood, the cherry-port one (which you can see in my post about his work). At the time, Les Liquides Imaginaires was not sold in America, and samples were difficult to come by, so I gave up. (The brand is now sold in America, though it is exclusive to Barney’s.) But when I heard about their latest collection and its new theme, I was determined to try it, so I ordered samples of two of them from Europe.
The Eau Arborante Collection was released in early 2015, and each fragrance in the set is an eau de parfum. At the time I ordered my samples, I knew the thematic link between the fragrances, but didn’t realise that they were meant to literally capture the scent of a tree from top to bottom. I was simply driven by the great set of earthy, woody, dark notes for Saltus and Tellus. (The third one, Succus, didn’t capture my attention with its fresher ingredients, and I turned away at the description of an “airy and solar” scent that was like a perfume “in flight.”) For whatever reason, First in Fragrance‘s passing reference in one summation about “a vertical journey from the earth to the sky […] that takes us from the roots to the crown” simply didn’t register. Now that it does, I have to say, I’m impressed on an intellectual level. Vertical progression seems like quite a novel, original approach. On a concrete olfactory level, however, I’m less enthused about the actual smell of the two fragrances, thanks to an accord that forms a unifying, thematic backbone linking them together.
Tellus is the opening salvo, an earthy “terrestrial” eau de parfum created by Nadège Le Garlantezec, and meant to be the darkest of the trio. Its official description and notes quoted on First in Fragrance read in relevant part as follows:
The Spirit of the Earth
Nose in the soil, buried in the undergrowth, stirring smells of roots and fungus. Damp soil scented with wilted flowers, burrowing animals and the changing of the seasons. Planted deep within Mother Earth, the tree draws its strength from the nutrient-providing decaying matter of humus.
Top Notes: Earth, Patchouly, Cashmeran
Heart Notes: Lily, Costus, Moss
Base Notes: Ambroxan, Fir Balsam, Labdanum [amber].
Tellus is a fragrance that has three major phases on my skin, and the first one is centered primarily on earthy patchouli. The perfume opens with earth that has been sweetened with patchouli, amber, and milkiness before being covered with a thin veil of moss. The patchouli adds woodiness as well as spiciness, while the labdanum and ambroxan create a dark warmth. A quiet suggestion of smoke curls up at the edges. Minutes later, sweet pine saps drips down onto the earthy, spicy wood bouquet.
For the most part, Tellus smells primarily of patchouli in all its different facets, from the woody to the smoky, earthy, lightly sweetened, darkly spicy, and warmly golden. Even the nebulous, nondescript “moss” replicates the green leafy side of the note, though it is very subtle here. The key difference is that this patchouli happens to be streaked with small rivulets of sweet sap and a subtle milkiness. The latter never feels like lily, actual milk, or like any visibly identifiable note for that matter. It’s merely an abstract note that is quietly lactonic, and it doesn’t last for long. Roughly 10 minutes in, it fades into the background along with the moss, while the sweet pine sap takes their place. It’s a pretty note, but vastly overshadowed by the Ambroxan which grows stronger by the minute.
For most of its first hour, Tellus smells of simple sap-drizzled patchouli in all its forms, flecked with a touch of milkiness and then wrapped up in an amber cocoon. The notes are integrated well at this point, even the Ambroxan, though it gives me a headache if I smell Tellus up close. Yet, something about the scent feels very elusive. Part of it is the fact that almost all the notes feel simply like a different side of the patchouli, are swallowed up by it (particularly the moss), and thereby lose their individuality. Part of it is that the overall scent is intangibly thin in how it ripples and weaves on my skin. While Tellus is strong up close, it’s much lighter and airier in body than I had expected. It’s also not as dark, at least not initially. The golden sap and amber prevent Tellus feeling like the heart of darkness or staking it firmly into the humus earth of the forest floor.
Roughly 30 minutes in, Tellus starts the transition to its main phase by taking on a noticeable smokiness. I can’t pinpoint from whence it stems but I think the Ambroxan may be responsible, because something in Tellus is starting to grow more high-pitched and raspy — and Ambroxan is a very powerful aromachemical. It is also manifesting a woody-cedar nuance that feels desiccated. Whatever the source of the raspy smoke, its sharpness is jarring in contract to the smoothness of the other notes. Lurking at Tellus’ edges is a flicker of greenness, though it feels more like patchouli’s leafy and camphorous side emerging rather than actual oakmoss. The milkiness has faded away; the pine sap is a ghostly suggestion rather than a solid, strong note; and the patchouli’s earthiness is increasingly overshadowed by its woody side.
At the end of the first hour and start of the second, Tellus smells like patchouli heavily infused with cypriol (nagarmotha) and Ambroxan in a mix whose overall bouquet and shrill pitch strongly resemble Tom Ford‘s Patchouli Absolu. All the thematic talk of trees in vertical progression and the minor touch of pine sap can’t change the fact that Tellus is primarily a patchouli scent on my skin for its entire first stage. I’m disappointed, especially as I had expected a “terrestrial” aroma like the mossy, fungal, balsamic earthiness of Oriza L. Legrand‘s Chypre Mousse.
I’m even more frustrated by Tellus’ second and heart phase where scratchy, woody smokiness takes center stage. It starts roughly 90 minutes in, when the scent turns smokier, drier, and woodier. The pine sap dries up, the amber no longer emits warmth, and the cypriol-like smokiness far overshadows any possible earthy, mossy, or milky qualities. There is no cypriol officially listed in Tellus’ notes, but something mimics its woody, smoky, desiccated, raspy, almost leathered qualities to a “T” on my skin. Perfumers often use cypriol oil as a base for synthetic oud, to go with patchouli, or to amplify wood and tobacco aromas. I would not be surprised one bit if cypriol were used in an accord here — particularly given Tellus’ strong resemblance to Tom Ford’s cypriol-dominated Patchouli Absolu, a fragrance that put me off the blasted note forever — but whatever the actual source of the scratchy, bulldozer woody smoke, I find it extremely unpleasant.
By the start of the 3rd hour, Tellus has now become a smoky, vaguely patchouli-ish cypriol scent on my skin, laced with small streaks of earthiness, and the first rumblings of animalic muskiness in the base. The latter clearly stems from the costus root, and has a quietly urinous undertone, though it’s hardly enough to be reminiscent of Kouros, a fragrance which — in vintage form — was probably the single greatest manifestation of animalic costus root at full blast and in powerful quantities. For those unfamiliar with costus root, it bears a similarity to hyraceum in terms of its smell and feel. Here, in Tellus, it is initially a minor, quiet element at first, but it grows very noticeable 2.75 hours into the fragrance’s development. Other than the costus root, most of the other notes feel blurry, and few of them can be readily identified in a strong, clearly delineated way. More and more, Tellus is merely a mix of smoky, spicy, sharply arid, urinously musky, and charred, cypriol-like woodiness. None of it smells smooth, and all of it is scratchy in feel.
The costus root surges up from the base when Tellus’ third stage begins near the end of the 3rd hour and the start of the 4th. The perfume is now mainly burnt, smoky “cypriol” woodiness and urinous animalics all sheathed in musky warmth. Sometimes the “cypriol” leads the way, sometimes it’s the costus root, but the two are inextricably intertwined. The Ambroxan continues to be sharp, but so is everything else. Tellus continues as a “cypriol”-costus duet for quite a while, unalleviated in its scratchiness until the top of the 7th hour when the labdanum appears to smoothen out the edges a little. The hyraceum-like costus finally quietens around the same time, leaving a scent that is primarily charred, smoky woods with small streaks of golden labdanum, animalic muskiness, and a drop of spicy patchouli. In its final moments, all that’s left is a wisp of dry, smoky woodiness.
Tellus had good longevity and moderate-to-soft projection on my skin. Using 3 large smears equal to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle, the perfume lasted 10.5 hours. It opened with 3 inches of projection that dropped to about 1.5 after 30 minutes. Tellus turned very thin in body, almost gauzy, after 90 minutes. It was almost like a skin scent by the end of the 2nd hour, but Tellus only turned into a true skin scent 3.75 hours into its development. Thanks to the powerful Ambroxan, it wasn’t hard to detect up close until the end of the 8th hour at which point it took some effort.
There are two reviews for Tellus on Fragrantica. In the first, “Abdullah Alshehri” says simply: “Smelly, heavy, brings headaches, I would not advise him.” (I bet that the strong Ambroxan and/or cypriol was responsible for his headache, since they certainly caused mine.) In the second review, “Deadidol” writes a neutral review about Tellus’ strong patchouli character. He, too, thought Tellus resembled Tom Ford’s Patchouli Absolu, although he likes both fragrances much more than I do:
A boomy, bassy, dusty, terrestrial patchouli bomb. Tellus walks a fine line between dirty and sophisticated, merging cedar with wet soil notes to produce a direct, deep, linear patchouli fragrance. This patchouli leans more green and leafy than chocolatey or mint (directions that patchouli can sometime take) and it’s a little smoky and dry, but the soil lends it a delicate petrichor effect (geosmin, I assume). The result is a straightforward, leafy patchouli that doesn’t veer into hippie territories and manages to stay rugged while holding a sophisticated pose. It’s good, but it’s disturbingly similar to Tom Ford’s recent Patchouli Absolue and I’d have to give the Tom Ford the edge for refinement and durability. This is solid, though, and definitely worth a sniff if you’re after a refined patchouli.
Eh. If you’re after a refined patchouli, I personally would suggest other things. If you’re after smoky woods with patchouli and an even more powerful cypriol profile, and if you don’t mind raspy, scratchy aromachemicals, then perhaps Tellus will be your cup of tea.
Saltus is the second stage in the vertical development, an eau de parfum created by Shyamala Maisondieu that is meant to embody the inside of the tree itself. The official description and notes quoted on First in Fragrance read in relevant part as follows:
The Spirit of the Sap
Scents emanating from inside the tree, just under its bark, from the resinous and camphorated vegetal nectar which ensures its growth. An intense perfume that sweeps us along by the momentum of its organic energy.
Top Notes: Cedar Leaves, Eucalyptus, Camphor
Heart Notes: Storax [styrax resin], Milk
Base Notes: Patchouly, Frankincense, Tonka Bean, Castoreum, Sandalwood.
If Tellus was essentially patchouli-cypriol on my skin, then Saltus is eucalyptus-cypriol. The perfume opens with eucalyptus, camphor, smoky styrax resin, smoky woods, incense, spicy patchouli, and sweet milkiness. The woods have the same smoky, arid, raspiness of Tellus’ cypriol accord, only here there is a leathered undertone, as well as a whiff of burnt leaves like guaiac. The whole thing is slathered with Vick’s Vapor Rub, sprinkled with fresh, aromatic eucalyptus leaves, and bundled up in various forms of smoke. It rests atop a sandalwood base that smells like the same synthetic, scratchy kind so common to Nasomatto fragrances. 15 minutes in, the milkiness fades into the background, while the smoke and eucalyptus grow stronger.
For the entire first hour, Saltus is the eucalyptus-camphor version of Tellus’ cypriol heart phase, only with a minor touch of Tellus’ patchouli and no costus animalics. I had thought Saltus would aim for the resins and sweet sap coursing through a tree’s veins, but there is barely any sweetness here. Instead, the focus is on the tree’s outer body, from its (eucalyptus) leaves to its charred bark. And all of this is happening amidst the remnants of a forest fire where smoke lays heavy in the air, aided by the copious amounts of burnt cypriol roots and a touch of autumnal bonfires. All of it feels sharp with jangly edges, especially after 30 minutes when the fragrance turns drier as the charred smoke surges in strength.
Saltus is generally a very linear fragrance on my skin without substantial or dramatic changes, but there is a brief period of time when the scent improves. At the end of the first hour, the perfume deepens, taking on a supple creaminess in the base. The scratchy raspiness momentarily lessens, and Saltus acquires a faux-sandalwood profile. The wood is inlaid with strong smokiness as well as abstract spices, milkiness, subtle sweetness, and a touch of ambered goldenness. If you squint your eyes and kind of look at it sideways, it’s almost Mysore-ish in its various facets. Yet, the eucalyptus still remains, albeit in less solid, concrete form. Wisps sprout out of the wood like a few scattered leaves, but it’s hardly anything as compared to the start. For a brief moment, Saltus is much pleasanter, though the wood still bears too strong a resemblance to cypriol for my liking.
That phase lasts maybe 30 minutes at best, and then Saltus returns to a bouquet dominated almost entirely by charred, burnt, smoky wood infused with fresh, aromatic eucalyptus leaves. At the start of the 3rd hour, Saltus doubles down on the cypriol and smokiness, evoking images of an eucalyptus grove burning to the ground. It’s a raspy, scratchy scent that hurts my throat, leaving it sore. Unfortunately for me, there is little else to Saltus. It’s a simple mix of smoky woods with eucalyptus until its very last hours when a subtle sweetness replaces the smoky, woody dryness. In its final moments, Saltus dies away as mere eucalyptus sweetness.
Saltus had good longevity on my skin, though less than Tellus, and the same sort of moderate-to-soft projection. Using 3 big smears equal to 2 sprays from an actual bottle, the perfume lasted just under 9 hours. The projection was 4 inches at first, but dropped incrementally over after 90 minutes to roughly 1.5 inches. Saltus became a skin scent midway through the 3rd hour, but was easy to smell up close until the end of the 6th hour.
There is only one review for Saltus on Fragrantica at this time, and it comes from “Deadidol.” For him, Saltus was the best of the new trio and foresty sandalwood-dominated scent that was somewhat in the vein of Diptques‘ Tam Dao:
This is my favorite of the new trio. Like Tellus, it’s an earth-driven woody affair but it’s more resin-based and much more complex. A matte, pencil-cedar and a slightly synthetic sandalwood are merged with delicate medicinal herbs and a murky musk to produce a mossy, earthy, dirty forest kind of scent. It sits somewhere between Tam Dao and Norne, but it’s better than the former yet not as accomplished or dramatic as the latter. A tad synthetic veering brassy at points, but the overall image that it creates is well done. At times, it feels green and dank, and at other times, it comes off like dusty furniture — almost as if you’ve climbed into a cedar chest that’s been in storage for a few decades. It dries down into a vaguely sweet oriental base but the cedar’s there from start to finish to keep the base from going too sugary cliche. Saltus is more evocative than anything else in the line, and I suspect that it’ll come off as a bit too rugged and rough for those who like a more refined, perfumey effect. Personally, I like it a lot and consider to be one of the brand’s better releases, but it’s hardly revelatory. Approach it as a more characterful, nuanced take on the Diptyque and you’ll be in the general vicinity of what this smells like.
It sounds more interesting on him than it did on me, even with the “brassy” synthetics. While I don’t think much of the faux sandalwood Tam Dao, I would have far preferred it to the cypriol-heavy, charred eucalyptus woods I experienced.
My skin tends to amplify both base notes and aromachemicals, so perhaps that is why the Liquides Imaginaires scents were so shrill on me but, even so, neither of them felt particularly special. There was a fantastic idea and theory at play, but the execution fell far short, in my opinion. For me, the end result is too uninteresting, unbalanced, raspy, linear, and thin in body for the price in question: $200 or €175. It’s a total pass for me but, if you’re passionate about either patchouli or smoky, woody scents, then give them a test sniff. You may fare better and, who knows, maybe you’ll even be blown away. But if you hear skepticism in my voice, you would be right.