Cologne Indelebile is the latest fragrance from Frederic Malle, and the first release for the brand under its new Estée Lauder ownership. The word “indelebile” means “indelible” or permanent, and the new Malle is meant to be a “modern yet traditional” eau de cologne that reinterprets the genre partially by lasting “forever.”
Cologne Indelebile was created by Dominique Ropion, and is described on the Malle website as follows:
A clean scent, yet surprisingly magnetic. A modern yet traditional Eau de Cologne that lasts forever. Dominique Ropion embraces musk’s nature as both a quasi-aphrodisiac and a scent of purity to create a very personal interpretation of Eau de Cologne. A splash of the best neroli intertwined with orange blossom, bergamote, and the most technical musks for a scent that endures, and endures, and endures… Cologne Indélébile (Permanent Cologne).
Fragrantica lists its notes as follows:
bergamot and lemon; middle notes are narcissus, orange blossom and neroli; base note is musk.
Cologne Indelebile opens on my skin with juicy, tart, tangy and green neroli, laced with the sweeter veins of orange blossom. On their heels is an unexpected sliver of caramel sweetness, though it fades within seconds, replaced by ripples of crisp bergamot, lemon, and sharp clean musk. The latter initially smells simply like a touch of freshness, but it balloons rapidly and hovers just outside the laundry clean territory.
The overall bouquet feels like a lighter, quieter, cleaner cousin of Estée Lauder’s bestselling Neroli Portofino by its Tom Ford division. Its neroli is brighter, bolder, juicier, and richer, while the musk isn’t initially such a significant presence, though they eventually become more comparable. As a whole, I think the Tom Ford feels more robust and vivid, not quite as thin. It also doesn’t seem to dissolve so quickly in its compositional structure.
Less than 10 minutes in, Cologne Indelebile’s notes grow hazier, and the bergamot, neroli, orange blossom, and musk all meld into a basic, “citrusy neroli” mélange. Part of the problem is that the clean musk grows so conspicuous, it blurs the edges of the rest. The neroli is the strongest of the remaining elements, but Cologne Indelebile is surprisingly wispy in both its individual parts and its overall bouquet at this point. It also doesn’t have much opening projection on my skin. Using 3 smears equal to 2 large sprays from an actual bottle, it opened with a bit less than 3 inches of projection. Using 5 big smears equal to 3 very large sprays or 4 small ones, there was maybe 4 inches at best and, only with that amount, a soft scent trail.
Cologne Indelebile doesn’t have huge complexity on my skin because it is primarily a mix of clean, fresh, green neroli and musk, laced with fluctuating amounts of orange blossom that ebb and flow throughout the perfume’s life. Its nuances change, though, particularly for the orange blossom. At first, it’s not floral, per se, but more of a fruited note that occasionally emits the quietest wisps of non-indolic, fresh, budding flowers on the vine. Later on, Cologne Indelebile turns profoundly floral but, in the first 90 minutes, the orange blossom sometimes seems as though it were about to fade entirely. At other times, it merely provides a juicy orange sweetness that lingers on the sidelines.
There are other elements as well, though they are minor touches in the first 2 hours. In the distant background, a muffled suggestion of crisp lemon darts about, but it’s barely noticeable amidst the powerhouse neroli. In the base, something amorphously woody occasionally stirs, finally becoming clearer about 1.75 hours into Cologne Indelebile’s development. It smells as though a bit of petitgrain had been used as well in order to bottle the whole tree, not just its fruit and flowers. The inexplicable wisp of caramel-ish sweetness also pops back up once in a blue moon as well, but it’s another muted background note.
As always, the white musk hangs over everything but, to my surprise, it’s not wholly intolerable or completely hideous. From afar, it doesn’t even feel overly sharp, at least not at first. To my relief, it doesn’t smell like aggressive amounts of detergent; it’s also not soapy or evocative of the dreaded Bounce drier sheets. Up close, the musk is more pointed, and almost (almost but not quite) verging on a laundry scent, but never to the unbearable extent of the note in some Lutens fragrances, not to mention most of the Jardins d’Ecrivains and Maison Francis Kurkdjian lines. I don’t like it and it’s too much for my personal tastes, but I’ve smelt far, far worse.
Cologne Indelebile changes unexpectedly at the top of the 3rd hour when an sudden creaminess comes out of nowhere to coat the main notes. It’s not precisely like tonka or coumarin, but it’s something more indeterminate that I can’t pinpoint. (It’s definitely nothing like the narcissus that Fragrantica claims as a note. I don’t smell that at any point in the fragrance, and Malle doesn’t mention it either.) Lurking behind the creaminess are wisps of lightly sweetened petitgrain. What surprises me is how the creamy note dilutes and muzzles the citruses, at least momentarily and up close. By the 3.5 hour mark, there is only an amorphous citrusy creaminess flecked by minute slivers of petitgrain woodiness in a muted mix that feels like it’s about to imminently die.
To my disbelief, however, not only does the scent hang on, but the neroli and the orange blossom both return with a vengeance in the middle of the 5th hour, blasting away with enormous force and individual clarity, and growing stronger by the minute. The creaminess fades, while the orange blossom grows very sweet and, on occasion, manifests a soapy undertone as well.
The greater problem is that the musk now feels extremely sharp, especially when smelt up close. Its surge in strength matches a parallel surge in both sillage and projection, as Cologne Indelebile is now suddenly wafting a very large scent trail that it never did before. It is easily half an arm’s length at times, occasionally a bit more. And, for a fragrance that I have noted in both my tests as turning a “skin scent” after 2.75 or 3 hours (depending on quantity), Cologne Indelebile now has 2 inches of projection. It’s a testament to the intensity of clean musk. It really makes the scent radiate. By the start of the 6th hour all the way through to its last one, Cologne Indelebile smells primarily of green neroli and sometimes syrupy, sometimes soapy orange blossom, all drenched in overly sharp musk. In its final moments, all that is left is a wisp of clean, fresh neroli-orange blossom.
As noted above, Cologne Indelebile’s projection and sillage fluctuated sharply on my skin, while its longevity depended strongly on the amount that I applied. I experienced 9.25 hours with the equivalent of 3 large sprays or 4 small ones from an actual bottle, but only 6.5 hours with the equivalent of 2 sprays. Still, that isn’t terrible at all for an eau de cologne concentration. Then again, my skin holds onto scents with large amount of clean musk for an abnormally long period of time. I don’t know how others will fare with Cologne Indelebile, but I think you should get much better longevity than you would with a regular cologne, especially if you don’t apply a modest dab or two.
Regular readers know my loathing for laundry musk and how it can go terribly wrong on my skin when large amounts are used, so I was surprised by how much better I fared than poor Kevin at Now Smell This. I laughed out loud at how he literally re-wrote Malle’s official text to better describe his experiences with the musk — and I do mean, literally. I can’t do his hilarious scratch-through text proper justice by quoting it here, so I urge you read it for yourself. Suffice it to say, he found Cologne Indelebile to be “The clean union of traditional Eau de Cologne with a laundromat,” and not unusually long-lasting, either. Using “power-spray” quantities, he experienced 5 hours before it turned into a skin scent, though he doesn’t mention how long it lasted in full. Either way, he was fed up with the “drone” of its cleanness long before then.
Reviews on Fragrantica are mixed. Some people think Cologne Indelebile is a fresh neroli scent that is perfect for summer, particularly as one person noted that it didn’t need to be repeatedly re-sprayed to last like many fresh colognes do. For a number of people, though, the orange blossom’s floralcy was either “potent,” too “intense” for their tastes, or “heavy” in strength. One chap, “Slapdash,” described the opening phase as “formidable, a rampant lemon-led citrus taking on a monster neroli/orange blossom hybrid that is astringent, metallic and sweet all at once.” He, like a few others, later detected either a “salty skin” quality or a “sort-of-but-not-really marine aquatic” note that evoked the feel of taking a dip after a hot summer’s day and having saltiness left on your skin. Some people experienced soapiness either during the start or the drydown phases, while a few mention an animalic or woody nuance to the musk.
The one firmly negative review on the other side of the scales comes from “ddadam” who found Cologne Indelebile to initially smell cheap before it became a cologne “on steroids,” thanks in parts to a “strong sharp musk that actually made [his] nose run.” He writes, in full:
At first impression it smells like those cheap citrus colognes in plastic bottles from the local drugstore. But here the musk is its backbone. A strong sharp musk that actually made my nose run. The citrusses are nicely present and do not smell like synthetics. This cologne is on such steroids that the cologne keeps radiating! It is an unbelieveble perfomane for such a light weight ingredients cologne. However, the overall effect is actually heacache inducing, where the calming effect of the cologne is lost. So if you can handle the strong musk, youve got yourself a very powerfull cologne that last an incredible time. It is quite boring as it only enfolds citrusses. I think this performs much better than acqua di parma colonia, but then there are many other better interesting colognes out there.
Unlike this poor fellow and Kevin at NST, I didn’t think Cologne Indelebile’s white musk was all that bad until the end, but I might have a case of Stockholm Syndrome after the immediate, wholly hideous avalanche in Jardins d’Ecrivains’ Marlowe and in other scrubbers that I’ve tried over the last few months. Let’s put it this way, I didn’t have the desperate urge to scrub the Malle, even though I was bored out of my mind and wanted it to end.
That said, I agree with Kevin that Cologne Indelebile drones on in a really tedious manner, and that the musk is intense. If I wanted a crisp, very fresh neroli-orange blossom scent with some shrillness and soapiness, then I would opt for Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino. I think it’s a better take on the genre because it’s a brighter, bolder, richer scent with less musk, greater clarity of its notes, and more body. But if a truly airy, refreshing summer cologne is what you want, then I’d suggest Andy Tauer‘s Cologne de Maghreb instead. It has no orange blossom floralcy but aromatics, lemons, lime, a dash of vetiver, and the twist of prominent woodiness in its drydown. It’s a far more interesting, nuanced, even complex scent, in my opinion.
Is Cologne Indelebile generic? Yes, but, let’s be fair, is it really possible for any citrus cologne to be all that novel or distinctive? This is a genre that has been around for nearly 600 years, so all you can do is ask for quality at this point. Your personal skin chemistry and tastes will determine how you see the latter. For Kevin at Now Smell This, his “laundromat” and other comments suggest that he didn’t think the quality existed for the price in question. For others, the scent may be worth it so long as the white musk doesn’t trump all or turn overly sharp. You will have to try it for yourself to see where you fall on the scale. I personally would never wear Cologne Indelebile, but then I avoid both the “fresh, clean” genre and the citrus one like the plague.
As a brief aside, Cologne Indelebile’s price isn’t completely ludicrous, at least for the larger sizes. In a comment to his review at NST, Kevin referenced the fact that a tiny 10 ml spray costs $50, and I agree that that’s laughably steep. However, the 50 ml bottle is $180, as compared to $215 for Neroli Portofino in the same size. You get more bang for your buck with the latter, in my opinion, but Cologne Indelebile is technically cheaper.
The greater problem for me is the disheartening fact that Cologne Indelebile seems designed to appeal to mainstream customers with their love for over-the-top cleanness, rather than those who prefer more distinctive, edgy niche offerings. I know some people will place the blame squarely on Estée Lauder’s shoulders, but I’m not sure that is really fair. Malle has not shied away from either the fresh or the cologne genres in the past. In fact, one of his last independent releases, Eau de Magnolia, was expressly stated to be a cologne in style and inspiration. I thought it was nondescript, simplistic, boring, and quite commercial, in addition to having a sharpness similar to the sort demonstrated here. But Malle has made other scents with commercial, mainstream appeal as well: Lipstick Rose was his version of YSL‘s Paris (and was a scrubber for me with its truly hideous levels of clean musk and other synthetics), while Dries Van Noten was tailored to the modern obsession with gourmands. None of that is on Estée Lauder’s shoulders, so don’t blame them if Malle is appealing to the masses, and opting for more simplistic, safer profiles.
Maybe fresh, citrusy “colognes” have simply become Malle’s thing, the way that “icy, clean, and white” has become an unfortunate Lutens trend. In both cases, though, I wish it would stop.