I had such hopes for this one. Les Indes Galantes, the latest fragrance from Parfums MDCI, seemed like such a promising scent based on early reviews, the brand’s focus on quality and luxury, the fragrance’s note list, and the perfumer who created it. Yet, it turned out to be the latest in a trend I’ve experienced repeatedly over the last few months, a trend that is starting to make me feel like a crash test dummy. Again and again, my initial excitement or anticipation over a fragrance ends up crashing head-long into the wall of a very different reality. I know I’m not the easiest person to please, perfume-wise, and I know a number of bloggers felt 2015 wasn’t a great year for new releases, but the repeated crashes into that wall of reality and disappointment are starting to take a toll on me.
Most of the time, it’s the inevitable result of marketing hyperbole but, in the case of Parfums MDCI, it wasn’t completely foolish or irrational to have some hope, particularly since this is the same company that made the superb Chypre Palatin and a number of other things that the niche world really admires. But wearing Les Indes Galantes was a completely different experience than the brand aesthetic, note list, perfumer, and early rave reviews had led me to anticipate. I was genuinely surprised and disappointed at how things turned out. While wearing it, the words “Oh dear” rang through my mind again and again. Part of it is my fault or issue because I hadn’t realised it was meant to be quite so gourmand a fragrance as it turned out to be. The real source of my dismay, however, was the fact that I couldn’t rid myself of thoughts of inexpensive Bath & Body Works products, inexpensive holiday candles, and a rather traumatizing fragrance from Profumum Roma. I have no doubt that hardcore gourmand fiends and Theorema lovers will adore Les Indes Galantes, but I don’t know about everyone else.
Les Indes Galantes is an eau de parfum that was created by Cecile Zarokian and released in 2015. Parfums MDCI describes the scent and its notes as follows:
A refined and voluptuous fragrance, an invitation to travel to an imaginary exotic country. The intoxicating scents of precious spices, flowers, fruits arouse senses and emotions.
Head notes: bergamot, orange, almond, raspberry
Heart notes: coriander, cinnamon, clove, geranium
Base notes: absolute vanilla of Madagascar, sweet notes, leather notes, incense, benjamin [benzoin], labdanum
Les Indes Galantes opens on my skin with sticky, spiced orange jam swirled with vanilla that’s been turned into caramel. Blobs of indeterminate red fruits are plastered on top, but they never translate into “raspberry” in any clear, distinct way. They’re merely an additional level of sticky, syrupy goop. This whole gooey mess is then plastered with sweet cinnamon and a pinch of cloves, wrapped up in a few strands of white musk, then placed on a base which is comprised of a thin sliver of woody smoke. The supposed “incense” smells almost entirely like the burnt part of a creme brulée’s caramelized crust rather than anything liturgical, spiritual, or akin to a real frankincense resinoid. There is no leather, geranium, bergamot, or almond on my skin.
For the most part, Les Indes Galantes’ opening is simply and primarily a cinnamon-spiced orange slathered with a burnt, slightly smoky, intensely sweet caramel sludge. I’m not sure which part is actually sweeter, the orange goo or the sugared vanilla reduced down into caramel concentrate. It doesn’t change for hours except in the volume of its sweetness which starts to balloons a mere 10 minutes into the fragrance’s development. It swallows up the blob of berried red jam in a torrent of vanillic caramel that is given greater density through the introduction of toffee from the labdanum. The clean musk and fake “incense” smokiness grow apace after a few hours.
What strikes me is how much the overall bouquet resembles the scent of things from Bath & Body Works (B&BW), the American beauty chain that sells themed products from scented body lotions to matching candles and plug-in air fresheners. For those of you unfamiliar with the company, it’s a more affordable, lower end version of The Body Shop and one whose candles, in particular, are extremely popular. In the case of MDCI’s perfume, the overall cumulative effect of the labdanum’s toffee, the vanillic caramel, sugar, spices, and clean musk is a lot like a mix of B&BW’s Brown Sugar, Cinnamon Caramel Swirl, and Caramel Pecan candles with a good slug of Yankee Candle‘s Orange Creamsicle and Spiced Orange ones. I personally like B&BW’s candles (unlike the utterly vile Yankee Candle ones which are far worse and whose name is rarely mentioned by people as a positive thing in the perfume context) and I own a few of B&BW’s unsweetened ones, but it’s a house product; it’s not what I expect from an expensive fragrance and particularly not one from MDCI.
Alas for me, when Les Indes Galantes does shift during its first 3 to 4 hours, it merely switches from one sort of candle scent to another, dropping its Spiced Orange tonalities into something that is pure, solid, undiluted B&BW’s Cinnamon Caramel Swirl. And the shift happens quite rapidly. Less than 20 minutes in, the raspberry vanishes completely while the orange becomes this diffuse veil floating in the background. The spices, toffee, caramel, burnt creme brulée, vanilla, clean musk, and the brown and white sugars all fuse into one indistinguishable mass. The sillage seems to shoot up as well, growing from about 4-5 inches in the first few minutes to something that extends about 8-10 inches. My skin tends to amplify sweetness, sugar, and the reach of any fragrances that contain a lot of white musk, so perhaps that’s the issue here.
Then again, judging by the negative reviews for Les Indes Galantes on Fragrantica at this time, I’m not the only one who thought the fragrance resembled a cheap holiday candle in aroma. There are only two comments posted on the site at the moment and both are scathing, perhaps because there is a point at which gourmand excess turns into something else when the balances aren’t right (or when there is a lot of clean musk added in as well). Normally, I leave the comparative review discussion for the end of my post, but I’ll switch things around here because their comments are absolutely on point regarding the way Les Indes Galantes smells on my skin for hours and hours.
So, let’s start with the comment by “Arabian Night,” who says that he or she was flat-out shocked when they smelt Les Indes Galantes. They specifically mentioned Yankee Candle as well, albeit the Yuletide Spice one instead of the Orange Spice that I thought of:
I was a bit shocked when I smelled this. [¶] A syrupy mush of Yankee candle vanilla, cinnamon chewing gum and garish yuletide spices. Tacky, cloying and charmless, less perfume than a Christmas tree fragrance oil.
I’m surprised that MDCI would produce something like this. It’s obnoxious.
The second review is from “Swade” who feels exactly the same way:
Oh my… I didn’t read the review by Arabian Knight before trying this perfume, but he/she is spot on with the Yankee Candle/yuletide spices comparison. Les Indes Galantes (The Amorous Indies) smells EXACTLY like all that. I can’t imagine even Santa’s helpers would want to smell like this! Just wow.
My experiences weren’t identical to theirs in every regard. I want to make clear that the scent on my skin did not resemble a “Christmas tree fragrance oil” in any coniferous sense. To the extent that clove-studded oranges are associated with Christmas, there was some of that but Les Indes Galantes was always a highly caramelized scent above all else. As I mentioned earlier, the orange became a mere backdrop after 20 minutes and the majority of the fragrance, as much as 85% of it, perhaps more, was vanillic caramel, toffee, the charred crust of a creme brulée, and cinnamon.
Roughly 45 minutes into its development, Les Indes Galantes shifts a little in vibe. It still resembles a B&BW’s holiday caramel candle, but there is now a shade more of an actual fragrance feel rather than purely and solely the scent of a house candle. To be specific, Les Indes Galantes now smells like B&BW’s Cinnamon Caramel candle mixed together with a slug of a lighter, thinner, airier, and cleaner version of Profumum Roma‘s foghorn creme brulée vanilla fragrance, Vanitas, and a drop or two of its orange-vanilla-caramel one, Dulcis in Fundo. Well, at least it smells that way when I sniff my arm up close. From afar, the scent trail in the air still smells primarily like a B&BW’s product.
Les Indes Galantes continues to change in minute, incremental steps as time passes. At the end of the 3rd hour and the start of the 4th, Les Indes Galantes shifts again. It grows smokier and, for once, it does have a quasi-incense vibe, though it also bears the scent of charred woods underneath. The scent is now primarily a cinnamon, caramel, toffee swirl joined together with tendrils of smoke. The clean white musk remains, but it is minimal now. There is no fruit, no orange, and no leather. At the top of the 6th hour, the vanilla emerges in its own right and not solely as part of the caramel. The spices fade away to a mere blip in the background, leaving a scent that is primarily a vanilla and caramel swirl with thin ribbons of smokiness. It has finally ceased to smell like a blasted candle! Instead, it now reminds me of the later stages of Guerlain‘s Spiritueuse Double Vanille.
Les Indes Galantes remains as slightly smoky caramel vanilla until its long drydown phase begins at the start of the 9th hour. In essence, the fragrance heads straight back into candle territory because the white musk re-emerges more and more. At the same time, the vanilla turns even more sugary; the labdanum and its toffee tonalities vanish; all final traces of the spices disappear as well; and the caramel becomes a muffled, muted note on the sidelines. What’s left is sugary vanilla with lots of clean musk and an occasional hint of darker caramel. By the middle of the 12th hour, the fragrance is merely a loud, clean, sweet, sugary musk with a rapidly fading vestige of vanilla. In the final hours, all that remains on my skin is sweetened, sugary musk.
Les Indes Galantes had dismayingly excellent longevity on my skin, along with initially loud sillage but moderate projection. Using several smears equal to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle, the fragrance opened with about 3 inches of projection and about 4-5 inches of sillage. Those numbers grew after 20 minutes to roughly 5 inches and 8-10, respectively. They dropped back down 2.5 hours into the fragrance’s development. The projection was about 1.5 to 2 inches, at best, while the scent trail was about 4-5 inches. Les Indes Galantes only became a skin scent on me after 8.5 hours, but I could still smell it easily and without much effort until the 12th hour. It finally died away 16 hours from the start. Again, I have to repeat that my skin amplifies and holds onto fragrances that contain a large amount of sweetness, white musk, or both, so you may have much lower numbers. I should add, though, that I think quantity makes a difference to Les Indes Galantes’ longevity and sillage. When I used the equivalent of one very small spray, it only lasted 10.5 hours; it was sheerer, cleaner, and not quite so voluminous or loud in nature, although it resembled a Yankee Candle even more than ever.
I’ve already mentioned the two negative reviews currently on Fragrantica, so I want to talk about the other side of the equation and how some bloggers really love the scent. Patty at The Perfume Posse thought it was a better and “classier” version of Fendi’s now discontinued Theorema, and less of an “orange creamsicle.” She found the opening to be a “glorious cloud of orange, almond, and vanilla,” while the rest was like a soft, “wafty,” oriental gourmand that didn’t hit you over the head with the gourmand part the way some Guerlains do. She wrote Les Indes Galantes was: “Elegant, soft, warm and so snuggly.”
The Non-Blonde seems to be even more head-over-heels for Les Indes Galantes. She writes, in part:
Les Indes Galantes is a spicy oriental with a massive gourmand streak. I completely agree with Patty of the Posse about the connection to Fendi Theorema, but where she finds the 1998 perfume to be an orange creamsicle I see it as a round and smiling being, like those creatures in the Fendi commercial. It’s a minor difference, but Les Indes Galantes is sharper, heavier, more serious, yet still comforting and cozy. Like a grownup’s home. [¶] The incense and balsamic notes of Les Indes Galantes have a strong bone structure just below the soft surface. […] The spice mix (heavier on the coriander and clove where Theorema is cinnamon) is seductive yet dry enough not to dive head first into a vanilla-benzoin cliche. The steady hand of the talented perfumer assures it.
I suppose I can see the Theorema resemblance, vaguely. I no longer have my sample of the vintage fragrance to do a side-by-side, but I don’t recall the Fendi ever reminding me of a candle, let alone one of the ghastly varieties from Yankee Candle. Theorema was never so sweet on my skin, never so intensely syrupy that it verged on goop. I think the differences are partially what my friend, The Non-Blonde, pointed out, namely how Les Indes Galantes is heavier and sharper. But I also think the balances differ. In my eyes, Cecile Zakorian has amped up the Theorema-like base accords and sweetness to shrill, intensely screechy levels, just as she did for David Jourquin‘s spiced, syrupy explosion, Cuir de R’Eve. (Except this one is cinnamon-driven on my skin instead of clove-driven.) On me, the end result is closer to Profumum’s style of perfumery and its Vanitas than Theorema but that heft is precisely why, in my opinion, the Non-Blonde and Patty think Les Indes Galantes is such a snuggly, seductive, classy scent.
I have a low tolerance for excessive sweetness and gourmand syrups, far lower than either of the two ladies mentioned above, but I think that some people will adore Les Indes Galantes just as much they did. Hardcore gourmand fiends and passionate fans of either Theorema or Vanitas should ignore me and try it for themselves. Taste and note preferences are subjective, so what is an excessively syrupy, spiced (and clean) Yankee Candle for one person may well be a “glorious,” “snuggly,” cloud of class to a gourmand lover. But if you are not a gourmand fiend I don’t think you would enjoy Les Indes Galantes. No way, no how.