Hiram Green‘s latest release, Dilettante, is rather deceiving at first glance. You’d think it was a simple, sunny soliflore, capturing the essence of an orange tree, from the sunshine gleaming around its lush floral petals to the unripened, green (neroli) fruits hanging on the spicy, bitter petitgrain of its branches, down its trunk to the earth in which it grows. If you thought that, you’d be right because that is partially what the fragrance is about. At least initially…. You see, Dilettante had a surprise in store for me, moving beyond its initial “sunshine, Vitamin C, and orange blossom tree captured in a bottle,” to turn into something molten later on. Truth be told, I’m not sure the version I experienced is the normal one for Dilettante, rather than an atypical oddity due to some strange interaction with my skin, but I was smitten anyway. Irrespective of how the later stages turned out, though, all of it feels like another solid, well-crafted, wonderfully appealing release from this small artisanal house.
I have a lot of respect for Mr. Green, a shy, humble, and gifted perfumer who deserves a lot more attention than he gets, in my opinion. In fact, I think he should be applauded for a really rare trait, one that the best chefs aspire to but not enough perfume houses, if you ask me. Namely, being good to great on consistent basis. Again and again and again, Mr. Green produces solid, good, and sometimes great perfumes that are rich, polished, seamlessly blended, easy to wear, and extremely high-quality for a moderate, reasonable price. There is zero pretension or over-the-top marketing hyperbole; no ever-increasing prices that don’t match the scents in question; and no interest in following the latest hot trend. Just one perfume a year, worked on carefully and quietly with the simple aim of making it the best he can. That’s it.
It’s an ethos that the big companies, some edgy indie hipsters, fashion-oriented agent provocateurs, or Swarovski-loving houses would find to be utterly ludicrous, but I think it’s wonderful. It’s a relief, in fact. It’s why I look forward to Mr. Green’s new release each year, and why I always know that, even if a particular fragrance ends up not working for me, I will always respect its well-crafted bones and its quality, but especially the effort and the heart that is so clearly put into it. So, let’s get to his latest one.
Dilettante is an all-natural, handcrafted eau de parfum that was released this week in the brand’s new bottles. On his website, Mr. Green describes the fragrance simply but poetically — “It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine ” — relying on a lovely quote from Frances Hodgson Burnett. (She’s the author of The Secret Garden, among other great classics. Her Little Lord Fauntleroy was a personal favourite of mine when I was tiny.)
Hiram Green then goes on to describe the inspiration behind Dilettante and (a few of) its notes:
Inspired by such simple pleasures as a stroll through a luscious garden after a rain shower, Hiram Green’s latest perfume, Dilettante, is an enchanted and light-hearted celebration of summer.
Based on a triptych of orange flower, petitgrain and essential oil of orange, Dilettante is an all-natural fruity and floral eau de parfum that is fresh and sweet throughout.
As I’ve learned in the years of trying Mr. Green’s fragrances, his note lists tend to give the merest synopsis of what’s in the fragrances, a broad brush stroke of the basics, even though he creates his rich, strong, perfumes by layering materials one upon another. In both Shangri-La and Voyage, the note list omitted rather prominent elements. In fact, Voyage’s simple 5 note list skipped a fundamental accord that dominated and characterized most of the fragrance on my skin: patchouli with a variety of resins. I think the exact same omission has happened here in Dilettante, because there is simply no way the fragrance that appeared on my skin is merely orange flower, petitgrain, and orange essential oil. I’ll eat a sock if there are only 3 orange-related materials in this scent, I really will. (Okay, maybe a few, good, mouth-filled chews. I’ve written to Hiram Green to see what the future of my stomach will be, and we’ll see what he says.) [Update: Hiram Green says that there are indeed resins in Dilettante, though no patchouli.]
Dilettante opens on my skin with bright, sweet, indolic orange blossoms, the fresher greenness of neroli, and the tart, unripened, green fruits that hang between them. The flowers are splattered with zingy, zesty, but bitter orange oils that evoke the fizzy bite and aromatic freshness of oil squirting from the peel when you run a blade through it. These notes are the top boughs of Dilettante’s tree, but just as powerful are the petitgrain branches or limbs that connect them.
In fact, petitgrain provides the spinal cord for the fragrance in its first 90 minutes, and it’s wonderful. Piquant, aromatically fragrant, quietly spicy, it’s a profusion of bitter orange woodiness (or woody orangeness, depending on how you look at it), and it works really well in adding some teeth to the various forms of fruitiness. The same is true of a quiet vein running through the base that I sensed both times that I tried Dilettante, and that briefly made me think of a slightly bitter, slightly earthy mossiness, the sort of mineralized litchen and woody bark type that you find with some old-school mousse de chene. It’s only a brief, passing suggestion, but what I would absolutely swear to is the fact that there is patchouli in Dilettante. At first, it’s merely a small (but solid) patch of earthiness that eventually barrels into an avalanche of spicy, smoky patchouli, thereby redirecting the focus of the scent. In these earliest moments, though, it’s merely a delicate finishing touch that completes the portrait of an orange tree, painted from its canopy of flowers right down to the earthiness at its base.
Dilettante typically realigns or reassembles its parts 10-15 minutes into its development, turning into something more interesting than an orange blossom, fruity-floral soliflore. The petitgrain essentially takes over, wafting its unisex, spiced, and bitter woodiness, and indirectly transforming the neroli’s green fruits into something more like bigarade, the dark, bitter orange that Frederic Malle highlighted to such effect in his Bigarade Concentrée cologne. The difference is that Dilettante has indolic, lush orange blossom flowers in lieu of sweaty cumin. And it’s got rich body and density, unlike Jean-Claude Ellena’s minimalist impressionistic creations.
On a slightly related side note, I asked my orange blossom-adoring mother to try some Dilettante so I could see how it opened on someone else’s skin. The opening minutes were almost identical, but Dilettante was fresher and barely indolic on her skin. After several minutes, the spicy petitgrain, green neroli, and the earthy, vaguely mossy-ish, patchouli accord in the base grew even more apparent on her than they were on me. I didn’t stick around to sniff the fragrance nonstop on her skin, but I noticed that Dilettante developed into something softer, more rounded, more floral, and purely unisex after 20 minutes, while the spicier, darker, woodier aspects lasted longer on me. In addition, tendrils of smoke appeared on my skin that didn’t on hers. It wasn’t mentholated, camphorous, or minty blackness the way that indolic white flowers can sometimes manifest. Indoles are unquestionably a part of Dilettante’s orange blossoms, but the tendrils also seemed to come from smoky resins. A very similar sort of resin, in fact, to the type used in Hiram Green’s Voyage.
It turns out that those wisps were an early sign of things to come but, before that point arrives, Dilettante’s flowers assert themselves first. Roughly 45 minutes into the fragrance’s development, they take the lead, while the other notes suddenly fall behind. Sometimes, it’s the fruity, green, fresh neroli which takes second place; sometimes, it’s the petitgrain. More often, though, the orange blossoms are trailed by that mysterious patchouli-resin accord that I’m convinced is part of the scent. The effect at the end of the first hour and start of the second is to turn Dilettante from a fresh, citrus orange blossom soliflore into a floral oriental. I’d estimate that 60% of the bouquet on my skin is sweet, honeyed, lush, and indolic floralcy; 25% is patchouli-resin; and the remaining 15% consists of petitgrain wood, small bits of tangy, green fruit pulp, and the fragrant, bitter, aromatic oils of the rind.
There is a new arrival on the scene that hangs over it all, a soft, hazy, golden light that is definitely ambered or resinous in origin. (Or both.) It feels like a radiant, shimmering halo atop the orange blossoms, infusing everything with its oriental warmth. I don’t really see it as summer sunshine, though, because it’s richer, muskier, and heavier than a truly citrusy, crisp, light, breezy summer scent typically is, in my opinion.
Roughly 1.75 hours into its development, Dilettante is primarily and predominantly a seamless blend of entirely indolic, syrupy orange blossoms with spicy patchouli and increasingly smoldering, treacly resins, all stained black at the edges with smoke, then painted golden with amber. Thin veins of neroli and its green citrus fruit lie buried deep within the lush white flowers, but they only pop up occasionally in a clearly delineated, individual fashion. What’s far more noticeable is the leatheriness that the resins ooze over the base, sometimes smelling like smoky styrax, sometimes like birch tar. Meanwhile, up top, what feels like Tolu balsam and cinnamon-scented benzoin wrestle with the equally spicy patchouli, while the sweet floral queen gazes upon all she surveys.
It’s lovely, but it made me think enough of Jardins d’Ecrivains‘ George for me to pull out my bottle and do a side-by-side test. It turns out that there are a lot of significant differences. First, George is minty, immensely mentholated, and camphorous in its opening. It’s also smoky with myrrh, incense, and almost black tea-like notes. It is less dense and far, far, far less resinous in feel than Dilettante. George’s patchouli comes later, so the orange blossom’s main companion is initially various forms of blackness and smoke, followed shortly by birch tar leather. It’s definitely not green, citrusy, fruity, or evocative of an orange tree from top to bottom.
Moreover, its orange blossoms are a lot sweeter and also more translucent in feel, particularly next to the rich, deep body of the flowers in Dilettante. Like many of George’s other notes, the flowers also feel shrilly synthetic and high-pitched when placed alongside Dilettante. The latter has a superior quality (and naturalism) that the materials in George simply cannot match. Finally, Dilettante travels across the gender spectrum with feminine, masculine, and unisex notes, but feels unisex when taken as a whole. I think George skews more masculine because it is darker; it’s more driven by incense and leather than resins and patchouli. Plus, I’d classify George as a floral leather rather than a full floral-oriental. (You can read my floriental post for the factors that I deem important.)
Dilettante’s core bouquet doesn’t change in a major way for several hours to come. Its notes merely shift in their order, nuances, or prominence. With every passing hour, the bouquet feels more resinous, more patchouli heavy, and smoky, although the actual body or weight of the scent grows softer from the 4th hour onwards. About 5.25 hours in, Dilettante is mostly smoky, balsamic resins laced with spicy patchouli, amber, and a rather fluctuating level of something that I can only describe as orange-ness. It’s a hazy indeterminate note that is sometimes fruity, sometimes tart and green, often indolic and always smoky. But it’s not really or truly anything floral on my skin, not in any clear way. It’s more like an accumulation of different facets of an orange tree as glimpsed from under a smothering, molten array of amber and cinnamon-scented, smoky resins. It makes me happy each and every time I sniff my arm.
It lasts for hours upon hours. In fact, Dilettante’s main stage lasts so long — from the 3rd hour until the 10th — that the fragrance feels quite simple and almost linear at times. Even when the drydown begins, Dilettante changes in such small ways that one could argue that it’s merely a continuation of what came before. Essentially, the resins take over, swallowing up the patchouli, wafting cinnamon spiciness, and spreading a wonderfully sexy trail of smoke over everything. I can’t get enough of that smoke! It’s addictive nature lies in the fact that it’s nothing as basic as incense, but it’s also more than mere resins as well. It’s infused with the very last signs of the orange blossom, now reduced to a syrupy, indolic sweetness with a ghostly, elusive hint of fruitiness about it. At the same time, it is gloriously musky, and almost salty. (Ambergris?) The resins themselves have turned wonderfully soft. Even their leatheriness has softened, turning into a warm, quietly musky, skin-like suede that runs like a plush layer under the delectable resin-smoke.
It was this last stage that made up my mind that I wanted (nay, needed) a full bottle of Dilettante for myself. That and the fact that Hiram Green has, once again, given an all-natural fragrance better longevity than any other brand’s natural (non-attar) fragrance. Dilettante consistently lasts 14-15 hours on me with a few spritzes from an atomiser, roughly equal to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle. With a lesser amount, equal to 1 good spray, Dilettante lasted a bit over 11 hours. I never know how Mr. Green manages this feat. A number of all-natural eau de parfums from other brands have a “blink and you miss it” existence on my skin. Even when they’re alive, some of them are so discreet, wispy, and thin that I feel only a German Shepherd’s nose could detect it.
Not Dilettante. With the equivalent of 2 sprays from a bottle, the fragrance opens with 3-4 inches of projection but about 6-7 inches of sillage. The projection drops after 40 minutes to about 2.5 to 2 inches, but the sillage remains strong, and seems to curl up around me, enveloping me in a rich cloud. The numbers only really drop at the end of the 4th hour and the start of the 5th. The projection is about 0.5 inches above the skin, while the sillage is close to the body, unless I move my arms in which case it seems to spread out again. About 6.75 hours in, Dilettante does a strange thing where it lies right on the skin while somehow, bizarrely, also reaching a bit outwards. It’s not really a skin scent, because I can easily detect its smoky, orange-y resins with my nose a mere half an inch away from my arm. They’re readily apparent all the way until the 9th hour, at which point I suppose you can call Dilettante a true skin scent. For an all-natural fragrance, that’s remarkable.
My numbers were slightly lower when I used the equivalent of 1 spray from an actual bottle, basically an inch or two less. This time, though, Dilettante became a skin scent about 5.5 hours into its development. But, as noted earlier, it lasted a bit over 11 hours in total.
One thing that struck me was how quantity impacted the fragrance’s body and weight. With the smaller dose, Dilettante felt lightweight, softer, and more radiant in its first hour. In the second, it was sheerer when smelt from a distance where it was like a gossamer mist of spicy, resinous, fruity, and indolic orange blossoms. In contrast, at a higher dose, Dilettante felt deep, rich, and powerful right from the start, even when smelt from a distance on the scent trail.
Dilettante is too new to have a lot of reviews at this time, but the handful that I’ve read all describe it as a citrusy and orange blossom scent. There is no word of resins at all, so I feel rather like a crazy person, truth be told. I can only tell you what I experienced, though, and point you to other posts to give you a sense of the more typical consensus thus far. First, there is a Fragrantica editorial article, “Twig, Flower and Fruit,” by Jodi Battershell that talks about how Dilettante smells of
the bride’s beautiful (and slightly indolic) orange flowers, the eau de cologne’s twiggy petitigrain and the creamsicle’s sweet essential oil of orange. [¶] These are the dominant aromas in the fragrance, of course, but there are notes and then there are actual ingredients. The opening fresh-squeezed citrus zests suggest a few other hesperides from a nearby grove. I smell the signature waxy, fatty coconut note that I find in all Hiram Green perfumes to date. There’s a touch of something woody that goes beyond the green sticks and leaves of petitgrain. The short list of notes belies the full length and width of the fragrance, but it gives us a synopsis of the plot.
For Patty at The Perfume Posse, Dilettante “quickly became one of [her] top three orange flower perfumes.” She writes, in relevant part:
A gorgeous, light, straigthforward, sunshiney perfume, it shimmers with light. This quickly became one of my top three orange flower perfumes, it just floats. It’s not complicated or layered, it’s beautiful and stays that way, and I love having beautiful perfumes to wear. It reminds me a lot of Shalini without the $900 price tag. Just $165 for 50 mls, which is practically free. I’ve become a huge fan of Hiram Green.
Those are the only reviews that I’ve found so far. At the time of this posting, Dilettante’s Fragrantica page has no reviews. There are two comments there that merely discuss the general meaning of the word “dilettante,” not what the actual fragrance smells like.
You should take very seriously the fact that the two other people who have tried and written about Dilettante thus far had experiences that are so fundamentally different than my own. Again, I can only describe what something smells like on my skin and to my nose; and I have no explanation for why Dilettante’s orange tree and flowers are so suffused with patchouli-resins on me, but not on anyone else. My sample came straight from Hiram Green, and the first 90 minutes are exactly what everyone else recounts. Plus, I tried the fragrance twice, on two arms and in different quantities, only to get the same result. In short, I feel like a crazy person. So, until more reviews come in, it may be safer to assume that my experience was just one of those wonky, extremely strange things that can sometimes happen. [UPDATE/NOTE: As I mentioned in the update up above, Hiram Green has confirmed to me that, yes, there ARE resins in Dilettante, so I’m not crazy, thank God. And my experience may not be so bizarre after all because he also told me that, after recently smelling Dilettante on others, he was struck by how the scent varied from one person to another. He said he’s never made a fragrance that seems to smell so different on each person. You may want to keep that in mind.]
In short, don’t blind buy Dilettante solely because of my accounts of resins, not unless you love citrusy, petit grain, neroli and orange blossom soliflores just as much or even more. If that’s your thing, then I think you’ll be very happy. But anyone motivated just by my resin-patchouli-neroli-orange blossom version should really sample first.
That said, I still plan to buy Dilettante for myself. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable fragrance at all stages, but I’m thrilled with the resinous version that subsequently took over. Plus, I have to say, despite Hiram Green’s self-effacing humility, his fragrances are the furthest thing from a dilettante or amateur’s mediocrity. His consistency in achieving solid, good fragrances time and again is the sign of genuine talent and professional skill. I’m a fan.
Disclosure: My sample was provided by Hiram Green. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.