Today, I’ll look at three of the new fragrances, Matière Noire, Turbulences, and Contre Moi. In the next post, I’ll cover Mille Feux and Dans La Peau. So, let’s get straight to it.
On its American website, Louis Vuitton describes Matière Noire as follows:
A blend of dark wood and white flowers ventures into a world of mystery[.]
Exploring the universe is the ultimate travel fantasy and most thrilling adventure. Matière Noire plumbs intangible depths with a journey through the darkest, most precious woods, namely patchouli and Laos agarwood. The agarwood’s animal notes are intensified by blackcurrant and contrasted with the whiteness of narcissus and jasmine, a floral vibration that cuts the darkness like a comet. Plumes of sacred notes unfurl on the skin. The disruption is total, almost mystical.
The “Detailed Features” section on that page elaborates further and also adds to the note list. One new mention — cyclamen — is very prominent on my skin. Cyclamen is typically a synthetic fantasy representation of a flower that a lot of people say has no actual scent in nature. The fantasy aroma is an extremely fresh, aquatic, clean, and translucent floralcy. When we combine the additional notes listed in the Detailed Features section with the ones mentioned in LV’s description, the full note list for Matiere Noire is:
Laotian Oud, Blackcurrant, Narcissus, Jasmine sambac, Rose Centifolia [Cabbage Rose or Rose de Mai], Cyclamen, Patchouli, and Incense.
Matiere Noire opens on my skin with a profusion of berries, thanks to fruity patchouli (fruitchouli) mixed with an initially light, small quantity of blackcurrant (cassis). Following on their heels is the cyclamen’s fresh, clean, watery, and thin floralcy, and then the stronger strains of narcissus in all its many facets. In fact, the narcissus ends up being one of the three main notes for almost the entirety of Matiere Noire’s lifetime on my skin, not the oud which practically never shows up. If it’s actually there, it is either fully subsumed within the main floral note or else it’s a minor, tiny dose of some synthetic that has little to none of the properties of genuine, real agarwood except for a passing smokiness.
It’s become clear to me after reading several descriptions of Matiere Noire in mainstream fashion magazines that some people don’t know the scent of narcissus or its range, and they are erroneously confusing it with oud or patchouli as a result. In light of that and of the importance of the narcissus on my skin, let me take a few minutes to explain its olfactory profile because all of its many facets are on display here.
Narcissus is related to daffodils, but I find its scent much goes further, isn’t quite so Spring-like or delicate in feel, and can be much more intense, even stinky at times. It often smells of: bitter astringent greenness, dry hay, dry floralcy, rotting vegetation, vegetal muskiness, damp earth, and indolic skankiness. It can also have undertones of grass, minty herbs, incense, rubberiness, and even smoky, gasoline-like vibes at times. Perfumer Ayala Moriel once explained on her blog, Smelly Thoughts (in a section that now seems to have been deleted): “If not handled deftly, narcissus absolute can take on rotting, indolic, and/or smoky undertones, similar to that which may come, respectively, from: hawthorn; an indolic flower like ylang-ylang; or smoky styrax resin.”
The narcissus in Matiere Noire smells like all of that, but what is highlighted in particular is the dry, practically desiccated hay, the astringent green floralcy, the smoky gassiness, the gasoline or diesel-like smokiness, and the hawthorn-like aromas. The latter bears the scent of rotting, decomposing vegetation layered with earthiness, skanky muskiness, and a vague, amorphous woodiness.
While genuine oud can have similar attributes, they smell differently to my nose. It’s not the sort of earthiness, muskiness, smokiness, or dryness that is manifested here. I know what Laotian agarwood smells like and that is not what appears at any point on my skin when I wear Matiere Noire. There is no blue cheese or creamy gorgonzola; no barnyard, leatheriness, resinousness, mushroom, or stinky tofu aromas; no spiciness, tarriness or phenolic elements; and a completely different type of smokiness and muskiness. By the same token, any earthiness, rubberiness, smokiness, or woodiness that appears in Matiere Noire seems to be of the narcissus variety to my nose, not the patchouli kind.
On my skin, it is unquestionably the narcissus that reigns supreme in Matiere Noire, followed by berried fruitiness. Any actual, genuine agarwood that may allegedly exist in this fragrance (colour me highly skeptical) is so hidden within the main note that, to all intents and purposes, it’s practically irrelevant. The significance of that for you is that, if you’re expecting an oud fragrance, I suggest that you temper your expectations by a considerable degree. If that’s what you’re anticipating after reading the note list, I’m not sure how you’ll respond, particularly if you’re unfamiliar with narcissus in all its facets, or even cyclamens.
Matiere Noire transitions quite quickly away from its opening bouquet of aquatic, clean cyclamen flowers layered with fruity floral, almost rose-like, red berries to one that is predominantly narcissus driven. It takes mere minutes. The narcissus is wrapped up with tendrils of the other elements. If I had to estimate the breakdown of notes, I’d say at least 75% of the bouquet consisted of the dry, musky, bitter green, hay-like, smoky, very gaseous and vegetal aromas of the narcissus. The remaining 25% would be, in order of importance and strength, the cassis, the cyclamen, and the fruitchouli.
It’s a sheer, almost vaporous bouquet that flits about like a fragile butterfly, strong in aroma up close but insubstantial in body and weight. Its opening projection is roughly about 3 inches, while the sillage is decent at about 6 inches, though neither number stays there for long.
All the Louis Vuitton fragrances that I’ve tried have been wispy, gauzy vapours with an extremely basic, simplistic, and linear character. Each one seems to focus on three notes, and they rarely change during the fragrance’s development. There is almost no complexity at all. None whatsoever. And there aren’t a ton of nuances, either, although the various facets of the narcissus make Matiere Noire one of fragrance with fractionally more undertones than the rest. But all these fragrances follow the Jean-Claude Ellena or Jo Malone school of minimalism, focusing on only a handful of notes and giving them the most insubstantial treatment possible. The less important notes typically weaken in strength or prominence after 90-120 minutes (sometimes less), the fragrance turns wispy and elusive, but the general gist of the scent remains the same from start to finish.
It’s the same story with Matiere Noire. After 75 minutes, it smells the same as what I described up above, except it feels even simpler than before: vegetal, dry hay, musky narcissus with red berried fruits and fresh, watery, translucent cyclamen, all in a tissue-thin bouquet. It also takes 75 minutes for the opening sillage and projection numbers to drop even further: a mere 1 inch of projection, maybe 1.5 at best, and about 3 inches of sillage. Matiere Noire turns into a skin scent 2.75 hours into its evolution.
By the middle of the 3rd hour, Matiere Noire is mostly a fruity floral centered on cassis, cyclamen, and something vaguely rose-y-ish. Wisps of narcissus linger at the edges, smelling primarily of parched, bleached hay with a bit of smokiness. The fragrance felt as though it were about to die at the 3.5 hour mark, but it lingered on as a sliver on the skin for a bit longer. In its final moments, it’s merely a sweet, sugary powderiness that vaguely floral and clean in nature. In total, Matiere Noire last just a hair over 6 hours.
Fashion magazine editors seem to really like Matiere Noire out of the seven Louis Vuitton fragrances, and a number cited it as their second favourite. I was significantly less impressed. It’s not terrible, but perhaps you have to be a hardcore narcissus lover or fan of fruity-florals to become excited about it.
On Matiere Noire’s Fragrantica page, reviews are mixed, although some of that seems to stem from the “premature death” of the fragrance, as one person put it. I’ll let you read the comments for yourself if you’re interested since I have two other Louis Vuitton fragrances to cover.
Most descriptions of the Louis Vuitton collection that I have read single out Turbulences as the best of the lot, and I would tend to agree. However, like many of the writers, I am a tuberose lover and that makes a big difference. You’re bound to feel quite differently if you are not.
On its U.S. website, Louis Vuitton describes Turbulences as follows:
An extreme tuberose to stir the heart[.]
Discovering faraway lands can sometimes feel like soaring among the clouds. Inspired by a feeling akin to love at first sight, the perfume Turbulences pays tribute to the most narcotic of flowers: the tuberose. Here, it fuses with the most precious petals of jasmine. A light touch of leather, and you swoon. Intensely. Deliciously.
Once again, the Detailed Features section on the page elaborates and adds to the notes. When combining that with the description quoted above, the complete note list for Turbulences looks more like this:
Tuberose, Jasmin grandiflorum, Jasmine Sambac Absolute, May rose [Rose Centifolia], and Leather.
I was surprised to read a claim in New York Magazine‘s feature article on the seven new Louis Vuitton fragrances that Turbulences doesn’t actually contain any tuberose:
It’s described as a tuberose but, unlike Fracas, the queen of all tuberose scents, this one doesn’t actually contain any tuberose. It also doesn’t have the fleshy, carnal quality of Fracas and smells like a gentle mix of orange flower, jasmine, and magnolia. [Emphasis added by me.]
On my skin, Turbulences definitely and unquestionably smells of tuberose, albeit one infused with a surprising, unexpected gardenia note. Not magnolia with its sometimes lemony creaminess, but gardenia. Tuberose’s aroma is occasionally described as being midway between that of gardenia and jasmine, with a few facets similar to each, so that may be one possible explanation.
Turbulences opens with tuberose that smells fresh, sweet, green-white, cool, almost clean, and with the wonderful crystalline liquidity that the real flower possesses. At the same time, though, it is also creamy, softly mushroomy, lightly indolic, and lightly camphorous.
Tuberose absolute can definitely have mushroomy undertones, but the ones here smell far more like gardenia to me, perhaps because of the beautiful creaminess that is at play. Either way, this treatment of tuberose is much less narcotic, heady, and intense than the real thing, although there are still enough of the really beautiful aspects of the flower, even in this light, rather diluted form, to be striking. Having said that, if you’re either hoping for or dreading a fragrance like Fracas, this is not it. Not by a long shot.
Other flowers hover about as well. Within minutes, the sweet refrains of jasmine appear, but its sweetness goes beyond the usual syrupiness and feels practically candied, as though the jasmine had been coated with vanilla sugar. The sugariness cuts through the tuberose’s lightness, freshness, and sweetness as the two flowers circle around each other, but the tuberose always comes out ahead. In the furthest reaches of the background, a solitary rose looks on from the shadows, occasionally fluttering her petals and sending out tremulous vapors of soft, sweet, pale pink cabbage roses. As a whole, Turbulences’ opening bouquet of flowers is dominated, in order of strength, by tuberose, gardenia, jasmine, and rose. It is simultaneously liquidy, mushroomy, creamy, candied, sugared, green, floral, fresh, and lightly indolic.
Roughly 30 minutes in, the tuberose takes over completely, a queen ruling from her throne, and everything else becomes a mere supplicant at her feet. The gardenia-like creaminess and mushroom aromas become stronger than ever. The sugary, syrupy jasmine retreats to the distant background where it joins the increasingly elusive and wimpy rose. A clean white musk takes the jasmine’s old place on center stage. Turbulences is now a tuberose soliflore with gardenia-like facets and clean white musk. That’s it, and that’s how it remains until its very end.
Turbulences was as vaporous as Matiere Noire and had similar numbers for projection, sillage, and longevity. It opened with roughly 2 to 2.5 inches of projection, and about 5 inches of scent trail. It’s a gossamer thin, sheer cloud that is noticeable but discreet at the same time. After 30 minutes, the projection drops to about 1.5 to 2 inches, while the sillage is about 4 inches. Turbulences became a skin scent at the 3.5 hour mark, and lasted 6.25 hours in total. It was a nice scent throughout all that time, nothing distinctive, earth shattering, original, or compelling, but pleasant to wear and moderately refined in feel.
For other reviews and scent experiences, you can turn to Turbulences’ Fragrantica page.
I really looked forward to trying Contre Moi after reading Louis Vuitton’s description on its website:
An unexpected vanilla in a fusional embrace[.]
Contre Moi evokes the fusion of two travelers. A sensual outpouring that lets emotions rush to the surface. Ever fascinated by vanilla, Master Perfumer Jacques Cavallier Belletrud transports it to uncharted territory by giving it unprecedented freshness. Madagascar and Tahitensis vanilla blend in a delicate tulle of orange flower, rose and magnolia petals. A subtle touch of bitter cocoa reaffirms the perfume’s rebellious temperament.
Once again, the “Detailed Features” section provides more specifics, like the three different types of vanilla that were used and the inclusion of ambrette seeds. When those details are added to the cocoa referenced in the description above, the complete note list for Contre Moi looks something like this:
Madagascar vanilla infusion, Madagascar vanilla essence, Tahitian vanilla, Orange Blossom, Rose centifolia [Rose de Mai or cabbage rose], Magnolia essence, Ambrette Seeds & Cocoa.
Contre Moi opens on my skin with vanilla laced with roses. Flickers of orange blossom appear on the sidelines after a few minutes, but the scent from afar is primarily candied, saccharine-sweet vanilla festooned with a few pale pink rose petals.
Roughly 20-25 minutes in, clean and sugary white musk joins the party, and that clinches it. I’ve smelt this scent before. In fact, many, many, many times before, so much so that I can’t single out a particular fragrance. Most of the similar compositions are designer scents and, while Contre Moi has fractionally better quality, it’s only fractional. It’s in the same universe as the heavily candied, vanilla florals done by Dominique Ropion, the king of department store fragrances, for Viktor & Rolf (Flowerbomb), Lancome (La Vie est Belle), or one of their slew of flankers. In the niche field, Contre Moi feels like a cousin to things he’s made for A Lab on Fire (like Mon Musc à Moi) and for the overpriced, pseudo-niche brand, Orlov.
Out of the lot, Contre Moi reminds me most of Flowerbomb with some Prada Candy and Mon Musc à Moi tossed in. It’s as redundant and by-the-numbers as you can get. Go to any Sephora, Macy’s, or TJ Maxx, and you’ll find something extremely similar but for a much lower price. I concede that the white musk is softer, lighter, and less egregious than the amounts that someone like Ropion uses in his dizzying number of La Vie est Belle and Flowerbomb flankers, but it is purely relative. Given Contre Moi’s much higher price as compared to the floral vanilla musks in the mall, that minimal improvement is the very least that one can ask, in my opinion.
Other than price, perhaps the greatest difference between the two types of scent is that Contre Moi is extremely soft and discreet on the skin. Perhaps it’s the lighter hand with the musk which is always a major amplifier of sillage and longevity (one reason why it is so common in modern fragrances), but the more likely reason is that Louis Vuitton equates discreetness with sophistication. (Given the obviousness, trashiness, and loudness of some of their handbags in recent years, this would be a new state of mind for the company, if you ask me.) Unlike some of their in-your-face, gaudier branding, Contre Moi’s floral candy is only strong when smelt up close and in the first hour. But, when the scent is taken as a whole and smelt from afar, it practically amounts to a few vapors.
Like all the other Louis Vuitton fragrances, Contre Moi is simple and doesn’t change much throughout its lifetime. Roughly 20-25 minutes in, the orange blossom joins the vanilla, clean musk, and rose on center stage, and begins to slowly push the other flower to the edges. The rose gives way for a short time, then returns, before receding once again. It’s a back-and-forth dance that continues for a while. At the same time as this is happening, the vanilla’s sweetness amps up, turning into pure saccharine, and the white musk grows louder as well. Have I mentioned Flowerbomb lately? The vibe grows even stronger at the end of the first hour with the mix of sugared candy floss vanilla, sugared musk, and sugared florals. The notes are not only beginning to overlap and they’re also losing their individual character beyond the basics like floralcy or sugariness, especially if I’m smelling Contre Moi on the scent trail in the air around me. By the middle of the second hour, Contre Moi is synthetic, sugared vanilla cotton candy infused with a vaguely rose-ish floralcy and a totally hideous blob of fruited syrup that is the remnants of the orange blossom, all blanketed by a thick layer of fresh, clean white musk. I find it horrifying.
Contre Moi’s drydown begins roughly at the end of the 3rd hour, and it’s an improvement, at least in so far as the sugar has stopped making my teeth hurt, the clean musk is no longer giving me a pounding headache, everything is slightly better modulated at more normal levels, and the end is clearly (blessedly) near. The vanilla continues to be intensely candied and the musk is still strong, but at least the completely abstract, shapeless, unidentifiable floralcy has an enjoyable touch of velvety plush softness to it as well. It’s almost like a sliver of quasi-magnolia-ish creaminess, but it’s difficult to identify the note specifically given how thin, wispy, translucent, and quiet the fragrance is on my skin. In its final hour or two, Contre Moi is nothing more than sugary sweetness with cleanness.
The numbers for Contre Moi are basically the same as for the other two fragrances, only a shade lower. The opening projection was about 2 to 2.5 inches, and the sillage extended 3-4 inches. Both dropped after a mere 35 minutes to about 1.5 inches and 2-3 inches, respectively. Contre Moi became a skin scent after 3 hours, and lasted just a hair over 6 hours in total.
For other reviews and scent experiences, you can turn to Fragrantica.
ALL IN ALL:
I kept my expectations low going into my LV tests, but I have to say, I didn’t expect compositions that were quite so simplistic, wispy, linear, short-lived, mainstream, and commercial in nature. At the very best, and in the most generous interpretation, they’re like a mash-up of Hermes and Maison Francis Kurkdjian in style and aesthetic — from the sheerness of one to the fresh cleanness (and musk deluge) of the other. At other times, I thought a lot of Jo Malone.
All three brands are a perfect parallel for the audience that I think Louis Vuitton is targeting. A Reuters article on the LV launch claims that the move to perfumery is part of the company’s attempt to appeal to “middle-income shoppers amid a downturn in luxury spending” because, until now, “shoppers on more modest incomes have only been catered for by Louis Vuitton’s key chains and very small leather goods, costing around 200-300 euros apiece.” The article added that the company needed “to boost sales growth after a sharp slowdown in the past three years,” and that perfume “has been more resilient to the industry downturn than some parts of the luxury market.”
In my opinion, Louis Vuitton is targeting this specific group, and not hardcore niche perfumistas or true luxury perfume buyers, and that’s why the fragrances all smell as they do: completely familiar, basic, safe, and banal. It’s also why the collection marks off the conventional genres like a check list, focusing on popular notes or even copying the hot designer bestsellers — be it candied floral vanillas like Flowerbomb or, as you will see in the next review when I cover Mille Feux, Tom Ford’s popular Tuscan Leather. The only difference here between a Flowerbomb or Tuscan Leather is there is an extra patina of exclusivity and luxury to the LV name that will appeal to the corporate or social type who would otherwise buy their sheer, soft, fresh, clean, and discreet scents from Hermes, MFK, or even Kilian. The real luxury buyers would go elsewhere, like Roja Dove or Clive Christian. The ones who want big, bold, powerhouse scents would go to Tom Ford or Xerjoff. And the hardcore niche lover would seek something interesting or with a twist, perhaps from Serge Lutens or SHL 777. Louis Vuitton is basically going after the Jo Malone fan who wants a more prestigious name on the label, and that’s it.
In the case of Contre Moi, I don’t think the scent has luxury quality, not as we know it in the niche world, and certainly nothing approaching an interesting take on vanilla. It’s wanna-be quality done in a complete regurgitation of other fragrances, but it’s disguised as something rarefied, exclusive, and unique, and then given a high price. That may be capitalism, but it doesn’t mean it’s not cynical and irritating nonetheless.
I would be much less annoyed if the LV releases were not such insubstantial, wispy, things with an iffy longevity. When I smear on the equivalent of two big sprays from a bottle, I’m not going to be happy when the scent drops in sillage and projection after a mere 35 minutes, it feels close to dying at the 3 hour mark, and I have to keep my nose right on the actual skin to detect its existence. And I’m most certainly not going to be happy when all that comes with a $240, €200, or £180 price tag a bottle. True, there are mini refills that are more reasonable in price at $130, €110, or £100 for a total quantity of 1 oz or 30 ml, but that doesn’t change the fact that longevity and sillage are weak across the LV line as compared to comparable scents from other brands.
[UPDATE 9/12: A reader, Yinghao, kindly informed me that the $240 travel dispenser is necessary to use all the refills, including the cheaper ones. From what one of the LV sales assistants showed her, she says that the travel spray’s internal mechanism must be used and that it’s “impractical” to use the refills by themselves. I haven’t seen them in person, but it sounds as though LV has designed the refill minis in a way that forces you to buy the travel set first, removing the cheaper option as way for you to get around their pricing scheme.]
I suppose I should be relieved that I didn’t experience the 1-hour lifespan for any of these fragrances that someone on Fragrantica did with Mille Feux, but still, my numbers were not great for the price in question. Am I supposed to drown myself in Matiere Noire in order to be able to detect it without effort after 2.75 hours? If I’m using tiny little refill decants to keep prices affordable, that would go through them quickly, and if I’m paying $240 for a full bottle, then I expect better. Not even Hermes has such iffy longevity and presence on my skin, and MFK certainly doesn’t. But it’s a lot like Jo Malone, and that’s not a positive in my eyes.
What does Louis Vuitton really bring to the table that these other brands do not? I’ve already discussed what Contre Moi resembles in my opinion, but the other two compositions have been done much better elsewhere with better longevity, sillage, and frequently a better price as well. MFK has done a narcissus, fruity, rose and patchouli scent with Lumiere Noire Pour Femme. Penhaligon‘s has a much cheaper and significantly more appealing daffodil, narcissus, cassis one with Duchaufour’s radiant Ostara. Both of those fragrances cost less than Matiere Noire and last longer. Ostara may be discontinued, but you can still find it easily. Beautyspin has a large 100 ml bottle for only $86. Compare that to the $240 for similarly sized bottle of Matiere Noire. (For some strange reason, the LV travel spray and refills are the same price as a 100 ml bottle, even though they only amount to 30 ml in total. I guess they think the travel dispenser is worth it. Hmph.)As for Turbulences, if you want a luxury treatment of tuberose and white flowers, Dusita‘s Melodie de L’Amour can’t be beaten for its opulent, radiant, head-spinning, dazzling opening which transitions over time to the same sort of clean white floralcy that marks the LV scent. Yes, it’s more expensive at $295, but it’s a pure parfum and if you’re seeking actual luxury, that is the way to go. It’s got top-notch materials, has a distinctive character, and genuinely stands out from the mass of white florals out there. Otherwise, why not just buy a white floral from Tocca and be done with it? Florence is very pretty, clean, fresh, green-white tuberose, jasmine, and gardenia scent that only costs $68 a bottle. (And it lasts longer than Turbulences, too.)
So, in my opinion, if the point of buying one of these LV fragrances is its quality, exclusivity, and purported luxuriousness, you can do better elsewhere with authentically niche fragrances that smell and perform much better, often for less. If the point is the prettiness of the smell, then you can buy something similar for less elsewhere as well, this time in the mainstream world. Even with my extremely low expectations coming in, I’m simply not swayed by anything that I’ve smelt from Louis Vuitton.
Perhaps you’ll fare better and the fragrances won’t be so disappointing, generic, and boring on your skin, so if any of the three tempt you, then you should give them a try for yourself. It’s a total pass for me.