Frederic Malle & Alber Elbaz Superstitious

Alber Elbaz with Yves Saint Laurent in 1999. Source: buro247.ru

Superstitious is the latest fragrance from Frédéric Malle, created in conjunction with the great couturier, Alber Elbaz. Monsieur Elbaz is perhaps best known for his stunning work at Lanvin in the 2000s, but what is less well-known is that he had his start when Yves Saint-Laurent‘s partner, Pierre Bergé, handpicked him in the late 1990s to take the helm of that august fashion house where he successfully carried on the Maestro’s style, albeit with his own twist.

Alber Elbaz’s signature, The Little Black Dress, for Lanvin. Collage: my own, from photos via Pinterest and Vogue Paris.

At first glance, this might seem to be nothing more than an irrelevant factoid or bit of biographical background, meaningful only to those of us, like myself, who continue to worship Monsieur Saint Laurent (a god, a total fashion god!) because, let’s face it, there is usually no olfactory connection between a couture house’s design style and how their perfumes actually smell.

Superstitious, however, is a rare exception. You could have knocked me over with a spoon when I tried it because the early hours of the scent reflect not only Monsieur Elbaz’s sleek, bold, streamlined, seamless, and incredibly sophisticated personal design aesthetic but also, and above all else, the Yves Saint Laurent olfactory signature as exemplified by its early floral-aldehydic fragrances like (vintage) Rive Gauche and Y. Superstitious was intentionally created to be both vintage and modern in feel, but where it stands out for me is in its early hours when it is a perfect rendition of the grand old style of the YSL classics. I’m unenthused by the fragrance’s second chapter when the Ropion olfactory signature kicks in and Superstitious dissolves into something wholly modern, structureless, and excessively clean, but those early hours were the boldest that I’ve seen from a Malle fragrance in a long, long time.

Superstitious via Liberty London.

Superstitious is an eau de parfum that was created by Dominique Ropion and released earlier this year. The detailed press release provided to me explains that the scent was constructed to mirror, in part, Monsieur Elbaz’ own fashion aesthetic and design. It was also intended to be “[a]n abstract piece of art.” While I typically find press release descriptions to be fluffy hyperbole, in the case of Superstitious, I think their account of the fragrance’s split classic-modern character, its sometimes indeterminate notes, and its olfactory structure is extremely accurate:

Like Alber’s dresses, a mystery of construction and design, I wanted to create a true “classic” – a perfume whose quality is unmistakable but whose ingredients are indefinable. What could be more beautiful? As luck would have it, I’d been working with the great Dominique Ropion for over a year on such a scent: a “grand aldehyde floral” with a classic architecture completely reinterpreted and comprising the most precious of raw materials. After convincing the ever-generous Dominique to give up “his” fragrance, I revealed it to Alber, who immediately fell in love. The two then met and Dominique finished the scent with Alber in mind. […][¶]

Like a couture gown, Dominique adapted his masterpiece to Alber’s wishes, creating a perfume beyond definition, a perfume at once modern and evocative of the great scents of times gone by. It’s a perfume crafted from the most luxurious of raw materials: essence of Turkish rose, Egyptian jasmine, velvety peach and apricot skin, labdanum resinoid, sandalwood, Haitian vetiver, patchouli, musk… each unrecognizable, save for the most fleeting of instants.

Fragrantica adds incense to Superstitious’ note list, but, according to the press release description and the one on the Malle website, the official list of notes is:

 Jasmine, rose, peach, labdanum, vetiver, patchouli, musk, and aldehydes.

Source: empowerrrr.tumblr.com

Superstitious opens on my skin with a cloud of aldehydes that are frothy and sheer. They’re sometimes a bit soapy, sometimes merely a little like an amorphous fizziness and bounce, but they’re softer than the sharp aldehydes that characterized some vintage 1960s and 1970s compositions. The aldehydes may not have the razor quality of Ye Olde Scents, but there is still enough of an edge to them to evoke the classics without making someone like myself, an aldehyde-hater, recoil.

Oakmoss or mousse de chene.

Other notes are infused within. First and foremost is a green moss that smells like old-school mousse de chene: not only does it have woody tree bark tonalities, but also a wonderfully salty and mineralized aspect to it as well. On top of that, it feels as though it’s been mixed with what I would bet is a fair dose of piquant, faintly peppery, and leafy galbanum because the oakmoss has a quiet bite, it’s a little bitter, and it visually skews an unusually dark shade of green. Following on the heels of the oakmoss are vaporous trails of crisp, occasionally tart-sour citruses, sweet peach juice, and pale pink rosebuds that have only just unfurled to release their delicate scent.

“Material Cosmologies,” art by J.D. Doria via his website, jd-doria.com (Direct website link embedded within.)

The thing that makes the aldehydic opening so interesting to me and that makes me come back for appreciative further sniffs is the undercurrent of skanky, musky leather. I don’t quite understand it, given what’s on the note list, but it definitely goes beyond labdanum’s occasionally leatheriness or patchouli’s earthy side. In the past, I’ve noticed that Frederic Malle sometimes omits elements from the official note list like, to give just one example, the cumin that I and numerous other people have detected in Bigarade Concentrée, so maybe that’s the explanation. But whatever the reason or source for the leathery nuance here, the whispers of skanky, musky darkness are a fantastic juxtaposition next to the clean white aldehydes and also add some mystery.

“Turmoil” by Spinella Art. (Direct website link embedded within.)

Changes come to Superstitious like small ripples in the air. Roughly 10 minutes in, the rose joins the main notes on center stage, smelling strangely metallic and continuing the themes of sour and sweet, green and sharp. Pink petals swirl next to nectared peaches that are as soft and light as the fuzz on their skin, as well as an almost Perrier or Fresca-like citrusy aldehydic fizz, salty mosses, green bitterness, a clean freshness, and that elusive, indecipherable whisper of a sexy, faintly musky darkness. The cumulative effect reminds me, for some reason, of a gently heated leather horse saddle hidden deep within a cloud of froth made up of chyprish elements.

“Froth” is actually a word that comes to mind repeatedly in the earliest moments of Superstitious. It’s a scent whose individual components have the substance of air that’s been shot through with strands of metallic steel, effervescents, and resins of leathery muskiness. The result is a set of paradoxes which extends even to the body and weight of the scent: simultaneously strong but sheer, voluminous but also weightless and discreet. It’s a textural signature that marked the older, earlier Malle compositions but not, in my opinion, some of his newer and rather wispy releases like, for example, Eau de Magnolia or Cologne Indelebile.

I don’t know what I expected when I first read of Superstitious all those months ago, but this wasn’t it — and that’s a good thing which I mean as a compliment. Over the last few years, I haven’t been bowled over by any of Malle’s recent releases, finding them to be either banal and uninteresting (see e.g., the two mentioned above) or aggressively synthetic (Monsieur with its excessively harsh, super aromachemical, Amber Xtreme), so I confess I shrugged when news of Superstitious hit the perfume world. Not only was it a rose fragrance (not my thing) with aldehydes (shudder), but the brief press release description posted on some sites made it sounded like yet another scent done in the modern abstract style made so popular by Jean-Claude Ellena, except this was done by a perfumer I dislike even more: Dominique Ropion, the king of department store fragrances and their thousand ghastly flankers (La Vie est Belle, Tresor, Flowerbomb, Alien, etc.), and a man who seems glued to his white musk — the more laundry-like, overpoweringly intrusive, and/or sugary, the better. (I still haven’t recuperated from his godawful 2015 Mon Musc à Moi for ALOF, nor have I forgotten his utterly mediocre but luxury priced, department store-style fragrances for Orlov.) So, news of an “abstract”, aldehydic, rose modern chypre done by Dominique Ropion (of all people) bore zero interest for me except for one thing: Alber Elbaz, a man whose talent I truly admire. Even then, however, my expectations were rock bottom.

So, I mean it quite sincerely when I say that Superstitious is actually an interesting fragrance that is chic, polished, and oddly mysterious in its opening hours. I may not enjoy the 1970s aldehydic style for my own personal use, but it’s done very well here, and, thanks to that undercurrent of slightly dirty, musky leather or earthiness, the scent isn’t another facile, boring, one-dimensional, modern neo-chypre. It has character in its edges, in the angular lines within the frothy cloud, and it isn’t trying to be generically safe. I don’t think it is the easiest fragrance in its opening stages and it’s going to challenge people, even apart from those who share my aldehyde or rose issues, but the opening represents the grandest and most complex Malle to be released in quite a while, in my opinion. I have to emphasize that all of this applies to the opening and the first few hours, not the scent in its subsequent development or later hours, but that first chapter is genuinely complex, interesting, mysterious, and bold. And the specific reason why is because the fragrance intentionally harkens back to the vintage style of old, even if it is melded with modern elements. That vintage style actually trumps the latter and has a boldness of character that I haven’t seen in a Malle fragrance since Portrait of a Lady and Musc Ravageur.

YSL Rive Gauche, vintage 1970s ad. Source: fragrantica.es

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I think I actually enjoy the echoes of YSL’s vintage, 1970s-version Rive Gauche, a scent that traumatized me as a young child with its cut-throat aldehydes. (As I once explained in a post about scented memories, I actually thought RG was hair spray or a bathroom deodorizer when I first smelt it as a 6-year old and, along with Hermes’ Caleche and Ellena’s First for Van Cleef & Arpels, it made me swear off perfume for a while, while also contributing to a life-long hatred of aldehydes.) Superstitious never goes quite as far as any of those scents, thank God, but there are enough echoes here of Rive Gauche’s opening to make me think that the connection may not be wholly accidental. A “classical,” “grand,” neo-vintage-style, floral-aldehydic chyprish scent that shares a definite olfactory aesthetic with the great Yves Saint-Laurent’s most famously angular, floral-aldehydic chyprish release and which is meant to exemplify the man handpicked to be his successor? Surely it’s not a complete coincidence?

Superstitious is a fluid scent in its development, never changing in its fundamental nature during the first few hours, its notes waxing and waning in their movements, darting about the air, sometimes exactly as advertised: “each unrecognizable, save for the most fleeting of instants.” The individual components take turns, rippling in the strong but airy cloud, so it’s really a question of degree and timing as to which one dominates. For the first hour, the race is led by aldehydes, followed by the florals, and then an intertwined blur of fruits, citrus, oakmoss-ish greenness and, in last place, trailing far, far behind, that elusive, ghostly whiff of dirty musk and quasi “leather.”

In middle of the second hour, the order changes to have the florals take the lead, primarily the rose, but with the jasmine close behind, followed by the still angular and occasionally sharp aldehydes. In the third hour, the merest shadow of darkness falls over the race as Superstitious’ woods, vetiver, earth patchouli suddenly appear on the sidelines, smudging the corners of the central aldehydic floral bouquet. The jasmine become the central floral, while the rose retreats to the sidelines.

Montana for his own line and later for Lanvin. Collage: my own, from Pinterest photos.

At this point, Superstitious no longer bears any relation to 1970s vintage Rive Gauche and reminds me a lot of a scent that most of you probably won’t know but which will make some vintage collectors sit up and salivate: Montana‘s glorious 1980s eau de toilette, Parfum de Peau which was much beloved for its boldness, its angular lines, and its symphony of complex floral-leather, chypre notes. Claude Montana was once one of the biggest fashion designers around, he was sometimes compared to Yves Saint Laurent, and his influence ran deep. As a Vanity Fair article elaborates, his seamless sculptural style, his mix of “Germanic” structured militancy with deep femininity, and his powerhouse women not only marked the 1980s, but also influenced many famous designers who followed, “like Alexander McQueen, Riccardo Tisci, Olivier Theyskens, and other talents of the next generation.” Coincidentally, Montana ran Lanvin in the early 1990s, before doing a “Greta Garbo” and disappearing from the industry for 15-20 years. In my opinion, his design aesthetic has quite few similarities with Alber Elbaz, his eventual successor at Lanvin, so it’s quite an interesting parallel that their fragrances share olfactory similarities as well.

Montana Parfum de Peau, original 1986 formulation. Photo: my own.

Montana’s Parfum de Peau was one of my two signature scents in high school and, despite my tastes having changed quite a bit since then, I still hoard numerous bottles of the original formulation (with the navy blue-white writing but without the orange, imprinted bottle symbol), so I did a side by side test and Superstitious’ third hour strongly resembles a softer, more muted version of the Montana’s opening. That’s when big, strong, lush, rose-jasmine florals vied with glittering aldehydes and clean musk over a dark, mossy, earthy, vetiver-patchouli-woody, and increasingly leathery base. Superstitious lacks the robust narcissus-leather-orange blossom middle of vintage, original version Parfum de Peau, never mind the depths of its mossy base, its mildly skanky naughtiness underneath, its 1980s super-charged sillage (you’d never believe this was a mere EDT!), and its potency, but the two fragrances share a host of other notes and definitely inhabit the same universe. In fact, one day I went to lunch with my parents whilst on a fourth test of Superstitious and I smelt a lot like my mother who happened to be wearing Parfum de Peau. (My father thinks vintage Parfum de Peau is one of the best things ever, in part due to its juxtaposition of aldehydic cleanness and a strong dirty narcissus-leather accord; my mother is significantly less enthused by its aldehydes, but wears it for him.)

People often, and quite accurately, describe Parfum de Peau as the olfactory rendition of Claude Montana’s design aesthetic: a juxtaposition of sleek minimalism and abstractness with in-your-face boldness, big lines rendered fluid, and grand structure in a mix of hard and soft, all at the same time. I think the same holds true for both the Alber Elbaz style and for the early hours of his Superstitious fragrance. In fact, as compared to past Malle releases, I find Superstitious a surprisingly fun scent to wear in its early hours. It’s a chameleon that is neither mealy-mouthed nor mainstream bland and wholly generic. (Like Eau de Magnolia.) If the fragrance remained this way and if some of its synthetics didn’t occasionally irritate my throat, I would actually consider buying one of the travel sets for myself.

Source: 123rf.com

Unfortunately, Dominique Ropion’s obsessive white musk fetish kicks in, Superstitious loses its vintage feel, things turn not only modern but dissolve into an amorphous, mainstream-style scent mass without any of the complexity, character, and note delineation of the opening. The first signs of what is to come flicker at the start of the second hour when the Ropion’s white musk crutch slowly, incrementally, begins to blanket the main bouquet, gradually turning everything into a poorly delineated blur centered on abstract white florals with a vaguely jasmine-ish character, etched at the corners with vaguely vetiver-ish chyprish greenness and even fainter smudges of something tangentially earthy. In the middle of the fourth hour, Superstitious turns into an intensely sharp, soapy floral blur with a whisper of greenness but lot of metallic and laundry clean facets. The word “soap” cannot be mentioned enough. Salty, mineralized greenness from mousse de chene and a hint of galbanum? Forget about it. Fresh citruses, distinctly delineated roses with peaches and jasmine? Forget about them, too. Vaguely skanky darkness lurking deep, deep below? Not on your life. Not even the aldehydes survive Ropion’s white musk addiction.

Roughly 4.75 hours in, Superstitious is a shapeless, indeterminate mass that is also a skin scent where a laundry-like musk increasingly squashes the better parts of the scent. At the top of the 6th hour, most of them are strangled to death, while the jasmine turns into the merest ghostly suggestion in the distant background, and the white musk takes over center stage with the vetiver hovering closely behind. Once in a blue moon, there is a fleeting and wholly amorphous suggestion of woodiness that darts by, but it’s so abstract that it’s difficult to pin down or be certain.

Source: Depositphotos.com

For the most part, Superstitious is almost entirely clean laundry musk and soap layered with dark, occasionally smoky vetiver and flecked by what seems to be a wisp of rose-woodiness. I’m not certain about the latter; it’s hard to tell in the midst of so much impressionistic abstraction. Only the vetiver and the increasingly sharp, detergent-like clean musk are crystal clear to me.

Superstitious’ disappointing second chapter lasts quite a while without any change, neither major nor minor. On my skin, it’s a thick blanket of Ropion’s bloody white musk for hours and hours, accentuated by sharp soap bubbles, and with a faintly smoky, faintly woody vetiver subsumed and sublimated with. It’s “modern” in the absolute worst way possible: a wholly indeterminate, wholly generic, utterly anonymous, blur of dissolved notes marked, at best, by laundry cleanness infused with quasi-greenish sharpness. It’s all sans character except for its purely commercial, department store vibe, much like everything that has made Ropion the king of Macy’s fragrances and their flanker clones. It makes my lip curl. I really wish expensive niche houses would stop hiring Ropion and leave him in his natural element to make his inevitable 11th flanker version of La Vie est Belle, 8th version of Alien, 7th version of Flowerbomb, or 6th version of Givenchy Irresistible, all to arrive soon at a TJ Maxx near you. Yes, in case it was not clear before now, I loathe Ropion’s signature style, and I only liked Superstitious when it smelled like something vintage, not like something modern that he created. Unfortunately, his fingerprints are all over the second chapter of Superstitious, and the dissolved, indeterminate, white musk-heavy, abstractly clean, and characterless soapy drydown continues sans cesse until the fragrance finally fades away.

Superstitious had very good longevity, initially strong sillage, and initially good projection that took a while to turn soft. I was provided with a small decant whose aperture spray hole was similar to that on an actual bottle, and I always applied 2 sprays in each test. On average, the fragrance’s opening projection was about 5-6 inches, while the scent trail extended 8-9 inches, something that is quite unusual for the most recent Malle releases. The numbers dropped incrementally every hour. By the end of the 4th hour and the start of the 5th, Superstitious hovered a half-inch above the skin, and the scent trail consisted of vapors that were noticeably mostly when I moved my arms, although the actual bouquet itself was still strong if I sniffed my arm up close. Superstitious turned into a skin scent roughly 6.75 hours into its development, but it didn’t take much effort to detect the scent until the 9th hour. At that point, Superstitious was merely a skin-coating wisp of soapy, white cleanness with an occasional, ghostly suggestion of greenness folded deep within, and the scent remained that way until it finally died away early into the 14th hour.

I found it frustrating to deal with such a bipolar scent, split into two halves, where a bold, angular, interesting, complex, carefully nuanced, almost vintage-smelling and — by Malle standards — almost grand first half quickly dissolves into an utterly shapeless, amorphous modern haze with about as much personality as a wet dish rag soaked in soap, some vetiver essential oil, and Bounce fabric softener. Putting aside my personal feelings about Ropion’s style, the drydown simply doesn’t live up to the first few hours where, for the first time in a longtime, a Malle fragrance seemed on the cusp of offering something genuinely grand, even if it was by their more carefully modulated standards. You will never see a MAAI, Slumberhouse, or something like a Sultan Pasha attar in this brand’s line-up and aesthetic, but Superstitious had the most challenging, in-your-face, devil be damned, sophisticated boldness of any recent Malle release during its opening hours, to the point that even this aldehyde and rose hater initially considered buying a travel set. What on earth happened? Well, if you ask me, Ropion happened.

I would be less peevish if Malle’s prices hadn’t risen so high. When drafting my Retail/ Details section below, I compared the pricing for the March 2015 Cologne Indelebile versus the March 2017 Superstitious. In two years, prices for a 50 ml bottle have gone from $180 to $255, or €120 to €180. The large 100 ml bottles have risen from $260 to $370, or €175 to €260. Those are not minor jumps. And, at those prices, I expect more from a fragrance than merely an interesting opening 2 to 2.5 hours, especially from a house like Frederic Malle and especially when a couturier as legendary as Alber Elbaz has his name on it. I expect something appealing or at least interesting all the way through. In recent years, a number of readers have told me of their frustration with expensive new releases (from a host of different niche brands) quickly turning into the most generic, dissolved, shapeless, and mundane scent imaginable. They ask, “Why don’t brands pay as much attention to the middle and end of a fragrance as they do to the opening hook?” It’s a fair question, and, in my opinion, it applies here, too.

As I mentioned up above, I think Superstitious will be a challenging fragrance for some due to its opening stage(s), but I think an added wrinkle is that the fragrance is also a bit of a chameleon. Its intentionally fluid and abstract structure meant that it didn’t always manifest the interesting parts in its opening on me in a profound, distinct, and clearly delineated way, particularly the depth and strength of the oakmoss, or the dark, musky bits.

Source: Lovethispic.com

On top of that, Superstitious smells quite different on other people. Given the Montana phase on me, I used my poor mother and even my father as test guinea pigs to see how Superstitious smelt on them. It was quite different — and not for the better. The opening white cloud didn’t smell so much of 1970s-style aldehydes as it did soap and Ropion’s laundry clean musk; the oakmoss was a strangled cry that bore absolutely no hint of vintage-style mineralization, saltiness, galbanum, or wooded bark; the peaches were wholly invisible; the citrus turned into amplified sourness on my father but was almost invisible on my mother; there wasn’t even the remotest suggestion of leathery darkness in the opening hour; and everything was significantly less nuanced or complex. It’s as though the white musk had squashed some notes into a whisper, while completely white-washing others. My mother wanly suggested: “There’s something interesting about it…” before trailing off and turning silent. My father was so completely uninterested after the first sniff of his arm that he didn’t even bother to comment, and this is a man who normally likes aldehydic florals or aldehydic chypres (e.g., vintage Habanita, Montana, vintage Galion Sortilege) on women, enjoys discussing perfume in detail, and has no hesitation in spending a small fortune on fragrances that he likes for my mother to wear. Their joint consensus seemed to be a shrug which, I admit, was disappointing because I thought that Superstitious’ opening was great on me. But skin chemistry will not only impact which notes dominate on your skin but also the overall vibe and feel of the scent, and, on top of that, this is a fragrance that was intentionally structured to be esoteric and abstract. So, I really think that its bound to be a bit of a chameleon that will result in quite polarized feelings.

Fragrantica comments reflect that split. One person calls it: “Absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful!” Another breathlessly announces how it smells like luxury soap, says “It’s always been my dream to keep the smell of a luxury aldehydic soap on my skin for hours and hours,” and adds “Long live Dominque Ropion!” at the end. (Clearly, this person is my antithetical opposite on every level imaginable.)

Source: Dreamstime.com Royalty Free stock photos

On the other side of the aisle, the accounts vary in their details, but one thing they have in common is soap or aldehydes. One chap thought Superstitious was an aldehydic-jasmine bomb that was one-dimensional; another called it “Aldehydic to the point that it’s almost medicinal;” and a third found the opening to resembles Lanvin‘s floral aldehydic classic, Arpege, but said the drydown “was different, somewhat synthetic,” and that neither they nor the Barney’s salespeople seemed particularly impressed by the scent. A fourth commentator, “Fillifelle,” wrote, in part, that Superstitious started off on her “with a fresh clean laundry vibe” that was

almost like a white musk effect. [….] I was expecting a dark, sombre scent but got something that mimics an out-of-shower experience. Like you just had the Mother of all baths and emerged spanking fresh and smelling like the epitome of genteel cleanliness. Later stages feature more of a floral sweetness coming from a subtle but elegant peach note. […] It is tempered well with a soft Jasmine and amber base, never becoming too prominent or vulgar. Instead the whole composition is attractive, decorous and ladylike. Just not worth the price tag though.

The “Mother of all baths” and “an out-of-shower” experience sound absolutely dreadful to me but, frankly, I’m not that surprised. It’s Ropion’s bloody white musk that he clings onto so closely that it as well be one of his limbs at this point, and the way he chucks it into fragrances willy nilly. I was lucky in being spared most of the deluge during the first 2 hours and the other notes had a chance to shine through as a result, but Superstitious was a rose version of the “Mother of all baths” on my parents right from the start.

Source: AfricanHideaways.com

Superstitious was also various forms of soap on another Fragrantica poster, “Tapinview” who thought this was actually a very positive thing:

This is a superb post modern interpretation of the aldehyde Jasmine incense floral. Yet, it’s not retro in a fuggy way; it pops and fizzes with a fresh and yes, very ‘soapy’ cleanliness that is truly unique. There is another great review below that talks about soap and vintage, yet expresses that it is not like any ‘vintage’ we know. Yes, it’s so evocative at the same time. I am reminded of having a shower in our ‘bush shower’ on the farm, supposedly reserved for the men working and getting too filthy to wash up inside the house….there would always be a cracked and frazzled sliver of unscented yellow soap in the wire holder….this glorious frag put me right back in that shower under the rainwater tanks on our Eden farm. This incredible top and middle fades to a fairly quiet perfume after a few hours, but retains the hard yellow, UNSCENTED soap reference all the way. This is a glorious fragrance and a real masterpiece. It makes me so happy that artists and visionaries are still at work in fragrance.

Reading that, I think I experienced an entirely different scent altogether, and, honestly, I’m quite relieved because I think my version was far more interesting and complex than various forms of scented and unscented soap in an Australian bush shower. More and more, though, I realise that my experience with Superstitious may be anomalous. Or perhaps my nose and skin are simply different.

Whatever the reason, I think that Superstitious — more than some fragrances — is a fragrance that you better test first, and it is not something to buy blindly. And, in all candour, if you cannot stand any kind of aldehydes, soap, or clean musk, not even in the slightest form, then this may not even be worth sampling. On the other hand, if you love classical floral aldehydic fragrances like vintage Rive Gauche or vintage Caleche (in their early formulations), or if you believe expensive floral soap and clean musk are positive aromas in a scent, then you should rush to order a sample of Superstitious because you’re bound to love it.

For me, it’s a pass, although I shall remember my first few hours with Superstitious positively. If Monsieur Malle were to do a truly vintage-style, “grand” fragrance, from top to bottom, then I would be the first to beat down the doors to try it because the love, appreciation, and knowledge are so clearly there. Next time, perhaps.

Disclosure: My sample was provided by Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Superstitious is an eau de parfum that comes in several sizes. On his U.S. website, Malle offers: a 10 ml refill for $72; 3 x10 ml travel sprays for $180; a small 50 ml bottle for $255; and a large 100 ml bottle for $370. On the EU website, the 10 ml refill is €50, the 3×10 mls cost €125, and the full bottles are priced at €180 and €260, respectively. The UK pricing for the bottles is £158 or £230. A number of retailers only offer the full bottles, not the smaller travel sizes. In the U.S.: Superstitious is available at Malle boutiques, his website, Barney’s, and a few other shops listed on the Malle Stockist link below. Outside of the U.S.: In Canada, Holt Renfrew carries the fragrance. In the U.K., LibertyLes Senteurs, and Selfridges have Superstitious in the 50 ml and 100 ml sizes. In Europe, you can buy it in all the size options from Malle’s EU website linked above and his Paris boutiques. Elsewhere in Europe, Superstitious is available at: First in Fragrance, the NL’s Skins, (which also offers the 3x10ml option in addition to the bottles), France’s Premiere Avenue, Italy’s Alla Violetta, Milan’s Profumo Milano, Belgium’s Parfuma, and Moscow’s Rive Gauche or TSUM. Outside of Europe, you can find Superstitious at Australia’s Mecca Cosmetica, Dubai’s Harvey Nichols, Saudi Arabia’s D’NA, Singapore’s Malmaison by the Hour Glass, and other retailers. You can use the Malle Store Locator to find a location nearest you from Japan to South Africa. Samples: Surrender to Chance sells Superstitious starting at $5.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.

27 thoughts on “Frederic Malle & Alber Elbaz Superstitious

  1. It all started so hopefully! I did actually wear Rive Gauche when it first launched and obviously like aldehydes and the metallic rose vibe, so Superstitious seemed appealing at first. But ….. but ….. white musk – death by laundry musk! Guess I won’t even bother to sample this, and as for the cost – prices are getting ridiculous!

    • You know, I think you should try it, Jillie. I really do, given what you’ve said about your old loves and the notes you enjoy, even if you’ve mentioned that your tastes have moved on a little since then. Perhaps not order an expensive sample from one of the UK sampling sites but, if you’re close to a store that carries the Malle line, then it can’t hurt. The opening has enough of a vintage feel that Superstitious may be a pleasant surprise. Okay, yes, the base eventually takes over and, yes, that Ropion white musk signature/obsession is a frustrating finish to the scent, but perhaps your skin will minimize it or perhaps you may enjoy it nonetheless. As someone who actually wore Rive Gauche (not to mention Caleche), it can’t hurt to try it if you can. So long as you don’t have enormously high expectations, maybe you’ll end up being happily surprised.

  2. The base mon cherie, the base!! With only a few exceptions, modern perfumery can’t save itself with a bad base or no base at all, no matter how good the start! I loved the start but it then fell flat on me, that I thought of the vintages I own in similar style (K de Krizia, Rive Gauche, Miss Dior, Missoni from 1981, even Mystere) that I just can’t justify the price for Supeestitious. A bit cheaper and I would have bought it, but not at that price point. I couldn’t get the relation to Montana but then again when I wear it, or La Nuit, i just do it to feel dirtier than cleaner!
    Have a good weekend Kafka!!

    • I know, you’re right, it’s all about the base, and that’s one of the issues that I have with Ropion fragrances. I find his bases are usually an overly lazy, overly simplistic reliance on heavy-handed amounts of white musk and/or sugared white musk. He’s not the only perfumer who does this, but he’s one of the ones who receives the greatest amount of adulation. I find it quite bizarre.

      BTW, I’m so happy to discover another Montana fan! But is it actually dirty or intensively dirty on you? Interesting. How I’d like to smell it on your arm.

      You own and wear Rive Gauche??! Hahaha. That made me laugh to no end. If we ever meet, promise to wear the Montana or Kouros instead, and to keep the Rive Gauche a hundred miles away. 😛 😉 😛

      • It isn’t veeeery dirty, I find the Animalis base in the original release far smoother/warmer than skanky.
        If we meet I’ll layer; Montana vs Kouros 🙂

  3. I’ve enjoyed your blog for years, Kafkaesque, and I am so glad you are back. I had to post my first comment after reading about your lovely parents (and expert perfume test subjects). It must be wonderful to discuss perfumes with them! Their lack of interest in Superstitious, along with your comprehensive review, settles it for me. I don’t think I will go out of my way to pursue even a sample. I am always looking for the rare modern perfume that I find “just as good vintage” but it sounds as though Superstitious is not going to be one of those…too bad!

    As a lover of vintages, I have to agree with Alex that when modern perfumes go wrong, “it is all about the base.” There are very, very few modern scents that I enjoy right through to the end, while the basenotes in my vintages are just delicious and often my favorite phase of all (Miss Dior, Shalimar, Jolie Madame, Bellodgia…I could go on and on).

    I haven’t tried even a fraction of Ropion’s vast recent output, but I do think My Queen (2005), Aimez Moi (1995), and Krazy Krizia (1991) are well composed and unique perfumes. A skilled perfumer influenced by market forces?

    • I’m very lucky indeed to have parents with whom I can discuss perfume in detail. I was raised in a pretty hardcore perfumista family where everyone from my parents to my siblings each had their own perfume collections and took it absolutely for granted that perfume was a daily fact of life. I was given my first bottles of perfume at age 5, starter kit “baby” perfumes of sorts, at least in my parents’ eyes: Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps and Cacharel, Cacharel. I was always more intrigued by everyone else’s stuff, so I would go through my father’s, mother’s, brother’s, and sisters’ stuff and spray willy nilly behind their backs. LOL. The foundation of my perfume knowledge comes from all of them (and those secret spraying sessions of their most expensive stuff, both when I was tiny and in all the years after as I grew up. If my brother only knew how much of his Kouros, Antaeus, and Lagerfeld I used up, he’d kill me. Heh.) Anyway, to this day, whenever I test a fragrance with even the slightest bit of a vintage feel, I go straight to my parents to use them as additional test subjects and guinea pigs. The funny thing is, none of my close friends were ever really into perfume, not in school nor as an adult, so when I discover something glorious — be it vintage or modern — it’s my parents whom I know will really be interested and who I go to share my discovery.

      I agree with you on the bases in the old vintage legends, particularly the absolutely addictive base of vintage Shalimar extrait (pre-1980s) but, just out of curiosity, how long does Jolie Madame last on you? My skin seems to eat through it like crazy.

      Dominique Ropion is undoubtedly a brilliantly skilled perfumer and, yes, he does create what is asked of him, but I find much of his recent work to be incredibly lazy: either an easy regurgitation of his financially successful, big hits like La Vie est Belle, etc, or the most minor tweaking of generic mainstream templates. (The Orlov collection demonstrated that to a T.) And I find his bases are not just ridiculously simplistic but also carelessly heavy-handed and banal. Sloshes of white musk, often accompanied by some cheap vanillin and perhaps a slug of a woody musk, if even that. Honestly, why the man is worshiped so endlessly as such a god, I have no idea.

      With regard to Superstitious, enough vintage lovers enjoy it for me to think it might be worth your while to try it. Put aside my review, and give it a sniff if you can. Perhaps my review can help to keep your expectations low and perhaps you shouldn’t spend a lot of money on a big sample, but it can’t hurt to simply sample it if you’re near a Barney’s or other store that carries it. I wouldn’t recommend Superstitious to everyone and I never recommend blind buys of expensive full bottles, but to a vintage lover who doesn’t mind aldehydes, yes, a passing test sniff can’t hurt. 🙂

      PS — Where are my manners? Welcome to the blog! I hope you’ll stop lurking and feel comfortable enough to pop by again. 🙂

      • Dear Kafkaesque-

        Thanks for the warm welcome to your discussions! Again, you are so lucky to share a life long interest in perfumes with your parents. My parents are very sweet, but I cannot think of a topic that interests them less. I will have this connection, I hope, with my younger daughter who has a fine little nose. My older daughter (a future neuroscientist) dislikes perfumes but is willing to talk to me from time to time about the perception of smells, memory, and cognition.

        You asked about the longevity of Jolie Madame: I find it lasts very well on me, and I usually expect perfumes to give me at least a full day of wear. I have a few different vintage versions–an EDT, a few parfums. The older, the better with JM I think. I tested a recent EDT, 1980’s?, and I did not enjoy it very much. I think newer bottles may have lost the violet and become more aldehydic and leathery? I’m just guessing…

        Laurie Erickson’s Wood Violet (Sonoma Scent Studios) has some of the character of JM, with a modern (but nicely done) wood base. I’ve also been wondering about the The Different Company’s I Miss Violet.

        And I will not be such a vintage-loving curmudgeon and test Superstitious…

  4. Just for fun, I tracked down Ropion’s list of fumes here: http://www.nstperfume.com/perfumers-l-to-s/dominique-ropion/
    Amarige was the death of me in highschool. For some reason, that was the scent most of the girls in my class latched onto as their ‘sexy grownup’ one. Lord. Disaster. Other than Carnal Flower smelling absolutely fantastic on a friend of mine, the rest is a No. so. I’ll stick to enjoyed Elbaz couture designs in magazines.

    • I linked to Fragrantica’s complete list of Ropion’s perfumes within the review and that list is actually much more complete than the NST one. It includes things like all the Victor & Rolf Flowerbomb fragrances and flankers he’s made, which that NST list doesn’t seem to have. Your NST list also skips all the YSL Paris flankers and a few of the YSL L’Homme flankers, I think.

      With regard to Amarige, it is actually the lone Ropion fragrance that I love, at least in its vintage form. But I know Amarige is a deeply polarizing scent. Even hated, perhaps. The endless Amarige smelly strips with magazines during the late 80s and early 90s and over-application in some quarters didn’t help its cause, as they made Amarige quite an intrusive presence. So, I’m not surprised that you were fed up with it. I sympathize. I know a lot of people share your feelings. 🙂

      • How did I miss that link???? Will follow up.
        I know Amarige is a love/hate. I remember being intrigued at first. But yes. The social overdose got associated with lots of negative for me. I should probably give it a go again but has it been reformulated?

        • Everything’s been reformulated since the days of old, love. Everything. And, yes, that one, too. You might surprise yourself if you gave it a sniff now. Well, the original version if you find it on eBay. It has neroli, mimosa, fruits, and a warm, woody base. On the other hand, it also has gardenia which I know you’re iffy on and tuberose. I can’t recall how you feel about peach. Here’s Fragrantica’s note list if you want to give it a quick glance:
          https://www.fragrantica.com/perfume/Givenchy/Amarige-3.html

          Might be worth seeing if you can find a vintage sample on eBay once you get back to Canada. xox

  5. I’m glad you semi-like this. I agree with you about the latter stages falling apart, but I happily reapply. It actually doesn’t fall apart on me as fast as it does on you. I was able to find a 50ml NIB on eBay for $170, from a gal with obvious bad luck. I watched it for days along with 8 others, before taking the plunge. Like you, Ropion is absolutely not on my radar as a “must try”, but early opinions were positive, so I really HAD to buy it at that price. I started my olfactory journey in the early 1960’s on aldehydes, and although they knocked me over, there was something alluring that started me on my 50+ years obsession with fragrance. I really enjoy the first several hours of this one, so what I paid is worth it. For me, it’s the 80’s powerhouses brought back to life, at least for the first few hours. I’m one of those people that thinks vintage Opium should be enjoyed with abandon, and I do.

    • You got a good price for your bottle, and I’m glad the good parts last longer on you. Just out of curiousity, have you ever tried vintage Montana Parfum de Peau? I will you assume you have but, if you have not, I hope you’ll look into it. Just make sure you do **NOT** get one whose box has an orange bottle logo imprinted on it. That’s the reformulated, less appealing version, not the original one. I have a feeling you’d be quite impressed with the Montana. Talk about 80s powerhouses! But, damn, it’s sophisticated *and* sexy at the same time. Very complex, too, with quite a lengthy list of notes.

      BTW, I couldn’t agree more: vintage Opium should always be enjoyed with abandon! Man, I miss the days when you’d go in a nightclub and Opium would be pulsating out in torrential waves from the dark. Kouros, Antaeus, Coco, Giorgio, and Montana, too. Hm, the good old days, long before Acqua di Gio and the “fresh, clean” mantra took over.

  6. Huh. I’d been avoiding purchasing a sample of Superstitious, but now I think I should give it a try, despite the ridiculous price point. You know I love me an aldehydic floral, but I have been recently disappointed by several new releases, not least Chanel No. 5 L’eau, which was somewhere between “boring” and “disaster.”

    Aldehydes do not *necessarily* or even often smell like soap to me; the worst offender actually seems to be orange blossom and, yeah, certain white musks. Some white musks I can barely smell — the musk in Carnal Flower, for instance, disappears — and some of them, like whatever is in that No. 5 L’eau, bring to mind the laundry of a cheap hotel. Bleargh. Iris Poudre, on the other hand, smells not of soap but of makeup powder and sparkly snow to me.

    My mother used to wear, interspersed with ’60s No. 5 parfum, Jovan Musk for Women, and Anais Anais, a blandly pretty Coty thing called L’Effleur, which she liked because “it smells like nice soap.” I doubt very much that she would want Superstitious once she found out how much it costs, but I’m tempted to get her a sample without telling her the price of a full bottle.

    • Mals, with your tastes, I think you should ABSOLUTELY get a sample! And, yes, probably for your mother, too.

      I’m not surprised to hear the Chanel No. 5 L’Eau smelled like laundry from a cheap hotel. Iris Poudre has rather different notes, and my guess as to one reason why you like it is because the iris has been mixed with makeup-y ionones (standing in for the “violet”) as well as a whole host of other notes, rather than just citrus, aldehydes, white musk, and ISO E Supercrappy (which can add a powdery touch to fragrances) like the L’Eau.

      This Superstitious is in a whole other league from that abysmal Chanel, at least in its first few hours and before Ropion’s blasted white musk base kicks in. With your tastes, I really recommend that you give it a shot, and I’m telling you this as your Perfume Antithesis/Evil Twin. 😉

  7. Your review makes me wanna go back and test Superstition another time, to see if I can get that first two hours of frothy mossy aldehyde mixed with skanky leather 🙂 I’ll see if I’m able to brave the icy salespeople at Malmaison once again!

    • Icy salespeople, oh no! They’re the worst.

      I read your review, Fillifelle, and grinned at the white musk comments. Then I got to the “Mother of all baths” and snorted up my coffee. Whatever you do, do **NOT** try SHL 777’s new Panthea. You’ll run screaming for the hills. Talk about baths, showers, and cleanness! Egads. It makes Superstitious look dirty in comparison.

  8. Just bookmarked Surrender By chance. Thank you for that.
    I got a Fredrich Malle from Premiere Avenue . Got a god deal. Shipping wasn’t all that bad, considering it only took 3 days. Skins on the other hand , not to good. Over a month wait for my order. They said it was in archives . What ? If you had it listed in stock when I ordered it, and have it listed in stock all along , what then is archives. Skins also told my friend that his order was cancelled because they were listing their prices to cheap. You can’t put a sticker on something then after someone pays for it tell them to bad. Essenza Nobile is another one . A really good one is Parfumaria . Good prices , great shipping. Plus they have a very nice sample program. Skins does too. I got some samples with my purchase. You get to sample and then on your next order, you’ll get your money back. Wish they would do that here in the states. Heck, I got Heeley’s Eau Sacree for 180 euros .That included the shipping. Plus Heeley sent me a bunch of free samples. Very nice correspondence with them. Here in the states Eau Sacree cost $230. Not worth it at that price. I like it, that’s why I got it. Going to sample this one. Got a 10% off code from Premiere Avenue for my birthday . Haven’t used it yet. Time to do a little sampling and shopping . Hope you have a great week ahead Kaf. Great review.

  9. Rive Gauche and Caleche were my gateway perfumes (along with Dioressence and Chanel No. 5), so I ran out to sample Superstitious. It was gorgeous love for the first 2-3 hours and then a big shoulder shrug. So I won’t buy a bottle, but I never miss a stop at Barneys to spritz with abandon before the rest of my mall errands. Superstitious certainly takes the sting out of the Apple store, although the Geniuses there might not agree.

  10. And it started off so promising… well, aldehydes really aren’t my thing, and neither are “grand florals” or green scents, but still, I was intrigued.
    We’ve talked about Alber Elbaz here before, I think. I love the man and want to see him design again. I’m sad to see this fragrance doesn’t do his genius justice, though I’m not surprised.

  11. Intrigued by the first part and, although not a fan of white musk, not too scared of the second part, I am waiting to try Superstitious. I honestly have no idea if I’ll like it or not, but surely want to experience it.

  12. I tend to have difficulties with vintage-style aldehydic floral. Maybe it’s the particular aldehyde employed, they are usually fuzzy and tickle my nose in an annoying way. But I loved the aldehydic opening in Superstitious! I don’t know why, but it feels like metal, smooth and waxy on the surface but with a defined edge, the right kind of modern perfume for me!

    But I have to agree that the dry down is less impressive, even though I’m not as sensitive with the white musk as you. I’m wondering if it’s their intention to please the vintage lovers and modern demographic at once?

    If one day I can find a perfume with the modern aldehyde in Superstitious but with a vintage rich base, that would be the winner aldehydic floral for me. In the meantime, I might be acquiring a 10 ml tube just for the aldehyde opening. 😛

  13. I tried today Superstitious. In my perception it has nothing to do with classic aldehydes like No 5, Rive Gauche. At first a sharp blast of something, than a weird smell of peach with a dirty background ( the peach reminded me of Fraîche Passiflore MPG, but that one was more pleasant) and in the drydown a vague smell of laundry. I love aldehyde perfumes, but not this one. Disappointed? not really. I am not a fan of F. Malle perfumes, generally speaking.

    • No, it definitely didn’t seem to follow the path of the classic aldehyde style on your skin during its opening. But, yes, the drydown definitely does have white musk’s laundry aroma. Unfortunately.

  14. So enjoyed reading this review! Your analysis caused things to fall into place for me. At first sniff, I loved Superstitious. Now I know why! I adored Montana. Still have a partial bottle from back in the day. I’d be thrilled to send you a sample to compare to yours. I’ll send you some vintage Knowing to compare too!

    • First, welcome to the blog, Laura. 🙂 Second, thank you for your really generous, sweet offer, but I couldn’t possibly accept. Vintage Montana is precious, I already have several bottles, and even the tiniest sample from you would reduce your already partial bottle. Your thoughtfulness in offering is more than gift enough, Laura. I’m very touched, so thank you. And I’m so pleased I could help you pinpoint the reason why Superstitious resonated with you. 🙂 Have a lovely evening and thank you again.

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