Poor Christopher Marlowe. He deserves so much better than Marlowe, the ostensible tribute created in his honour by Jardins d’Ecrivains. It is a new fragrance that is meant to encapsulate the complexity, sensuality, and theatrical richness of the Elizabethan era’s literary darling, a brilliant man who was a leading playwright and poet of the times, a handsome man who was a rake, lover, brawler, student of the occult and, allegedly, also a spy for Queen Elizabeth I. Some fringe scholars even think Marlowe is the one who wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare. That is highly unlikely, but there is no doubt that the flamboyant, brilliant Marlowe is a great choice of inspiration for a fragrance. Alas, not only does Jardins d’Ecrivains’ Marlowe fail to represent him in my eyes, I don’t think it would embody any historical legend of any era in any field, other than perhaps the men who founded Procter & Gamble.
Jardins d’Ecrivains is a French perfume house founded by Anaïs Biguine. She creates all their fragrances, taking her inspiration from the twin threads of great literature and the beauty of gardens, like George from George Sand, or Orlando from Virginia Woolf. Marlowe is Ms. Biguine’s latest release and is an eau de parfum which Jardins d’Ecrivains describes as follows:
Christopher Marlowe was the bad boy of Elizabethan theatre. Handsome and good natured, Marlowe was also a spy and a student of the occult.
This scent is dense, heady, feral, and theatrical. The top notes feature the poisonous nectar of the tuberose blended with opulent osmanthus. The middle notes of dried flowers evoke tragic poetry. Hints of powdered leather with chypre make up the base notes.
Top notes : Tuberose – Osmanthus – Elemi
Middle notes : Myrrh – Dried flowers
Base notes : Cashmeran – Cedar – Javanese vetiver -Oakmoss – Labdanum – Tonkin musk – Leather.
If only that wonderful description fit the actual scent in question. It doesn’t on my skin, not by a long shot. Marlowe opens with a fruity, clean powdered note that reminds me strongly of Tang, the old children’s drink powder. It is a surprisingly orange-centric aroma, rather than the apricot that I had expected, and it is suffused with intense cleanness that smells just like Bounce or Gain laundry drier sheets. A whiff of apricots does arrive a minute later, but it is hardly a powerful note and the end result is merely apricot-orange Tang intertwined with laundry-fresh soapiness.
Other notes hover almost mutely at the edges. A smudge of cedar mixes with abstract wisps of greenness and a subtle, musty dustiness that vaguely hints at being myrrh. An amorphous, indistinct white floralcy floats at the edges as well. It ends up making its way to center stage where it merges into the Tang fruit powder and Bounce drier sheets, but it never smells of real osmanthus in any clear, strongly delineated way. It definitely doesn’t smell of tuberose, not one iota. Rather, it’s a generic, synthetic white flower aroma that is lightly imbued with the mere idea of osmanthus apricots via that odd Tang powdered fruitiness. For the most part, Marlowe smells primarily like generically white, floral fruitiness blanketed by soapy white musk.
All of that is a generous attempt at nuance. Marlowe really just smells of drier sheets on my skin. A lot of it. A painful amount of it. And it never changes dramatically from that focal point, either. There are wisps and smudges that pop up here or there over time and, in an attempt to find some layers to this fragrance, I’ll talk about them but, for all intents and purposes, I might easily end this review here and now. Still, let’s endeavour to give this thing a shot.
About 15 minutes into its development, Marlowe shifts a little. A puff of elemi appears (relatively speaking), and adds a slightly clearer quality of “incense” smoke than the poorly delineated myrrh. Tiny ribbons of fresh, clean vetiver follow it, wrapping their way around the floral bouquet. There is no tuberose, oakmoss, leather, labdanum amber, or Tonkin-like animalic musk on my skin. (For what it’s worth, real Tonkin musk is banned for ethical reasons because it comes from a rare deer. In modern perfumery, the note is usually recreated via some combination of ambrette seeds, synthetic civet, castoreum, and/or analogous materials.) None of those elements show up in Marlowe on my skin at any point in time. Instead, the clean white musk simply grows stronger.
30 minutes in, the fragrance no longer smells overwhelmingly of Tang, but all that floats across to me on the sillage scent trail is clean, soapy Bounce laced with an abstract fruitiness. In my experience, far too many of the Jardins d’Ecrivains scents use the notes in an unbalanced way. George was a rare exception, but most of the others are so painfully synthetic and/or excessively clean that I’ve avoided reviewing them. I had high hopes for Marlowe, though, but the cleanness is positively shrill and overwhelms most of the other elements.
By the start of the 2nd hour, Marlowe is a hazy blur of fruity, laundry musk with purely synthetic, indeterminate floralcy, smudged by raspy, woody smokiness, a ghostly suggestion of spiciness, and a drop of greenness. If one were to give a rough estimate of the percentage of notes, Marlowe smells like it is approximately 96% fruity-floral Bounce drier sheets; 2% woody smokiness; 1% indistinct spiciness; and 1% indistinct greenness.
Over the next few hours, the numbers change, but not by much. The smoky wood grows fractionally more pronounced, taking on a synthetic sharpness. At the end of the 5th hour, a subtle warmth descends over Marlowe, along with a sliver of creaminess. Still, the overwhelming majority of the scent is an excessive laundry-fresh white musk with a suggestion of generic floralcy and raspy woodiness. I would describe Marlowe as a “floral, woody musk” except I’m not sure I can smell enough actual flowers for the term to qualify. In all honesty, I can’t tell the scent radiating from my arms apart from my laundry drier sheets — and I did a side-by-side test to compare at one point.
Marlowe’s drydown, such that you can call it that, seems to occur at the start of the 8th hour. It’s hard to tell because so little has changed. I’m calling it a “drydown” only because the inconsequential wisps have now disappeared completely, leaving only Bounce drier sheet, artificial cleanness. The whole miserable experience lasted 11.5 hours, though I confess that I came close to scrubbing Marlowe after the first 20 minutes.
For all my loathing for clean, white musk — a note that I find to be almost more offensive than powerful synthetics like Norlimbanol or ISO E Super — I didn’t scrub purely out of a masochistic curiosity to learn whether Marlowe would ever change. I had to see if I would ever encounter the tuberose that I love so much, ever witness anything remotely reminiscent of “poisonous nectar,” “tragic poetry,” leather with chypre-like facades, or “dense, heady, feral, and theatrical” aromas. I simply couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that such descriptions could possibly go hand in hand with the fragrance wafting up from my arms. It was inconceivable to me that there would be such a divergence, even for Jardins d’Ecrivains with its frustrating habit of employing so much clean musk that it might as well be Ms. Biguine’s signature. How on earth could there be nothing but Bounce drier sheets with fruity Tang and a sliver of raspy, wooded smokiness?
I was curious to see if anyone on Fragrantica had recounted their experiences with the scent. They have not. Since the fragrance is so new, there is only one comment there at this time and it merely lists Marlowe’s notes. While I generally don’t provide comparative analysis and other blog quotes in my Reviews en Bref, I saw that Colognoisseur had a passing observation on the scent in his Esxence wrap-up: “Inspired by Shakespeare contemporary Christopher Marlowe, Mme Biguine turns in a floral soliloquy around tuberose and osmanthus.” That’s the only description that I’ve found at this time.
There isn’t much more to more to say, except poor Christopher Marlowe. You poor, poor thing. I hope one day you get the scent you deserve.