Perfume Review: Frederic Malle Bigarade Concentrée

The heat is on, summer has arrived in most parts of the world, and the search for something cool, refreshing and bright has begun. In the perfume world, one fragrance that may come to mind is the orange-based Bigarade Concentrée from Frederic Malle. Another option might be Orange Sanguine from Atelier Cologne.Though I’d initially planned to review both fragrances together, the length was becoming a bit ludicrous and a split review seemed best. So, first up, is Bigarade Concentrée, and then, tomorrow, Atelier’s Orange Sanguine.

Frederic Malle. Source:

Frederic Malle. Source:

The luxury fragrance house Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle is one of the most respected niche perfume lines in the world. It was founded in 2000 by Frederic Malle, a man who has luxury perfume in his blood. His grandfather founded Christian Dior Perfumes, and his mother later worked as an Art Director for the same perfume house. In 2002, Malle teamed up with famed perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena, to create Bigarade Concentrée. “Bigarade” refers to the bitter orange tree and its fruit, like the kind from Seville that is used in marmalade, though the term is also sometimes used as shorthand for neroli, the blossom from the tree. Malle’s fragrance is a citrus aromatic eau de parfum which the company’s website describes as follows:

Based on a new bitter orange essence developed especially for Jean-Claude Ellena and obtained by molecular distillation, Bigarade Concentrée imparts a bitter freshness. Its overdose of hesperidic notes combined with a touch of rose expresses a unique natural transparency. A woody base of hay and cedar adds lusty warmth. Bigarade Concentrée: A lasting natural freshness.

Bigarade Concentree - small bottleFragrantica lists its notes as follows:

Top note is bitter orange; middle note is rose; base notes are cedar, grass and hay.

Bigarade Concentrée opened on my skin with crisp citruses. At first, it was actually a lemon-scented aroma, followed moments later with orange. The fruit feels like fresh, sweet, concentrated orange pulp but, also, like something a little more bitter.



Then, the confusion set in. I smelled cumin. Without a doubt, it was the sweaty, slightly skanky, stale scent of body aroma triggered by cumin. I was so bewildered, I re-checked the Malle website description and then Fragrantica. Not a mention of cumin anywhere. I examined my vial more closely to see if there was a mistake on the name, but no. So, then, I applied the perfume to a different part of my arm and… cumin again. One rather frantic Google search later, it appears that almost everyone smells cumin in Bigarade Concentrée. Basenotes‘s thread for the fragrance is filled with comments about the note which led one poster to write about “overpowering body odor,” while another compared the scent to “a cab driver eats an orange.” A few adore it, with comments about how it is “ripe and sexy” in a “sweaty man” sort of way. Obviously, it’s a very subjective, personal matter. I, personally, am not a fan of spending a lot of money to smell like stale, unwashed sweat.



In fairness, there is much more to Bigarade Concentrée than citrus and body odor. Soon after that opening blast, notes of fresh, green grass set in, accompanied by dry hay and a light touch of abstract woods. Like most of Jean-Claude Ellena’s creations for Hermès, Bigarade Concentrée bears his signature minimalism: the whole thing is incredibly sheer, lightweight, low projecting, and fleeting in feel. It becomes a skin scent on me in as little as 3 minutes. It’s also extremely linear and never changes substantially, especially once the top notes burn off. At the 20 minute mark, the perfume feels a lot like tangerines over hay and grass with that constant touch of sweaty cumin and a touch of hay hovering in the background. I never smell the rose accord but, instead, there is something that feels like a geranium leaf, right down to its fuzzy, slightly pungent, green leaf. It’s a subtle note, and it’s probably the result of the bitter orange bigarade combining with the grass and hay.

Around the 40 minute mark, Bigarade Concentrée turns into stale cumin and hay with bursts of juicy orange lurking at the edges. It sits so close to the skin, you have to bring your nose right to your arm to detect it.  By the end of the second hour, I thought the perfume had gone completely but, no, it is still, in fact, lingering as a very abstract, creamy, soft, beige woods fragrance with orange notes. It is lightly infused with a dry spice that is not quite as prominently cumin-based but, like the rest of the drydown accords, it’s very generalized, vague and amorphous. And, that’s about it. Woods and oranges.

All in all, Bigarade Concentrée lasted about 4.5 hours on my skin — and I’m luckier than most. On Fragrantica, the perfume receives low marks for longevity and sillage, with one poster saying it vanished within 30 minutes from his skin. Another wrote, with undoubted hyperbole, that it lasted all of 30 seconds. I suspect that the perfume’s extremely low sillage and that trademark Jean-Claude Ellena minimalism creates the impression that Bigarade Concentrée has gone before it actually has. At various times — the 40 minute mark, the 90 minute one, and 2 hours in — I felt sure it was completely finished; the fragrance was so thin as to feel almost nonexistent. But, no, for some reason, the underlying base notes lingered on in the most ephemeral form for a few more hours.

There is a definite need in every perfume wardrobe for a light, sunny, citrus scent for summer and, if you like the twist of dry woods with animalic, sweaty cumin, then you should consider giving Bigarade Concentrée a sniff. It’s quite a popular fragrance in some quarters with many appreciating the non-sweetened orange note and that “austere” woody drydown. In others, however, it is greeted with disdain as much ado about nothing, especially given the high Frederic Malle price.

How you feel about Bigarade Concentrée may ultimately depend on how much you’re a fan of Jean-Claude Ellena and his minimalism. One Fragrantica reviewer considers him to be “kind of lazy perfumer that has learned to translate his laziness into a style which able to please and attract fans” — and, obviously, he wasn’t impressed with Bigarade Concentrée. And, as a whole, Fragrantica’s commentators seem underwhelmed to negative. (On Basenotes, however, reviews are much more enthusiastic, though many have significant problems with longevity and/or sillage.)

As a side note, I should mention that Jean-Claude Ellena’s creation for CartierDéclaration — seems to be extremely close to Bigarade Concentrée. I haven’t tried it, but the two perfumes are often compared to each other. From the comments and notes, Déclaration seems to be much spicier and woodier, but there are enough similarities to warrant a number of people bringing it up as a reference point, passing on Bigarade Concentrée, and/or feeling that Ellena is a lazy perfumer.

Interestingly, a number of bloggers and perfume critics seem to wholeheartedly gush over the fragrance. I’ll ignore the blogs and go straight to Chandler Burr, the former New York Times perfume critic, who gave it Four Stars in his 2006 review entitled “Dark Victory“:

Ellena’s Bigarade Concentrée … plays brilliantly with darkness. Bigarade smells like a person trapped in a complex weather system, the wonderful scent of a guy’s armpit and a woman’s humid skin washed in fresh rainwater and ozone (Malle doesn’t waste time gendering his scents, and Bigarade is for both women and men). It is a masterful juxtaposition, and smelling Bigarade is like looking down into a well of cool, black water. Your retinas expand from the strange pleasure of this scent.

“Cool, black water”? Ozone? I’m lost. The only part of his assessment that I agree with is the comparison to armpits. And I’m not a fan.

The famed perfume critic, Luca Turin, doesn’t mention armpits, but he too liked Bigarade Concentrée, though he doesn’t seem hugely overwhelmed. In his Three Star review for Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, he wrote:

[bigarade oil] has an interesting mixture of citrus friendliness and resinous austerity. Ellena’s composition emphasizes both aspects, at the expensive of what to my nose is a slightly rubbery top note. Very pleasant, deliberately simple, but somewhat lacking in mystery.

I think that may be too kind, but at least he isn’t gushing unfathomably about ozonic elements and dark pools of water. Personally, I’ll eschew the experts’ opinion and stick to the laymen’s general lack of enthusiasm for Bigarade Concentrée. In my opinion, it’s an okay scent that is hyped only because it comes from Jean-Claude Ellena and Frederic Malle. I certainly don’t think it warrants the Malle price tags, especially given its problematic longevity and nonexistent sillage. You can do better, starting with Orange Sanguine whose review will be up tomorrow.

Cost & Availability: You can purchase Bigarade Concentrée in a variety of different forms and ways. On his website, Malle offers: a small 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle for $170; a large 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle for $250; or 3 travel-sized sprays in a 10 ml size for $115. There is also a shower gel of the fragrance. You can also find the perfume at Barneys , though it only carries the large $250 bottle and the 3 travel minis. According to the Malle website, it is also carried at Saks Fifth Avenue, though it is not listed on the Saks website. There are other U.S. retailers, too, which you can look up on the Malle website from Aedes to small boutiques across the country. Outside of the U.S., you can find Bigarade Concentrée at a variety of different places and department stores from London’s Liberty, the Malle boutiques in Paris, Skins in the Netherlands, Australia’s Mecca Cosmetica and Myers, Saudi Arabia’s DNA, Singapore’s Malmaison by the Hour Glass, to many others. You can use the Store Locator to find a location nearest you. If you want to try a sample, Surrender to Chance carries Bigarade Concentrée starting at $5.99 for a 1 ml vial.

44 thoughts on “Perfume Review: Frederic Malle Bigarade Concentrée

  1. I’ll be interested in your take of Orange Sanguine, as I’m wearing it today 🙂 I’m partial to citrus based fragrances, but Bigarade Concentrée doesn’t sound like one I’d like.

    • How do you feel about cumin, Lulubelle? And how does it manifest on your skin? If you struggle with the note, then I’d strongly recommend staying away from the Malle. LOL. On the other hand, not everyone got huge amounts of body odor from Bigarade Concentrée, so who knows? Maybe you’d be one of the lucky ones and have it just as a fleeting, minor flicker? 🙂

      • Im my limited experience, I’m thinking cumin is not for me. I tried out Bollywood or Bust by Smellbent over the weekend, which has rose, cumin, and sandalwood listed as notes. After an initial thought of “nice, I can smell the spices” I went to “not so nice, this smells like the hallway of a apartment building I used to live in”. I’m pretty sure cumin was the culprit.

        • I bet cumin was the culprit, too, Lulubelle. If you had samples of more varied types of cumin-infused perfumes, it would be interesting to see if any worked for you and if it depended on its treatment or other notes that may be included. Cumin is a funny thing in terms of how it doesn’t always turn dirty, sweaty and animalic, but can sometimes just be like very dry, woody powder. Take Parfum d’Empire’s Ambre Russe, for example, where it’s done beautifully. The problem is, it’s a little bit of a gamble each time. LOL. Regardless, given what you’ve said, I definitely think the Malle is NOT for you!

  2. Eeek. I have a travel mini of this from an unsniffed split purchase. “Something” must have held me back from trying it. The perfume gods must have been shining on me as your description of sweaty armpit smell had totally turned me off! To the swap pile it goes without a try – why waste skin real estate?

    Wonderful review, dear Kafka!

    • Well, since you have such a large decant, perhaps it would be worth trying anyway? I know some people — like Suzanne of Eiderdown Press — have gotten minimal flickers of cumin and only on certain days, depending on the weather. And cumin can manifest itself differently even on the same person. For example, Mr. Hound has found some perfumes to be skanky, but the cumin-fest in Rubj never showed up on him. In contrast, on me, Rubj was painfully sweaty feet, unwashed genitalia, and caked, dirty panties. So, you see, people can differ widely. And there are some who don’t seem to detect much cumin/body odor in the Malle. If you did’t have a 10 ml travel mini, I’d say skip it, but since you do, it might be worth a small test? Close to a sink and some soap? 😉 LOL

      • “painfully sweaty feet, unwashed genitalia, and caked, dirty panties”

        You are NAUGHTY dear Kafka! After the above extra description, even if I had a full bottle, it would still go to the swap pile unsniffed. :::::shudder::::::

        • *grin* I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it. I was deeply traumatized by Vero Profumo’s Rubj, when I had expected to fall into utter love. But, if anything, that shows that cumin manifests itself differently on each person. And since Daisy didn’t get armpits from Bigarade Concentrée (and Mr. Hound was untouched by Rubj’s cumin), you may be very safe. I could just be a freak, you know. LOL.

  3. This sounds pretty blah. But I feel the same way about all FM stuff I’ve tried. I think the way I feel about FM is the way lots of people feel about Tom Ford – overpriced and unworthy. Plus, armpit? Pass. You must have been in a good mood today, you were pretty charitable to something that seems mediocre, if not outright bad. 🙂

    • Not a good mood; more a case of being so incredibly apathetic towards the scent that I couldn’t even muster up disdain. *wry smile* If it had actual projection, as opposed to making me practically inhale my arm, then I may have mustered up some more vehemence. But it was such a damn skin scent, it was easy NOT to be totally blown out of the water, even by the stale armpit aroma. LOL.

      As for the FM vs. Tom Ford comparison, you know, I think that’s incredibly astute and on-point. And you’re right, though I think Tom Ford seems to be a much easier or more common punching bag than Malle. No-one ever seems to pick on him. It’s as if they don’t dare. Personally, and like you, I definitely prefer Tom Ford to those Malles that I’ve tried thus far.

      • I couldn’t believe how quickly this turned into a skin scent on you – that is wild. Maybe if I had a money tree in the backyard, but I could never pay so much for a skin scent that might last 4 hours if I’m lucky!

        • At least it lasted on me! I read one woman –on Makeupalley, it may have been — who said the whole thing vanished after 10 minutes. There are similar accounts of longevity problems elsewhere. And the sillage…. ha! That one seems to be completely and universally atrocious!

      • P.S. You made me smile with being so apathetic you can’t muster disdain for it! Indeed, I think that’s almost worse than outright hating it – being so utterly unmemorable that there’s hardly worthy of a beautiful takedown!

        • HA! There is always Lipstick Rose to summon up horror and true hatred. *grin* As a side note, today I eyed the Malle Eau d’Hiver that you kindly and generously scent me, paused, and then shoved it quickly to the back of the piles. LOL.

          • I think that’s probably wise at this stage in the game. No sense in torturing yourself! I imagine it’s hugely ISO-Eish! *shudder* Lipstick Rose. Horrid.

  4. Eek! I don’t remember armpits being a word that came to mind when I tried Bigarade Concentrée. Fleeting and short-lived I can understand . . .

    AC’s Orange Sanguine is one of my favorites though and I look forward to reading your review!

    • Perhaps it requires some heat for the armpits to be exposed? LOL. That said, it’s currently so cold in my house with the air-conditioning (set on arctic) that there is condensation dripping down the windows, so perhaps heat isn’t needed for the stale body odor aroma to rise to the surface. lol

  5. I get lots of cumin from Bigarade Concentree as well, Kafka. But the whole fragrance lasted on me about an hour, which I didnt understand the point of the fragrnce with such high price. I have the same experience with Angéliques Sous La Pluie from Frederic Malle. It seems to me that I just simply dont get Jean-Claude Ellena creations. Neither from Hermes nor from anywhere else. I tried numerous times, but it just doesnt work 🙁

    • An hour???! Oh dear. And I bet it was a skin scent for most of that period, too! 🙁 I’m glad to know I’m not alone in the huge wallop of cumin, Ross, but I’m not sure if it’s better to suffer for 4 hours or for 1 in this instance. Regardless, NEITHER time period is worth the high price tag!

      As for Jean-Claude Ellena, well, you know I don’t share the worshipful gushing that many have for his fragrances, either. I like Ambre Narguilé, and that’s about it. So, come sit next to me, and we can be in the minority of perfumistas together. LOL. xoxox

  6. I feel like a weirdo for saying this, but my skin apparently combines well with cumin — or eats it up or something. I mostly smell like tangerines and hay when I wear this, and oddly enough, I find that this is one of the rare citrus scents that lasts on me. About five hours — and for much of the time, it’s quiet, but it’s there and I love it. Usually, though, I only wear it in winter because it’s a holiday perfume to me. (God, the more I write, probably the stranger I sound, but orange-based citrus perfumes remind me of getting citrus fruit at Christmas, so that’s when I wear them.) Maybe it lasts so well because I’m wearing sweaters at that time of year?

    • I read your review of it, Suzanne, and noted how the cumin just flickered on you — and only on occasion at that. In fact, I think I referenced you and that issue when I told Hajusuuri that she might as well try her decant of the perfume since she has it already.

      I’m glad it worked on you, honey. And I don’t think the Christmas impression is weird at all. I know a number of people who associated spiced orange scents with Christmas!! All I’m really interested in now — given your comment about how your skin deals with cumin — is what you would think of Vero Profumo’s Rubj! *grin* I bet it’s glorious on you! Oh, Aziyadé from Parfums d’Empires would be another one that probably works beautifully on you, too!

      Back to Bigarade Concentrée, good to know that it lasts 5 hours on you! I think that’s among the higher numbers that I’ve seen for the scent.

      • You’re right, Kafka, regarding Rubj. I do find it indolic, but really beautifully so. I have never tried Parfums d’Empire Aziyade, but I read the notes on LuckyScent, and it does sound like one I’d love.

        I think my skin deals well with cumin (because no one ever thinks I smell like b.o. or Indian food when I’m wearing Serge Lutens Arabie on a hot day). There is also the aspect that I like cumin, both in food and perfumery, so maybe my mind is just in a happy place when I smell it, and I don’t notice it so much.

        It is interesting how we perceive animalics, in general. I love MFK Absolue Pour le Soir and don’t find it nearly as animalic or funky as other people. In fact, I get compliments when I wear it from both women and men. But a woman who purchased a decant of it from me said it smelled like urine from various animals. So one always does wonder, is there such thing as skin chemistry, or is it what the nose is used to smelling and a matter of conditioning? I think it’s both.

        • I definitely think that the mind and past mental associations matter. After all, the scent picked up by our nose is thereafter filtered through our mind and goes through certain layers of perception before we can read/translate it. Animalics, “cozy” scents, “comfort” notes — it’s all largely mental, I think, and based on our past body of memories/experiences, etc.

          With regard to animalics, I love fragrances like Absolue Pour Le Soir, and I love eating Indian curries or spicy things. But the stale body odor smell, I struggle with. Deeply intimate notes like unwashed genitalia — same. Cumin doesn’t always read to me as either body odor or intimate funk; Ambre Russe’s cumin, for example, is lovely to my nose, as is the note in a number of other fragrances. (LOVED Ambre Russe, except I thought it was far, far too sheer and would have preferred it if it had been something opaque and thick like the gorgeous Absolue Pour Le Soir.) But when the cumin goes from dry powder to the lingering, day after smells of unwashed sweat, then I have problems. So, is it a mind thing, or is there some subtle line in the molecular structure which has been crossed, is different and which my nose/brain interprets differently? Who knows, but I’d love to find out! 😀

  7. Armpits? That is the one and only kind of fragrance I detest. I´m easy to please with my favorites being musk, incense, oriental scents, floral, and also citrus, woody notes, spices and even synthetic scents or some sweet scents. But the one thing I hate is any kind of perfume that smells like body odor be it urinal or sweat. I guess in my mind somehow perfume never smells like a persons or an animals natural scent, it must smell like flowers, fruits, or anything else but not sweat or urine…

    • LOL. I’m with you on the armpits. But, you know, cumin is one of those notes that really manifests itself differently on people’s skin — more than many other notes, in fact. And, as the discussion here shows, some people can’t seem to pick much of it up in any skanky way. (“Skanky” is a perfume word and doesn’t have anything to do with sluttishness. Instead, it refers to perfumes that have a slightly dirty, musky or intimate smell like that of skin. There are also various degrees of “skank” in perfumery, depending on the note in question. Many find Guerlain’s Mitsouko to have a slightly skanky edge, as it was intended to replicate the smell of the body of the Guerlain chap’s mistress after sex.)

      Anyway, it would be interesting to me to see how cumin manifests itself on your skin, Vicky, since a number of perfumes nowadays use the ingredient. You could always do a test at home, using unscented body lotion and any cumin powder you have in your kitchen. Perhaps you could mix a little of the powder into some lotion, put it on your arm and see how it smells to you. It won’t be the same as the way it’s done in perfumery (especially as cumin is always mixed with other notes to prevent a totally cumin-focused scent), but it would be a starting point as an initial test. 🙂

      • Well, I had the opportunity to smell both Cumin and ISO E Super, and I can say I´m `positively immune to ISO E Super since I smelled Terre de Hermes and Luna Rossa from Prada like it was suggested to me and couldn´t detect anything unpleasant at all. But when it comes to Cumin, Oh my God! It´s horrible, I don´t use Cumin in food and the smell actually makes me think of armpits somehow. I don´t like garlic or onions either, so Cumin was definitely not for me, I would surely detest this perfume no doubt. Also the description you gave me of Mitsouko, means I would dislike the perfume, since the last thing I would like is to smell like someone who just had intercourse. Definitely body odor perfume to me is what ISO E Super is to you Kafka.

        • LOL @ your reaction to cumin!!! *grin* Well, if it’s any comfort, there are a lot of cumin-phobes in the perfume world so you’re definitely not alone, Vicky. What did you smell it in, if I may ask? As for Mitsouko, it doesn’t smell like sex or body odor. It’s hard to explain. There is a peach note which is like a ripe fruit and which can feel like the smell of warm skin in a way (if that makes sense). Not body odor or sweaty, post-sex skin, but like sweet, warm skin, in a way. And not everyone detects it.

          You know, you should definitely look up some reviews on Amouage, the perfume house from the royal family of Oman. They have extremely old-school, elegantly classique, truly luxurious smelling fragrances (partially because money is no object for the royal perfume budget) and which easily match the very best of classique French perfumery. I think some of their floral scents like Lyric or Ubar may be very much up your alley. Amouage perfumes are a massive, massive hit with hardcore perfumistas because of how elegantly luxurious and full-bodied they smell, as well as how long they last on the skin. Though the price tag is huge at a retail level, you can always get massive discounts on them at certain perfume websites.

  8. I am fine with armpits, but not mixed with citrus! For me, both Ellena and Malle are both massively overhyped, and this is dull as dishwater. Thanks for saying so!

  9. I tried Bigarade Concentrée on skin only once and I remember checked my records – I had had mixed feelings: I liked it first; then it was making me nauseous; then I kept sniffing my wrist… I do not remember any cumin there though (Kafka, you’re scaring me now! 🙂 I’ll need to test it more.

  10. It’s taken me a long time, but I have developed an appreciation for this scent. Cumin was a tough note for me to tackle! I actually just got a hold of some samples of Bigarade Concentree. I’m trying to determine if I like it enough to purchase.

    • It’s a little unclear to me: You’ve had samples of this perfume and have learned to love it, or you just now got hold of samples of the Concentrée as opposed to prior tests with regular Bigarade (non-Concentrée version)?

      • I’ve smelled it several times at the store; put a spray on my arm a few times. However, I’ve never given it a proper wearing. The SA at the store was nice enough to give me some samples to test it out. That and some samples of Iris Poudre as well. Lovin’ that one.

  11. Thank God I didn’t get cumin or sweaty armpits you describe in this review. Actually when I tried Bigarade Concentree few months ago – I just couldn’t smell it AT ALL! I applied, sniffed my arm – smelled the very light orange and few minutes later… poof… I couldn’t smell a thing, like it disappeared totally from my skin, like I didn’t really apply it there. That was weird.

    • There definitely seems to be a split in terms of who can smell it and who can’t. Some definitely do, others don’t seem to pick up the note at all. So, Poodle seems to be right in her comment about how cumin may be a note that not everyone can smell in a strong way. 🙂

      But WOW, the sillage and longevity on you…… atrocious!! Just a few minutes is really, really bad!

  12. I’m starting to wonder if some people are unable to smell cumin or if others have noses that can detect it at even tiny amounts. I have no interest in this one but Rubj was pretty skanky on me yet my husband said he didn’t think it smelled like sweat at all.

    • You know, I would never have thought cumin would be one of those weird notes but I think you’re dead on. This discussion has shown that some people can’t seem to detect it at all in Bigarade, while others definitely do! You’re so right, but what a surprise this is turning out to be. ISO E Super is one thing, but cumin???! I wonder how much of it has to do with people who are used to cumin in food? That said, even if someone like Lucas doesn’t eat curries often, he certainly hates cumin enough to pick it up elsewhere, and Undina too. So I wonder why the Bigarade is the perfume where they can’t smell it? It’s rather fascinating, I must say. My favorite comment about the perfume still comes from Basenotes with the very succinct, flat summation of: “taxi driver eats an orange.” *grin*

  13. I was all excited until I read “cumin” (you know me and cumin!)…and then the longevity issue…probably would last all of thirty seconds on my skin!

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