“Baby-soft creaminess” might be one way to sum up Nombril Immense from État Libre d’Orange (hereinafter just “État Libre“). In French, “Nombril” means belly button, so the perfume’s name translates to “Immense Belly Button,” or “Enormous Navel.” It’s a name wholly in keeping with the whimsical, playfully avant-garde, often satirical, always provocative style of the French perfume house. I’ve frequently found that their attempts to shock or titillate don’t match up to the actual scent in question, and Nombril Immense is no exception.
Nombril Immense is a unisex, patchouli eau de parfum that was created by Nathalie Feisthauer, and released in 2006. État Libre describes the scent and its notes as follows:
With ‘Nombril Immense’, the accent is on the exceptional quality of the patchouli. Exotic and precious, this fragrant wood from India literally captivates. ‘Nombril Immense’ is an invitation to introspection, to discover new emotions and open the mind to a new spirituality. Patchouli is a sacred wood in Hindu temples; it inspires meditation and leads the way to the shedding of one’s mortal coil in the effort to access timelessness. ‘Nombril Immense’ is an authentic piece of nirvana and it smells like bliss.
Composition: Patchouli, balm of Peru, vetiver, black pepper absolute, opoponax [Sweet Myrrh], bergamot, seed of carrot, kernels of ambrette absolute…
Nombril Immense opens on my skin with crisp, fresh bergamot and patchouli, followed by a gentle dose of sweet, nutty myrrh, all ensconced in a creamy, warm, slightly musky embrace. It’s very smooth, and is an extremely close copy of the drydown in Guerlain‘s L’Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme (which is a wholly unisex fragrance no matter what its name may say). Both fragrances have the same lemony, patchouli, creamy Chai tea accord, though Nombril Immense’s thinness and lightness renders it closer to L’Instant eau de toilette (or LIDG) than to L’Instant Eau Extreme (LIDGE).
Nombril Immense feels extremely sheer, gauzy, and weak. This is no dense, chewy, molten patchouli with dark smoke, serious spiciness, leathered or toffee’d nuances. There is no cognac booziness, no earthiness, and no intensity either. A hardcore patchouli lover like myself might uncharitably call it an anorexic, socially tamed, submissive, and demure patchouli that is more suitable for a dainty tea on the Upper East Side. It certainly isn’t the rollicking, boozy patchouli of Jovoy‘s Psychedelique or Oriza‘s Horizon. However, I’m sure that those who despise actual patchouli would find Nombril Immense to be an extremely refined take on the note, and they wouldn’t be wrong. This is a baby-soft patchouli whose true, defining characteristics have been stripped out and replaced by creaminess. So much creaminess that, later on, the fragrance almost verges on the milky with the feel of a baby’s lightly musky sweetness.
Ten minutes in, new notes emerge on the scene, albeit in the most muted, muffled form imaginable. There are microscopic hints of toasted nuts, stemming in part from the sweet myrrh and the peru balsam, along with a stronger element of something vegetal that vaguely resembles carrots once in a while. The light touch of citrus remains, but there is no black pepper, vetiver, or spice. As a whole, the main bouquet is of creamy, milky patchouli with a touch of lemon in a bed of musky sweetness.
That’s really it for Nombril Immense. The perfume never veers from its core essence in any dramatic way, and the only substantial change is in sillage. Nombril Immense seemed to evaporate off my skin almost within minutes, with the weakest sillage imaginable after a mere 20 minutes. It feels like a baby scent, not only in terms of its cloud-like softness and milkiness, but also in terms of that sweet muskiness that hovers all around. Something about it really calls to mind a baby for me.
Less than 90 minutes in, Nombril Immense is a skin scent, and I felt sure it had vanished an hour later. To my surprise, however, extremely intense sniffs with my nose plastered right on the skin turned up a tenacious smear of scent. I essentially spent the next few hours looking like a crazed bloodhound as I attacked my arm to detect it, and I was consistently taken aback to find Nombril Immense was still there, chugging away as a wisp of milky patchouli with weirdly vegetal, warm muskiness. All in all, Nombril Immense lasted just a hair over 7 hours on my skin with 4 gigantic smears, but only 4.25 hours with a more normal application.
On Fragrantica, others report similar trouble with Nombril Immense’s sillage and longevity, but a few people really adored the fragrance. Let’s start with the numbers:
- The votes for Sillage are: 11 for Soft (no skin trail at all); 6 for Moderate; 1 for Heavy; and 1 for Enormous.
- The votes for how long Nombril Immense lasts on the skin break down to: 3 for Poor (30 min-1 hr); 5 for Weak (1-2 hrs); 3 for Moderate (3-6 hrs); and 5 for Long-Lasting (7-12 hrs).
I think the absolutely terrible sillage is partially responsible for some people thinking Nombril Immense has only 30 minutes to 2 hours of longevity. It takes a hell of a lot of work to detect it after the 2nd hour. Is it worth it? Not in my opinion.
Yet, a number of people on Fragrantica seem to really like Nombril Immense. Amidst all the talk about its total lack of sillage, a few people found the fragrance to be “soft, feminine and very comfortable,” or a “[v]ery sexy, decadent patchouli[.]” One person wrote that Nombril Immense was “patchouli, patchouli, and more patchouli,” which is correct as there really isn’t much to the scent besides that one core note. Another found Nombril Immense to be the essence of innocence:
so unique, simply innocence. A baby. That’s what I have in mind. It just so motherly to me and it reminds me a lot of my childhood, I smell like this!! LOL. A bit of baby talcum powder and a hint of sun and sweat from playing outside for 5 hours and power nap time. LOL. I love this smell, I’m wearing it mostly night time though.
Others weren’t so excited. One commentator thought that Nombril Immense was pleasant, but had “that Etat drydown that IMO a number of their scents have that doesn’t thrill me – something too powdery about it (and ‘dirty’ at the same time).” A few others mentioned experiencing a baby powder note in the drydown as well. For one man, Nombril Immense took refined patchouli too far: “While some softness in a patchouli frag is appreciated by those of us who don’t want to smell like we slept in the woods for a few days, I do want some earthly edge.” In the eyes of one female commentator, Nombril Immense was a “more expensive version of Jessica Simpson‘s ‘Fancy Nights‘,” which hardly seems to be a positive endorsement.
I think how people react to Nombril Immense will depend largely on how much they love or hate hardcore patchouli. I find it hard to imagine that a true patch head will actually approve of Nombril Immense, though they may like it as a creamy, woody musk. In contrast, those who associate patchouli with dirty, sweaty, earthy hippies reeking of a head-shop aroma will probably think Etat Libre has created the best version ever. In my opinion, the average person nowadays doesn’t actually like patchouli in its true, original form, so this sort of denuded, de-fanged, baby patchouli is a much more approachable construct. However, that softness might also make the scent a little feminine in some men’s eyes, as it lacks any sort of edge.
At the end of the day, Nombril Immense is an affordable scent that’s pleasant, but has a lot of flaws. If you’re looking for a more complex version of creamy patchouli Chai Tea, I’d suggest the Guerlain L’Instant Pour Homme in eau de toilette. It has a light floral (jasmine) component which makes it wholly unisex; it’s an equally refined, creamy patchouli with discreet sillage; and you can find it for much less than Nombril Immense. If you want a more intense, serious, spicy, smoky version, then there is the superior L’Instant Eau Extreme eau de parfum version (which is also covered in that same Guerlain review). On the other hand, if you’re looking for something creamy and feminine, with a baby sweetness, milkiness, and softness, then Nombril Immense might be your comforting cup of tea.
Clearly this is not a patchouli I would pursue, based on the weakness of the whole experience. I love the picture of the baby in the pink blanket. Cuteness incarnate!!!!!! Thanks for saving me from disappointment.
Heh, I thought of you so much while testing this. I had considered sending you my sample, my fellow patchouli fiend, but if some people find that it lasts 30 minutes on their skin, there is really little point. Even if it lasts longer on you, I know you have some sillage-eating skin in general, so I doubt you’d be up for the enormous work it takes to detect it down the line. I may send you my vial anyway, just to use you as a test guinea pig. 😉 😀
Reading about this is very comforting on such a bleak winter day in my neck of the woods. I love patchouli as do you, and imagining a skin scent that is patchouli is intriguing. I was lollygagging along until the mention of carrots, and I came out of my reverie to start at the top again only to actually register “seed of carrot” in the composition. This is the only scent that I consistently have difficulty with, and one of the reasons that I stopped exploring anything with iris after a disastrous encounter some time ago. I now think there may be an iris out there I enjoy, but I doubt a carrot, carrot top or carrot seed.
I am withholding any cranky rants about marketing, advertising, and ad copy. Likewise any prolonged references to a sunburned Irish American on the beach with a beer belly and his receptacle for potato chip crumbs. Ca suffit!
How interesting that it is carrot which is your most difficult note. I’m always fascinated by what people struggle with, but I think carrot isn’t a very rare one — which makes it all the more fascinating for me. Luckily for you, there aren’t a ton of fragrances which feature it. You’d be in much more trouble if your tricky note were bergamot. LOL. Still, some iris scents can definitely turn carrot-y, so now I’m curious which iris perfume ended up being a disaster on your skin?
As for the perfume’s name, I hope you noticed how I avoided any extensive discussion of it? 😉 Like you, I don’t find giant belly-buttons to be the most appealing image, name, or association for a perfume. lol
Thanks for your reply 🙂
I don’t remember the iris scent that was disastrous as it was quite some time ago. I’ll also admit I don’t particularly like irises themselves, and bizarre as it might seem, I believe that comes into play. I’m sure if I thought about it, I’d realize there are many scents I enjoy that come from sources I find aesthetically unappealing and vice versa. Apparently I like to indulge my irrational side when it comes to fragrance 🙂
Our friend Lucasz over at Chemist in the Bottle recommended a few irises I might try that he feels aren’t too carroty:
Prada Infusion d’Iris
Prada Infusion d’Iris Absolue
Prada Infusion d’Homme
Carner Barcelona D
Aedes de Venustas Iris Nazarena
Jo Malone Iris and Lady Moore
Miller et Bertaux #1/Le Parfum Trouve
I DID notice that you refrained from discussing “the name.” Apparently you understood my potato chip receptacle reference, or you’re being considerate and I was having a Cherry Merry Muffin moment where no one had a clue what I was talking about.
I’m not an iris person, and, in all honesty, find the note to be an exercise in blandness and wishy-washyness. It has zero personality for me, and its appeal rather bewilders me. Perhaps when used as a side note, or pops up in a fleeting way, it might add an ineffable something, but pure iris scents usually leave me feeling overcome by boredom. Whiter than rice, in other words. 🙂 Given that I’m someone who likes the ultimate in spice, richness, and Orientals, I understand your lack of iris enthusiasm perhaps better than most, carrots or no carrots.
And yes, I did understand your reference, complete with the horrid visuals of a giant, gaping hole used as a receptacle for errant crumbs. The lobster-coloured, UK/Irish tourist was almost as appealing. 😉
Oh, thanks! That’s quite helpful. Maybe any iris I’d like isn’t actually iris! Life certainly was simpler when I stuck to aromatherapy. Sigh …
While this will never be the reason for me to go to any of the stores in these here parts that carry this line, I’ll give it whirl. It sounds like it could be an office scent and/or be good for layering. Oh…and the picture of the baby…ADORABLE!
I actually think you might perhaps enjoy the softness of this, as I think you like creamy, gentle, cozy scents with some sweetness. This isn’t a hugely sweet scent, but it has a gentleness about it. It’s far from MY personal idea of patchouli, but it’s very approachable. I don’t think you’d find it anything that stands out, as it’s complex or even all that interesting, but it does have some appeal. At night, it might be a perfect sleep scent, if you use perfume at bedtime. 🙂
I’m sure their scents are of quality and interesting…but who names their perfume house after a place whose laws are credited with creating apartheid? Wtf. I find their Not sure I’d feel comfortable buying or wearing anything from the Jim Crow perfumery either. Sorry to interrupt your lovely review with this rant, but that’s been bothering me for a while, more so since I did some googling on the subject after reading your review to make sure I wasn’t mixed up.
I had a different impression of the inspiration for the name. The founder, Etienne de Swardt, was born in South Africa and spent his childhood there, so he wanted to focus on that. But I think the Etat Libre or “free” part also references their aesthetic philosophy of being free — in this case, of perfume conventions and attitudes. But really, he’s mentioned in a few places that the name goes back to his South African roots. I don’t think there was any racist intention behind it. http://etatlibredorange.com/en/etienne
I know…but as it’s been in the news continuously for racist incidents, choosing it does not reflect a great deal of thought as to its larger context. It’s a lovely sounding name too (and I love anything orange on principle). But it is jarring to anyone who has followed apartheid and racism in South Africa even in a cursory way.
But…sorry for the digression. I am really interested in how patchouli, which is so root-y and earthy can also be milky. It sounds like a very interesting experience!
I definitely understand your concerns and was not trying to make light of the issue, my dear Grace. I’m afraid I don’t know a lot about the associations with the name, and hadn’t heard it in the news. I shall try to read up on things. Thank you for bringing up the point. It’s certainly more valid than some of the reasons I’ve heard for eschewing the house. 🙂
I do love this one, but I concur that it lacks complexity and with your assessment of its baby-soft nature. But even with all those very valid criticisms (though I suppose for many it would be a draw, rather than a drawback) – I still quite enjoy it. There’s something about it I find so comforting, cozy, and safe. Hmmm, I think maybe I’ll wear it tonight or tomorrow as we dip into far-below-freezing territory here in DC! 🙂 Thank you for yet another wonderfully written review!
I’m less enthused because I’m a hardcore patch-head, as they seem to be called, so by that particular standard, it was a disappointment. If one is taking it by general standards and looking for a soft, creamy, woody scent that is vaguely patchouli-ish, it might work. I think “safe” is a good word, not only because of the lack of complexity or edginess of the scent, but because of that baby gentleness that is quite soothing in an odd way. But damn, the sillage!! Ugh.
Given how your skin eats sillage far more than mine, I’m a little surprised you are so favorably disposed for this one. Scents that other people don’t think have low sillage can be a huge problem for you, so if there is one which is universally seen as having almost *no* projection….
It’s been a while since I tried it. I think I’m probably more charitable to it because it came as part of a coffret, so the cost per 10ml bottle was <$1/ml. I think if I had shelled out $80 for a bottle I'd be a little more critical. I realize my metrics are perhaps a bit subjective, but oh well! I do see it as more of a bed-time scent, too, so the sillage isn't as much of an issue then. I will try it again under normal daily wear, though – perhaps it will slap me out of my little one-sided love affair with this one. 😛
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