An intersection of the ancient past and the modern present lies at the heart of Leva, a fragrance from the Italian niche house of O’Driù (henceforth spelled without the accent as plain “O’Driu”). It is an eau de parfum that was originally released in 2011 as part of The Genesis Collection, and is meant to represent Eve to Ladamo‘s Adam. To that end, it cleverly uses ingredients that go back thousands of years in history, including spikenard which the Bible says is the fragrant oil that Mary used to anoint Jesus’ feet. Leva is a challenging fragrance on my skin, particularly in the beginning, and I’m afraid I wasn’t up to the task.
Leva is an eau de parfum created by Angelo Orazio Pregoni. O’Driu has no description for Leva on its website at this time, but the press release file that I was sent provides the following notes:
Grapefruit, turmeric, lemongrass, jasmine, tagete [marigold], vetiver, jatamansi [spikenard], basil, lavender, ylang-ylang, vanilla, benzoin, tonka bean, and pepper.
I think it’s important to take a few moments to explain some of those notes. Tagetes is another name for marigold, a plant in the sunflower family. Fragrantica describes its aroma as “hay-toned, earthy, rich, musty, honeyed aspects,” and says the flower has a “musky, pungent” scent.
Jatamansi sometimes goes by the name spikenard or nard, and has an ancient history. Fragrantica says that it was originally used by the ancient Egyptians as incense, and that it was also mentioned in the Bible’s Song of Solomon. As noted above, the Bible says Mary, sister of Lazarus, used its oil to anoint Jesus’ feet, while Wikipedia says it is also referenced in The Iliad, and that the current Pope Francis has it on his coat of arms. Fragrantica says it has a woody fragrance
which is astonishingly herbaceous and aromatic, warm and sensual. This fragrance is also a combination of sweet, resinous, spicy, and animal-fat odors. With Jatamansi, the essential oil is like an organic earthy scent.
Spikenard goes back to the Ayurvedic herbal tradition of India, but so does turmeric whose history dates back 4,000 years and is sometimes nicknamed the “Golden Spice.” In one of the countries I lived in, however, its name translates to “Yellow Wood.” I think it is a more apt description because turmeric has an incredibly dusty, pungent, and woody aroma. I’ve cooked a number of times with the spice whose smell is slightly lemony, but almost wholly like bitter wood bark turned a dusty yellow. (The powder stains everything in sight when wet). Due to its colour, some people call turmeric the “poor man’s saffron,” which is a bit misleading as the two smell nothing alike, in my opinion, and don’t taste the same, either.
Turmeric is the driving force in O’Driu’s Leva‘s opening on my skin. There is an almost startling amount of the powder in all its bitter, pungent, woody intensity. The dusty spice is accompanied by aromatic, fresh lemongrass with bitter yellow grapefruit, pungent spikenard earthiness, and herbs. For whatever strange reason, there is a distinct aroma of fizzy ginger ale, probably because turmeric is originally a member of the ginger family. The final coup de grace comes from the extremely concentrated burst of bright lemon which has such a medicinal (and slightly eucalyptus-like) nuance that it smells exactly like lemon cough drops.
I lack the descriptive powers to convey the full depth of what Leva is really like on my skin. It is an avalanche of bitter, lemony, woody turmeric dustiness, infused with a heaping dose of the strangeness that is spikenard’s pungent earthiness, then with medicinal lemon cough drops, ginger ale, green herbs, and bitter grapefruit. And, in classic turmeric form, even a few small smears of Leva stained the part of my arm where I applied it and turned the skin into a dark, malaria yellow. I didn’t mind that, and I appreciate the endless visuals of multi-faceted yellow brightness, but, really… the totality of the actual fragrance!
I’m obviously not modern or avant-garde enough for Leva, because its opening on my skin simply doesn’t smell like what I’d consider to be actual perfume. I’m sorry to say that, but it really isn’t. The sheer amount of dusty turmeric combined with the perpetual strangeness that is pungent spikenard and the oddity of the more modern notes… it is just too much for me to wrap my head around. I tried Leva twice, and had the same reaction on both occasions. It doesn’t help that Leva becomes even woodier and more pungent after 30 minutes. The fizzy ginger ale and grapefruit begin to slowly fade away, and, to my dismay, the turmeric grows even more powerful. The final result is an extremely strong mix of bitter, acrid turmeric spice powder with lemon cough drops, earthiness, and pungent herbaceousness.
The challenging nature of Leva’s first few hours is a bit of a shame because I think the perfume has a genuinely lovely finish. The slow transition to that end begins around the start of the 3rd hour when Leva turns smoother, less bitter, more well-rounded, and balanced. The lemon cough drops lose their medicinal edge, and feel juicier, brighter, sunnier. The turmeric’s acrid and powdered tonalities begin to soften, while a wisp of vetiver provides a minty freshness and a spark of green in the yellow landscape. More importantly, hints of floral sweetness start to appear at the edges, as the jasmine and marigold peek their heads around the corner and further diffuse the turmeric’s dusty bitterness. The marigold is particularly noticeable, and adds a slightly honeyed, golden warmth to the woody spices and the herbal pungency.
Leva continues to change, though by small degrees. The vetiver grows stronger, and, by the middle of the 4th hour, it stands side by side with turmeric as the dominant two notes on a stage made up of multi-faceted, musky earthiness. Light traces of lemon drops remain, though they are no longer medicinal in feel. The jasmine isn’t noticeable in an individual, distinct way, but its sweetness works indirectly from the sidelines. It tries desperately to soften the other notes, but it really isn’t successful thus far. As a whole, Leva is a pungent mix of dusty spices, minty vetiver, woodiness, strange spikenard earthiness, abstract warmth, a touch of lemon, and much continuing sharpness on my skin. Everything overlaps, and the notes are blended so seamlessly that it’s hard to pull them out.
A soft floralcy takes over at the start of the 6th hour as the ylang-ylang, jasmine, and marigolds start to bloom. They aren’t easy to pick out, though, due to how well-blended Leva is, and they feel almost abstract at times. One thing that is nice about Leva now is its very ambered, golden feel, as if a tiny drop of labdanum had been used. Over time, that impression grows stronger, particularly as the other elements turn hazier and softer. By the start of the 8th hour, Leva is primarily just vetiver and lightly spiced woodiness in a musky, slightly sweet amber embrace. In its final drydown, the perfume is a genuinely pretty amber scent with spiciness and a hint of vetiver.
The transitions all occur so slowly that it’s hard to pinpoint them, but there is a night and day difference between Leva at its end and Leva at its beginning. It’s almost like a different perfume magically appeared on my skin. I think the marigold with its musky warmth and the sweet jasmine help to create a transitional bridge between that truly unpleasant turmeric start and the pretty final stage.
The main reason, however, is something that really feels like amber. I really wonder if there is some element of labdanum in Leva’s base, because the final hours are so strongly evocative of it. Not the tonka or vanilla of the listed notes, but actual amber. Whatever the cause, I found myself sniffing my arm with great appreciation in the last few hours. I mean it quite sincerely when I say Leva’s goldenness is genuinely appealing with its perfect touch of abstract spices, subtle wisp of muskiness, and nebulous suggestion of something woody.
All in all, Leva had excellent longevity on my skin with moderate projection. The perfume lasted just a hair over 11 hours with 3 tiny smears, amounting to 2 small sprays from an actual bottle. Leva opened as a strong scent due to the forcefulness of its notes, but it was significantly airier and lighter than other O’Driu fragrances that I’ve tried. It doesn’t feel as dense, opaque, or heavy, and seems more like an eau de parfum. There was initially 3-4 inches in projection, though that number dropped by the start of the 2nd hour. Leva hovered above my skin at the 3.5 hour mark, where it stayed for a while. It only became a true skin scent on me by the end of the 6th hour.
On Fragrantica, the two reviews thus far parallel closely my experience with Leva, mentioning both the turmeric and the lemon cough drops, though neither commentator struggled quite as much as I did with the perfume. For one chap, “Deadidol,” Leva was largely a lemongrass, vetiver, and cough drops scent, in addition to patchouli, turmeric, and tonka. He writes, in part:
Leva opens with a slightly soapier twist on the usual O’Driu aesthetic of gourmand spices. Here, you have lemongrass and pepper over a hefty vetiver and patchouli base that adds structure to the otherwise thin beginning. The tumeric is what elevates it into more interesting territories, and there’s a slightly minty note that might be coming from the tagetes. Tonka smoothes out the edges of the composition and adds cushioning between the notes.
As with many of the scents from this line, there’s a strong savory gourmand aspect that can either work beautifully or occasionally swing too close to food. This one smells more like it’d be a tea of some kind, but it has a medicinal edge to it also. Given this, it vacillates between striking spicy lemongrass and cough drops. As it settles, and the top notes fade away, what remains is a slightly powdery/spicy yet lucent vetiver.
The only other review on the site is from “Kain,” who experienced a fragrance largely centered on turmeric, with the lesser touch of other notes from florals to lemon, vetiver, basil, and a hint of herbs. But the turmeric was there every step of the way:
The smell of it is a little sharp and bitter (not too much) with some earthy and slight powdery feeling and that’s what you will get in every step of this fragrance. [¶] The opening is a juicy fresh lemony scent with very light and transparent herbal note and some florals in the background, plus the main note of the fragrance ….. turmeric! […] The scent is OK and definitely something new for your nose in fragrances, but if you’re familiar with turmeric, you will say … man, this one just smell like lemony turmeric!
His description also appears on Basenotes where he joins others in being ambivalent about Leva. There are 6 reviews on the site, with 3 being positive and 3 being neutral. The positive comments either focus a lot on the vanilla in Leva, or describe a scent with spicy, floral, and mixed green notes. No-one seems to have encountered the massive turmeric blast that Kain and I did, though some experienced a little bit of the note later on in the perfume’s development. One of the positive descriptions for Leva reads as follows:
Creative mix of dark and bright.
The opening is a rather unique mix of grapefruit, jasmine and black pepper, the latter making for an intriguing dark twist to the otherwise brighter beginning. On my – clean – skin the whole has an impressive salty background, at times reminding me of the smell of a rainy beach by the ocean. The drydown sees a strong turmeric note taking the lead, giving the whole the character of a dark and earthy vetiver-like scent. This further developes into a complex tart incense-style note by the addition of a strong spikenard component. Further in the drydown, just when this has settled into a more sinister territory, a fresh lemongrass emanates accompanied by benzoin. This oscillating between dark and brighter is typical for the development of this fragrance on my skin, which towards the end adds a herbal-vegetal note with hints of bean and basil. Over the last hour a mildly sweet and uncloying vanilla is present and lasts until the end.
For Victoria of EauMG, turmeric didn’t seem to appear at all, and Leva was largely an approachable “ginger beer” scent with a rich vanilla base. She writes, in part:
Leva open as an effervescent, spicy ginger beer – dried citrus, lemongrass, peppercorns, ginger. It then fizzles down to a resinous, slightly balsamic lemongrass. Leva dries down to a boozy tonka-vanilla with a dusty benzoin resin. This vanilla base is less foody and more balsamic, almost tobacco-like.
Being one of my first experiences with the line, I was surprised by its “tameness”. I’m not calling it boring. I’m surprised by its wearability. It’s something you could wear in any environment or on any occasion. I was expecting something much more “difficult”. As far as a ginger beer fragrance goes, this one is completely approachable. […][¶]
Victoria’s Final EauPINION – Gourmand, spicy ginger beer with a sweet, balsamic base. Now I like spicy gourmands but I rarely ever wear them. I always *think* I like them more than I actually do. Saying that, Leva is something I’d never wear but that doesn’t speak to the quality of the fragrance. It’s just me saying “would I ever drop $250+ for a lemongrass-ginger fragrance? Nope”.
I think she got a much better version of Leva than I did, without the more acrid aspects of the tumeric powder, and I rather envy her experience, but I join her in her final conclusion: Leva is not something I personally would ever wear.
For all that I struggled with Leva, I admire the originality of the composition and its use of some very difficult ingredients. One has to respect a perfumer who is willing to break boundaries, and to create something very different from the endless oud, gourmand, or “fresh, clean” scents that every other house puts out in droves. I only wish I had been up to the challenge in this case.
Disclosure: My sample was courtesy of Luckyscent. That did not influence this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.