All good fragrances tell stories. Epine Mortelle, the latest release from LM Parfums, reads like an elegant fairytale. Imagine yourself walking in the woods. You take a wrong turn, and suddenly find yourself lost in darkness where trees are made from black and fiery Szechuan peppers, and the air is dense with an aromatic greenness that is almost like pine. A hushed silence hangs over everything — heavy, black, green, and thick. Yet, in the distance, a pale, pink light glows like beacon.
Suddenly, before you know it, you stumbled into a clearing where roses blanket the ground as far as the eye can see. Their petals are made of velvet from pink pepper berries, and their heart billows out sweet, yellow mimosa pollen. Candied violets are sprinkled on top, while their roots grow in earthy soil made from musky cassis (or black currents) and spices. Every part of the magical flowers is blanketed with angelica, a herb that grows green and spicy.
It’s hard to believe you were ever in that haunted forest, especially as the scene before your eyes changes quickly. Before you know it, the roses turn dark and rubied, wafting a fruity sweetness infused with spices. Trees made of violet orris lipstick sprout magically from the ground. As you walk, vines made out of a rich vanilla custard curl around your limbs, as tiny fireflies made of cumin dart around you. Then, as if a good witch waved her wand, everything changes and the spicy, lipstick rose vanishes. Now, you’re suddenly sitting down to have tea with sweet, powdery meringues made of roses and angelica. It’s as though you took a brief walk through Maleficient’s dark forest to suddenly end up at the Snow White’s pastry shop, but all of it is done seamlessly, elegantly, and with great richness.
The funny thing about the tale I just told you is that the first half — about being lost in a dark forest before quickly ending up in a clearing of angelica-violet dusted roses — came to mind the minute I sprayed on the perfume and before I actually read the accompanying literature sent to me by Laurent Mazzone‘s LM Parfums. That literature turned out to be all about being lost in darkness (albeit in a maze instead of a forest), before an “angelic rose” suddenly appears. I was rather amazed at how successfully and evocatively Epine Mortelle (which is officially spelt as Épine Mortelle, with an accent) carried out its creator’s vision. PR stories are often just hyperbolic balderdash, but LM Parfums has absolutely nailed this one, though I think the description only tells one small, early part of the tale and there is a lot more to the scent than just the simplified official description.
That description reads as follows:
“In the pursuit of the absolute essence of this dark, but comforting fragrance, i was walking inside this long and tortuous hedge maze.
I thought I was lost but these deadly thorns finally revealed themselves to me.
Suddenly, the absolute essence appeared from this angelic Rose.”
Top Notes: Pink pepper, Black pepper, Sechuan pepper, Cumin, Nutmeg, Anise, Angelic,
Middle Notes: Violet, Damascene rose extract and tincture, Centifolia may Rose, Mimosa, Blackcurrant,
Base Notes: Musk, Vanilla.
Epine Mortelle opens on my skin with a spicy mix of peppers — black, pink, and a dash of the Szechuan chili pepper sort — infused with nutmeg and green angelica. For those of you unfamiliar with angelica, it is a plant distantly related to celery and whose roots are ground up as a spice. It has a green, spicy aroma (that is nothing like celery), but something about its treatment here reminds me almost of galbanum mixed with a pinch of aromatic pine. The very first time I wore Epine Mortelle, before I knew what its notes were, I thought the opening had a very forest-like vibe with something that distantly resembled pines, but not quite. Yet, the bouquet isn’t truly aromatic in the traditional sense and, despite the inclusion of so many different forms of pepper, it isn’t really peppered, either. The general sense is of a spicy darkness that indirectly conveys the feel of a black-green forest. I don’t know how Laurent Mazzone and his Robertet “nose” did it, but they have.
The dark notes feel like a thick wall behind which peeks out the palest of pink roses. At first, it smells purely floral in nature but the rose quickly takes on a fruity quality, thanks to the pink pepper berries. I’m generally not a fan of the latter which were over-used in so many fragrances from the 2000s, but the main reason why is because they had a painfully sweet gooey-ness similar to jammy, purple fruitchouli. In Epine Mortelle, however, the note is handled much better and there is no stridently screechy, sweet excess to clobber you on the head. Instead, it’s a balanced, more subtle fruitiness that merely enriches the roses and quickly turns their pale pink colour into something more rubied and velvety.
There is far more to the rose than just fruitiness, though. It is blanketed with a hefty dose of mimosa pollen, smelling sweet, yellow, and powdered. I’m really taken aback at what an authentic, strong mimosa note it is, too. One of the places where I grew up had mimosa (acacia) trees all around the house, and it is a smell I hold very dear to my heart but which I’ve rarely found to be conveyed in perfumery in a truly genuine or substantial manner. For example, I don’t think very much of the disappointingly wan, insipid, and very translucent mimosa in Frederic Malle‘s Fleur de Cassie, though perhaps I’ve tried a reformulated version, and I thought even less of the poorly named Classic Mimosa by Von Eusersdorff. Epine Mortelle does mimosa right, using in spades and with such wonderful richness that it pops out at you right away. I wasn’t the only one who noticed it, either. I had my mother try the fragrance to see her response (she was a huge fan), but didn’t tell her the notes. One of her very first comments was “mimosa.”
The mimosa’s powdered quality is underscored by a very makeup-like violet note that feels as though a significant amount of orris root had been mixed in as well. This is no purely floral violet, no flower growing wild amidst the woods and nestled amongst leaves that smell peppered or crunchy. There are no metallic nuances and, thankfully, none of the green sharpness that makes so many violet fragrances extremely difficult for me to bear. This is an orris violet that smells exactly like an expensive lipstick, like something Chanel or Bourjois used to make. In the old days, orris used to be used as a fixative or stabilizer in lipsticks and facial cosmetics, and the dried powder from the iris’ roots smells just like violets. Epine Mortelle’s note list does not mention orris at all, but I would bet money that the “violet” note here comes from something more than a violet ionone.
Epine Mortelle shifts a mere 10 minutes into its development, and the dark, peppered forest starts to receding from sight as the floral heart unfurls. I have to say, I was really saddened by that but, in all of my tests, the dark opening never lasted longer on my skin than 15 to 20 minutes at the very most. As regular readers know, I do not like rose-dominated fragrances (at all), and I really struggle with fragrances centered heavily around the note, but the opening of Epine Mortelle completely swept me off my feet. The forest-like vibe is such a stunning, gorgeous counterbalance to the floral components, and so original as well. The chiaroscuro interplay of light and dark, masculine and feminine, spicy blackness and delicate floral sweetness was fantastic. It also felt effortlessly chic and elegant in that very French sort of way, and I muttered to myself, “now this is a rose fragrance that I would gladly wear!”
Though the forest doesn’t last long, the second stage of Epine Mortelle is appealing, too. The flower turns beefy and rich as pink pepper grows fruitier, while the nutmeg, angelica, mimosa, and rose all bloom. What’s nice is how seamlessly and perfectly all the competing elements play off one another. The rose is clearly the star of the show, but the supporting actors sing almost as loudly and in perfect harmony. The flower’s dark petals are now strewn with as much spicy nutmeg as fruity pink pepper, the mimosa’s floral pollen, the violet’s orris lipstick, and the angelica’s herbal, greenness. Each of them is clearly distinguishable in its own right, but they swirl into a cloud around the rose and become an integral part of it.
Yet, one thing makes Epine Mortelle more than a generic, simple, fruity-floral with spices, and that’s the angelica. There aren’t a ton of fragrances which employ the ingredient, and I wasn’t a fan of how Guerlain treated it in Angelique Noire but it’s done really well here. It’s never aggressively green nor overtly herbal, but it’s also more than mere spiciness as well. Angelica is one of those notes that is really extremely difficult to describe unless you’ve actually smelt it, because none of the adjectives that I’ve used here properly convey its rather original aroma. It’s a strange mix of earthy, green, herbaceous, almost dusty, powdered, sweet spiciness, and it is really the key to why Epine Mortelle stands out. Forget the dark forest that lasted all too briefly, the lipstick violet, and the fruity elements — the real heart of Epine Mortelle is an angelica-infused rose. From start to finish, the angelica is a monumental part of the fragrance on my skin, and it is what makes Epine Mortelle so different.
Twenty minutes in, Epine Mortelle has turned into a very elegant, feminine rose fragrance with equal parts powderiness and spiciness, all atop a base that bears faint traces of earthiness. The latter is interesting because, if you sniff Epine Mortelle up close and really concentrate, you can make out the cumin and the cassis (black currant) but neither of them is really visible from afar. The cumin is usually subsumed into the general cloud of spiciness but, if you focus, you can just barely make out its earthy characteristics. For those of you who are cumin-phobes, don’t worry, because none of it smells foodie, stale, like curry, sweaty, or like unwashed body odor. As for the cassis, it merely has a tinge of muskiness, but very little of the fruit’s tart tanginess. Sometimes, cassis can have a feral sharpness with an ammonia-like bouquet; none of that appears here, either. All that happens is a very subtle undercurrent of earthiness that evokes the image of dark, rich soil made from something almost chocolate-y, mixed with cumin, cassis, and vanilla.
Speaking of vanilla, thin ribbons of it start to rise up like vines at the 30-minute mark, curling their way around the spicy rose in a really elegant way. It’s the same sort of rich, almost custardy, gourmand vanilla that LM Parfums used the gorgeous Sensual Orchid, my second favorite fragrance from the line, as well as in Ultimate Seduction. The difference here, though, is that the vanilla is more carefully calibrated. It is worked so seamlessly into the other elements that it often feels more like a subset of the rose that adds a creamy, vaguely gourmand quality to the petals, instead of being a separate, really strong vanilla note in its own right. At most, it sometimes creates the impression of a rose feuilleté, a pastry where layers of rich, rubied rose petals are sandwiched between spiciness, lipstick violets, pink fruits, earthiness, mimosa pollen and vanilla, before being heavily dusted by angelica powder.
As the first hour ends, Epine Mortelle is worlds apart from the fragrance of the opening. Its essence can be boiled down or over-simplified to: a powdered, spicy, lipstick rose infused with angelica. The various secondary notes now overlap, losing their individual shape, but also fluctuating in prominence and strength. Sometimes, the rose seems more lipstick-like and powdery in nature; at other times, the spiciness or fruitiness seem more apparent. Throughout it all, a few things are clear: the angelica is always present in hefty amounts; the mimosa is rapidly fading away; and the faint vestiges of cumin and cassis have essentially vanished from sight. It is becoming much harder to pull out anything but the rose, the orris violet lipstick, generalized spiciness, and powderiness. All of it feels increasingly feminine and gourmand in nature, helped by the fact that the subtle streak of earthiness in the base has been replaced by a new creaminess, though it doesn’t read as vanilla, per se.
Laurent Mazzone wanted to create an “angelic rose,” and he achieved that goal very successfully and quite literally. This is a very angelica-infused rose, indeed, but that note is precisely why Epine Mortelle stands out from similar fragrances in the genre. Frederic Malle‘s over-hyped Lipstick Rose covers the same ground as Epine Mortelle, not to mention one of the most famous rose-violet fragrances around, YSL’s legendary Paris. I dislike Lipstick Rose immensely, and it was a complete scrubber on my skin because it was utterly synthetic, cloyingly sweet, painfully powdered, and I have to repeat, cheaply, horribly synthetic. The mere memory of it continues to be a trauma. As for Paris, I actually wore it as an pre-teen, and it’s probably the single reason why I cannot bear rose fragrances to this day.
Epine Mortelle is substantially and significantly better than both of them. It’s not overly simplistic and sweet, definitely not synthetic or cheap-smelling, and has more going on than just violet lipstick and feminine roses. Yes, it is powdery, but Epine Mortelle also has a strong streak of spiciness, as well as a gourmand quality. Most of all, it has the very original touch of angelica with all of its hard-to-describe, strange uniqueness. It differentiates Epine Mortelle from others in the genre, as well as from Guerlain‘s treatment of violet orris with iris in the similarly powdery Après L’Ondee.
Epine Mortelle remains as a spicy, feminine, lipstick rose for about 90 minutes before shifting again in the middle of the 3rd hour, and heading straight for purely gourmand territory. The violets are weaker, no longer resemble an orris lipstick, and become candied in nature. At the same time, the angelica and powder grow stronger. In essence, Epine Mortelle turns into a rose-angelica powdered pastry, perhaps a macaron or feuilleté, dusted with candied violets and placed atop a crème anglaise vanilla sauce.
The latter disappears after an hour, leaving only a spicy, green, angelica-infused rose with a lot of powder and a touch of candied violets. Unfortunately, the powder has now grown too much for me, though I grant you that my threshold is quite low. Roses are difficult enough for me, but very powdery and gourmand scents are as well, so having all three at once was not my personal cup of tea. I increasingly felt as though I was wearing a powdered meringue made from roses and angelica.
Matters weren’t helped much by the fact that Epine Mortelle is a powerful, strong, and extremely long-lasting fragrance that absolutely does not change on my skin from this point forth. In a nutshell, I wore powdered, angelica-rose meringue from roughly the 3.5 hour mark until the fragrance finally died away a little bit after 25 hours (!!!) from its start. I’ll get to the astonishing longevity in a moment, but Epine Mortelle’s simple drydown was too powdery and feminine for me even before exhaustion kicked in. I always say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with linearity if you like the notes in question, so I think that someone who adores powdery rose, gourmand fragrances will be in utter heaven.
Epine Mortelle has excellent projection, leaves a huge sillage wake, and lasts seemingly forever. Using 2 sprays from an actual bottle, the perfume opened with a strong cloud that radiated 6 inches. That number dropped to about 3 inches after 2 hours, but Epine Mortelle left a powerful scent trail in the air around me for the first 6 hours or so. On one occasion, I wore the fragrance to lunch at my parents’ house, and my sister detected the aroma from far across the other end of the room. That’s unusual for an extrait de parfum, because fragrances with that high concentration are generally quite soft and cling to the skin. They certainly don’t project so strongly after so many hours.
I’ve tried the entire LM Parfums line, and Epine Mortelle is definitely the strongest, the most voluminous, and the longest-lasting, hands down. To my disbelief, the perfume didn’t turn into a true skin scent until after the start of the 11th hour, and the 25-hour longevity had my jaw on the ground. The perfume kept me company through my insomnia, and straight into the next day — all from a mere 2 sprays. Using 1 spray, Epine Mortelle opened with 4 inches of projection, turned into a skin scent at the 8.75 hour mark, and lasted just under 17 hours. I’ve never seen anything like it. My skin may amplify base notes, but it is also completely voracious and has eaten through other extraits with greater speed. Epine Mortelle is like the Energizer Bunny on steroids.
Epine Mortelle costs €195, $225 or £195 for 100 ml of pure parfum extrait. So, it’s cheaper than some of its extrait siblings amongst the LM Parfums line, but in line with Sensual Orchid. I think it’s a great price for the quality and quantity. Epine Mortelle is available now from LM Parfums and its affiliate, Premiere Avenue, which is also owned by Laurent Mazzone. It should arrive at Osswalds NYC, First in Fragrance, Harvey Nichols, and other LM Parfums retailers shortly.
The elegance of the scent in conjunction with its superb projection and longevity make Epine Mortelle a fragrance that I would definitely recommend to people who love powdered rose, gourmand fragrances with a twist. The opening is simply stellar, while the angelica adds a distinctive quality that separates the main part of Epine Mortelle from others in the genre, as does its luxurious depth and smooth quality. Absolutely nothing about this fragrance smells cheap. All of it feels expensive, elegant, and very French. I may not generally enjoy powdery, lipstick rose, gourmand fragrances, but even I loved parts of Epine Mortelle, so someone who thinks Malle’s Lipstick Rose is a great scent would probably fall to their knees. I have to say, though, that I think Epine Mortelle skews quite feminine in nature, unless you’re a man who loves this genre, or spicy floral gourmands like some of the powdery, Loukhoum rose fragrances on the market. Regardless of gender, if you fall into any of those categories, you should give Epine Mortelle a sniff. It’s a beautiful treatment of the genre.
Disclosure: My bottle of Epine Mortelle was provided courtesy of LM Parfums. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.