Iris with leather, frankincense and myrrh, topped off by tales of Montmartre in 1894 and a dancer from the Moulin Rouge who receives an enchanted vial of ambergris… I was instantly intrigued. I’d never heard of the perfume house which was an Italian one, but the Italians make some great fragrances and those notes had a siren’s lure. So, I sent off for a vial of Montmartre (as well as one of a scent called Cruda that turned out to be a rose rollercoaster), and thought I would tell you my own tale.
Morph Parfums is a relatively new Italian house that may have been founded in 2103, judging by their Facebook page. A comment on Parfumo.net says that their creative director (and possible founder) is a man called Dr. Andrea Angelino, while the perfumes are made by Maurizio Cerizza. Apparently, all of them are super-concentrated in nature, clocking in at a whopping 33% which is far higher than most extrait de parfums. On their website, Morph describes them as being
the outcome of a careful research of the best natural essences which have been chosen with passion all around the world. Morph redoubles, in its creations, the quantity of usually used essences so creating intense Eau de parfum and enhancing the endurance and the intensity on the skin of its unique odors. Odors that describe with stories, travels, adventures and emotions.
Morph also has long stories for all their scents. For Montmartre (sometimes called “Montmartre 1894“), it is about a young ballerina called Yvette who works at the famed Moulin Rouge in Paris’ Montmartre district in 1894. One night, a street vendor gifts her with a mysterious vial of an opulent, ambered perfume whose aroma enchants everyone who encounters it, leaving them happy and smiling. The rest of the tale is a long one, but ends with Morph saying that it has “found the magic ampoule of Yvette, hidden for decades by her smiling descendants. Morph has reproduced its unforgettable aroma of amber, natural elements and a touch of happiness.”
Morph doesn’t have a specific note list for Montmartre, but First in Fragrance has a lot of details. First, Montmartre has a 33% concentration level, essentially making it an extrait de parfum. Second, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you when you see the photo of the bottle, because First in Fragrance says it really is twisted: “The MORPH flacon design embodies the MetaMORPHosis – the flacon body is twisted, as if it were in a rotating motion.”
Finally, First in Fragrance says that the note pyramid is:
Top Note: Frankincense, Myrrh
Heart Note: Iris, Patchouly
Base Note: Musk, Leather, Ambergris
Montmartre opens on my skin with cool myrrh that has peppery and aldehydic-like soapy undertones, mixed with a cool floralcy that only barely translates to “iris.” Small traces of sweetness follow, as well as a touch of warmth. Together, they move the scent away from coolness towards something closer to sweet myrrh or opoponax.
In less than a few minutes, Montmartre has suddenly transformed from overly clean myrrh with soapiness and coolness into a semi-sweet incense with subtle floralcy. The sweetness is accompanied by a slightly powdery, vanilla-ish, almost heliotrope-like note which, to my surprise, ends up being quite a significant part of the scent. Lurking in the shadows is also the first hint of a marshy, mushy, slightly salty sweetness, but it never really translates to ambergris on my skin. There is no golden warmth or even the caramel undertones that ambergris can manifest, only a certain marshy, mushy sweetness from time to time.
The floral note is elusive and quite fascinating. Sometimes, it’s a wee bit rooty, like iris. Most of the time, though, it feels like a mix of iris with heliotrope, thanks to that barely powdered, vanilla-ish aroma that is almost gourmand in nature. What really draws me in is how it mixes with the myrrh which has lost all traces of soapiness after 5 minutes, as well as most of its usual dusty, musty incense qualities. It’s as though the note has been so refined that all of its main characteristics have been filtered out, leaving only a shadow of its old self and a very hazy sense of purified incense. Together with the iris (and heliotrope), they create something that consistently reminds me of an iris-incense marshmallow.
Unfortunately, many of the individual notes become hard to identify a mere 15 minutes into Montmartre’s development. The fragrance has suddenly turned very blurry and insubstantial, a mere suggestion of fluff that floats on the air like a will o’ the wisp, where everything merges together into a simple bouquet of barely rooty iris infused with sweetened myrrh and vaguely ambered marshy sweetness. If all of those terms come with qualifiers, it’s because Montmartre is both a scent without a lot of layers and one where only the main accord has great clarity. Oddly, while the perfume feels quite wispy up close, it leaves a scent trail, though the sillage is soft and only extends a foot or so. From afar, the incense isn’t apparent at all, and Montmartre smells merely of an iris marshmallow with a vaguely toasted warmth about it.
Montmartre isn’t a hugely complicated fragrance, and basically has 3 main stages. The first hour is what I’ve described thus far and has the most nuances. The 2nd stage begins at the end of the first hour and the start of the second, and essentially consists of three small changes. First, a sweet creaminess awakens in the base, as if Cashmerean woods and tonka has been mixed together. Second, the myrrh turns weaker, and it sometimes feels fully subsumed within the iris, though it usually seems to lurk on the sidelines. Third, the frankincense finally arrives. Like the myrrh, it’s a refined shadow of what the note usually feels like, more akin to generic smokiness than the sort of incense so common to Amouage fragrances.
The effect of all this is to place the creamy, almost candied, marshmallow iris at the center of a 40-minute tug of war between the myrrh and the frankincense. Each one takes turns staining the creamy petals of the flower, tinting it with a suggestion of either smoky darkness or faintly musty myrrh, but neither one ever really wins. The core of Montmartre continues to be the creamy iris with slightly powdered marshmallow or meringue sweetness. By the time the third hour rolls around, the smokiness flickers quietly at the edges, only occasionally interacting with the iris on center stage. At no time during any of this do I detect any leather on my skin and certainly not an ambergris the way it usually manifests itself. Instead, there is a certain sharpness to the scent that makes me think clean white musk had been used, even if it’s not mentioned in the note list.
In the third and final phase, Montmartre loses much of its gourmand qualities, turns drier, and eventually becomes a simple, clean, floral woody musk. The drydown starts roughly 6.25 hours into the perfume’s development, marked by a sudden decrease in sweetness and the arrival of small streaks of slightly musty woodiness. It doesn’t smell like patchouli, but it’s woodier than the sort of mustiness sometimes associated with myrrh. Whatever the source, it cuts through Montmartre’s sweetness, leaving behind a floral, slightly rooty iris with some woodiness and some sweetness in a semi-dry, semi-sweet combination. The white musk seems to grow stronger at the same time.
By the start of the 8th hour, the iris has lost all clarity and turned amorphous, but the perfume’s cleanness has grown clearer. In essence, Montmartre has turned into a clean, floral, woody musk with barely decipherable iris and soapiness. In its final hours, all that’s left is slightly soapy woodiness.
Montmartre had excellent longevity and moderate to soft projection on my skin. Using 3 smears equal to 2 sprays from a bottle, the opening bouquet initially radiated 2 to 3 inches, dropped down to 2 inches at the end of the first hour and stayed there for quite a while. The perfume left a small sillage trail even when I didn’t move. Montmartre only became a skin scent at the start of the 6th hour, and lasted 14 hours in total.
I haven’t found any reviews for Montmartre. There are no comments on either its Fragrantica or Parfumo pages, though the latter shows votes in categories like sillage, longevity, or bottle appearance. For the actual scent, there are 17 votes, resulting in a 72% rating for Montmartre as a whole. That’s really all I’ve found.
Personally, I have mixed feelings about Montmartre. First, what the devil happened to the supposed ambergris-centric bouquet that I was promised??! I really wish companies would stop focusing on fanciful, elaborate tales that have little to do with the scent in question. However, Montmartre wasn’t a bad scent at all, and I say that as someone who usually struggles with iris fragrances. While I would have liked the leather that I was also promised, gourmand iris is the one type I enjoy. Here, it had the nice addition of incense, while thankfully avoiding both excessive sweetness and the coldness that some iris fragrances demonstrate. On the other hand, Montmartre is rather a simplistic scent; it’s generally quite linear; and the drydown was a big disappointment. As a whole, I don’t think the perfume is either as novel or as distinctive as Morph tries to claim. Both gourmand irises and iris with incense are quite common, and let’s not start on the “clean floral woody musk” genre in general.
Be that as it may, Montmartre is a very pleasant fragrance with some nice parts to it. I liked its general smoothness, and I thought it had refined elegance. While it was airier and lighter than I had expected, it did have the extended longevity promised by the 33% concentration. As a whole, it’s a wholly unisex, uncomplicated, easy to wear, and an often appealing fragrance that I would recommend to iris lovers to try, especially as it doesn’t seem very expensive at €103 or €108 for a 100 ml bottle of concentrated pure parfum. Right now, the entire Morph line seems to be sold exclusively in Europe, but samples are easily obtainable both there and in America.
Next time, I’ll look at Morph’s Cruda, an intense explosion of fruity roses that is quite a wild ride but, ultimately, not as successful or refined as Montmartre.