One fateful morning, Cleopatra sailed up the Nile to meet Antony on a barge whose billowing sails were made from gossamer-light orange blossom petals. Her white silk robe bore a long train made from even more orange blossoms, carried by her handmaidens, Neroli and Mandarin, who wear garlands of jasmine in their hair. The trio danced joyously and exuberantly, sending out a bouquet far and wide like a royal proclamation, one whose sweet floralcy was redolent with tart tanginess from green fruits and the zesty oils of the rind. The fruits’ sun-ripened juices poured off their bodies to drip below decks on sailors hewing oars of buttercream sandalwood and green vetiver. It was as though the Queen had captured every part of an orange tree — from the bright floralcy of the fresh flowers to the multi-faceted fragrance of its fruit, the green leaves which surround them, and the wood which bears them on the tree — and made them all genuflect in worship before enveloping her like a protective shield.
As the barge moved up the Nile, the scenery changed and the mood softened. The white-blossomed sails now merely fluttered in a soft breeze; the pulvarizingly energetic, zesty, brightness of the wild Bollywood music became a slow dance; and the Queen of the Orange Blossoms lay languidly in sensuous repose on a pile of greenness as a golden haze of velvety ylang-ylang and sweet jasmine hung heavy in the air. The barge itself almost seems to melt into creaminess, and the water glistened with a shimmering of benzoin powder. They occasionally passed bits of driftwood, overly desiccated and oddly out-of-place, but they were small pieces that soon passed out of sight. When they arrived at the meeting place, the barge docked and you could see its name: Pichola.
Pichola (pronounced “Pitchola”) is a new fragrance from Neela Vermeire Creations (hereinafter just “Neela Vermeire” or “NVC”) that will be released in April. It is a floral-oriental eau de parfum created in conjunction with Bertrand Duchaufour. Unlike my tale, the inspiration for the scent has absolutely nothing to do with Cleopatra, let alone Ancient Egypt. As always, Ms. Vermeire was moved by her native country, India. In this case, specifically, Lake Pichola in Udaipur, Rajasthan, scene of the stunning Lake Palace (among other palaces) and the location for the James Bond film, “Octopussy.” Udaipur happens to be one of my favorite places in one of my favorite countries, so I hope you will indulge me and forgive a few photos of three of the four majestic palaces on the lake. Plus, both the colours of the area and the reflections off the lake are a big part of the perfume’s description. Ms. Vermeire told me that even the driftwood note in Pichola was used to represent the colours and light playing on the water.
Pichola and its notes are described in the NVC press release as follows:
Lake Pichola is the crown jewel and central focus of the princely city of Udaipur.
A myriad of colourful historic, architectural and spiritual reflections fall on this splendid water body – the sunlight and moonlight of each season bringing out the eternal and timeless beauty of Lake Pichola.
Our latest fragrance captures such countless reflections on the lake from the past to the present – showcasing the splendour of opulent and vibrant flowers, princely spices and precious woods taking us on an unforgettable and hypnotic fragrant journey. Once you have experienced the diverse and stunning beauty of these indescribable reflections you will understand the true meaning of timeless luxury and effortless beauty….
TOP NOTES: Cardamom, cinnamon, saffron, juniper, magnolia, neroli oil, clementine, bergamot.
HEART NOTES: Orange blossom absolute, rose absolute, tuberose absolute, Jasmine sambac, ylang-ylang.
BASE NOTES: Benzoin absolute, sandalwood, driftwood, vetiver from Haiti.
Pichola opens on my skin with the brightest of sweet, heady orange blossoms, the sort that have finally unfurled their buds to greet the sun but still have a youthful, green freshness about them. They may gleam golden white in the light but, to me, they feel as brightly orange’d as a glowing nebula. There is no deconstructed, camphorous blackness; there are no blowsy indoles that smell like either mothballs, over-ripeness verging on decay, or fleshy, skanky muskiness. These are fresh orange blossoms that are heady in the most natural of ways, as though they were still clinging to the tree and only starting to release their fragrant sweetness.
Peeking out from behind the blossoms, hovering like the shyest of ghosts, are wisps of jasmine and ylang-ylang. For a few, brief minutes, they are joined by a crisp, green tuberose note, but then it scurries away and is never again to be seen. I have to admit, I’m saddened by that because tuberose is my favorite flower (both in life and in perfumery), and I had been banking on a tuberose-heavy scent. Alas, on all three occasions that I tested Pichola, the tuberose was barely perceptible and never lasted more than a few moments on my skin. The rose is even more elusive. It didn’t bother to show up in two of my three tests, and the third time there was merely a tiny flutter at the very end that may well have been a figment of my imagination. As for the magnolia, I’m sure it contributes something to the creaminess that later appears in Pichola, but I can’t smell it either in any noticeable, distinct way at all. No, on my skin, the orange blossom is the Queen, while the jasmine and ylang-ylang are the only other supporting players, though they generally hover on the sidelines until midway in Pichola’s development.
From the very first moment, the orange blossom is supported by two faithful handmaidens: Neroli and Mandarin. Each and every petal is drenched with their tart, tangy juices in a mix so bright, so intense, so saturated with flavour that it almost glows neon in my mind’s eye. There is the same sort of wonderful mouth-puckering greenness mixed with sweetness that the mangos in Bombay Bling displayed, the same effervescent fizziness, the same burst of bright zestiness, only this time the choice of fruits is different. Plus, the note here feels a tad tarter than even the green mangoes in Bombay Bling. Yet, there is a clear relationship between the two scents, and clearly the same vision and artistic hand behind the multi-faceted accord as well.
More importantly, it is an integral part of Pichola on my skin from start almost to finish, so it’s worth explaining its aroma in depth. It a bright, bright aroma that smells simultaneously of: the heavy pulp from a sun-ripened orange; the zesty, zingy tartness of oil which feels as though it had been squirted from the rind of hundreds of green tangerines and then reduced down further into a potent absolute; and the more piquant, crisp greenness of neroli. (“Neroli” refers merely to the steam method by which the orange tree’s flowers are distilled, resulting in a more aromatic, slightly woodier, less sweetened, less floral and less feminine scent than when orange blossoms are distilled via solvents.) Tiny slivers of bergamot pop up in the background in the opening moments, but they are really hard to make out and are quickly swallowed up by the bright intensity of the two other citrus notes.
The fruits and orange blossom flowers form the fundamental structure upon which Pichola is built on my skin, but other notes flesh out the perfume’s shape like sinew and muscle. Right from the start there is a light sprinkling of saffron, dry cinnamon, and a dash of woody cardamom. I’m initially a little distracted by the sheer foodie butteriness of the saffron which meshes oddly with such buoyantly effervescent, fresh accords, but it only takes 15 minutes for the spices to melt into the floral bouquet. It’s as though the orange blossoms swallowed them up, making them a part of its fragrancy in the most natural of ways. You can absolutely tell that Pichola has a spicy side in the first hour, but none of the individual components are a clearly delineated presence. Rather, the spiciness is hazy and quiet, impacting the flowers indirectly, underscoring their heady aroma, but never intruding in a strong way that would detracting from Pichola’s main focus. By the middle of the 2nd hour, even their hazy abstraction fades away.
Underneath the billowing blossoms, deep down in the furthest part of the base, you can just about discern streaks of vetiver and sandalwood. The former feels merely like a slightly woody, earthy greenness, while the latter smells merely like creamy white woods. Pichola is the first Neela Vermeire creation I remember not to list “Mysore” as the sort of sandalwood that was used. Given the prohibitive cost of the extremely rare wood and the whopping amounts of it in scents like the glorious Trayee, I’ve always admired Ms. Vermeire’s extravagance in using it in her fragrances. This time, though, I suspect that the spicy, smoky, heftier richness of Mysore would have detracted from what is ultimately a very ethereal scent, so she opted for a milder form of the wood. I think it was a wise choice because the softer, admittedly more generic, beige woods not only keep the focus on the florals but retain the perfume’s delicacy.
Speaking of lightness, Pichola has the Duchaufour signature all over it in terms of its paradoxical contrasts. Several of the core elements are intensely concentrated in feel, but the perfume itself is incredibly airy. A reader of the blog, “Tim,” coined the phrase “hefty weightlessness” to describe the Duchaufour aesthetic, and it’s very true. Here, several of the individual notes have heft, particularly when smelled up close, but the overall scent is almost weightless in its lightness.
That said, I think Pichola is sheerer than most of its siblings, more translucent in feel, and softer in both projection and sillage as well. 3 spritzes from my mini atomiser, roughly the equivalent of 2 sprays from an actual bottle, initially gave me 3 inches of projection at best, but within that small cloud, there is a definite punch that belies the image of thin, summer gauze curtains billowing out in the wind or sails on a boat that Pichola conveys. The problem is that I had to bring my nose near my arm to get some of that punch after the first 20 minutes, because Pichola barely left a scent trail at all. In fact, there is a very elusive quality to Pichola in general on my skin, particularly as it develops.
I’ve spent so much time on all the details of the opening moments in part because Pichola doesn’t have multiple twists and turns on my skin. Its core essence remains the same from start almost to finish, and only the strength, prominence, and order of the supporting players vary.
In essence, they fluctuate, but they all worship at the same altar, the altar of orange blossoms infused with the tangy greenness of a neroli-mandarin mix. The spices are the first to genuflect and, as mentioned earlier, they sink into the flowers roughly 15 minutes into Pichola’s development. Then, streaks of green appear, floating at the edges 45 minutes in, smelling not like vetiver but simply dark, slightly bitter, and a wee bit woody and earthy. At the same time, the woodiness in the base grows more noticeable too. It’s as though the orange blossom tree were being replicated in every way with the new addition of the leaves and the body of the tree. By the end of the first hour, Pichola is essentially a bright, fresh, lightly spiced, sweet orange blossom scent, drenched in the juices of its fruits, lovingly framed by greenness, and with just a hint of the woody tree below.
When the 2nd hour rolls around, the woodiness and greenness both grow exponentially greater, and now dance around the orange blossom queen and her handmaiden fruits on center stage. I have the oddest image of greenness cupping the flower’s face like a lover’s hands. There is a subtle tenderness to the interplay of notes at times, perhaps because Pichola is such a delicate scent on my skin and, yet, the intense fragrancy of neroli also makes the fragrance something that feels energetic and energizing. Like its sister, Bombay Bling, Pichola is a primarily a happy, cheery scent on my skin. It’s true that orange blossoms fragrances often take a turn on the lusty, debauched side, but the ones in Pichola feel more festive and brightly merry than anything else.
Around the same time, the perfume turns softer in both its notes and projection, a subtle creaminess stirs in the base, and there is the first glimmer of the driftwood. Ms. Vermeire told me that it was meant to reflect the colours and reflections of light on water, and that it is an accord created for her by Mr. Duchaufour. Perhaps that’s why I find it so hard to describe. Frankly, I’m not keen on it, mere glimmer or not, and I think it smells odd — both individually and in connection with the other notes. It’s slightly salty, slightly aquatic (but not quite), possibly mineralised (but not quite) aroma that lies side by side with a synthetic, overly desiccated woodiness. The latter is like a very arid, artificial dryness that also happens to be woody and a little salty-aquatic at the same time. As I said, it’s a hard accord to describe. I don’t like it, nor the small chemical whiff underlying it. Thankfully, it’s the mildest, weakest part of Pichola on my skin, and barely noticeable in any real way until the drydown.
As the second hour draws to a close, Pichola is still the entire orange tree dominated by the lush flowers first and foremost, but the sandalwood has risen from the base to transform every part of the scent into something smoother and creamier. It’s as though a thin layer of buttercream had coated the petals, while also taming the citrus fruits as well. At the same time, the ylang-ylang awakens and joins with the sandalwood to add a textural softness that almost feels velvety and, once in a blue moon, wafts a faint banana-like nuance as well.
The combined effect is a less fizzy, energetic bouquet at the start of the 3rd hour, one that feels more languid, as though Cleopatra and her handmaidens had tired of their dance and decided to lounge in slight deshabille. The pulse of the fragrance has slowed, and all the players are starting to commingle into one. The base limbs of the tree are intertwined around the white flesh of the orange blossoms, the green rind of the neroli has melted into the green “leaves” of the vetiver, sweet orange juices drips over the whole lot which is enveloped in a silky sheet of buttercream woods with ylang-ylang.
From under this pile of sprawling, fused bodies, the jasmine peeks out her tiny head and says hello. She soon pulls herself out and joins the party, smelling as bright and fresh as the orange blossoms. Once again, there is no mentholated blackness, no mothball indoles, and nothing so ripe or lusty as to evoke images of musky, heated flesh. (Jasmine can do that, you know.) Instead, the flower is heady in a natural way and sweet, though never overly so like syrup. If anything, the jasmine feels as if it, too, were still hanging fresh on a tree, wafting almost a bridal delicacy with a touch of greenness.
Now, the balance of notes suddenly changes, as the ylang-ylang and jasmine join the neroli and mandarin as the Queen’s dames d’honneur or ladies in waiting. Out of the four, the ylang-ylang’s buttery, velvety softness sometimes seems the most noticeable and distinct, swirling around with its occasional hints of banana custard. The other notes are all much more fused within the orange blossom, almost impossible to tease out, but Pichola is turning more blurry and hazy in general. Everything feels as though it is overlapping up top, except perhaps the neroli and orange blossom which cast the longest shadows. In the base, the benzoin starts to stir, adding a fine dusting of slightly vanilla-ish powder to the sandalwood. The vetiver has dissolved into the tiniest wisp, though there is still a sense a greenness about the flowers. I simply can’t tell now if it comes merely from the neroli or from a combination of notes.
The odd thing is that Pichola feels like two different scents now, depending on whether you’re sniffing it up close or from afar. It feels particularly elusive when smelt up close, in part because the scent is so gauzy that it feels translucent, and in part because most of the notes are so blurry. One thing is clear, though: Pichola has suddenly switched its focus from representing the entire orange tree in its various parts to a scent that is now primarily a mixed floral-oriental bouquet atop a base of creamy woods.
What confuses me is just how different Pichola smells from a distance. The florals completely disappear, and all that’s left is a citrus-centric bouquet dominated sometimes by neroli and sometimes by oranges. Actually, a lot of the times, especially from the 3.5 hour mark onwards, Pichola smells from afar merely like a tart orange-neroli creamsicle. It’s not one that is gooey sweet by any means, but it’s definitely some form of neroli creamsicle, complete with the beige wooden stick inside. This one merely happens to be coated by the lightest dusting of vanilla-ish benzoin powder. It’s still a tart, tangy, sweet, and fragrant bouquet, but it’s absolutely not floral at all, which stands in very sharp contrast to how the bouquet smells up close. I’ve tried Pichola three times now, and the same thing always occurs at some point during the fourth hour.
The pattern continues until the 5th hour, when it becomes impossible for me to single out most of the notes. Pichola is now a blurry, vaguely neroli-ish, generally citrusy-fruity floral mix atop creamy woods. Except for those times when it smells like a neroli creamsicle from afar. The driftwood is noticeable now in a more consistent manner, but it’s merely tiny wisps that float by the edges from time to time, like passing flotsam in a stream. Actually, Pichola as a whole feels like a tiny wisp. It is so elusive, I sometimes think it’s about to die out entirely.
Near the end of the 5th hour, all that’s left is a smear of creaminess that feels somewhat woody in nature and that has a lingering trace of tartness about it. It feels as though Pichola is essentially dead. And it happened even sooner when I used a smaller quantity of scent. With tiny spritzes equal to 1 spray from an actual bottle, I had almost written Pichola off after 4.5 hours. Yet, in both cases, the perfume persists for quite a while longer; it simply takes a substantial effort to find it. I had to put my nose right on the skin and inhale really hard. When doing that, I managed to detect a few more hours each time: 7.5 hours with the larger amount equal to 2 sprays from a bottle; and just under 5.75 hours with the equivalent of 1 spray. I don’t know if others will make the effort or will merely conclude that the scent has a short duration. In fairness, my skin does eat through pure florals quite rapidly and, for all its oriental spices and woods, Pichola is essentially a fruity-floral on my skin.
Pichola will be released officially in April, but there is already one review out for the scent already and it is a very glowing one. Fragrantica‘s Ida Meister recent wrote a detailed analysis of Pichola in one of her Scented Snippets pieces. It reads, in part, as follows:
What happens when you open the vial vs. test Pichola on skin is revealing: at first sniff from my bottle, the clementine leaps out joyfully amplified by neroli and duetted by bergamot and the tonicity of juniper. All the while spices vie for attention and are soothed by magnolia’s dulcet temperament.
The heart is a riotous profusion of floral absolutes, heady and vertigo-inducing. There is no poverty of abundance—ever—in Neela’s perfumes. This is an unapologetically voluptuous, knowing heart possessing potent powers of seduction. It is a “petite mort” all by itself.
Then, there’s the base: balsamic, woody, creamy, slightly leathery [as in old saddle leather]. Driftwood [accord or otherwise] feels drier and more astringent in comparison to sandalwood; benzoin is a bit of a chameleon, as it possesses several facets all on its own. Haitian vetiver is green and gracious, sweet and grassy with an edge. […]
It’s a lovely review and I urge you to read it in full. As for Pichola’s Fragrantica page, the only comment there thus far comes from Ms. Meister writing as “chayaruchama,” essentially saying that the scent is “spectacular” in a very brief comment. However, there are two votes already for Pichola’s longevity and sillage. For duration, there is 1 vote for “Poor” and 1 for “Moderate.” For sillage, both votes are for “Soft.”
I think Pichola is a scent best suited to hardcore lovers of white florals. I really enjoyed the first 90 minutes but, afterwards, I was a bit frustrated by Pichola’s softness, translucency, and elusiveness. That is an issue of personal taste and style, though, because I like my white flowers (and my scents in general) to be Wagnerian, to feel like the Ride of the Valkyries. That is not Pichola. While it’s not precisely an intimate, office-suitable scent (at least not unless you apply just a few dabs and then wait a bit), it is very ethereal and gauzy, in my opinion. More so than, say, Trayee, and Bombay Bling. Its notes may be bolder, brighter, crisper, and more intense than Ashoka and Mohur (EDP), but it does share a certain delicacy and tenderness with both of them.
I think skin chemistry will be quite significant with regard to both Pichola’s notes and the longevity issue. I think most people would find the opening to be a beautiful, glowing nebula of joyous effervescent, but I don’t know how the possibility of a neroli creamsicle developing midway will strike a few of you. I also think skin chemistry will impact which florals dominate on your skin, how the driftwood manifests itself, and the prominence of the citrus-fruity accords. As for Pichola’s longevity, please keep in mind that this is not a scent with which you should be miserly in application, because a few dabs will not work in your favour.
On the right skin, I think Pichola would be absolutely radiant, a breathless, billowing wisp of sweet femininity mixed with merry sparkle, succulently tangy citruses, crisp greenness, and soft woods that slowly turn into soothing creaminess. If you’re a lover of white florals, I definitely recommend trying it for yourself.
Disclosure: My sample was provided courtesy of the company. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.