“Germaine Cellier would have loved this.” That was the thought that kept coming to mind when I tried L’Eau Scandaleuse, a floral leather that is oh so much more. It is a deceptively simple scent at first glance, but a closer look reveals a fragrance that cuts a swathe through different perfume genres and gender profiles to end up as an androgynous, genderless leather in a fashion that I think Germaine Cellier, the legendary creator of Bandit and Fracas, would very much appreciate. It also marries the best of French classicism and the Haute Parfumerie divaesque style with a radiant lightness the belies the heft and richness of its notes to feel very modern. The juxtapositions and transitions are seamless; the overall result sophisticated and bold. It’s a far better release than many things I’ve smelt this year from famous noses, but L’Eau Scandaleuse comes from a self-taught, former perfumer blogger which makes it all the more impressive to me.
Anatole Lebreton is a relatively new French brand that launched in 2014 with three eau de parfums, L’Eau Scandaleuse, L’Eau de Merzkin, and Bois Lumière. Since this is a new brand that I’m covering for the first time with reviews to gradually follow for the other two, I thought it was worth providing some background information. The man behind the brand calls himself “Anatole Lebreton” (though I’ve read that is not his actual name), and has had a diverse career that, as I noted above, even included perfume blogging at one point. First in Fragrance has more details:
As his name suggests, Anatole Lebreton was born in Brittany, in the countryside, by the sea, where from an early age he was nurtured by epic stories, tales and legends. After growing up he first exercised his passionate temperament on stage in the theater. Then he decided to leave the stage to sell fine chocolates and rare teas which in turn helped him develop and sharpen both his sense of smell and taste. As a lover and collector of old perfumes, Anatole started to write about them in his weblog Sleeping Civet (Civette au Bois Dormant) and then decided to cross the threshold and venture into creating perfumes. With a lot of intuition and toiling to master the techniques, Anatole was guided by his deep respect for the history of perfume along with his sharp sense of free and boundless exploration. After some confidential tests he launched his eponymous brand Anatole Lebreton in 2014. His perfumes tell stories, redolent with emotions and enthusiasm.
First in Fragrance also quotes Lebreton’s philosophy for scent, and I’ll share portions of it with you here:
“I create perfumes that dress you up and unveil you at the same time, inviting you to connect with the primal and the carnal. I like it when I feel the heart beating, when it is moving and thrilling, when there’s fantasy and mystery.
My perfumes are like me, they are alive. They tell stories and beckon you to travel, to return to your origins and sensations. I see my perfumes as landscapes, or daydreams. Creating a perfume, or wearing it for that matter, is like an exploration and a journey, being a conqueror and being conquered at the same time. To put on perfume means having imagination, it’s like this little additional olfactory ‘je ne sais quoi’ that brings magic to life.” Anatole Lebreton
On his website, Anatole Lebreton describes L’Eau Scandaleuse and its notes as follows:
An exuberant creature crosses the dusty studio of a painter. She glides along voluptuously among the old leather armchairs, the freshly painted pictures and the ancient books. The flesh of the tuberose engages in a dance, or is it a duel ?, with the dry leather and they both stretch out onto a mossy bed. The animalic share in both mirror each other and intertwine in a bold and sensual embrace. A carnal, inebriating perfume, that is over the top, scandalously.
Bergamot, Peach, Davana
Tuberose, Ylang Ylang, Leather
Castoreum, Cypriol Nagarmotha, Oakmoss.
On the surface, L’Eau Scandaleuse opens as a simple floral leather that eventually transitions into a unisex smoky leather with some floral accents, but a close examination consistently revealed much more to the fragrance’s progression on my skin. L’Eau Scandaleuse essentially seemed to have 4 phases that are centered on different perfume families, moving on a spectrum from left to right and from feminine to unisex or androgynous:
- Stage One: the first two hours consists of a mix between a fruity-floral and a chypre, each atop a musky castoreum-leather base, before L’Eau Scandaleuse heads fully into the chypre category;
- Stage Two: the third hours pulls back the floralcy to reveal a smoky, musky leather that is lightly embroidered with floral accents.
- Stage Three: midway during the 4th hour, the leathered heart of L’Eau Scandaleuse is placed on an altar for full obeisance with barely a floral handmaiden in sight but with lots of smokiness and Bandit-like green-blackness.
- Stage 4: the drydown and final hours combine various elements of Stage Three and Stage Four in a mix of sweetness, darkness, and light floralcy.
L’Eau Scandaleuse opens with a kaleidoscope of brightness and darkness. There is a ripe peach dripping its juices, followed by davana apricot, green tuberose, a few drops of crisp bergamot, and then crashing waves of orange blossom atop leather coated with musky castoreum. The tuberose is quietly smoky, camphorous, blackened, and mentholated, but there is also a crisp greenness about it that is very nice. The leather feels smooth, but never so refined or polished as to smell like new, clean shoes. Yet, it’s also not tarry, heavily redolent of birch smoke, or fully raw. Instead, it’s refined leather that is quietly smoky but dominated by a velvety, warm muskiness from the castoreum to such a degree that it almost has a tactile, “living” quality, if that makes any sense. It’s beautifully handled, both in scent and in balance.
What confuses me is the orange blossom. L’Eau Scandaleuse does not list it as an ingredient, but it is a major part of the fragrance on my skin and the first thing that struck me when I smelled the top of my little atomiser. I’m not the only one who thinks it’s a core element; one of my readers recommended L’Eau Scandaleuse to me as an orange blossom scent that she preferred to Jardin d’Ecrivains‘ George, a unisex orange blossom leather. I suppose the davana must be the source, even though, on my skin, the flower has never skewed into “orange blossom” before. It typically emits a tropical floral lushness that is heavily drenched in booziness and with varying degrees of apricot. Here, there is only a flicker of apricot, one that dies away quickly, but I have no other explanation for the profound, distinct “orange blossom” that appears on my skin from start almost to finish.
Regardless, I find the overall bouquet to be beautifully done. There is a pitch-perfect balance between the strong notes, a seamless panoply of glowing light infused with dark and sensuously tactile depths, where soaring chypre-like harmonies are juxtaposed next to quiet purrings of leather that might as well be velvet. The bridge in-between is formed from the lush petals of heady white florals smudged with indolic blackness, then lacquered a bright orange from juicy fruits.
The end result reminds me at times of Hiram Green‘s chypre, Shangri-La, except there some critical differences. First, L’Eau Scandaleuse has orange blossoms and tuberose; Shangri-La has rose and jasmine. Shangri-La initially evoked images of hot flesh and cavorting lusty lovers, while L’Eau Scandaleuse feels more formal, conjuring up cocktail party scenes of the grand French classics. Yet, Anatole Lebreton has made sure that his scent never feels heavy like the legends of old. Call me crazy, but it’s an oddly luminous bouquet for such a strong scent, an unusual combination of radiance next to a sense of thickened velvet (from the leather).
An even crazier thought that I can’t get out of my head in the first 30 minutes of L’Eau Scandaleuse is that it feels like Fracas‘ orange blossom grand-daughter. Something continuously reminds me of the famous legend, but it’s neither the tuberose nor the classical nature of the lush floralcy. (Plus, L’Eau Scandaleuse isn’t as intensely powerful, heavy, or carrying in sillage as the vintage Fracas that my mother wore in the ’70s.) There is something ineffable that I can’t explain about both the feel and floral boldness of L’Eau Scandaleuse that constantly calls to mind Fracas, despite its leather castoreum base.
You’re probably wondering why I’m not mentioning classical, peach-coated chypres like Mitsouko. There are two simple reasons. First, the moss in L’Eau Scandaleuse is the merest suggestion of greenness for much of the first 90 minutes. It’s like a veil that flutters in the background, its scent carrying from a distance on passing gusts of winds. Second, the scent isn’t skanky. The leather isn’t truly animalic for the first five hours, and the initial muskiness soon turns into a velvety quality and warmth. Even later, it never smells like female private parts, heated skin after sex, or soiled panties. It’s more like oily leather. What sensuality there is comes from the indolic florals, especially once they turn ripe and lush instead of blackened, camphorous, or mentholated, though both the tuberose and the orange blossom retain a quiet smokiness for hours to come.
All of this comes in a smooth bouquet that, like everything else in L’Eau Scandaleuse, seems to combine various things at the same time. Using several spritzes from my mini-atomiser equal to 2 generous sprays from a bottle, L’Eau Scandaleuse opens with 4-5 inches of projection and 6-8 inches of a scent trail. It’s strong and has great body, but it’s not thickly heavy. It’s radiant and somehow sparkling, but also dark and far from sheer or light. It feels classique but never in a dated way that might make a young person use that obnoxious insult, “old lady.” It’s a divaesque scent and, yet, it’s also not. For example, nothing about L’Eau Scandaleuse feels as bombastic as some Xerjoff scents or Unum‘s Guerlain-esque, floriental powerhouse, Opus 1144. Instead of being Wagnerian, L’Eau Scandaleuse is more like Goldilocks’ porridge: midway between various worlds, both in terms of body and richness, and in how it straddles the chypre, pure floral, fruity floral, and leather genres.
L’Eau Scandaleuse may veer back and forth between the various fragrance families in the first hour, but the fragrance consistently turns into a full chypre on my skin at the start of the second hour. The bergamot grows stronger, leaves the sidelines, and drapes itself all over the tuberose-orange blossom duet that now dominating center stage. L’Eau Scandaleuse’s fruitiness takes several steps back, becoming softer, less overt, though the peach vanishes almost entirely. The leather no longer feels either solid or velvety thick. More and more, it becomes a swirling wind that blows gusts of darkness on and all around the flowers, a constantly rippling presence that is light but undeniably distinct at the same time. Its place in the base is taken by a greenness that smells like smoky vetiver far more than oakmoss, but I think the “vetiver” might be an optical illusion that is created by the tuberose’s puffs of blackness, soft greenness, and occasional mintiness in conjunction with the first glimmers of cypriol woodiness.
Everything changes at the start of the third hour when L’Eau Scandaleuse’s second stage begins. The leather returns in full force, elbowing the tuberose-orange blossom duet out of the spotlight, but accepting their draping, supplicating embrace. The fragrance is now centered on a smoky, musky leather lacquered with a thin coating of the two flowers, atop a dark green-black base of smoky “vetiver,” cypriol woodiness, and a smidgeon of oakmoss. The latter smells mineralized, cool, and old-school rather than fresh, sweetly green, or plush. The leather is now both smokier and more animalic with intense ripples of castoreum, while the base begins to bear the first hints of a green-black sharpness that feels a lot like galbanum. Now, instead of Fracas, I’m reminded more of the smoky parts I experienced with Hiram Green’s Shangri-La combined with a gentler, milder version of Robert Piguet and Germaine Cellier‘s Bandit. Or, to be precise, her orange blossom grand-daughter that lacks her bite. Well, for now at least.
That changes when L’Eau Scandaleuse’s fourth stage begins midway during the fourth hour, and it’s all about the leather. The castoreum, leather, “galbanum”-like greenness, and smoky “vetiver” have all risen to the top where they’ve merged with the bergamot citrus to create a green-black sharpness and smokiness on my skin that constantly reminds me of Bandit in full snarl. While I respect Bandit enormously, I’m one of those heretics who doesn’t like it at all. I tried to bully myself into it, but no, I dislike galbanum and I find the overall oily, biting, black bouquet to be rather too brutal for my tastes. So, personally, I’m not keen on the similarities here since the leather is manifesting a fully galbanum-like intensity mixed with vetiver-ish smokiness, and oily castoreum muskiness.
From the middle of the fourth hour to the start of the 6th, the multi-faceted, androgynous leather is on display like a showpiece on an altar, the pulsating, smoky heart of L’Eau Scandaleuse laid bare, the goal up to which everything else led from the feminine wiles of a floral/fruity floral bouquet to the unisex harmonies of a chypre. Tiny wisps of orange blossom and green tuberose floralcy flicker hesitantly around its furthest periphery as if too terrified to approach it properly lest they get bitten.
Things change only slowly and in incremental steps. At the start of the 6th hour, a subtle creaminess laps at the edges of the leather, slowly (very slowly) beginning to seep over its pulsating oily, smoky rawness. The wide gashes of green-black “vetiver” and “galbanum” in its body start to narrow, emitting smaller streams that gradually fade to a trickle. Yet, the smoky darkness remains fully in place, swirling about in a gothic manner that dominates all else.
In the middle of the 7th hour, however, the floral notes decide to put up a fight, re-emerging to wrap themselves in thin strands over the smoky leather that is now fully coated in cream and only thinly veined with “galbanum.” The orange blossom appears more like syrupy floral sweetness than a clearly delineated, distinct note, and acts in a ghostly manner, sometimes feeling as though it were about fade away, only to reappear a short while later as a clear, noticeable but light coating on the leather. The tuberose is a far more consistent, faithful handmaiden. It’s infused with that over-present swirling cloud of smoky green blackness, either from its own innate facets or from the “vetiver”-like note. The two flowers constantly interchange places around a leather note that is rapidly turning as nebulous as Lost’s smoke monster. By the start of the 9th hour, L’Eau Scandaleuse is merely a blur of sweetness and smokiness that occasionally wafts puffs of tuberose and syrupy orange blossom. In its final moments, all that’s left is a sliver of something dark and sweet.
L’Eau Scandaleuse had very good longevity on my skin with moderate projection, and strong to moderate sillage. I’ve already discussed the opening numbers for the last two categories but, to repeat, the equivalent of 2 good sprays from a bottle yielded 4 to 5 inches of projection and a scent trail that extended about 6 to 8 inches. At the start of the 2nd hour, the projection dropped to roughly 2.5 inches, while the scent extended about 5 to 6 inches in the air around me. L’Eau Scandaleuse turned soft as the 4th hour rolled around, hovering about 0.5 inches over the skin and with only the smallest cloud. It turned into a skin scent after 6.5 hours but was easy to smell up close without much effort until the 11th hour. L’Eau Scandaleuse lasted 14.75 hours in total, but it feels like the sort of scent that would have even greater longevity if one went to town with the quantity application.
L’Eau Scandaleuse has consistently received positive reviews on the various perfume sites and in the one blog posting that I found. On Fragrantica, there is only a single comment at this time and it’s a rave “WOW” from a chap who says he actually isn’t a fan of tuberose in usual circumstances. Like me, “Q80” noted how L’Eau Scandaleuse mixed genders with its feminine-masculine aspects, writing in full:
WOW!! im not a fan of Tuberose! but this blend makes me love it! the tuberose leather with beaches, ylan ylang, lemon, and animalic notes! quite interesting and very charming from the first sniff. It might go feminine from first sniff but turns a bit masculine with the animalic ylan ylang note as later it turns both ways (feminine-masculine) back to back each and every second i sniff my arm.
Very captivating and requires to pass it by.
A blog review by Sterling Nichols III on FragranceDaily calls L’Eau Scandaleuse a “daring” scent whose “sheer brilliance” is the way it mixes genres, styles, and notes. He talks about how the tuberose leather is combined with fruity florals, slightly “dirty” notes, oriental elements, and “deep smoky, woody, herbaceous” touches to create “smoking leather on hot coals” combined with suede. He concludes by saying, “Run, don’t walk for this. It’s really breathtaking…”
On a Basenotes discussion thread for the trio of Anatole Lebreton fragrances, people seem to be unanimously impressed. “Colin Maillard” started the thread by raving about L’Eau Scandaleuse as “one of the nicest floral leathers [he’d] ever tried.” I was happy to see that I wasn’t the only one who thought of Germaine Cellier. He writes in relevant part:
all I can say is that is one of the nicest leather-floral scents I have ever tried, it’s a nostalgic, Germain Cellier-esque take on that accord – specifically, leather and tuberose. The tuberose note is a bit weaker than I expected, but still keeps a strong narcotic feel, and the leather is just great, miles above that safraleine-burnt soup-melted rubber leathers we’re used to today. Raw dusty tanning leather with a lot of unpredictable facets and nuances, from anise to coffee and from wax to powder. Simple but great.
“The Beck” wrote that he “totally agreed” with that assessment, “word for word.” He added that L’Eau Scandaleuse was “[r]eally well blended with good quality ingredients. Unique, and a nice addition to the art of perfumery.” He was so won over by the quality that he ordered samples of the rest, then ended up buying full bottles of the lot. He concluded with an admiring rave about the brand as a whole:
There’s a degree of sophistication and panache in these scents that I rarely smell in todays perfumes. I can’t really say why, but there seems to be something that’s just inherently right about these. Since I love all three, I’ve decided to buy all three. That’s a first for me – three scents from one house. I really just wanted to pick the one I liked best, but I ended up liking them all the same. […][¶] You gotta love it. Supposedly he’s a blogger gone perfumer. I love it when a newcomer comes out hitting home runs.
“Buzzlepuff” called all three fragrances “multidimensional” “overachievers from emerging star perfumer Anatole Lebreton,” writing:
Tried the three released and they are all very well done, living, evolving, multi dimensional scents. Clearly all are overachievers from emerging star perfumer Anatole Lebreton. Who? Anybody? My favorite was Bois Lumiere (uplifting radiance in woods) but am feeling haunted by L’Eau de Merzhin (dry galbanum / violet leaf / hay ) and hit on by L’Eau Scandaleuse (Davana/ tuberose + castoreum / leather).
For “Hawk,” L’Eau Scandaleuse was his favorite of the trio. He writes, in part:
Smokey leather mixed with florals, yes tuberose is there but it’s not aggressive. This is NOT a linear scent and you’ll be able to detect the different top, mid and base notes… Everything is well blended and the leather gets stronger when it dries down. It reminds me of another fragrance that I have smelled before but I just can’t remember which one!
He added something with which I very much agree: “I’m not sure those are for everyone so don’t blind buy them is all I can say for now. I think they need to be sampled a few times before one can fully understand them.” I think it’s excellent advice, and one that I repeat it to you.
In particular, I think you have to try L’Eau Scandaleuse a few times and to be generous with the amount you apply, because I admit that I didn’t see all its layers and the full scope of its clever, gender-bending progression when I simply gave it a cursory test and applied a small quantity of fragrance. I merely saw a blackened orange blossom floral fused with musky, smoky leather in a way that bore a strong resemblance to Jardins d’Ecrivains’ George. That is a scent I already own, although L’Eau Scandaleuse is significantly better in quality, smoothness, and richness. So I think you have to not only apply a decent quantity of L’Eau Scandaleuse but focus to see all the layers under that deceptive surface simplicity. Once I applied the equivalent of several good sprays from a bottle, I noticed how all the parts quietly operated together like well-oiled gears in a hand-crafted Swiss timepiece, and I saw its true depths.
I also agree with “Hawk” that L’Eau Scandaleuse is not for everyone. In all candour, it’s not for me, either. I simply don’t like that degree of smoky, oily castoreum leather with galbanum-ish, vetiver-ish, green-black darkness. I don’t enjoy it in anything, so it’s no slight on L’Eau Scandaleuse; after all, I’m the heathen heretic who shies away from the cult legend, Bandit, as well. It’s simply a personal taste issue involving notes. Yet, that doesn’t stop me from admiring and respecting L’Eau Scandaleuse, or from recommending it to others with certain tastes to try for themselves.
Plus, this is one beautifully crafted scent that smells smoother, better quality, richer, and more luxe than many fragrances three or four times its price. In fact, I think its price is astonishingly reasonable for what you’re getting. Every Anatole Lebreton scent costs $110 or €90 for 50 ml of eau de parfum. For me, L’Eau Scandaleuse blows something like, say, Amouage‘s new Sunshine Woman — a $450 fragrance that combines white florals with smoky darkness (though not leather) in a blurry chemical soup — out of the water in terms of quality, smoothness, and sophistication. I think L’Eau Scandaleuse is also smoother, more interesting, and more sophisticated than Etat Libre‘s rubbery, smoky, galbanum bondage leather in Rien which echoes Bandit (along with Molinard‘s powdered, floral, cigarettes-and-leather Habanita). Finally, I find it more complex and nuanced than Jardins d’Ecrivains’ George which shares a superficial similarity with its core combination of syrupy, indolic orange blossom over black leather, though that one is cheaper for the size at $110 for 100 ml. As someone who owns a bottle of George, I have no hesitation in saying that L’Eau Scandaleuse smells far more expensive and sophisticated. Really, I cannot believe this is a debut release from someone who is self-taught. I’m so impressed, and that didn’t change when I tried the green countryside that was captured in L’Eau de Merzhin (which will be the next review, along with Bois Lumiere).
Again, L’Eau Scandaleuse will not be for everyone but if you love either indolic white florals with leather, unisex animalic leather with floral and fruity accents, smoky chypre-leather hybrids, classical fragrances like Bandit or modern interpretations like George or Rien, then I really recommend that you give it a sniff for yourself. To Anatole Lebreton, I say Bravo.
Disclosure: My sample was provided courtesy of Luckyscent. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.