Atelier des Ors is a relatively new French niche house that arrived on the scene in 2015 with five eau de parfums, including the two subjects of today’s review, Larmes du Desert and Cuir Sacre. (Both fragrances are officially spelt with accents as Larmes du Désert and Cuir Sacré, but I’m skipping them for the sake of speed and convenience.)
Atelier des Ors was founded by Jean-Philippe Clermont who is also the artistic director for the brand. All the fragrances are eau de parfums that were created by Marie Salamagne. All of them come in glass bottles cut in an Art Deco design and filled with 24k gold flakes. I generally am not one to either get excited about packaging or to comment on it, but I must say the photos I’ve seen for some of the bottles really turned my head. The Art Deco-style sun flares cut into the glass look gorgeous!
The two fragrances that I’ve tried from the house thus far are good to great. Larmes du Desert is a beautiful incense-woody-amber that was lovely to wear despite being being somewhat derivative of similar compositions like Tom Ford‘s Sahara Noir and Andy Tauer‘s Incense Flash. It’s the high quality, luxurious smoothness, and depth that make it distinctive, in my opinion. Cuir Sacré is less compelling and opulent in my eyes, but still enjoyable to wear and nicely done. In theory, it’s meant to replicate old-fashioned Cordovan Spanish leather. However, it is really a vetiver fragrance, in my opinion. I’ll take a look at each one in turn.
LARMES DU DESERT:
Larmes du Desert means “Tears of the Desert,” and I suspect the choice of name stems from the fact that resins like Omani frankincense are often described as “tears” when they seep out of cuts in the wood. Atelier des Ors describes the fragrance in the briefest of terms on its website, merely calling it an incense and myrrh composition, and eschewing any note list. Fragrantica only provides generalities like “amber,” “myrrh” and “incense.” First in Fragrance, however, has more details:
Top Note: Elemi, Frankincense, Cypress
Heart Note: Patchouly, Lignum Vitae [Guaiac], Cedarwood
Base Note: Citric Notes, Benzoin, Woods
If you ask me, there is a whopping amount of labdanum absolute in Larmes du Desert, in addition to myrrh and sweet myrrh (opoponax). So, in my opinion, the full(er) note list looks something more like this:
Elemi resin, Frankincense, Myrrh, Sweet Myrrh, Cypress, Patchouli, Guaiac, Citric Notes, Benzoin resin, Labdanum resin, & Woods.
Larmes du Desert opens on my skin with waves of chewy, dark, toffee and cola-scented labdanum amber shot through with a drier ambered resin and cinnamon-scented benzoin. On top, layered in thick, heavy swathes, is myrrh laced with the nutty sweet refrains of sweet myrrh. Flickers of earthy patchouli, lemon-flecked olibanum (frankincense) resin, and lightly singed guaiac wood dance on the sidelines. It’s a gorgeous mix of sweet and dry, incense resins with amber ones, and bearing just enough shavings of foresty woods to keep it from being a pure resin fest.
I love how well the notes play off one another. The incense resins have an innate woody side that parallels the three types of woods, and also a balsamic quality that works equally well with the amber resins. The latter have earthy and spicy tonalities that parallel the patchouli, while also giving depth to the overall composition. When the olibanum and myrrh begin to whisper their soft dustiness, it’s never so intense as to evoke the liturgical incense of a Catholic High Mass (or its often soapy purity). It’s far too soft and carefully modulated for that. Instead, it’s just enough that — in conjunction with the utterly glorious labdanum — to make you think of the desert, albeit a perfect and purely idealized forest-covered desert that is warm, cozy, enveloping, and inviting, rather than one which is arid, scorched, sandy, and filled with dust storms.
Larmes du Desert shifts in the smallest and most incremental of steps. 15 minutes in, tiny bursts of something citrusy pop up in the background. They smell like a resinous, lemony offshoot of both the elemi and the frankincense but, once in a blue moon, faintly resemble bergamot as well. Not long after, the woody notes start to leave the sidelines and seep towards center stage, sometimes smelling coniferous and aromatically green, sometimes smoky, with the guaiac emanating puffs that resemble the aroma of burning leaves in a small autumnal bonfire.
The woody accord is important because I think it distinguishes Larmes du Desert from a similar labdanum-frankincense composition, Tom Ford‘s Sahara Noir. The two fragrances share the same DNA in their early stages, but I don’t think they’re identical. Larmes du Desert has the trio of woods, and the frankincense is augmented by a large amount of myrrh as well as some sweet myrrh. Sahara Noir really had frankincense alone, and no woody elements. It also felt thinner, less full-bodied than Larmes du Desert. The latter has a heightened luxuriousness and chewiness on my skin, placing it midway in that regard between Sahara Noir and its extremely close (but more powerful and heavier) Tom Ford sibling, Amber Absolute. I prefer Sahara Noir between the two, but Larmes du Desert over them both because of the added nuances and layers.
Having said that, I think quantity applications make a difference to the nuances and the feel of some of the notes. The only unpleasant element in Larmes’ opening phase was a high-pitched and rather soapy synthetic note that appeared in one test at the end of the first hour, but it only showed up when I applied the smallest quantity of scent (several light dabs of the atomiser stick). It wasn’t noticeable when I applied a larger and more conventional quantity, roughly equal to 2 good, generous sprays from a bottle, so I think the lesser dose brought out either the olibanum’s innate soapy nuances, any synthetics or clean musk that might be in the scent, or some combination thereof.
Another thing that I noticed was that the low dosage didn’t permit the labdanum’s chewy heft and toffee’d sweetness to really bloom. As a result, Larmes du Desert felt drier, the incense resins’ dustiness was greater, and the woods were both more noticeable right from the opening minutes and smokier as well. The larger quantity resulted not only in a slightly sweeter and more heavily ambered composition, but also in a better balanced alignment of notes and little to no synthetic presence. You may want to keep that in mind if you try Larmes du Desert for yourself.
In both cases, though, regardless of quantity, both versions end up in largely the same place when Larmes du Desert’s second stage begins at the end of the 2nd hour and the start of the 3rd. Basically, the notes realign to emphasize the frankincense and myrrh over the amber resins. There is a great amount of dry woodiness and incense dustiness up top, while the base develops a subtle streak of smoky leatheriness at the same. The end result is what I had hoped Andy Tauer‘s Tauerville Incense Flash would be, but wasn’t. This one smells extremely smooth, a seamless blending that doesn’t lose note delineation and clarity, and isn’t filled with in-your-face, abrasively smoky, and harsh power aromachemicals. In short, Larmes du Desert’s second stage feels like the high-end version of Incense Flash mixed with a small dose of a richer, deeper version of Sahara Noir.
Larmes du Desert continues to grow smokier with greater waves of incense and singed woods as it develops. As a result, its amber turns extremely dry, too much so for my personal tastes, although the dryness is better when smelt from afar than up close. Yet even with the increased dryness, wood smoke, and accompanying incense dustiness, there is still just enough warmth and richness left to prevent the fragrance from feeling austere in any way. (In other words, it’s not like the campfire forest smoke, incense, dustiness, and dry woods of Naomi Goodsir‘s very austere Bois d’Ascese.)
The dry or drier phase doesn’t last beyond two hours, at most, on my skin, and Larmes du Desert eventually returns to its more ambered focus when the drydown begins midway towards the end of the 5th hour. The smoke — both the woody and incense-y varieties — ebbs away to the sidelines like the retreating tides, leaving the warmer, much more resinous, balsamic, golden, and somewhat sweeter tonalities as the fragrance’s dominant focus. The labdanum has a beautiful velvety butteriness that is almost like a tactile texture below its toffee’d scent; the opoponax or sweet myrrh smells wonderfully nutty; and the benzoin breathes its soft cinnamon breath over it all. It’s a smooth mix that is lightly flecked by thin streaks of frankincense woodiness. The latter smells faintly dusty, like an old church whose wooden beams bear traces of years of incense-laden ceremonial rituals. It’s not soapy, though, merely softly clean and dustily pure in the way of real incense resinoid. Still, it’s only a quiet, minor touch, one that is far outweighed by the various ambered resins that now dominate the fragrance.
If I had to break it down, I’d say roughly 60 to 65% of the bouquet at this point is made of the balsamic resins, 30-25% is the myrrh and sweet myrrh, and the remaining 10-5% is the frankincense woodiness. Larmes du Desert remains this way largely until its final hours when the last vestiges of the various types of incense finally fade away, leaving only a semi-sweet, semi-dry goldenness in its place.
In total, Larmes du Desert lasted roughly 12.5 hours when I applied the equivalent of 2 sprays, and a bit under 9.25 hours when I applied the equivalent of one spray. In both cases, the projection was on the soft side, but the sillage was good at first. In some ways, Larmes du Desert felt more like an extrait than an eau de parfum in terms of the way it acted on my skin, its projection, and its body. The fragrance felt heavier and richer than many comparable eau de parfums, at least when I used a larger dose (the 2 spray equivalent). Like an extrait with its higher percentage of oils and lower level of alcohol, it was a deeper, more full-bodied scent that projected less and generally clung closer to the body after an initially strong scent trail. The opening projection was about 2.5 inches; the sillage initially at around 5-6, then seemed to grow a bit after 30 minutes as the scent melded with my skin. After 2 hours, though, the numbers dropped to about 1.5 inches of projection and 3-4 inches of sillage. About 4 hours in, the projection was about 0.5 inches above the skin, while the sillage was softer, at about 2-2.5 inches unless I moved my arms. Larmes du Desert became a skin scent about 5.5 hours into its development, but was easy to detect up close without effort until the middle of the 8th hour. As noted above, it typically lasted between 9 and 12.5 hours, depending on the amount applied.
I have a second Atelier fragrance to get to, so I’ll skip quoting other reviews in order to keep this post at a manageable length, but I’ll provide links to let you read further on your own if you’re interested. On Fragrantica, the reviews range between mixed and good. In terms of bloggers, The Non-Blonde said she “loved” Larmes du Desert, describing it as a “mostly dry and almost harsh incense that dries down into a softer and more ambery texture, with the golden light of myrrh shining on it.” Persolaise thought Larmes du Desert was “lovely” but said he was “pleasantly unmoved” because he, like me, found strong echoes of Sahara Noir and Incense Flash, and the latter moved him more on a personal level.
I’ll provide more conclusive thoughts at the end of this review when I’ve finished talking about Cuir Sacre, but the bottom line for now is that I think fans of either incense or incense-amber fragrances should definitely give Larmes du Desert a try.
CUIRS SACRE:In theory, Cuirs Sacre is a leather eau de parfum that seeks to replicate Cordovan leather. First in Fragrance has what appears to be full note list, as well as the Atelier des Ors’ official description which talks about:
a summer day in the old town of Córdoba, the Andalusian city filled with warmth and bustling activity. The sun shines on the traditional, noble Cordovan leather, presented and refined by a powerful vetiver and intriguing saffron. The air is filled with excitement and expectation.
A creation full of strength and life in which sensual leather and noble cypress wood are woven together and ennobled by saffron and vetiver from Île de la Réunion. Light, spicy, spicy cardamom and precious incense exude vitality and willpower. All these valuable ingredients give the fragrance a strong and elegant profile.
Top Note: Juniper Berries, Cardamom, Cypress
Heart Note: Frankincense, Saffron, Cedarwood
Base Note: Vetiver, Nagarmotha [Cypriol], Leather
Cuir Sacre opens on my skin with vetiver that is infused with brisk, clean, refreshingly chilly and extremely aromatic juniper berries, then dusted with saffron and a small amount of lemony and slightly earthy coriander. The combination of the lemony coriander and juniper rather makes Cuir Sacre’s opening minutes smell like a gin-and-tonic vetiver with a slice of lemon against a backdrop of golden (saffron) warmth. In the shadows are occasional whispers of something that is vaguely floral, green, woody, and almost violet scented. I think it stems from an ISO E-related material. (The opening minute had a definite and telltale whiff of rubbing alcohol as well, although it didn’t last.)
If you put that aside, also banish any expectation of actual leather, and just enjoy the vetiver ride, then the cumulative effect is surprisingly nice and enjoyable. The freshness has a wholly naturalistic aspect to it, as well as an understated but polished character. In this day and age all too many brands equate “fresh and clean” with laundry aromas that they then proceed to practically bludgeon you over the head with, so this sort of natural crispness and aromatic briskness is very pleasant.
In the base, there is an elusive suggestion of something possibly, vaguely, nebulously leathery, but it’s not “leather” in the modern sense or understanding of that term. Nothing in Cuir Sacre’s opening hour smells like any of the usual materials (birch tar, cade, or isobutyl quinoline) that are typically used to create the impression of leather. Although that will later change, what there is now is a sort of creamy, almost chamois-like plushness instead, almost as though Atelier des Ors was opting for the 16th century approach to leather (i.e., Peau d’Espagne) in lieu of the modern olfactory style. (For more on the differences between modern Cuir de Russie leather vs. the Spanish Peau d’Espagne style, you can turn to an article on The Perfume Shrine.) If you’ll forgive the brief nerdish digression into history, in my opinion, Peau d’Espagne chamois fits Atelier des Ors’ Cordoba theme far better than the stated Cordovan leather because actual Cuir de Cordoue seems to have been limited to embossed, gilded leather wall panels, while Peau d’Espagne’s warmly spiced, aromatic chamois suede was historically used for fragrance purposes. (See, Mandy Aftel, Essence & Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume, 35 (2004).)
Historical leather differences aside, the chamois-like creaminess grows more pronounced as Cuir Sacre develops. Roughly 35-40 minutes in, the velvety “suede” rises to the surface, fusing with the vetiver. At the same time, the buttery saffron seeps over it, filling its every nook and cranny, creating a saffron-cream-suede-vetiver accord that is really lovely. What impresses me is that the saffron doesn’t feel foodie, culinary, and/or fiery. Instead, it’s surprisingly floral in the way of real, authentic, and high-end saffron crocuses or filaments. If this is a synthetic olfactory product, it smells better, sweeter, brighter, smoother, and significantly more nuanced than any Givaudan Safraleine that I’ve encountered.
At the end of the first hour, Cuir Sacre is centered almost entirely on vetiver layered with fragrantly floral, buttery, creamy, saffron suede, then lightly drizzled with aromatic juniper. That is roughly 90% of the bouquet. The remainder consists of a multitude of things, either nuances or minor notes in the quietest, softest form. For example, the juniper occasionally wafts a herbal freshness that reminds me a lot of clary sage. The lemony coriander gives way to a deliciously earthy and aromatic cardamon that almost bears a chocolate-y nuance at times. Neither spice lasts on my skin but what is far more frequent and noticeable are the muffled, thin and vaporous puffs of abstract woodiness that appear in the background. They create the quiet, almost unconscious sense of something woody there, but not quite. Plus, it’s like a ghost that is always flitting out of reach. Some of the other notes on the list don’t appear even in ghostly form. There is no real, solid, clearly delineated cypress or cypriol to speak of on my skin. In fact, I didn’t detect either one at any time in my two tests. (Given my antipathy to cypriol, I didn’t mind one bit, but some cypress would have been nice.)
Cuir Sacre is quite a simple and linear fragrance on my skin. It doesn’t shift or morph dramatically as it develops, and the bouquet at the end of the first hour remains its core: spiced, warm, and creamily plush vetiver with a suede-like texture. All that happens in the hours that follow is that the accompanying, secondary and tertiary notes change in their prominence or nuances. Roughly 75 minutes in, wisps of something dark and smoky slowly appear and smudges the vetiver’s edges, but it’s impossible for me to tell if it’s a side-effect of the vetiver, whether it stems from the “leather” or incense in the notes, or both. At the same time, the aromatic, herbal elements generally recede to the background where they join that indeterminate, ghostly woodiness, both becoming something that one vaguely senses rather than actually smells in a well-defined, precise fashion. The various spices generally merge together, although sometimes one of them pops out to wave a small hello before quickly melting back into the chamois suede. For the most part, the spices operate like all the other secondary notes: they work indirectly to shade in or colour the vetiver with nuance and layers. In this case, the saffron and cardamom keep the vetiver on the warm, sunnier, sweeter, and spicier side. (I would bet that there is a good dose of tonka in that suede accord, too.)
Part of my difficulty in assessing things is that everything is so seamlessly blended that the notes completely overlap after 90 minutes. In fact, Cuir Sacre may be too well-blended; it results in the impression of excessive simplicity, of a fragrance with only 2-3 accords, and of linearity as well. Yet, those two or three main accords reflect different facets as time passes, even if some of them only appear for a short period of time and one must pay attention to notice them.
To the extent that Cuir Sacre has divisible stages, the second one begins at the start of the 3rd hour. At that point, the chamois suede suddenly turns darker and smokier, thereby resulting in something slightly (slightly) closer to the modern “Cuir de Russie” style leather with its birch tar. To be honest, to me, it smells like a woody-amber aromachemical (and/or an ISO-related product) has been used, but it’s not abrasive or overly dry. In fact, the end result on my skin still smells a lot like the same spiced, creamy suede-vetiver accord that it did before; it’s simply laced with woody smoke now, and is drier instead of sweet. It’s only when I smell Cuir Sacre from a distance that there is a stronger impression of actual black “leather.” To be precise: spicy, warm vetiver bound up with strands of dry, smoky leather. In both cases, though, whether I’m smelling Cuir Sacre up close or from afar, it is still predominantly a vetiver scent, not a leather one.
Cuir Sacre remains this way largely until its end: a blur of softly spicy, saffron-flecked, creamy suede and smoky leather subsumed within a cloud of vetiver. It’s semi-dry but also semi-sweet, thanks to the saffron and the tonka that I’m convinced is lurking within the suede accord as well. If I sniff my arm up close, there are whiffs of something like ISO E, but there isn’t much else going on: the juniper has vanished; the impression of abstract woodiness feels more illusory than ever; the cypress never once shows up; and the incense never does either, at least not in any distinct, clear, and prominent fashion separate from the soft smokiness of both the vetiver and the leather. Basically, the majority of the scent is lightly spiced, lightly smoked vetiver with fluctuating levels of leather-suede. In its final moments, all that’s left of Cuir Sacre is a tremulous whisper of a slightly smoky vetiver.
Cuir Sacre had good longevity and sillage, but generally soft projection on my skin. With several smears equal to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle, the fragrance opened with about 3-4 inches of projection and the same number for the scent trail. The bouquet felt extremely thin and lightweight in its first 20 minutes when the scent was at its crispest and freshest. It was a sheer but impactful airiness. After 30-40 minutes, when the suede and saffron rise to the surface, Cuir Sacre grows noticeably deeper and richer in body, no longer feeling quite so vaporous, and the sillage grows fractionally as well. After 90 minutes, the numbers drop to 2 inches of projection and roughly 2.5 inches of sillage. At the end of the third hour, the projection hovers half an inch above the skin but it stays there for a while. Cuir Sacre became a skin scent after 5 hours, but was easy to detect up close without much effort until the middle of the 8th hour. In total, it lasted just under 10.75 hours.
On Fragrantica, commentators really liked Cuir Sacre, but a number of them thought it had poor to weak longevity and minimal sillage. The actual longevity votes are all over the place, though, with several people choosing “long lasting” which is defined as 7-12 hours. Still, when the votes are tallied between all the categories, they do tend towards the low end of the scale. Given Cuir Sacre’s price ($295, €225, or £225 for 100 ml), it would be best not to blindly buy this fragrance if you’re interested in it, but to test it first to see how you fare.
ALL IN ALL:
The two fragrances may be largely uncomplicated and linear compositions, but their fluidity feels polished, as though it were the result of care and an intentional thing rather than being impressionistic tofu blandness derived from thin, mostly synthetic materials. In some ways, the aesthetic reminds me a little of the Armani Privé approach: quality ingredients, smoothly blended, for a polished and streamlined bouquet. To be clear, I don’t think the Atelier des Ors fragrances are as light, soft, and discreet as the Armani Prives (not even Cuir Sacre), and Larmes du Desert in particular has heft and weight, but the same refined aesthetic seems at play with both brands.
To the extent that Cuir Sacre’s sillage is on the lower side, it feels as though it were an intentional choice and part of fragrance’s more understated approach. Something about the scent feels classy, evoking a man’s grey suit: appropriate for work, elegant, but not flashy. Perhaps it’s the way the scent has a refined take on both vetiver and aromatic freshness, combining them with nebulously floral, spiced creaminess and just enough of smoky leather to keep it out of bland “fresh and clean” territory. Those additions are also what keep Cuir Sacre on the unisex side, in my opinion, so don’t take my mention of a man’s suit to imply that the fragrance resembles a masculine cologne. It does not. I could see vetiver lovers of both genders wearing Cuir Sacre, thanks to the “chamois” plushness, the drop of sweetness, the carefully modulated smoke and leather, and the composition’s smoothness as a whole.
Larmes du Desert is wholly unisex, and the one that is likely to be the greatest hit out of the two. It’s also my personal favourite, primarily because I adore labdanum fragrances while I’m not a hardcore vetiver lover. But the reason why I think Larmes du Desert will be the most popular of the two is because it replicates the themes of some very beloved fragrances. It takes Sahara Noir, amps up the incense, gives it an occasionally liturgical “churchy” feel at times, adds a strong woody component that Sahara Noir lacked, then gives the whole thing greater body, chewiness, heft, and luxuriousness. On the other hand, Cuir Sacre may be the more approachable, basic, and/or conventional one of the two. For some, that may make the fragrance more forgettable; for others, more versatile and easier to wear. It will depend on individual style and taste preferences.
With both Larmes du Desert and Cuir Sacre, though, the simplicity of the composition and the emphasis on 2-3 main accords means that you have to love the key notes in question to enjoy the fragrance. All of them, as well as their individual characteristics and their various nuances. That means that, to give merely one example, if you don’t love the sometimes liturgical, dusty, and potentially soapy aspects of frankincense resin, then you may not fall in love with Larmes du Desert.
Having said all that, I think the Atelier des Ors brand is one that is worth sampling if you fall within the target or intended group for each fragrance. In a sea of new releases that feel mediocre in both quality and character, and that frequently test my patience with overt, in-your-face, power aromachemicals, these two were a relief to test and I’m quite keen to explore the rest of the line. That reaction happens far less often than you may think these days. All in all, nice job.