Niral, the new release from Neela Vermeire Créations (hereinafter “Neela Vermeire” or “NVC”), is a play on East and West, India and Europe, and the silken creations which ensued when they met as one with the creation of Tussar Silk. For me, however, Niral is about a very specific, concrete, olfactory interaction: a play on cedar, a play in multiple acts where a variety of other elements — rooty irises, sugared loukhoum/Turkish Delight roses slathered with jam, lipstick violets, sandalwood, spices, creamy magnolia, soft ambrette musk, and even wisps of jasmine green tea — all serve as supporting players in a constantly revolving game of musical chairs.
Niral is an eau de parfum which was created in conjunction with Bertrand Duchaufour. It was released in late March. The NVC press release which I was sent describes the scent and its Indo-European inspiration, in part, as follows:
NIRAL (unique, calm, serene) is a perfume inspired by an interesting and unique relationship between British sericulture expert, author, printing-dyeing industrialist Sir Thomas Wardle (1831-1909) and India, celebrating his immense contribution to the promotion of Indian wild silk trade from Bengal and Kashmir to Europe. […][¶] Wardle perfected the technique for natural dyeing of the textured “tussar” silk, achieving stunning jewel toned colours reflected in our new box. [..][¶]
NIRAL, through its blend of rich raw materials is an ode to this quietly forceful silk ambassador. The perfume opens with iris, tea and liqueur notes weaving an intricate pattern with floral notes and spices akin to the textural delight of a piece of tussar silk, and symbolizing a unique relationship between two countries linked by a common heritage.
The official note list for Niral on retail sites isn’t the same as the one with which I was originally provided just a day before the fragrance’s full launch. I’ll probably get in a little bit of trouble for listing both versions, but I think the earlier one is highly relevant because it explains several elements which appeared on my skin — like, fruity pink peppercorn, soft spices, jasmine, and ambrette muskiness — none of which are actually indicated or mentioned on the current list. Plus, I think the more detailed original demonstrates some of the fine points and brush strokes which have been built into the scent, even if they’re not always crystal-clear or prominent.
OFFICIAL NOTE LIST: Angelica, Champagne accord, Iris, Tea, Rose, Magnolia, Cedar, Sandalwood, Leather.
ORIGINAL NOTE LIST: Iris, Pink pepper, Tea, Turkish Rose, Lie de vin verte [Champagne accord], Cabreuva, Angelica seed, Ambrette seed, Cardamom, Leather, Magnolia, Jasmine absolute, Sandalwood, Cedar.
As mentioned earlier, Niral is a play on cedar in many acts, with some of its supporting artists being more forceful or prominent than others. The cedar essentially acts as the fragrance’s backbone and foundation from start to finish, and everything else is either built on or quietly around it. Its partners, the secondary notes or more delicate accents, are constantly shifting, moving fluidly, just like a game of musical chairs where things switch up the moment the music stops. But the cedar never changes or switches on my skin. No matter how much Niral may re-align its notes or its focal emphasis, the cedar is always a part of things on me.
Niral opens with wave upon wave of cedar which smells exactly like a fresh sharpened pencil and its shavings. The aroma is also infused with the highly synthetic twang of antiseptic hospital disinfectant or rubbing alcohol, something in the vein of ISO E but also indicative of a light, breezy, milky and “clean” (in industry parlance) cedar. I’m not a fan. At all. With a brand so focused on top quality materials as NVC, I don’t understand why Duchaufour doesn’t use natural cedar, like a great Siberian cedar essential oil for example, and why he relies on this synthetic crap instead. It frustrates me because the overtly synthetic quality of the cedar is present throughout the fragrance’s evolution on my skin, ruining it for me.
The cedar is the primary and dominant note in the first 30 minutes, comprising perhaps as much as 70% of the opening bouquet on my skin, but it’s not alone. An intensely rooty iris delicately brushes the pencil shavings at their edges, while even more delicate wisps of pink roses float softly and demurely in the background. The roses are practically translucent, tinged with citrus and lipstick (orris) violets for a combined accord which closely resembles the one found in Duchaufour‘s Rajasthan for Etro and also prior NVC creations (Mohur, Mohur Extrait, and Rahele.) I’ve been told that there are thematic historical reasons for the thread repetition in the NVC scents but, for me, it’s not a very interesting accord and it also feels a little humdrum at this point.
Repetitive echoes notwithstanding, Niral’s opening is overwhelmingly driven by the cedar, its pencil shavings, and its antiseptic twang on my skin. The iris comes in second place, responsible for about 20% of the bouquet and smelling strongly rooty. Iris is my least favourite flower in perfumery, dead last on the list in fact, so I’m probably somewhat biased, but I will say that the iris here isn’t dank or stony like some iris scents and it doesn’t smell as though it’s been pulled out of a moldy crypt. It’s more like a silky, rooty, highly sanitized cleanness which is vaguely floral in nature, like the sort one finds lingering on pristine, high-end luxury leather goods or silk.
I find it to be a very skeletal rendition of iris, devoid of any expensive Florentine iris butteriness or fattiness but, at the same time, iris done the way that it is here tends to have a luxury-good quality to its pristine, quasi-floral cleanness. It’s not my thing, but its sanitized cleanness feels like a logical pairing with the cedar’s fresh pencil shavings and antiseptic cleanness. The net effect in the opening 30 minutes is a minimalistic, elegantly fluid, scrubbed, clean woody scent with equally minimalistic, scrubbed, clean, and sweet floral accents.
Speaking of “skeletal” and minimalism, Niral’s opening bouquet is exceedingly sheer in weight and body, almost translucent in feel, but strong in aroma up close at the same time. It’s Duchaufour’s paradoxical signature of airy weightlessness combined with strength, or strong ethereality and demureness. I don’t know how he manages it but he does it all the time, again and again, no matter what the brand, and it’s the same case here. That said, Niral feels even more weightless, diaphanous, and soft than other fragrances that he’s done for the NVC line. I can definitely see the connection to the Tussar’s silk in terms of the opening texture and feel, but the net effect is a fragrance which I find to be even more translucent and muted than his past creations for the line.
Roughly 45-50 minutes in, Niral drops its singular, primary emphasis on cedar pencil-shaving and changes direction. The roses surge from the background, wrapping around the cedar and imbuing it with a sugary, lemony, pink-hued floralcy. Actually, “sugary” may not be the most accurate description: “saccharine-encrusted” might be more appropriate. I have an exceedingly low threshold tolerance for sweetness, so matters aren’t improved by the fact that rivulets of red-berried jam run through the flowers as well, although the note is too amorphous to smell clearly of peppercorns at this point. (The combination of jammy pink peppercorns and roses is so dreadfully 2000s to me and also so evocative of department store fragrances like Marc Jacobs’ Lola that I’m actually grateful Duchaufour opted for the translucent approach in this context.)
Together, the sugared flowers and cedar dance a closely intertwined tango across center stage. The lipstick violet hovers a few feet away, joined on the sidelines by the skeletal, clean, iris roots. The cedar is woodier now, no longer redolent purely of pencil shavings doused with ISO E-like antiseptic, though I have to say that the latter persists for hours and hours. Even so, it’s more muffled now, blanketed by the increasingly loud saccharine quality of the roses.
Niral’s game of olfactory musical chairs continues as the scent evolves. If the first 30 minutes are predominantly and primarily pencil shavings and ISO E-like antiseptic, and the next 30 minutes are pencil shavings combined with varying degrees of sugary roses, jammy fruity roses, lipstick violets, ISO E-like rubbing alcohol, and skeletal silky iris roots, then the end of the first hour and the start of the second begins another change-up. Niral’s focal emphasis now veers back and forth between a rose-imbued cedar woody scent and a wood-laced rose one. One thing is constant, though: the roses are even more candied and jammy than ever — positively gooey, in fact, like molasses.
I’ll be blunt, I loathe the roses and their cloying sweetness, but I respect several clever juxtapositions in the composition. First, the rose’s jamminess is set against cedar which now exceedingly dry and peppery. Second, I’m struck by the paradoxical forcefulness of the rose’s unadulterated sugariness and gooeyiness versus the positive translucency of those notes when smelt from afar, their gossamer-light, gossamer-soft weight and body, and their demureness on the scent trail. It’s as though the Duchaufour signature of airy heft and weightless strength has been pushed to its furthest extremes here, resulting in a scent which is strong in its individual notes when smelled up close but which is lighter than silk both when taken as a whole and when smelled from afar. In fact, on my skin, I find it to be much, MUCH lighter than silk. (I’ll talk about the fragrance’s discreetness on my skin towards the end but, suffice it to say, this is the gauziest and most unobtrusive fragrance out of all the NVCs on my skin.)
Niral is constantly shifting in the focal priority of its bouquets, and the next change occurs roughly 2.25 hours in when the fragrance abandons its alternating floral-woody and woody-floral emphases for something which is now purely woody — and spiced to boot. Basically, Niral dissolves into a woody cedar bouquet within a cloud of indeterminate but dark oriental spiciness.
Everything else is a mere accompanying accent at the edges or underneath. The orris/lipstick violets and rooty iris have disappeared, but the saccharine-sweet and jam-laden pink roses remain as demure, wallflower wisps in the distant background. In the base, there are occasional rustlings of something suggesting a fuzzy dark musk but, at this point, it’s impossible to dissect it. The same holds true for an evanescent hint of something floral and green. In time, those whispers will eventually coalesce into an ambrette dark musk and a jasmine/jasmine green tea note but, for now, Niral is almost entirely a spicy, sugared, rose-flecked cedar bouquet. The fragrance remains that way for about 75 minutes without change. However, between the 3.5 and 3.75-hour mark, the central notes cease to be strong or forceful when smelled up close. Instead, they feel as translucent as a spider’s web, and the fragrance hovers discreetly just above the skin.
While I’m unmoved by Niral’s first half, I do like its second half. Roughly 4.25 hours in, the fragrance changes both its notes and its focal emphasis quite a bit. The lip-curling synthetic cedar and the Sweet-N-Low saccharine rose are transmuted by new arrivals, arriving first in small accents then in droves, and thereby making Niral something I find much prettier or more enjoyable.
In a nutshell: the dry, peppery cedar is now fused around spicy sandalwood, both of which are quietly veined with magnolia, sugared roses, spiciness, and a flicker of jasmine green tea. Initially, many of those accent notes are muted, particularly the jasmine green tea which floats about like a will o’ the wisp, just out of reach. There is another green note hiding behind it as well, but it’s so frustratingly elusive and muffled that I can’t tell what it is. Sometimes, it smells effervescent, sometimes syrupy and leafy green, and sometimes I wonder if it’s merely a side-effect of the magnolia playing tricks on my mind (and nose).
Part of the problem is that Niral is so demure, thin, muted, and translucent on my skin at this point that the specifics of its particular notes are impossible for me to dissect with any certainty. The blurry amorphousness is frankly a little frustrating because, other than the cedar and the roses, everything else throughout the fragrance’s various stages feels as though they have been painted in the most diluted and evanescent of water colours. On top of all that, many of the accent notes are a muted sub-set within a larger muted fragrance which happens to be so sheer and translucent in body that, from the third hour onwards, I often felt as though I was trying to grab onto mist and fog. No, I didn’t spray Niral and, yes, aerosolization can bump up things like sillage, but I applied large quantities in two different tests. I think the “Tussar Silk” inspiration must have strongly dictated the scent’s technical note construction and bodily weight, thereby subsequently molding its feel, presence, and performance.
I think something else is going on as well, something quite separate from the “Tussar” silk olfactory inspiration: it’s the Ellena-esque modern approach to perfumery and construction. As I wrote recently in my St. Clair Scents reviews, the impressionistic approach to notes, white-washed abstractions, and lightness of being is an extremely modern approach which, in my opinion, Jean-Claude Ellena made popular and which many other perfumers have enthusiastically adopted ever since. I can’t and don’t relate to it. Not one whit. No matter what the brand. The old masters like Jacques Guerlain would probably feel the same way, but we’re a tiny minority in today’s world and this style of perfumery seems to be considered as the height of elegance by everyone else.
As Niral develops, pockets of clarity pop up amidst the broad brushstrokes. About 4.75 hours in, the jasmine coalesces into something stronger and more clearly delineated, bearing lovely green tea undertones and an occasional pop of fizziness, probably from the champagne accord. 5.25 to 5.5 hours in, the ambrette blooms, swaddling the woods and florals in a musky, fuzzy-ish darkness which is imbued with soft, dark spices that hint at being cardamom. (Sometimes, something resembling lemony coriander as well.)
But the really lovely part now is the duet of sandalwood and magnolia. The former is both milky and dark, spiced, and just a shade resinous; the later is fragrantly floral and loaded with lemony creaminess. The sugary roses have become a mere passing breeze in the background, leaving a landscape which is mostly spicy woods and creamed florals, softly accented by jasmine green tea, then enveloped in a light cloud of fuzzy ambrette musk. Tiny curlicues of other things float around the background, so quiet or so abstract that I can’t guess their origin, like, for example: a liqueured sweetness (the champagne accord? the jasmine?), something fruity, and something vaguely floral-ish green (who knows? It’s too muted).
Everything changes when the drydown begins about 6.75 hours in, though, once again, the cedar is the common thread running through everything. The magnolia and tea disappear, the sandalwood becomes an amorphous spiced wood note buried within the cedar, and rose suddenly makes a comeback. In fact, the rose makes a comeback to such a degree that Niral returns to being a rose-woody scent. Unlike the earlier stage, however, the cloud which envelops it this time is not loaded with Loukhoum, violets, or candied sugar but with dark spiciness, fruity sweetness, and dark (ambrette) musk. The cedar rotates within it, smelling light, sheer, dry, and peppery. The net effect is pretty, although I think it would be prettier if the cedar were still wafting its antiseptic and pencil-shaving aromas.
Niral doesn’t change much beyond this point. It simply turns into a blur of spiced, sweet-dry, peppery, cedared woodiness with soft, tiny, muffled streaks of abstract, rosy-ish floralcy running quietly running below before they eventually die away entirely. In the end, all that’s left is a dry, softly peppered, lightly spiced, indeterminate woodiness with an occasional hint of pencil shavings about it.
Niral had low projection, initially fair sillage that soon turned muted, and fairly good longevity. With several generous smears on a 3-inch patch of skin, amounting to a bit more than 2 big sprays from an actual bottle, the fragrance opened with about 2 inches of projection and about 5 to 6 inches of sillage. However, 90-minutes in, the projection had dropped to between 0.5 and 1 inch above the skin while the sillage was close to the body, maybe 2 inches or so, or 3 inches at the very most if I moved my arms. 45 minutes later, at the 2.25-hour mark, everything clung to the skin, although Niral was strong in bouquet and individual notes up close when I put my nose right on my arm.
The fragrance remained that way for quite a while, a surprising while in fact. 4.25-hours in, Niral felt like a skin scent and I certainly couldn’t detect it from afar and, yet, up close, the cedar and rose remained forceful. The secondary notes and accents were a different story, however, and less easy to detect in a clear way. Niral didn’t turn into a skin scent until roughly 5.75 to 6.25 hours into its evolution, although I will say that, even then, I could detect its bouquet or basics if I put my nose right on my arm and sniffed hard. In total, Niral generally lasted between 11.25 and 11.5 hours but, to be honest, the scent for most of that second half consisted of the lightest of wisps and they required effort to detect. As an overall scent experience, I think Niral was most present for the first 5.75 to 6.25 hours, and its scent trail in the air was most easily discernible and overt during the first 1.5 to 2.25 hour period.
You can read about other people’s scent experiences to contrast with mine on a few different sites. Fragrantica has three reviews at the time of this post and they’re rather mixed in nature, although the numerical vote tally is decidedly positive. In terms of blogs, Mark Behnke of Colognoisseur gave Niral a good review, while my friend Claire Vukcevik of Take One Thing Off was more mixed in hers, perhaps because she found that Niral replicated a number of other fragrances she owned with the same themes.
I really adore Neela Vermeire as a person, respect and admire her creative vision, and really like or love a number of prior NVC fragrances, so this was not an easy review to write. Perfume is an incredibly subjective, personal issue. I say that repeatedly, but it’s true each time. In my ideal world, I would have preferred to write a genuinely gushing review today. As it is, I think Niral has some nice parts and I suspect it will be a big hit with hardcore devotees of the NVC aesthetic, but I was less enamoured. It has nothing to do with the fact that Niral is not an oriental and everything to do with the character of certain materials, their aroma, the Duchaufour signature taken to an extreme, and the perfume’s Ellena-esque minimalistic gauziness and x-ray lightness. Yes, some of those things are due to the Tussar Silk historical inspiration but, in all candour, a fragrance’s thematic or theoretical background doesn’t determine my scent experience or matter much to me. Actual smell does. (And my ease in detecting the fragrance on my skin.) For me, as a personal, wholly subjective matter, Niral wasn’t a wow hit like the original NVC trio.
Be that as it may, there is no denying that Niral, its construction, and its bouquet are deliberate, intentional stylistic choices which will likely appeal to others. Many others, judging by how much this modern approach to perfumery resonates with fans of Jean-Claude Ellena, Bertrand Duchaufour, and the large number of other noses who follow the same techniques or style.
At the end of the day, perfume is solely about the notes and style which YOU enjoy, not about what anyone else says, me included. If Niral’s notes, the NVC brand aesthetic, and a polished floral-laced woody cedar scent in the Duchaufour’s style are your thing, please try Niral for yourself and make up your own mind. I have no doubt that some of you, men and women alike, will enjoy its seamless, polished fluidity and the many rose, iris, jasmine, magnolia, spiced, or jammy perambulations around its cedared heart.
Disclosure: My sample was provided courtesy of Neela Vermeire. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.