Masque Milano‘s Lost Alice is a lovely, fun, whimsical olfactory escape and comfort scent for a pandemic world where most of these things are in short supply.
Creatively inspired, original in notes and ideas, and (mostly) successfully achieved, it is one of those fragrances that epitomizes, in my opinion, what niche is supposed to be, the reason why we seek it out over more easily accessible fragrance brands, the reason why we’re willing to pay more money, and the reason why we expect so much more from other brands that claim to be “niche” only to offer the most tired, downtrodden, generic retreads of stale ideas instead. When I write scathingly about the latest rehash of tobacco, vanilla, and amber (or worse still, Ambroxan), when I lament about Serge Lutens’ loss of original ideas and pioneering spirit, it is fragrances like many of those from Masque Milano that come to mind as alternatives where the brand is genuinely making a constant, years-long effort to put something new, interesting, or creative out there. Like Lost Alice.
Lost Alice is an eau de parfum that was created by Mackenzie Reilly and released in 2021. The official description on the Masque website reads:
IV – I
A frabjous olfactory journey into too much black pepper, white roses (painted red), mad tea and carrot cakes.
Act IV Scene I
The inspiration for Lost Alice comes from Chapter Seven – A Mad Tea-Party,
where one could almost smell the Hatter’s tea, milk, bread and butter, served in a bucolic
setting. Add some scones to complete a very Brit cream tea, and the magic is complete.
Luckyscent has more from Alessandro, co-founder of Masque Milano, and the perfumer Ms. Reilly — both of which I found informative and interesting:
“Back in 2010, a few days before launching MASQUE Milano, I was invited to the Premiere of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. It was my first time in a 3D movie theater and the experience was so realistic that several times – unconsciously – I moved swiftly to the side, to dodge objects flying in the movie. Falling in the rabbit hole is something that still gives me the thrills. Ever since, I fancied we would develop a fragrance about this crazy tale! The inspiration for Lost Alice comes from Chapter Seven – A Mad Tea-Party, where one could almost smell the Hatter’s tea, milk, bread and butter, served in a bucolic setting. Add some scones to complete a very Brit cream tea, and the magic is complete.” – Alessandro, co-founder of Masque Milano
“First of all, Lost Alice is not your typical gourmand! It does have gourmand attributes, but it also has facets of citrus, woods, florals, musks, resins, and herbs. In fact, it’s a bit of an enigma… much like Alice herself; elusive and hard to define. The top of the fragrance has fresh tea notes, which incorporate bergamot, black pepper, sage, and mate absolute. The heart goes into a delectable cake with ginger, carrot heart, iris, rose, and broom absolute. The dry down is an addictive cocooning blend of fleur de lait, steamed milk, and musk. I think the journey from top to dry is really special, as it evolves so much and so smoothly on the skin, while still surprising you with each new note that appears.” – Mackenzie Reilly, perfumer
The official notes boil down (no tea pun intended) to:
Bergamot, Ambrette Seed, Clary Sage, Black Pepper, Carrot, Orris, English Tea, White Roses (Painted Red), Sandalwood, Broom Absolute, Fleur de Lait (Steamed Milk Accord).
However, if we include the off-note materials mentioned by Ms. Reilly, a more complete note list seems to be:
Bergamot, Ambrette Seed, Clary Sage, Black Pepper, Carrot, Orris, English Tea, White Roses (Painted Red), Ginger, Maté absolute, Iris, Sandalwood, Broom Absolute, Fleur de Lait (Steamed Milk Accord).
I’m not adding to the list simply to be anal-retentive or OCD, even though, yes, I am unquestionably those things. No, the real reason is that the inclusion of maté via the perfumer’s conversation suddenly explained a lot about the degree of lovely vegetal greenness, grassiness, and almost vetiver-ish-like crushed wet leaves that I experienced during the first 60 to 90 minutes. I simply couldn’t understand it before or without that key bit of information, because a big part of Lost Alice’s garden delight on my skin simply couldn’t be ascribed to the officially listed notes like herbal clary sage or honeyed, somewhat floral, broom hay.
Lost Alice opens on my skin with bright, crisp, sparkling, and freshly squeezed bergamot citrus drizzled over a sweet steamed-milk accord, then loads of maté absolute mixed with broom absolute. Together, they smell like hay, freshly cut summer grass, soft earth, and dewy green leaves. I’m a big fan of broom in perfumery and wish it were used more often. The note here feels particularly high quality, smooth, nuanced, and appealing. Unlike some broom (or genet) materials, it isn’t a sweet floralcy reminiscent of orange blossom nor a honeyed hay or both of the above with fruity notes but rather, something more like hay and grass. And that is, I think, thanks entirely to the intervening, indirect influences of the maté on my skin.
The rest of Lost Alice’s party arrives quickly. Within minutes: ambrette’s soft, vegetal muskiness; a lovely tea note that smells both of unadulterated black tea and of the milky, sweetened variety; a few slivers of freshly grated carrot; more green vegetation aromas (that only minimally and occasionally hint at being a pinch of clary sage herbs); and, last but certainly not least, a lovely, fragrant, creamy, soft sandalwood.
Then, about 7 minutes in, a sprinkling of roses joins the picnic. At first, they’re not the typical honeyed, lemony, or jammy red roses but rather, the daintiest of white rose petals and barely budding new flowers. Later, however, I understand what Masque Milano meant when it said the white roses were stained or “painted red” because a dollop of red jam appears on the rosebuds. It smells of sweet, but also faintly tart, fresh raspberry compote.
Lost Alice’s focal emphasis fluctuates a lot during the first hour. Sometimes, it’s sandalwood dunked into sweet, lactonic tea; sometimes, it’s the broom’s complex layers of scent; occasionally, it’s milky Earl Grey tea set against a background of soft, abstract, honeyed floralcy (the broom); once in a while, it’s sweet, raspberry-smeared floralcy amidst a vegetal, leafy (maté) grassiness. Occasionally, it’s all the above along with a smattering of fresh carrot slivers and warm, vegetal (ambrette) muskiness.
I love the complexity of the layers during this stage and how the different, constantly varying dominant notes segue seamlessly one into another. Everything is harmonized, the overall scent is well blended and, yet, there is also clear note delineation. It takes skill to achieve these various compositional techniques all at once, in my opinion.
Further, when taken as a whole, Lost Alice is thoroughly enjoyable to wear. It’s an approachable, easy fragrance that feels versatile for different daytime situations, including the office thanks to its initially moderate to low sillage, whilst also working as something in the “cozy comfort” fragrance of families, a category I’ve invented and that is one of my favourite types of scent, the sort of uncomplicated, easy scent that you put on after a long, stressful day and it cocoons you with a plethora of comforting, soothing, and snuggly aromas.
Though sweet, Lost Alice’s opening is not at all gourmand on my skin. Nor does it evoke a tea party, per se, at least not a proper, formal, traditional British High Tea inside. No, this is a picnic tea party where cups of milky, sweet tea are held up high amidst fresh, clean, dewy vegetation, leaves, white roses stained red with freshly crushed raspberries, and fragrant sandalwood trees.
I only wish Lost Alice were stronger and had a bigger scent trail. It’s pretty intimate on my skin unless I apply double the normal amount of scent. In fact, in my first test, I ended up having to use significantly more scent than is my standard for tests, simply in order to get a hold of some of the nuances because Lost Alice feels so gossamer thin in body and so muted on me. I went from my usual 3 big, generous, wide smears to about 5 or 6, then applied about 5 smears on my right arm, my non-standard testing arm. With both arms radiating scent, the sillage went from about 4 inches of diaphanous scent to about 6 inches, then grew from there after the sandalwood really bloomed at the 45-minute mark. At that point, the sillage became roughly 10 inches. You should keep in mind, however, that I was essentially tripling how much I normally use. With my standard amount equal to roughly 2 sprays from a bottle, Lost Alice had initially discreet sillage that grew only fractionally after the sandalwood kicked in as the dominant note.
Lost Alice shifts in scent as the first hour draws to a close. 50 to 55 minutes in, the bouquet is predominantly a mix of lightly sweetened, steamed milk and soft, milky, pale sandalwood, woven together first with moderately noticeable filaments of tea (which is both black and also milky in nature), then by lesser strands of milder, subtler notes.
These tertiary players continue to be a jammy floralcy, a rounded sort of vegetal muskiness, and a smidgeon of carrot. Sadly, the broom and the sense of vegetal greenness, downtrodden crushed wet leaves, lightly honeyed hay, and freshly mowed grass are growing weaker by the minute.
Scent wise, Lost Alice remains the same for most of the second hour. It grows sweeter, deeper in body, and more and more centered on a duet of creamy sandalwood with sweet, milky tea. The accompanying notes recede, inch by inch, moment by moment, until, 1.75 hours in, they are mere abstract wisps floating about intangibly and mutedly in the background.
It’s all a segue into Lost Alice’s long heart stage which coincides with the start of the third hour and which basically consists of the increasingly simplified duet of pale, milky sandalwood dunked into steamed, vanillic, milky black tea against a mixed floral, jammy, fruity, impressionistic backdrop. Gone is the citrus bergamot, the carrot, the dew-laden green leaves, the maté freshly cut grass, the sense of sweet summer’s hay, and soft earth. The roses, as suggested above, have ceased to be anything concretely clear; they’re merely a sweet, white abstract floralcy fused with a vaguely fruited jamminess.
I have to say, I wish Lost Alice hadn’t devolved quite as quickly as it did. I thought the first 2 hours were not just loads of fun but lovely, striking, and creative. The naturalism of the outdoors setting when juxtaposed next to the homey, cozy, almost maternal comforts of tea, jam, and sweet milk — I thought it was brilliant both in terms of theory and the actual scent notes, like using broom (which, again, I wish were used more often in perfumery) in conjunction with other materials not widely used in perfumery like maté, carrot, milk, ambrette, or clary sage.
This is creativity. This is niche perfumery as it’s meant to be and at its best. This and the quality of the ingredients are also why I’m always eager to try anything from Masque Milano. They always forge their own path with their own personal style. Yes, it can sometimes be hit or miss (like the Times Square thing that I’ve largely blocked out), but at least they’re constantly trying, at least they’re constantly coming up with different ideas, no two which are the same.
In fact, I’d argue that Masque is one of the very few niche companies out there that seems to be constantly trying something new, modern, interesting, and, well, yes, sometimes a little wacky in terms of scent combinations and/or their vision. Arguably, “niche” gives brands the freedom to try anything along the spectrum from wacky to original, unlike the mainstream houses that are increasingly under control of big conglomerates. And, remember, many things that were deemed “wacky,” weird, or atypical once upon a time ended up becoming popular trends in perfumery over time, like the use of vanillin synthetics, Jacques Guerlain’s use of monumental, extreme amounts of bergamot to make Shalimar back in the day, Mugler’s 1992 Angel, or Issey Miyake’s melony acquatics that (along with Acqua di Gio) revolutionarized 1990s perfumery.
The problem today are that brands, including many so-called “niche” but really masstige brands (like Kilian, Tom Ford, Dior Privée, ad infinitum), are increasingly risk adverse and can only justify their increasingly sharp price increases by providing conventional, generic, predominantly commercial scents with an approachable or common scent profile and whose only major brand differential is the bottle packaging luxury (or price) to set them apart.
That’s not what niche is supposed to be about. It is, alas however, what “niche” is becoming all too often or frequently these days – unless you go far afield to seek out the artisanal or indie brands who continue to forge their own path, per their own vision.
Which brings me back to Masque Milano. Call me crazy but, when I take the brand as a whole as I’ve observed them over the last 6 or 7 years, it reminds me increasingly of what Serge Lutens used to once do in terms of unexpected mixes, febrile imagination, and always following the call of his own personal drum. It’s been a long, long time alas since Oncle Serge (whom I admire enormously as a person) pioneered something wildly creative and original, in my opinion. Over the last 6 or 7 years, he’s preferred instead to remix his greatest hits for his elite Section d’Or line or to go commercial and generic for his (still overpriced) “basic” lines. (I blame Shiseido’s takeover in part.) I’ve even seen some people argue that he hasn’t had a good and original scent since 2008 or 2009.
I’m digressing, but my point is that when I think of a brand that’s going to try to do something different, fun, imaginative, creative, and modern, Masque Milano is one of the first names that comes to mind. I think the first two hours of Lost Alice are a great example of that. I regret that it didn’t last longer. Maybe it’s just my skin or maybe, as a few others have noted elsewhere, the sandalwood steam milk combo overpower the other elements.
Going back to Lost Alice’s development, when the scent is taken both stylistically and as a whole during its long heart stage, the tea party has essentially moved from the initial outdoors picnic into something cozy, simple, and informal inside.
One thing that I dislike during the third through sixth hour is the increasingly overt synthetic character of the sandalwood. The stronger and more dominant the note grows, the more it feels rasping and a bit scratchy. My advice to Masque: spend more, use the real stuff, and perfumistas won’t mind a slight increase in price. There are plenty of artisanal niche houses that use real sandalwood – often even the very best, Mysore – in wild abandon. You guys have done the same for iris butter of the highest caliber, so do it, too, for sandalwood and skip the synthetics. I may be slightly biased in my view but I think real sandalwood holds a greater draw and to a far larger number of people than even real iris.
Lost Alice’s essence from the third hour until just before it dies away hours later is a cozy, highly simplistic, linear scent of sweet, texturally creamy, quietly milky and minutely musky woodiness with a subtle undertone of sweet, red-berried jam. The wood note initially translates clearly as “sandalwood,” but it becomes more abstract during the third and fourth hours until it’s merely the multi-faceted wood I’ve described above. In its final few hours, all that’s left is a silky, creamy, quietly woody sweetness with just a suggestion of sweet milk subsumed within.
Lost Alice had initially moderate sillage that turned low sooner than expected but fairly decent longevity. Granted, I kept using more quantities than my standard norm, but the fragrance typically lasted 10 to 11.5 hours, depending on amount. The thing is, I had to really bury my nose deep into my arm to detect anything beyond milky woodiness after the 6.75 hour mark or late into the 7th hour. Whatever remained after that point was the merest glaze on the skin.
As you’ve gathered by now, I really liked Lost Alice. Even in its simplified version from the 2nd hour onwards. If it weren’t for that middle portion when the sandalwood synth went rough and raspy on me, the fragrance would be high on my “Want To Buy” list. As it is, I’m merely pondering it. (Also, awaiting eagerly my samples of Masque’s Madeleine and Petra that I ordered from Fumerie before deciding.)
Judging by frequently sold out status in terms of bottles and/or samples on various sites, Lost Alice seems to be extremely popular.
You can read other people’s experience with the scent on Fragrantica. There are quite a number of rave reviews, not to my surprise. As a side note, two or three people there compare Lost Alice to Zadig & Voltaire‘s This is Her. I haven’t tried the latter, so I can’t offer any opinion or comparative thoughts.
All in all, nice job, Ms. Reilly. Execution met theory and inspiration with a really fun, enjoyable, whimsical comfort scent that feels perfect for this difficult moment in time.
RETAIL Details/links: Lost Alice is an eau de parfum that comes in a 35 ml bottle and costs $145 or €138. In the US: Luckyscent and Portland’s Fumerie sell Lost Alice and samples. (Fumerie charges $160 for a bottle.) Outside the US: Masque Milano sells Lost Alice and 2 different Discovery sample kits. To find a Masque Milano retailer near you, you can turn to their long Stockist page. Samples: I purchased my sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $7.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. Scent Split has Lost Alice for $8.99 for a 1 ml vial. There are other decanters and sample sellers out there as well.