Papillon Perfumery Hera

If you’re looking for a typical bridal scent, Hera from Papillon Perfumery is unlikely to be your girl. It is far from the sort of bouquet that is commonly sought for weddings in the modern era, and it is most certainly not a delicate, demure, almost virginal, fresh floral veil suited to a young blushing bride. However, if you’re looking for a sensuous, lush fusion of a semi-vintage-skewing chypre with a modern floral oriental, then you’ve come to the right place.

Lawrence Alma-Tadma, “The Roses of Heliogabalus,” 1888. Source: WikiArt.org

Hera is a pure parfum or extrait that was created by Liz Moores as a bespoke scent for her daughter’s wedding and released some time later in April 2022 to the public. This is the very first fragrance that Papillon has released in parfum form. All the others are eau de parfums.

Papillon Hera parfum. Source: Luckyscent

On her website, Ms. Moores describes Hera and its notes as follows.

The goddess of weddings, family and blessings, Hera possessed a majestic power. Here, she is celebrated in the opulence of orris and jasmine. Engulfed in flowers, you are invited by a burst of orange blossom, radiating a golden halo of warm white flowers. Delicate touches reveal a buttery, rich embrace. Rose de mai brings a whisper of drama and gentle musk offers a sensual caress for Gods and Goddesses alike. A bright and beautiful perfume, steeped in energetic luxury and effortless glamour.

Her daughter, Jasmine, also adds a word, and her description of her wedding scent contains a relevant part about Hera’s intentionally semi-vintage character:

 This perfume was created for me by my Mother, Liz, to wear on my wedding day. I didn’t give much direction for the smell, but she captured past, present and future in Hera. When I was in my teens, I would steal her Shalimar before nights out. Back then, it was definitely a perfume that wore me, but I loved it anyway. Although I don’t wear it anymore, is it has become so beautifully nostalgic. Hera captures that classic, vintage feel in a completely new way. On the day of my wedding, gold was a big feature; every detail had to be gold! Hera is a ‘gold’ perfume for me. Wearing it is like wearing a halo of warm light. [Remainder snipped.]

Jasmine buds. Photo: Antonio Comia or Doc Tony on Flickr. (Website link embedded within.)

Papillon’s official note list is, in my opinion, a mere nutshell synopsis that omits quite a few things that I consistently detected on my skin in my tests. Heck, it doesn’t even include the notes mentioned in the brand’s own scent description above. All that’s stated is:

Jasmine. Orange Blossom. Ylang. Rose de Mai. Orris. Narcissus.

That doesn’t begin to tell the story, if you ask me!

Thankfully, Luckyscent has a more detailed, informative, and specific note list which also includes the highly pertinent concentration of certain key raw materials and shows how many elements in Hera are “absolutes.” I think seeing just how many notes have been used in the richest possible olfactory format gives you, the consumer, a much better understanding of the dominant notes in Hera as well as its overall richness. Also, the list includes Ambrette (aka Muskmallow) which is relevant to understanding the intense muskiness I experience with Hera.

Ambrette (or Muskmallow) flower. Photo & site for ambrette absolute: Heritage Oils. (Direct website link embedded within.)

Here is the official retail Luckyscent list:

Jasmine absolute, Orange Blossom absolute, Ambrette absolute, Rose de Mai absolute, Turkish rose absolute, Orris absolute, Narcissus absolute, Ylang-ylang absolute, Heliotrope, Clary Sage, Bergamot, Vanilla, Musk, and Labdanum.

Even this list foregoes a number of elements which consistently appeared on my skin in all my tests. So, personally, I’d add the following to Hera as well:

Aldehydes, patchouli, sandalwood, a bit of vetiver, a bit of oakmoss, and possibly a wee bit of galbanum.

FOREWORD – DESCRIBING HERA:

I don’t know how to describe Hera with clarity and precision. There are three reasons why. First, the bouquet is extremely opaque, thick, dense, and blurry on my skin, so opaque and dense, in fact, that individual notes frequently meld into broad swathes. Yet, they are not abstract or impressionistic, per se, because I can pull out certain elements at different points in time. It’s difficult to articulate.

A related issue is that many of the things I experienced in my tests of Hera were “senses” of thing: indeterminate, abstract, evocative, insubstantial “feels” more than exactitude and definitive clarity. Again that’s not to say that there aren’t clear notes throughout because I can definitely single out things like iris, narcissus, ambrette, jasmine, and indoles throughout Hera’s development.

It’s merely that those individual elements are frequently overshadowed by my “sense of” other things. Some of those “things” are the result of different notes fusing together; the sum being greater than its parts, so to speak. Other times, however, the cumulative impact and scent of individual notes which are presented in an oblique, opaque, dense, heavy body of work ends up being indeterminate, ambiguous, hard to explain. See, I can’t even explain it here.

Let me give you an example. In all my tests of Hera there was a profound, consistent, and important “spikiness” to the scent. What is “spikiness” in terms of actual smell or aroma? Well, I can’t describe it in any clear sense, perhaps because the “spikiness” here in Hera is, in and of itself, opaque and unclear, and also because I’ve never experienced something precisely like it before.

Narcissus via flowerspictures.org

I believe it is the result of the narcissus absolute which is a major element on my skin in all my tests. Or maybe it’s a combined sensory “feel of” spikiness which ensues from the narcissus when combined with the many white flowers’ intense, powerful indoles and the ambrette’s muskiness (which frequently reminds me of hawthorn in its sort of vegetal, quasi-leathery, smoky, resinous qualities). All I can say is that it is a dry, sharp “spikiness” with a bite. But it’s not leather, it’s not incense-y smoke, it’s the needle dryness of hay, it’s not the occasionally gasoline-like snap that narcissus has. It’s just a sort of olfactory prickliness, edge, and… well, spikiness.

It’s all exceedingly difficult for someone like me with OCD, a love of details, specifics, and structure. The opacity; the indescribable “feels like” subjective impressions; the “sense of ___[X?]___” that is totally unclear in character… my mind is not trained to deal with the obliqueness that I’m encountering. (Man, I just know that I’m not explaining this well! I’m so sorry.)

Galbanum via en.wikipedia.org

A second difficulty I faced was, basically, that I kept experiencing things that weren’t on the note list, not even Luckyscent’s. Hera’s opacity made it impossible for me to know if I was imagining things and going crazy, or if the official Papillon note list was even more truncated than I’d thought.

See, the problem is that I keep getting strong whiffs of accords that Ms. Moores has used in past Papillon scents. For example, parts of Hera’s opening reminds me of how she created 1970s-style semi-vintage greenness in Dryad via galbanum, oakmoss, vetiver, and a dark, leathery, quasi-animalic muskiness.

Australian sandalwood. Source: voiceofau.com

Or the frequently used Papillon creamy, plush, musky, and intensely deeply skin-like accord that oozes quiet sensuality and/or eroticism and that has practically a tactile feel in the drydowns of Salome and Bengale Rouge, compliments of the sandalwood that I know Ms. Moores loves to use. I experience the same thing here in Hera, yet sandalwood is not listed even on Luckyscent’s lengthier note list and surely it can’t just be the ambrette and ylang-ylang that are responsible? So is santal really here in Hera, a nod to Ms. Moores’ olfactory loves, aesthetic and past creations? Or am I imagining it due to how difficult it is to parse Hera due to its opacity, blurriness, and the aforementioned indescribable elements? As a lawyer with OCD, I can tell you that these ambiguities are driving me a little mad.

The third and final difficulty I encountered in trying to understand and describe Hera to you is that she is somewhat of a shape-shifter during the opening hour. I tested Hera twice and there were enough differences – acutely so during the first 25-30 minutes – that I enlisted my mother as a guinea pig. The opening bouquet on her was essentially the same as the scent I got from sniffing my opened sample vial, but it was not the same scent that greeted me in either of my two tests during the first hour. As a side note, after the first hour or so, all the versions of Hera aligned and were basically the same.

I’m going to do my best to describe Hera and her permutations with occasional side-bars to explain critical raw materials like narcissus, indoles, and ambrette that might not be so well known to some readers as notes like jasmine, iris, or vanilla are. But please understand that I don’t find Hera easy to describe in the way that I do other fragrances. At the end of the day, I find much of it to be a mood, a feel, an evocation of other things and images more than it is a distinct bouquet of notes that unfurls with regularity and clarity.

HERA’S OPENING BOUQUET: VERSION #1, AMBRETTE, & INDOLES:

Hera‘s opening burst – both upon my mother’s skin and from a sniff of the open vial – evokes memories of fizzy, green-laced florals and chypres from days gone by. On my mother, Hera begins with a blast of fizzy, bubbly, clean (but not soapy) aldehydes fused with brisk, crisp bergamot. The two are then generously lavished over a complex – and literal – bouquet of flowers: fruity, orange-licked orange blossoms; honeyed, lemony, and occasionally soapy roses; syrupy, indolic, ripe jasmine; and rooty iris. Dancing around the background from time to time are wisps of a dry, astringent, hay-like, slightly earthy, and very spiky narcissus.

Photo: my own.

An impressionistic greenness brackets everything, but it doesn’t smell clearly of anything in particular: Not herbal or fresh clary sage, per se; not of oakmoss; not of vetiver-ish grassiness; nor peppery, dry, dark green galbanum. Oddly and inexplicably, however, it’s like all these things but also none of them simultaneously. It’s one of those indescribable “sense of” things that I mentioned at the start and an obliqueness where one can’t single out the olfactory notes whilst also being left with a thick swath of very 1970s-style vintage greenery.

I only pestered my poor guinea pig mother on a repeated, consistent basis during the first 90 minutes, thereafter smelling her arm and wrist more intermittently, but there were a few consistent things I noted from her test to mine. One was that the Hera’s ambrette muskiness appeared on her skin, as on mine, during the first 20 minutes and rapidly became a major player. The difference, however, is that the ambrette gradually skewed into leather in a much more intense and clear way on her than it did on me.

Ambrette musk pod and seed. Photo/Source: Appalachian Valley Natural Products

Ambrette (or Muskmallow) isn’t widely used in mainstream or commercial perfumery due to its high price, so let me take a brief moment to explain its scent and characteristics for those of you who may be unfamiliar with it. Ambrette is a plant whose distilled seeds have has a warm, vegetal, ambery muskiness which can turn purely animalic if mixed with other materials in that genre. When Parfum d’Empire‘s Marc-Antoine Corticchiato launched his original, limited-edition, no-note-list Musc Tonkin extrait in 2013, ambrette was one of the (unquestionable) materials used to enhance the rawer, more elemental animalics.

Sylvia Delacourte of Guerlain has a historical, technical, and briefly olfactory discussion on her site about ambrette, how its seeds are harvested, and other fragrances in which it’s been used in (including Serge LutensMuscs Koublai Khan), but I prefer Eden Botanical‘s more detailed scent description. Here is what they write, in part, about their ambrette C02 – a concentration or format which, I believe, is nowhere as rich or intense as an absolute like the ambrette used here in Hera:

Ambrette Seed CO2, in our opinion, presents an intriguing, very complex aromatic profile – intensely rich, sweet, nutty/seed-like, musky-floral, rounded with nuances of Cognac, Clary Sage, Tobacco back notes, and underscored with the subtle, sensual character of leather and animalic notes all through the long drydown. It is an extremely tenacious, excellent fixative that improves with age. Amazing!

Ambrette Seed CO2 is a notable aromatic oil extracted from the seeds of Abelmoschus moschatus, the Hibiscus plant, native to the tropics of Asia, Northern Australia and Africa […]. The Latin, abelmoschus, is derived from Arabic and means the ‘source of’ or ‘father of musk’.

In perfumery applications, Ambrette Seed is an excellent fixative with an exalting effect – in other words, it has a unique way of lifting or enhancing the quality of a perfume.1  [Emphasis added by me.]

Note how one of their descriptors is “leathery.” On me, Hera didn’t have any clear, distinct, unmistakable leathery component in the way that you might find with birch tar or isobutyl quinoline. It did, however, have a relatively clear leather quality on my mother about 40-45 minutes into Hera’s development, albeit leatheriness that was heavily muffled and muted by the flowers and other notes.

Though the precise floral components, the dominant floral notes, and the “leather”  on my mother during Hera’s first hour differed than they did on me, the one thing that we had in common was the rising tide of indoles from the white flowers.

The scientific story about indoles, in simple terms, is that bees can’t see white flowers like jasmine, orange blossom, gardenia, tuberose, narcissus, or the like. So the flowers have an extra-large amount of a natural organic substance called indoles that they put out to signal the bees to their presence, much like flashing lights on an airplane landing strip.

“Bee on the jasmine” by OlgaC on Deviant Art. (Direct website link embedded within.)

In their undiluted, purest, and most concentrated form in perfumery, indoles can smell like musty mothballs. In a slightly larger amount, they can smell either like camphor, dark smoke, incense smoke, and/or a dark, almost carnal, fleshy, ripe muskiness. However, when diluted to just a few drops, they create a radiant richness in floral perfumes that is sometimes described as narcotic, heady, meaty, dense, voluptuous, musky, ripe, or sensuous.

For some, however, very indolic flowers can have an over-blown, ripe quality that smells urinous, sour, plastic-y, fecal, or reminiscent of a cat’s litter box. Its richness in classic, very opulent fragrances is probably why some people find indolic fragrances to smell “old lady-ish” (a term I hate, by the way, even apart from its ageist aspects). Those who prefer clean, laundry-fresh scents are bound to struggle with indolic fragrances – and not only because of their heavy feel.

In the case of Hera and the indoles on my mother’s skin, they worked indirectly to ripen and darken the flowers, turning them (as they also do on me much later on) into rather sultry hot-house flowers dominated primarily by syrupy, lush, overblown jasmine and a rather neroli-like fruity orange blossom. Dark rivulets of indoles run through it, but there is also so much ambrette muskiness at the end of the 1st hour on her (and general Hera opaqueness) that it is difficult for me to parse which material is responsible.

The dark waves of indoles, ambrette muskiness, and leatheriness are not the only thing to build in steam by the end of the first hour on my mother’s skin. There are also roses now, honeyed and lemony, running alongside creamy vanilla and growing amounts of dry, spiky narcissus. The aldehydes have vanished, the abstract greenery has receded to the background where it smells surprisingly vetiver-like on her, and a thick, heavy creaminess begins to stir in the base next to a slowly awakening labdanum amber.

Photo: my own.

In the most reductivist, basic summation: Hera is gradually turning into a golden, lush, ripe floriental on her, losing its quasi-chypre-ish nuances as well as its more prominent quasi-1970s sharp green floral and green floral leather attributes. (Vintage Cabochard by Grès has been mentioned a few times by people in the context of Hera and, while I don’t really experience close parallels on my skin, Hera on my mother does nod briefly to the scent that I recall from my childhood when my mother wore Cabochard.)

As the 1st hour ends and the 2nd progresses, my mother’s version of Hera syncs up with what emerges on me. So let’s proceed to my experiences with Hera.

HERA’S OPENING BOUQUET ON ME – OPENING 1:

Photo: Danielle Marie Bedics-Arizala on Flickr. (Direct website link embedded within.)

The first time I tested Hera, the composition of the opening bouquet was extremely different than what my mother experienced, particularly with regard to the order and prominence of its floral notes. The aldehydic-citrus veil now floated over an intense, dominant, central note of iris. The latter smelled dewy, rooty, clean, cool, grey, and suede-like.

Sharing central stage with the iris is the narcissus which is driving force on my skin in both my tests and throughout much of Hera’s development. As on my mother, the flower smells dry, spiky, astringent, hay-like, and slightly earthy on my skin.

However, this time around, it was also layered with a strong smokiness and, during the first 20 minutes, with an indescribable sort of black, diesel-like, gassy undertone. No, it doesn’t smell of literal gasoline, but there is also more than mere smokiness, muskiness, or spikiness at play. It’s extremely difficult to explain and rather intangible in quality. I think it’s due to the narcissus’ natural indoles and other tonalities that can pop up when the flower is used in its richest olfactory concentration, the absolute, as it is here.

Narcissus or “paperwhites” against a backdrop of daffodils. Source: flowerhomes.blogspot.com

If you’re unfamiliar with the range shown by narcissus absolute, it can take on many forms: everything from tuberose-like greenness to heady, nectared, and dewy notes resembling hyacinth; dry hay; the sort of leathery darkness found in styrax as well as a muskiness like ambrette; smokiness like both incense and indoles; and even, if not edited well, the aroma of wet, rotting greenness. (That last part is never an issue in Hera.) If you’d like to learn more about narcissus’ olfactory character, especially in absolute form, you can turn to the perfumer and perfume educator, Ayala Moriel. Her blog description even includes quotes from Arctander, the original benchmark guide and guru on olfaction.

“Champagne Skies” art by Patrick St. German, avail. at Barker & Stonehouse UK. (Direct website link embedded within.)

Other elements accompany the dominant iris-narcissus duet on my skin. Greenness brackets the flowers, smelling exactly like some mix of oakmoss, vetiver, and galbanum. None of it smells like any clary sage that I’ve ever tried before, though there is a subtle, separate tinge of fresh green herbs lurking within. If clary sage in solo form is really responsible for this moss-like swathe of greenness, I’d be surprised and impressed. Regardless of whatever has been used here, though, it calls to mind and nose a lighter, softer, more heavily diluted, and impressionistic form of the multi-faceted greenness in Papillon’s Dryad.

Photo: my own.

Roughly 15 minutes in, Hera shifts when a dense, thick, opaque swathe of fruity and white florals starts to swirl around the central iris-narcissus core. It’s not easy, however, to parse them out. There is a distinct orange note but no actual orange blossom. There is an indolic, syrupy floral whiteness, but it doesn’t translate as a distinct jasmine note given everything else that is happening at the same time. Whiffs of a custardy floral banana nod to ylang-ylang but, once again, I can’t detect the flower itself due to the density and opacity of the accord. Ditto to the honeyed, lemony floralcy that reads as pink and white in my mind’s eye but which doesn’t clearly smell of actual roses on my skin.

As the first 30 minutes draw to a close, Hera shifts quite dramatically. Gooey, sugary, thick, and powerful vanilla gushes forth, cutting through all the florals like a knife. At the same time, a streak of sticky, chewy, resinous, and blackened labdanum begins to run through the base. Last, but most definitely not least, a growing tidal wave of indoles descends upon the flowers, ravaging Hera’s once bright, fizzy, clean, and sunny brightness like an eclipse sliding across the face of the sun.

Here, the indoles do not smell camphorous, like mothballs or, god forbid, fecal, but they are smoky, musky, singed with an almost burnt quality, and imbued with an intense heatedness and fleshy carnality. The last two immediately makes me think of what Roja Dove once said about (vintage) Fracas and the overall effect of its intensely indolic tuberose (mixed with indolic jasmine): “Fracas smells like very, very hot flesh after you’ve had sex — that’s the bottom line.” [via The Independent, 12/14/2002.] Later on, as the indoles meld with the musky ambrette and the two expand during the 3rd hour into a tsunami, I’m also strongly reminded of the carnality and fleshy, musky qualities that Serge Lutens emphasized in his famous, smolderingly indolic, cult-hit jasmine, Sarrasins (pre-reformulation).

HERA’S OPENING BOUQUET ON ME – OPENING 2:

Source: 123RF.com

The second time I tested Hera, the opening bouquet differed in its notes, nuances, feel, and, most importantly, in the timing of its development. The fragrance opened with sweet, fresh, delicate roses lying beside a pale iris that smelled like stony pebbles. The two were accompanied, as before, by clean aldehydes, cool citrus, and a blur of impressionistic greenness but, this time, there are wisps of spicy patchouli as well.

About 5 minutes in, a thick, opaque floral syrupiness appears, then blackened indoles. Roughly 10 minutes in, an intensely vegetal muskiness with a slightly leathery undertone sweeps over everything. Something about it reminds me of hawthorn as well as the ambrette-hawthorn mix in Kilian‘s Royal Leather. The cumulative effect is the furthest thing possible from a bright, fresh, sunny bridal scent.

Roughly 15 to 20 minutes in, the dark indoles and intense muskiness take over, adding a thick coat of darkness atop the flowers, blotting out any vestige of brightness, muffling the rose, and turning both the iris and Hera’s abstract white floralcy sepia in hue – or darker.

Georgia O’Keeffe, “Black Place II,” 1944 via metmuseum.org

The narcissus arrives at this point as well, adding a streak of yellowness to the visuals. It’s dry in floral aroma, slightly hay-like and astringent. There is a subtle diesel-like smokiness to it but, above all else, it is intensely spiky. There is no other way I can describe it.

“Yellow jag” by Nancy Simmons Smith. (Direct link to her website embedded within.)

About 30 minutes in, there are a few small shifts. Sweet vanilla swirls around the flowers, but it is not as sugared, cloying, or powerful as it was in my first test. The patchouli grows stronger at the same time, while an intensely treacly darkness (labdanum) stirs thickly through the base.

Hera is not light in scent or body. The ambrette muskiness adds heft to the bouquet right from the start, one that is further enhanced by the early oriental base notes showing themselves and by the scent’s overall opacity. While I can pick out the narcissus, citrus, aldehydes and, to a lesser extent, the iris, the majority of the fragrance feels like a dense blur. I’m reminded of glass slides, each containing a drop of thick liquid in a different colour, then placed in slightly overlapping formation.

The feel of Hera in this opening version is different to me than the others, but I find it difficult to articulate why. The bouquet is not the bright, fizzy. green-hued, and clearly floral, then indolic, black-tinged chypre-ish, Hera of my mother’s experience. Nor is it like the iris-narcissus-driven core of my first wearing, despite having both iris and, eventually, narcissus this time around as well. It certainly does not feel as green.

I think it’s a question of ratios. It’s as though the ratio of notes on my skin, both to each other individually and also cumulatively, has changed in this version. The result doesn’t feel like either a ’70s-style green floral or green chypre on my skin, perhaps because the greenness is so truncated and muffled. Nor does it feel like a green-tinged but largely animalic floral or floral leather, per se. Not even a pure floriental even, though the growing oriental elements in the base clearly point to that eventual direction.

It’s as though Hera is all of those things but also none at the same time. Everything and nothing, you might say.

While that sounds pejorative or insulting, I do not mean it to be. If anything, it’s a testament to Hera’s prismatic character. She is many things in the opening 30 to 40 to 50 minutes and, like a complex (adult) woman, she can be hard to pin down at times and can’t be put in a box.

I just wish that Hera were not so opaque in her individual and cumulative parts. I feel as though greater clarity in both the solo notes and the broader accords would yield a more riveting picture. It is, ultimately, however, a question of style and aesthetics, I suppose. One can appreciate the powerful impact of Mark Rothko’s broad slabs in his paintings when taken as a whole just as much as one can see the beauty in the finely detailed brushstrokes of a Rembrandt.

As the first hour gradually draws to a close, Hera changes in ways that align it perfectly with the other versions that I’ve described. Or, to put it another way, they all sync up and are virtually the same from this point forward.

HERA THERAFTER IN ALL TESTS:

All versions of Hera approach the end of the 1st hour and the start of the 2nd in the same way, by turning golden, warm, ambered, sweet, musky, and intensely indolic.

Photo: my own.

The spotlight shines on spiky, astringent, smoky, and dry narcissus dancing with an opaque accord of white flowers imbued with a hot-house ripeness, lushness, and syrupy sweetness. They feel jasmine-ish, sort of, and not like orange blossoms. An indeterminate greenness lurks like a wallflower on the sidelines, hinting at vetiver from time to time. Beside it are spicy patchouli and a suede-like clean iris. The latter’s presence is growing increasingly muffled and it slinks away entirely about 1.20 minutes in. There are no roses or aldehydes on my skin. There are occasional pops of warm bergamot but they are difficult to pull out from the haze.

Title unknown. Painter: Victoria Stoyanova, 1968, Bulgaria. Source: tuttartpitturasculturapoesiamusica.com

The floral bouquet is enveloped within a thick, dense, musky cloud of gold covered with black lace. The warm gold is compromised of dark, treacly labdanum infused with sugary vanilla while the black lace consists of smoky indoles. The bridge between the two is the ambrette, smelling musky, vegetal, and occasionally almost leathery in feel. I wouldn’t describe the musk as animalic in the sense that that words is traditionally used, but it is certainly a dark-skewing musk.

Hera is now languid in vibe, thick in feel, and heavy in the weight of its individual notes and its overall body. It’s a little too thick for me, to be honest, and I say that as a die-hard vintage lover who prefers the oldest extraits in part because of the heaviness and richness of their aged opulence. The difference here, I think, and the source of my struggles is the profound sweetness of the vanilla on my skin. I can physically feel it at the back of my throat, a thick coating that is almost viscous in its richness and one which is far, far too sweet for my personal tastes. As regular readers know, I have an extremely low threshold for sugary, sweet scents; it’s simply a personal thing. Here, Hera’s vanilla is so deeply rich and powerful on my skin that it feels cloying by my standards. Given, however, how low my threshold is and how many modern fragrance wearers (especially the young ones) adore sweet scents, I doubt most people will feel as I do.

About 1.75 hours in (or late in the 2nd hour), Hera turns into a total blur. It’s a golden, smoke-tinged canvas upon which the painter has applied thick, broad smears of paint that smell sweet, musky, ambered, syrupy, vanillic, spiky, and, quite obviously, floral. There is a subtle woody underpinning to the whole thing that doesn’t feel like the woodiness of patchouli but, rather, evokes creamy, soft sandalwood to my nose and mind.

Source: rgbstock.com

Another big change is Hera’s texture. A thick wave of creaminess falls upon the notes, turning the bouquet into something that is practically tactile in feel. The creaminess doesn’t have a scented quality and I don’t know where it comes from. There are no telltale signs of ylang-ylang; it’s not custardy, banana-y, or floral in quality. It doesn’t feel or smell vanillic, either. My guess is that sandalwood is responsible or some byproduct of sandalwood mixed with ylang-ylang and the Butter Co2 that Ms. Moores sometimes likes to use, but who really know? EIther way, the creaminess is such a strong, profound feature of Hera’s bouquet on my skin from around the 1.75-hour mark until the drydown that it might as well be a note in its own right.

The effect of the creaminess on the other accords is noteworthy. Fantastic, in fact. Though the white flowers in Hera were always lush to the point of ripeness, now, when combined with the muskiness from the ambrette and indoles and with the creaminess of the santal or ylang, they evoke images of petals unfurled like languid courtesans parting their legs.

Hera’s sensuality only increases as the fragrance develops. About 2.25 hours in or early in the 3rd hour, there is also an almost textural fleshiness to the scent, driven in large part by the multi-sourced muskiness and the aforementioned creaminess. The end result keeps making me think of warm, musky skin. Not dirty or skanky skin, not post-coital skin, but not totally clean, either.

Remember Roja Dove’s Fracas description about “very, very hot flesh after you’ve had sex“? Hera isn’t lusty, overt, or sexual like that; restraint was used here, deliberately so it would seem, right down to the avoidance of any overt animalics to trigger a Salome-like skankiness. So the imagery instead is that of a woman lying upon a bed of flowers, her body crushing them to release their oils. They cover her skin like heady, ripe, lush kisses, turning her flesh musky, velvety, and heated.

Artist unknown. Source: Weibo via Pinterest.

Hera doesn’t change significantly after this point. Any changes which occur are minor ones pertaining to the nuances, prominence, ratio, or order of notes. To the extent that I can parse the opaque floral accord, it seems to be mostly narcissus with jasmine on my skin. Once in a while, a fleeting pop of an iris-y floral cleanness emerges before darting away.

Source: Adobe photo stock

With regard to the other main accords, the ambrette muskiness and the indoles’ smoky, musky black sheen remain constant, but Hera’s tactile, textural, and creamy qualities grow. So does the sense of warm, ambered goldenness. It muffles some (but not all) of the powerful vanilla and serves to dilute its sugariness.

About 4.50-hours in, or near the end of the 5th hour and the start of the 6th, Hera begins to lose its heaviness, gradually growing lighter in body and scent and also softer in sillage.

From the 5th hour to around the 8th one, a very custardy floralcy with subtle fruitiness emerges, separate from the indolic spiky and white florals. It’s the ylang-ylang, though not in any clearly delineated form. At one point, late in the 8th hour or about 7.75 hours in, a citrusy, fruity note as if from the neroli version of orange blossom appears. None of these notes is clear, obvious, or profound. I have to dig my nose into my arm and focus hard to pull them out.

Source: popularscreensavers.com

By and large, from the 8th hour onwards, Hera is simply a buttery, warm, and very musky ambered haze that is imbued with abstract, sweet, indolic floralcy and that bears an almost skin-like, satiny texture. In its final hours, all that’s left is a musky, golden warmth.

Hera had very good longevity and initially good sillage that took several hours to turn soft. I used 3 large smears from a sample vial across a 2-inch swathe of skin in all my tests, roughly approximate to 2 good sprays from a bottle. (I used the same amount on my mother for her test, by the way.) With that amount, Hera opened with about 5-6 inches of scent trail that gradually grew after 20 minutes to about 8-9 inches, then to about a foot near the end of the 1st hour. The cloud around me is dense, heavy, and rich. The sillage drops incrementally from the 2nd hour onwards as Hera gradually begins to perform more like an extrait in character. At the end of the 4th hour and start of the 5th (or around 5.10-hours in), Hera projects about 1.5 inches above my skin. About 5.25 hours in or early in the 6th hour, Hera lies 0.5 to 1 inch above my skin. Hera turns into a skin scent on me around the start of the 8th hour but is easy to detect up close without much effort until the middle of the 11th hour. Hera consistently lasted around 14 hours on me or just a little over.

ALL IN ALL:

I think Hera’s DNA has a straight-through line to the sensuality displayed in many of Liz Moores’ other fragrances during either their middle or drydown stages. While Salome was all about lust gone wild and rampant, an erotic encounter that couldn’t wait where one person seized the other and threw them down, Hera charts a different but related course: a fresh, sweet bride getting married amidst by the lush greenery and flora of a garden before skipping the actual sex act (and also the sex-crotch funk of Salome’s middle stage) for a more restrained but still sensuous romp which is literally sweet, slightly erotic (indoles), infinitely musky (ambrette), and as texturally tactile as warm skin and buttery suede combined.

Bengale Rouge – which I reviewed in detail on Twitter but not here – had a similar sensuality, heatedness, and tactile skin-like quality.

I see the same sort of compositional bridge between different Papillon aesthetics and/or fragrances here in Hera. There is glamour, sensuality, and sex appeal (but not actual sex, as in Salome), but also nods to Dryad‘s greenness and its muskiness and to Bengale’s skin-like and tactile qualities. Anubis comes to mind, not because of its incense or leatheriness but because of the powerful veil of smoke – here from indoles – which overlays the chypre-oriental floral structure.

Yet, ultimately, Hera feels like her own woman, both in terms of scent and the woman it portrays. She’s not a simpering maiden with delicate blushes at the thought of intimacy. She’s no stranger to it, mind you, but she also doesn’t need to flaunt her sexuality except in terms of lavish, tactile touch and abundant, gleaming skin (metaphorically speaking). The fragrance is similarly composed to avoid wild abandon, lascivious hedonism, and flamboyance — things which were on full display with Salome. However, Hera’s woman is not Jane Austen romanticism, either. She’s too lush, vibrant, ripe, and languid.

Is Hera unisex such that men can wear it? I strongly believe that it will depend on the man in question, their personal style, and their comfort in pulling off big, indolic floral orientals.

Regardless of gender, if you love Areej‘s Koh-in-Noor or Ottoman Empire, vintage Fracas, vintage Bal à Versailles, AbdesSalaam Attar‘s Tawaf, or Serge LutensSarrasins, you should have no problems with Hera.

Also regardless of gender, if you love ’70s-style, green-hued, slightly animalic floral leathers, the occasional references that I’ve seen to vintage Cabochard should make you happy – so long as you’re fully aware that Hera will turn into a very indolic, golden, ambered, and voluptuous affair later on. Ditto to those who are fans of dry, spiky, slightly astringent narcissus; there’s more than enough here to keep you happy, but you better love indoles (and all that comes with them, including olfactory heaviness) as well.

I want to move onto a different point: price. Hera is more expensive than prior or other Papillon scents at $310, CAD $380, €312, or £260. However, please keep in mind that Hera is a pure parfum and, as such, the price is pretty good for a 50 ml bottle. The vast majority of extraits that I’ve seen at this price point come in 30 ml bottles. (If they are 50 ml bottles, they cost more, sometimes significantly more so.) In other words, it’s a fair price for what you’re getting in terms of the size but particularly in terms of the sheer quantity of extremely expensive raw materials in their most concentrated, superior form.

A final point about Hera is actually a small plea that I’ve made often for scents like this: don’t blind-buy unless you truly love indolic scents, heavy scents, vintage-skewing scents, and big, bold, lascivious white florals. Given the use of so many concentrated absolutes at once, you better know what you’re getting into in terms of the specific notes and their olfactory implications (like ambrette with indoles, or the spiky astringency of narcissus). That’s a big reason why I’ve spent so much time going over the olfactory definitions. In addition, I think you also have to be comfortable with the overall Papillon style — both in terms of vintage-style heaviness and overt sensuality — to appreciate Hera. (A tolerance for practically opaque thickness and density would help as well.)

I know some of you (you know who you are!) simply love the gamble associated with buying things sight- and sniff- unseen, but Hera is best sampled first unless you fall into the categories that I’ve mentioned above. Even then, blind-buying is always a risk due to the vagaries of individual skin chemistry, especially when indoles are involved.

Needless to say, if the styles and genres mentioned above are not your thing, Hera will not be either.

I rather suspect that Hera will end up being both polarizing and one of Papillon’s biggest hits at the same time. The BBB (Big, Bold, Beautiful) white floral-driven extravaganzas usually are.

For other people’s thoughts on and experiences with Hera, you can turn to Fragrantica.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Hera is a pure parfum or extrait that comes in a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle and costs $310, CAD $380, €312, or £260. In the U.S.: Luckyscent, Fumerie, and Indigo Perfumery carry Hera. They all offer individual samples. Luckyscent sells its sample for $6, Fumerie for $8, and Indigo for $10. In the U.K.: You can purchase Hera directly from Papillon Perfumery, along with a 2 ml atomiser sample for £9.50. Papillon also offers an exclusive Papillon Collection sampler set of all 8 scents, including Hera, in 2 oz spray atomiser for £43. Shipping is free for the full bottle but £4 (each) for the sample or the discovery set. Papillon ships only within the UK. Outside the UK: you can find Hera at the NL’s ParfuMaria, Canada’s Perfume Shoppe, Germany’s First in Fragrance, and many other sellers from Asia to South America, the Middle East, Australia, other US shops, and other parts of the world. To find a Papillon retailer near you, you can check their Stockist listings. Samples: Many, if not all of the retailers, that I have listed sell individual samples of Hera. The only decant site I can see to carry Hera at the time of this review is Fragrance Line; they are sold out of the 5 ml size right now, so their largest size is 2 mls and they’re charging $18.99.

23 thoughts on “Papillon Perfumery Hera

  1. I don’t know if you’ve smelt it because I know you weren’t the biggest fan of amber aoud, but Musk Aoud by Roja is another great Ambrette based musk. And speaking of Mrs. Moores, I believe she’s going to do a YouTube interview with “Ramsey”, who just did one with Russian Adam.

    On this perfume, I’ve been so curious to smell narcissus. I googled it and is it daffodils? Interesting

    • Narcissus is related to daffodils but it’s not the same thing in terms of scent. I think it’s far more complex and also drier. I love daffodils but I struggle with narcissus for a variety of reasons. If you’re interested in learning further, the Ayala Moriel article that I linked to in the review should give you lots of good olfactory details. 🙂

  2. I’m so glad you tried this! I (unfortunately, for the price) fell in complete love with this scent, though at least it’s potent enough my 2ml sample is still not finished. The images you chose, particularly the painting at the top and the woman in the middle capture the scent really well.
    It’s probably the most shapeshifting scent I’ve tried – on different days the radiant white florals, powdery orris, and Dryad-esque greenness have felt like they dominated the fragrance – I’m sure your much more experienced nose picks things up way quicker than I could, but I do hope you try this again to see if it’s different/if it grows on you! I’m very picky about my florals (so many widely loved ones I find too indolic, too synthetic, too bitter…) but somehow I’ve enjoyed all versions of Hera to the point I think it may be my “holy grail” floral.

    • I’m so happy that you’ve found a scent you love so much! See if you can get a more affordable decant, perhaps from a Basenotes or FB splitter.

      With regard to me, and quite separate from the vanilla issue, I just don’t like narcissus enough to fall for Hera given the quantities of the note on my skin and its duration. It’s pretty low on my list of favourite florals. (And iris is dead last! Least favourite flower in all perfumery.)

      So I can appreciate Hera, but she’s better suited to and on someone else. 🙂

      • It’s funny, I think we have very different preferences in our favourite flowers, as I love iris and narcissus and find tuberose difficult, but your blog has helped me find some of my absolute favourites – Moon Bloom (made me reconsider Tuberose!), Une Rose de Kandahar, Papillon’s own Angelique all come to mind.
        I think we both agree on rose at least, in terms of not loving it but occasionally finding a rose-heavy scent we enjoy a lot.

  3. A beautiful and thorough review – and I’m very happy about it, because, honestly, I was clueless what to think about this parfum, I truly needed your explanation. Thank you !

    • What was it like on you, Mi’Lady, and what was the source of your confusion or struggle? Were you expecting a typical, conventional bridal scent?

      • I read som reviews in advance, so I didn‘t expect a classical bridal scent (which are not my type at all…). But still, I expected something easier. It is too complex for me, too bold – the orange blossom is strong on my skin, but then again there is hardly any jasmin and no orris, whatsoever. And then it turns soapy on me.
        I might be too much of a tomboy for Hera…

        • Awww, thank you, darling. It well nigh almost killed me to get out in 4 (largely sleepless) days of testing, writing, photo digging, raw material citations, and other stuff, so I greatly appreciate your kind words. I really do! xo

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts dear Kafkaesque. I have a 5ml decant here and its slowly growing on me. A 10-15ml would be the perfect size for me I think. I did find that the gorgeous opening fizzes out quickly off my skin (like Salome) and wish that lasted a bit longer.

      • The opening was a rich and silky orris accord that skewered purple in my mind. I want to say there’s something grapey and plummy about the orris accord hence the purple association. Possibly from jasmine and something else. The opening after 1 hour then becomes a side character, coming in and out adding flavour to the Dryad like drydown which is most of the scent for me.

        • I should add that I can sort of see orange blossom in there too. I never smelt the real flower in real life but a friend gave me some orange blossom dilution and it was tart and rubbery. He also gave me a small sample of rose de mai dilution and it was surprisingly tart.

        • Fascinating. The purple grape note is from Methyl Anthranilate, a natural compound found in white flowers like tuberose, jasmine, and orange blossom. It can also have other fruity undertones like tart orange. It always skews purple in my mind, too!

          I’m amazed that most of the scent on you was Dryad-like greenness and muskiness. So very, very different than on me. Skin chemistry is such a cool, weird, fascinating thing.

  5. Yes, I know who I are and I’m not going to blind-buy this one!
    However, your review only makes me more curious to try it. Though I think it’ll have to wait for cooler weather. I can’t imagine a fragrance this dense in 95º, humid weather.

    • Haha, yes, *YOU* were definitely one of the blind-buy gamblers that I was thinking of, James!! 😀 😛
      (And you know how much blind-buys stress me out, lol.)

  6. Hmm, leathery, spiky, probably one I’m going to skip. Narcissus and I are not friends. Every narcissus fragrance I have tried has NOT smelled good on my skin even though others rave about how gorgeous these fragrances are on their skin. I’ll be skipping this one unless a sample falls into my lap. LOL

    • Lol! 😀 if it makes any difference, quite a few people report either an orris- or iris-driven scent on their skin or one that is very green like Papillon’s Dryad. Hera is a chameleon who differs quite a bit, it seems, based on skin chemistry.

      But as someone who is ambivalent about narcissus or not totally enamoured by it, I understand your position completely, Ricky.

  7. So good to see you posting again, dearest K, and excited to see this review after a long anticipated wait. I hope all is well with you and the handsome German, that your family is well and that things are better for you generally. Huge hugs, my dear one.

    It’s been a dry spell for me in terms of perfume temptations, and Mz. Moores can usually be counted on to remedy that. When I first saw the early press on this one, and that it would feature narcissus (a deep and abiding love), my interest was piqued and I have been looking forward to getting your sense of it ever since.

    I can only imagine how frustrating is is for you to not be able to pin this down. Your descriptions certainly enhance my curiosity; vintage green, Cabochard, Fracas, MKK, narcissus, and indoles… *sigh*. The sweet vanillic elements give me pause though, as do comparisons with Bengal Rouge (which did not work for my chemistry) and Salome (which was a virginal white floral on me in all aspects save for an intense ashiness from the civet, which does NOT like my skin). I adore Anubis and Dryad, so will make the effort to hunt this one down and test it. As it deserves. As always, your reviews are more helpful than you know.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences, as well as those of your dear mere (can’t add the inflection from my device). Wishing you health and happiness, and hoping many more good sniffs come our way.

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