Hiram Green‘s new Arcadia is officially an aromatic lavender fougère inspired by idyllic green forest landscapes, but that is only a fraction of the story that unfolded on my skin. I found Arcadia to be a fougère-oriental hybrid whose fresh, clean, aerated green-laced lavender opening soon turned into creamy lavender ice-cream with deeply resinous, woody, incense-y, spicy, and ambered qualities for the vast majority of its lifetime. The end result strongly and consistently reminded me of Serge Lutens‘ original version of Fourreau Noir, a dark, delectable bell jar beauty that was the first and only lavender fragrance to bring this decades-long lavender-phobe to my knees. Needless to say, I was equally enthused by Arcadia.
Arcadia is an all-natural, handcrafted eau de parfum that was created by Hiram Green and released in June 2022. On his website, the fragrance, its inspiration, and its notes are described as follows:
Hiram was inspired by the natural splendour of Arcadia. In this idyllic, unspoiled wilderness babbling brooks meander through mountains covered in dense forests and the air is filled with the sound of humming insects and twittering birds.
Imagine the lush undergrowth that covers the forest floor. In areas where the sun manages to break through the canopy, fragrant flowers bask in the sunlight and their sweet scent intertwines with the fresh green smell of the foliage.
Arcadia belongs to the classic olfactive group known as Fougère, or fern-like perfumes. As no natural fern fragrant oil exists, Fougère fragrances always consist of a combination of fragrant oils that evoke the scent of ferns.
Aromatic French lavender and Italian bergamot dominate the top of Arcadia before jasmine and rose provide floral shading. Tonka bean, aged patchouli and New Caledonian sandalwood add depth to the composition.
The succinct list of notes is:
Bergamot, Lavender, Jasmine, Rose, Spices, Resins, Tonka Bean, Aged Patchouli, New Caledonian Sandalwood.
Arcadia opens on my skin with the multilayered scent of a meadow with alpine and Provençal characteristics. Heaping armfuls of lavender waft a variety of aromas: brisk, fresh aromatics; fresh, springy green herbs; clean, fluffy cotton like the scent of freshly laundered towels; sweet, creamy lavender-tonka ice cream; and dried lavender that smells medicinal, slightly bitter, and slightly musty. Lurking to the side of the lavender accord is a rather abstract greenness. Hanging over everything is a generous spritzing of crisp, brisk, refreshing bergamot along with a sort of aerated whiteness that smells a lot like cool, clean aldehydes. The latter gives the top notes both a lift and an olfactory coolness that contributes to my mental images of the Alps.
Other notes quickly appear. Trailing in the central accord’s footsteps are tendrils of sweet pink roses. There is also a light dusting of dark, dry spices that suggest cloves and a pinch of bitter nutmeg, though the accord is slightly unclear and also heavily muffled by the plethora of lavender.
10 minutes in, Arcadia’s base begins to stir, wafting a dry woodiness evocative of cedar, a softer type of pale woodiness, a smidgeon of spicy patchouli, and a tiny flicker of dark resinousness.
15 minutes in, the abstract greenness solidifies, smelling identical on my skin to clary sage, right down to its occasional, subtle, soapy undertones and its quiet grassiness. There is also a different form of greenness that I can’t pinpoint easily but which evokes dark, slightly astringent, aromatic, brisk, crisp fuzzy leafiness. I suspect it’s geranium, a common material in many old, classic fougères, but that’s only a guess.
Whatever the exact green notes, their cumulative effect serves, mentally, to evoke the images of dew-laden ferns — plants that have no actual aroma but which are a critical inspirational foundation for the fougère family of fragrances and whose mental replication is an olfactory goal.
About 20-25 minutes in, Arcadia shifts a little. An unexpected, beautiful, delectable, and distinct waft of fresh, bitter almonds appears, weaving in and around the lavender-tonka ice cream accord. At the same time, the dried lavender and its fusty, musty, medicinal, bitter tonalities weaken and start to retreat into the background. Surprisingly, the roses, the spices, and the woody-resinous base disappear almost entirely (for now), swallowed up by the growing, strong wave of lavender ice cream. I strongly suspect that the sandalwood is indirectly responsible for the latter growing so pronounced (and richer) on my skin, even though I can’t pull out the note in any clearly delineated, distinct way.
45 minutes in, Arcadia enters into its second stage, one which is primarily centered around creamy, lightly sweetened lavender tonka (sandalwood) ice cream sprinkled with a handful of aromatic, clean-smelling, fresh lavender.
Varying and fluctuating levels of other notes are layered within: fresh, bitter almonds; creamy vanilla; crisp bergamot citrus; an indeterminate sweet floralcy; slivers of fresh greenness; and a creamy, spicy woodiness that only occasionally, briefly, and quietly nod to sandalwood and patchouli. If I had to estimate the proportions of the bouquet’s two accords on my skin at this point, I’d say that 65% to 70% of Arcadia consists of the lavender tonka santal ice cream with fresh lavender while 30% to 35% was comprised of everything else.
When taken as a whole, Arcadia changes in small increments and largely at a glacial pace. At the start of the 2nd hour (or about 65-70 minutes in), the accord ratios change and the ice cream expands to about 90% of the bouquet on my skin. There are no aldehydes, aerated lift, roses, or floralcy. The bergamot and green notes have been banished to the background where they flicker only occasionally (and in heavily muted form) for about another hour.
About 1.75-hours in or a bit thereafter, that central core suddenly turns resinous, spicy, and slightly smoky. To my nose, it smells like leathery styrax and opoponax incense resins have been used in addition to something more innately ambered in character. At the end of the 2nd hour, patchouli joins the party, adding spicy, woody tonalities to the mix.
The cumulative effect at the start of the 3rd hour strongly evokes Serge Lutens‘ sultry, sweet, delectable, dark, smoky, woody, patchouli, and incense-y twist on lavender in Fourreau Noir (now renamed “Black Scabbard“) in its original, now-vintage, formula. That formula seems to have been in effect from the fragrance’s launch in 2009 to around late 2015 or early 2016 before it was reformulated (at least once) and, from all I’ve heard, badly at that. I’ve been a committed lavenderphobe since part of my childhood spent in Cannes which is close to Grasse and its legendary lavender fields and which also seemed, to my horrified nose at least, to be awash (as the whole area was) with the wretched, medicinal, fusty aroma of dried lavender sachets in every nook and cranny. It was ghastly and it left a mark.
I know some of you are major lavender-phobes as well, so I want to take a moment to talk about its olfactory traits in order to reassure you about the approachability and quality of the note here in Arcadia. Unbeknownst to me as a child, the ghastly dried lavender sachets are made from the lowest and worst grade of lavender; the higher grade and better quality versions used in some niche fragrances smell quite different. (Bogue‘s MEM is a good example of the range and complexity that some top-notch lavender materials can have.)
It was Roja Dove‘s The Essence of Perfume book that explained to me why exactly I’d been having problems. He wrote that the best lavender (which comes from Grasse) should not be confused with inferior Lavandin (which grows freely all over the South of France). He then went on to say:
There are four main types of Lavender:
— Lavender augustifolia, which is known as Garden Lavender or True Lavender. It is used in fine perfumery.
— Lavender latifolia, also known as Spike Lavender, has a more campheraceous feel and is not as refined as Lavender augustifolia. It grows profusely across the Mediterranean.
— Lavender intermedia, also known as Lavandin, or Bastard Lavender, is even coarser.
— Lavender stoechas, commonly called French Lavender, grows across France, Spain, and Portugal. It is highly diffusive and highly campheraceous with a pronounced rosemary-like odour. [Emphasis to names added by me.]
Neither Arcadia nor Fourreau Noir are redolent of the problematic type of lavender that scarred me or others like me. Part of that is due to the quality of its materials. Another factor is that, when taken from start to finish, Arcadia presents a completely different vision of lavender on my skin, one that is not aromatic or fougère-focused but, rather, deeply oriental, ambered, creamy, and spicy. Put another way, it is the Fourreau Noir and Serge Lutens vision of lavender, not the Azzaro, Paco Rabanne, Mouchoir Pour Homme, or Caron ones. If the latter are what you’re expecting with Arcadia, I fear you may be disappointed.
To be clear, Arcadia isn’t, even in its later stages, 100% identical to Fourreau Noir. First, Fourreau Noir had a significant amount of patchouli early on, but it takes some time for Arcadia’s aged patchouli to become a dominant, driving accord on me.
Second, even at the 1.75-hour mark, Arcadia is more resinous and, importantly, more leathery in feel. If you’re familiar with styrax, a resin that is often used to replicate a leather note in perfumery, you’ll understand the sort of leathery undertone that Arcadia is beginning to manifest on me. Fourreau Noir had nothing like this at all.
Third, in addition to the styrax, its leatheriness, and its leather-wood smoke, Arcadia really smells like it has opoponax, right down to its ambered and incense-like resinous smokiness which appear as the scent develops on my skin. Vintage Fourreau Noir’s incense-like aroma smelt different to my nose.
Fourth, Fourreau Noir is lighter in body and scent than Arcadia is on my skin. Arcadia’s bouquet feels richer, deeper and, up close, stronger. Lastly, Arcadia has no synthetic undertone the way that Fourreau Noir had even in its original version and even before its circa 2016 reformulation reportedly upped the white laundry musk to intense levels. Arcadia is, like all Hiram Green fragrances, an all-natural fragrance.
Returning to Arcadia’s progression, the scent continues to change in incremental steps. After the 3rd hour, the bouquet is a rich one with no trace of dried lavender. As the dark and resinous base notes begin to expand, the lavender tonka (sandalwood) ice cream accord gradually begins, in parallel step, to shrink in prominence and dominance. In the 4th hour, the leatheriness weakens a lot and a more ambered and warm quality begins to take over. Though amber usually skews gold in my mind, it is bronze here, thanks to the patchouli which is gradually increasing in lockstep with Arcadia’s shift towards a more woody-amber profile.
At the end of the 5th hour and start of the 6th, Arcadia enters a new stage, one that is a short transitional bridge to the drydown: The clarity, heft, and dominance of the resins begin to turn abstract – except for the opoponax-like aroma which smells stronger on my skin, right down to its nutty, ambered, almost caramel-like tonalities. At the same time, Arcadia’s leatheriness disappears; and the patchouli, its spiciness, and its woody facets grow very pronounced. Moreover, for the first time, the warm, bronzed amber feels distinct and palpable. Together with the patchouli, it suffuses and coats the lavender (tonka vanilla sandalwood) ice cream.
If I had to estimate the accord ratios now, I’d put the lavender at roughly 35% to 40% of the overall composition. The remaining 60% to 65% is dominated first by the patchouli, then amber, opoponax-like incense-y resinous, nutty, sweet smokiness, and finally, generalized spiciness.
Early in the 8th hour or about 7.25-hours in, Arcadia enters its drydown stage. Its bouquet now consists of patchouli-ish, woody, and opoponax-like notes sheathed within a cloud of amber with slivers of resin smoke layered within and with only occasional, fleeting pops of creamy, vanilla-laced lavender.
Arcadia remains this way for hours, changing only in its softness and in the frequency of those lavender-vanilla pops. The core essence on my skin is almost 97% spicy, sweet-dry patchouli-ish-ness and an opoponax-ish resinousness submerged within warm, cozy, incredibly plush, and minimally sweetened bronzed gold. Instead of Fourreau Noir, I’m now strongly reminded of Oriza L. Legrand‘s recent Empire des Indes, a resin, patchouli, amber, and opoponax-heavy fragrance that I loved from the first sniff and that I plan to buy for myself.
In its final hours, all that’s left of Arcadia is sweet, spicy, bronzed warmth.
Arcadia has excellent longevity and initially good sillage that took a few hours to grow small. I always used 2-3 wide, generous smears equal to 2 big sprays from an actual bottle or 3 small spritzes. With that amount, the scent opened with 6-7 inches of sillage that grew to about 10-12 inches after 25 minutes before dropping and starting to shrink at the 90-minute mark. About 2.5 hours in, Arcadia projected about 3.5 to 4 inches off my skin. About an hour later, at the 3.5-hour mark, the number was around 2 to 2.5 inches. The projection stayed there for several hours. Early in the 8th hour or about 7.25-hours in, Arcadia hovered about 0.5 inches above my skin. Arcadia turned into a skin scent on me during the 9th hour but didn’t require effort to detect until the 11th hour. In total, Arcadia lasted about 15.75 hours in one test and 16.5 hours in another.
If I may add, that longevity is exceptional for an all-natural fragrance but not exceptional for Hiram Green’s creations. I never experience anything like it with any other all-natural house, and it’s one reason why I appreciate the brand.
There are a number of things that I like or love about Arcadia. I like the way the opening fougère stage has a cool, crisp, very aerated feel evocative of alpine lavender. Even more so, I appreciate how the bouquet has only a light touch of dried, medicinal, fusty lavender (shudder), and that it doesn’t last too long. Also, while I always enjoy the ice cream treatment of lavender, I love it during its orientalized, resinous, dark version later on, a love that’s amplified by the appealing role that opoponax and patchouli — two much-beloved notes — play in that transformation. In addition, Arcadia’s materials are smooth, clearly good quality, harmonious, and well-balanced.
Finally, I’m grateful that there is now a good alternative to Fourreau Noir which, by all accounts, has been badly gutted through at least one major reformulation. I suspect that it’s two. Around late 2015, possibly early 2016, Josh Lobb of Slumberhouse told me that Fourreau Noir was a shadow of its former self (and his old bottle). On Twitter, a friend who is a lavender lover who also knew the original and thought it was glorious told me that the current version (presumably reformulated version #2) was something to avoid. Heck, it’s not even called Fourreau Noir any more. It’s now “Black Scabbard.” (God only knows what they’ve done to it.)
Arcadia offers not only a more complex alternative to the now vintage and hard-to-find, original version of Fourreau Noir but also a cheaper one. “Black Scabbard” is $290 or €190 for 75 ml; Arcadia is $175, £135, €165, or C$200 for 50 mls. It has no synthetics; it performs better than the original Lutens; and it’s richer and deeper in bouquet.
For other thoughts on and experiences with Arcadia, you can turn to Fragrantica.
My bottom line: if you’re a fan of atypical and only partially-fougère-like lavenders, if you’re a lavender-phobe who’d love a more resinous, woody, incense-y, spicy, and ambered take on the note, or if you’re a Hiram Green fan who appreciates his style and also enjoys fragrances with a “cozy comfort” ambered finish, then you should definitely test and sniff Arcadia.