October 1175. Calabria, Italy. South of Naples, northeast of Sicily. “During the First Crusade, Southern Italy fell to the Normans, which encouraged Calabrian Jews to engage in the agricultural trades. By the 12th century, the communities were thriving. Since then, the harvest of the Diamante Citron or Etrog has remained a regional tradition.” Etrog is even described in the Bible in connection to the Garden of Eden. “The fragrance is said to be the ‘Fragrance of Heaven’, and the Etrog itself is associated with righteousness, goodness and desirability.”
October 1175 in Calabria, history and the etrog fruit are the specific inspirations for L’Etrog by the American niche perfume house, Arquiste. Founded by the architect turned perfumer (and now, designer), Carlos Huber, Arquiste always attempts to bottle a specific moment in history. It’s something that I greatly admire, as history has always been one of my greatest passions in life. And, here, the mission is not only to capture the festival of L’Etrog in Norman-conquered Calabria, but also the very feel of life in the Mediterranean itself.
Arquiste elaborates further on the exact mental picture that the perfume is meant to evoke:
In Medieval Calabria, a family gathers to celebrate a good harvest. Within a cabin built of Palm leaves and other woody branches, an aromatic bounty is presented. The citrusy scent of the Etrog citron, a regional specialty, brightens the air while embracing Myrtle and lush Date Fruit envelope the sweet warmth of the Mediterranean night.
Released in late 2011, L’Etrog is described as a “citrus chypre” and was created by Rodrigo Flores-Roux and Yann Vasnier. On its website, Arquiste says:
The brisk character of Myrtle marries with leafy nuances, emulating the freshly opened fronds of palm trees. An unexpected mouthwatering accent follows, with Smyrna Date fruit and elegant Cedar wood from Lebanon.
Cedar, however, is not explicitly included in L’Etrog’s official notes on the Arquiste website which merely list:
Calabrese Cedrat [Citron], Myrtle, Date Fruit and Vetiver
Elsewhere, however, department store retailers like Barneys and blogs like CaFleureBon quote the press release description which states the perfume is: “a citrus chypre with citron, palm leaves, willow branches, myrtle and dates.” So, let’s just assume that “willow branches” and “palm leaves” are in there, along with cedar, too.
As for the fruit in question, internet research tells me that cedrat is a type of very large, fruity lemon with a thick rind and little acidity. It has many different names: cedrat seems to be one linguistic version of the term citron (which is the main French name) and seems to be the same as etrog which Wikipedia tells me is the Hebrew version. Whatever the linguistics, the fruit looks a bit like its close cousin, the pomelo, but doesn’t smell (or taste) like a grapefruit.
I’m a little OCD, so forgive my brief digression into history for a moment. First, Arquiste’s comment on the Normans would seem to imply that they were responsible for agriculture successes in the region, when I think that history would argue it was the Saracens or Moors. Starting in the late 9th Century, they invaded the area in southern Italy that includes Calabria and that later became part of the larger Kingdom of Sicily. It was the Moors who seriously impacted both the agriculture and the cuisine (not to mention the architecture); who brought over things like dates, oranges and lemons; and whose advancements in agricultural techniques led to the thriving cultivation of those citrus crops — techniques that, I would argue, were the sole reason for the bounty of the etrog on that day in October 1175 during the Jewish festival of Sukkot. It was not the bloody Normans! They were merely the subsequent conquerors. So, while Robert Guiscard admittedly encouraged the Calabrian Jews, it was the Moors who got the whole ball rolling to start with in what has been termed the Arab Agricultural Revolution. (Sorry for the tangent, but that esoteric point has been bothering me for hours and hours.)(And hours!)
Second, and returning to the perfume now, I don’t understand how L’Etrog is supposed to be even a neo-chypre, let alone an actual one. There is no oakmoss; there isn’t even the patchouli that is sometimes considered as an alternative foundational base. Is vetiver alone now enough? Not in my opinion.
I tested L’Etrog twice, using different quantities and resulting in a very different openings. The first time, my hand slipped and quite a large amount gushed out of the vial onto my arm. It was a vision of bright, sunny, yellow with sweet lemon that wasn’t zesty so much as slightly fruity and rich. There were also elements of light vetiver and myrtle. According to Fragrantica, myrtle oil is said to have a scent similar to eucalyptus but here, during the first test, there is a minty undertone instead. It creates a slightly chilled, very energizing effect that is lovely. At the same time, however, something about the overall combination leads to a definite impression of Theraflu or LemSip cold powder. As the seconds passed, the minty touches grow stronger, creating more of a fizzy, sparkling aspect than just mere fruity citron.
After 15 minutes, the perfume changes slightly. The fruity aspect of the citron grows stronger, but it doesn’t seem at all like dates, per se. In fact, there is nothing reminiscent of sweetly dark, dried fruits at all. At the same time, the vetiver also becomes more prominent, adding a quiet earthiness to the scent. What is more interesting, however, is the interplay between the vetiver and the myrtle.
On one part of my arm, the peppermint note has transformed into eucalyptus, nullifying much of the sweet lemon but accentuating the vetiver. L’Etrog shows itself here as a spicy, mentholated eucalyptus with vetiver that is simultaneously earthy, rooty and touched by nuances of green citrus. On another part, however, it remains as peppermint, enabling the sweet, fruited lemon to show itself. Here, L’Etrog is a fruity lemon scent with a more generalized, abstract woody undertone. In both cases, however, the perfume is incredibly light, airy, and sheer. It’s much more akin to a cologne in feel and becomes a skin scent in as little as 20 minutes on my skin.
At the ninety minute mark during this first test, L’Etrog is a sheer lemon vetiver scent with the merest hint of woody, peppery elements and a bare drop of sweetness. Something in the undertone feels a little like ISO E Super, but it’s extremely light. The perfume remains this way for a number of hours until, around fifth hour, it turns into a thin veil of musky vetiver with a hint of lemony fruit. By the ninth hour, the last traces of L’Etrog are soapy musk with vetiver. Soon thereafter, it faded away entirely.
My second test of L’Etrog involved a far lesser quantity and, as a result, led to a very different opening. This time, the perfume opened with spicy lemon (not a sweetly fruited one) intertwined completely with very woody vetiver. There was also quite a noticeable amount of soap from the start, and the myrtle showed no minty aspects at all. Instead, it was all eucalyptus. The whole lemon, vetiver, soap mix strongly called to mind lemon liquid dishwashing liquid. It wasn’t unpleasant, but the Joy similarities couldn’t be ignored.
Another big difference was the presence of ISO E Super. I don’t know why it was so much more evident at a lesser quantity of L’Etrog, as opposed to the greater dosage, but I’m absolutely convinced it’s there. L’Etrog had a slightly velvety wood undertone with that telltale, giveaway sign of peppery, rubbing alcohol. The ISO E Super is not enormously prominent, and it does fade away after an hour, but given the headaches that even small amounts can cause people who are sensitive to the note, I wanted to warn you.
By the second hour, during the second test, L’Etrog was primarily a vetiver scent with lemon nuances, a woody undertone, and the merest whisper of light musk. And it remained that way until the final drydown when it turned, again, more of a soapy, light musk. The perfume was so close to the skin, it was incredibly hard to smell at times. Clearly, this is a perfume that — like a cologne — will require a significant quantity if you want to detect its nuances. And, even then, you’re going to have to put your nose directly on your skin after the first hour. All in all, the perfume lasted a little under 7 hours with the lesser amount.
L’Etrog wasn’t my cup of tea. True, my personal style and tastes are very different, but I also found it disappointing as a whole. Ignoring completely the sillage issue, L’Etrog was a tame, boring, linear creation that really just played off lemon and vetiver. Perhaps if I’d smelled actual dates, I would have been more excited. But I doubt it. Lemon and vetiver are the primary strands of this perfume, with everything else being merely a tangential, occasional touch — from eucalyptus, to soap, to amorphous woody notes, to ISO E Super, to musk. They can’t take away from the main, most evident thrust of the perfume. Even the lemon itself wasn’t unique, the way the descriptions of Calabrese cedrat or etrog had led me to expect. In short, L’Etrog simply isn’t that interesting — not at $165 for a 55 ml/1.8 oz bottle. It actually verges on the banal and mundane. I far preferred Arquiste’s fabulous, wonderfully nuanced, sophisticated, rich Anima Dulcis.
On Fragrantica, the comments vary. There are those who find it “super wearable” but admit that they don’t have “the most trained of nose palates,” and then there are established commentators like the hardcore perfumista, “Sherapop,” who found L’Etrog to be a pleasant, somewhat quirky perfume that is “nice… but not compelling.” She reached that conclusion despite smelling not only the dates, but some candied sweetness and some caramel. (So, perhaps I didn’t miss out on anything after all?) Interestingly, she seems to have first smelled the perfume blind as part of Chandler Burr’s Untitled Series and thought that it was Histoires de Parfums‘ 1873 (“Colette“). In a side by side test, before the reveal, she detected small differences, but not much. The similarity is something to keep in mind if you have tested or own Colette.
But Sherapop wasn’t the only one who gave a shrug of “meh” to L’Etrog. Another commentator, “Alfarom,” succinctly summed up the perfume as follows:
A citron hologram introduces a honestly crafted woody-citrus fragrance that’s refined, nice smelling and very wearable. The woody notes (incredibly not overdone) and some sweetness, provide some sustain to an otherwise extremely fleeting composition that while resulting definitely pleasant, it still doesn’t have the ability to stand out in todays overpopulated niche market…
Nice yet somewhat forgettable.
That said, for those who want a simple, light, sheer, summery, lemon vetiver cologne that is utterly inoffensive, you may want to try L’Etrog. It would be appropriate for even the most conservative office environment. No perfume Nazi would be bothered, simply because they wouldn’t be able to detect it; unless they had sensitivities to ISO E Super, in which case, you may be screwed….