A lazy day in the sun. The summer’s heat brings out the spiciness of the sugar cane and Jamaican bay trees in the distance. Oranges and lemons hang heavy from the trees in a grove nearby. As the heat warms your body even further, you stretch out on your chaise lounge by the pool and reach for a refreshing glass of lemonade. And then you slather sweet, citrus-infused honey on yourself as if it were suntan lotion.
Images of sun, heat, honey and citrus are what come to mind when I wear Eau Absolue, the latest release from Mona di Orio and part of her Nombres d’Or Collection. Mona di Orio was an extremely talented perfumer who died tragically at the age of 41 in 2011 from post-surgical complications. Yet, the new Eau Absolue is her creation, based on a formula made by Ms. Orio before her death as an ode to the Mediterranean. According to an article on Now Smell This, Mona di Orio’s business partner and the company’s co-founder,Jeroen Oude Sogtoen, was determined to remain faithful to her formula, her vision, her style and her legacy, so her formula has not been altered in any way.
Part of that Mona di Orio signature style is something called “Chiaroscuro.” It is a term which refers to the interplay between dark and light, and a way of creating depth or three-dimensionality by using sharp, bold contrasts. The chiaroscuro construction is very much at play in Eau Absolue which is described on the Mona di Orio website as a “Hesperide Woody Balsamic” with the following character:
Eau Absolue is a memoir steeped in Mona di Orio’s love for the Mediterranean. Composed in her signature olfactory chiaroscuro construction, the scent envelopes in joyous warmth.
Eau Absolue effervesces like a summer breeze carrying a zestful bouquet of bergamot, mandarin, clementine and Petitgrain. These bright, convivial citruses splash against the epicurean spice of pink peppercorn.
The scent becomes earthy and softly floral, with whispers of geranium, dry vetiver and balsamic St Thomas Bay Leaf. The nocturnal shade intensifies, arching ever deeper, until plunging directly into a caress of cistus labdanum, the ambry smell of the Mediterranean, and sensual musk, an elegant and intoxicating denouement.
Eau Absolue Notes:
Sicilian bergamot, clementine and Petitgrain Citronnier, Litsea Cubeba from China, Egyptian geranium, vetiver from Java & Haiti, Jamaican St. Thomas Bay Leaf, pink peppercorn from Peru, cedar wood from Virginia, musk, cistus labdanum.
A brief explanation of some of these notes may be useful. According to my research, Litsea Cubeba (or “May Chang”) oil comes from an evergreen tree or shrub native to China. It possesses a lemon-like odor that has sometimes been compared to lemongrass or lemon verbena, thought it is supposedly sweeter than lemongrass. As for Jamaican St. Thomas Bay Leaf (Pimenta racemosa), its aroma isn’t like that of the dried leaves used in cooking. Instead, it is said to have a spicy, balsam-like odor that is like a resin, though some say it’s also a little like cloves due to all the eugenol in the plant.
From the very first sniff, Eau Absolue is a rich lemon-honey fragrance. The honey is not dark but sweet, imbued with delicate floral notes and strong dashes of that litsea cubeba. It really smells as described: like lemongrass but sweeter; like verbena but richer and without any soapiness. It’s heady and beautiful. There is also a subtle, sweet muskiness underlying the notes. Slowly, slowly, as if on tiptoes, there is: a hint of juicy, fresh mandarin orange; the spicy resin of the St. Thomas Bay leaf; a ghostly bit of petitgrain with its bitter, woody nuance; and the merest pinches of cedar.
And that generally is the sum-total of the entire fragrance for most of its lifespan on my skin. Eau Absolue fluctuates in the depth, degree or intensity of some of its notes, but the primary bouquet remains the same with absolutely no change or additions. Even out of those original notes, the main, dominant scent on my skin is a lovely lemon-infused honey with spicy resin, orange and a whisper of musk — the remaining notes merely circle around the back like shadows in the sunlight. Around the 40 minute mark, the honey turns richer, deeper, and darker, while also taking on a slightly sulfurous nuance, similar to that in Vero Profumo‘s Onda. I don’t mind it, but it can be a little sharp for a while.
Two hours into the perfume’s development, Eau Absolute softens, losing a bit of that edge, while simultaneously becoming even more resinous, spicy and balsamic as the St. Thomas bay leaf becomes much more prominent. Interestingly, there is also a sudden, but subtle, flicker of smokiness to the base which intensifies as times goes on. If Eau Absolue were a recipe, it would now be something like this: 2 cups of honey with 3 teaspoons of sun-sweetened lemon; 2 teaspoons of spicy resin; a teaspoon of warm, juicy orange; a teaspoon of dark smoke; and a dash of light, soft, sweet musk.
The perfume remains that way until the drydown starts at the top of the sixth hour when Eau Absolue turns into sweetened, spicy woodiness infused by smoky, caramelized honey and the merest hint of orange. The smoky nuance is fascinating because it’s almost like singed sugar cane, both the leaf and the sugar cubes itself. It’s beautifully warm, woody, dry, spicy, and molten — all at once. There is also an occasional note of melted wax, as if the honey had deepened to the point that it had turned into solid beeswax and then been melted. It’s not prominent and is just a subtext to the overall honey note, but it’s there. Another note that has deepened is the musk which has now taken on an ambery quality. It’s not animalic, raunchy or intimate at all on me, but feels more like the light muskiness from heated, sweetened skin. The whole combination is incredibly light and airy, though it is also a skin scent at this point.
The drydown begins at the sixth hour, but Eau Absolue is by no means finished. On my voracious, perfume-consuming skin, Eau Absolute lasted almost another 8 hours! Granted, I frequently thought it had vanished, only to be surprised by its tenaciousness as it chugged away subtly and silently as the most infinitesimal veil. In its final three hours, Eau Absolue turned into general, abstract, nebulous, sweet muskiness and nothing more. All in all, it lasted just short of 14 hours on me, even if was an amorphous, sheer skin scent for eight of those hours. The longevity was astounding, especially as I did not apply any more than my usual quantity. In terms of sillage, it was quite powerful at the start, radiating out a good 5-6 inches for the first hour before becoming a little bit softer. Even when the perfume was wafting only an inch or so above my arm, the notes were still potent and very strong within that small cloud.
I am a sucker for honey fragrances, so I absolutely adored Eau Absolue, but I must advise caution when it comes to this perfume. Honey is one of those notes which can turn rancid, intimately animalic, funky, or sour on one’s skin, depending on skin chemistry. And the same applies to labdanum which can often manifest itself with a honey characteristic. I’ve noticed that my skin not only amplifies labdanum, but also minimizes the barnyard aspect, one of its many possible nuances. While I’m lucky that both honey and labdanum bloom on me, that’s not the case with everyone. Take, for example, a friend of mine who is an experienced perfumista and whose skin chemistry normally works well even with a rich, musky, labdanum, slightly animalic perfume like Maison Francis Kurkdjian‘s stunning Absolue Pour Le Soir. She had an atrocious experience with Mona di Orio’s Eau Absolue. She gave me permission to quote her private description to me: Eau Absolue “was instant nose wrinkling, gasping, rotten, fermented body odor and stinky shoes.” Oh dear.
I think my skin chemistry’s interaction with labdanum explains why I found “honey” to be the primary essence of Eau Absolue on me, while other reviewers had quite a different experience. For example, it was all green, citric, soapy, animalic notes for Now Smell This whose review reads, in part:
Eau Absolue is citrusy, but because of the perfume’s weight and other notes it smells to me more like a green fragrance with bergamot, lemon, and orange rather than like a classic Eau de Cologne. On first sniff, Eau Absolue is thick with a mélange of tart citrus rind and smashed green stems. Bay leaf smoothes away any sharp edges, and an underpinning of cedar casts an almost horsey-animalic note deep in the perfume’s heart.
All in all, Eau Absolue feels clean and green-fresh, reminding me of an expensive bar of artisanal soap. Over time the citrus ebbs, and the fragrance becomes a tiny bit sweeter but remains green. Eventually it gracefully fades, growing quieter, but still true to the perfume’s overall story. Like the other Mona di Orio fragrances I’ve tried, it’s dense and warm, not an airy tingle of citrus like, say, Guerlain Eau de Cologne Impériale.
Lucas of Chemist in the Bottle also got lots of green notes, along with a very pulpy citrus opening (that he briefly found to be reminiscent of household cleaners), then petitgrain, big doses of geranium, light cedar, a slightly burnt and mineralized amber and, in the final drydown, a “sweaty feel” to the base. He was not a fan.
As always, my experience was closest to that of The Non-Blonde (we really must have extremely similar skin), though she doesn’t seem to have experienced heaps of honey:
Eau Absolue opens with a rather misleading burst of citrus. It’s bracing and lemony, dry and slightly bitter like a very grownup drink. This early summer morning is followed closely by unfolding layers of crisp aromatics, woods and spices that surround and protect a resinous-incense core. Cistus labdanum can turn quite dirty and musky. In Eau Absolue Mona di Orio kept the barnyard at a safe distance, though there is an animalic presence in the late dry-down. Somehow the fragrance manages not to get its white shirt soiled even though it steps dangerously close at times.
The juxtaposition of clean and dirty notes makes the dry-down of Eau Absolue very enchanting. It’s warm and slightly ambery, you can almost feel and smell crumbling soil that has soaked sunshine and clean air all day. Eau Absolue is almost bursting with life– it’s zesty, peppery, and just animalic enough to feel the heartbeat under the surface.
Sunshine and warmth, after the start of a cool citrus drink. It’s very much what Eau Absolue evoked in me, too. And that impression extended as well to a reviewer on Fragrantica who called Eau Absolue “breathtakingly beautiful” with a “warm and summery… Mediterranean vibe[.]” (The only other review currently up on Fragrantica simply says: “it is a cologne, yet rather animalic.”)
My suggestion to you is to try Eau Absolue if you know your skin chemistry works well with animalic notes, honey and/or labdanum. I didn’t think the perfume was animalic at all (beyond general, light muskiness), and The Non-Blonde thought Eau Absolue kept “the barnyard at a safe distance,” but if your skin tends to amplify those notes and, more importantly, if you hate the result, then you may feel the distance is not far enough. As for me, I adored Eau Absolue’s beautiful honey-citrus essence and plan on getting a decant for myself — something I’m not frequently inspired to do. I don’t think I’ll want to smell of honey every day and I don’t know how versatile it is, but I find something incredibly soothing, comforting, cozy and relaxing about Eau Absolue. I swear, I think my blood pressure and stress level went down two notches while wearing it. I give it two thumbs up.