Imagine Santa Claus in a snowy pine forest. With the strains of Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy playing loudly in the background, he decides to cook a gigantic pot of perfumed deliciousness. The elves line up with their ingredients that he, like a mad chef, throws into the pot with a heart laugh: 4 cups of the darkest of pine cone essence, reduced down to a syrup; 4 cups of the darkest brown sugar; 3 cups of dark candied sugar plums and dried fruits that he tosses in, in tune with the addictive rhythms of Tchaikovsky and with a nod to the Nutcracker; 3 cups of smoky frankincense; 1 cup of assorted spices from ginger to cloves and nutmeg; 2 tablespoons of earthy, rooty, dark, foresty vetiver; a dash of ISO E Super; and a hint of almost abstract apple cider. He sets the gigantic pot over a smoker filled with dried pine cones, incense, and perhaps a few cedar chips, then dances around the forest as he awaits for his perfumed distillation of the essence of Christmas.
That is Fille en Aiguilles, perhaps the best pine forest fragrance that I’ve ever smelled — and I’m not one who normally enjoys that note. But what an utterly joyful scent! The best of winter forests combined with the mysterious sweetness of Christmas treats, happy festivities, and excited anticipation. Pine is an extremely difficult scent to pull off in perfumery, as it can easily and quickly lend itself to the aroma of Pine-Sol household disinfectant, cheap car air-fresheners, or unpleasant medicine. I’ve dismissed more than a few extremely expensive, pine-centered fragrances for being over-priced air fresheners, or for evoking Glade plug-ins that I don’t want anywhere near my person. But Fille en Aiguilles is different, and it’s all thanks to the mad wizardry that is the inspired combination of Serge Lutens and the brilliant Christopher Sheldrake.
Filles en Aiguilles is an Eau de Parfum Haute Concentration that was released in 2009. I’m not quite sure what Serge Lutens meant as the inspiration for this fragrance as his website description talks about pine forests and, oddly enough, the beach. (The beach?!) But it’s clearly intended to be a playful, joyful scent, either way, with a winking pun in the name. As Ozmoz explains:
The name of this perfume, for instance, is an inspired pun: ‘Fille en Aiguilles’ means both “Girl in High Heels” and “Girl in Needles” (as in pine needles, one of the ingredients), and it sounds a lot like “Needle & Thread” too. Despite the name, this woody-resinous oriental shaded with frankincense and fruity accents is not just for women: Fille en Aiguilles can easily be worn by men, too, an idea that tickles Serge Lutens’ fancy.
According to Fragrantica, Luckyscent, and Surrender to Chance, the notes in this very unisex perfume consist of:
Pine needles, vetiver, sugary sap, laurel bay leaf, fir balsam [resin], frankincense, candied fruit and spice.
Fille en Aiguilles opens on my skin exactly as described up in the introduction. It’s not a very complicated, morphing, changing scent — which makes it pretty unusual for “Le Grand Serge.” But, oh, does it bring a smile to one’s face. It’s beautifully dark, smoky, sweet, wintery, and so incredibly well-balanced that not a single note ever seems excessive. Even the normally hated ISO E Super seems to fit in, feel wholly appropriate, and actually helps the fragrance. (Yes, I can’t believe I’m saying that, either!)
Fille en Aiguilles is utterly joyous in an inexplicable way, not only because it sums up Christmas, but because it has some tantalizing mystery in that beautiful combination of notes. It radiates like a prism, throwing off different elements at different times. Sometimes, the deep forest rises up to greet you; sometimes, it’s the forest floor with the earthy vetiver mixed with pine cones; often, it’s that deliciously sweet, sticky, brown sugar syrup; and occasionally, it’s the ginger and dark, sweet fruits. At all times, however, the notes are wrapped up in the most gorgeous, dark tendrils of frankincense smoke, like a ribbon around a perfect, glowing, jewel of a Christmas box waiting to be unwrapped.
Fille en Aiguilles never changes profoundly and remains in a consistent, linear line until the end. The only difference is in its strength, as the perfume softens less than an hour into its development and hovers just above the skin. Midway during the third hour, Fille en Aiguilles’ edges blur; it starts to turn almost abstract and amorphous as a sugared, beautifully smoked, spiced, woody scent. You can still detect the pine or fir note if you take a forceful, really big whiff of your arm, but it’s lurking below a general, resinous, sweet, woodiness infused by a spicy, lightly musked warmth. At the start of the sixth hour, Fille en Aiguilles is soft, muted, almost honeyed woodiness, lightly blended with rich, winter spices and imbued with a strong hint of frankincense. In its very end moments, Fille en Aiguilles is just the quietest trace of spiced sweetness. All in all, the fragrance lasted 8.25 on my perfume-consuming skin, with initially moderate sillage that quickly turned quite soft and unobtrusive.
There are a lot of raving, adoring reviews for Fille en Aiguilles out there, but perhaps my favorite comes from EauMG who writes as much about the feel of the fragrance as its lovely scent:
Fille en Aiguilles is the best pine fragrance ever made.
Fille en Aiguilles opens with spiced apple cider, snow on pine trees and a flickering fire. This is an atmosphere; Fille en Aiguilles is a place. It’s a picturesque chalet in the mountains and you’re by the fire looking out the window, watching water droplets roll down fir branches and icicles morph into longer, glistening shapes. You feel the steam of warm apple cider hit your cheeks before you take a sip. The feel of spices and warm liquid roll down the back of your tongue. Comfort in the cold. This is Fille en Aiguilles — spiced gingery cider, pine needles, balsamic sap and warm resins. A crackle from the fire with a little bit of smoke… and a base of warm, cozy musk.
EauMG notes that, on her, Fille en Aiguilles had above-average projection and longevity. And she ends her review by calling the fragrance “a masterpiece.”
Fragrantica has similar sort of comments, from women and men alike. A vast majority talk about: walks in winter forests, “Christmas in a bottle,” childhood memories, gorgeous dried and sweet fruits, smoky church incense, how it’s one of the best Serge Lutens creations, and/or how it was love at first sniff. A few share my issues with projection, finding Fille en Aiguilles to be so discreet that they eventually had to press their nose right onto their skin and, even then, the scent was extremely soft. A handful of others had problems with duration instead. A couple thought it was too intense, or that it had far too much incense. And about 15 people voted that Fille en Aiguilles bore a strong resemblance to Parfum d’Empire‘s Wazamba. I haven’t tried the latter yet, so I can’t comment, but I should note there are some who say Fille en Aiguilles is nothing like Wazamba.
In the middle of the love-fest, there are some who had a very different experience. Two people found Fille en Aiguilles to be quite harsh and unpleasant; one thought it was very masculine and cold, while the other thought it was astringent and just like Pine-Sol. In contrast, on Luckyscent, a few people explicitly say that Fille en Aiguilles is nothing like Pine-Sol, so clearly, it all depends on one’s skin chemistry, perceptions, and taste.
I think that anyone who loves woody, Christmas-y, wintery scents should try Fille en Aiguilles. So should those who love incense fragrances because, for me, the perfume is as much about the sweet, balsam-infused smoke as it is about the pine or fir trees. Fille en Aiguilles is also wholly unisex with an equal number of men as women loving it. It is very wearable, even to the office if one doesn’t spray on a lot. Even better, Fille en Aiguilles is often quite discounted at some online perfume retailers, making it relatively affordable for such a beautiful, high-quality, niche fragrance. It it an all-year round fragrance? Well, I would wear it in summer, but then I’m someone who goes purely by mood or feel in my perfume selection, and never by seasonality. For most, however, I imagine that Fille en Aiguilles would be limited solely to the winter. But, truly, what an incredibly lovely holiday fragrance it would be. Fille en Aiguilles is more than just cozy, though it is that as well. I think it’s actually quite mysteriously sexy with those dark smoky touches, and the sweet resins mixed with dark, sugared fruits. Try it, and you’ll see. I think the vast majority of you won’t be able to stop sniffing your arm!