Can perfumes that don’t contain alcohol work? Will they ever be more than a marketing gimmick? Do they even smell good? Read on to find out…
Maison Sybarite, a brand whose scents are exclusively made from a blend of water, oils and fragrance attempt to position themselves as leaders of this new field of alcohol-free perfumes. The test though has always got to be, do they smell good? We’ve taken a deep dive into their range to find out.
Luxurious and sensual are the two words that spring to mind when describing this brand. Maison Sybarite draw on associations with the ancient city of Sybaris, whose inhabitants were noted for their hedonism, pleasure-seeking and excessive way of life. Given the price of niche and artisan fragrances generally, scents have to be an expression of luxury, a treat for oneself, and so this idea of sensual excess is quite an appropriate one to tie the brand to.
Maison Sybarite are French, and employ the significant talents of two master perfumers, Antoine Lee and Laure Santantoni, to develop their fragrances. Their perfumes are cruelty free and vegan. They are also continuously developing and assessing their sustainability practices.
Despite them tipping their hat to sensuality and earthly delights, the fragrances of Maison Sybarite are not vulgar or crass in the slightest. The whole range has elegance and good, solid compositions. They’re wearable, and appealing without resorting to tawdry tricks. Perhaps the metaphorical equivalent would be to wear a lacy mask alongside a three piece suit; nods here and there to a more sensual nature, but keeping it sensible at the same time.
Listed notes: birch tar, lavender, cardamon, cinnamon, nutmeg, ambrox, tonka bean, patchouli, cedar wood,
720 opens with a clean, spicy cohort of notes, focussed around nutmeg in particular. It’s really warm, as you might expect, embracing, and it calls to mind sitting beside a cosy fire place. As the scent wears it becomes slightly more along the lines of a freshly baked pie crust, all crumbly and yielding. The birch tar is but a whisper in the background and it never overpowers this composition which really shines as an amber-and-spice blend.
There’s a sharper edge hiding in the midst of 720 at times, it’s almost sour – like a citrus note – but you only ever really experience just the edge of it so it doesn’t throw the composition out of balance in the slightest. It’s an interesting and somewhat unexpected addition.
As 720 ages further it takes on a quality which resembles warm, dry paper, which is really pleasing. There’s also a slight saltiness. Paired with the sweetness it calls to mind salted caramel. It isn’t actually as sweet as that, but it does have that same sort of salt/sugar duality about it that works so well.
The evolution of 720 feels like a very different animal actually to the evolution of a scent based in alcohol. Neither is better, just different. Here the fragrance feels like it opens quite slowly, with the cedar wood becoming more prominent towards the end. The whole composition finally becomes a soapy, clean, woody affair set on a soft and cosy background. Although not particularly unusual, it is very pleasant indeed and would have wearability across a wide variety of situations, from the office to nights out.
Listed notes: nutmeg, black pepper, saffron, orange blossom, ylang-ylang, prune, cedar, sandalwood, leather.
Of all the Maison Sybarite scents, Opulent Wood feels like the naughtiest and most raunchy and boy is it fun to wear! It opens with a beautiful savoury aromatic shiver from the saffron and what almost feels like a cumin note. It’s dry but has an electricity about it and a significant amount of warmth with piquancy from the black pepper and nutmeg.
Slowly, as the fragrance heats up, a honeyed tone oozes out and it feels incredibly sensual. It’s joined by nuances and shades which call to mind candle wax and dimly lit rooms with warm bodies heaped by the fireside. The orange blossom drips across the face of the scent and is bolstered by a warm, sweet leatheriness. It would be very easy to paint a picture here of bacchanalian revelry, but you already get the idea!
The wine accord adds a slightly boozy, richness to the fragrance, it feels intoxicating, whilst warm woods tie and anchor the whole composition to reality. Opulent Wood is really addictive and the glorious combination of floral, leather and wood feels refreshingly interesting and well done. This is definitely a fragrance to wear when you want to get back in touch with your raunchier side, but it isn’t impolite enough to exclude it from more mundane occasions either.
Bed of Roses
Listed notes: Saffron, cardamon, mandarin, bergamot, rose, orris, cedar wood, patchouli, tolu balsam.
Calling this scent Bed of Roses is bound to lead some people astray. This is not the overly abundant petal-fest one might imagine, nor is it a typical or heavy rose scent at all. Bed of Roses opens with a delightful combination of citrus and snuggly, ambery cosiness set against a backdrop of the most beautiful cardamon, which provides just the perfect amount of shade.
Powdery rose and orris sneak in and cosy up alongside this merry band, but neither steals the limelight. The rose grows creamier as the scent ages and takes on that rather delightful vintage night-creme vibe which is so archetypically feminine, but then the fragrance takes a swerve as it enters its final phase of wear, becoming much woodier, shaded with the deep patchouli and balsams.
Bed of Roses is another scent we could see being easy to wear and appropriate for a wide variety of situations, and that is one of the things that really appeals about Maison Sybarite. The fragrances do have sybaritic hints, but they are still very much applicable to every day life. Whilst an overly raunchy fragrance may not go down all that well when you have to go do the weekly shop or meet your in-laws for lunch, the Maison Sybarite scents will work for those occasions but with a little naught frisson here and there to remind you of the more grown up side of life.
Listed notes: bergamot, ginger, limette, wormwood, orris, oud, black pepper, patchouli, cedar, labdanum.
Spicy Calabria opens wet, sour and dusty. A lime tone gives a juicy zestiness, whilst the wormwood, orris and oud make the whole scent feel close and almost dusty dry. The two opposing facets form an interesting dichotomy. The oud accord plays up to the sour tone and enhances it significantly. On the blotter the scent feels like it is in two halves, but on skin, the lime really softens and the parts unify rather attractively.
Spicy Calabria isn’t the sunny scent you might imagine. It’s Calabria shrouded in mist on an autumn day. The zesty characters in the fragrance manage to steer away from smelling either too light, or too one-dimensional. This isn’t quite what you might expect from a zesty cologne – a good one to try if you don’t usually like those types of notes. It might just change your mind because it takes them in a different, closer to the skin, and much darker direction.
The scent wears slowly, and it perhaps feels a bit less complicated than the others in the line. It ends with the hum of dry woods and herbal aromatic wormwood, which together sometimes come across like a dried black tea note. Perhaps leaning slightly more masculine, this feels like the sort of fragrance which would wear well on a casual day out in the summer.
Maison Sybarite scents have been a pleasant and refreshing surprise. The effect of the fragrances being carried in water and oils is largely experienced as a slowing down of how they wear and unfold, which is really rather beautiful. Applying the scent itself is very similar to an alcohol fragrance, but it takes a little longer to dry on the skin and the juice itself is milky and opaque. These fragrances would be ideal for those with sensitivities that mean they cannot wear conventional alcohol-based scents. The fact that there is no alcohol present also means that it is much easier and cheaper to ship this line abroad – great for growing brands who struggle with draconian packaging and shipping charges, especially when sending from the UK.
Another positive is that it is safe to spray the Maison Sybarite fragrances on hair as it won’t dry it out or damage tresses, which is a wonderful bonus and an elegant way to scent oneself.
The quality and composition of the Maison Sybarite line has also been an unexpected pleasure. Sometimes companies who come up with novel delivery systems like this leave out the most important part and that is that the fragrance has to smell good and captivate the wearer with some rare and unusual beauty. Maison Sybarite haven’t overlooked this and have produced scents which are interesting regardless of their delivery method, which is exactly the way it should be. To compete against more typical fragrances, the Maison Sybarite line has to smell just as good, and thankfully they do.
Finally, the longevity of all these perfumes surprised us as well. They seemed to last between four and seven hours or so each. At times Opulent Wood and 720 lasted longer as well. This was really pleasing and convinced us that the system this house is using did have the chops to stack up against more conventional alcohol-based formulas.
The Maison Sybarite fragrances are available from Bloom Perfumery London, where they are priced at £160 for 75ml of EdP in water.
There is also a list of places to buy Maison Sybarite on their website.
We were very kindly given samples of these fragrances by Bloom Perfumery, and we thank them for their kindness.