L’Artisan Poivre Piquant & Piment Brulant ~ fragrance review

L'Artisan Les Epices de la Passion fragrances

L'Artisan introduced Les Epices de la Passion, a coffret with three spiced "love potions", in 2002. I've been having an on-again, off-again love affair with Safran Troublant since I first smelled it (more about that tomorrow), but the other two fragrances, Piment Brûlant and Poivre Piquant, I pretty much ignored after trying them briefly on test strips some time ago. Both scents were created by perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour, and since he is seriously in the running for my own little parallel-universe award for Perfumer of the Year (and I'm sure he is quite excited about it too), I thought it would be worth giving them more serious attention.

Piment Brûlant was inspired by the Aztec drink xocolatl, a bitter mixture of chocolate and cornmeal spiked with chili peppers, cinnamon, achiote and other spices; the Aztec emperor Montezuma reputedly drank up to 50 cups every day from a golden goblet. The L'Artisan scent includes notes of raspberry, red pepper, vanilla, cloves, poppy, musk and amber, and it may be the sweet berry notes in the opening that put me off when trying this one on a scent strip. On skin, it is more interesting; the pepper slowly intensifies and breaks through the sweetness of the raspberry, and early on, little touches of unsweetened cocoa and clove meld nicely with the heat from the pepper.

As it dries down, the chocolate turns a bit creamy (not overly so — this would never satisfy anyone's gourmand-dessert cravings) and it takes on a dusty finish that isn't quite powder. If it sounds warm and rich, well, it isn't; it is actually rather sheer and summery, much more so than it sounds, and somehow it doesn't quite live up to the exoticism of its inspiration. An extreme version, with more heat and depth, would come closer to the love potion it aspires to be. Still, Piment Brûlant is enjoyable to wear, and I hate to quibble when it is ever so much better than 95% of what you'll find on your average department store counter.

Poivre Piquant was apparently inspired by a recipe in the Kama Sutra, and has notes of white pepper, licorice, milk and honey. The combination is unusual; it is extremely peppery in the opening (almost sneeze-worthy), and considerably more complex and spicy than the simple list of notes would suggest. The licorice never rises above a whisper, but the milk and honey add a gentle creaminess that tempers the pepper in the early dry down, and it smells like food without evoking any particular dish I can think of. As it continues to evolve, hints of floral notes and woodsmoke join in the mix, and the gourmand aspects fade away.

Like Piment Brûlant, it is a softer, cooler fragrance than you might imagine, although I wouldn't quite call it summery. In some ways, it is the most interesting of the three Les Epices fragrances, but it also strikes me as possibly the least wearable, and if I had to guess which of the Les Epices sold the least, this would be my pick. I would love to have this scent in a candle, though.

Piment Brûlant and Poivre Piquant are both Eaux de Toilette, and while they aren't quite fleeting, they aren't going to win any awards for staying power either. You can still find the original Les Epices coffret (three 15 ml bottles for $75, in an adorable little red case), but the fragrances are now also available individually in the standard L'Artisan 50 and 100 ml bottles. For buying information, see the listing for L'Artisan under Perfume Houses.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi Robin,

    I see I'm going to have to give Piment Brûlant another chance. I've only smelled it on paper, and my impression was wow, it really smells like a red chili pepper, and I did't want to put it on my skin. However, I didn't know it was mixed in with all those other good things. I am becoming a Bertrand Duchaufour fan as well. I'm very impressed with Dzongka, Timbuktu, and Merchant Loup.

    The best chocolate I have ever had was one called xocolatl, inspired by the same Aztec cholcolate, corn and chili drink. Dark chocolate and chili peppers – I wasn't expecting to love it, but I was just blown away. I totally regret that I didn't buy a big box of those chocolates. Maybe I will experiment with some red pepper jelly and dark chocolate.

  2. Anonymous says:

    S, I am tempted now to buy the little coffret, all 3 of them are worth owning in a small size, at least, and even my least favorite, the Poivre Piquant, is far from dull.

    I keep hearing that Dogoba makes a wonderful Xocolatl, both in bar and hot chocolate form, and have been tempted to order but haven't yet:


  3. Anonymous says:

    I did buy the coffret, and am enormously glad I did; the bottle sizes are perfect (I'd never use even up the 50-mL bottles) and the packaging is beautiful.

    Poivre Piquant is actually my favourite (you can read my reviews of all three scents on my blog–just click my username and go to September 2006). It wasn't always; a few years ago I was smitten with Piment Brûlant, because the chocolate scent was such a novelty, but now the dry PP has captured my heart. (I agree with you about its wearability, though it sits well on my skin: as I wrote, “It won't appeal to every taste: it probably won't appeal to many tastes at all.”) But then sometimes I'm in the mood for the swoony romanticism of Safran Troublant, with its dazzling, unexpected rose note. Sometimes I open the box and I just can't choose between the three, and wish I could wear them all at once.

    I'll go further about one thing you said: not only PB but all three scents are “ever so much better than 95% of what you'll find on your average department store counter.” To say the least.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I've also been noticing this Duchaufour guy, who seems to be composing in his own spare, exotic idiom—like Jean-Claude Elléna crossed with Paul Gauguin. He uses spice in a different way than I've usually smelled it used in perfumery: without much vanilla sweetness. That is to say, these spicy scents aren't classic orientals. Elléna's Poivre Samarkande for Hermès was in that vein too, strangely dry and savory. Duchaufour is using spices as if they were flowers — as if they were good enough to stand on their own. He's doing interesting work, and I hope to see more of it.

  5. Anonymous says:

    …qualification: Safran Troublant, of course, was sweet.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I seem to be alone in thinking that the Safran was the most “meh” of the bunch. (Actually, my husband likes it least too…) I really like Brulant, which I think just disappointed people because it wasn't what they expected. (Also, the lasting power…) I keep trying to forget about it so that I won't have to buy a bottle. And I just tried the Poivre and found it quite intriguing, if sneezy.

  7. Anonymous says:

    A tossup between the Piment and the Safran for which I like best. Honestly, I should just break down and buy the coffret … oddly, I get almost no chocolate in the Piment, but that doesn't stop me from thinking it's fabulous. I think I get a bit more anise than you do in the Poivre, but I should retest it, you're making it sound better than I remember!

  8. Anonymous says:

    I adore Safran Troublant. With the other two, I can never remember which one I tolerate and which one absolutely cannot stand. I think, judging from your lovely review, the tolerable one is Piment Brulant…or maybe not :-)

  9. Anonymous says:

    Wow, thanks for the tip Robin, I just ordered a box of those bars……..I almost ordered a sampler too but managed to restrain myself.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Oh, I am jealous now…and I want the sampler! If you think of it, do come back once you get it and tell me if it is as wonderful as it sounds.

  11. Anonymous says:

    True enough — almost anything L'Artisan does is better than 95% of what is at the dept stores. I do wish they still sold everything in 15 ml, because I'd buy very nearly the whole line.

  12. Anonymous says:

    And like Ellena, he seems to work in a rather limited palette…it is interesting to wear Dzongkha, Timbuktu, Paestum Rose, and the two newer Eau d'Italies all at the same time…all variations on the same theme.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Quite agree…I am often taken by the back story and then disappointed if the scent doesn't live up to it. PB just isn't what it should be in that regard, and probably would have liked it better if I hadn't read the background. Guessing that you're right, in any case, and that Safran is by far the most popular of the 3.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I like Poivre very much without particularly wanting to wear it…which always makes me think of candles. But yes, we all need that darn coffret :-)

  15. Anonymous says:

    lol! Duchaufour should be excited about being in the running. You ought to make up little certificates and mail them to all of the recipients :)
    I am glad that I have not ventured to try any L'Artisan perfumes yet, but they sound fascinating.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Guessing that yes, it is Poivre Piquant you can't abide. It is hard to keep the names straight, actually!

  17. Anonymous says:

    LOL — and then I need to come up with an award statue!

  18. Anonymous says:

    It's not that I dislike the Safran – better than 95% of the stuff out there, to quote a wise woman :) – but it seemed a little sweet for me. I wish I got the medicinal quality some complain about. Agreed on the PB backstory: I get red bell pepper and citrus, very little heat or clove or poppy and no bitter chocolate. Very nice for what it is, but a bit baffling next to the description. The PP seems like the love child of Paestum Rose and Douce Amere or a home remedy for some sort of female complaint. I wore it today after your review and am really enjoying it.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I just went to the store for the first time today. I was awfully tempted to buy the coffret, but I had come for Timbuktu and I hadn't tried the trio on my skin. That said, I gave my self a good spray of Piment Brulant before I left the store and I'm kicking myself for not buying the coffret! Oh well, Mother's Day is around the corner.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I really wish L'Artisan would go back to selling individual 15 ml bottles of everything. Congrats on your Timbuktu — I do have a 15 ml of that one and it is the perfect amount for me, as I do love it but don't reach for it often.

  21. bluegardenia says:

    omg. poivre piquant is like heaven. so soothing, comforting, by turns cool and warm, never too sweet but still delicious. white pepper and milk? who knew this would smell so incredible! in love.

    • Robin says:

      So glad you like it!

    • PinoiPerfumista says:

      I totally agree Poivre Piquant is like heaven. Unfortunately, just last night I tested my 2 year-old bottle wtih 1/4 remaining juice and sadly, I realized it has– as perfumistas would say– turned, into something stale. Top note is almost similar to an alcohol. It went straight into the heart of the fragrance, and went kapfft! Gone in less than an hour. :-(

      • Robin says:

        Yeah. Sometimes I am afraid to try things I haven’t worn in awhile — I have thrown out so much stale perfume.

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