L’Artisan Passage d’Enfer ~ perfume review

L'Artisan Passage d'Enfer fragrance

Passage d'Enfer was the first L'Artisan fragrance I fell in love with and purchased, and as the line eventually came to be a great favorite of mine, it would hold a special place in my affections even if only for that. As things go, quite a few of the fragrances I purchased in the early days of my perfume obsession now sit lonely and ignored in the back of my cabinet, but Passage d'Enfer, along with a few other old favorites (Diptyque Philosykos, Carthusia Mediterraneo) can count on regular wearings.

Passage d'Enfer was launched in 1999; the perfumer was Olivia Giacobetti and the notes include white lily, aloe wood, frankincense, benzoin and white musk. The name is variously translated as "rite of passage", "the gates of hell" or "passage through hell"; it is evocative no matter which you choose, and it loses only a little of its romance when you learn that it was named for the street in Paris where the L'Artisan offices were located. But if you are looking for the sort of deep, gloomy-churchy incense that might inspire such a name, you won't find it here.

It is a cold fragrance, to be sure, and could, I suppose, summon up the chilly stone interior of some ancient cathedral, but it is so light and airy and cheerful that I think only of the early spring, outdoors, with bright sunshine and the first bulbs just starting to peek up through the earth. The only other incense fragrance I can think of that has the same ethereal spring-time quality is Etro Shaal Nur, although the Shaal Nur is more obviously floral (I find the lily in Passage d'Enfer quite subdued).

The composition is quite simple, and while it is not quite linear, the whole is so sheer that it it seems very nearly so. There is a touch of soft white floral mingling with the incense on a base of woody musk, and that is pretty much the whole story. It is remarkably fresh for an incense fragrance, and very nearly soapy-clean. The dry down is often accused of smelling like pencil shavings, and it does, although not nearly so much as say, Serge Lutens Santal Blanc, or even L'Artisan Bois Farine. There was a time when I could be counted among those who did not think that a good thing, but those days are long gone. What could be lovelier than the smell of pencil shavings?

The lasting power is, alas, not quite all that one could hope for, but such is the way with transparent fragrances: they don't last. I am torn between wishing that L'Artisan would do an Extreme version and thinking that perhaps it is best not tinkered with.

L'Artisan Passage d'Enfer is an Eau de Toilette, and is available in 50 and 100 ml. Can I carp about the new bottle design one last time? I liked the old ones better. For buying information, see the listing for L'Artisan under Perfume Houses.

More incense perfumes: Josef Statkus, Giorgio Armani Prive Bois d'Encens, Donna Karan Black Cashmere, Comme des Garçons Series 3, Incense, Crazylibellule and The Poppies Encens Mystic, Heeley Cardinal, Aedes de Venustas Parfum d'Ambiance, Costes.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Just yesterday I was feeling myself in L'Artisan mood and wore Passage d'Enfer. Today I am wearing Timbuktu, another one of your favourites. It is really growing on me more and more.

  2. Anonymous says:

    PdE was my first L'Artisan fragrance, too, R! And, it was one of my first purchases after I joined MUA, along with Philosykos, which I also continue to wear from from time to time.

    I love PdE. I don't wear it as often as I should or could, but it will always hold a special place in my heart, and I will never, ever give my precious bottle away.


  3. Anonymous says:

    It is wonderful to see your review of Passage as I just got a new bottle and am wearing it(or rather covered in it, head to toe) today! Words can't express how much I love it. Seriously, if they ever discontinue this and/or Dzing, I will perform harakiri in front of their main boutique :-)

  4. Anonymous says:

    I don't really like it so I won't elaborate. I'll just say that by no stretch of the imagination or rather the French language can Passage d'Enfer be said to mean 'rite of passage'.

    I love your list of incense perfumes. I would add Ambre Sultan to it. What think you?

  5. Anonymous says:

    V, then in your honor I will find something from Guerlain to wear tonight :-)

  6. Anonymous says:

    How funny, R, you would think most people would start out with La Chasse or something! Glad we have this one in common, it is not a bad place to start a career as an addict, LOL….and hugs to you!

  7. Anonymous says:

    A new bottle — you mean you've drained a bottle of something? I am impressed!

    I would be shocked if L'Artisan discontinued either.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Well dear, you know when I said “translated variously” I didn't mean by *me* (of course you know that because you know I don't speak a word of French, and it is a lucky thing for me that you've never heard me pronounce it) — those are just what I found online :-)

    Ambre Sultan, yes, but do wish Serge would do a real incense, that is, one focused on frankincense, and leaving out amber or lavender. In fact, I wish he'd call me and ask my advice on what notes might work nicely. LOL!

  9. Anonymous says:

    The name Passage d'Enfer is interesting. You can see both the link between hell (enfer) and the smoked note of incense. The 'passage' to a new millenium (the scent was launched in 1999). And also with Passage d'Enfer, the little street in Paris, where L'AP had its headquarters (26-27 passage d'Enfer).

    For information about this 'street' : http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passage_d'Enfer


  10. Anonymous says:

    I havent tried this, but “going through hell ” is what I would describe as my feelings while testing post-Laporte L'Artisan offerings. Their diluted, watery, timid offerings with a certain “vegetal” element or accord in most of their offerings do nothing for me. I find myself much happy with MPG, which is what Laporte envisoned L'Artisan to be. I do like Dzing! though. Sorry, but I much prefer Lutens, Malle, YSL and Creed.

  11. Anonymous says:

    You're right, R, I never meant by you. However, you mustn't believe everything you read online. LOL! That translation is complete nonsense. Wonder where it originates from. Babelfish?

    You're right about SL too. Just thought Ambre Sultan wouldn't disgrace that list. :-)

  12. Anonymous says:

    Everything originates from babelfish, LOL! And surely Ambre Sultan wouldn't disgrace any list, although admittedly it isn't one of my favorites :-)

  13. Anonymous says:

    Ah, hadn't though of the “passage to a new millenium” connection, thanks!

  14. Anonymous says:

    LOL — we are such opposites. The musky base they use in so many of the MPGs annoys me. Bahiana is my favorite, and I'm sure they don't see it as their best effort. But keep meaning to review Route du Vetiver & must get around to it before it is too hot to wear it.

  15. Anonymous says:

    MPG has a lot of fine frags in their line up – Santal Noble (good sandalwood), Racine (along the lines of Guerlain Vetiver), Route De Vetiver (a great raw vetiver), Fraicheur Muskissime (Mure et Musc refined), Centaure (an “interesting” frag..), and Pour Le jeune homme (a natural smelling attractive citrus fragrance). Have you tried these? Also, no longevity issues with these fragrances. Review more MPGs – give some love to this house lady! :D

  16. Anonymous says:

    Ah, I did forget Eau Pour Le Jeune Homme – I love that one, it is the only full sized MPG I own. I did a woefully brief review of it shortly after I started this blog. And agree Route de Vetiver is a great scent.

    The rest, sorry, no! Although I do think they've done a better job on the men's line than the women's. The only women's they've done that I like other than Bahiana is the Tubereuse, and even that is far from my favorite tuberose scent. We shall have to agree to disagree — again :-)

  17. Anonymous says:

    Fair enough, its your blog afterall, heh :p

  18. Anonymous says:

    Robin, I love Passage d'Enfer. It was the second L'Artisan I bought a bottle of, the first being Tea for Two. Thanks for another great review.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I wish I had a better memory, I can't remember what I bought next. Probably The Pour Un Ete? This was back when you could buy any of them in 15 ml — and wish I had bought more before they nixed that ;-)

  20. Anonymous says:

    R, weirdest thing – I kept checking in the last couple days, and *nothing* after the CK IN2U post was showing up here. I was having the same trouble with Perfume Posse and Perfume-Smellin' things, but not with Aromascope and a number of other blogs I check. I thought you were all doing taxes or at a Sniffa or something. Then, weirdly, everything you posted later this week showed up when I checked this afternoon. Same thing after some tinkering (chenging the filter on PP) with the other sites. But now, everything from March 23rd to March 29th is completely gone! Is anybody else having this problem? Or am I the only one with a weird modem problem or something?

  21. Anonymous says:

    It sounds like your browser was not updating its cache for whatever reason. Can I ask which browser you use?

    But trying to understand what you're seeing now. There should be 10 articles per page, and right now, the front page shows March 31-29, the second page (what you get if you click on “previous 10 articles” at the bottom) shows March 29 – 27. If you aren't seeing that, one option is to try clearing your cache in whatever browser you're using, then try again.

  22. Anonymous says:

    The 15ml was the perfect size. I actually bought the big bottle of Tea for Two and have almost used it all, though it's gotten kind of old and turned a bit. Still smells nice. My next bottle was Mure et Musc Extreme, and then it was Ananas Fizz. L'Artisan has some of my favorites. I'm thinking Safran Troublant might be next, but I'm not sure. I pre-ordered Tauer's new one, couldn't resist. Unsniffed, yikes! I do love his perfumes, though, so I don't think I've gone wrong. Have you tried Le Nez's Let me Play the Lion? I bought a full bottle, I love it! I know I'm off the subject here. ha. I also bought a full bottle of PG's Bois Blond, unsniffed, but it's gorgeous. Smells like hay.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, R, its IE 6. When I press “Previous 10 articles” it still takes me back to March 23, instead of 27-29 – don't know why… but everything else is working after I fiddled with my Temporary Internet file settings.

  24. Anonymous says:

    If you cleared your cache and it still isn't showing the correct “previous 10 articles”, I'm stumped! Another option is to click on March under “Browse by Date” on the right column, and work backwards that way, or to use the calendar on the bottom of the left calendar to go to individual days. Very weird!

  25. Anonymous says:

    Let Me Play The Lion is a great scent! Bois Blond is also nice but I didn't love it quite so much — but glad you do if you ordered it unsniffed, LOL…

  26. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the help, R! It's okay – I'd read the IN2U review many times over! :)

  27. Anonymous says:

    Out of the two, I like Let Me Play the Lion…but felt really lucky/happy that I also loved Bois Blond, buying unsniffed is a gamble. I figured I could probably swap it if I hated it.

  28. Anonymous says:

    It should be very swappable since it doesn't look like many bottles were made :-)

  29. Anonymous says:

    I recently tried Passage d'Enfer. It's my first incense fragrance, and I found it fairly likeable. I worry that I'm going to smell like a hippie if I go around smelling of incense, though! I have to agree that this is quite a light fragrance – I was also thinking they should do an Extreme version. I like the incense, but to me it's not enough. Can anybody recommend a fuller, maybe more winter-oriented incense fragrance?

  30. Anonymous says:

    Hi Adam! Some fuller incense scents:

    Comme des Garcons Avignon, Kyoto, Zagorsk or Jaisalmer

    Amouage Jubilation XXV

    Olivier Durbano Black Tourmaline

  31. Anonymous says:

    I know this is an older thread, but I just had to post because I have just received a whole bunch of sapmles from Aedes- four of which are L'Artisan. While I immediately tore open each sample and tried some, this is the first I've chosen to wear like I wear a normal perfume, and for an extended period of time. Let's just say I'm rather besotted with the stuff. It's such a complete opposite from my Serge Lutens sampling experience…and this perfume in particular is beautiful. My mom doesn't like it, but I was so happy I didn't even care! I don't know why it's so striking to me…maybe the incense and slightly melancholy (to me) and yet romantic air it has…The only perfume I've fell for like this, that's made me feel quite this way was Luctor et Emergo. I just wish I didn't have such expensive taste. :( I may have to investigate decants…But all the other fragrances look promising to. I also got Dzonkha, Tea for Two, and Safron Troublant. Great early impressions!

  32. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for the lovely comment, and so glad you're discovering the L'Artisans — one of my favorite lines. And you've lots left to try!

  33. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for this great review, Robin.

    Like you, I enjoy the unisex qualities of this wonderful fragrance, but am sad to say that it dissipates on my skin within 10 minutes of spraying.

    I'm glad I tried it and am happy to wear this as a daytime/light office fragrance, but I was seriously expecting a lot more with a name like “Gates of Hell”.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Try “Rien” by Etat Libre d'Orange. It means 'Nothing' but is 'Everything' and the strongest fragrance in their shared/unisex range.

    The eau de parfum lasts on your skin for more than 24 hours!

    One of my favourites!

  35. Anonymous says:

    Don't forget Commes de Garcons' MAN2 as well – full-on Frankincense!

  36. Anonymous says:

    Wow — it isn't a powerhouse on me, but it sure lasts more than 10 minutes. You're right though, it doesn't call up the Gates of Hell at all. If you want the Gates of Hell, try Serge Lutens Serge Noire ;-)

  37. Anonymous says:

    Bahiana is my favourite MPG too. Shame it lasts nothing. I drained a bottle and it's too expensive for me to buy another. I always see that cute bottle with the feathers with a sigh of regret.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Yes, I wish it were about half the price.

  39. Blimunda says:

    Well – i finally caved in and bought an 8ml decant of this gorgeous scent. No way could I afford an FB. I’m really looking forward to it arriving! I’ve been swaying between this and Bois Farine for a while, (I’ve used up two samplers of each in the past month.) I decided to go for this as I’ve been wanting an incense frag for a while. Passage D’Enfer is so, so satisfying to wear and is such a rarity, being perfect for any season. It strikes such an unusual balance between light and fresh, warm and skanky all at the same time. Olivia Giacobetti is the first ‘nose’ whose work I am tempted to follow. I love how abstract and imaginative her work is. It’s delicate and pretty, but always with an unusual edge. Usually I like heavy-hitter frags, but she is tempting me over from The Dark Side,,,,,,,

    • Robin says:

      She was one of the first perfumers I got interested in too…I wish she did more perfumes these days!

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