I suppose we all have our own forms of snobbery. For me, I either want something to be lushly, genuinely luxurious or to be blatantly cheap. Give me either the baguette-cut emerald in a one-of-a-kind setting, or the sparkling 1950s necklace in aqua plastic. It's the real thing or a showy fake. Nothing in between. Alas, L'Occitane falls in between.
As I'm rediscovering the world of the mall, I see that every store is its own focus-grouped world. The Betsey Johnson store is all pink mini skirts and nineteen-year olds. The Chicos store is loose, putty-colored cotton and menopausal women. The Godiva store displays in its window what they deem to be sumptuous: a tray of flavorless Driscoll strawberries dunked in chocolate. The Apple store, packed with customers, is a clean white laboratory of sales.
L'Occitane's gig is that it's a French country pharmacy full of European products replete with natural essences possibly gathered by Provençal peasants at dawn. Instead of Bath and Body Works' generic plastic containers, a L'Occitane product comes in a vaguely nineteenth-century glass bottle with a paper label. Some are classy glass cubes, others are rectangular with the shape of a plant molded into the bottle, and still others have tactile ridges running down them. They feel good to hold and imagine on your dresser. But they're pretending to be something that they aren't, and that bothers me.
This is the prejudice I faced as I sampled what the sales associate said were the store's biggest sellers: Verbena Eau de Toilette and Rose 4 Reines. She tossed a sample of Neroli Eau de Parfum in the mix.
Robin reviewed L'Occitane Verbena Eau de Toilette in another post, so I'll just add the notes (top notes: lemon and orange; heart of verbena and petit grain; base notes of rose and geranium) and say that I concur with her review that it's a fresh, lemony, fleeting scent. It didn't last two hours on my skin. I get more herbal lemon from yanking lemon balm from my flower beds. Still, it would be a good one to keep in the refrigerator to cut through muggy summer afternoons.
The sales associated said that Rose 4 Reines Eau de Toilette was their second most popular. The L'Occitane website only lists four roses as its notes — the Grasse rose, Bulgarian rose, Moroccan rose, and Turkish rose. I smell something fruity, too, maybe plum, and a splinter of cedar and touch of amber in its dry down. Rose 4 Reines is light, sheer, and, as it ages, sweet. On a whim, I dabbed on Lebanese rose water that I use for cooking. It was a fresher, brighter rose, and it only cost $1.79. But it lasted barely half an hour. I put some Guerlain Nahéma on my other arm to compare to the Rose 4 Reines, and the Nahéma came out much more lush, peachy, and complex. But I don't think that's what Rose 4 Reines is aiming for. Rose 4 Reines is a lovely rose, and if someone gave me a bottle I'd use it to scent my sheets. A diehard rose fan might see things differently (and if you are one, please comment).
The Neroli Eau de Parfum (in the Notre Flore collection) has top notes of lychee and plum; a heart of neroli and orange blossom; and base notes of sandalwood and benzoin. (As far as I know, neroli and orange blossom are the same.) Instead of the bright floral fragrance that you might expect from its name, Neroli is an amber and vanilla-laden oriental. It starts with a fruity, clean fragrance, then gradually descends into a vanilla-orange fragrance that radiates the dreaded Orange Julius accord. Eventually, Neroli becomes a plank of sandalwood piled with powdered sugar. Mercifully, it fades within a few hours. For an orange-scented oriental, give me Fendi Theorema any day.