Balenciaga Paris L’Essence ~ perfume review

Balenciaga Paris L'Essence

Well, it’s supposed to be stronger but it’s not actually that strong—it just has a different language. It’s all the same elements but we are saying something different than we were with Balenciaga Paris, which was so much about the violets. This one has a metallic side, it’s about the violet leaves so it’s slightly more masculine and androgynous, too.1

That's Balenciaga designer Nicolas Ghesquière talking about the new Balenciaga Paris L’Essence, the follow-up fragrance to last year's Balenciaga Paris. And he's telling the truth — so much so that I hardly need to write a review, and will prattle on only for the sake of anyone who really needed a little break this afternoon. So, those of you hoping for a more intense version of Balenciaga Paris' muted violet elegance — perhaps with some sillage? — will be disappointed by L'Essence, although if what you're after is a real wallop instead of a whisper, you can always turn to Tom Ford's Violet Blonde.

L'Essence maintains the original's sheer, close-to-the-skin feel, but intensifies the green notes in the early stages and the dry woody base notes later on. The floral aspect is nearly gone, and the powdery finish is even lighter than it already was. It does not really read as metallic to my nose (actually, it seems less metallic to me than the original), but there is an almost leathery feel (again, as advertised) to the dry down. On paper, it struck me as lighter than Balenciaga Paris, on skin, as ever so slightly more intense, considerably more chypre-ish and considerably more masculine — a man could have worn Balenciaga Paris anyway, but a woman wearing L'Essence might be assumed to have borrowed from the other counter.

In and of itself, of course, this is nothing new: women have been borrowing men's fragrances forever, and brands have been emphasizing the masculine side of their feminine releases off and on nearly as long as I've been blogging. The idea, expressed in the ad copy, that L'Essence "play[s] with the rules of perfumery and shake[s] up notions of male and female" doesn't seem as daring today as it might have 10 years ago, insofar as there aren't really any rules left to play with.2 That's neither here nor there, perhaps, but to my mind, L'Essence, while perfectly wearable to anyone who doesn't have conventional gender requirements, isn't quite as interesting as Balenciaga Paris. Either one of them is more interesting than your average mainstream release, though, and I wait with interest to see what Balenciaga will do next.

Balenciaga Paris L’Essence is available in 30 (£44), 50 ($95) and 75 ($130) ml Eau de Parfum. It was developed by perfumer Olivier Polge (who also did the original Balenciaga Paris) and features notes of violet leaves, vetiver and patchouli.

1. Via Nicolas The Nose: Ghesquière Talks Fragrance, Fashion at Style.

2. As an aside, I was thinking the other day about what would be daring in perfume at this point, when nearly everything has been done and done over twenty times, and all I could think of that would shock me at a department store perfume counter was some real old-fashioned skank. L'Essence, like virtually every mainstream perfume these days, smells like they scrubbed and polished all the dirty parts, and then scrubbed and polished them again. It's earthy, but it's that clean kind of earthy gifted to us by modern chemistry.

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  1. mals86 says:

    I only tried Balenciaga Paris within the last couple of months… no way will I get to this one while it’s new! (Probably won’t get to Violet Blonde until about nine months from now. Sigh.)

    I did think that Paris was perfectly unisex on its own, or at least as far into unisex territory as I’m willing to go. I quite liked it – especially the violet leaf – but the more I wore it, the less I thought ABOUT it. As in, it just sort of shrunk down onto my skin and out of my mind. I like quiet, but it was rather *ridiculously* quiet.

    • Robin says:

      No rush — if the original was as unisex as you’ll go, I really don’t think you’ll like L’Essence!

      I really did like BP, but not enough to buy it. I need a rating system that allows me to quickly say “I’d buy it if I saw it in 15 ml for $25” — that’s about my take on BP, and on Love, Chloe too. I don’t think I’d buy L’Essence even if it was cheaper than that — I enjoyed wearing it but NEVER thought of it when it wasn’t on my skin.

  2. sarcon says:

    sounds a bit like Grey Flannel – an old favorite of mine. so, I will be testing this when I get a chance.

    • Robin says:

      Mmmmm…love Grey Flannel. Haven’t smelled it in ages though, assume it’s been reformulated.

      • kaos.geo says:

        Robin, last year I bought Grey Flannel for my brother (he always loved it but was unable to get it in Argentina)

        I assume it was reformulated too, but to my nose (and better yet, to my brother’s nose) it smells like our memory of Grey Flannel… which I must say is a really good thing, as you can get it for peanuts! ;-)

        • nathanthomas says:

          haha Grey Flannel makes me wince! I had never tried it before, but my view of this was coloured in Harvey Nichols last year when they had a couple of HUGE bottles of Grey Flannel in the sale bin for about £10 & every time i was in there the sales assistants were complaining to each other ” oh my god, someone’s opened the grey flannel again ” – a little obviously went a long way !

        • Robin says:

          P, I really should get some. I did try a sample about 4-5 years ago, and was surprised at how much I still loved it.

          Nathanthomas, it probably smells very old-fashioned now, but I’m telling you it was great stuff :-)

          • nathanthomas50 says:

            You’re right, but the price tag of £10 for 240ml wasn’t encouraging & they repulsion it evoked in all of the female SA’s wasn’t encouraging if you want a fragrance to attract the opposite sex instead of repel them ! lol

        • nozknoz says:

          Oh, that’s good to know, kaos. LT gave it 5 stars in The Guide, so I’ve been thinking of trying it but wondering how it’s fared.

    • kurt1 says:

      Still wearing GF on a daily bases. It has become a little soapier but after getting used to that think it’s an improvement ;-).
      Talking about skank, I also love the hint of civet in GF.

  3. aleta says:

    I smelled my first skanks yesterday—Aftelier’s Candide, and Cepes and Tuberose. Baby skanks I gather from the reviews here and elsewhere, but the epiphany was something like finding a dead witch under the house and realizing everything’s in color. I think there’s no going back for me.

    • JolieFleurs says:

      This made me laugh out loud!

      Welcome to the Dark Side, my friend.

      And you’re right, there is no going back! ;)

    • Robin says:

      I don’t require that all my perfumes be skanky — far from it — but I get tired of these very smooth & polished versions of what ought to be at least somewhat rough earthy notes like patchouli & vetiver. They all start to smell the same, among other things.

      Candide: yum!

      • aleta says:

        True: Casablanca or Some Like It Hot in color would be just as off-putting as a skanked-up No 5 or Après l’Ondee. But I’m blown away at how experiencing just a wee bit of skank has changed my perspective on clean jasmine and smoothed-out earthy things. For the most part I’m content with sniffing at the mall, but now I am acutely aware of how joyous it is to expand my horizons.

    • mals86 says:

      “Everything is in color now”! I love it.

  4. OperaFan says:

    Love your comment about the Tom Ford as an alternative! Thanks to our Great Empress, I had the chance to try VB. Although the experience was brief – between shower and bed, I think I may be falling in love….

    • Robin says:

      It’s a fun scent. Don’t think I need to own it, but it’s fun. (And it’s another I’d fall for at $25 for 15 ml)

    • JolieFleurs says:

      The fruit mentioned in this one scared me off. Just how fruity are we talkin’, here; profane, or merely offensive?

  5. JolieFleurs says:

    How does this compare to the Stephen Jones/CdG juice, do you think? Do I need both?

    • Robin says:

      Ah — well, depends on how you look at it. To my mind, you need Stephen Jones but can live without Balenciaga Paris, which is like a more mainstream take on the subject (the subject being violet). Unless you *need* the more mainstream take, for whatever reason (office-friendly, etc), or find the price of the CdG hard to take (as I do — I adore it but haven’t bought it & probably never will).

      L’Essence is removed enough to be nearly a different subject — it isn’t about violet anymore, even though it has similar (probably, the same) notes as BP.

      • JolieFleurs says:

        I’ve got the Stephen Jones on my Xmas list; sadly, I am drawn to the green juice of this one, too!

        I really need to get over this bottle lust.

  6. kaos.geo says:

    Great review! I am tempted to try it… :-D

    • Robin says:

      Oh do, why not? They claim they did that green color as another act of daring (women’s fragrances aren’t usually green) but I think they did it hoping men would buy it :-)

      • JolieFleurs says:

        I like the looks of this one far better than the original!

  7. Olive says:

    Just when I think I can wean myself from NST (I have a job, after all, dogs, cats, a girlfriend, responsibilities/delights of all sorts), there’s this review. I don’t just learn about perfume here, I learn new ways of experiencing it (and of experiencing myself, too, in relation to it). That’s (I guess) a little bit like the difference between handing over the fish and teaching the person to fish.

    And, yes, I very much want to try Paris and its spawn.

    • Marjorie Rose says:

      Such a lovely comment, and so true! What I love here is that it teaches me so much and with such depth of experience. I don’t feel like it’s just a series of ads, like the “beauty recommendations” of my favorite magazine, but an honest appraisal of the experience of scent. So nice, but so much trouble for one’s pocketbook! :)

    • Robin says:

      Aw, that’s very sweet!

  8. Absolute Scentualist says:

    The original Paris was an absolute infatuation for me. It is a beautifully aloof take on violet to my nose and I love it for all that it isn’t as much as for what it is. While I don’t think L’Essence will be nearly as much of a whirlwind romance, I would at least like to try a cousin of Paris.

    And now I truly want to try Violet Blonde, as if your review didn’t make me want to before, Robin. It is definitely on my must sample list since I’m quite sure it will never come anywhere near where I live. ;)

    • Robin says:

      Would really like to know, after you try VB & L’Essence, what you think. L’Essence so de-emphasizes the violet; fans of BP might be disconcerted. Or not, what do I know!

  9. thenoseknows says:

    I liked the original Balenciaga Paris, but not enough to be captivated by it… Just Mediocre… but surely still a beautifully composed fragrance. Violet Blonde on the other hand is Pure Bedevilry! It’s SOOOOOOOOOOO GOOD! I am a TF Snob anyway and love most anything he touches with an Unholy passion (Black Orchid, Anyone?!?!?! Gucci Envy Anyone!?!?!?! GREY VETIVER!!!!!!!! OHMYWORD!!!!!!!!!!) So I am more inclined to be a Violet Blonde Junkie than Balenciaga… anyway, the Violet in VB is much more… Naughty and Ever so slighty Sexual… And i like that about it!

  10. Marjorie Rose says:

    So, am I the only one who doesn’t experience B. Paris as sheer? I find the violet rather “sharp,” cutting into my awareness throughout the day as it is worn. In fact, I had to stop wearing it in warmer weather because I found it distracting. I like it as a fragrance, but a girl has to focus on other aspects of her day!

    • PetronellaCJ says:

      I wrote “Pastelly and a tad annoying” in my notes after trying it a couple of months ago. I didn’t get much violet at all, more a nondescript and rather synthetic floral blur. Not impressed.

      Soliflores isn’t really my thing, but if I want violet I turn to Balenciaga Le Dix instead. It has a quality of crafted simplicity I appreciate :).

    • Robin says:

      Interesting! I find it sheer, in the same way that Infusion d’Iris is sheer…maybe sheer is not the right word.

      • Absolute Scentualist says:

        BP was sheer on me like a silk blouse. It lasted for several hours but was generally pretty quiet about it save for about an hour or so after I applied it. The violet was the dominant note for me, but I could certainly smell the greener aspects wrapped around it so that nothing became too loud or overpowering about it.

        I don’t know if Le Dix has been discontinued since it seems just *impossible* to find, which is unfortunate because I really loved the sample I had and would love wearing it next to BP to comtrast and compare. :(

        Robin, I’ll be sure to post my thoughts on Violet Blonde. I really liked Black Orchid after I gave it time to grow on me and have been curious to try White Patchouli (and the purple one, too.)

        • PekeFan says:

          Le Dix has been discontinued along with the other Balenciaga fragrances prior to Paris. I am still in shock, since it is a favorite, but I stocked up as soon as I heard the axe falling.

      • thenoseknows says:

        Never thought of Infusion D’iris as Sheer Really… nor really Subtle… have always felt like a kinda hit you over the head kinda scent…. when i have smelled it on women i have smelled it from like across the room… it’s not a get up close kinda scent to my nose. but that’s just me…

    • AnnS says:

      Marjorie Rose – I found BP L’Essence quite “thick” too for what it was. I like the original BP, and technically I’d say I like this one too. But for all it is different, it actually smells remarkably the same as the drydown/base of the Cacharel Eden, which has a green, milky thick, nearly mettalic and patchouli thing going on. In that capacity, I agree with Robin and say the BP L’Essence is more definitely in the unisex/masculine camp as Eden is definitely there too, but much richer. I prefer the original BP which has a delight that this so called darker on is missing.

    • Nlb says:

      BP does kind of have this quality of castille soap lather that hasn’t been rinsed off — or like shaving cream simmering on the skin over a day. I like that quality but it comes on strong, sometimes.

  11. ceelouise says:

    I’ve started thinking of skank perfumes as perfumes with a capital P because they’re the occasion perfumes. Almost all other modern perfumes can be worn any day. I do not think skank would do well at all in this day and age. (I’m sure Madonna’s new perfume will not be skank – did you hear she’s in talks with Coty. A little late on that bandwagon!)

    • Robin says:

      I do hear she is in talks with Coty. I think they’re both crazy — I think that boat has left the harbor for her. But we’ll see what they do.

      And agree — serious skank would not be an easy sell.

      • PekeFan says:

        She would be better off going with a company like Etat Libre d’Orange or Comme des Garcons than Coty at this point in her career. Plus that would ensure an interesting fragrance.

        • Robin says:

          Completely agree, and don’t know why she doesn’t do just that since I assume this is a vanity project for her. But maybe I’m wrong and she needs the money, in which case Coty is probably the only perfume company that will make it for her.

  12. Tama says:

    I’m all confused now, cause I heard that the Balenciaga Paris is not really called Paris, just Balenciaga, and the new one l’Essence Balenciaga, and the little “Paris” on the label is just where it’s made, like the one on Chanels and such. Happened when I was standing at the Balenciaga counter and asked for Paris – the SA hustled over to the YSL counter. lol. Whatever, I bought Paris but sniffed this as well and liked it quite a bit. Do I need both? Don’t know, but I am completely enamored of the bottle.

    • Robin says:

      It is not called Paris. I think of it not as “Paris by Balenciaga” but “Balenciaga Paris”, and if I was asking for the new one I’d ask for “L’Essence”.

      • Robin says:

        And went to check the press release for the original — it very specifically calls the fragrance “Balenciaga Paris”, in the title and throughout the text, so Paris is not just a location on the bottle, to my mind, or they’d call it “Balenciaga”.

        The press release for L’Essence is titled “Balenciaga Paris L’Essence”, then they refer to it as L’Essence in the text.

  13. mysterious_scent says:

    I am totally with Robin on this one. I tried Balenciaga Paris L’Essence in a local shop and I got exactly the same feeling: greener, less floral, slightly more masculine. The sweet powery feel in the drydown of the original is almost absence in L’Essence. Both are still very “thin” to my nose

    • Robin says:

      Did you like either?

      • mysterious_scent says:

        I like L’Essence slightly better. None of them is full-bottle-worthy to me but I enjoy my sample

  14. kurt1 says:

    My wife sometimes uses GF to give her fav’ Miss Dior a little bit of her kick back.

  15. I love the bottle so much I kind of have to try this. I keep forgetting that Neiman’s has this now & haven’t given it a sniff yet, but if it’s anything like Paris then it may be the start of another beautiful friendship.

    I never really considered Paris to be vaguely masculine — to me it’s probably one of the ‘girlier’ things I wear — but I do wear a lot of straight up genderless colognes, so …

    • Robin says:

      Oh, I don’t think the original BP is masculine at all, just think a man can easily pull it off.

      • Yeah, I will admit to spraying my fiance’ with it. Though, I have him routinely wearing Bandit which is glorious.

  16. Nlb says:

    Oh, kind of a bummer. Although, I do love the bitterness of violet leaf. I was sort of hoping that because BP was just edgy enough — and popular — to give them more leash, they’d take violet in a moodier, muskier direction for the next one.

    • Robin says:

      But, this one is arguably moodier. It just lost most of the violet!

  17. PekeFan says:

    IMHO Le Dix is a better fragrance than either of them.

    • Robin says:

      Possibly. But don’t think you can sell Le Dix today, at least, not in any big numbers. But Coty ought to reissue it as an LE or something, every so often.

  18. Nlb says:

    …and Robin, you’re an excellent critic. You really are. You’re never mean about what you dislike, or what seems jarring in a scent but you’re always able to ferret out what exactly doesn’t work and what would’ve improved these new releases.

  19. Joe says:

    I’m trying this for the first time this afternoon. The first thing that came to mind when I sprayed it on was SHAMPOO. It’s perhaps evokes that a little less after fifteen minutes, but…

    I know that shampoo associations are subjective and can be applied to all manner of scents, but I’m a fan of the original Paris and I didn’t feel that way about it. This is a perfectly pleasant and wearable scent and I’d enjoy it anytime, but it won’t go on the short list once my small decant is used up. I would, however, definitely like one of those 20ml or 30ml bottles of Paris if I ever see one.

    • Robin says:

      Joe, interesting that you find it cleaner than the original. I don’t like it as well, but it’s not cleaner on me. Or maybe you mean something else by shampoo? I think of shampoo as clean + fruity, usually.

      • Joe says:

        I’d say they feel equally clean to me, and L’Essence perhaps feels “greener”, but at least the original is a violet floral that I can relate to, while this L’Essence feels very much like some kind of functional product. Maybe we just have different shampoo frames of reference. ;)

  20. Capucine says:

    Robin, you couldn’t be more right:
    “I was thinking the other day about what would be daring in perfume at this point, when nearly everything has been done and done over twenty times, and all I could think of that would shock me at a department store perfume counter was some real old-fashioned skank. L’Essence, like virtually every mainstream perfume these days, smells like they scrubbed and polished all the dirty parts, and then scrubbed and polished them again.”

    Sometimes, is like being starving for a real perfume, something to remember. So true.

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