Olfactive Studio Still Life ~ fragrance review

Frédéric Lebain photograph

As you may have gathered from some of my past posts, I get touchy when arbitrary (or inaccurate) analogies are drawn between perfume and the visual arts. However, Olfactive Studio's collaboration between photographers and perfumers is specific and yet open-ended enough to leave breathing room for everyone involved. Each fragrance is inspired by a photograph and is given a term from the photographic arts. Lately I've been sampling Still Life, which was prompted by a photograph by Frédéric Lebain (above, cropped).

Lebain's still-life photograph shows an arrangement of three photographic prints of mirrored disco balls surrounded by a dusting of confetti. It contains images-within-an-image, and it could be a self-referential meditation on photography's two-dimensional representations of a three-dimensional world; it's playful and cerebral at the same time. Still Life, the fragrance, was developed by perfumer Dora Arnaud. It's a woody citrus with notes of yuzu, elemi, pink pepper, black pepper, Sichuan pepper, star anise, galbanum, dark rum, cedarwood and ambrox.

Olfactive Studio describes Still Life as "a surprising and luminous perfume that invites you to celebrate in style with a whirlwind of exotic cocktails." (I thought this would be an appropriate selection for the days leading up to New Year's Eve.) However, you don't need to worry that Still Life will turn out to be a pink-tinted concoction embellished with a sugar-dipped rim or a little paper umbrella: this cocktail is bright but sharp and austere, and it would be garnished only with a twist of citrus peel or a pod of star anise. It begins with a realistic note of tart yuzu fruit, something chilly and aromatic (almost like juniper, although that's not listed as a note) and a very sheer, fragrant resin. (I do like the transparent resin notes I've been noticing lately; Maison Francis Kurkdjian's Amyris is another example that comes to mind.)

Still Life's citrus top notes are nicely prolonged by its peppery heart and its woody base. Don't let the pink pepper scare you off; this is a sophisticated pepper blend that adds piquancy, as pepper should. The rum isn't really very "dark," and neither are the wood notes. They're warmed and softened by the ambery-musky ambroxan, so that your "cocktail" feels as though its being served up in a smoothly contoured, minimalist vessel of smoked glass. It could easily be worn by men or by women.

I've been enjoying Still Life for the same reasons I enjoy certain actual cocktails: it's refreshing and a bit warming at the same time, it goes down cleanly, and it brightens my mood. Come to think of it, there are a few cocktail-inspired fragrances in my rotation these days, many of them unisex: we've got Penhaligon's Juniper Sling, the relaunched Lubin Gin Fizz, and Frapin Speakeasy. I'm also thinking of Apothia Velvet Rope, which has a similar cool, astringent, liquor-like top note that I enjoyed when I tried it years ago. Still Life isn't quite as "me" as the more subtle milky-musky Lumière Blanche (which Victoria has already discussed to perfection on Bois de Jasmin), but I like having my sample around to cheer me up on these cloudy, deep-winter days. 

Olfactive Studio Still Life

Olfactive Studio Still Life is available in 50 ($145) and 100 ml ($195) Eau de Parfum, via the Olfactive Studio website.

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  1. nozknoz says:

    Great point about sloppy interartistic analogies! I’ve wanted to try these, but it appears they do not ship the sample set to the U.S. (not on the drop-down menu of countries). I did manage to get a sample of Chambre Noir when I ordered something else from First in Fragrance. It was too heavy for the season then, so I did not form an opinion – need to find it now!

    • annemarie says:

      The US is listed on the delivery zone page. http://int.olfactivestudio.com/index.php/shipping-country

      If it is not in the drop-down, maybe you could get on touch and see if that’s just an error? Good luck. I’m very tempted by that sample set.

      • Jessica says:

        Thanks, Annemarie!

        I’ve also just read, on Olfactive Studio’s Facebook page, that the line will be distributed in the US starting in April. Not sure exactly where, yet… but I’l keep my ears and eyes open!

      • nozknoz says:

        You’re right, I should just contact them. Often niche sites go out of their way to be helpful.

  2. Abyss says:

    A couple of NST fellow readers suggested that I try Lumière Blance when I asked for creamy sandalwood recs a couple of weeks ago. I ordered their very reasonably priced sample set and had a blast trying them out.

    I, too, found Still Life quite lively and pleasant. I understand the comparisons with cocktails although, personally, it reminds me of the light tea scents like Osmanthe Yunnan with a little added citrus zest. I’m saving my sample so I can re-test during warmer month since I suspect it’ll be as refreshing as a glass of iced tea.

    Chambre Noire is the one that stood out for me which is probably not surprising since I’m a leather nut. Lumière Blanche was nice albeit nothing like what I had in mind. The combination of creamy woods and cardamom instantly reminded me of JM’s Dark Amber and Ginger Lily. I really enjoyed the opening of Autoportrait but, sadly, found the base really crude and jarring.

    • Annikky says:

      Oh, sorry to hear that Lumiere Blanche wasn’t what you were looking for. But Chambre Noire is a great scent as well, so I hope ordering the set was worthwhile for you (as I believe I was partly responsible for this decision in the first place…).

      • Abyss says:

        Oh, absolutely! I love trying new things, for me that’s the most fun aspect of this hobby :)

    • Jessica says:

      I’ve been enjoying my little sample set so much. Lumière Blanche reminded me a little bit of FM L’Eau d’Hiver, a little bit of L’Artisan Parfumeur Poivre Piquant… but it also has something special of its own.

  3. Annikky says:

    This is one of those reviews that makes me go “yes, exactly, this is how I feel about it”. Which makes my comment slightly redundant, but here I go anyway…

    I got the yuzu and the woods and it was all nice and uplifting, but… not really “me” in the end. However, this is my loss – I would certainly recommend Still Life to all (male or female) citrus-lovers, especially if they like their citrus sophisticated and slightly woody. 

    My own favourite in the series is Lumiere Blanche and I liked Chambre Noire as well – a complex and elegant scent with a beautiful, subtle leather note (allthough not very dark to my nose, it is certainly more deserving of that name than many other “noirs” out there). All four fragrances in the collection are well done, so I heartily recommend their very reasonably priced sample set.

    • Jessica says:

      I’m always glad to get confirmation from a fellow fragrance-lover! :)

      I liked Chambre Noire’s leather-and-fur feeling, too. (It reminded me a little bit of Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Absolue pour le Soir.) I can’t imagine wearing it in hot weather, but it’s just right for January!

  4. lucasai says:

    I have to totally agree with you. I quite liked the coctail mix offered by Still Life. I was impressed by this fragrance as well as I’ve found Lumiere Blanche interesting. Both from Olfactive Studio are nice and their concept is innovative but I didn’t find any of these fragrances olfactively seducing to buy a bottle.

    • Jessica says:

      I do like the line’s concept! and the fragrances certainly aren’t inexpensive, but they’re very well-made.

  5. hajusuuri says:

    I have this line in my STC Wish List and will be ordering the next time there’s a good discount.

    • Jessica says:

      Oh, good! I hope a sale/discount will come up soon…

  6. ceelouise says:

    This was my favorite from the sample coffret. Lumiere Blanche’s appeal was lost to me. This one was so arresting, with the juniper and licorice. Just last night I put another layer of clothing on – it is cold! – and the wrists still smelled of it. It was such a pleasure, so rejuvenating. However, I don’t think I will buy it. I really enjoyed it as a scent, I could see myself reaching for it on certain occasions, yes, but I’m becoming really difficult to please and it is not enough Perfume with a capital P for me.

  7. Merlin says:

    I can’t remember the scent of ‘Auto-portrait’ or ‘Still Life’ – though there is a shop that stocks them here and I probably have tested them. The names just seem too abstract to me – even though the terms refer to types of visual art, I just can’t conceive of them as referring to an actual smell.
    Lumiere Blanche was lovely but it had a pronounced almond note which put me off. (I like eating them but don’t like the fragrance note).
    Chambre Noir, however, I liked very much. But it had almost no sillage on me and seemed to fade quite fast.
    How do others find the strength of this range?

  8. Sounds good, especially if it lifts your mood.

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