L’Artisan Parfumeur Caligna ~ fragrance review

L'Artisan Parfumeur Caligna

When acquaintances who want to know more about perfume ask me for recommendations, I often suggest a visit to a L'Artisan Parfumeur counter. L'Artisan was the first "niche" fragrance house I ever experienced, back in the 1990s, and it's still one of my favorites. Lately I've been watching with interest as L'Artisan has been highlighting certain long-standing aspects of its brand identity, perhaps re-asserting its rightful place in an increasingly crowded market. Since late 2012, for example, the company has been "telling the story of French perfumery" with its "Grasse Collection" of candles, scented gloves, and — starting now, with Caligna — fragrances.

Caligna "draws inspiration from the spiritual home of fragrance" — the countryside around Grasse — and its name reportedly comes from the word meaning "to court" or "to flirt" in the Provençal dialect. L'Artisan describes Caligna as "a woody, aromatic fragrance" with notes of clary sage, fig, jasmine marmalade accord, lentisc (the shrub that produces mastic resin) and pine needles; it was developed by perfumer Dora Baghriche-Arnaud.

All of Caligna's notes are inspired by the landscape and vegetation of Provence, and it's a refreshing take on the region, free of any clichéd lavender-sachet associations. It does what it promises, in a very typically L'Artisan style: it brings together ideas of Mediterranean forests and hillsides and coastline  in a sophisticated, impressionistic way. Caligna's opening is almost citrusy on me, with a hint of bergamot. After that, the composition's notes are difficult to separate. The clary sage is more subtle than you'd expect, especially if you've ever inhaled clary sage essential oil; the jasmine is airy and breezy, and the fig note is a light, creamy fig. The pine needles are dried and sun-warmed rather than dark and green. The base features an almost delicate resin, like the underbrush of lentisc shrubs; you've left the sunlit flower fields and stepped into the forest, but it's still not a dark place.

Overall, Caligna is lighter in "color" and "texture" than I anticipated; if you're looking for an earthy, rooty take on the South of France, this scent will seem a little pale to you. It's a smooth, wearable interpretation of a particular landscape, and in that sense it also reminds me a little bit of Hermès's "Garden" line (Un Jardin en Méditerranée and the rest). It's well-crafted from high-quality ingredients and it feels like a "niche" fragrance in the best sense of the word. It could easily be worn by either men or women and it seems timed well as a spring release.

So how do I feel, personally, about Caligna? I like it, although it's not really my style — I gravitate more towards L'Artisan's powdery/floral/sweet offerings, from Bois Farine and Traversée du Bosphore to Oeillet Sauvage (discontinued) and Drôle de Rose (now available only in Paris and online). However, if you're a fan of sheer herbaceous-resin fragrances, or if you've always loved Premier Figuier but could use something a little lighter in your fig-fragrance collection, you may love Caligna. I think I'd probably sooner splurge on one of L'Artisan's new Grasse-themed candles (you can see a nice little video about them here) — but again, our tastes may vary!

L'Artisan Parfumeur Caligna Eau de Parfum will available in April 2013 as 100 ml Eau de Parfum ($180). For purchasing information, see the listing for L'Artisan Parfumeur under Perfume Houses.

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  1. hrmph. I was hoping for not-sheer. I still want to try this, though…

    • Jessica says:

      BG, It’s definitely not the woodsy-piney, dark-and-twisty fragrance that a few of us might have imagined. It definitely comes out of the sunny South of France! ;)

  2. lucasai says:

    Wonderful review Jessica. Your personal take on Caligna made me want to try this new L’Artisan perfume even more. Hope I’ll be able to put my hands on a sample.

    • Jessica says:

      L, I do hope that you’ll be able to find it without too much trouble! It’s definitely worth a sniff.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    This sounds pretty great to me! I love the idea of a resinous-herbal-jasmine-fig scent. Very Mediterranean. I hope that testers become available soon. Perhaps at Bendel’s?

    • Jessica says:

      I’m sure that Henri Bendel will carry it, and they do sometimes have a tester in advance of the actual launch! I think you might like this one.

  4. Annikky says:

    Thanks, Jessica! I generally gravitate towards stronger, statement-making scents, but this does sound lovely to me. Incidentally, one of the lighter ones I really like (although I realise they don’t smell the same, just have a similar feel) is Jardin Sur le Nil. So Caligna goes to the top of my must-sample list.

    • Jessica says:

      Hi, Annikky — you get it — it doesn’t actually *smell like* any of the Hermes Jardin fragrances, but it seems to have a similar sensibility and story.

      • I loved the hermes Jardins, until the ripe melon fell on my head with the third one. And Caligna also has the dreaded fig, on which i overdosed earlier in my life. But still, I’m curious. . .

  5. Janice says:

    This doesn’t really sound like my style either (my favorites from L’Artisan are more along the lines of Dzing! and Poivre Piquant), but I’m still curious to try it. And now I’m wondering where I can find those candles, too! Thanks for the review.

    • Jessica says:

      I love Poivre Piquant!

      The Fall and Winter candles have been available for a few months—I smelled them at Henri Bendel in NYC and I fell for the Winter. I also had an advance sniff of Spring and Summer (they all have French names; I’m cheating!), and I liked Spring, a green-anise blend. Sumemr is a honeyed jasmine.

  6. Joe says:

    Thanks for the very early review, Jessica. I’m (as always) curious to try this — I’m a fan of L’Artisan as well — but I’m not over-enthusiastic or excited. Very few new launches get me worked up anymore. Still, it’s fun to try the new things that are coming out. Sounds nice… though hard to imagine something much lighter than Premier Figuier!

    • Jessica says:

      We are all getting terribly jaded. ;)

      I’m glad that I had the opportunity to smell and test this one in advance! I’m so often running late with new releases from other companies.

  7. annemarie says:

    This is great review and towards the end I felt I could imagine both the landscape and the perfume. But until I got to your Jardin comparison I was imagining a dry fragrance, but the Jardins are watery, to my nose, or at least moist. (Which is fine, I like many of them.) I do like dry landscape fragrances though: Tauer’s Reverie au Jardin (lots of lavender in that) and Dior’s Granville (evoking dry herbs and trees and stones, swept by a salty wind). Caligna sounds a lot gentler than Granville!

    Anyway, I rarely get excited by a new release at the moment because I am in one of those ‘love what you already own’ phases, but I am definitely going to give this one a try when it becomes available. Clary sage and fig are favourite notes.

    • Jessica says:

      Annemarie, I wouldn’t say it’s particularly watery *or* particularly dry — somewhere in between! Or, maybe more “airy” than either of those. ;)

  8. sweetgrass says:

    It sounds nice, and I’d like to try it. I just wish it were going to be available in a smaller size than 100ml, like a 50ml bottle too.

    • Jessica says:

      Sweetgrass, same here. The press release only listed a 100 ml bottle, unfortunately. And L’Artisan seems to be eliminating the 50 ml bottles for various scents, which is a shame. I love smaller bottles, even for my favorite fragrances.

  9. alyssa says:

    Oh, this sounds just lovely! Must sniff. (Though I sort of want Diptyque to do a version of the exact same fragrance, like a feminine version of L’Eau Trois…)

    Also, I would like some jasmine marmalade please. A perfect gift with purchase idea!

    • Jessica says:

      I had a chance to sniff some of the separate accords that went into this fragrance, and I swooned over the jasmine marmalade!! They should make a Jasmine Marmalade shower gel and body cream, definitely…! and some actual, edible marmalade would also make me happy.

  10. Rappleyea says:

    Beautiful description of the notes and development, Jessica. If I’m reading you right, this sounds appropriate for warmer weather vs. say the heavier, pine of Wazamba?

    I do want to try this. Thanks for reviewing.

    • Jessica says:

      Rappleyea, yes, I can see this as a spring-summer-early-fall scent more than a cold-weather choice. The pine needles are subtle, and they really are the idea of fallen needles rather than an evergreen tree!

  11. AnnE says:

    Thanks for the great review, Jessica! This fragrance, and the candles, sound worth seeking out. L’Artisan was also one of my first niche brands to explore, and I still have a soft spot for them.

    I’ll have to be sure and make a return visit to Bendel’s next time I’m in NYC. The last time I was there, I had the entire fragrance section to myself for quite a while and struck up a conversation with a wonderful SA there, Sergio Rodriguez. (Not affiliated, etc.) He was more knowledgable than the typical half-dozen SA’s put together, generous with samples, and charming to boot. I hope he’s still there!

    • Jessica says:

      Oh, it’s so great when a visit to a perfume counter in a department store works out well! I’m glad.

  12. Emily says:

    I guess I was hoping for something with some oomph, but there’s nothing wrong with a light, herbaceous jasmine. You bet I’ll try this whenever I come across it — and add me to the list of folks who want some jasmine marmalade.

  13. nozknoz says:

    I love rich, dramatic perfumes, but I’m also always searching for good light scents for the hot, humid DC summer. It sounds like this would be a great alternative to a cologne. I assume it’s softer than AG Eau du Sud? (Which I love, but prefer for the summery part of early fall.)

    • Jessica says:

      Hi, Nozknoz — it’s definitely not dramatic, but it would work well in warm, humid weather when you’re still not a pale-floral or bright-fruit lover! I haven’t tried Goutal’s Eau du Sud in a while, unfortunately…

  14. Calypso says:

    How do you pronounce it?

    • Jessica says:

      Calypso, If I remember correctly, it’s something like “cah-LEE-nyah.” But I’m not a French speaker, much less a native of Provence! ;)

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