L’Artisan Parfumeur Skin on Skin ~ perfume review


Long-time perfumistas, what were the "big" niche brands when you started out? My own perfume addiction took hold on the fragrance board in MakeupAlley in 2003, and at that time, as I saw it, the "big four" were basically Diptyque, Serge Lutens, Frédéric Malle and L'Artisan Parfumeur.1 When one of those four brands released a new fragrance, perfumistas sat up and took notice, and everyone did their best to get their hands on a sample as soon as samples were available to be had.

It's a different world now. There are approximately three times as many fragrance launches every year, and so many niche brands have sprouted up — and in some cases, vanished again just as quickly — that it's impossible to keep track of them all. Diptyque, Serge Lutens, Frédéric Malle and L'Artisan Parfumeur are still big names, but even venerable old brands can no longer rest on their laurels what with all the product out there competing for attention. It takes some doing to keep the affections of your long-time customers and still attract new business.

L'Artisan Parfumeur kept my affections for a good long time, but lately, I've been puzzled by exactly what they're doing over there. Many of their beloved series — the limited edition summer fragrances, the travel fragrances (Bois Farine, Timbuktu, Dzongkha), the harvest perfumes — appear to be in remission, and it looks like they are phasing out a number of my favorite scents.2 At a time when many other luxury niche brands are introducing smaller travel sizes, L'Artisan has not only stopped making 15 ml travel sprays,3 but is offering fewer and fewer fragrances in amounts less than 100 ml. More to the point, maybe I'm just missing the message, but their output over the past few years seems somewhat random, like maybe they're baffled too, or maybe they're not sure exactly what sort of niche brand they want to be and what kind of customer they want to reach. Other than the lovely but limited edition (and not really developed directly by L'Artisan anyway) Séville à l’Aube, it's been ages since L'Artisan has made anything that tempted me to spend, and I'm mystified that the (apologies to its fans, as always) eminently forgettable Caligna is still in production while masterpieces like Traversée du Bosphore, Bois Farine, Dzing!*and even their namesake fragrance, L'Eau de L'Artisan, are on their way out.

So. The Explosions d’Emotions trio (Amour Nocturne and Déliria, which Angie reviewed yesterday, and Skin to Skin, my subject today), launched last year. They were announced as "faithful to the vision of [L'Artisan's] founder, Monsieur Laporte", but they sounded like no such thing, in fact they sounded a little more like L'Artisan was perhaps angling for a piece of the gourmand action on mainstream perfume counters. So I wanted to try them but I apparently wasn't in any big hurry; it's now 2014 and I'm just getting around to it. It didn't increase my sense of urgency that they're all in 125 ml (honestly! why? and why the squat bottle?) and they're $280 a pop (!). At least I'm smelling them before they add three more to the series, which they'll reportedly do by the end of the year.

All of which might help to explain my lukewarm reaction to Skin on Skin. I take it from the sort-of-steamy imagery4 (see above) and the "wanton embrace" and "carnal creation" from L'Artisan's description that it's meant to be the sexy fragrance in the trio, but I found it to be nothing like — although to be clear, I didn't find any of the three sexy. Instead, Skin on Skin is a quiet, contemplative iris from perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour. The notes feature iris, suede, saffron, whiskey, lavender, rose and musks. Skin on Skin opens cold, almost metallic, with saffron and fruit notes floating above a bed of smooth iris. A jammy rose in the heart almost takes Skin on Skin into the gourmand territory occupied by Amour Nocturne and Déliria, but it's sheer enough that the iris maintains center stage and Skin on Skin isn't really what I'd call a gourmand. I do not catch anything like whiskey, but there is a smooth, quiet suede, pale at first, then a tad darker and warmer as the fragrance develops on skin. Farther on, it takes on a bit of a creamy finish.

Verdict: Skin on Skin is easily the least "explosive" of the trio; I would call it a perfect iris fragrance for reading in bed. It's nicely done, very wearable, and certainly worth a try for iris fans. I like it better than several recent iris fragrances (Penhaligon's Iris Vaara, Atelier Silver Iris) but I wish the dry down were a little more lively, and came closer to something that might live up to its name.

Overall, I'd say the whole trio is a disappointment, and I was interested to read that Bertrand Duchaufour feared a bad reaction because the collection was so innovative and avant-garde and provocative;5 that certainly wasn't my take. If you've smelled any or all of them, what did you think?

L’Artisan Parfumeur Explosion d’Emotions Skin on Skin is $280 for 125 ml Eau de Parfum. For buying information, see L’Artisan Parfumeur under Perfume Houses.

1. Not necessarily in that order. Serge Lutens ruled, and a new fragrance from "Uncle Serge" created something of a frenzy.

2. In other words, some of those fragrances are still in production, but there haven't been any new additions to the series, and meanwhile the brand recently moved a number of its popular scents to a collection it was initially calling "La Bibliothèque" but which is now more helpfully labeled "last chance to buy".

3. Ok, there are still a few 15 ml bottles on Sephora, and they do appear, occasionally, in coffrets. But it is odd to me that L'Artisan, who made small sizes long before any of the other expensive niche brands, largely abandoned them just when everyone else started to make them in earnest.

4. The tag line that came to my mind when I saw that image, though, was Diesel's "are you alive?", from Fuel for Life. She looks like her mind just left the building.

5. "It is supposed to be something completely different, not outrageous but something provocative. I would say the reaction of the consumers has not been that bad. The most difficult people are often the French. Because French people are very proud of their perfumery and they are sure the French are the best at it. But at the same time they are very conservative and they often react against something new. For me, Anglo-Saxon people are more open to modern perfumery and avant-garde brands. I know that for this kind of collection by L’Artisan Parfumeur, the reaction is much better from Anglo-Saxon people. American, English, Australian and also German consumers are more open to it...It is not a big success but it is a success. For something very new and innovative I was really afraid of a bad reaction by the public." From Talking Perfume with Bertrand Duchaufour at What Men Should Smell Like.

* Update: see Donanicola's comment below, looks like Dzing! is safe for now.

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  1. ladymurasaki says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Robin. A disappointment. I’ve tried all three when they were released, and I didn’t take to any.

    • Robin says:

      Glad I am not alone!

    • Delfina says:

      I disliked all the three of them when I first smelled them at Pitti, nor did subsequent approaches change my reaction. I really feel that with this trio, plus the discontinuations and the ugly colorants they are now putting in some of the new bottles (Drole de rose, Nuit de tubéreuse), L’Artisan has really lost themselves. Pity.

      • Robin says:

        Are they coloring the juices in a different way? Did not know!

        • Delfina says:

          Yes! I’m 100% sure of these two because I work in a shop where we sell them and the two new testers had different labels and completely artificial pink juices. Same goes for some Penhaligon’s fragrances, which belong to the same company

          • Robin says:

            Interesting, thanks.

  2. Abyss says:

    Wow, it sounds like LAP are losing it big time. Perhaps I should go and finally get me some Dzing.

    • Robin says:

      You know, they’re discontinuing so many that I just gave up…I can’t buy them all. Plus, they’re all in 100 ml.

      Drole de Rose is perhaps a more minor loss, but I’m pissed about that one too. And Ananas Fizz is going, again.

      • Abyss says:

        Artisan is one of those houses that I can usually take or leave. For me, Dzing is probably the most interesting scent that they do, but I still hate that they are going down this path with their line up.

      • Omega says:

        Wait, Drole is going or has gone? That’s a total shame. It appears LAP is going a bit mainstream, too bad..such a turn off

        • Robin says:

          It is currently listed as “last chance to buy”. Whether it will ever come back in the future, I have no idea.

    • C.H. says:

      Yup I panicked and bought 100ml of Dzing when they had the Black Friday sale. Even in the most optimistic estimate, it will take me 10 years to finish the bottle, but I’d be kicking myself if it disappeared completely–or even, as I strongly suspect, if it comes back as a limited edition I’d have to pay double for the privilege of owning far too much of!

      • Abyss says:

        …or it comes back reformulated, or starts going for silly money on ebay *sigh*

        Congrats on your bottle!

        • C.H. says:

          Oh god, I hadn’t even considered the possibility of reformulation!!

      • Omega says:

        Dzing, while it’s not something I would wear, I sooo appreciate the juice. Bummer, glad you got some!

  3. floragal says:

    I’m not the long-time niche fragrance connoisseur as many of you are, but I was really surprised by the price and the one very large size option on these three. Recently tried all of them and Skin-on-skin was my favorite, but if I’m going to drop over $200 on a scent it would definitely not be on any of these.

    Interesting to see that comment by Mr. Duchaufour. I have wondered about the stress of creating a scent (or in this case a trio of scents) that will do well in today’s highly competitive marketplace, not to mention the pressure on one’s reputation.

    Thanks for the review!

    • Robin says:

      The sizing is strange, and that bottle is ok for their room sprays (actually, don’t know if they still use it for their room sprays, but they used to) but too squat & ugly for a personal fragrance.

      • Delfina says:

        Many of their roomsprays are discontinued. I guess they had too many such bottles and didn’t want to waste them ;-)

  4. Dzingnut says:

    I am crushed to hear that Dzing will be going out of production, it is such a unique and wonderful fragrance! Now I need to check how many backup bottles are in my upstairs closet.

    And you are so right, the model looks like she’s one step away from “close your eyes and think of England”.

    • Robin says:

      I heard a rumor that these may come & go as limited editions. No idea if it’s true. But it is like they are letting go of their heritage…

      • C.H. says:

        Yeah, my totally unsubstantiated guess is that the company is hoping to re-release these discontinued fragrances as a limited editions at a price point closer to what we’re seeing with the Explosion line. Although if those aren’t selling so well, maybe they will rethink?

        • Robin says:

          Gosh, I hope not. But if they want to go the luxury route, they need to up their game.

    • Rappleyea says:

      “the model looks like she’s one step away from “close your eyes and think of England”.”

      ROTFL!! :-D

      As a reader of historical fiction, I’ve come across that phrase, and so brilliant of you to point out its illustration!

  5. Janice says:

    Wow, I didn’t even know about L’Artisan’s “last chance to buy” section and was so surprised to see Traversée du Bosphore and Bois Farine there! (Although oddly I didn’t see Dzing there just now and there have been rumors for years that it’s being discontinued…) I’m sad to see those go.

    I actually liked Skin on Skin quite a lot—like you, I liked it better than Iris Prima or Atelier Silver Iris. I didn’t like it $280 worth, though. For that money, I think I’d rather have Iris Nazarena.

    • Robin says:

      Weird, I swear it was there earlier. Wonder if it also depends on what country you’re using?

      $280 is crazy.

      • Robin says:

        Double weird, just checked again, I see it under any country flag I choose…

        • C.H. says:

          In the “last chance” section? I can find it on the site (either with the search button or under Our Fragrances / Oriental), but not in the last chance section. US flag. Super odd that it would vary!

          • Robin says:

            Yes, it is, unless one of us is seeing a cached version.

          • Robin says:

            BTW, I get to that section by first clicking “Collections” at the top, then “last chance to buy”.

    • nozknoz says:

      I haven’t decided if I really like Iris Nazarena, but the packaging is clearly better.

  6. morgana says:

    Is Dzongkha also being discontinued?

    • Robin says:

      Not so far as I know.

      • morgana says:

        Good to know that, thanks! My English is not great, and I got confused when you mentioned Dzongkha followed by “appear to be in remission”
        Very sad (and not comprehensible) to know what L’Artisan is doing with the rest of their fragrances. What a shame …

        • Robin says:

          I meant that they no longer seem to be adding to the series that gave us Dzongkha — sorry for the confusion!

  7. nozknoz says:

    I’m puzzled and annoyed by these big bottles. I can only guess they are aimed at the same people who buy hulking Restoration Hardware furniture. As for the ad, the guy is suddenly realizing that it really wasn’t such a great idea to put the 65-inch flatscreen TV in his bedroom after all. ;-)

    Out of this trio, I have only tried Skin on Skin. My initial reaction is that it would be perfect to wear on days when I am out and about around town, taking care of some errands and then heading to a museum, bookstore, gallery or other urban recreation. My beloved Traversee du Bosphore is too sweet and sensual, Timbuktu too weird, my treasured vintage fragrances would scare the horses, etc. If I had Iris Gris I’d wear that, but, actually, it’s softer and more tailored than I am, anyway. As you can see, I’d like to buy Skin on Skin, but not at that size and price.

    • Robin says:

      Ha, she is watching TV, that’s it!

      I can see this working for that sort of day, sure. For less than half the price…

    • Oakland Fresca says:

      You made me laugh out loud. I cannot imagine why anyone would want to buy an enormous bottle of fragrance. It kills the mystique, the jewel like rarity of a personal treasure to have it super-sized. My husband once bought me an enormous bottle of Coco thinking that the huge amount would be a real treat. I was horrified. (I let him down gently, and the bottle was quietly returned.) BUT, I have also always wondered about the mega-arm chairs, massive headboards, and giant table lamps at Restoration Hardware–so BIG! It is like they design for another race whose homes are filled with 18′ by 18′ by 18′ foot rooms, barns, or airplane hangers….

      • nozknoz says:

        I especially treasure my 7.5 ml vintage extraits in beautiful bottles – you’re right, it’s the precious jewel-like effect.

        • mals86 says:

          I find those quarter-oz. extraits addictive… only recently stopped buying every single bottle of Jolie Madame ext I could find. :) (I have six.)

          • mals86 says:

            YES I WEAR THEM.

          • Robin says:

            Gosh, I was not going to question you!

          • nozknoz says:

            Love Jolie Madame!

    • Rappleyea says:

      The second really funny comment on the model! Love it!! :-D

  8. danieq says:

    I agree with you that this line as a whole is disappointing. I did like Amour Nocturne, but not enough to put out nearly $300 for a bottle of it I got a small decant and am happy with that amount.

    As for Skin on Skin, on my skin, it was nothing but plastic. I couldn’t discern any of the listed notes on my skin. So, a big no for me.

    • Robin says:

      Oh, what a shame — glad I don’t get plastic! Angie & I divided these perfectly (her choice, btw), I really didn’t like AN or Deliria.

  9. austenfan says:

    Although I am not as fond of l’Artisan as you are, I like quite a few of their offerings and I don’t like the direction they seem to be taking. Skin on skin doesn’t sound that tempting so I think I’ll pass on this one.
    Which is your favourite Artisan btw?

    • Robin says:

      Seriously, too many to list! For many years they were one of my favorite lines. I own L’Eau de L’Artisan, Drole de Rose, La Chasse, La Chasse Extreme, Ananas Fizz, Passage d’Enfer, Jacinthe des Bois, Timbuktu & Dzongkha.

      I wish I owned Bois Farine, Seville, Traversee, Havana Vanille, Mechant Loup (had some but it’s gone). If Dzing & Absinthe & Safran were in 15 ml, I’d own those too.

      • austenfan says:

        I wish I had been able to try Jacinthe des Bois, too late to the game I fear.
        My favourite is Dzing! by far. I’m also very fond of Vanilia, La Haie Fleurie, Tea for Two, Traversée and Havana Vanille.

        My first niche house was Goutal, and the first niche fragrance I bought was Chèvrefeuille. It is a line that I’m still very fond of although all their recent discontinuations have me worried.
        Nicolaï, Divine, Lutens and Malle are the other niche houses that I like a lot.

  10. poodle says:

    That model could not look any more disinterested. None of these tempt me.

    • Robin says:

      It is a seriously weird shot — don’t know what she’s even supposed to look like she’s up to. Watching tv is as good a guess as any.

  11. PekeFan says:

    I’m very sad that L’Artisan are discontinuing all of my favorites. I will miss Mimosa Pour Moi. Robin, you asked about our first niche brand experiences and I remember that, during the 1970s, The Perfumers Workshop had an amazing counter in Selfridges London. It was staffed by an exotic SA named Amaryllis. It offered lots of perfume oils and the Tea Rose fragrance was very popular. They had a lovely Rose Bud oil. That was probably my first niche fragrance experience. Do any other NST readers remember that? Annick Goutal was the next niche brand experience – also at Selfridges. (Harrods was the place to go for venerable brands like Caron.) I don’t know if Annick Goutal is considered niche now, or L’Artisan for that matter. Nor do I know what happened to The Perfumers Workshop.

    • Robin says:

      The Perfumer’s Workshop still exists, but I doubt under the same owners, and I mostly see their stuff at discount stores like TJ Maxx. Tea Rose is not nearly so nice as it used to be.

    • Oakland Fresca says:

      Yes! My first was Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier, and the next was Annick Goutal… around the same time in the early 1990s. I remembering feeling very excited and totally out of my depth when trying the fragrances and having to rely completely on my own nose to figure out what I liked!

      • galbanumgal says:

        Goutal was my gateway niche in the ’90s!

    • Bela says:

      I worked in Mayfair in the early ’80s and I remember The Perfumers Workshop counter in Selfridges very well. I used to have lunch at the Stockpot around the corner and visit Selfridges before going back to the office in Brook’s Mews. Selfridges is not so friendly now.

      • Rappleyea says:

        Interesting that you very recently added the pronunciation of Le D.’s name!

  12. Dilana says:

    I join in being stunned Dzing is on its way out.
    As for the new ones, I got a nice spray of the carmel apple one at a store and really liked it. It’s one of those fun fragrances which one turns to on a day for frolic, and one want’s to break a usual pattern.
    I should add it’s pretty rare for me to like such a blatant gourmand.
    But a frolic is not appetizing (pun intended) at that price. That’s pretty done close to a classic Guerlain extrait.

    • Robin says:

      I’d agree with “fun” — yes. It ought to be in fun packaging to match, with a fun price and without all the highfaluting backstory.

  13. Merlin says:

    I have not yet spent over $150 on a perfume, though I am beginning to entertain the idea of the $180 category – which so many of them are…

    I keep remembering some commentator here who told a French SA that some perfume was not worth the price and the SA saying, ‘No perfume is worth that price!’

    Whenever I remember that exchange, I come back down to planet Earth.

    • Robin says:

      I can’t remember how high I’ve gone, but I don’t think I’ve paid over $150 either.

      • Merlin says:

        Its hard to judge with all the talk of really expensive good quality ingredients, the price of producing perfume that has no mass appeal, the cost of real luxury as opposed to the pseudo-designer luxury that is pushed by department stores, etc. All of that talk makes one prepared to spend a lot more – It becomes hard to know when its just a case of inflated pricing and trying to position a product as highly exclusive.

        Also, even when I adore a perfume, I’m really not equipped to say that the ingredients are necessarily ‘high quality’ or that the structure of it is complex/innovative. At best I can say it rings my bell, lol!

        • Robin says:

          Well, that’s just it. If this trio costs more because of expensive ingredients, I say more’s the pity…because they don’t smell as good as other, cheaper fragrances.

  14. mals86 says:

    L’Artisan was still pretty big at the end of 2008 when I started becoming interested in scent (rather than making do with drugstore fare on my then drugstore budget). But honestly, I’ve never found one I loved. I rather enjoy Havana Vanille, but have to be in the mood for it. Ditto for Traversee du Bosphore. I enjoy my small sample of Oeillet Sauvage, but it was long gone by the time I smelled it, and I never got to try the Jacinthe one. Nuit de Tubereuse is so bizarre in the topnotes on my skin (sour and almost rotting-fruit), I can’t manage it. L’Ombre dans l’eau is too screechy geranium for me, as well, though it comes close. It’s just… I dunno. The only one from this house I’ve felt any pull to buy was Seville a l’Aube, but I have yet to purchase any beyond my 3ml sample.

    As far as that goes, I don’t connect with Diptyque either… and Uncle Serge has yet to really pull me in other than La Myrrhe which I love. As a whole, I’ve had better luck with the Malles and Goutals than with any other so-called house.

    • mals86 says:

      Whoops, I meant so-called “niche” house.

    • Robin says:

      You picked well. Of all those houses, Malle has been the most consistent. Goutal has changed, but I think they’ve gotten more, rather than less, interesting.

    • nozknoz says:

      It’s true, Goutal was my first niche house and I still find scents I love there, although sorry that they’ve discontinued the unusual Mon Parfum par Camille. And when FM brings out a boring fruity floral or banal gourmand, we’ll know we are in trouble! ;-)

      I did love the range of L’Artisan, though, and am disappointed that they are discontinuing some of the most interesting scents and pricing me out.

  15. Undina says:

    Out of the new trio Skin on Skin annoys me the most. Why? Because I hate the fact that they are phasing out a more accessible Traversée du Bosphore to use the same very noticeable (at least to my nose) accord in a much more expensive Skin on Skin. Not cool! And I completely agree with the ridiculousness of the new size.

    • Robin says:

      And TdB is so much more interesting, anyway.

  16. nozknoz says:

    Seriously, I wonder about the economics of this. Is it just that the packaging and marketing costs are high enough that they figure the bottle might as well be big? Or is it to put this into a higher price range in order to attract a different (wealthier or more status-conscious) range of clients?

  17. songeuse says:

    Too bad to hear about all the discontinuations… last time this happened luckily I was able to find a bottle of Tea for Two on eBay not too long after it was announced that it was being discontinued. I like Dzing! a lot too but don’t think I’ll bother this time as I don’t really need 100 ml of it.

    • Robin says:

      I hope they will bring back Tea For Two at some point, as they are now with Jour de Fete. It was not really a favorite of mine, just thought it was such a cool perfume.

  18. Omega says:

    Do they announce discontinuations on their site?

  19. donanicola says:

    Hm, well, this is one Anglo Saxon who is unimpressed by this trio. Maybe there is something in my (late) grandmother’s assertion that we come from French stock ;) And actually does anyone else think that BD has been riffing a bit too much on the same theme recently? Traversee/La Belle Helene/Cuir de Nacre/this one – variations on iris/suede. I feel really bad saying that because I met the lovely man when he and Denyse presented Seville a l’Aube in London a couple of years back. But at that same event I got talking to a couple of L’Artisan bods who assured me that Dzing! has so many hard core fans in the company that it wouldn’t dare to discontinue it. I took solace from that but I am still uneasy after this discussion and might have to purchase a back up bottle though I resent the fact that it will be 100mls when I’m two thirds through my 50ml bottle purchased 6 years ago. Hm, maybe a split is the answer!

    • Robin says:

      It is annoying that brands don’t just announce, officially, what they’re going to discontinue. If you have 3 years of product left, frankly I would not buy more…you never know what the shelf life of more recent product is, & could both smell (and keep) different from what you had before.

      • donanicola says:

        Hoping I can cut and paste from an email received from L’Artisan this afternoon after I enquired why Dzing! was listed under the “Last chance to buy” tab

        “Thank you for your email.

        I can confirm that Dzing is not about the be discontinued and this fragrance was listed with our other limited editions items that would only be available for a year or so.

        Dzing has now been removed from this header as it is still very much a regular item in the L’artisan parfumeur ‘s collection.

        I do apologise about this error and inconvenience caused.”

        Agree with you, Robin, about the difference in batches. I’ll hang on for the moment.

        • Robin says:

          Excellent, will update the article — many thanks!

  20. Squirrely says:

    Yes! I was just logging into to comment on the upcoming split meet that Robin’s been mentioning. I love Dzing & Safran Troublant, but don’t “need” a whole bottle, so I’m hoping there’s split interest in the near future.

  21. Rappleyea says:

    Great review, Robin, and fun comments as well.

    My first thought in answer to your question re: niche houses was that I’ve been a serious perfume junkie since before there even were such things! But you’re right about the niche houses that were getting the press and reviews on the blogs and MUA. I’d add Goutal as well.

    None of these sounds even remotely enticing to me. Monsieur Duchaufour’s creations have never really worked on my skin so I’ve given up even trying. He’s always struck me as more of a chemist/experimenter than a perfumer.

    • Robin says:

      Interesting take on Duchaufour. He has never struck me that way before, but these do feel more like he was having fun with accords rather than coming up with fragrances that might be interesting to wear. On the other hand, that’s a function of creative direction — and really, creative direction (or lack thereof) is the primary basis of my complaint about L’Artisan at the moment.

      • Rappleyea says:

        I agree about L’Artisan, and actually too many houses anymore!

        My Perfume O’Meter would measure thusly on a scale of 1 to 5:

        1. Disgusting 2. Strange Mess/Weird Accords 3. Bland/Meh 4. Interesting/Wearable/Enjoyable 5. Beautiful/Highly Creative

        (obviously I needed a much wider space)
        And any measurements/labels would all be highly subjective anyway! ;-) The D.’s work usually ranks at #2 for me although there have probably been a #4 or two.

        • Robin says:

          Hey, that’s a nice rating scale. Might steal it :-)

          • Rappleyea says:

            It’s yours, my dear. :-)

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