Licorice shares a similarity with lavender. In both cases there is a more common version which is very sweet. Then there is a version with the herbal nature of both raw materials kept intact. The very first licorice perfume was released in 1997, Lolita Lempicka. Since then there have not been a deluge of releases but there are five which I think are worth seeking out.
I have to start with the alpha licorice perfume Lolita Lempicka by perfumer Annick Menardo. Mme Menardo takes licorice through all of its various faces. It moves through stages from herbal lozenge to red licorice whips. It was the answer to those who thought Thierry Mugler Angel was too sweet back in the 1990’s.
Christian Dior La Collection Privee Eau Noire by perfumer Francis Kurkdjian. Eau Noire is primarily an immortelle perfume but licorice plays a vital part in the final moments. M. Kurkdjian wanted an herbal beginning which he uses clary sage and thyme for. In the base he uses a very herbal licorice as the bookend around which to wrap the immortelle. It is these choices which make Eau Noire the excellent perfume it is.
Hermes Hermessence Brin de Reglisse by perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena. This fragrance is a study in the herbal nature of licorice and lavender together. It is all accomplished in M. Ellena’s characteristic transparent style. It is a marvel that this never becomes oppressively sweet or overtly cloying; it stays right in the pocket all the way through.
Serge Lutens Boxeuses is one of the best perfumes in the entire collection. Rich plum, animalic castoreum, refined leather and a fabulously intense licorice. Perfumer Christopher Sheldrake creates a brooding snarling masterpiece with these four notes. Not for the timid to be sure.
I met independent perfumer Jessica September Buchanan at Sniffapalooza six years ago when she debuted her perfume 1000 Flowers Reglisse Noire. It was love at first sniff. Revisiting it again for this piece it is amazing what Ms. Buchanan elicits from her keynote with a judiciously chosen set of supporting cast. Pepper and shiso capture the greener aspects. Ginger and cacao provide contrast. The base is a gorgeous melding of the licorice into an earthy woody base of cedar, vetiver, and patchouli. It still remains one of the most impressive first releases I’ve smelled from an independent perfumer.
Hopefully these choices have you craving a bit of herbal-tinged candy. Try these five of my favorites.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
Once the gourmand style of perfume had been created with the launch of Thierry Mugler Angel in 1992 a deluge of imitators followed. One common flaw to most of these was they all decided to work on the sweet shop side of the edible olfactory. That sort of slavish devotion to the candy floss character of Angel led to cloyingly overbalanced sugar bombs. As with every trend in perfumery it got to the point that I would steel myself for the onslaught of ethyl maltol every time I was told this was a new gourmand fragrance. It took five years for someone to try a different tack. Perfumer Annick Menardo would look to the candy aisle for inspiration too but she reached for a package of licorice when she composed Lolita Lempicka Perfume.
By 1997, when Lolita Lempicka Perfume was released, there were no fragrances which featured licorice previously. It would become a trendsetter in that respect and over the last seventeen years some of the most talented perfumers have produced their take on licorice but Mme Menardo was first. Licorice has a pronounced herbal character to it in its best forms and Mme Menardo enhances that especially in the early moments before allowing it to become a little more candy-like in the heart. All of this lies on an expertly chosen woody foundation.
Lolita Lempicka Perfume opens with a vegetal green ivy note paired with aniseed. Together this is recognizably licorice but it is almost as intense as an herbal lozenge. Mme Menardo makes sure to keep this arid and delineated until she is ready to make the licorice sweeter. She accomplishes this with the addition of cherry which turns the licorice from black to more of a Twizzler red. Like those red whips of candy it is sweet but not overly so. As contrast a bouquet of iris and violet provide a floral component which synergizes extremely well. Lolita Lempicka Perfume lingers on this sweet tinged floral heart for many hours of wear. It is only after many hours that I notice that vetiver has crept in and brought a little vanilla and bezoin to allow the sweetness to resonate at a low frequency all the way through the woody drydown.
Lolita Lempicka Perfume has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Even seventeen years later Mme Menardo’s creation still feels contemporary and different. The licorice would become a bit of Lolita Lempicka fragrance DNA. Mme Menardo has made eighteen more Lolita Lempicka fragrances and every one of them has a nod to licorice in some way. It is a brilliant stroke to brand the perfume brand with a particular note. That is the advantage of being first it allows for a perfumer to make something their very own. When it comes to licorice I always think back to Lolita Lempicka Perfume every time I smell it in a new fragrance and it still stands up favorably to the comparison. This Discount Diamond can regularly be found for less than $30/oz.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.