Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Niche Spotlight: Montale

Montale is niche to the niche-est.  There is just one Montale boutique, tucked in the ritzy and elegant Place Vendome, which opened less than 10 years ago.  You can walk by it a dozen times and not even notice it - which in fact I've done.  Walking into the store is overwhelming - Montale bottles its perfumes in a special aluminum bottle in shiny gold, pink, white and black, and the boutique is packed wall to wall with these shiny, ultra-modern bottles.  Secondly, because Montale focuses heavily on the use of aoud (or oud, or oudh), which has a very intense smell, the store is fairly dense with fragrance.  In fact, sitting here with just a handful of test strips from my visit to Montale almost 12 hours ago, my nose is filled with aoud!
credit: www.montaleparfums.com
Place Vendome. credit: perfume rookie

The first thing I thought at Montale was that I wasn't going to like any of these perfumes. I'm not flashy or shiny and so far I haven't enjoyed musky or particularly strong fragrances.  At the same time, the Perfume Rookie isn't just about what I like - it's about exploring the world of perfumes.  So I was determined to give Montale a fair shake.

Montale has many, many different perfumes.  In the aoud category alone, there are over 26 scents.  Black Aoud is one of their classics, and while I don't think I could wear it, it is certainly a distinctive smell.  It smells like a shuk in the Middle East, like something earthy and raw and sensual. I much preferred White Aoud, which captured some of the earthiness but with a much lighter take.  Not surprisingly for my tastes, White Aoud involves amber and vanilla, which seem to be a recurring theme in smells that attract me. But there's also some floral notes in there, and the scent lasts a long time - at least on the test strips, both Black Aoud and White Aoud are still going strong.

Golden Aoud is somewhere in between the two - not as intense as Black Aoud but somehow spicier than White Aoud.  White Aoud is something you could wear on a Tuesday morning - Golden Aoud has more of an edge, more of a drinks-on-a-Thursday feel. 

Moon Aoud and Dark Aoud are the newest aouds, launched last year.  Moon Aoud seems aptly named - there's a lot going on, and at times it almost seems unearthly but not unpleasant.  I asked the girl helping me what was in it, and she had no idea (minus points for the boutique!).  But in what turned into a great perfume moment, the girl stepped out from behind the counter, looked up, and said, "Qu'est-ce que dans le Moon Aoud?"  And a woman's voice from above floated down, "Saffron. Sandalwood."

Unfortunately for the Perfume Rookie, the salesgirl helping me was a bit of a dud.  I tried to ask many of my usual questions - which is the most popular, the best seller, which do Americans prefer - and whether I asked in French or English, she had not a clue. 

Two non-aoud scents that I really enjoyed were Sandflowers and Sunset Flowers.  The latter was the first one I was shown, and its bright freshness makes me guess that Americans (or at least, white Americans) like me gravitate toward this scent, which brings to mind summer evenings and polo shirts among other things.  Of everything I smelled, Sunset Flowers smelled the least like anything else from the Montale line. Happily, it seems to have the longevity of the aouds. 

Sandflowers was a surprise for me.  At first whiff, I didn't like it.  It was too...sandy.  It almost smelled gritty.  After a few minutes, however, the sand settled and the sea was there. It was crisp and a little spicy, like some kind of eastern breeze carrying scents from the tress and flowers.  I read a review of this perfume that described it as "what Sandflowers was meant to evoke...an oasis in the middle of a desert. A small ocean paradise in the midst of a vast dry sandy wasteland."  Absolutely.  This is a scent that transports you.

I've been told that Montale perfumes as particularly popular with Middle Eastern women - and in fact I watched one woman in her hijab and voluminous robes shop in the store with her husband. Aoud of course comes from the Middle East (well, technically a tree in India, but the scent is Middle Eastern/Arab in origin), so this makes sense.  But one lesson I learned from my visit to Montale is that you can't judge a perfume line by its shiny intimidating bottles and moronic salesgirls.  These are sophisticated perfumes that can be enjoyed by many. And I didn't even get to smell the chocolate scent!