En Passant Eau de Parfum by Frédéric Malle Review

Collage of En Passant by Frederic Malle and its notes, including lilac, petitgrain, cucumber, wheat, and watery notes.

En Passant: it’s everyone’s least favorite pre-game chess quibble, and also a pretty, pensive aquatic lilac perfume.

The Olivia Giacobetti signature of too-clean-but-not-soapy green smells is always impressive and pretty, though it’s often a bit too watery and delicate for me personally. En Passant is no exception. This is Giacobetti at her finest: incredibly watery, delicate, freshly-cut lilac flowers in a vase.

Something about scents like this one often reminds me of sunscreen and coconut, even when it isn’t there (like in the gorgeous Philosykos EdP, another Giacobetti work).

A large glass jar with a spigot filled with cool, chilled cucumber water.

Something in them is so squeaky clean, avoiding the dirt and moss that pair so naturally with greens and also the soap that goes so easily with florals or fruits, that the scent ends up in a lotion uncanny valley. Not soapy. More like sappy, or milky, or sunscreen-like. Creamy. Smooth. En Passant really leans into the lotion vibe with the fateful addition of fresh green cucumber.

To be fair, clean lotion scents are not for me. I like moss and grime and animals and dirt. Nonetheless, this is cute and summery and will please lovers of fresh aquatic florals very much.

Yes, this is a freshly-cut lilac standing in a blue glass vase of aquatic, perfumey water atop the piano. Rather than going towards soap as many clean florals do, En Passant leans into the aquatic notes, with the cool, spa-treatment-lotion nuances of cucumber. You’ve gotta like that calone-y melon-y aquatic perfume smell to like this one.

A stalk of a dried ripened wheat plant.

I don’t get any kind of “bread note” from the wheat, but perhaps it adds a bit of texture. It doesn’t feel like a gourmand suggestion of grain the way the sesame note feels bread-like in Hermès’ Hermessence Ambre Narguile, for instance. A few reviewers have noted they smell something like a hint of far-off baking bread in En Passant, though, which sounds lovely.

The petitgrain here provides the green of the stem, and the lilac gently wafts in and out of the scent. It cannot be forced. You cannot bury your nose in your wrist and expect to find lilac obediently waiting there. Rather, the lilac comes out in the moments when you least expect it, touching you with its beauty.

A light green slice of cucumber.

The trouble is that the performance, sillage, and longevity are all rather weak. This is more of an aquatic cucumber skin scent with a hint of lilac than a true floral scent. It’s all but gone in two to three hours.

Unexpectedly, something in this felt really familiar. I realized that this smells quite a bit like Liz Claiborne’s Lucky You, with its aquatic water hyacinth surrounded by water and greens. That perfume is much less expensive, lasts longer, and projects better, though it admittedly leans on the typical department store aquatic soap smell for longevity, while En Passant gracefully bows its head at the end of its short clean-but-soapless life.

If you like (or think you might like) En Passant and aren’t bothered by a touch of designer soap, try Lucky You and see how it fares as a dupe.

A purple lilac branch.

If you’re looking for a lilac scent that leans more in the direction of decadent ice-cream-sundae delicious, go with Pacifica’s French Lilac. It, too, is much cheaper than En Passant, and is a much better encapsulation of the rich, purple, dessert-like high of burying your nose in a blooming lilac bush.

But if you want a delicate, aquatic sort of lilac, one that sits pensively atop a piano in a living room where you’re not allowed to sit on the couch, and you enjoy the smell of cucumber lotion, then En Passant is for you. It really is quite pretty, but for the egregious Frédéric Malle price you should be sure that it’s exactly what you’re looking for.

A single knight chess piece carved out of palisander rosewood.

Also, if you’re into these sorts of very pretty, fragile, delicate flowers, freshly cut and standing in a vase, try Diptyque’s Olene alongside this one. Olene is all jasmine, wisteria, and honeysuckle, but the pure, freshly-cut flower vibe is very similar.

Pretty, ephemeral, and clean. Beautiful and pensive. Still more fun than arguing about whether or not you agreed to allowing a particularly annoying French chess variant.


Round clear glass bottle of En Passant Eau de Parfum by Frederic Malle.

Where to Find En Passant Eau de Parfum by Frédéric Malle

You can find samples and decants of En Passant EdP at Scent Split.

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