Encre Noire Eau de Toilette by Lalique Review
This is synthetic shadows and disposable pen ink on a bed of Iso E Super, minty cypress, and oozing vetiver.
I’m not sure whether it’s my nose, my skin, my sample, the fragrance, the weather… but I can hardly smell Lalique’s classic cologne Encre Noire. It’s an instant super-faint skin scent, and I have to bury my nose in my arm straight out of the bottle and breathe deep to get even a hint of this. Less than two hours in, I’m unsure whether a tiny hint of it is still there or I’m imagining it.
What I do get here is a cool, slightly spicy vetiver. This is not the vetiver of freshly cut grass in the hot sun, or of barbershop soap scents. In short, this is not the vetiver of Guerlain’s classic Vetiver cologne.
No, this vetiver is cold like mint, with an odd quasi-herbal almost-sweet nuance. Something in the drydown feels like basil to me, but it’s so incredibly faint I may well be imagining it.
The opening of Encre Noire is crisp and bright in a way that’s reminiscent of citrus. In the first minute, the airy green cypress is at its most convincing, bursting and almost juicy. It feels cool and frosted in a way that’s like mint. There’s more sweetness to it than I might have expected. It’s not downright candy-like, but there’s definitely some sugar to these cypress-green mints.
So-called cashmere wood is an entirely made up wood that doesn’t exist. This is really just the plain ol’ cashmeran molecule. That being said, the use of cashmeran was a solid choice here. There’s a pleasant softness to the cashmeran that is refreshingly different from conventional sweet musk. It’s… well… muskier.
This doesn’t smell as intensely and uncannily like a cashmere sweater as Penhaligon’s Ruthless Countess Dorothea — not even close — but there’s an almost-wooly gray softness here that makes for quite a comforting base.
The cool nature of the vetiver is shaped by a coniferous-feeling, pine-y cypress. This is less of a fully fleshed-out cypress note than a general cool extract. Menthol is to mint as this is to cypress. It’s a central coolness, but not a fully-feathered cypress branch.
This is simple, linear, and the kind of cool that isn’t meant for hot weather. It’s cold, but the synthetic shadowy nature of it feels like it wouldn’t jibe with stuffy heat.
This is a dark, inky, oozing sort of vetiver. It’s industrial and synthetic, a little bit harsh. There’s a dark, dripping, plasticky nature to the vetiver note that makes me think of an overflowing inkwell and stained hands.
At first I thought there’s nothing here that literally smells like ink — just inky — but I took a moment to smell some pens and I have to say, this is pen ink. Old-timey yet cheap pen ink with a chemical-fresh edge.
This is inkier, more true-to-life, and simply more pleasant than the burning-plastic ink note in the opening of Wallpaper* STEIDL’s Paper Passion, a fragrance that’s literally designed to mimic ink and paper. Sure, this is more aromatic and green than real ink, but the dark chemical base is bang-on.
There’s a vague, generic “perfumey” synthetic aura to the composition that is particularly noticeable in the opening. It’s gray, musky, and traditionally masculine, but it’s a synthetic sort of smog cloud nonetheless. It’s the first thing I noticed when I finally managed to smell anything at all on my skin, and it’s there consistently; something in the musk and vetiver accords is distractingly perfume-counter-scented.
A funny thing: I asked my parents what they thought of Encre Noire when I was visiting them for Christmas. After a blind sniff, both of them instantly described this as a feminine floral scent. Sweet but not too sweet, orchid, forest flowers — these are all the things that came to mind for them. Both of them moderately liked them, and my mother, lover of floral aquatic scents, snagged my sample of Encre Noire.
Weird, huh? And, when separated from the musky dark masculine perceptions the marketing and scent pyramid set up, I can almost kind of see it. There’s definitely a sweetness in here, more than I would have expected. The musky accord is airy in a way that I can see blending well as a component of something floral. It still doesn’t feel convincingly flower-y to me, but I can kind of see it.
None of these notes — vetiver, cypress, cashmere, musk — feel particularly naturalistic or rich. They’re one-dimensional and synthetic, carefully assembled into a dark and dripping house of cards.
I don’t get much of a woody impression here. Lots of people say Iso E Super makes up the depth of the woody character in Encre Noire. I’ve been suspecting maybe I just can’t smell Iso E Super. It’s a fairly common molecule to be anosmic to.
On me, Encre Noire is, at its heart, quite musky and topped with something like cool green cypress. I guess it’s vaguely woody in that it has that pine-y green freshness to it, but it really doesn’t feel overwhelmingly woody to me, more greenish and aromatic.
I think if this were three or five times its current strength, and those notes felt more rich, natural, and multi-dimensional, I might quite like Encre Noire. It checks all the right boxes: dark, inky, woody, unique, smooth, with nice cool coniferous woods. But as it were, things are far too faint for me to ultimately wear this scent out much. And I do wish the notes felt more natural and convincing.
I’ve heard that letting Encre Noire sit and revisiting it in cooler weather can do it good, but I’ve tried both and had no luck. I waited over a year to try my sample again, and when I did, most of what I got was very faint, perfume-y synthetic coolness and musk.
But I’ll admit it’s growing on me. This is like black pen ink sprinkled with fresh cypress twigs, and, though it’s quite faint on me, it’s a pleasure. Having to bury my nose in my wrist to get any of it is annoying, but this is quite an enjoyable cool, chemical sort of scent.
Encre Noire is definitely unique — or, at least, it was when it came out in 2006. It was definitely an innovative piece from nose Nathalie Lorson.
Since this came out I’ve seen several fragrances copy its inky musky synthetic conifer vibe. The first one that comes to mind for me is Maison Martin Margiela’s Soul of the Forest, though that one has more layers, adding flashy highlights of maple syrup and pimento. Both are very faint on me, leading me to think they both rely on the same heavy Iso E Super concoction.
I’m sad that I don’t get to fully enjoy the beauty in this, and can only get faint glimpses of what it could have been. If this one works on you, enjoy it! I wish it worked better on me.
Where to Find Encre Noire Eau de Toilette by Lalique
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