French Lilac Perfume by Pacifica Review

Collage of French Lilac by Pacifica and its notes, including lilac, ylang-ylang, heliotrope, hyacinth, and nectarine.

I’m not a florals person. Categorically.

When I look for new scents to try, I don’t tend to seek out and sample floral scents. Especially not decadent sweet ones. Sure, when I was a young college weirdo I’d wear straight rose and jasmine and orange blossom oils as fragrance, but nowadays I tend to prefer green things, woody things, weird filthy mossy things.

Pacifica’s French Lilac is none of those things. It’s not at all woody or earthy or mossy. Perhaps there is just a whisper of green around the edges, but only in the way that a real flower smells, at its center, just a tiny bit green. Nope, this is a rich purple lilac floral perfume. Nothing more and nothing less.

So why is it one of the best things I’ve ever smelled?

French Lilac delivers the next best thing to shoving your nose into a real blooming lilac bush. It’s a rich, heady, dizzyingly decadent floral, sumptuous and sweet, delicious and unexpectedly sensual.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Anaïs Nin. I read at night, and during the day I find that her rich, sumptuous, gloriously feminine prose colors in everything I do and see.

There’s something aesthetically cohesive and so incredibly delicious about it all.

A glass of white wine with a lightly golden hue.

Laying about, the lights warm and dim, reading the copy of Delta of Venus I got out of the library, applying Palmer’s cocoa butter lotion to soften my dry hands, applying argan oil I got at Rite Aid in the clearance section for a dollar and sixty-seven scents because the cap was broken to moisturize the dry skin around my mouth.

Taking a glorious bath — not even a hot bath, but a hot shower that turns into a cool bath, one that feels like a pool in summer, taking a cool bath and actually enjoying it — and lying on my back in the bath staring up at the ceiling, at that beautiful little far-away rectangle of ceiling. Doing my stretches.

Nibbling on white chocolate and pink chocolate and 86% intense dark chocolate, reading difficult Ukrainian poetry, wrestling with Serhiy Zhadan, singing in choirs and singing in public and sleeping on a newly thrifted silk pillowcase and indulging in twelve dollar Polish mulled wine.

A glorious new era of sumptuous pleasures, each one of which feels incredibly refined and yet costs me very little. And Pacifica’s French Lilac fits right in. I’m wearing two to three sprays of it through it all, on my neck and chest and wrists. It adds a dimension to it all, transforms my bedroom, my apartment into a cerise and lilac and golden den of hazy pleasure.

Everything turns to a shower of rich, decadent, honeyed lilacs. And it feels like sunshine and vanilla-bean-flecked ice cream and pure yellow gold.

Two gold rings, as are customary for wedding rings in some cultures.

I’d always considered French Lilac a soliflor, a perfume focused only on one flower — lilacs. According to online fragrance encyclopedias, though, other notes are at play here. Lilac is supposedly supported here by hyacinth, heliotrope, magnolia leaves, nectarine, and ylang-ylang.

Honestly? I don’t really get any of these. I can believe they’re here, but they’re seamlessly blended into supporting a perfectly rich, three-dimensional lilac accord.

It’s an absolutely brilliant composition, one that combines a number of disparate elements to create a live purple lilac flower. I can see rich buttery heliotrope and perhaps the dripping sultry juice of nectarine creating that rich honeyed effect in the middle of French Lilac, while ylang-ylang sharpens its sensual, seductive edges.

A glass jar filled with pink, white, and blue hyacinth flowers.

I honestly don’t know where a hyacinth note might be in French Lilac. Hyacinths can smell quite a bit like lilacs to begin with, but the aroma is generally much lighter, more delicate, fresher towards vegetal green, aquatic, and spicy facets. Perhaps the hyacinth note here adds a bit of fresh air to the composition, keeping things from getting too heavy. Here and there there is a lighter moment of something that feels almost like lily of the valley, a cool, refreshing breeze on warm skin that makes French Lilac smell like summer.

I also have no idea what magnolia leaves are supposed to smell like. Magnolia leaves don’t really smell like much at all.

I say “perhaps” about all this because French Lilac is seamless. It simply smells like real, vivid, living lilac flowers swaying gently in the wind. It feels richer, more sumptuous, sultry, and decadent than a single flower’s concentrated essential oil alone. French Lilac simply smells like burying your nose in a fresh lilac flower in late April and early May.

And I don’t make that comment lightly. One of my greatest fragrance frustrations and dissatisfactions is the rote smallness of most floral notes in perfumery. It seems that so many floral notes get shrunk down into something so small, so frail, so fragile and delicate and thin in order to slip into a perfume bottle. There is such a rich and dizzying bigness to real flowers in bloom.

Botanical illustration of neroli, the flowers of the orange tree, on a branch with leaves.

When live flowers are in bloom in your home or garden or in a park, it seems that no one can think straight without the scent of the blooms wafting straight up into your brain. My richest memories of this are of the lemon and orange trees in my house growing up, whose wafting white floral scent made the whole house dizzy and drunk with pleasure for several weeks of the year. Last summer I lived in a town lined up and down the streets with linden trees, and the light, almost aquatic fresh scent of yellow linden blossoms is the glorious backdrop in my mind of that summer.

So, too, it goes with lilacs. On my college campus there were colossal pale purple lilac bushes between the library and one of the English faculty buildings, and I’d walk that way every single day in spring to waft that rich, honeyed, heavenly lilac breeze.

And that dizzying saccharine lilac air, concentrated, is exactly what French Lilac delivers. So far, only this perfume and Serge Lutens’ night jasmine perfume Bois de Joie have conveyed to me that intoxicating looming blooming largeness and largesse of real fragrant flowers.

Pacifica’s French Lilac is my favorite lilac perfume in the whole world. It might be my favorite floral perfume in the whole world. I like it more than Frédéric Malle’s En Passant, which costs six to ten times as much per milliliter and lasts a tenth of the time.

Apart from being far cheaper and lasting far longer, how does French Lilac compare to En Passant?

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

En Passant is much more watery, delicate, aquatic. It’s cut lilac flowers complete with the oozing green stems, sitting in a little blue glass bottle atop a black fortepiano. It’s a quintessential Olivia Giacobetti perfume, light and airy and greenish and incredibly clean without being at all soapy. En Passant is fragile and light and delicate, a dainty watercress salad of a perfume. And it’s all colored in by a calone-y fresh cucumber accord.

If you prefer florals that are pretty in a faint, watery way, you’ll likely like En Passant more. (You might also quite like Liz Claiborne’s Lucky You, whose water hyacinth note has a similar aquatic effect. Or you may enjoy Diptyque’s exquisitely pretty Olene. It’s honeysuckle, wisteria, narcissus, and jasmine, not lilac, but there’s a similar decadent sweetness offset by watery green notes there.)

French Lilac, on the other hand, is a grandiose, decadent vanilla ice cream sundae of a perfume. It’s incredibly honeyed and rich, with a character a bit like heliotrope but without an ounce of powder. It’s the delicious nectar that I imagine draws bees into the depths of flowers, dizzy and laughing and drunk.

It’s the sort of perfume that lives well, laughs loud, and loves deeply. Entirely unhedged by aquatic or soapy notes, this is a raw realistic floral through and through.

It feels sugary — not like an over-sugared sweet perfume, but like the genuine crystallizing sugary crystals at the bottom of a jar of good honey, but diffuse and soft, like smooth white chocolate and vanilla bean ice cream. It isn’t the sticky artificial sugar of hard candy, but something incredibly soft and pure.

A glass jar of liquid honey wound with twine.

I keep mentioning honey, because, while there is no honey note here, it really is a good touch point for visualizing French Lilac. That dizzyingly rich decadent sweet scent at the heart of a flower that eventually makes its way to the beehive is exactly what this perfume delivers. It doesn’t smell at all like honey, nor like the perfume industry’s simulacrum thereof, but the character of the photorealistic lilac flowers here is giddy, rich, and honey-sweet.

I’m someone who is generally quite sensitive to excess sweetness in perfume. But the rich decadent sweetness of French Lilac feels exactly right. It’s the natural nectar of lilac flowers and nothing more. It’s the sort of sweetness that makes you wonder why we ever invented all these candies and saccharine fragrances when nature has given us such gorgeous gifts.

My bottle of French Lilac is somewhere between five and ten years old, and it has aged well. My mother bought this bottle for herself at Whole Foods ages ago, adored it, and inevitably got sick of it. She, like me, is incredibly fickle, and tends to prefer eternal sampling to having one signature scent for too long. She moved on to Sarah Jessica Parker’s Lovely, which held her attention the longest. After she tired of that too, I got her into Hermès’ Jardin line, especially Un Jardin en Méditerranée, and then Chloé’s Nomade Eau de Parfum.

Two years ago, having gotten my mother hooked on new perfumes, I took her old bottle of French Lilac when she offered it up. And oh, what a treasure it has been.

A cluster of majestic purple heliotrope flowers with white and yellow centers.

In the years that have passed, the liquid within has darkened from a pale parchment off-white to a rich, dark ambery orange. And yet, the perfume hasn’t turned. Perhaps it feels richer and more concentrated than it once did, but the character of the perfume feels precisely the same as it warms up and suffuses a heavenly lilac aura around your body.

I hadn’t worn French Lilac much over the last few years. But somehow, the unexpectedly gorgeous orange blossom note in Maison Martin Margiela’s Matcha Meditation awakened in me a craving for rich blooming florals, and I found myself with a paucity of options in my all-but-florals-free collection.

And so, last week I found myself reaching for French Lilac again. And it’s exactly what I was looking for. On these chilly February days, French Lilac is a delicious ray of summer. It feels like sunshine on the skin and ice cream enjoyed on the back porch surrounded by blooming lilac bushes.

A magnolia flower, with waxy round white leaves and a golden center.

If, for some reason, I were to get married tomorrow, French Lilac is what I would wear. Not because it’s clean and pure and perfectly virginal. Not at all. No, this is a bride who knows how to have fun, knows when to throw tradition aside, who wears a vibrant purple wedding dress and laughs so loud the music of it rings all around her. There’s something gloriously celebratory about French Lilac, something so happy, so summery, so rich and so very warm.

There’s something in French Lilac that reminds me just a little bit of sunscreen. Not of real sunscreen, but of a Platonic ideal of sunscreen, a hazy memory of warm salty skin and long walks on the beach. Something in it feels so beautifully sun-warmed and nostalgic.

Oftentimes when I say a floral reminds me of sunscreen, like Hermès’ Un Jardin sur la Lagune or Serge Lutens’ Datura Noir, it’s a negative note, something that feels cheap and vaguely coconutty or salty and leaves me feeling a little miffed. Not so here. No, this is a dizzying warm delicious summer sweetness that’s hazy and sun-kissed in all the right ways.

French Lilac is such an intensely photorealistic perfume that you may find yourself unearthing memories through it you didn’t know you had. When my boyfriend smelled it, he smiled and said it brought him back to the warm spring day when he played his very first Pokémon game.

All of Pacifica’s products are always vegan and cruelty-free. So if that’s important to you and you love the heady smell of blooming flowers in spring, you couldn’t do better than French Lilac.

It’s also almost criminally inexpensive. With perfume and cologne prices skyrocketing lately, I find it incredibly comforting to know that one of my favorites is so incredibly affordable.

Half of a cut-open nectarine, with luscious bright yellow flesh and a porous red seed.

Some fragrance snobs might implicitly look down on me for saying a Pacifica perfume sold at Target is one of my very favorite fragrances in the world. But it is, and I’m not shy about saying it. I’m only a little reticent to say it because I don’t want everyone to learn my secret, but it’s just too good not to share.

The sillage, projection, and longevity of French Lilac are all phenomenal, and the scent is divine the whole way through its delicious evolution. The perfume is linear, smelling exactly the same — and just as intoxicating — from beginning to end. It fades gradually, with hints lingering for just about twenty-four hours on my skin.

French Lilac projects louder and lingers longer than most perfumes I’ve tried. It truly delivers on the big blooming intoxicating fullness of the smell of real lilac flowers. I walked into the office the other day wearing just two sprays, and my boss remarked with a sigh of pleasure that something smelled like lilacs.

Everyone in my office is currently required to wear a mask and her desk is some ten feet from mine. It’s a powerful perfume.

A white dish with black dots around the rim full of stringy yellow and green ylang-ylang flowers.

In fact, I can’t find any information on the concentration of French Lilac except referring to it exclusively as a perfume. It seems that this is a true Perfume or Parfum, not an Eau de Parfum or anything else. This means French Lilac is at least twenty to thirty percent raw fragrance materials by volume.

And I believe it. This is a fragrance that’s just that concentrated and potent. One spray will defuse gloriously throughout a room. I think it’s the strongest fragrance in my collection.

A purple lilac branch.

And yet, never has French Lilac given me a headache or any other adverse reaction. Ever. It’s always in the background, a delicious pale purple and golden ribbon of pleasure throughout my day. It strikes the perfect balance between glorious sweet decadence and a certain floating lightness. It floats like a butterfly and stings like an incredibly fragrant nectar-drunk bee. How I wish I knew who composed this gorgeous thing.

French Lilac is a special favorite of mine, and the price point is simply incredible for a fragrance so realistic, so gorgeous, and so strong. If you love the smell of real flowers, with their sweet honeyed nectar center, do yourself a service and give this one a try.

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