Molecule 01 Eau de Toilette by Escentric Molecules Review

Collage of Molecule 01 by Escentric Molecules and a cedar tree, sandalwood chips, wood, and a flask of bright green liquid.

“Alright,” I sighed. “This is officially phoning it in.”

It was a hazy late spring day and I was desperately trying to get back into publishing a blog post daily. I was clawing my way out of a fog of obsessive-compulsive escapades like obsessive job hunting, obsessive decluttering, and obsessive used car shopping. (At least I got a good blog post out of the decluttering.)

I don’t know why I’m writing about this like it was a while ago. It was literally yesterday. And it was 5 pm and I hadn’t applied any fragrance that morning.

The brilliant and easy solution? Wearing a perfume based entirely on an aromachemical I can’t smell and writing a gloriously short review. “I dunno. Can’t smell it. See ya.”

To be fair, nose Geza Schoen and the people behind Escentric Molecules phoned it in first. A one-ingredient perfume? Really?

Molecule 01 is the first in a series of experimental (read: brilliantly lazy) perfumes based entirely around one popular aromachemical each. This one in particular is all about Iso E Super, a musky woody molecule that pervades most new fragrance releases.

A tall cedar tree. It is coniferous, with a rounded shape.

People are usually of one of three opinions regarding Iso E Super:

  1. “Oh my God, this smells incredible! It’s like my skin but better! It’s mysterious! It’s alluring! It’s gloriously sensual!”
  2. “Every single new perfume gives me a headache and has something absolutely disgusting in it and I can’t quite place what it is.”
  3. “Huh? I don’t smell anything.”

I’ve generally considered myself largely in the camp of option 3. I’m pretty anosmic (read: can’t smell anything) to the Iso E Super molecule, but I only sorted this out fairly recently.

I often have a lot of trouble smelling cedar notes in fragrances and candles. I always just kind of assumed that the word “cedar” was thrown into the note pyramid for effect but that there wasn’t anything there, except that other people seemed to smell it just fine, complaining of pencil shavings and hampster bedding in the bases of otherwise entirely inoffensive perfumes.

The strange thing is that I can smell actual cedar wood just fine. I grew up in a house where chunks and balls of red cedar were shoved in every nook and cranny of our closets to absorb damp and keep insects away, and I adored the way they smell. How can I be anosmic to cedar without being anosmic to cedar?

The answer, as it turns out, is that I am anosmic to fake cedar. Which is to say, Iso E Super, a synthetic molecule that’s often used to bulk out cedar accords. It’s light, airy, and musky, more delicate and gauzy than true natural cedar materials. And, of course, it’s much less expensive to source.

A leather-bound book with yellowing pages flipped open to a page near the end, with a pair of glasses sitting on top of it.

But this isn’t just perfumers being cheap. It’s becoming more and more challenging to formulate perfumes made largely of natural ingredients as IFRA places increasing restrictions on them in favor of new aromachemicals. So, modern compositions increasingly rely on aromachemicals to fill out the bulk of various accords, using tiny amounts of natural materials for realism and detail.

This brings us to the Iso-E-Supermageddon. It seems like the woody musky synthetic molecule is literally everywhere.

Some fragrances I suspect a lot of Iso E Super in — mostly by omission, in that I don’t smell the prominent cedar note everyone else is picking up — include Lalique’s Encre Noire, Maison Martin Margiela’s Soul of the Forest, Maison Martin Margiela’s Whispers of the Library, and, of course, Geza Schoen’s own Paper Passion by Wallpaper* Steidl.

Iso E Super is everywhere, and, seemingly, in everything. It’s a popular component for cool, mysterious woods, musky old books, and everything in between.

A wooden box filled with leaves and citrus fruit including oranges, lemons, grapefruit, blood oranges, and clementines.

Alright, time for a correction. Molecule 01 isn’t technically composed around Iso E Super. Escentric Molecules says it is, but this is really isn’t quite true. Instead, it includes a related molecule called Iso Gamma Super.

This is a captive molecule, meaning only a certain company — in this case, IFF — is allowed to use it. It’s similar to Iso E Super, but heavier, woodier, more mineralic. Many smell a prominent citrus aspect in it, bright and fresh, with a frankincense edge. The use of this captive molecule ensures that you can’t exactly replicate the scent of Molecule 01 my mixing up a dilution of Iso E Super yourself.

The rest of the Molecule series is comprised of other common single aromachemicals. For those keeping score at home: Molecule 01 is Iso E Super (or, really, Iso Gamma Super), Molecule 02 is ambroxan, Molecule 03 is vetiveryle acetate, Molecule 04 is Javanol, and Molecule 05 is cashmeran.

A cross-section of a cut-open tree.

It’s a gimmick, but a clever one. These one-note compositions are simple to compose and inexpensive to produce while maintaining a certain mysterious allure. They’re popular choices for layering with other fragrances, or wearing alone for some sort of mysterious my-skin-but-better effect.

And so here I was, applying the perfume I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to smell at all. Completely and utterly phoning it in.

But content is content. And fragrance is fragrance.

In the vial and initially on the skin, I smelled nothing but the faint astringency of perfumer’s alcohol. Absolutely nothing. It was kind of funny, really. Molecule 01 felt a little like the emperor’s new clothes of perfume: is anyone else really smelling it either?

But then.

A small clear glass filled with rich, deep brown dried cinnamon spice sticks.

After ten to twenty minutes, something unexpected happened. I started to smell… something. It was incredibly faint, but it was there. I had absolutely slathered the perfume onto my forearms, and I could just barely get a whiff of it burying my nose in my skin.

My first thought, oddly enough, was pumpkin spice. Some sort of warm spice that makes me think of autumn drinks and ripened squash, laced through with a shot of sweetness. Not exactly the airy musky cedar wood others have experienced.

With time, though, I could detect a faint cedar-like scent that followed the perplexing warm spice opening. It was incredibly quiet, but it was there. Cool, faint, nondescript but vaguely cedar-like wood hovered back behind the perplexing pumpkin spice latte unfolding on my skin.

Around an hour in, something clicked, and that strange sweet pumpkin spice started to feel to me more like a very sweet, slightly creamy sandalwood. I often smell something like cinnamon in certain sandalwood notes, and it was like that here, just even sweeter and creamier and with more spices thrown in the mix. Sure, this pumpkin spice latte could sort of be a very sweet woody note if I really squint.

Such was my experience of Molecule 01. Faint cool cedar fighting a losing battle against a very Christian-girl-autumn sweet sandalwood.

A pile of santal sandalwood chips, also known as santalum album.

It’s hard to tell how long this fragrance clung to my skin, since it’s so very faint to my nose. From the very beginning, I really had to squint with my nose to get any of it, and it did not get any louder with time. I could vaguely detect it on my skin for about ten hours. After that, I’m pretty sure I was imagining it, the same way your brain thinks it hears a familiar pop tune somewhere in the sound of burbling crowds or creepy ambient whale song in the hum of your refrigerator late at night.

I’m glad I tried Molecule 01. It was an interesting experience that confirmed that, while not completely and entirely anosmic to Iso E Super, I find it rather difficult to pick up.

So why review it?

Because a fair percentage of people can’t really smell Iso E Super — or, in this case, its variant Iso Gamma Super. And isn’t the beauty of an elusive, mysterious my-skin-but-better perfume picking out your own particular interpretation of it? Even if that interpretation is, for some reason, sandalwood spice latte?

Molecule 01 is an informative experience. It’s a I’ll-try-anything-once experience. It’s an adventure in simplicity and a useful layering tool and it is not the sort of perfume you should ever, ever blind buy without sampling unless you’re already confident you know what Iso E Super smells like. Otherwise, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with a pricey full bottle of headache, or a fragrance that smells like nothing at all.

But, if you’re lucky, this could just be your perfect faintly sweet, woody, musky skin scent.

Clear glass rectangular bottle of Molecule 01 Eau de Toilette by Escentric Molecules with an abstract gray and purple print.

Where to Find Molecule 01 Eau de Toilette by Escentric Molecules

You can find samples and decants of Molecule 01 EdT at Scent Decant, Scent Split, and MicroPerfumes.

Want more? You can find full bottles at the Perfume Spot, Jomashop, and MicroPerfumes.

These are affiliate links. If you click on them and buy something, the seller pays me a commission, at no extra cost to you. You can learn more about them here.

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