Under the Lemon Tree Eau de Toilette by Maison Martin Margiela Review
On first smelling this, I had the same exact realization as that time in high school when I got really sick after a tick bit me: It’s lime!
This is no lemon. At best, it’s a nondescript muddle of citrus, with a hint of what might be lemon present in the first minute of the opening. From then on, this is a lime scent, an interesting choice for a fragrance called Under The Lemon Tree, to say the least.
This fresh sparkling citrus opening is something a touch like limoncello, except not creamy. Perhaps in the first moments it’s a little like a dry sort of lemon, not quite squeaky-floor-cleaner-like, but not like a real lemon either. It’s much more tart than any lemon I know. There’s no question it’s a lime.
Perhaps the intention of the mystery Maison Martin Margiela nose — seriously, does anyone know what nose composed this? — was to present an underripe sort of lemon, surrounded by snappy green twigs. But a lemon is a lemon, and a lime is a lime. This is a lime scent.
It’s a rather delicious surprise of a lime note, luscious and tart, mouth-wateringly sour. Though it isn’t paired with much sweetness here, it makes me think of key lime pie and other delicious lime-flavored things, providing a lovely almost-gourmand effect.
There’s something clean and green I can’t quite place around the edges of the lime. Perhaps it’s a general fresh-and-clean-ness brightening the citrus, but this doesn’t feel at all like a soap or any sort of cleaning product — an impressive feat for a sparkling summer scent as citrus-forward as this one. Perhaps the mystery nose originally tried a lemon-based formula but found the hand-soap-and-glass-cleaner association too overwhelming, before switching to lime.
But then, perhaps it’s the tea. The green tea and mate are not overwhelmingly pronounced here. They provide a faint hint of bitterness and earthiness, but are generally sanitized and kept in line with the lime-led fresh shape of Under The Lemon Tree. The tea here isn’t gourmand. It doesn’t feel drinkable at all, but more like a scent for a too-clean hand soap sort of product. That cleaned-up-green-tea smell might be what I’m getting around the edges, keeping the lime in shape and from wafting off entirely into the land of lush tart desserts.
The petitgrain also offers some snappy green dressing to the lemon. It’s a rather faint hint of tender woods and bitter greens that hides in the background. Under The Lemon Tree isn’t about green-ness or bitterness. It’s not a Diptyque-esque attempt to capture the soul of the whole tree, as with the fig tree in Philosykos or the orange tree in Eau Des Sens. Although the general mission of the Replica line — recreating particular places — and the note pyramid suggest an attempt was made, ultimately this is nothing close to even a perfumer’s approximation to the green-bitter-woody-fruity smell of a fruit tree.
All in all, the many facets of green tea, mate, and petitgrain are left unexplored; these are only small supporting roles propping up what is a rather straightforward scent of lime.
Under the Lemon Tree is quite pretty, but a scent modeled after a lemon tree it is not. There’s no lemon, and there’s almost no tree. This is a lime and warm-spicy-wood scent. Those things might look a little like a lemon and a lemon tree, respectively, but the scents are quite distinct.
The lime note is pretty, but rather unremarkable on its own. The tea, mate, and petitgrain are barely there. To me, what really makes Under The Lemon Tree a pleasure is the warm spicy wood accord that starts to develop after the lime has fully settled in.
A couple of hours in, something quite warm and spicy starts stirring under the citrus. It’s not listed as a note, but it makes me think of sandalwood. Delectable and comforting and almost edible, this is a warm-spicy, cinnamon-adjacent wood with a slightly creamy center. I don’t think this is a full-on cinnamon note, but rather, one of those sandalwood notes that almost smells like warm cinnamon. I’ve found these before in Chloe’s Nomade (where it’s paired with a full-on cinnamon note) and Diptyque’s Tam Dao Eau de Parfum (not the Eau de Toilette, which focuses on cedar).
In Tam Dao, I likened this to a batch of warm medium-brown wooden gingerbread cookies, a swirl of edible warm spices and something this unquestionably wood. Here, it’s more like a cinnamon-y wooden key lime pie crust, filled with sour green citrus and cream along with a dash of spice.
(Is there cedar here? Maybe. I’m not usually very good at smelling it. I’m sure I’m getting something like sandalwood, though it’s very possible that’s an impressive trick of the light involving cedar and coriander.)
The cinnamon-y sandalwood accord is given another dimension by cardamom. It brings more heat and warmth to the mixture, a touch of unsweet spice. The fresh green spicy facet of the note blends well with the petitgrain and tea notes, strengthening what is still an incredibly faint undercurrent of green. Mostly, the cardamom adds more heat and texture to the warm-spicy-woody accord balancing out the piquant lime.
This is joined by a subtle dash of coriander. (Did you know coriander is just the seed of the cilantro plant?) This note delivers an extra dose of warm spice, browner and less green than cardamom, reminiscent of a softer, nuttier cinnamon. This faint nuttiness blends into the comforting mix of woods and warm spices, rounding their edges and melding them together.
There’s a smooth creaminess that emerges in the heart of Under the Lemon Tree that’s exactly what I was craving to match the tart citrus in the opening. It’s partly a facet of that delicious sandalwood, partly a uniquely foamy and almost-lactonic musk in the base.
Mostly, though, this slightly sweet frothing effect is achieved with a very gentle white labdanum. The labdanum — which, for some reason, has been labeled as rock rose by the brand, which is one name of the labdanum plant but has nothing to do with roses proper — lends a light vanillic property to the mixture. This blends perfectly with the spices and woods’ suggestion of something that is almost, but not quite, gourmand. There’s not nearly enough sweetness here to go near actual dessert territory, but this undercurrent of labdanum softness cushions the sour lime in a way that only builds on our look-but-don’t-eat wooden key lime pie.
The effect of this creaminess alongside the hint of a tea note is reminiscent of something like a rich, frothing matcha latte. It’s not downright milky, but there’s a texture reminiscent of milk foam here, along with the vanillic signature of labdanum and the obligatory dash of atmospheric musk. The soft creaminess does an excellent job of tying together the tart lime and the warm woody notes, but it’s always in the background, never taking center stage.
I’m impressed with how long Maison Martin Margiela managed to make the lime note stick around. Citrus top notes are usually fickle, ephemeral things, but at least a hint of lime stays with Under the Lemon Tree almost the whole way through. The scent is entirely gone in six to seven hours — not ground-breaking performance by any means, but respectable for a citrus-forward scent.
Lime is a surprisingly under-utilized central citrus note in perfumery, and this was a really nice — albeit unexpected — example of what it can do. Don’t be afraid of its sourness: it’s propped up by warm spicy, woody, and creamy notes that keep this from being a citronella bomb. Light and fresh, this would make a great ucomplicated choice for a summer daytime fragrance.
Under the Lemon Tree is simple, straightforward, and linear. Clean and unchallenging, you won’t find anything particularly photorealistic in this, and you certainly won’t find a recreation of the spot under a lemon tree. It feels like this concept was awkwardly jammed into the Replica line, as if some mysterious Maison Martin Margiela perfumer came up with this in her spare time and the guy across from him had a Replica formula deadline looming and no ideas.
There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but Under the Lemon Tree is pleasant, if not at all what I had expected. Lush and clean, it plays with the lime note in a perfect spot of palatable-but-not-edible. Though it flirts with ideas that might become gourmand at another concentration, it ultimately stays firmly in the realm of clean and tidy scents that don’t make you hungry.
I don’t feel particularly compelled to try this one again. Like several others in the Replica line, I find that this composition is fine and pleasant, but not in any way remarkable. The marketing of the line banks on matching you to the particular Replicas that speak to you in some nostalgic way. None of them have really spoken to me personally, and I’ve only been wowed by the craftmanship of one so far (the impressive photorealism of By the Fireplace).
It seems like this is a like-but-not-love for many people. It’s simply not really groundbreaking or new in any way for the Maison Martin Margiela pricetag. I’m sure there are less expensive lime scents out there that have a similar effect, but I also can’t name any.
If you enjoy the Replica line and like the look of these notes, though, go ahead and try Under the Lemon Tree. Even if you don’t fall for it head-first, it’ll probably make you smile.