When I first heard about Noël au Balcon from Etat Libre d'Orange, it was being offered as a limited edition fragrance for the 2007 holiday season. I was disappointed that I wouldn't have a chance to try it, since it was only available at Sephora in France. Fortunately, Noël au Balcon joined the permanent Etat Libre line-up about a year ago, and now that I've had a chance to wear it, the season seems right for a review. Noël au Balcon's composition includes notes of tangerine, vanilla, honey, orange blossom, apricot, red pepper, patchouli, musk, cistus, cinnamon, nigella, and amber, and it was created by the perfumer Antoine Maisondieu (who has produced a number of fragrances for Etat Libre, including another of my favorites, the aldehydic peachy-floral Vraie Blonde).
Since we're dealing with Etat Libre d'Orange, there is the requisite punning in the fragrance's title and some racy imagery in its logo and its descriptive "story"; allusions to cleavage abound. The proverb "Noël au balcon, Pâques au tison" means that a warm Christmas — warm enough to spend on the balcony — will be followed by an unseasonably cool Easter (requiring "firebrands"). And the expression "avoir du monde au balcon," or "the balcony is crowded," is a reference to a shapely bosom. In the descriptive text on the Etat Libre d'Orange website, we learn that Noël au Balcon exists "halfway between a flirtatious temptress and a dancing queen...a detonating cocktail of scents.”
I'd classify Noël au Balcon as an oriental gourmand, but it's not as foody as the list of notes suggests, nor as explosive as the description promises, which is fine with me. The fragrance opens with a gust of cinnamon that nearly veers into "red hots" territory. The cinnamon segues into a clove-y pairing of red pepper and vanilla that reminds me of certain carnation fragrances, particularly Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Oeillets Rouges or Floris Malmaison. There's a candied citrus note, a glowing drop of honey, and some warm, comforting musk. Overall, Noël au Balcon is the olfactory version of a holiday beverage, something that combines the best parts of a hot toddy (honey, ambery booze) and mulled cider (spiced fruit). It's less attention-getting than you might imagine, however, and it stays fairly close to the skin. Its staying power is slightly above average.
With its mix of sweetness and spice, Noël au Balcon does feel right for the Christmas season; it would probably seem less appropriate (to me, anyway) on a warm spring or summer day. Then again, as the weather becomes stranger and less predictable year by year, maybe we will be gathering around the fireplace on Easter. If that comes to pass, I'll be wearing a spritz of Noël au Balcon.
Etat Libre d’Orange Noël au Balcon sells for $80 (50 ml); for purchasing information, see Etat Libre d'Orange under Perfume Houses.