I like pears, and I like apples, but as a general rule, I don't like either in my perfume. Whether that's because of how they've typically been used — from Donna Karan Be Delicious to Viktor & Rolf Eau Mega to Jo Malone English Pear & Freesia — or because I just plain don't care for the smell, is hard to say.
La Belle Hélène, the latest from Parfums MDCI, promised the pears (and the violets) from the dessert Poires Belle-Hélène, minus all the
fun stuff calories (vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce). On the plus side, it also promised osmanthus, one of my favorite floral notes, and the perfumer in question, Bertrand Duchaufour, is responsible for one of the few perfumes with (noticeable) apple that I like: L'Artisan Parfumeur Traversée du Bosphore. Oh, and plus he is responsible for quite a few other fragrances I was willing to pay real money for. So I was looking forward to La Belle Hélène, even though it costs more money than I would ever spend on a perfume. So far.
And La Belle Hélène is now my favorite pear, if that means anything. According to Denyse at Grain de Musc, La Belle Hélène grew out of a pear-iris accord that Duchaufour was "playing around with", with the iris replaced with osmanthus. There is still enough iris to give the otherwise-crisp pear a buttery richness, and in the opening, there is a green, iris-y violet. The osmanthus in the heart is not the happy-go-lucky osmanthus of, say, Ormonde Jayne Osmanthus or Parfum d'Empire Osmanthus Interdite. It's warmer, and emphasizes the darker, leathery aspects of osmanthus, but blended as it is here with pear, plum, rose and ylang (among others; see the list of notes below), the overall effect is muted; I would call La Belle Hélène a pear fragrance, but not an osmanthus fragrance.
The base is woody-musky and slightly earthy. I hardly notice the anise, but a couple people on MakeupAlley have noted that it ruined the entire scent for them. If you detest anise, beware.
It's a charming fragrance. It has a bit of a gourmand character but never crosses the line into the "I'm wearing dessert" category (not that there's anything wrong with that, some of my best friends are in the "I'm wearing dessert" category). Still, it's a good bit sweeter than I like, without any of the "comfort scent" trappings that will usually make me forgive an overdose of sugar; in the end, I liked it but didn't love it. I'd call it a must try for anyone who likes pear, though, or anyone who likes Bertrand Duchaufour, or anyone who has a hankering for the swanky Parfums MDCI packaging.
Parfums MDCI La Belle Hélène is available in 60 ml Eau de Parfum, in a glass bottle with ($375) or without ($250) the resin bust. The notes include pear, aldehydes, tangerine, lime blossom, rose essence, osmanthus, ylang-ylang, orris, hawthorn, Mirabelle plum, myrrh, vetiver, patchouli, cedar Virginia, amber, oak moss, white musk, sandalwood and licorice wood. For buying information, see the listing for Parfums MDCI under Perfume Houses.