Every once in a while, a fragrance comes along that should be labeled “Not For Beginners.” Frédéric Malle Une Fleur de Cassie fits that category.
Of course, perfume agnostics and newcomers can and should enjoy Une Fleur de Cassie. If you swapped out a barfly’s beer can with a glass of good Vouvray,1 he might chug the wine with a lot of satisfaction. But is he going to catch every nuance? Une Fleur de Cassie is all about nuance.
The other barrier Une Fleur de Cassie presents to the beginner is that it’s not pretty. Some people might even say it’s ugly. Yet it sure is beautiful.
Dominique Ropion is the nose behind Une Fleur de Cassie, which launched in 2000. Its notes include jasmine absolute, cassia absolute, carnation, cumin, bergamot, mimosa absolute, rose absolute, violet, apricot, aldehydes, salicylate, musk cetone, cedar, sandalwood and vanilla.
In one way, Une Fleur de Cassie is a classic floral fragrance. It’s a full, summer-rich bouquet sandwiched between a spicy, peppery, and violet-tinted top and a warm, woody-musky base. It’s not fragile, but it’s not crude, either. Une Fleur de Cassie has the texture of thick velvet and dusky summers where the garden presses against the windows. It’s faintly powdery with mimosa, but elegant with pink and purple blooms. (Purple prose concludes here.)
The composition moves like music, too. Each shift in emphasis bends and melts into the next, and each stage of development interests me with its complexity. It’s not predictable, except maybe at Une Fleur de Cassie’s end, as it trails away in sweet wood and faint musk. The fragrance’s main show takes about three hours on my arms to unroll before the base creeps along for another few hours.
Despite all that beauty, there’s something funky going on with this perfume. Cumin pops its head in for the fragrance’s first half hour before settling back. A strange, pollen-y “chewy” feeling takes over the perfume early. Une Fleur de Cassie smells a little more intimate than proper, and, well, just plain strange.
That said, it’s an elegant sort of strange. In the Frédéric Malle video for Une Fleur de Cassie, Dominique Ropion mentions that the fragrance can become something you love as you wear it more and more. Normally, I’d dismiss this as PR hoo-ha, but as I’ve worn Une Fleur de Cassie over the past four days, my appreciation for it really is deepening, to the point that it tugs at my wallet.
Which brings me to my final point. If you’re consider buying Une Fleur de Cassie, you might want to stick to smaller bottle sizes or plan on using it up within a few years. I have a sample that’s six months old and one that’s five years old, and the older sample has darkened and smells flatter. My new sample has lots more nuance. Which is what this fragrance is all about.
If you've tried it, do you agree Une Fleur de Cassie is a gorgeous oddball? What fragrances would you put the "Not for Beginners" label on?
Frédéric Malle Une Fleur de Cassie Eau de Parfum is $310 for 100 ml; $215 for 50 ml; $150 for a 3-pack of 10-ml travel atomizers; and $60 for one 10-ml atomizer. For information on where to buy it, see Frédéric Malle under Perfume Houses.
1. In my first draft, I wrote “old Bordeaux.” But Une Fleur de Cassie is so much more like a complex, honeyed Vouvray. Out of fashion, but eternal.