Picture a delicately carved silver dish piled high with quivering cubes of rose milk lokhoum, barely set and opalescent. This tower of pink jellies, as wobbly-legged as a newborn giraffe, sits perched on a folded suede opera glove. In the background, a complex but translucent inter-knitting of pink pepper, fruits, roses, and white tea recalls the faded-silk grandeur of both Etro’s Etra and Rajasthan, a series of polite, sepia-toned portraits of India as seen through the rose-tinted glasses of imperialists.
It’s exquisite, but if it sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Betrand Duchaufour, as much as I admire him and own many of his perfumes, has a tendency to recycle his most successful motifs. In Niral, it’s his apple-rose lokhoum suede accord debuted in Traversée du Bosphore (2010), and carried over to both La Belle Hélène (2011) and I Miss Violet (2015), adding pears and violets to the pattern respectively, that has turned up.
Not that I’m complaining. When an accord is this good, you want to experience it over and over again, no matter how minute the permutation. I will never forget smelling I Miss Violet (The Different Company) in Les Senteurs d’Aillheurs in Brussels in the autumn of 2015, when it had just come out. It caused a small paroxysm of joy when I sprayed it on – liquefied violets, green leaves, cool iris, and a liquor-like note as smooth as satin that made me want to tip my head back and pour it down my throat.
The ambrette seed in I Miss Violet smelled like a curl of Granny Smith apple peel to me, with a liquorous richness similar to the rose-ambrette combination in No. 18. Bringing up the rear was a soft leather that, texture-wise, mirrored the marshmallowy “suede lokhoum” effect in Traversée du Bosphore. I bought a bottle but quickly sold it on when I realized that owning both Traversée du Bosphore and I Miss Violet was a redundancy in my wardrobe that I could ill afford. For what it’s worth, I sold my bottle of La Belle Hélène for the same reason. These are the mistakes that a wide-eyed beginner in love makes. (I try not to feel so bad about the money wasted).
My general impression of all four fragrances – Niral, I Miss Violet, Traversée du Bosphore, and La Belle Hélène – is of delicate grey suede pillows stuffed with rose marshmallows and curls of fruit peel, dusted with a veil of powdered iris sugar, and boasting a texture as soft as a freshly-laundered plushy. Naturally, there are differences from one to the other. But, personally, I found that owning just one, Traversée du Bosphore in my case, was enough to give me my (semi-annual) fix of apple-rose lokhoum. That’s just me, though. If you can’t get enough of this gauzy, quasi-edible suede thing, then just take from this observation that if you like any one of the scents I just named, it’s likely that Niral will also send you to heaven.
As pretty as the opening is, I like the later stages of Niral even more, when an elegant, oaky cedarwood moves in, subtly taking the reins from the jellied rose lokhoum and suede. Far removed from the balsamic huskiness of most cedarwood, here the material smells as if the perfumer gathered together hundreds of slim, pale-wooded pencils, steamed them in a wicker basket, and poured the droplets of condensation off into the formula, like a traditional ruh made in a deg and bhapka.
Hints of what smells like chili pepper glances the scent with pinpricks of heat, roughing up the milkiness of the woods a little, like the rubbery milk-and-pepper thrust of Etro’s Etra. But in general, there’s a beautifully bright, watery tea-like feel to the midsection, as if the woods and spices have been washed down with cold water in sunlight. Niral doesn’t have the delicately fishy smell of raw silk, an aroma I’m inordinately fond of, but there is something pearlescent about the scent that suggests its texture.
Niral dries down to its base relatively quickly, a demure mix of that light pencil-like cedarwood, the peppery rose of Mohur, and a gently-candied magnolia note that gives up all of its creamy honey, but none of its greener, sharper nuances. I don’t really get much sandalwood here, surprisingly for a Neela Vermeire fragrance, but admittedly I haven’t tried anything from the brand since the original Mohur-Trayee-Bombay Bling-Ashoka quartet, and the focus may have since (understandably) strayed away the much-vaunted role of the Mysore sandalwood. Honestly, though, I don’t miss the sandalwood because of just how good that milky cedarwood is. Creamed oak pencils – try it for yourself and see. I could drink the stuff.
Ultimately, as much as I enjoy Niral, it contains too much of that Duchaufourian lokhoum suede signature for me to find it unique. I’ve no doubt that I would have sought out either a partial bottle or a decant of this early on in my perfume journey, because it is undeniably gorgeous – swoon-worthy even. But at this stage, I am trying to keep a sterner eye on my collection, making sure that I don’t keep buying the same perfume over and over again (ask me about my collection of violet fragrances, 70% of which are , I swear, the same fragrance released by five different brands).
To add to this: the first time I wore Niral, I was testing Vero Profumo’s Rubj EDP on my other hand, and while the first said “pretty” and “lady”, the second said “complicated” and “woman”, and at this stage of my life, I know which direction I’m headed in.
Sample courtesy of Luckyscent.