How to smell: Eau Sans Pareil

First impressions: Top notes

Eau Sans Pareil opens with a delicate wash of fruits, citrus, and zingy pepper. Although the fruit is sweet, it’s not sugary in Eau Sans Pareil—it’s dark-hued and rich, contrasting delightfully with the bubbly aldehydes. Concentrate for a moment: Can you pick out the aromatic bergamot, the raspberry, or even the pineapple? Or do you perceive just a fruity mélange? You might expect fruity notes like raspberry and pineapple to stick out like jagged edges, but the fruits in Eau Sans Pareil are so smoothly blended that they’re practically pureed.

Fruitiness, in perfume, has a bad reputation earned through decades of cheap, plasticky, neon-bright fruit notes that seem to attract the preteen crowd. Most fruits yield no natural oils to be distilled, so fruit notes often are created in the lab. (Citrus fruits, whose rinds oil, are an exception.) But the fruit notes in Eau Sans Pareil are not the cheap things of drugstore infamy; Eau Sans Pareil gives up its fruit with restraint and is a sophisticated scent very much made for grownups. The way it pairs them with the aldehydic opening gives the impression of a sparkling drink filled with crushed and diced fruit, like a glass of white sangria just as the ice has begun to melt.

At this moment, while the fruity notes dominate, it’s also worth considering that Eau Sans Pareil is an entirely unisex fragrance. The sparkling, sweet opening is counterbalanced by traditionally masculine notes: patchouli, vetiver, and orris. We’ll talk more about gender in a moment, but for now, don’t be too influenced by the pink on the cap bow.

Sensations and scenery: Middle notes

The middle of the Eau Sans Pareil story is all about the flowers. And there are quite a few in here: jasmine, rose, muguet (lily of the valley), ylang-ylang, orange blossom, tagetes, and more. Can you pick out any of these flowers? Rose or jasmine might be the easiest to distinguish, because most people have enough experience with those flowers in their natural state to recognize their scent. At this point, the powdery character also intensifies through the combination of aldehydes and musk.

Eau San Pareil has more presence and projection than you might expect in an eau, but it never becomes heavy or dense. Even when warm, spicy liquorice and clove rise up to support the playful top notes, Eau Sans Pareil still retains an airiness and a sparkle.

At this point, does Eau Sans Pareil feel modern or classic? Neither answer could be wrong; this version is an update of the 1988 original, and—like a girl who resembles her aunt—is certainly related. For some people, Eau Sans Pareil occupies the modern and classic worlds simultaneously, so don’t be surprised if you can’t place it squarely in any one era.

Transition: Middle and base notes

Several minutes after applying, smell your wrist again. What adjective comes to mind? Does Eau Sans Pareil still smell playful? Is it getting a little more serious?

At this point in the development, when Eau Sans Pareil starts giving itself over the base notes, you might start to see why it’s classified as a light chypre—but only if you already know what a “chypre” is.

Here’s a quick education: In 1917, Francois Coty released Chypre, a perfume constructed around a novel triad of notes: bergamot (a spicy, slightly sweet oil from the rind of a bergamot orange), labdanum (a woody, ambery resin extracted from the rockrose shrub), and oakmoss (a bitter-smelling material extracted from moss that grows on trees). Countless perfumes borrowed from this innovation, until eventually “chypre” became its own perfume category. 

Beverley Bayne, the perfumer who created both versions of Eau Sans Pareil, says the original was in the fougère family. When she began to update it to make it more modern, a simple reformulation didn’t work. So she aimed to maintain the essence of the perfume—aldehydic and floral—and turned it into a light chypre.

Regulations now limit the amount of natural oakmoss that can be used in perfume in certain geographies because it can cause allergic reactions on some people. So Bayne used a low-atranol oakmoss, which removes the quality in oakmoss thought to be the allergen. Now, when the base notes move in, you might smell the wet, woody scent of oakmoss—but if you have experience with old-school chypres, heavy on the bitter, glorious oakmoss, you might find this one to be very much a “chypre light.”

Integration: Base notes

Patchouli, vetiver, cedarwood, oakmoss, musk, vanilla, cistus labdanum, benzoin, amber crystals—all are common base notes, and their combination in Eau Sans Pareil creates a powerful bookend to the top notes. In fact, up to six hours after applying Eau Sans Pareil, you might be surprised to find that it’s still very present on your skin.

Smell it hours after you applied it. Does it smell, to your nose, traditionally feminine? Masculine? Unisex? Mainstream perfumes are almost always made with men or women in mind. If you were around in the mid-90s, you might remember that the idea of a unisex scent was so novel that Calvin Klein made it a unique value proposition of its ubiquitous CK One.

Eau Sans Pareil, then, is an interesting example of the very different way in which niche perfumers operate: creating perfumes for people, not necessarily for men or women. Newbies to the world of niche perfume often find this fact incredibly liberating. If you're a woman, go for the tobacco and leather. If you're a man, don't shy away from the tropical flowers. Eau San Pareil is a great reminder that choice in perfume isn’t really about your gender any more than your choice in music should be. 

Read more How to Smell guides or get a full bottle of Eau Sans Pareil.