Frederic Malle – Cologne Bigarade

Posted on November 5th, by What Men Should Smell Like in Fresh, G - L, My Collection. 10 comments

Frederic Malle - Cologne Bigarade

There is something so perfect, yet so simple about a well-executed eau de cologne. On face value this style of fragrance may seem like a simple blend of citrus fruit, flowers and herbs, yet the precision in which these notes must be configured demands the same skill as a complex oriental or chypre perfume. With eau de cologne, there are no dark corners to hide haphazard perfume construction. Even though brands such as Roger & Gallet and 4711 have proven eau de cologne can be produced as low-cost fragrance, the beauty of an eau de cologne made from fine raw materials, costly neroli oil from Tunisia and essential oil expressed from the skin of Mediterranean citrus fruit is an entirely different experience. A quality eau de cologne is one of perfumery’s simple pleasures.

Over the past decade many of the luxury brands making perfumes have revisited this 400-year-old recipe and a classic eau de cologne now features in their collections. Chanel, Christian Dior, Tom Ford and Hermes currently have one or more, and traditional houses such as Guerlain continue to produce eau de cologne, which has been a cornerstone of the brand for the past 160 years. After Pierre-Francois Pascal Guerlain created Eau de Cologne Imperiale in 1853, each generation of Guerlain perfumer has been charged with the responsibility of reinterpreting their founder’s work. Aime Guerlain created Eau du Coq in 1894, Jacques Guerlain created Fleurs de Cedrat in 1920; Jean-Paul Guerlain created Eau de Guerlain in 1974 and the house’s most recent cologne, Cologne du Parfumeur, was created by Thierry Wasser in 2010. These colognes maintained the classic structure of the original but they each had characteristics particular to their generation. Cologne du Parfumeur had an intense greenness, a signature of Thierry Wasser’s style and it used modern raw materials that made it unmistakably 21st century.

In 2001 Frederic Malle and perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena set out to create a new cologne for the 21st century. The task they set themselves was to rework the eau de cologne concept whilst maintaining its recognisable structure, in the same way great masters of perfumery, including the Guerlains, had previously modernised eau de cologne. To do this the pair worked on the concept of bitterness. Jean-Claude Ellena approached Monique Remy Laboratories (LMR) in Grasse to customise an oil of bigarade (bitter) orange. The company, now a subsidiary of International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) are known for their ability to produce some of perfumery’s highest quality natural raw materials. He requested they remove the facets he did not want via molecular distillation. This meant removal of the oil’s natural turpentine-like smell and the phototoxic molecules, which prevent perfumers from using the oil in large doses. He also requested the oil to be colourless. After some dialogue and a small series of four trials being exchanged between the perfumer’s studio in Cabris and Frederic Malle’s office in Paris, the pair agreed this new bitter cologne was finished. A more intense version Bigarade Concentree was created the following year.

Olfactory impressions:

There is something beguiling about Jean-Claude Ellena and Frederic Malle’s bitter cologne. In some ways it ticks all of the traditional eau de cologne boxes but it also takes the wearer on other journeys not historically linked to the eau de cologne story. In true Ellena style, an existing concept is taken and the excess is cleared away leaving a bare string of elemental notes, which the perfumer splices together with surgical precision. As a result of Frederic Malle and Jean-Claude Ellena’s vision, this stark reinvention of eau de cologne is the essence of bitterness. This is eau de cologne at its most elemental. Gone is the fizzy accord that results from combining citrus notes with lavender. Gone is the floral harmony dominated by indolic orange blossom. Even the rustic rosemary note that usually punctuates this short perfume stanza is omitted. What is left is an unwavering plain of bitter orange. The accompanying blurb on the back of Cologne Bigarade’s box describes the scent as “being faceted by faint brushstrokes of rose and sitting on a base of hay and cedar.” I can’t help but feel like the work of master perfumer Edmond Roudnitska had a hand to play in inspiring an element of Ellena’s Cologne Bigarade. Underlying the cologne’s bitterness is the scent of ripe human skin, reminiscent of Roudnitska’s Eau d’Hermes from 1951. This contrast between fresh and sullied is a concept Jean-Claude Ellena explored three years prior to Cologne Bigarade with Cartier Declaration, a fragrance that paired fresh notes with cumin, an odour reviewers often liken to the smell of male armpit. As terrible as that sounds, the reality of human attraction is; like all animals we are attracted by the scent of a potential mate. Therein lies the irony that in today’s sterile world, we turn to perfumers to put back the smells we fastidiously wash off our bodies at the beginning of each day.

Suggested wearing:

Eau de cologne is perfumery’s version of the classic white shirt. It goes with everything, it can be dressed up or down and it runs little risk of offending anyone. When it comes to selecting a white shirt, it is about how comfortable you feel in it, the cut, the quality of the cotton, the fabric weight and small details like the collar and the buttons. Eau de colognes are similar in that they come in a range of sizes, the quality of the raw materials varies and embellishments express the creativity of the designer. When compared quickly they run the risk of smelling very similar, just as a stack of white shirts look the same when folded. On closer inspection you can appreciate each shirt’s unique qualities and the same can be said of eau de cologne. For me this style of fragrance is a perfume staple and given the relatively high cost of Frederic Malle fragrances, many will understandably see Cologne Bigarade as a luxury staple. The issue with luxury is; after you experience it once, it is hard to go back to anything else.

Alternatives: Frederic Malle Bigarade Concentree, Hermes Eau d’Orange Verte, Hermes Eau d’Hermes, Cartier Declaration

Perfumer: Jean-Claude Ellena

Bottle Designer: Frederic Malle

Release Date: 2001

Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Citrus

10 Responses to “Frederic Malle – Cologne Bigarade”

  1. Picassoutine says:

    I look forward to trying Bigarade including the concentrated version. I have a 5 ml bottle of Géranium Pour Monsieur and am looking forward to investing in a big bottle in the spring, if I can wait that long. The rose/geranium combination is one my absolute favorites. I don’t mind the mint at all, it starts things off with a bang and clears the palate for coming delights.

    • What Men Should Smell Like says:

      A friend was wearing Geranium Pour Monsieur last summer and it smells amazing in a warm climate. Me too, I love the mint/geranium/rose combination.

  2. Lanier Smith says:

    I have been recently exploring this wonderful house and your great review now has me looking past the glamour perfumes like Portrait of a Lady, Lipstick Rose and Musc Ravageur to this very interesting take on the classic eau de cologne for the 21st century. I love a clean cut white shirt cologne.

    • What Men Should Smell Like says:

      Your comment is probably why it took me years to get a full bottle of Cologne Bigarade. I was always distracted by the others in the line and I would always leave a FM store with a bottle of something other than Cologne Bigarade even if I knew that someday I would add it to my collection. That day came this year on my trip to New York. I’m looking forward to wearing it more in the summer months ahead.

  3. Philosykos says:

    Don’t be tricked by the price tag, Frederic Malle does not make quality scents. As the review noted, you can make excellent scents from low cost ingredients. It’s all about the composition. No one who smells you will know how much you spent or be familiar with the Malle propaganda. And you will NOT smell good! It is hard, but you anyone getting into these niche brands must close their eyes and ignore the propaganda, which is what this line seems to running on, in my opinion.

    Geranium Pour Monsieur literally smells like mouthwash, Musc Ravageur smells like a retirement home, Iris Poudre is like ‘Murder She Wrote’ the fragrance. The best scent from the line is Carnal Flower but still they have to push it to the point where it smells like an older woman walking out of a department store. Everything is geriatric here.

    Bigarade smells like someone whose cologne is masking their body odor. Genuinely feel bad for people who spend this kind of money where there are so many other great niche lines. Be careful with this stuff! Think it through…

    Also: The pheromones. Humans, like most mammals, do not rely on these hormones for sexual attraction. Insects use these to find the opposite sex, but also to find food, and as alarms. We wash ourselves because our bodily secretions, whether they come out of pores or other places, smell bad. There’s no paradox here. We’re expelling toxins and waste…and who wants that showing up in a fragrance?

    • What Men Should Smell Like says:

      Hi, thanks for taking the time to post your comment.

      My opinion of a perfume is never persuaded by price and I’d like to think most of my regular readers do not fall under the spell of perfume “propaganda”. I also do not have any interest in an opinion of me based on my choice of cologne. Simply said, if I like a perfume, I wear it. Separating opinion from fact I have to disagree with your blanket statement that Frederic Malle do not make quality perfumes. With regards to Cologne Bigarade, anyone can check with LMR regarding the prices of their raw materials, this is no secret; the fact is if you use LMR raw materials in a perfume, the cost of the juice will be high and above average compared with other perfumes on the market. Putting quality aside, I agree with your point on composition and if to you, Frederic Malle perfumes smell geriatric etc, then this is your opinion, I respect that. With regards to bodily odours, I deliberately avoided discussing pheromones as this leads to a different conversation. On the topic on bodily odours however, there is plenty of evidence of the love/hate relationship people have with these smells and the way perfumery has used them in compositions, ranging from the modern Secretions Magnifique by Etat Libre d’Orange to the more conventional Eau d’Hermes.

      • Philosykos says:

        Thanks for responding. I went through your site last night after stumbling upon this review and the photography is beautiful, the writing is great, and we share many opinions on other scents. In my favorites bar now.

        And I agree with everything you said. But most customers are not as informed and independently minded as you. Unfortunately most people do equate quality ingredients and a high price point with a quality product. Its standard practice at high end restaurants to name check farms and esoteric ingredients, but it doesn’t necessarily produce innovative or delicious food. Customers know instinctively whether they like their plate, but are less sure of themselves with fashion and fragrances.

        And you’re right, it’s just one person taste. The brand obviously sells well, so I am clearly in the minority (At least among reviewers on fragrance websites).

        The Frederic Malle bottles, the stores, the black awning with the perfectly spaced type, and the sales pitch are all on point. And although it is a matter of taste whether or not they smell good, I still think it is an objective fact that they smell ‘older’.

        • What Men Should Smell Like says:

          Thanks for the compliment on my blog. I guess with food we make decisions about what flavours we like each and every day so we are much more in touch with our culinary likes and dislikes, whereas with fragrance, many consumers are still learning what they like and the less experienced are easily persuaded by marketing or they trust that price is an indication of quality. For me, great perfumery needs to be innovative or if it exploring a theme that has been done a thousand times before, it needs to do a great job of it. Perhaps with Frederic Malle, the association with the ‘old’ comes from his perfumers exploring some of perfume’s classic themes, tuberose, iris, eau de cologne, vetiver etc. I still think they are presented in a new 21st century way. Although tuberose has its place in mid 20th century perfumery with classics such as Fracas by Robert Piguet, Malle’s Carnal Flower takes the theme to a new place with a greener, more realistic tuberose and looses most of the bubblegum-like element I smell in many of the tuberose perfumes that came before it. As you say, it is all a matter of taste and I am guessing you have been around perfume for many years, so perhaps when you smell some of the Frederic Malle’s they remind you or people or perfumes from the past?

  4. Catherine says:

    Thank you for this in-depth introduction to eau de cologne. Cologne Bigarade is one of my all time favourites and despite the bitterness you mention it’s not a bitter fragrance – there is a roundness and a richness which is unusual. in fact I think of it as much a perfume as an eau de cologne. If this is a classic white shirt, it is definitely couture white cotton and introducing it to my sons as a first fragrance will probably take its financial toll in years to come!

    • What Men Should Smell Like says:

      I agree, a mother introducing her teenage son to Frederic Malle is setting the bar very high. Lucky son!

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