Herbae by L’Occitane (2019)

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What if somebody made an updated version of Diptyque L’Ombre dans L’Eau (1983) without the focus on rose in the finish? Well, L’Occitane seemingly wanted to answer that question with Herbae (2019), and a rather fine answer it is. Fans of 21st century fresh green fragrances like Gucci Bloom Acqua di Fiori (2018), Cristalle Eau Verte (2002), Calvin Klein Truth for Men (2002), Ninféo Mio by Annick Goutal (2009), or Chanel Cristalle Eau Verte (2009) will likely want to take note of this, as will fans of older style galbanum-lead chypres from the 80’s on back. Granted, this isn’t a bitter oakmoss extravaganza like the icy aloof chypres of the 70’s, but the same botanical spirit is there, softened with some modern citric sweetness, white florals, and musk. Herbae is nothing if not crisp, and perfectly unisex, like most things in this category new or old, and represents another excellent launch from the mall boutique niche label, after Terre de Lumière (2017) and Verveine Agrumes (2015). I find this stuff has the “clean white shirt” effect on me, where so many masculine perfumes that claim to have such an effect utterly fail as they beleaguer me with heavy synthetic woody amber bases or shrill chemical freshness.

The opening from this is quite something, and you get a lot of galbanum, bergamot and pink pepper right away, giving me a bit of an 80’s chypre flashback. The scent soon settles into some nettle and musk mallow, which recalls a bit of that 70’s feel I mentioned, but Herbae becomes soft-spoken and “modern” in the way it handles the florals thereafter. A lightly sweet rose water and blackberry jam tandem emerge to meet the staunch green citric opening, and merge with clary sage and the nettle to make this a bit closer to feminine by the time the top fades, although the base of cashmeran, tonka, Haitian vetiver, and a smidge of oakmoss make this gender neutral once again. A honey note creeps up late in the game, and also adds to the pleasant affable nature of Herbae, coming across less like an exercise in herbs like the name suggest (there are no herbs here), and more like a visualization of a grassy field pocked with white nettle flowers. Wear time is surprisingly long, although sillage is mild. I’d say this could become a summer favorite for some, and a scent that a couple (of any orientation) could easily share on a weekend outing to a park, the countryside, or even just a nice dinner enjoyed outdoors like on a patio or deck.

My only gripe comes from the bottle and it’s sprayer, one being a bit slipper in hand due to shape, and the other being one of those slow-to-push types like Dior Sauvage (2015) uses, giving forth a whole ton of juice if you decide to press it all the way down. I guess L’Occitane really wants you to roll in the stuff when you wear Herbae, but a little bit of manual dexterity and restraint can mitigate most of those concerns. Like most L’Occitane perfumes, this smells incredibly artful and punches well above it’s price point, with credit to Nadège Le Garlantezec (who composed Terre de Lumière) and Shyamala Maisondieu (married to fellow perfumer Antoine Maisondieu) for maintaining that reputation for the house. Granted, this doesn’t have the luxurious density of upper-tier niche nor the exotic ingredients the snobs and hipster crave, but it just smells damned good for costing so little. Lastly, the cute little raffia and clear top just make Herbae feel a lot more classic than it might otherwise be, and looks great on a dresser instead of stuffed away in a larger collection of perfumes. Smell for yourself of course, because some people are very picky on how “green” fragrances are executed, but I for one think this is a good compromise between nature and nurture. Another little gem of a scent from working-class perfumers L’Occitane! Thumbs up!

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