Friday, January 13th, 2012

By Chelsea Nusbaum, Fragrance Contributor

Chelsea grew up in Los Osos, California, which is a small coastal town. She completed her undergraduate degree in Literature/Writing at University of California, San Diego. She recently completed her master’s degree in Rhetoric and Professional and Technical Writing. Chelsea currently works as a proposal editor for a local defense company. She loves to freelance and edit, but between her full-time job and awesome pets, what little time she has left she devotes to fragrance!

Perfume and Memory: Miller Harris Fleurs de Sel Review

Herbaceous, rugged, and tethered to the earth that inspired it, Fleurs de Sel reminds me of my hometown. But my tiny coastal town perpetually shrouded in fog was not what perfumer Lyn Harris had in mind when she created this fragrance: hers was. She has a family home in Batz sur Mer, a small village in Brittany, France, where she says she spent her happiest times. She composed Fleurs de Sel using materials found at the nearby salt marshes. It was released in 2007.

Miller Harris Fleurs de Sel is a fragrance I never would have worn as early as a year ago, and now I count it among my favorites. Name aside, it isn’t floral—at least not in any obvious sense—and its opening is smoky. I hate smoke. Red thyme gives it an antiseptic edge that I’m also not fond of. Up until falling in love with Fleurs de Sel, I liked my perfumes floral, or at least sweet. Fleurs de Sel is pungent and aromatic. It didn’t fit my idea of how a perfume should smell. But I kept thinking about those salt marshes that inspired it, and the estuary I grew up near. Nostalgia led me to take a second sniff, and then a third. Once I got past the nose-crinkling opening, I was combing the internet for a discontinued bottle.

In addition to the smoke, Fleurs de Sel opens with a bundle of herbs and a kick of ambrette seed. I’ve learned to appreciate the opening, but I don’t really love Fleurs de Sel until about 20 minutes in, when the smoke evaporates and the wildflowers blossom behind a curtain of herbs. The herbs have such clarity that this fragrance still feels modern, in spite of its country roots. The antiseptic quality mellows considerably as the fragrance wears.

Extended exposure to Fleurs de Sel will make you think Harris’s family home is actually near a salt mine—it is very, very salty. The big salt accord is buoyed by the host of herbs from the top notes: red thyme, rosemary, and clary sage. The “fleurs” are there, but not so distinguishable that I could pick them out note-by-note, although the official notes list iris, narcissus, and rose. Rather, they form a sheer backdrop to the earthier aspects of the fragrance; herbs and salt are what take center stage.

Fleurs de Sel’s musky base comes courtesy of ambrette seed, with a woody assist from vetiver, which to my nose usually smells dry and earthy, but here is rendered as wet, freshly dug earth. There is a touch of leather.

It is not my signature scent—I’m incapable of olfactory monogamy—but it is the fragrance I consider the most “me.” When I wear it, I smell like where I came from.

Ambrette seed—the soul of Fleurs de Sel —is expensive, and I suspect it’s partially to blame for the unusually high price tag. Miller Harris perfumes typically retail for about $100. If you’re up for paying full price, £110.00 for 3.4 oz of eau de parfum (about $170, plus international shipping), you can order directly from Miller Harris. Or you can pick it up for about $20 less and save on shipping at online discounters Overstock and Fragrance X.

What perfumes conjure memories for you? Are you willing to give a challenging fragrance like Fleurs de Sel a try, or multiple tries?

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10 thoughts on “Miller Harris Fleurs de Sel Review

  1. It’s funny how we associate certain smells with memories! Recently I was sitting on the bus and the man next to me was wearing cologne which reminded me of my childhood. Leather, smoke, wood and something a little sweet, too. It reminded me of the smell of the room my parents would rehearse in. I have no idea what it was, but my god I am going to smell every men’s cologne until I can find that exact one. It wasn’t necessarily pleasant at first smell, but I want a bottle just to carry it with me wherever I end up; have a piece of home with me!
    I like unusual perfumes and I know a place that sells Miller Harris where I live; might check it out and see if they have this one! I’m intrigued :)

  2. Dame Elizabeth

    The most intense memories for me come from Anais Anais by Cacherel. It was my first ever fragrance and I actually can’t wear it now because it makes me so emotional – it absolutely takes me back to the times I spent with someone who has now passed away, and it really shocks me when I spray it just how intense my emotions become.

  3. AmyD

    I totally associate scents with memories…Trésor with my first trip to Paris, RL Ralph and Romance from right after graduating college, Chanel Chance with grad school, and so many more in between! Fleurs de Sel sounds lovely, and i am LOVING the fragrance posts! Keep up the good work!

  4. Pip

    I love this scent. I’m not a signature scent girl either, but this is one of my perfumes that I’d rescue in a fire. I love the fact that it makes me think of desolate beaches in winter with driftwood, and happy seaside memories in summer.

    It opens with a shot of Tequila & salt though! The first time I sniffed it I was so taken aback, couldn’t be sure if I liked and then could not stop smelling it.

  5. Amy

    I live in Los Osos, where would one even find a place to try this in such a small secluded town?

    • Chelsea

      You can order a sample from The Perfumed Court. Miller Harris perfumes are, unfortunately, not widely available except over the internet.

  6. Hi Chelsea

    Just butting in (politely I hope) to say that the name ‘Fleurs de sel’ shouldn’t be taken to refer to flowers at all. Fleurs de sel is actually a French term for a very fancy type of sea salt used in cooking and refers to the crystallisation pattern of the salt rather than flowers growing in salt marshes. It’s a wonderful fragrance – I received some in a swap and love it. It could easily work on men too.

  7. Colin John

    The most amazing smell. It’s intoxicating. I can’t get enough of it.