Perfume Review: Olympia by Histoires de Parfums


Olympia Music Hall facade. By KoS, c. 2009,

A few months ago, in my Facebook group For Love Not Money, some of us took part in a perfume review challenge. In this group task, we each chose a fragrance house that we wanted to become more familiar with, and wrote a review on a different scent from that house, every day for seven days. This was a great way to get through some of my samples, which seem to have multiplied faster than Mogwais in the movie Gremlins over the past 18 months, and to really explore both the fragrance house, and their scent compositions.

I chose to review seven fragrances by the French company Histoires de Parfums and I’ll be sharing some of these reviews with you here at Perfume Polytechnic.

A couple of weeks ago I shared my review of 1740:Marquis de Sade with you. You can read that review here. If you’re interested in some background information about Histoires de Parfums,  it can be found at the same link.

Day 2: Olympia, Music Hall

Olympia is one of Histoires de Parfums’ most recent perfume creations, dating from 2012. As with all Histoires de Parfums (HdP) creations, this fragrance has a back story, which conceptually underpins the composition of the fragrance.

The story of Olympia, a music hall in Paris, is as follows:

“We would like to tell you the story of a legendary Music Hall that was conceived and then patiently built over the years by Bruno Coquatrix.

The famous red neon façade in the heart of Paris has immortalized the names of the world’s greatest performers. On the inside, thick red curtains have embraced musical treasures on stage since 1954, welcoming the likes of artists such as Piaf, the Beatles, the Stones, David Bowie, and Lady Gaga. These performers have shaken the walls with their music and made magic of Parisian nights while the audience sits on the edge of velvet seats, their spirits glowing from the excitement of an unforgettable evening.

It all happens once the spotlights illuminate the stage. Time becomes suspended, breathing is shortened, eyes widened, muscles contracted as thousands of hearts beat to a similar rhythm… The opening chords strike like lightning, liberating the crowd, unleashing a passion and creating an atmosphere that is impossible to understand without having experienced it. Thousands of voices singing in unison for one magical moment.

That is the Olympia!” (Text quoted from Histoires de Parfums website.)

Sure sounds exciting, doesn’t it? As do the notes listed. Olympia boasts a large number of notes for an HdP fragrance. They are as follows:

Top notes: Orange, Bergamot, Lemon, Mandarin.
Heart notes: Pink Berries, Black Pepper, Saffron, Rose, Freesia, Lilac, Peony.
Base notes: Blond Wood, Patchouli, Frankincense, Styrax, Suede, Vanilla, Chocolate, Licorice, White Musk.

From the notes and the vibrant description of the great Olympia Music Hall above, I am expecting something exciting, uplifting, colourful, bold and interesting. A fragrance buzzing with energy, somehow iconic, ground breaking, larger than life.

I’m sorry to say that I am quite underwhelmed by Olympia. When I first smelt Olympia, a few nights ago, the impression I got was that this was similar to Sarah Jessica Parker’s Lovely, with a soft and subtle musk and patchouli accord, but overlaid with a tiny smear of grapefruit (was the combination of citrus notes playing a trick on my brain?). Last night, and all day today, I have given this fragrance the chance to really show me what it’s made of. Today I sprayed Olympia liberally, at least 10 times, on skin and under fabric, yet this liberal application didn’t offer me much more.

My overall impression of Olympia is that it is nothing more than a wan whisper, a pale watercolour in pastel tones with a strangely muddy grey wash beneath the pastels, providing some contrast to them, and thankfully adding a small amount of interest to the whole composition.

What do I smell when I spray Olympia? The top notes, a citrus quartet of orange, bergamot, lemon and mandarin, present themselves fleetingly and quietly. They are soon replaced by a soft, slightly acidic floral combination of mostly lilac, with hints of freesia and rose. Freesia is a flower I adore, but in this fragrance it is so hidden that its loveliness doesn’t have a chance to shine. Saffron seems to poke its head in somewhere round the ten minute mark, lending a powdery flatness to the composition, more like the yellow, dusty smell of powdered turmeric (pretend saffron) than the real deal. The standout note is, I can only assume, some form of “suede”. I say this as it doesn’t conform to my olfactory knowledge of what suede actually smells like (in real life or in perfumery) at all. Rather, it smells like a cross between car engine oil, rubber, and stale cigarette smoke. It is somewhat reminiscent of the rubber note in Bvlgari Black. This note is, without a doubt, the saving grace of Olympia, and the only aspect of this fragrance that I find interesting. Sadly, this intriguing note is overlaid with an underwhelming blend of soft, chintzy florals (lilac, freesia, rose), which threatens to undermine it.

When I smell this fragrance I think of layers: thin, light, translucent layers. Fabrics like chiffon or organza, in soft pastels without much saturation of colour; pale layers floating above each other in a very gentle breeze. Translucent sheets of tracing paper, beautiful and delicate, but lacking in definite character, masking something underneath it; paper that you can create a copy of something else with, but which isn’t the real thing.

Where is the red velvet of the Olympia Music Hall? Where is the neon?

Olympia is a flat fragrance. It doesn’t have a great deal of development beyond the opening twenty minutes, and the sillage is poor to moderate at best. For such a light fragrance, the longevity is oddly tenacious. I’ve worn it for six hours now, and while it became a skin scent a few hours ago, it promises to linger for a few hours more.

Overall, Olympia is, to my nose, a fragrance that doesn’t live up to its potential. The fragrance, to me, doesn’t accurately represent the creative concept behind it: there is no electricity to it, no excitement, no emotional and physical rush, as promised. As for the lengthy list of exciting notes, I could hardly detect any other than those I’ve mentioned already in this review. I would have loved to smell the chocolate and the smoky incense, to have had more zesty citrus, a gutsier rose, and an earthy patchouli. Amplifying these notes may well have helped turn this faded wash of a watercolour into a strong, bright oil painting, more befitting the spirit of Histoires de Parfums and the Olympia Music Hall.