Citrus has never been my favorite scent category, but even I have to admit the clear draw of citrus in the summer. It’s one of your best bets if you want something bright and refreshing. Since I’m determined to review my way through my whole collection, here are short reviews of all the citrus-focused scents from my collection: ultimately more than I expected, but not enough to split them into sub-categories. Failures included!
I’ll be doing a separate post at some point to tackle Atelier Cologne’s offerings, as they offer some amazing citruses. I’ve only included a couple here to streamline, to keep more of an indie focus, and because I need to do extensive retesting before reviewing them all.
These are ordered in ascending order of preference, from my least favorite to my favorite. Citrus notes are bolded for easier scanning, and I’ve included citrusy notes such as bergamot and petitgrain even if they’re not citrus fruits. Finally, I’ve added a ranking of “freshness” just for this post: how sharp, crisp, and refreshing the citruses smell. 1 is the warmest and heaviest, 3 is bright but tempered with sweetness, and 5 is the brightest.
Brother Sestra (Ten Three Labs)
Labdanum absolute, petitgrain, smoke, peppered poppies, bergamot.
I was intrigued by the thought of a smoky citrus scent, but this doesn’t deliver at all. The smoke is very faint, and the petitgrain and bergamot don’t have any bite or crispness. The whole scent is overwhelmed by waxy sweetness, so it reminds me of a mildly orange-scented candle. As it dries, I get an odd bubblegum note, too.
Sheer amber, black leather, white mint, lemon peel, white tea, grapefruit, kush, teakwood and orchid.
This starts off as harsh lemon cleaner splashed over musky leather and watery cardboard, which has just enough nuance to suggest it’s meant to be white tea. I’ve had that happen with more than one tea scent: I don’t blame Manhattan, I blame my fickle skin. A bit of mustiness, too. Dry, it’s more pleasant, with subtle grapefruit juice and amber-sweetened leather. But I can’t get past the mustiness and damp cardboard.
The Phoenix Having Burst Her Shell (BPAL) (2014 LE)
Bitter orange and tangerine with warm patchouli, tobacco absolute, glittering amber, and white musk.
This starts off very promisingly, with sweet orange, verging on creamsicle, perfectly accented with patchouli. It’s gorgeous, and I thought it would be a sure winner. But no matter how many times I try, the beauty only lasts a minute or two. After that, it turns into orange-scented play-doh and heavy patchouli. I mean, really an awful amount of play-doh. It’s so disappointing.
Pink lime, pink grapefruit, white nectarine, wild rose, sage, woody patchouli, bergamot, and ornery hedgehog musk.
Wet, this is almost pure sugary pink grapefruit and juicy nectarine. No complaints there, it’s a fruity delight, sweet but not candy-like. The more complex notes really only emerge on drydown, but I’ve had mixed results at that stage. Sometimes it adds a slight floral and woody dimension, but sometimes it gets really soapy. A decent soap. Citrus-rose soap. But definitely soap, and that’s not my jam.
A Very Busy Farmer (Violette Market) (2015 LE)
Raw beeswax, sweet orange oil, and saffron-spiced golden musk.
Unlike the last two, this never goes through a stage that I love, but it never goes to an genuinely bad place. It starts out pure sweet orange and beeswax and develops an unusual saltiness as it dries. It’s a perfumey and somewhat sophisticated take on orange and beeswax, and I don’t have anything else like it. If I try it a few more times it might grow on me, but it hasn’t clicked yet.
Ominous (Blooddrop) (2014 LE)
A dark, lurking scent copious with patchouli, Cointreau, benzoin, pink pepper, cardamom, black tea, and clove.
Cointreau is a liqueur flavored with bitter oranges, and while it might be a stretch, I’m including it because it does have a very strong orange scent, and because it has similarities to The Phoenix Having Burst Her Shell. This is primarily very sweet orange liqueur, fuzzy clove, and patchouli, a more autumnal take on citrus. It maintains a blend of spice and sweet orange throughout, and ends as orange-tinged patchouli. Compared to the orange/patchouli combo in The Phoenix Having Burst Her Shell, Ominous maintains the integrity of all its components, but is much sweeter and does verge on cloying.
Dance with Me (Possets)
A superb coumarin-laced lavender combines with fizzy pink grapefruit, and it all rests on a bed of white musk.
I can see why this is so popular. It’s like very elegant grapefruit creamsicle candy, elevated with ice-cold white musk. Very perfumey. Sadly, that high-pitched ozonic musk gives me a searing headache and makes it completely unwearable. I’m ranking it this highly because it’s clearly well-constructed, but if you’re susceptible to headaches, you might want to proceed with caution.
Hibiscus, matcha, white musk, and lime.
This is sadly discontinued, but it’s very pretty and uplifting and has some hard-to-find notes. I get a very fresh green limey start with a springy hibiscus note. If you’ve ever had hibiscus tea, the note is similar, but more delicate and leafy. A slight similarity to rosehips if you haven’t. The white musk lends a vanillic tinge, and the matcha a little edge of bitterness. The lime lasts much longer than I expected. Quite perfumey.
Yuzu, kaki, and mikan with cherry blossom and black tea.
After some research, I found out “kaki” is persimmon and “mikan” is satsuma, which is a sweet citrus fruit. This starts very sharp and fresh and keeps that freshness when it dries, with a little sweetness and quite a bit of juiciness. I think the yuzu is what gives it such crispness, bordering on bitterness. The black tea falls a bit flat on my skin (close to cardboard territory again), and it’s very linear and short-lived, but it’s definitely pleasant and refreshing.
Tiny Ice Bees (Darling Clandestine)
A wisp of damp silk—crisp, delicate, ozoney, watery—with a subtle splash of pineapple and tart green orange and grapefruit.
In the vial, I can see this scent being icy, with bright grapefruit and pineapple. However, the grapefruit fades almost immediately on my skin and I get mostly warm pineapple juice and orange juice with a watery but not crisp aquatic note. It dries almost ambery. It’s a pleasant scent, but not very remarkable to my nose, and disappointing if you want a cold crisp citrus.
Bois Blonds (Atelier Cologne)
Neroli, bergamot, petitgrain, orange blossom, pink pepper, African incense, blond woods, musk, Haitian vetiver.
This starts a very sharp, bitter citrus. It softens by an hour and pale dry woods balance it out, but the citrus (impressively) sticks around for most of the day. I don’t get much in the way of incense or vetiver, this is definitely a fresh light scent. I find it very pleasant and crisp, if not very unique. Also good for men who want a solid office-appropriate scent.
Kumquat, white pepper, white tea and orange blossom.
A fun, cheery citrus that I reach for automatically on amusement park days. The kumquat balances between a juicy orange-y scent and the slight bitterness of citrus rind. I think the orange blossom here reads more as florally orange than as a white floral. The white tea makes it nice and fresh without competing with the citrus, and there’s a very light pepperiness to keep it interesting. My only complaint is that it’s short-lived, which isn’t surprising given the lack of basenotes.
Copal, plumeria and sweet orange and the smoke of South American incense and crushed jungle blooms.
This is a pretty unique take on citrus, and usually I’d call it an incense rather than a citrus scent – but the orange is really crucial to it. First on, the orange mingles with greenery and an undefined floral, but on drydown it lends a bit of juiciness to warm smoky copal. The smokiness makes this better suited to spring and fall than summer, but it’s a unique atmospheric scent that gets my attention year-round.
Skytyping with Chemtrails (BPAL) (2010 LE)
Spun sugar, white amber, white musk, citron, and lemongrass masking a near chemical undernote of elemi, zdravetz, and ravintsara.
It could take some effort to hunt this one down, but it might be worth it. It’s sweet, bright, and good for layering, mostly reading as very fancy lemon candy. Fancy partly because it’s not quite lemon, it’s lemongrass and citron. The white musk smells slightly vanilla-y rather than laundry-like, and the amber brings soft warmth that stops it from getting too foody. The florals are unique and hard to pin down – maybe a slight resemblance to violet from one of them – but they’re faint, and mostly just add complexity around the edges.
Orange Sanguine (Atelier Cologne)
Blood orange, bitter orange, red mandarin, Egyptian jasmine, geranium, black pepper, tonka bean, sandalwood, cedarwood.
This is the orange that I will measure all other oranges against. This starts off as close to a fresh-cut orange as a perfume can get, stunningly realistic. It settles into a pleasantly sweet orange supported by jasmine. Simple, summery, and very refreshing. I have a full review of it here.
That’s it! Hope you enjoyed this post, and please let me know if you have any questions about these scents.