Cold stone stairs leading down to the library.
Dirt floor, stone walls, hidden beneath the church.
The smell of ancient texts hangs thick in the air.
Ancient incense, the musty scent of books, and the dust of a thousand years...
I'm always surprised when people describe Messe de Minuit as a gloomy fragrance, but that's probably because I own the most recent iteration, by now long denuded of all the damp cellar nihilism that originally scared the bejeezus out of buyers.
What's it like now? Well, imagine a gloomy Italian cathedral with the flood lights suddenly turned on and the doors thrown open to let the fresh air in. It's an incredibly cheerful smell bitter orange peel and lemons mixed with the lime-peel and pine brightness of unlit frankincense.
The older version, of which I only had a tiny sample, was quite different. There, in the drydown, the dour, fungal dampness of myrrh mixed with a powdery, spicy benzoin to produce an aroma that recalled very strongly the scent of mildewy paper and the slightly metallic, inert air of a closed-up sacristy.
An incredibly evocative smell, I can see why ETRO might have wanted to tone it down for their customer base not everyone wants to wear the smell of books whose pages are sodden and green with rising damp. There is the unsettling suggestion of familial neglect about it. Pity, though, because I rather like perfumes that sacrifice wearability and overall pleasantness for the gut-punch of effect.
Myrrh, incense, labdanum and patchouli, what a beautiful combination. Messe de Minuit smells like a church right after the mass. There is some citrus but I get more of a woody, resinous smell. It is very warm and comforting. I love it!
As described by the generous Basenoter, who provided me with a sample, Messe de Minuit is "dry incense with a candied-lemon twist, gets less fruity as time goes by,but remains soft and smoky. Good projection and longevity."
I had feared from the reviews and Turin's description of it as "incense pomander," that the orange/clove note of the traditional pomander ball would prevail. Not so. I know frankincense and myrrh, as for years I was associated with a monastic order, who made their own incense blends. This is quality, beautifully blended and quite unique to my nose.
Incense blends in the perfume world tend to come on too strong for my enjoyment, but the layering here of incense. myrrh, neroli, petitgrain, patchouli, lemon, cinnamon and musk is superb.
Over the years, multiple new incense scents have been released (many to much fanfare), but Messe de Minuit remains my favorite incense scent. I own all three versions so I will give some brief thoughts on all three.
Original version (round label): This is the driest version of the three, by far. Frankincense resins, dusty stone, and remnants of candle smoke. I do not get any orange in the version. Lives up to its reputations as the most gothic version. Longevity is good despite being an EDC.
Second version (square label-gold cap): While you can still tell this is the same scent as the original, this version is more sweet with the added pronounced orange note. However, other than this change, this smells of almost pure frankincense resin oil. Not quite as dusty or dry as the original, but very nice. Longevity is superb.
Third version (square label-silver cap): This version picks up from the second version, but the honeyed orange pomander note is much more pronounced. It does eventually dry down to the resinous character of the previous versions. Despite the naysayers, I also love this version--it's extremely comforting in cold weather, and always puts a smile on my face.
No matter what version you choose, you can't go wrong. You wont get the (somewhat artificial) smokey frankincense effect that Avignon and Cardinal offer, but the effect and imagery is still incredible. MdM remains my favorite incense scent, slightly edging out L'Eau Trois and Cardinal.