John Varvatos Artisan Black: neroli redemption

John Varvatos Artisan Black

Artisan Black is a scent I have wanted to try for a long time but was not available at shops in Athens (my friend Nikos tells me that it has just been introduced in the market though). The original Artisan is easy to find and admittedly is one of the few scents featuring a central orange blossom or neroli note that I could see myself wearing. It is without a doubt a floral scent but with enough citrus and greenness to feel masculine and wearable. Gaultier Fleur du Mâle on the other hand is the typical neroli that makes me run like I had just bumped into the Texas chainsaw massacre slayer. The combination of orange blossom and tonka is to my nose the equivalent of a flower-eating fairy with a bad indigestion.  I was very pleasantly surprised when I saw Artisan Black selling for 35 euro at the Athens Airport perfume shop. I tried it immediately and decided to buy it on the spur of the moment. The price tag was very favourable for such an impulse buy.

Artisan Black is a wonderful Spring/Summer scent. It opens with the smell of bright mandarins, cedrat and petitgrain. This bitter and refreshing opening characterizes the composition even when neroli makes its entrance. It is obvious that this is not going to be another citrus cologne. Neroli is not the most masculine nor the most discreet note for a man’s fragrance and it takes a lot of discipline to keep it bright and calm, not allowing it to drown into sweet and musky waters. As it warms on skin neroli blooms cheerfully capturing the essence of spring. The composition remains light and dry and in that sense stays closer to the essence of the flower than other neroli fragrances that focus on the opulence of the extract and end up smelling like heavy musks instead of delicate flowers. I have always believed that the best floral perfumes possess a certain vague quality that does not stem from the flowers themselves. It is really difficult to capture the cool breath that seems to emanate from a fragrant flower the first few fractions of a second you inhale its aroma.  All flowers seem to have some intangible quality that does not originate from its petals but feels like it is the heritage of the plant to the flower. The waxy greenness of gardenia, the peppery sweetness of jasmine, the spicy elegance of carnation, the aggressive sweetness of lilies, are not captured in most floral fragrances. As a result the flowers depicted in these fragrances smell cut,dead or even stale. The bitter orange blossoms in Artisan Black are just blooming, they still adorn branches full of leaves and heavy with last season’s fruits. Going through the official note list one cannot help but admire how literal it is in terms of disclosing actual aroma chemicals. The reported leather note initially surprised me but yes, it is actually there. A hinted leather note that blends with vetiver to hint the leathery texture of the flower petals themselves.

John Varvatos is a solid, decent line of commercial fragrances that has an adventurous tendency but likes to stay within traditional boundaries. To this day the original John Varvatos remains a classic, a fragrance I have come to appreciate in the days I was looking for something close to the discontinued Donna Karan Fuel for Men. It isn’t a copy of the DK masterpiece but it managed to capture the warm leather notes and associate them with a hint of fruit. One can’t go wrong with Varvatos perfumes (although I haven’t tried Star U.S.A. and the tackiness of the name and bottle do intimidate me).  Artisan Black is far for being the perfect neroli fragrance. There are distinct phases and the overall blending cannot match the exquisite intricacy of Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier Pour le Jeune Homme. It is however easier to wear, simpler and it has allowed me to find peace with the spirit of spring.

Notes from my nose: Mandarin, Cedrat, Petitgrain, Neroli, Vetiver

John Varvatos Artisan Black notes

Notes from Parfumo: Basil, Blood orange, Boxwood, Calypsone, Galbanum, Mandarin, Mint, Rhubarb, Black currant bud, Thyme, Lemon, Ginger, Jasmine, Cardamom, Coriander seed, Neroli, Orange blossom, Orange jessamine, Belambre, Boisiris, Orris root, Kephalis, Leather, Patchouli, Serenolide, Vetiver

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MemoryOfScent by Christos is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


About Christos

Scientifically minded but obsessed with the subjective aspect of things. Photos copyright of MemoryOfScent, with special thanks to Pantelis Makkas You are welcome to link to my blog but you are definitely not allowed to copy text or use the photos without my permission. All text and main photos are originals and property of MemoryOfScent All perfumes are from my collection unless stated otherwise.


  1. Fleur du Mâle – agreed. Sounds like there is headspace technology going on here with Artisan Black to capture “the cool breath that seems to emanate from a fragrant flower the first few fractions of a second you inhale its aroma”. Athens Dude, I can smell your words.

    • If headspace is the name of the game then I am all for it. I have always admired how realistic Un Lys and Vanille Galante are in their interpretation (or rather impersonation) of tiger lilies.

  2. your review makes me want to try it again. I samples it in store long time ago and now I don’t remember how it smelled to me and if I liked it.

    • It is decent and you can see that some thought has been put into it. Selecting neroli as the theme of not one, but two masculine perfumes is a daring approach nowadays.

  3. Dear Christos
    I am always on the search for good citruses. Just having discovered JoLoves wonderful Orange and Coriander has reawakened my passion for the orange and its extended family.
    So this Artisan has my curiosity very much aroused!
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • I haven’t tried Jo Loves O&C but from my experience with this line it should be good. Artisan is honest and straightforward and it attempts to tempt the market with some originality.

      Thank you Dandy

  4. Great review!

    Parfym Sverige

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