jeudi 28 août 2008

Another Chypre Obit: Acqua di Parma Profumo


Sometimes you come to the party so late not only have the guests all gone, but the building’s been knocked down and promoters are getting ready to inaugurate the new one.


How could I have missed this gorgeous chypre? After all, it’s been around since 1930…

Granted, Acqua di Parma Profumo has been flying so low under the radar it’s only been reviewed once by a perfume blogger, Marina of Perfume-Smellin’ Things, and by a handful of Basenoters and MUAers (mostly raves apart from a couple of the usual “old lady” comments). If it hadn’t been for a French commenter of this blog, I probably would’ve never registered its existence, though I’d sampled (and loved) the Iris Nobile eau de parfum… Put it down to its being Italian: who ever heard of an Italian chypre?


And now it’s gone, or just about. A new version will be launched on September 15th. The perfumer is Nathalie Lorson (author of two great Laliques, Perles and Encre Noire, and of Bulgari Voile de Jasmin), which bodes well, though LVMH, who bought out the century-old brand in 2003, is well-known for gutting its classics…


I can’t say whether the pre-reformulated bottle I have (one of the last three on the shelf) resembles the original 1930 composition, which allegedly contained 300 ingredients, but it does list oak moss, and it smells of it, along with a distinctly skanky whiff of civet. Profumo has an archetypal chypre quality to it, blending the smooth glamour of a very early, Mitsouko-era fragrance with just a hint of the gender-bending characteristics of aromatic 1950s types like Miss Dior – this could perfectly be worn by a man. Sage, cinnamon, clove and cardamom give a cool-hot, spicy-medicinal tinge to the citrusy top notes. As the day goes by, it slowly unfurls its lush floral heart – I detect jasmine, iris, rose and ylang-ylang – before it subsides into a woody, smoky, earthy base (oak moss, sandalwood, labdanum and incense).


For an eau de parfum, the concentration is not particularly strong, and it tends to fade every once in a while, but it is quite tenacious and full-bodied.


Acqua di Parma Profumo has already been withdrawn from the shelves in the LVMH-owned Sephora, but various online retailers seem to have some in stock. For chypre lovers, it is well worth seeking out. It is (was) the real thing.


Image: Marcello Mastroianni in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960)

20 commentaires:

  1. Leave it to me to wait too long...

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  2. I think we perfumistas have practically all made the same mistake. And it's just been sitting there all the time, waiting to be loved... (I'm gonna make myself cry).

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  3. Somewhere, surely there is someone who is quietly purchasing one of everything on perfume shelves across the continents, and keeping a stash of bottles in an ice cave or under the taiga or something like that.

    Right? :(

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  4. Oh I do love a perfumed coincidence! Hello Carmencanada - I've been lurking for a while now admiring your writing and the very well educated comments it has produced. Today I put on my sample of the "new" Profumo and was wondering if anyone would review it and here you are. I cannot comment on whether this has been a respectful reworking as I do not know the original but I am more and more impressed with the current version. For me it certainly has that Mitsouko vibe and a bit of early Cabochard and the original Azuree or a mossy Diorella! I shall be very interested in what you and others make of the "new" version. Donanicola

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  5. Scentself: I think I know him. He's in Canada. This isn't a joke.

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  6. Hello, Donanicola, I'm glad you delurked! I'm happy to know that the new formulation is impressive and faithful to its chypre origins. Somehow, Profumo has this generic chypre-ness that brings to mind many other members of the family. It seems the reformulation does too. It's not out yet in France. If it's as good as you say, I'm looking forward to it!

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  7. Oh, must try and track this down asap! I recently discovered Aqua di Parma Colonia Assoluta, which I quite liked. Thanks for the hot tip!

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  8. Tara, it doesn't seem to be very easy to find, but I've seen it online. It really develops beautifully, with so many facets peeking up over the hours...

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  9. Hello, Denyse -- I have been eyeing the AdP Profumo for a few months now, in a store that appears to have a few bottles left. It always seemed a bit strange and unpleasantly astringent to me on paper, so I had never given it serious thought. But based on your review, I went back and tried it on skin, and wow, it really is something. I am considering buying some before it disappears for good, but it only appears to be available in large sizes, and it is quite expensive. :-(

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  10. Another lurker called out by the lure of Profumo. A lovely perfumista was so kind as to send me a small decant of this and I was immediately taken with it. I love the way that the spice notes call attention without overwhelming. I am generally cautious about fragrances with cinnamon, clove, herbal notes etc. They often don't agree with me; but these notes are very well balanced in Profumo. I hope that reformulation doesn't alter it considerably.

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  11. Jarvis, I never even tried it on paper, as the Drugstore Publicis (think high-end, design canteen/shop/épicerie) that sold it didn't even have scent strips. So it went directly on the skin, and the evening was spent in the proverbial "can't stop sniffing" position. So I didn't get that effect, and was smitten. It *is* expensive, though... But less so than tons of inferior niche stuff.

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  12. Melisand, I'm glad you delurked too! It *is* well balanced, isn't it? I don't know who supervised the "original" re-orchestration, when the brand was bought in the early 90s (before it was resold to LVMH), but he or she did a very good job on the 1930s formula: it has a very authentic feel.

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  13. Hate to be a voice of slight dissent.
    Not because I don't like the fragrance (I do very much, oakmoss and all, as I did Iris Nobile as well!)but due to historical reasons.

    First of all, the oldest and what seems only "genuine" composition by AdP is the Colonia (1916): splash bottle, plain presentation, can be seen in certain old photos from movie stars' cabinets.
    Fast foward to mid-90s when Diego Della Valle (he of Tod's fame) decided to buy the languishing brand and re-vamp it (and bring it to Milano, fashion capital!). At that time AdP became the darling product of Vogue and was featured constantly! It was also the time when the packaging was taken care of and some additional products added (the Cypresso, Mandorlo etc scents)
    And then LVMH came and actually a tsunami of releases of luxury items/products followed, along with a mark-up in price bien-sur ~ one of them the refurbished Profumo.
    AdP themselves tag it as "the first fragrance exclusively created for women" (with no mention of historical refs, which they do bother to mention for Colonia nevertheless, which suggests they wouldn't want to be caught being inaccurate).
    I also have a small yellow booklet of theirs which I got a few years ago via Milan that lists it as a new fragrance with no allusion to the old "recipe". That came afterwards, when the potential for classic re-issues had been awakened by Guerlain (and a few others) ;-)

    So, to cut a long story short, some of the claims seem a little PR-fabricated to me, much like Rancé.

    As to Italian chypres, I very much liked your rhetorical question, but I believe -and I might be mistaken- that there have been some: Aqua Classica Borsari (1880) which includes the classic skeleton of citrus-oakmoss, Acca Kappa, Battistoni, several of the very first Guccis, Krizia K (fabulous! do try it!), the Trussardi Donna pre-reformulation (in the white croc bottle)...
    Chypres are very much steeped into the Mediterranean tradition long before Coty.

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  14. Dear E., thank you for those precisions. The question about Italian chypres was more of a joke than anything else: Italy having a very ancient perfume industry would of course have some chypre-type formulas. It's just that the family is much more associated with French perfumery, whereas Acqua di Parma especially is associated with the Colonia.

    As for the prior existence of a 1930 formula, I plead guilty to reproducing the info without investigating it. It did seem likely, and is not entirely disproven, since it is possible that the brand did produce a chypre in the 30s: it's the opposite that is unlikely, given that practically every brand produced one or several at the time. But I have no info to bolster the claim, so it might well be a PR fabrication, as you say...
    There is certainly a classic feel to Profumo, and whoever composed it, it is (was) beautifully done in the true chypre tradition.
    Maybe Octavian will weigh in with more info, since he has a considerable amount of period documentation?

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  15. I just thought I'd add a ps to my comment above. Went to Harrods today to try Serge Noire (hm, still making up my mind about that one). After a mini hissy fit on my part (I feel ashamed) when the AdP SA tried telling me the current version was a NEW fragrance and I said but no it is a reform of a 30's one she smiled and produced what she described was the original. It was certainly more skanky than the current version and I am considering buying a bottle as she had 3 left (red box as opposed to the yellow one). Think I need to try them side by side as I do still like the current version which I think, despite lack of oakmoss and civet, is a welcome addition to the mossy wood genre (hate the term modern chypre!) Anyway, thought you might be interested and I'm glad to read Elena's comment up there too. Donanicola

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  16. Donanicola, you're the first person to try these side by side, I think; and I'm glad to know your impressions... The fact that the new version is good enough to make you hesitate is excellent news in many ways.
    And, yes, it's a good thing Helg dropped by to add the info. I was in such a hurry to talk about this just-about-discontinued chypre I didn't really do my homework. After consulting with Octavian of 1000fragrances, he said that he couldn't find any mention of Acqua di Parma in his period Italian magazines. So there's no way, so far, of knowing if Profumo's 1930 origin is authentic or just a bit of PR BS.
    Either way it's a great perfume, and will be mourned.
    I also take note that the new box is yellow, and the old one red: good for people who would like to get ahold of the old one.

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  17. Well-
    at least, you've found it now !

    I sent a vial of this to Patty, March , and Helg over a year ago...
    I couldn't bel;ieve that no one had smelled it.

    I love the big bottle.

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  18. Dear I., what surprises me is how little it was talked about... Clearly under the radar, though it doesn't surprise me you spread the love!

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  19. I've been wavering on this since a blog (NST?) mentioned it would be reformulated. I got a decant, and just don't love it - I think I'm not smelling all of its notes, something just isn't working for me. And it is so dang expensive - I'm going to have to sit this one out (since I'm not in love with it).

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  20. A wise decision, Anonymous. Good thing you got a decant first. I'm sure you can swap it away and help it find a good home!

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