There are some fragrances whose balance is so perfect you feel the merest whisper of a word would upset it, if they weren’t made to endure. Fragrances whose radiance can be the only light some days, even when the sun is out. Le Parfum de Thérèse is one such fragrance for me, perhaps because it was composed for a woman who bears the same name as my mother. But even with any other name, even if it had been called Fidji as it almost did, before Guy Laroche changed his mind and picked Josephine Catapano’s composition over Edmond Roudnitska’s, it would have still been the one I turned to when the magic of the world’s gone missing.
I bought Le Parfum de Thérèse on a happy occasion, the day I signed a contract for a book with a publisher who, I found out as we reached an agreement, had actually known Edmond and Thérèse Roudnitska when she worked for Rochas: serendipitously, I had chosen to wear Femme that day, and Femme was Martine’s most cherished perfume. I wore Le Parfum de Thérèse to sustain my courage on a day where I had to go sign other papers: someone who didn’t want to live, and who had no other friend but me in this country, had to be protected against himself.
I reach every once in a while for Le Parfum de Thérèse because each spray sends a shower of light on my skin. That honeyed melon sprinkled with mandarin and peppery bergamot exhales a tender jasmine breath; Edmond Roudnitska’s famous spicy Prunol base has been kissed with green tartness. I barely get leather: just a radiance that keeps unfurling, anchored to the skin by a warm, creamy base as the jasmine deepens into overripe fruit tones.
Le Parfum de Thérèse speaks in the exquisite voices of a Mozart opera – Cosi Fan Tutte’s Soave sia il vento, “May the wind be gentle”, comes to mind. Like the utter beauty of those Mozartian voices just as Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto inserts a cynical aside, this perfume tells you that even artifice, betrayals and lies can be subsumed into soaring harmonies.
Remember that scene towards the end of Manhattan, when Woody Allen muses to his tape recorder about what makes life worth living? “Well, there are certain things, I guess, that make it worthwhile. Like what?”
Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte
Marcello Mastroianni’s gaze
Anything by Charles Trenet
The Beach Boys’ Do you wanna dance?
The first page of Diderot’s Jacques le Fataliste
The Ronettes’ Be my baby
Tintoretto’s Lady baring her breasts at the Prado
Edmond Roudnitska’s Le Parfum de Thérèse
This really should have been called Joy. Merci Thérèse.