|Henri Matisse, Geranium|
Being her own boss in the company she runs with her husband Jean-Louis Michau, Patricia de Nicolaï is perfectly free to work on whatever accords strike her fancy – and even to rework ideas when she feels they can be expressed differently – as well as talk about her perfumes any way she sees fit. Her press releases are as no-nonsense as the lady herself. For instance, about her new L’Eau cHic, confidentially released this summer and now more widely available, she simply states that it is “easy-to-wear (…), identifiable and long-lasting” and that she wanted to conjure the smell of the big geranium-scented soaps that used to throne in her parents’ bathroom.
In fact, she explained to me, she got the idea when she realised that the mint, geranium and lavender accord she’d composed for her Géranium home fragrance could be developed into a “skin” perfume: because she experiences her home fragrances in her own house, she has more time to study their full volume and nuances, so that they sometimes become the springboard for more sophisticated fine fragrances. And being her own boss means she can implement her creative afterthoughts.
There are very few geranium-themed fragrances. For some people, the plant is associated with dusty flowerpots on windowsills and therefore distinctly unglamorous, though for Patricia de Nicolaï, it conjures happy memories of the flowered balconies of mountain chalets in summer in Bavaria, Switzerland or the French Alps. But more relevantly, geranium flowers have no fragrance, so that they're a bit of a harder sell to customers. The scent comes from the crumpled leaves. But, as Mme de Nicolaï points out, “though geranium essential oil is used in many formulas, it is seldom the central accord of a composition, namely because its sharpness and raspiness make it difficult to handle."
Yet, as luck would have it, just as she was honing her formula Frédéric Malle launched Géranium pour Monsieur, which Dominique Ropion had also worked around a geranium-mint accord. Nevertheless, Mme de Nicolaï forged ahead and launched her own take. Good call. The mint in Ropion’s Géranium is so powerfully overdosed it can be nose-searing (never, ever smell this first in a sampling session). L’Eau cHic, by contrast, achieves a Goldilocks moment by toning down the mint (actually a blend of spearmint and peppermint) so that it hooks up with the minty facet of geranium and lifts the lavender without overwhelming either.
The effect isn’t tastebud-scouring mouthwash but crisp, cool, sappy leaves crushed between your fingers, ice-cold water with a sprig of mint, smooth slippery soap. L’Eau cHic says “cool water” without a molecule of aquatic material, and “clean” without smothering you with laundry musk, though there are white musks to boost the notes. In fact, if it were sold in 1000 ml bottles, L’Eau cHic would be the kind of scent you’d shower with in summer: it’s got enough of a woody backbone to hold you up in a heat wave, and is elegant enough to feel as though you’ve donned a freshly ironed white Egyptian cotton shirt.
It’s been said before but it bears repeating: at a time when niche perfumes are often overpriced versions of mainstream products, and when classics are defaced by cost-cutting and regulations, perfume lovers can be grateful to Patricia de Nicolaï for offering consistently excellent compositions in a classic idiom at a price point that doesn’t require selling a kidney. And for telling us the straight story.