Wisteria were the reason I rented my first studio in Paris, a perilous split-level job whose steep stairs nearly cost me my hung-over life once or twice. When I visited it, the high arch window was hung with the fragrant mauve flowers.
So the wisteria clinched the deal. That, and the fact that Hemingway had holed up in the hotel next door to write The Sun Also Rises, and that Valéry Larbaud lived in that very building when he worked on the first French translation of James Joyce’s Ulysses.
It was there my weak resolve to become an academic frittered away after I’d published my first articles in French magazines. There that I had a “Parisian breakfeast” – “You get the croissants, I’ll bring the champagne” – with a young man I’d just met on a bus. He left me a copy of Juan Rufo’s Pedro Paramo. I vaguely wondered why he’d never called back. When I finally got around to reading the novel, I found his phone number inscribed on the last page.
But I was in my twenties, the supply of men seemed inexhaustible, and I never got back to that stranger. I was caught up in wisteria hysteria: a springtime cornucopia of pleasures to sample, adventures to experience, stories to write, shot through with spicy wafts of purple scent…
I’ve often pestered perfumers about creating a wisteria fragrance. It seems that, like quite a few “mute flowers”, wisteria is a floral hodgepodge that won’t read as wisteria if it comes from a spray nozzle. I think I even came up with the name “Wisteria Hysteria” at some point: it just seemed so fitting. Especially since the plant’s embrace can actually smother whatever it’s latched onto: springtime love degenerating into the kiss of death.
So now, Comme des Garçons has gone and done it for mad hatter Stephen Jones. But Wisteria Hysteria triggers no flashback to my heady 1980s. CdG’s quintessentially Japanese vine has been hit by a blast of frost. And it’s climbing over a brushed steel wall rather than an Art Nouveau brick façade.
In fact, Nathalie Feisthauer and Christian Astuguevieille have submitted it to the same treatment as the packing-tape lilac in the “blob bottle” or the violet-on-a-meteorite of the first CdG X Stephen Jones collaboration. You didn’t think they’d want to come up with a realistic portrait of the flower, did you? How very gauche that would have been… Nope, you’re going to take your wisteria in its mutant form, as an SF flower that somehow managed to leech off the blood of the pallid, Kyoto-by-way-of-Krakow ice maiden in Henry Pincus’s short feature for the scent.
The mineral effect comes from the pepper, incense and indole boosting one another; a sugary violet seems to have shed a petal while riding that meteorite from the first Stephen Jones. A raspy puff of spiky woods keeps the frosted blossoms rustling. Whatever hysteria this wisteria is afflicted with manifests itself through what early psychiatry called a “crepuscular state” – similar to sleepwalking or dissociation… As chic and vaguely scary as a Stephen Jones hat.