The first whiff of L’Enlèvement au Sérail – which takes its name from a Mozart opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio – is uncannily familiar: Francis Kurkdjian has obviously pilfered Edmond Roudnitska’s arsenal for his famous Prunol base or something quite similar. It has the very same tart peach-plum-nutty smell as the top notes of Roudnitska’s Le Parfum de Thérèse (Frédéric Malle Éditions de Parfums) or of its semi-clone, the current Diorama. But while the fruity, slightly tooth-gritting notes of the modern Diorama (I’ve never had the chance to smell the old one) linger for minutes or even hours, L’Enlèvement au Sérail veers off immediately into the fleshier, more animalic consistency of jasmine petals drowned in a cloud of cream-beaten citruses, flavoured with ylang-ylang and vanilla. The bergamot-vanilla duet and the classic jasmine-rose pairing give it some of the edible floral consistency of the older Guerlains: ghosts of the original Mitsouko (peach), Shalimar (bergamot-vanilla) and Parure (plum, rose, patchouli). Reminiscences of the vintage Rochas Femme (the plum again) or of Balenciaga Quadrille (still the plum) draw L’Enlèvement au Sérail, by analogy, into 1950s fruity chypre territory though it is presented as a floral oriental.
The composition might just as well have been classified as one of the nouveau chypres, despite the absence of labdanum and oak moss: after several hours, the patchouli acts like the latter to dry it up, give it a bitter foundation that checks the sweet fugue of vanilla. The structure of chypre, its tension between the juicy freshness of bergamot, the floral heart and the earthy, slightly burnt base is stronger here than in most blends currently being labelled as chypres.
It is as though Francis Kurkdjian, who is also the author of post-modern compositions almost entirely based on synthetics (Narciso Rodriguez for Her, Jean-Paul Gaultier Le Mâle), had played at grazing the classics without copying them (L’Enlèvement smells neither old-ladyish nor vintage). The classics have, for the most part, degenerated to the point of being almost unrecognizable through reformulation and cheaper ingredients, when they haven’t been simply discontinued: thus, this is a classic as it should be composed, with first-rate materials and a harmonious blend.
The aesthetics of Claude Marchal’s Parfums MDCI, launched in 2006, place the range within a minute niche family that stands apart from market trends by adhering to the standards of the Grand Style of perfumery – a family that also includes Yvon Mouchel’s Parfums Divine and Patricia de Nicolaï’s Parfums de Nicolaï. However, unlike these brands, MDCI has very high price points: $5780 and $4920 for numbered crystal bottles, $703 for flacons with bisque stoppers, $336 for 60 ml refills, which puts them more in the Clive Christian, JAR high-luxury range, a notch above Indult, Tom Ford or By Kilian. But the house offers a sample set of its five fragrances in very generous decants for $102. Too bad (for our wallets). Those are seriously beautiful scents.
Image: Carle Van Loo, Madame de Pompadour en sultane (1747), Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.