Kudos to whoever art-directed Van Cleef and Arpels’ new Collection Extraordinaire. The whole concept is pitch-perfect: graceful, effortlessly elegant florals, plus a cologne, that tie in naturally with the Paris jeweler’s whimsical garden-themed collections. And while the “soliflore” road may be one well travelled by perfume connoisseurs – it’s an “exclusives” line trope to focus on a specific material or note – the Collection Extraordinaire has been exceedingly well received by the major (and potentially jaded) bloggers.*
Nothing groundbreaking (just as there’s nothing avant-garde about VC & A’s precious baubles), just impeccable quality for beautiful, perfectly balanced renditions of classic themes that somehow refresh their vocabulary: none feels trite or déjà-vu. The VC &A perfume demonstrator at the Galeries Lafayette, who was discovering the samples the day I popped in, remarked that the move to give these straight-up floral names was a smart one: “People like to recognize what they smell”. And it may be this lack of pretention, of ostentatious perfumer’s prowess, that makes the Collection Extraordinaire feel so fresh, so essentially likeable in its loveliness: it feels like a deliberate aesthetic choice. In other words: art direction (the six perfumers come from two labs, Givaudan and Symrise, so this is quite likely a third party’s vision). I’m also wondering whether the choice of themes – apart from the iris and the cologne – deliberately focused on flowers whose essence can’t be extracted. Lily, lily-of-the-valley, orchid, gardenia: all of these are necessarily perfumer’s interpretations –materials deftly assembled like precious stones in a weightless gold setting. Again, there is an obvious consistency between the collection and its mother house.
I’ve been wearing Nathalie Feisthauer’s Gardénia Pétale for a week now on various occasions – at work, at a church wedding, for champagne at the Plaza with Monsieur – and no scent I’ve ever worn has gathered so many spontaneous compliments, possibly because there is something about it that’s familiar enough to be identified as the smell of a gorgeous flower, but also because of its sheer volume.
While it sits on skin as lightly as silk and I may forget at times I’m wearing it, the scent clearly develops a huge, delicate sillage – Patty from the Perfume Posse called it a “wafter”, as opposed to a “sillage monster”. It’s immensely more wearable than my other gardenia, Tom Ford’s decadent, genetically-modified, silicone-enhanced man-eater; there isn’t a hint of the femme fatale hiding behind the bush. But though it is a botanically correct gardenia all the way from the green, dewy freshness of the bud to the faint hint of mushroom the blossom throws as it fades, Gardénia Pétale is also a hybrid. The light, green, slightly spicy part of the smell of lily has been grafted onto those creamy petals; the lily ties into its sister tropical flowers (frangipani, ylang-ylang) and vanilla through their solar, salicylic notes, which act as a setting to the starring gardenia. In his review, Octavian of 1000fragrances likens Gardénia Pétale to “the richness of Songes (Goutal)... hiding behind Un Matin d'Orage (Goutal)”. But the scent has neither the jarring ozonic-electric opening of the latter nor the lushly erotic abandon of the former. With its discretely assertive sillage, Gardénia Pétale has the confident sensuousness of a woman who never has to raise her voice to be heard. You just, somehow, find yourself trailing in her wake.
Image: Dorothy Jordan by George Hurell (1930).