Dark as black, but shot with bistre and umber; as lush and hefty as silk velvet, but oddly radiant… By hovering at the lowest levels of the olfactory spectrum, L’Heure Défendue (“The Forbidden Hour), like last year’s L’Heure Mystérieuse (aka “the one with incense”), achieves the equivalent of fashion’s faux noir.
The Seventh Hour of the “Heures de Parfums” collection – named after the seven deadly sins – is also a tough, modern twist on the oriental family. In a bid to give chocolate the same nobility as vanilla, a material Mathilde Laurent knows inside-out from her eleven years as Jean-Paul Guerlain’s assistant, she has used cocoa absolute as the core note of her “Black Oriental”.
Did the idea spring from her habit of chewing cocoa beans and observing all their facets without their usual sugary coating? After a tiny burst of sap reminiscent of the green, faintly sperm-like smell of tulips (which is present in the cocoa bean), the note is served up in its original bitterness and animalic growl. Just like the dried vanilla pod, dark unsweetened cocoa hints at leather – cut off a chunk of the stuff, smell it next to castoreum and you’ll find the Aztec bean morphing into a beast…
Mathilde Laurent further darkens her blend by matching her cocoa with several types of patchouli, from the earthy, musty, camphoraceous Indonesian straight stuff to the more delicate patchouli fractions[i].
The affinities between chocolate and patchouli have, of course, already been explored on the sweet side by Thierry Mugler Angel; Serge Lutens’ Bornéo 1834 zoomed in on them. But the Forbidden Hour achieves very different effects. Whereas Bornéo 1834 is dry and powdery with a faint milkiness to the chocolate, L’Heure Défendue has the smoothness of a black chocolate ganache filling with none of the sweetness. The velvety, woody-musky facets of Cashmeran – an IFF material Mathilde Laurent admits she would bathe in – smooth out the cocoa-patchouli accord while pushing it outward in a powerful, yet surprisingly delicate sillage.
As L’Heure Défendue evolves, the cocoa-patchouli melts to release a violet filling with iris and leather effects; there is also a hint of rose (Sophia Grojsman played on the rose/chocolate accord very differently in S-Perfumes’ 100% Love). This is when the Forbidden Hour starts venturing in Guerlain territory: it picks up where Mathilde Laurent’s own Guet-Apens/Attrape-Coeur left off a decade ago, in a pared-down, intelligent interpretation of the Guerlain tradition. A recent Guerlain, Gourmand Coquin from the Elixirs Charnels collection, did in fact play on the chocolate note: smelling it alongside L’Heure Défendue is an object lesson on the divergent paths this tradition can take. While the classic Guerlains’ gourmand leanings – whether vanilla, peach or the almond facets of coumarin and heliotropin – were always kept in check by aromatic notes, several of the contemporary compositions boost their sweetness. Mathilde Laurent opts for the opposite stance, and tugs her gourmand note out of the pantry and into the boudoir.
Of the Seven Deadly Sins after which this seventh, forbidden hour was named, you can thus have your pick between the two tastiest ones…
For another take on VII – L’Heure Défendue, those of you who read French can click here for Ambre Gris’ review – as we discovered the fragrances at the same time, we decided to post on them simultaneously, but without comparing notes.
And stay tuned on Monday for a review of VIII – L’Heure Diaphane, and a draw for the sample of your choice of the previous five Heures de Parfum.
Illustration: Irving Penn for Vogue.
[i] “Fraction” means the natural material has been broken down into its components and re-assembled using only the molecules needed to create a specific effect: patchouli fraction is usually divested of the musty facets it acquires when patchouli leaves are dried before being treated.