vendredi 29 avril 2011

Top Ten Perfumes for a Red Spring

It’s been a hot, dry spring here in Paris, though I haven’t seen much of it as I end my yearlong book-writing marathon. To go along with the premature blasts of summer heat and to keep myself going, I’ve been veering towards tougher scents -- I’ve been told the planets are in a particularly bellicose mood, with Mars in Aries and Mercury retrograde, which worldwide events would certainly bear out. I’m seeing red, which turns out sludgy when mixed with the traditional springtime greens. No time for wimps, this… Hence:

Eau sauvage, by Edmond Roudnitska for Christian Dior
You could tell the “wild water’s” story three ways. Dior launched it in 1966 as a masculine with a Gruau ad that shocked France, including Marcel Boussac, the owner of the house: a pair of hairy legs emerging from a white bathrobe. For Edmond Roudnitska, it was the gardens of Taormina and the rocky landscapes of the Alps and Apennines. For the May 68 generation, it was the scent of the unisex years, a soaring aromatic blast clearing away the wafts of the ladies who lunch. But Eau Sauvage, in its original formula, is as elegant a demonstration as ever was that form ultimately transcends anecdote: it just is. The proof? Even my 20-year-old American students, whose favourite materials are ethyl maltol and ambroxan, are floored by its beauty.

Sous le Vent by Jacques Guerlain for Guerlain
Reedited in 2005 in the “Il était une fois Guerlain” collection and discontinued since, Sous le Vent was slightly lacking in volume and had lost the original 1933 formula’s leather notes along the way. But with its herbaceous basil, tarragon and lavender notes, sweet spices and mossy base, this hybrid of the fougère and the chypre managed to tie in Jicky with Mitsouko and the never-reedited Cachet Jaune, while somehow anticipating Eau Sauvage, a link Mathilde Laurent’s Heure Fougueuse for Cartier may have established decades after the fact. Hot, dry and languorous as the trade winds. Get it if you still can.

Eau de Gloire by Marc-Antoine Corticchiato for Parfum d’Empire
There’s such forcefulness to most of Corticchiato’s compositions that to wear them, you may feel you need a license to bear arms. Even his cologne-inspired Eau de Gloire, a tribute to the maquis of his family’s native Corsica, is anything but a David-Hamiltonian romp through the citrus orchard. This is combustible, incense-laden, resinous stuff with whiffs of immortelle that feels glorious indeed.

Turtle Vetiver series by Isabelle Doyen for Les Nez
If ever a note could bring fortitude, it is the astonishingly facetted vetiver, with its primal ties to smoke, rock, vegetation and the sun, via its grapefruit note. Isabelle Doyen served it up nearly raw in Exercise One; Front Vetiver plays on the smoke and ink softened up by an odd coconut note; Back Vetiver tames it with violet for woody powdery contrast, musk tying it in with skin. One of the two will be available soon – no news of which yet. Both are true to the original inspiration.

Calamus by Bertrand Duchaufour for Comme des Garçons Series 1: Leaves
In the midst of the recent Duchaufour tsunami – soon to be continued with The Different Company’s oud and a rewrite of Esprit du Roi, an 1870 Penhaligon’s reissued in 1976 – it’s worthwhile going back to the scent he pinpoints as the first to truly bear his signature. Calamus, an aromatic material used since ancient Egypt, is particularly difficult to handle because of the sludgy, raw mutton-skin notes it presents alongside its green and fresh-out-of-the-oven pastry tones. Comme des Garçons’ Calamus somehow channels this multiple personality disorder into vivid natural effect of milky sap, with a touch of Duchaufour’s trademark savoury notes – in this case celery seed, connecting with the celery/curry/hazelnut effects of angelica. Sadly, his vividly textural Mint for the Leaves Series seems to have been discontinued.

Réminiscence by Michèle Saramito for Réminiscence
Réminiscence is to patchouli what L’Artisan is to musk: a niche pioneer who translated the wafts of the Woodstock generation into the codes of French perfumery. The costume jewellery company celebrated its 40th anniversary with a jokey-kitsch South-sea turquoise packaging in this 2010 limited edition, but the scent itself is a sophisticated take on the note, less gourmand than the original, with eucalyptus boosting the camphoraceous facet of patchouli, a trio of cool spices – star anise, pink pepper and nutmeg – bringing it texture and jasmine femming it up. A lovely wear even for those of us who were too young to be hippies and who are too grown up to play the hippie chic retro angle.

Weekend à Deauville by Patricia de Nicolaï for Parfums de Nicolaï
In his later years, Cary Grant was told by the hostess who took his invitation for a gala “You don’t look like Cary Grant.” “Nobody does”, he replied. In the same way, any lily of the valley fragrance will be challenged on the grounds it’s not Diorissimo. But Patricia de Nicolaï knows her classics well enough not to attempt to repeat them, and of her two muguet exercises, I much prefer Weekend à Deauville and its rounded, green chypre accents to the sharper rosy musk of Un Coeur en Mai for Parfums MDCI. One of the few muguets that keep firmly out of the closet underneath the sink where air fresheners and fabric softeners skulk.

Pur Désir de Lilas by Annick Menardo for Yves Rocher
This one is so reasonably priced I use it as room spray rather than as a personal fragrance, but I have taken to layering it quite perversely with Bulgari Black. Somehow, the lilac hooks up with the styrax, which brings out qualities you never knew it had, a bit like Dorothy Malone in The Big Sleep when she lets down her hair, removes her glasses and pulls down the blind of the bookshop to lock herself up with Bogart and a hip flask of booze. What else are you going to do on a rainy spring afternoon? Read a book?

Un Gardénia la Nuit by Dominique Ropion for Frédéric Malle Éditions de Parfum
In his Journal d’un parfumeur, Jean-Claude Ellena says gardenia is the result of a drama played out between jasmine and tuberose. My version of the story is that while tuberose is the corruptor, gardenia is corrupted – something in her green creamy heart is a little rotten. But that’s not how Ropion translates it: his gardenia candle, which I’d beg him to turn into a perfume if I had that kind of pull (I have, and I don’t), is the flower is its delicate, green phase with just a hint of the coming ripeness.

Vierges et Toreros by Antoine Lie and Antoine Maisondieu for État Libre d’Orange
If Fracas and Bandit had had an incestuous fling in the bullpen of the Maestranza in Seville, Vierges et Toreros might have been their offspring. I’ve missed out on the Holy Week this year – the processions were partly cancelled because of the downpour – and consoled myself with this butched-up tuberose. Its abrupt leather accord, nose-searing spices and unsettling costus, blood-on-fur effect may be the only things that ever got a chance to slap the bitchy tuberose around. But she gives as good as she gets, gains the upper hand for a while before gushing one last squirt of blood on the sepia boards of the bullring. Turns out the Virgin was the Beast all along.

Illustration by Christine Spengler.

14 commentaires:

  1. I am sad to say that I have not tried even one of these and they all sound beautiful.

  2. Dleep, if there's just the one to seek out, I do recommend Eau Sauvage, even in its current reformulation. Truly a classic, and probably not hugely hard to track down.

  3. I'm glad you mentioned the Lilas. My mother was looking for a perfume that reminded her of the beautiful lilacs that bloom in the gardens in the Alps in springtime, and Lilas was it. And I love the Nicolai, a gorgeous spring scent that takes away the pain of this "red spring". So when do things improve astrologically??

  4. Marla, I have no idea about the planets' plans, unfortunately, but I wish they'd calm down. They're really playing with my nerves, and I'm not the only one. Fortunately, there's the writing, and interesting new encounters, fragrant and fragrance-related, so amidst the shocks there's energy. But let's say I haven't felt like such an Arian in a long time...

  5. Beautiful list, D. I just acquired a sample of Calamus recently, hoping for exactly the tender sap green that it turned out to be. Wish those top notes lasted a bit longer, but I guess that is the problem with spring, too. Totally agree on the flinty nature of the Turtle Vetiver, too. And for a full three minutes you had me thinking I'd somehow missed a new gardenia Malle--very disappointed it's just the candle (though a gorgeous one).

  6. You've made me want to revisit several fragrances--Eau de Gloire, Réminiscence, Weekend à Deauville and Vierges et Toreros. Today, I was wearing Odalisque and enjoying it thoroughly. What a stunning composition! How does it compare to Weekend à Deauville?

  7. Alyssa, sorry to have given you false hopes about the Gardénia! I've been considering buying the oil for the diffuser and dabbing it -- which I tried in the store -- but it's not made for that, it doesn't hold or diffuse well on skin. And Ropion explained to me that even the scent itself was composed without the notes that would bind it to skin.
    So I'm just resigning myself to the idea I can't carry it around with me.

  8. Victoria, to me Odalisque has a more ample, 80s white floral vibe, especially since it's been de-oakmossed. Deauville amps up the calone/helional so there's a fresher, wetter feel to it.

  9. Did they get rid of Mint? That's so sad! I like the tea one very much.

    Also, I stumbled upon Reminiscence (I bet I just spelled it wrong) on my trip to Paris last May, and enjoyed their scent very much. The entire shop was fun.

  10. March, not sure about the mint, maybe they're just out of stock? Even in the CdG Parfums shop in Paris the Leaves Series is not always on display, but I'm not seeing it in Luckyscent. Maybe IFRA had a go at it?
    I'll ask.

  11. I love ALL of these - well nearly all. I certainly love Fouguese, which I am wearing today. And Eau Sauvage. And...well, it's just a lovely list, D!!!

    As far as the planets go...any time they're ready to settle down, would be a very good thing. People's skins are all itchy, like they want to bust out of them!


  12. Musette, as far as Mars in Aries is concerned, a red planet landed on my cheekbone a couple of days ago, which made me see even redder. I'll be bursting into singing The Internationale any time now... I need a shot of the Fougueuse, I think!

  13. Ah, Eau sauvage. Every time I pass a Dior counter I pick it up and spray/sniff and marvel. During the giddy stage of perfume obsession when I was an avid collector of samples I acquired one of Sous le Vent and mentally marked it as one for further investigation. A perfect name for a beautiful scent. I am intrigued by Vierges et Toreos now. As for Weekend a Deauville, it is my latest bottle of liquid joy. I re read your review of it after purchase and realised that a goodly part of the reason I love it is for its resemblance to original Cristalle only softer. Nicola

  14. Nicola, it's true what you say about the Nicolaï, I hadn't thought of that. It's also a little heftier -- always thought of Cristalle as a young-woman scent, I mean the young women of 20 years ago...
    The second demise of Sous le Vent is heartbreaking, and I was silly enough (or too broke) to secure a back-up bottle.