For the writer Anaïs Nin, if you dare enter the diluvial self-obsession of her journals, life was a neverending rush of hypersensitivity. She was too precious, almost, to live. With complete contempt for the trivialities of daily life, she survived on her emotions, indulged her impulses and crushed conventions – seducing even her own father on a sudden morbid whim of narcissism. For Anaïs, to be desired was to be alive: without sex, the mirror glass of her soul would shatter. She was sensuous, fragile; huge-eyed.
A woman such as Anaïs, then, might seem unusual inspiration for an unthreatening perfume such as this – Cacharel’s first fragrance from 1978, a classic that went on to great success in the eighties and remains ever popular today. Yet despite its commercial appeal (she would have been horrified), the scent did in fact succeed in capturing some aspects of this creature’s nympho-purity with its spray of white lilied delicacy. It is a very romantic perfume that inspires devotion in its admirers because few scents are of comparable mood; a scent for women who seek reticence, or almost studied shyness in perfume: delicate, feminine, and young.
Under the pallid white and pale pink tendresse of the opening chords lie more carnal, shadowy undertones though – veils of musk, patchouli and Russian leather – a dusky quality foreshadowed in the perfume’s original packaging: I have the parfum de toilette concentrée from 1979 in my collection, a wonderful, somewhat eerie dark velvet grey box adorned with creeping flourishes of dark green leaves and pink petals, the scent inside also darker, more ambiguous than the current cleaned up version with its neat, white, perfect-for-bathroom cylindrical flacon.
Anaïs Anaïs’ floral wistfulness comes from a concentration of glorious white Madonna lilies interlaced with other white flowers: crisp, vernal meadows of fresh hyacinths, blackcurrant leaves, galbanum, muguet and ylang, a bridal bouquet softening gently to a warmer hue of lilies and rose that always retains something of its rather insistent chastity.
Your reaction to this mélange might therefore be of rapture, if breathless tendrils are your thing: irritation perhaps at its undeniably conservative tones (it is a somewhat tame scent that renders a woman pliant and demure in an instant): or, like me, you may enjoy its mysterious, immaculate form, its creamy melancholy – the cool, sepulchral sweetness of a funeral bouquet.
‘The new self she offered him, created for him, appeared intensely innocent, newer than any young girl could have been, because it was like a pure abstraction of a woman, an idealized figure, not born of what she was, but of his wish and hers. Outside of this room, this bed, was a black precipice……’
(Anaïs Nin, ‘A spy in the house of love’)