Sometime in the 1850’s, Frédéric Chopin was beginning to make a name for himself in the salons of Paris. Aside from his obvious musical genius, the young man had garnered a reputation for exquisite, almost excessive politesse and gentility, gracious to a fault. He was much in demand. By all accounts ‘fragile, delicate, reserved, somewhat languid’, Chopin was nevertheless frequenting similar circles to a woman he ‘dreaded above all others’, Aurore Dupin, otherwise known as George Sand. Having already ‘conquered’ Franz Liszt, among other luminaries of the nineteenth century, she had written to Liszt that she ‘idolized’ Chopin and was desperate to make his acquaintance. They would shortly be lovers.
To see George Sand as some kind of predatory monster, as many have done, is, surely to fall prey to the misogynist clichés she herself was railing against. In fact this woman, a hero to women of the day, was unstoppable: fierce, proud, alive, celebrated as much for her reputation as one of the greatest contemporary novelists in France as she was vilified for her uncompromising stance on gender and sexuality. Her conquests were legendary, and though Chopin’s friend the Marquis de Custine lamented that ‘the poor creature does not see that she has the love of a vampire’, Chopin fell, perhaps inevitably, under her spell.
Like the great Colette who was to follow her, George Sand forged her own path in society and remains a fascinating figure of the period. Les Parfums Historiques, a limited edition line from Maître Parfumeur et Gantier, have done something very interesting with their perfume – a celebrity perfume if you like, but for someone long gone; an attempt to recreate, somehow, the ‘essence’ of George Sand in a perfume. The result in my opinion is extremely good, having subtleties and complexities not easily found in a modern release. It is open yet enigmatic, erotic yet refined, a perfume that takes a while to reveal its secrets.
George Sand’s most controversial aspect was perhaps her desire to be unshackled of gender (‘the mind has no sex’), dressing as a man whenever fancy took her, and taking female lovers. She was determined not, at any cost, to be deprived of experiences in society merely because she was a woman. Balzac writes of ‘coming across her in her dressing room, smoking a cigar by her fireside after dinner. She had on some pretty yellow slippers, ornamented with fringe, some fancy stockings, and red trousers.’ (This was, at the time, literally illegal).
Though she was practically accused of having brought about the early demise of Chopin – ‘I was said to have worn him out with my violent sensuality’- the passion, at least for a time, was surely mutual. The weaker the consumptive composer got, the stronger Sand: she made it her mission therefore to restore him to health, with ill advised trips to southern Europe, and (more congenial to Chopin) lengthy stays at her idyllic country retreat, Nohant, where he is fact said to have produced some of his best work. Perhaps their diametrically opposed personalities were in fact more compatible than has been supposed.
The ‘housebound genius’ would be happily esconced in an apartment off her bedroom, ‘cheerfully decorated with red and blue Chinese wallpaper’, where he could work on his compositions. Some of this orientalist warmth, an elegant drawing room quality, has found its way into the perfume, as well as some of the writer’s exotic dandyism. Sand wore a pendant around her neck containing a particular patchouli she had acquired in Venice and ‘couldn’t live without’: this dark, earthy note then forms the basis of George Sand the perfume: a rich, but very elegant patchouli encased within a warm, spiced, resinous heart that bears a cursory resemblance to orientals such as Opium, through refracted through a more sober, aristocratic lens.
While Chopin was at work on his valses and polonaises, Sand loved to go out into her garden, where she grew herbs and her favourite flowers, roses and lavender. These essences are thus used as an interesting counterpoint to the more sensual notes of the base, with an added invigorating accord of bergamot and orange in the top notes. The scent thus maintains an interesting tension between poise and abandonment, light and dark, vigour and restraint – all qualities that come through in accounts of the woman.
What drew me to this scent, besides its delightful bottle, was its enigmatic, bisexual aspect, endowed as it is with both ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ ingredients (all of good quality), combining to form a perfume that is unique and outside the mainstream of current fads. It is perfectly suited to a woman or a man and highly recommended.
13 responses to “George Sand (Les Parfums Historiques)”
But dates aside, your commentary on the relationship with Chopin and on Sands’ personality are spot-on methinks.
And to attempt to vial all this in a perfume is surely fascinating.
Reblogged this on The Black Narcissus.
I have loved this perfume for a long time. I bought it for my husband after a trip to Bergdorf’s perfume world in NYC many years ago. I was struck by it’s genderless opulence, and warmth. Thank you for this glimpse into the life of the real George Sand. The perfume makes even more sense after I read this!
Glad to hear it!
I put some on last night as I was watching a film and also thought it was beautifully androgynous: the patchouli in it is poetically done I think.
Ugh-I want this! thanks for the lemming 🙂
Patchouli can be a wonderful scent. Yesterday we had a woman in our office who must use the essential oil as her fragrance. It suits her really well. It’s a surprising scent for a banker, because it’s pervasive and diffusive, and I can smell it everywhere when she is gone. I like April Aromatics Bohemian Spice for my patch fix-have you tried it? It’s wonderful.
It must soon be time for you to tell us a story about what you have found at the Salvation Army. I love those posts. I love the way you describe the day, and the people you meet. And i always drool when I see what you have found.
I bought a bottle of Patou’s Mille, recently. i think I may have found a signature scent. I bought it from a proper perfume store, and they apologized because of its expense-$115 cdn for 45 ml. I bought an Eau de Patou, too, for $50. Both are pre P and G days, both were made in France, and both remind me of why I love perfume. These scents are both complex and wonderful. The notes are blended so skillfully. I just love them!
I managed to get a 1000 parfum recently at a Yokohama ‘recycle’ store and it is stunning; so complex and full of untold stories. I was bought a bottle of the P + G version and it is just nothing like it. I can’t even wear it. Never smelled Eau de Patou: what is it like?
As for the vintage tales, I was worried people must be getting bored of them and in any case haven’t been for a while. I was thinking of going to day but Tokyo is blanketed in snow..
I bet the parfum is wonderful. I have the EDT which stays close to the skin, and suits me just fine. I wish mine came in the beautiful green bottle with the red cap.
Eau de Patou is a complex animal. I don’t quite know how to describe it. Others have written about it, and called it creamy. I can’t call it that: I think it is masterfully blended. unbelievable smooth. I thought it would be like Guerlain’s Imperiale, or Rochas Eau (both of which I love) but it’s nothing like that. Expensive citrus at the start, and the citrus lasts and lasts. Something like cinnamon, spiciness, which could be the nasturtium. And the base is really complex. It lasts hours and hours.
It’s your duty to brave the elements and see wonderful stuff and describe it in vivid detail for those of us who cannot join you! Tell us about your friends, and their thoughts on your finds. Convert it to dollars so I don’t have to hit the xe website and find out you paid about 3 buks for a vintage chanel. Be a pal, be a sport-I’d do it for you, except I live in rural nova scotia, and there is only a wal mart. 🙂
I will I will. No money at the moment though: going to London for the Fragrance Foundation awards, yey!!!
I was captured and enraptured by this review. So much to say about it that I am in fact rendered speechless and in awe. Bravo. Now I must put on a Chanel Suit and pumps and with my iPod blasting Chopin go downtown and smell “George Sand”. There is bound be some fallout and a scandal ……
I fear you might find it a rather tame creature despite my background story which I admit probably does make it sound more interesting than it possibly is. This IS a very nice Opium-influenced spiced patchouli, though, and the dry down is really rather nice. I ‘d love to know how it smells on you!
Thanks for the informative background on this perfume. I used to wear Opium most of the time years ago. What a satisfying scent it was. Dawn Spencer Hurwitz does a very good tribute that is faithful to the YSL original. I remember reading about Les Parfums Historiques at the beginning of my perfume exploration, but never delved into any of the collection.
If Chopin did die of excessive sex, perhaps he died a happy albeit exhausted man. We can only hope. And I love to imagine George Sand wearing a pendant containing patchouli while tending her herb garden. Delightful!
I loved that image as well when I stumbled upon it.
Please try out this scent if you like Opium. This house only puts out things of quality. Their Tubereuse Capricieuse (see my ridiculously excessive but sincere review) is truly quite stunning.