In Japan Audrey Hepburn is adored. She was the ultimate gamine, the incarnation of the Caucasian ideal, and her films’ popularity never seems to wane. In the princess fantasy of Roman Holiday or the artless guile of Holly Golightly, Ms Hepburn had an unthreatening innocence, a natural sense of style, and a beautiful, swan-like elegance that blinded people, in my view, to the limitations of her acting (which I am sorry to say I always found a tiny bit grating.)
Her face is, though, a popular choice with advertisers here, suggesting a bright-eyed innocence and impenetrable perfection. There are notebooks, calendars, mouse-mats, and you often see it plastered over one of the Japanese banks who use her as their ‘mascot’ (all banks have one – I had Tom and Jerry on my bank card for ten years which I always found a bit silly, but it is even more difficult to imagine Audrey Hepburn emerging from the ATM, plasticized and smiling).
A long time before she became an oriental gimmick, however (revenge for the insulting racial stereotype of Mickey Rooney playing Japanese in Breakfast At Tiffany’s)? Audrey Hepburn was famously the muse of Hubert Givenchy – who dressed her in Charade and other films – and this was the fragrance that was created for her sole use until it was later released to the public: a precursor, if you like to the world of Celebrity Fragrance, though at a time when designer perfume had so much more cachet.
But despite its name, L’Interdit (‘forbidden’ in French) is, in my view, a rather uninteresting scent. Taking all the features of the classic floral aldehydes, but much thicker, woodier; dowdier, it emerges as a kind of flat, common denominator. The rose, the jasmine, the ylang ylang, the iris, the violet and the woods are all there as they should be, and it’s all fine, and perfumey, and ‘eventful’ and quite gaily and dustily ballgowny with its top note of cloves and sweet, fifties strawberry, but somehow it remains dull. For me it never really soars, in the way that other scents of the type, such as Liù, Detchema, and of course Nº 5, do, with their champagne, aldehydic citric sparkle. I have had several bottles of the vintage parfum from Tokyo flea markets and have always come to this conclusion: there is something missing, at least in the perfume’s opening and middle stages. The base, in the vintage, however, has an insinuating, myrrh-dusted vulnerability ( musk, benzoin, tonka bean and frankincense) that redeems the perfume with a certain tenderness you won’t find with others of the aldehydic persuasion – whether there is often nothing but musk – and I can imagine that there must be some people out there hankering for this more original accord that does have clout. Still, despite this latter feminine warmth, there is nothing, to my nose at least, in this staid, conservative perfume that speaks of the forbidden.
This really was the scent of Audrey Hepburn, incidentally. It is said that upon her death, musty, powdery exhalations came from all her closets – the smell of l’Interdit, lingering and sweet, still clinging to her dresses.
NB: L’Interdit has changed many times. This review is of the vintage parfum. The scent was relaunched in the late 90’s in a completely different fruity floral version that everyone ignored, and then was recently released as part of the classic Givenchy series, where it was more polished, less fusty, but still rather unmemorable. I would very much welcome other slants on this scent though as I fear I might be doing it an unjustice.
12 responses to “THE UNFORBIDDEN : L’INTERDIT by GIVENCHY (1957)”
Love this review. Beautifully contemplative. Have never smelt the perfume so cannot comment (will smell and do so at some point). But you raise that question that always bugs me about Audrey Hepburn and the adoration of her. I suspect her fame at the time her films were made was less to do with acting ability and more to do with presence. She as a person embodied something. I think that ‘something’ was ‘space’ and a void – an apparent vacuousness, yes, a smell in an empty wardrobe. Her face and body mirrored a polite survival, a tacit recognition that of the millions who died in the Holocaust, it could have easily been her. Her body, slight, carried the experience of malnutrition during the war years, and her face, never giving anything away, is of course the polite mask of the survivor employing the neutral feminine that passes so easily anywhere. As with most young people after the war, I suspect there was much that was ‘interdit’ to mention or remember. The peculiar poise – a wily child in limbo – cool and watchful, is what Hepburn conjures for me. Perhaps the perfume carries something of this?
Yes Nina this is amazing what you write, it rings true on some level. (Sorry months after you have written this) You seem to be tapping into some sort of psychic historical intuition?! I try to view her beauty in another way right now but it is its popularity and what it represents and vitally nothing she was able to present or express (for instance through her acting) contradicted it. Though of course we have no judgement over her private life, it’s crazy how our culture idealizes beauty. Perhaps her main offence was her lack of talent! It’s an interesting topic, I would be interested to hear what you both think of other people in the public eye, like Marilyn Monroe, or perhaps it has nothing to do with anything. Perhaps we are all too imprisoned and society too random/money-driven when it comes to symbolic figures. I just realised I have nowhere to go with this train of thought. But am intrigued by the questions you raise here!
It is expressed beautifully nevertheless, and Nina is the person to take the idea further, for sure.
It does: perhaps a refuge. And what you write about Audrey Hepburn here astounds me.
But it does seem apt to think of legacy and aura in relation to perfume, and of course the images, public or otherwise, attached to them. You get at something here when you describe her closets (and made me think of coffin), and something missing, because it’s amazing that perfume really can have soul, can take you to all sorts of places, strange and grounding as they make you feel more human.
I can see why people might love this perfume and it DOES have soul, definitely. I love how that might link to the actual soul of a person as well…
> Date: Fri, 8 Mar 2013 15:19:00 +0000 > To: firstname.lastname@example.org >
Reblogged this on The Black Narcissus.
“Staid, conservative, flat, uninteresting, common denominator.”
Oh dear, you really don’t get on, despite having bought it quite a few times! I said “Refined, reserved, starched: a work of crafted artifice.” Meant it positively, but I guess they are but fractions apart semantically.
Strange business this criticism.
The Perfumed Dandy
Well I saw yours and had to re-post mine. Definitely do agree about the saltiness, but there is something very staid there for me. Like a Capricorn that won’t budge.
Do you find it very elegant? I think it is too BLOCKED somehow; too much wood.
When I was very young and in the beginning of my perfumistery, L’Interdit was the very first perfume I truly loved. For many years it was my signature scent until I wandered off into other areas of perfumery. I once thought it was very beautiful. Now I have three versions of it–none of which are the original, although the latest one was closer to the original than the other two. I still think it’s pretty but it lacks the depth and “skank” that intrigue me more now.
It’s all surfaces, and starched lines. Masses interplaying with one another, like the art, furniture and fashions of the time.
Yes, I can see that this comes across as both heavy and staid, and that restraint , might tip over into ‘stuck’.
But, yes too, I do find it elegant, in the manner of much of the rest of the work of that era, it is very much a perfume of its time.
In that sense it’s a lesser scent that No. 5 or First which transcend the eras of their birth, but it does have a place in the pantheon. Or would do if they’d stop the endless metamorphosis.
I guess this is one on which to differ.
The Perfumed Dandy
Like I said at the bottom of the article (something I never do usually), I am always wondering if I am wrong with this one, if I have missing something. You know when something suddenly clicks with a scent sometimes and you ‘get’ it. I keep wondering if this will happen with L’Interdit, but somehow it never does.