Infini is probably the vintage perfume I have found the most at flea markets in Japan: I have had bottles and bottles of it. Some of which I have worn myself; many given away as presents, and far, far, too many that I have spilled.
I grew up being told I was the clumsiest boy in the world and it was/is true (I even, and I can’t quite believe I am writing this), managed to drop and empty out two thirds of the most perfect Je Reviens parfum the other day, the one that was used to write my delirious review of that unearthly creation…….
Tragically, Infini has had a similar fate….the bottle you see in the picture has a stopper that comes off ridiculous easily and oops..……..see, smell, that gorgeous golden liquid splash down and stain the tatami mats….I have done this so many times now that it no longer surprises me, yet to people who know how beautiful this perfume is in its vintage form, reading this must be like a pain in the spleen, lip-bitingly frustrating: such a terrible, terrible waste……………….
(I know, I know, but there is also something so horribly decadent and deliciously nonchalant about not caring..)
I tell a lie. Infini may not be the absolute most common perfume I have come across at the flea markets, but it is certainly one of those that I have bought the most and that have given me the most pleasure (the honour of most ubiquitous vintage perfumes on sale would probably go, in descending order, to N°5, L’Air Du Temps, Miss Dior, Madame Rochas and Diorissimo). All those perfumes are well-know masterpieces, however, which in their heyday were in such high levels of production as emblems of ‘French Perfume’ to bring back home to Japan from trips to Paris that you would expect some unwanted bottles to eventually resurface. Infini is no way near as globally well-known, so I can only surmise that there must have been a surge of interest in all things French and futuriste at the beginning of the 1970s (around the time of the space age metallica of Pierre Cardin, Paco Rabanne and Courrèges) which Caron managed to exploit in the lemming-like fashion-conscious Japanese market. Perhaps this was the big Tokyo hit of 1970 (the year I was born, incidentally, and another reason I love the scent) : the burgeoning, post-war, and by all accounts quite electrifying, Bubble Era of newly prosperous Japan. Rich, beautiful, knowing women in furs, trailing its delicious, dry, woody floral chic down the boulevards of Ginza…… a perfume marketed as an expertly blended liquid perfection to stretch, beckoningly, into the infinity of the air behind you…….
Caron’s futuristic project, to bring the house of its powdered, spiced, and sometimes fusted shadows, was apparently fifteen years in the making, as the perfumers in question attempted to find the most indefectible equilibrium of sharp green florals; woods; aldehydes, and musky, skin-lingering animalics, the result – unseamed, flawless – being in my view one of the finest scents ever made – elegant, refined, and mesmerically beautiful. A perfectly balanced, multilayered perfume.
I highlight that word because so many fragrances these days are more like simple accords : blocks of scent or smells ( I would even include a lot of my favourite perfumes such as those by Serge Lutens in this classification: scents I wear for their instancy and aromatic appeal, but which possibly lack a certain psychological complexity…..)
Infini was different. It was the last of a dying breed …the late progeny, direct descendant, and final refinement of the floral aldehydic innovations of Ernst Beaux’s N° 5, and more obviously, the aforementioned Madame Rochas. The Caron take on this well-loved theme and bears resemblances to these richly orchestrated jewels – perfumes to be treasured, loved and worn for a lifetime because they had souls – but to my mind it is even better: deeper, more androgynous.
Intense woods (sandal, and a beautifully rich, dry cedar); vetiver, patchouli, and subtle, erotic animal undertones in the perfume underlie a gentle, light-fused masterpiece of floral construction: jasmine, rose, tuberose, and, notably, a top note of yellow narcissus blooming hypnotically in the head notes at unusually high strength (backed with a sharp floral bouquet of muguet, iris, and night-blooming hyacinth), all layered, effortlessly, with fresher notes of coriander, neroli, peach, bergamot, and aldehydes; fusing into a captivating, yet very understated and subtle perfume that lingers for hours and becomes part of your being. It is an archetypal feminine urban feline in fur, yet beautifully warm and sexy on a man also ( I love it on myself in summer in a white shirt…)
Note: as a person who has known many bottles of Infini, I can tell you that in the vintage they vary hugely – a testament, I would say, to the number of natural oils in the blend. Sometimes there are no green notes: no narcissus or hyacinth or even vetiver; at others all is simply faded musty,’old perfume’ smell. The new version, still available from Caron boutiques (editor’s note: I thought so, but having just checked the Caron website it seems to have been deleted from the catalogue: how sad!) is recognisably Infini in its basic template but lacks the sex. Thus, angling for an e-bay purchase of this perfume is always a gamble: you never know how close the perfume will be to the original (oh to have smelled it! Even my best vintage purchases are up to forty years old, so undoubtedly lack the punch of the green notes and hyacinth that must have featured in the head notes of the original……)
Of the many different concentrations of the scent that were originally released, though, my own personal favourite by far is the parfum de toilette (see my almost empty bottle below….)
This is the bottle that made me fall in love with Infini and one that I am desperate to find again. At that point (about fourteen years ago) I didn’t even know of its existence, but of course knew the name Caron, so bought it, on a whim, when I found it at the flea market, for my collection, just to have. Just to see.
I couldn’t believe, as the notes settled into me, how much I was enjoying it, how beautiful it was. I felt like an angel in the sand dunes; released…..