The last time I was in Paris was 2005, a five day perfume whirl in which D and I did literally nothing but take in perfumeries; no time, even, for art or sightseeing, though the diamond brilliance of the December light illuminated every building with a beauty that was breathtaking and formed a constant backdrop as we skirted from one place to another, all the places I I had long wanted to visit, such as Serge Lutens and Les Parfums de Rosines at the Palais Royal; the stunning Guerlain flagship store on the Champs Elysées; Anémone, Colette, JAR, Caron, Montale (which you could smell from across the street, and where I bought the glorious Aoud Queen Roses); the Etat Libre d’Orange headquarters in the Marais, and, perhaps most exquisitely, the gorgeous Maître Parfumeur et Gantier on the Rue Des Capucines, in which, after losing our way, and a big steak lunch in the brasserie opposite, we entered and lost ourselves; a range of perfumes – poetic, restrained, tasteful – that somehow gets lost in the forest of blogography words written on the newer, sharper, iconclasts…
Yet its founder, Jean Laporte, who sadly died in 2011, was also a great olfactory innovator, founding L’Artisan Parfumeur in the seventies and beginning the niche revolution alongside, other French luminaries such as Diptyque, in the process. As L’Artisan became more commercial/twisted ( I don’t know about you, but I personally lament what has happened to the house, no matter how devilishly clever the current creations by Bertrand Duchaufour may be: Vanilia vs Vanille Absolument; Tubéreuse vs Nuit de Tubéreuse, Patchouli (exquisite, exquisite ) vs Patchouli Patch? Vétiver vs Coeur de Vétiver Sacré? No contest bébé, the originals, all cruelly discontinued, were all infinitely better – simpler, yes, but more lovely, in my view); but whatever the reasons (perhaps he was bought out), Monsieur Laporte set up a new company, Maître Parfumeur Et Gantier, which, as its names suggests, does in fact sell scented gloves in lambskin, deerskin and peccary, among other uselessly luxurious accoutrements, a throwback to other centuries, a feeling that is accentuated by the silence and otherworldliness of spending an afternoon in the boutique with the gracious assistants who come alive as you enter the premises like reanimating, magic mannequins against a backdrop of red.
What comes across in the house’s creations is a deep subtlety; the scents in the range all feverishly delicate, mysterious, tucked inside of themselves; beautifully androgynous, or flamingly aristocratic, as in their gorgeous purple magnolia poudré, Magnolia Pourpre, a lavish scent if ever there was one, but still with that watered air of restraint that seems to characterize all the creations on offer. I could happily have bought up half the shop – the myrrh, tarragon and coffee-laced curiosity L’Eau Des Isles, and the glass-eyed, foppish Iris Bleu Gris were particular highlights for me, but there was one of the scents I just couldn’t resist: Racine, a perfume I am extremely fond of, and the scent I will finish this week of vetivers with.
As I have previously discussed, citrus top notes are the most common addition to vetiver blends, particularly those aimed at men, and in the present dicta, there should also be pepper, black or pink, in addition to harsher, woody backdrops, grapefruit, and possibly even a little drop of oudh or its synthetic equivalent if ya pleasey, just to keep it sexy and au courant with that sillage that says darlin’ I mean business.
Usually in perfumes of this type, the lemon or bergamot in the opening will disappear fairly quickly and be taken over by the usual contemporary architecture of cashmere woods and the like, and this is where Racine is different: rather than the constrained urbanity of Tom Ford Grey Vetiver or Lalique’s Encre Noire and their debonair, besuited attractiveness, Racine, from the Les Caprices du Dandy collection, entwines a predominant, fresh-as-a-vine, sinuous vetiver from the Réunion Isles with a sucked-on-a-lemon, imperious citrus note, combined beautifully with a mauve-hued, satin plum cushion of prune, oakmoss, geranium, and, gently intertwined, a touch of equally dry, deep-octaved patchouli.
Here, there is none of the synthetic bolstering that constantly gets on my wick; instead the scent comes across as effortlessly aerated; refined, heads above, and positively supercilious, a quality that I realize is not desirable on a daily basis, but which, like a feline, I sometimes need to just get through the day, to rise above it all, stay intact and not let the banal shit of the dreary, brainwashed weekly ‘reality’ get me down. Though my bottle is now empty, save a drop or two for the sake of reminiscence, this was always, along with vintage N°19 and Calèche, my go-to for days when I wanted to feel detached; high-spined. From the very name of the scent, referencing the renowned seventeenth century writer Jean Racine and his elegant, ‘diamond-edged’ prose, to its direct allusion to the vetiver plant itself (‘racine‘ means ‘root’ in French), to the almost ludicrously ‘royal'(and slightly overdone) design of the flacon, the whole experience of Racine was a great, regal pleasure, while simultaneously remaining very wearable; one of those perfumes I could spray on at will and always trust to deliver the goods – the vetiver/lemon throughout the day interlaced, the purples of its velvet-lined garments consistently, pleasingly, presumptuous.