THE HALL OF MIRRORS……….Parfum d’Hermès parfum (1984) and the matchless attraction of extraits.











On the way to my Japanese lesson in Kamakura yesterday, I had a bit of extra time and so I quickly popped into an antique shop down a side street which I know has a large selection of vintage perfumes at usually reasonable-ish prices. The selection there might not change from week to week, from month to month even ( I have a mental inventory of whatever is currently in there at any given time), but then, out of the blue, there will be a sudden influx of precious, sometimes unbelievable, things you snap up with a flutter and a heartbeat (if there is still any money in your wallet left), and spend your whole Japanese lesson dreaming of what they will smell like when you get them home.




Yesterday was one of those days. I was completely thrilled, as my eyes quickly scoured the shelves, to find a vintage extrait of Paco Rabanne’s Calandre in its iconic sixties bottle, and as well as that, the rare and wonderful Parfum D’Hermès, full, in exquisite, perfect condition, each the equivalent of only fifteen dollars.




Now this is what I call a perfume. Refashioned as Rouge d’Hermès in 2000 (the parfum of which I also managed to snap up at a fleamarket), I was amazed to find that this extrait is even more beautiful. A less gauzy, powdered madame than its successor, Parfum d’Hermès is bright-eyed and utterly radiant: classic, assured, and beautifully balanced with floral notes of Bulgarian rose, hyacinth and jasmine immersed in a theatrical shimmer of myrrh and amber-infused aldehydes, spices and musk-tinged cedarwood – a Chamade-like semi-oriental that dries down eventually to a very ‘forbidden’, resinous, animalic finish. More so even than Rouge, which smelled familiar to me when it came out yet shocking with its uncontemporary, almost rudely human end notes, this final accord is sensual, perturbing, but a fittingly bodied conclusion to such a fully realized beauty as this. From the green, relucent burst of aldehydic hyacinths, to the powdered, elegant, skin-caressing conclusion, Parfum d’Hermès is a work of art – the flawless creation of perfumer Akiko Kamei, who seems to have only made three perfumes (this, Rouge, and Rouge Eau Delicate) all modulations on the same theme: Chamade. Like an obsessed artist lost in a hall of mirrors, she seems to have been compelled to try and recreate, or even improve upon, Guerlain’s monumental classic by strengthening it, embolstering that perfume’s innate vulnerability by enwrapping it in the finest red satins and silks, by corsetting her up with help from the fierce petites mains from her atelier, by taking her from her private, self-absorbed chambers to the extroversion of the opera house.


















Also in the shop, new additions, were the tantalizing pure parfums of Guerlain’s Samsara and Sublime de Patou, perfumes I always felt were so rich and vulgar they defied belief (lipoid, loud-mouthed sandalwoods with sillages that even the most ample diva might shy away from), yet I find myself wanting them anyway. There is something so essential about an extract, an extrait, a parfum : the secret concentration, the essence, the heart of the perfume. They are like talismans to me in their potent, 7.5ml flacons, even when I am not necessarily a fan of the perfume in question. I can’t help wanting to collect them, to possess them.


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27 responses to “THE HALL OF MIRRORS……….Parfum d’Hermès parfum (1984) and the matchless attraction of extraits.

  1. brie

    What?????Only fifteen dollars? (catch me while I faint!). And perfumes of Sublime and Samsara? And they have vintage Calandre? I am beyond jealous! Those beauties would be snatched up so quickly in NY!

  2. I love the idea of perfumes as talismans…that’s definitely what each one I own feels like to me. I’m a self employed visual artist with no money, yet I’ve managed (thanks to ebay, flea markets, thrift stores and a decent nose) to amass a perfume collection of vintage, contemporary and niche that makes me feel like I own the world.

  3. Jared

    I know what you mean about the “essential” nature of extraits/parfums. It’s like there’s an air of authenticity about them which the EdT’s or the EdP’s are perceived to lack. More concentrated, more “true”, more soulful – it’s like they have the depths of Hades behind them, and I am reminded that, according to the Greeks, one distinguished shades in Hades by smell. The world becomes pneumatic, airy, and scented when we journey to the Underworld, and the “essential” nature of extraits play on that for me…

  4. Oh Ginza
    I am so delighted that after yesterday’s aberration something truly wonderful came along.
    From your description, Parfum d’Hermes has shot up through my ‘I desire’ list and is now sitting somewhere very near the top.
    Oh that there were stores in London that sold such gems at such laughably small prices.
    Alas no.
    I go away to weep and dream rouge dreams.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • Thy rouge dreams shall not be disappointed, I guarantee you, particularly if you can find this vintage extrait. There is a HUGE bottle of this perfume in an antique shop in Fujisawa, possibly a 250ml or even 400 ml I reckon, but it costs 250 quid. I kind of want it, but never have enough money…

      However, having fallen so in love with this one I have just acquired, I might find myself heading in that shop’s direction once more. It truly is gorgeous.

  5. Cath

    Oh Neil!!!! I need that Samsara!!!!

  6. Cath

    Ok, that comment went off way too fast. I wasn’t done writing.
    I have tried Rouge in its previous formulation (oval bottle) and I have a love hate relationship with it. Some days I will love it, on other days all I will smell are the roses and they bug me. Strange indeed.
    Samsara was my first Guerlain, and I went through a bottle of EDP. I’m wanting to buy some again, but then, I’m afraid of the reformulation. So yes, I am really really wanting that vintage Samsara now.
    Why can’t they have stores like that in my neighborhood???? 😉

    • We NEED such stores!

      I want it too, but I am sure we can come to some arrangement. I also have some vintage EDP of Samsara I bought from the same shop. Can decant some. I have quite enjoyed wearing it, actually. The sandalwood is REAL in it, you can smell it quite clearly.

      As for Rouge, I feel there are fewer roses in the original Parfum D’Hermes. I adore Rouge, but adore this even more!

  7. Cath

    Oh, you know how to make someone beg for it, don’t you??? LOL. A true enabler you are. As if I needed any more incentive to get more perfumes…
    Although, I spend most of my little money on shoes. Yes, I’m one of those 🙂

  8. lilybelle

    I haven’t smelled any of those. I have worn Chamade since I was a teen, so naturally I’m intrigued. I will keep my eyes open for any of those 3 Hermès formulations. It makes me smile to think of you trying to concentrate on your Japanese lesson mooning over the perfumes you just bought. It’s love. 🙂

    • And also the past…..I no longer do Japanese lessons, but I do still love this scent (seeing the bottle tonight, knocked over on the dresser actually) made me think of this post, and I did, in the same shop, today, find a Caron Eau Fraiche (praying it was the vintage, it wasn’t, it was pathetic in comparison, but it was only twenty dollars, and a Caron Bellodgia I5ml parfum for the same price)….I thought I would mention the shop again. Also, you have my guarantee about these scents. They are not Chamade, but they are gorgeous, really. And I love the idea of a mad Japanese perfumer, obsessed with them.

    • Chamade is still the best but…

  9. Nelleke Oepkes aka Booknose

    Reading this makes me long for Hermes Rouge. I bought it after reading other enticing, not to day ensorceling, words of yours. Words that produce sensations and sensations w(h)ich produce products that delight THE Nose.
    I’m recuperating after an operation in my friend’s – I refuse partner, sounds so businesslike- house. I brought a Guerlain, but that does not do THE trick. I want the warm, generous cloudburst of Hermes Rouge. What is the perfume that comforts you while lounging slightly morphined on your bed? And now I have to go after Parfum d’Hermes in abstrait? I hope my bank account survives this, as there are no shops or fleemarkets here like there are, apparently, in Japan.
    PS 1000 of Patou is another addition to my modest armoire, and I adore it. Sadly, also only on EBay from the USA with astounding shipping expenses.
    PPS How do you train your Nose with all those beautiful naming attributes? I only can tell what smells good or what puts me of, like a cat wriggling her nose at unsavouries or purring at delights.

    • I am glad our tastes are so alike. Rouge is probably enough, though I think you would find the similarities and differences between that and Parfum d’Hermes fascinating. Rouge is more opulent and instantaneous in a way, Parfum more…..quietly decadent. Gorgeous, actually.

  10. I completely agree with you about extracts, extracts and pure perfumes. I wish I had more of them but cherish the ones that I have. Now a lot of houses don’t even make the perfume version of the scent. They are costly but so precious.

  11. You are so correct about the wonders of pure extrait, there is truly nothing like it . Especially Parfum d’Hermes, in all its richness and oriental coziness. The extrait really shows of the full character of the fragrance and all its fabulous nuances. It is the difference between looking at a print of a famous painting and looking at the painting itself. The variations, the shadows, the brush stokes of a master at work. That is what one experiences when one is wearing an extrait.

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