The nineteenth century French novelist Stendhal, upon visiting Florence for the first time, was apparently so overcome with the beauty of the city – of the duomo, the Uffizi, and in particular the ceiling frescoes by Giotto in the Basilica Santa Croce, that it made him ill: faint, dizzy, heart palpitating, this writer of delicate disposition was physically and psychically overwhelmed to the point of neurasthenia.
He was apparently also not alone, as this ‘aesthetic paralysis,’ or sense of the organism being unable to cope with extreme beauty, gave rise to a recognized medical condition: The Stendhal Syndrome, or hyperkulturemia.
I had never heard of this strange phenomenon until I saw a 1997 film with the same title by Italian horror master Dario Argento : a brutally beautiful film whose main protagonist (played by Argento’s own daughter, Asia) is an art student succumbing to the same fate as she ambles through the Uffizi galleries; whose vision becomes blurred and tunnelled in the presence of the Fra Lippo Lippis and the Botticellis before she collapses, hits her head, and is followed home by a cruel and clever German sadist who capitalizes on her amnesia.
I won’t go into the rest of the film – it certainly makes uncomfortable viewing, even if the cinematography and mise en scène are exquisitely beautiful, as is usually the case with Argento: I also won’t begin to make ridiculous claims that a perfume has given me similar reactions: I have never collapsed, wept, or vomited because of the sheer beauty of a scent (what a dreadful scenario that would create if perfumistas were given to such hysteria – imagine Milano Esxence, or Sniffapalooza, the fainted and unconscious being fanned by sobbing perfume lovers undone by the beauty of a rose or a lilac, ambulances on standby; paramedics ready with vials of Paris Hilton as antidotes..)
I will, however, say quite truthfully that I did have a quite extreme reaction to a perfume, Tubéreuse Capricieuse by Histoires De Parfums to be precise, that most definitely, when I smelled it in London last year and was compelled to buy it, did have echoes of this most poetic of afflictions and left me reeling.
A singularly strange and affecting composition, this is a perfume that has not been much written about, and even my own bottle has been hidden in its box behind a mirror for almost a year; a scent I treasure but am almost afraid of: I hardly wear it, because it mesmerizes me too much.
It was last August, and I was in South London to visit yet another friend, after an insanely busy social whirl of seeing this person and that, and I had scheduled things ( a boiling hot, atypical summer’s day ) so that I could spend some time, finally, alone at Rouiller White, a perfume emporium that stocked the Vaniglia del Madagascar by SS Annunziata I was so eager to try. I had just been paid, the ATM actually worked with my Japanese bank card, and I had that bubbling magma feeling of excitement you get when you know you are about to discover some interesting new perfumes and are in the financial position to possibly buy them as well.
When I actually found Rouillier White I didn’t go in immediately, but went past a couple of times for some reason, steeling myself, but then suddenly there I was, exposed to scores of perfumes I had never had the chance to smell, and was basically in heaven. There were several things I was quite interested in, but I had to get the vanilla, and also bought Duncan a bottle of Czech & Speake Cuba, as well as a whole load of the shops’s delightful essential oils, in 50 ml charmingly designed bottles that I knew in terms of Japan prices were a real bargain.
I had spent enough, though, going way over budget, and while the wonderful shop assistants were packaging up my things and putting together a huge load of samples for me, I decided to go and have a beer at a nearby pub, to gather myself and daydream over a pint, and then come back to excitedly grab my loot.
I have never been a coffee-bean type sniffer. I am inexhaustible and can do it pretty much all day as long there is sufficient nasal space there for me to do so, and therefore just before leaving for the pub I decided to smell just a few more, see what the Histoires De Parfums range was like (in a nutshell – extremely high quality I would say), rich, powdery, odd and emotive scents that smell contemporary yet have depth.
But what is this?
Suddenly, all background noise fades, the clamour of all the hundreds of perfumes dissipates, and I find myself zooming down some kind of time tunnel to a library; the poignant smell of caressed paper; of something so pure and emotional it brings tears to my eyes. Literally. I well up from the sheer sentiment and aesthetic pleasure, alone in my space, a Stendhalian reaction of sorts, and take a look at the bottle.
What was this one again?
‘Tuberose’? It doesn’t smell anything like tuberose, at least not to me. And ‘Capricieuse’? It is anything but capricious. I find it grave, austere, and utterly compelling. Like travelling alone back in time through history, to some moment I cannot place, a powerful, and almost hurtful, sense of déjà vu.
I tell the woman in the shop that even though I absolutely can’t afford it, there is no way I can leave the shop without this perfume, as it is both familiar (conjuring up amorphous memories of childhood and university as well; the blissful isolation of solitary book immersion), and really quite unique, in essence a full-bodied Florentine iris/suede, with saffron and tuberose tints that makes it both sensual and rarified; removed, but passionate. Close, and loveable, but also torturously piercing to my emotions for reasons I cannot place.
I go to the pub, and as the alcohol sears through my body, the power this perfume has over me only increases. I sit there in a dream-like state, the sun shining on the pavement outside as passersby go about the day, and I am sat there, my face glued to my arm, inhaling ravenously, unable to stop smelling it.
Yes, I realize quickly, it is all about that iris, a note I always find melancholic in any case, from Après L’Ondée to Hermès Iris to Iris Silver Mist; that dusty, root-laden religiosity; the smell of fresh air over desolate fields, the most royal and noble of essences. And the top note of this perfume, bright and innocently clear, is HEAVENLY to me, a white cloud of carroty iris powder over suede, vague intimations of ylang ylang and tuberose, perhaps (but not the tuberose we are familiar with, not mentholated or pink and naughty, but white-petalled, introverted, dignified….)
Soon, the suede, beautifully done, takes prominence, along with saffron (another note that always sends me slightly doolally),with a light dust of cacao and spice, and that is pretty much what you get, the perfume gradually tapering off on the skin without a great deal of progression or change ( I must admit I was slightly disappointed by the dry down for this reason.)
And yet. The perfume is so strange and hypnotic to me that I don’t mind. I have only worn it out once, but I have to say that it immediately had the same discombobulating effect that it had in the shop and was somewhat disturbing for that reason. I found myself exhilarated to an almost alarming degree, overly fascinated by my smell in a way that bordered on narcissism.
I could never wear this on a day where any concentration was required, where I had to think about anything else at all. Of all the perfumes in my collection, I think it is Tubéreuse Capricieuse that has the power to make me temporarily lose my mind, that holds me in a emotional vortex; a trance.
62 responses to “THE STENDHAL SYNDROME: TUBEREUSE CAPRICIEUSE by HISTOIRES DE PARFUMS (2009)”
What an incredible review! I am overcome …. I must smell this perfume as well… Bravo!
Thanks. It is a weird one, certainly. I love it.
Moi aussi! must seek this one out!
It will be among your samples….I can imagine you wearing this well.
Wearing it …right now….in the dead of winter…love it….
Can you see why it perturbs me?
oh yes…will have to wear it again today in the warmer weather…..
It sounds AMAZING! I now have a complete lemming to smell this as soon as possible! Bravo — an absolutely stunning review!
I think it might be a love or hate thing, but my friend Helen had the same reaction as me to it. Unbearably emotive, somehow. As I said, it peters out and does slightly disappoint, but that opening slays me.
I’ve had something similar happen lately, but when those openings are THAT vivid and amazing, nothing can beat them. That said, I don’t think either of my recent experiences can possibly approach the level of impact which this perfume had on you. I really MUST try it! I have a sample of Tubereuse 3 Animale from them and I’m afraid it wasn’t my cup of tea at all, but this one? Sounds utterly glorious!!!
What is 3 like?
And thanks for the compliment. I always worry I go too far (then go even further….!)
I know what you mean, since I worry about the same thing, at least in terms of length. But, in my opinion, you’re best when you “go to far” and really get to the heart of things. It always leaves a far greater impact on me than the photos, stunning and beautiful as they are. What can I say? I love details. 😉 LOL.
I agree that photos are just embellishment, most of the time, although sometimes they form the heart of the piece. I am extremely visual by nature, which is why I can overlook the awful dialogue and questionable themes of Dario Argento. I found The Stendhal Syndrome absolutely ravishing to look at, even though it is sadistic and often really quite stupid.
Fantastic review! I’ll have to dig up my sample vial and revisit this one.I was quite taken with Tubereuse 3 l’Animale and bought a full bottle.It’s a strange fruity floral smoky gourmand tobacco tuberose.It has the slightly mentholated aspect in the beginning but it soon slides into a buttery warmth of tobacco,immortelle ,spices, and tuberose.All the Histoires de Parfums scents are interesting and high quality.I own 1740(a gorgeous dark stewed fruits tobacco/immortelle perfume) 1725(a modern anisic take on L’heure Bleu) 1969(a gourmand rose/peach) and I’m currently enjoying Olympia Music Hall,a smooth rose,saffron, freesia and incense blend.I thoroughly enjoyed your story of the perfumes discovery and it’s effect on you.It’s almost so good you have to leave it sitting there untouched. It’s a giddy secret that it’s there there,like a new toy that’s so perfect you’re almost afraid to play with it.The last perfume that had this effect on me was Aurore Nomade by The Different Company, a strange tropical scent of the slightly rotting smell of fruit esters and indole mixed with spices,cinnamon and rum and overlaid with a humid veneer of tropical blossoms.I was so taken by it I left it hidden behind all my other perfumes and felt paralyzed every time I reached for it.It took a trip to The Bahamas recently for me to bring it out having been inspired by the smell of distant jungle rot and fruity tropical cocktails.Now I can’t put it down.Perhaps you’ll reach the same point with Tubereuse Capriceuse…
How fascinating. I loved reading this.
The Aurore sounds completely compelling as well. I have to smell it!
As for Capricieuse,you are right: I can imagine becoming hooked on it actually, imagine it becoming really one of MY smells
I know that feeling well – being so overcome you. Just. Have. To. Sit. Down. (I bought a fainting couch for that same reason!) I need to revisit Tubéreuse Capricieuse and see where it takes me…;)
I am very impressed with the HdP line. I haven’t tried Tubereuse Capricieuse yet, but it sounds wonderful. I’m glad it isn’t a mentholated tuberose. I prefer the more subtle, buttery tuberose. I think I read in Carl Jung’s memoirs that he experienced a sort of hyperkulturemia (I love that!) on his first visit to Rome. He was literally overcome. I’ve never been to Italy but I’ve always felt it would probably blow my little barbaric mind. Just what I need. Maybe one day.
I went to Rome once on holiday and then had to live there. A gorgeous place.
(and surely you are the least barbaric person on earth!)
I should have said *Barbarian* as in ethnic ancestry. Thank you for the compliment tho’! 🙂
What an outstanding and whirling review. I couldn’t stop reading and wondering and imagining….
We will have to try it on you next weekend!
I love this review, but the image that sticks in my mind is the ambulance technicians rolling in with bottles of Paris Hilton’s latest release and spraying with abandon as they attempt to revive the perfumistas who have succumbed to beauty! You have added a moment of laughter to my morning and that is a good thing.
I thought this was hilarious as well. I’m going to be laughing all day about that who paragraph.
Glad to have been of assistance!
What a wonderful review! I recently purchased this but, I don’t yet have the bottle (coming over from the US with my Mom). I did get to try itand it was one of those immediate loves. However, I also loved Tubereuse 3 Animale and ended up purchasing that one at the time. But, I kept thinking back to this one and then eventually bought this one online as well. Your review is making me really anxious to wear it again!
I hope you enjoy it all the more for this interesting synchronicity. I would love to know how it makes you feel
Another remarkable review. Thank you. I have a little experience with tuberose, but not with this perfume specifically. Now I am motivated to try it because I really love a good tuberose. Also, I had to laugh while reading your description of an imagined near-emergency at a perfume event due to hyperkulteremia. Paris Hilton swill as the antidote. Hahaha! Seriously, why waste perfectly good ammonia?
I wouldn’t call this a tuberose, to be honest; although that definitely forms the backdrop. It is a VERY strange smell, but I can’t work out the associations that make me feel so emotionally touched by it.
What an incredible review. You are the second person that I have heard about who cried after smelling a fragrance.
Another lemming created 🙂 Thank you, Neil the Enabler 🙂
I wouldn’t say cried….teared up, brimming with tears, yes, but not crying. I am not quite sensitive enough for that, methinks. I wonder if you would like this. Are you drawn to the Apres L’Ondee type of thing? If so, you might. I will have to send you some, Daisy (aware that I have totally failed to reciprocate x)
I do like Après l’Ondée. But rarely do I encounter a Guerlain that I do not like. My tastes are kind of all over the place though. No worries, dear Neil, about reciprocating! It is genuinely my pleasure!
Thank goodness there’s a name for it! Now I can explain to others (the vast army of people who don’t get perfume) why knees weaken, breathing gets shallow, pupil’s dilate and the brain thickens. Hyperkulturemia. I must be particularly susceptible, as there have been several olfactory experiences that have brought me to my knees. I never thought of myself as having an addictive personality, but this is different . . . or is it?!
Please tell me which ones, at least one of them. I think this is a fascinating topic.
And not addictive, just…….tuned; ready…
Let’s see . . . this is not limited to perfume, per se, but I’ll start there:
-Vintage Lucien Lelong “Indiscret” parfum extrait. Spicy floriental that slowly morphs into a giant sweet musky beast. I’ve only worn this perfume a few times because my experience has been so intense and so long lasting. It’s a mystery. I’ll never know what’s in this perfume, nor do I wish to find out. I only know that it’s power is complete.
-Vintage Guerlain l’Heure Bleue extrait. Cherry cough syrup blast followed by a cool and sublime orris and a fur-coated musk. Venus in furs. I thought I had never known LB until I experienced this fragrance and almost drove into a ditch (yes, I was putting on perfume while driving). It jarred my memory so fast I almost got a concussion. Not only that, the composition and drydown stunned me by their modernity.
-Frankincense frereana EO Oman. Light lemony, plastic-sweet note with a total church incense drydown. Makes my head spin.
-Rose otto Iran. Crystalline facets of a tart cool rose with an herbal tone.
-Galbanum CO2 Iran. I still can’t express what this is. It just hits the base of my throat.
-Driving at night in LA with the windows open.
The old L’Heure Bleue is beyond words, I agree….. unbelievable.
Thank you for writing this – it is all extremely vivid.
I love this post. The images are truly Baroque!
In my own quiet way I experience Stendhalian reactions sometimes. With scents, with music, with poetry. My involuntary reaction in the face of things of surpassing beauty: the surfeit of gratitude and appreciation wells and spills as salty tears. Or I find my body must move. Not swooning or fainting, nothing so Dramatic!
I keep returning to these Histoires, Mata Hari, the Marquis, the Ambre, the three Tuberoses. Lovely things. Thanks.
I smelled this once in a shop and it brought happy tears to my eyes. It smelled like my first trip to San Francisco, like dust and faded paper, I was entranced. But at well over $300 there was no way I could afford it at the time. So occasionally, I google it obsessively to find reviews, which, like yours, are almost like smelling it all over again.
I am truly delighted that I wasn’t alone in my experience, as I felt that I was going a bit over the top. Your tears are my tears!
Reblogged this on The Black Narcissus and commented:
..and talking of synaesthesia….
I am still in a trance after reading this review (and the comments). I will definitely have to try this one. Your reviews are a highlight of my day…fantastic prose!
Fascinating and beautiful. I have this response to certain musical chords and instruments, combinations of words, colors. I have yet to experience a the fragrance that evokes this response.
It doesn’t happen to me, usually either, and going upstairs and trying on the perfume again ( I have only worn it ONCE outside in two years!) I failed to have any similar reaction, which is probably a good thing as I have a long day of teaching ahead of me. Possibly the papery top notes have faded a bit or something, and it was those that sent me down the time tunnel.
Seriously fabulous. Both the review and the fragrance (or at least the fragrance as you describe it — I have never smelt it).
Thank you too for the insight about iris. Melancholic, “dusty religiosity” and “fresh air over desolate fields”. (The last two ought to cancel each other out, but don’t somehow.) Love this. This is very much my experience of Après l’Ondée.
“…paramedics ready with vials of Paris Hilton as antidotes…” You, sir, are wonderfully mad.
Now off to order Histoire de parfums samples. What a lovely sample service. Blanc Violette sounds rather wonderful too.
From what I know of this line, everything is top quality and interesting. I have never heard of Blanc Violette, but love that name for some reason.
As for Apres L’Ondee, this perfume is very similar and elicits a similar response in me. Go now!
I’m glad you reblogged this because I didn’t read it first time around. I love the capricious non-tuberosy tuberose, and like you, find it terribly distracting. It’s my I want to feel a bit giddy perfume and I don’t wear it often, but it’s a real joy when I do.
I wonder what it is about it that has that giddying effect, though?
Stunningly beautiful writing once again. Thank-you for the reblog as I also missed it the first time round. I am utterly transported by your words and images even while my mind says “oh no! It’s tuberose! Flee the vicinity!” Disregarding all rational thought, I will enter the dream and seek this one out.
For me, this is not remotely a tuberose, but an iris-saffron-suede. If that sounds up your street, you must try it!
It does sound right up my alley! I have an aversion to tuberose which for some neurotic reason I feel I must overcome. Like reading an abysmal book that’s received stellar reviews grimly to the bitter end … which I persist in doing. Perhaps I think I will be rewarded by the gods?
I think your review does make it clear that this is not remotely a tuberose fragrance, and I’m glad you’ve reiterated that point. I recently got a sample of Hiram Green’s Moon Bloom after being encouraged to do so. Tuberose! Eeek! I’ve put Tuberose Capricieuse on my LuckyScent wish list to sample. You’ll be hearing from me, dear. 🙂
As I’m sniffing my sample, I’m reminded of your writing about the effect listening to the muezzins’ call to prayer has upon you. There is something there so affecting, mysterious, profound and other-worldly, and I find it in this scent as well. Utterly beguiling. Thanks.
That’s a very interesting analogy, actually. I know exactly what you mean. And how incredible that this effect can be conjured by the mixing of aromatic essences…
After reading your review of Tubereuse Capricieuse by Histoires de Parfumes, I sampled it and bought a full bottle. I love this scent! Thanks for bringing it our attention.
You like it? Thank goodness I wasn’t talking complete rubbish. There is something very special and strange and affecting about it, don’t you think?
After a three year lapse, I noticed I never responded to you April 14, 2014 inquiry. I do like Tubereuse Capricieuse quite a lot but for a reason that I do not comprehend, I do not wear it often. I pick it up and smell it and enjoy it immensely and perhaps I spray just a bit on my wrists, but to actually wear it and let it envelop me I very rarely do and never have known why, because it is one of my treasures….ahh, perhaps that is the reason. I will have to actually wear it very soon and see what happens. I hope you are feeling more like yourself and recovering at a nice and easy pace. The most strenuous thing you should do is spray on perfume.
I know exactly what you mean. It almost forbids you to wear it.
It also smells a little like drying cement.
Have you had the same experience smelling it recently? It sounds amazing. The scent itself — and experiencing the Stendhal Syndrome. I can think off-hand of one time, coming across a small vial of vintage Femme parfum in a box of sample swaps. WHAM. Every emotion of every day in my late twenties when I wore it a lot, experienced in one second. No bottle of Femme I’ve owned since my early-eighties first, until that sample, has come close to hitting those buttons. It actually made me sad, that of all the many ounces of vintage Femme I own, there is only 1 ml. that has that power, that is true to my original experience. It must be like chasing the first heroin high.
I understand perfectly.
I wore this in large amounts on Saturday, and didn’t have anything like my first reaction, also because the orris is four or five years old now so not quite as ethereal.
I did find myself frequently glued to my arm though and it changed the whole day somehow.
The composition almost needs something else to bring it into perfect focus: it is very much a potent iris suede saffron with a pale pink downy tuberose backdrop and perhaps not complex enough to make it a contemporary masterpiece, but lifting the bottle now as I write this there is definitely something mind altering there. I still love it.
Oh, it is good. It smells like a room in a Cambridge Master’s Lodge or a country house to me; polish, a bit of dust in heavy upholstery and book bindings, the smell of wealthy people and their perfumes and leather. A most superior room – stiffens my spine a bit…
I know. That was exactly the feeling I had – i was cast down spiraling libraries and dust – still love it. The only problem is WEARING it outside!
I wonder if the tuberose is the problem? Although it’s beautifully blended with the other ingredients to create the library hallucination, it’s still tuberose and still loud. I’m fine with walking round in a bubble of Cambridge library but feel a bit self conscious about broadcasting it…
I smell virtually no tuberose.