AN UNSURPASSABLE ELEGANCE : : : MOMENT SUPREME by JEAN PATOU (1929)

 

 

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I will confess that will power is not my strength. Chocolate; booze; tightly sealed bottles of vintage perfume. And coming home late last night after my first day back at work, and reading the exhortations to open and experience the beautiful bottle of Moment Suprême that I discovered the other day in an out of the way bric-a-brac shop in Yokohama, I had no choice: my pitifully low levels of resistance were destroyed.

 

 

Usually when I find a flacon of vintage preciousness I have some idea of how it will smell. Not so with Moment Suprême: I had vague remembrances from  somewhere, but had no concrete conception of the perfume that was locked within the bottle, and box, an undiscovered perfume that spoke to me, in its subdued presentation, of the twenties or thirties in the most elegant, and simple manner possible.

 

 

 

I was told that Moment Suprême was an amber lavender, and it is, in a sense, but not at all what I expecting (something more sensual, oriental and ruddered). Plying open the strings around the papery, waxen hymen of the bottle’s opening – it felt like a sacrilege, if I am honest, like greed – the perfume’s pristine aureole of immaculately preserved top notes rose up instantaneously from the vapours and assured me, immediately, that this scent was in fact in perfect condition. You can just tell. When a perfume’s orchestration has that fresh and flawless equilibrium – boxed, in all probability, for decades until I tore it from silence – you know that it has been preserved, waiting timelessly for its moment. (For good measure, I also twisted and snipped at my beautiful Vol De Nuit treasure as well, for comparison, thirst, and a deep desire to know just what it smelled like driving me to ravage both at once (also extraordinarily pristine: exactly as it was intended, I am sure, by Jacques Guerlain)).

 

 

 

The first impressions of Moment Suprême: of purity, of an almost sacrosanct, uncontaminated fineness of English lavender, touches of green, and a fresh, sudsy translucence, as clean an escape from vulgarity as it is possible to be. Beautiful, but I regretted violating its integrity, all the same, like peering, voyeuristically, through a keyhole into a dream garden I had no right to be in.

 

 

From underneath, what then, rose up, slowly, through the cold and mirror-glassed lake was : Joy.

 

 

Joy? But there was no mistaking it: Joy is there, at the heart, within:  the rose, the jasmine, the civet, the green-laced musk, but in embryonic form, as though she were a drowned nymph reaching up, lost in the hermetically quiet dream of an arcadian pool.

 

 

Oh no, I think to myself (why  did I have to open it?) Is Moment Suprême merely going to be  Joy plus lavender? That is not what I want. Joy is Joy, it is beautiful, really, but so not me; a sourness, a petulance, as it resolves itself in that prideful orgy of flowers, that implicit tension that I sometimes lack the patience to reside with. Fascinating, though, from a perfumed genesis viewpoint: Henri Almeras, the creator of all the classic Patous, clearly finding something inspiring within this ’29 creation that he could then use, to douse and plunder with excessive quantities of May rose, tuberose, and jasmine, and thus produce one of the most successful perfumes of all time – Joy, that exorbitant, luscious,  exuberance.

 

 

 

 

 

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But wait. Despite its name – suggestive, perhaps, of the pleasures of the flesh, Moment Suprême, beyond its interstitial allusions to Joy, soon veers down a quite different path. Soon a carnation, jonquil and clove ingress appears, otherworldly,untouched, faint, ambered, skinnish undertones notwithstanding.

 

 

 

 

She has a secret. You cannot touch her. And I realize quite quickly, with my perfect Vol De Nuit now blooming on my other hand (sultry, dark, me), that this really is a perfume from a Golden Age, a time when things could be left unuttered, to speak, silently, for themselves. For a moment, as I glide, haltingly, from one hand to another, I feel sentient apparitions of two, beautifully dressed women arise in my mind.

 

 

 

I see them, in some imaginary, colonnaded garden, other guests fading into background, as they brush unknowingly past each other, lost in their own illusions. Two, beautiful people. And for a moment this lost, unmitigated elegance makes me feel almost tearful. The touch of real beauty that transcends. Cloves: le parfum giroflé – we are now in the chimeric, astral l’air du temps of the angelic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She is an enigma.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The original magazine advertisements for the perfume reflect this. In one, in spite of the claims that the scent is un succès retentissant, a resounding success, the perfume is nevertheless presented in silhouette, in blurring, receding shadow, as it retreats to the recesses of the unconscious, the place, perhaps where this ‘supreme moment’ first takes place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In another, the perfume is described as being ‘l’irréel d’un rêve, la realité d’une joie’ – the irreality of a dream, the reality of a joy, and this, in truth, is how I experienced the perfume last night.

 

 

 

 

It is not a perfume I am likely to wear (though the insistent clove facet is an aspect of the scent I am deeply drawn to), but I am very glad, despite my simultaneous regrets at opening it, that I have now experienced firsthand, this exquisite, almost peerless encapsulation of abstract emotion in perfume.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The supreme moment, it would seem, is love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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20 Comments

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20 responses to “AN UNSURPASSABLE ELEGANCE : : : MOMENT SUPREME by JEAN PATOU (1929)

  1. I never took a flight during the night. But to me it feels like a flight into the unknown with only yourself as a traveler. The world around you, dark and at times unpenetrable. How it must have been in the era of Jacques Guerlain I can only Guerlaing, as My automatic writer typed here.

  2. I am a Guerlain adept. That’s whom I caught on to. But I’m glad that Moment Suprême and Vol de Nuit met on your hands. As you so aptly wrote, I love the final drawing, two beautiful beings brushing past, not touching. Meeting with beauty and love sometimes cause tears of joy.

    • It probably sounded ridiculous, but what I wrote was what I felt. I had the sensation of these women brushing past each other. That particular level of elegance is very hard to find in today’s perfume.

  3. Lilybelle

    I have a little vintage bottle of Moment Supreme parfum cologne, and I had to dab some after reading your post yesterday. It’s funny what you say about Joy residing at the heart of MS because Joy is a staple in my wardrobe, and even though I got the rose at the heart of it I didn’t think “Joy!”. I’m sure the parfum is richer and deeper than my cologne version. It really is an elegant enigmatic fragrance.

    • You need to smell this parfum (you will have some).

      There is no doubt in this version: Joy passes through, and then kind of leaves the building. It is really unusual this perfume – I have never smelled anything else quite like it.

  4. Renee Stout

    Glad you opened the bottle of Moment Supreme as the perfumer intended it to be smelt and experienced, and not to remain unopened and enshrined. I have never experienced it, but reading your post has left me curious enough to eventually seek it out.

  5. I have a sample somewhere, now I have to go and find it. I generally love the old Patou’s and was very excited to hear that they were being brought back to live. Now having tried a few, (but only briefly in store and I really need samples to test properly) I’m not so sure. I’m certainly very glad I have some of the vintage ones, even if only the reeditions from the 80s.
    Anyway, I digress, gorgeous description, by ‘clove’ you had me in the palm of your hand. Now off to find a supreme moment…

  6. I am so pleased you opened and experienced this masterpiece. It is one of my top 10 fragrances, I just adore the lavander in it beyond belief.
    I never thought of Joy while wearing this, but as I always state: My skin pulls all the darker notes out of a scent. So on my skin the clove really becomes pronounced and plays gleefully with the lavander, a true pleasure for me.
    The vintage VdN must be amazing also, a true treasure if ever there was one.

  7. Reblogged this on The Black Narcissus and commented:

    I do wish I hadn’t opened this though.

  8. I still have a small bottle of Moment Supreme Perfume that has a some left in it, but I also have an unopened package of Jean Patou Sublime Perfume. It is probably from the early 60’s.

  9. Grayspoole/Maria

    Dear Neil-
    I was so excited to see this repost because I also pulled my bottle of Moment Supreme out of the cabinet this week, determined to wear it and get to know it better. Synergy. And I reread your post a few days ago before you reposted it.
    Now me, I never hesitate for a moment before opening my sealed finds. I do direct some grateful thoughts to that more abstemious person, probably long gone to her eternal rest, who owned the bottle before me and did not open it, but when I go, I intend to leave behind nothing but opened and empty bottles. But I was too impatient when opening my first sealed and pristine MS flacon and broke the dauber off in the neck of the bottle (and I love those vintage Patou daubers…I’ve kept the incised glass top and fondle it now and then.) I’ve found that the only way to deal with perfume tragedies of this scale (and I have had only one other disaster equal to this one, involving a flacon of Nuit de Noel) is to get another bottle, exactly the same, as soon as I can. I’m wearing the perfume in my second MS and when the time comes, I will figure out a way to get the perfume out of bottle #1 and put it in safely in empty bottle #2.
    I’m so sorry to hear that your bottle has evaporated! After resisting this for a while, I now think vintage flacons with glass stoppers do need to be resealed somehow, and I use strips of plumber’s tape on mine. (It’s a non-sticky, stretchy tape that can be reused a few times.) I do NOT like that laboratory paraffin that is sometimes recommended but I can live with the tape.
    So what do I think Moment Supreme? After several wearings this week, I still do not comprehend how a perfume can be so beautifully orchestrated. It is the antithesis of modern, linear sludge. Its pleasures last much, much longer than a moment (how about 10-12 hours?) and everytime I sniff, it reveals something new. I love the cloves, the lavender, and the very late dry down that becomes pleasantly, refreshingly soapy, just when you are starting to tire of the spicy warmth phase. Wearing it to work last week, I also had a moment, about midway through, when I seemed to be smelling Joy’s opulent accord of rose and jasmine. I thought I was crazy until I reread your post.. “Okay, Neil gets Joy too.”

  10. Amazing sometimes, the synchronicity. I just was wallowing in a copious application of Moment Suprême not three days ago. I love your description, find it spot-on, and pure poetry as well. I am sorry to hear about the evaporation, but it doesn’t change the importance — the necessity — of opening it exactly when you did.

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