I recently had the fortune to pick up a boxed, pristine, vintage parfum of one of the most famous of the Coty vintage classics, L’Origan. Schlepping at the back of the key-locked glass cabinet, unrecognised among its more fashionable second hand perfumes, the owner of the antique shop in Kamakura obviously had little idea of its worth. I was extremely excited to find it – not that I didn’t already know how it smelled (my other tiny parfum enchantillon bottle was already running low), but to have this scent in more luxurious amounts, and at such a reasonable price, is a precious, and historically important, addition to my collection.
Often compared to L’Heure Bleue, which it preceded by seven years, L’Origan is a powdered, peppery, spice carnation with violet, orris, labdanum, incense, and a sharp, almost dour aspect reminiscent of dried herbs (‘L’Origan’ is usually translated as ‘The Golden One’ but also means ‘oregano’ in French). If Mitsouko was a fuller, romantic reworking of Coty’s classic Chypre – said to be more angular and spiky – then so is L’Heure Bleue, which I find to be infinitely more plush, gustatory, and melancholic, not to say romantic, than the more private, yet determined, L’Origan.
I find in fact the comparisons between the two perfumes to be somewhat overstated. While L’Heure Bleue may have some spiced aspects that dwell within its swirls of cherry almond patisserie, L’Origan, in vintage, is pointed, divaricated: a soft, ambery, poudré vanilla base offset by the far more strident and full-willed, hard, nutmeg and cloved notes of the top.
This perfume has an autonomous quality, a strength and presence whose romantic overtures ( L’Origan would smell beautiful all dressed up in furs ) do nothing to detract from its essential self-reliance. If Jacques Guerlain did later use this anisic template to make his exquisitely rendered and emotional ‘blue hour’ ( I adore L’Heure Bleue), the perfumer certainly made that perfume very much his own, embroiling his heliotropine atmospherica in a lighter, and sweeter, Parisian wonderment. François Coty’s Italo-Corsican roots come much more to the fore in L’Origan, which is less sugared and much more androgynous; pressed : tightly bound together like powder in a gilded compact, ready; when the moment is allowed, to release its strange, almost medicinal, beauty.