A prunish, stern enigma, Parure sings solitary in the vast Guerlain pantheon as the lone, patchouli chypre. Almost shrewish in her isolation – all saturnine, Mitsouko moss and spiced narcissus, lilac, and crumbling,fusted roses; cypress, styrax and bitter green clary sage wrapped sagely in leather – the deep, plum-rich, savoir faire of this full-bodied and very cultivated perfume is rapt, stately, and simultaneously held tight. While almost dark and gloomy, even foresty and witch-like when viewed from some angles (particularly for a Guerlain, usually the house of more simple and immediate sensualities), this curiously beautiful, but slightly passive-aggressive, perfume nevertheless has a great deal of elegance and detachment. There is a dignity here, a plushness. Parure, never quite ahead enough of her times and secretly lost in romantic daydreams of the past, holds back initially, as she conceitedly displays her conspicuously fine-bred taste that keeps you at a comfortable, amethyst-brooch-clasped distance; but then, once warmed through, lets fly those romantic notions – tender, firm, and gravely sensual – that you can tell have always been embedded at the centre of her being. While the reformulated eau de toilette I have in my collection somehow fails to completely make its ingredients gel in perfect fruition – it is not bad but a touch humourless and dank – the miniature vintage 1ml parfum I once had (found tossed in a box at the Tokyo fleamarket) was a lilting, damascene elixir of deep set roses, patchouli and liquorous, woodland plum that concisely encapsulated the theme set by the perfume’s name – Parure : meaning jewel.
For me there was always something quite nineteenth-century about this creation: all bustles, cloaks, and fine, thickly upholstered fabric. And perhaps this is not a coincidence. The perfume’s creator, Jean Paul Guerlain, was consciously revisiting, when making Parure, the classic Mitsouko template (created back in 1918 by his father, Jacques), substituting plum for peach, and a more difficult, guarded heart, but still created quite nostalgically with the same inimitable aura of Parisian refinement. Thus inspired by and created for his mother – Madame Guerlain – who would actually have lived through that era, his ‘new’ Guerlain chypre perfume, though clearly also influenced by other contemporary patchouli-centred creations of the period including Aromatics Elixir and Givenchy III, nevertheless seems to share none of their interests or 1970’s preoccupations. Instead, Parure remains forever an outsider and from another time: the handsome but diffident, velvet-clad duchess, eyes fixed on the past, her perfume – and she would never even consider wearing anything else, not even for a moment – a very real, and quite convincing, Portrait Of A Lady.