Christ In the Sepulcher Guarded by Angels William Blake, c. 1805







‘IN THE MIDDLE of the journey of our life, I came to myself, in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost. It is a hard thing to speak of: how wild, harsh and impenetrable that wood was, so that thinking of it recreates the fear. It is scarcely less bitter than death: but, in order to tell of the good that I found there, I must tell of the other things I saw there….’


I always think of Dante’s Divine Comedy when I think of Alpona. Like the opening canto of the Inferno, in which Dante Alighieri finds himself awakening in the midst of a dark green canopy of trees, Alpona, though ostensibly a citrus chypre, has something inchoate, resinous; boscous, as though one were being transported through a temporal portal into a new, but vaguely terrifying, world.



The effect is achieved with a highly unusual combining of accords that are most inventive. Most present to the nose is the deep essential oil of the green bitter orange, its oil glands piqued and pressed and accentuated with furtherings of grapefruit rind and thyme, unsweetened and verdurous, leading down dark, umbrous paths of forested pine trees, dry myrrh; santal, cedarwood, earthen patchouli and rich, Ernst Daltroff murmurings of oakmoss.



Alpona is a most peculiar and fascinating perfume. And I can think of nothing else that remotely resembles it. Once the base notes come into play, with their, soft, poisonous caress of what almost smells like bitter almonds (a strange note of raisin also making its unusual presence known), the scent becomes more knowing, comforting: a tree shaded, fir-needling papousse. But Alpona, perhaps Caron’s most impenetrable and ambiguously androgynous perfume, never really lets its ultimate intentions be known.








(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation


Filed under Chypre, Citrus

29 responses to “IN SHADOWS…………ALPONA EXTRAIT DE PARFUM by CARON (1939)

  1. I agree, there is nothing else like it. Why did it have to go away?

  2. Lilybelle

    I’d love to smell that, especially on this gray, gloomy, frosty morning.

  3. It sounds like it was a interesting perfume. Awesome photos!

  4. This piece is the perfect length. You can do so much with well-chosen words. I have little patience with long reviews — something gets diluted somehow — but this is nicely concentrated and I “get” this scent even if it seems like a mystery. If you know what I mean.

    Very good photos to match.

  5. I love what you have written about one of my favorite fragrances. Oh that I could go back in time and purchase a full ounce of it, instead of my quarter ounce. It is just too glorious a fragrance; I could just bathe in it.

    • What do you like so much about it? Tell me more. When did you buy it? What’s the bottle like?

      • I love it’s otherworldly quality, the citrus, the hint of greenness, the overall melodic, yet rich, way it is orchestrated. It has a freshness and a heaviness to it that no other scent has, but it always becomes rather sweet on me. Most things become sweet on my skin.
        I purchased my bottle in Paris, in 1998 at the Caron boutique. I purchased the quarter ounce, in their classic rectangular bottle. I wish I had purchased the one ounce in the lovely atomiseur, the one with the cap that looks like a temple, but I didn’t realize then how much I would love it.
        Sadly it is a scent that never turns up on eBay, or else I would purchase it.

  6. Grayspoole

    Dear Neil-
    Such a thoughtful post with beautifully curated images, prompting me to reward myself with a drop from the tiny sample of Alpona parfum that I have (no more than 1/4 ml. to begin with, probably not very vintage, from Surrender to Chance, if I remember correctly). It’s hard to understand a perfume when you can’t really live in it, don’t you agree? Even so, I’ve been able to perceive little flashes of the dark brilliance of Alpona that you describe so eloquently. Really, really vintage bergamot and orange (which I find in some very old and well preserved Emeraude and L’Origan parfums that I have) seem so otherwordly, concentrated, juicy, and completely different from the modern materials, and it sounds as though you have these ingredients in your Alpona. I wonder where they sourced those vintage citrus ingredients.

    • From another planet! In truth, though I find Alpona fascinating and formidable ( and I don’t know quite how vintage my vial of extrait is ), for me personally there is something almost…..indigestible about it, an oilish quality that keeps me at bay. I love its uniqueness though.

      As for the pictures, when I considered writing about this perfume, they came first, and then I wrote it. It really does remind of the Divine Comedy. Thank you for your comment.

  7. carole

    I have some Alpona. I have a unique perfume collection, especially since I live in the middle of nowhere, in a place where anything remotely luxurious (a special lipstick, or a fragrance) makes you a target. When I wear it I just about split the atom, I make the amount so smell-and I put to on the outer corner of my left wrist. That way when I rest my head on my hand I can smell it. It is bitter, and astringent, and it has depth and complexity. It reminds me of moss and dampness. And every single time I wear it, something bad happens. No kidding. How is that even possible, I have no idea. There is a snowstorm here today. Maybe i will wear a drop and see what happens.

    Perfect review, complete with perfect illustrations. Tell me you find this everywhere in Japan.



    • Wow. An unnervingly beautiful image of how this perfume can work. Yes: the moss and the dampness..

      And no: you would never find this in Japan. Infini, in copious, copious amounts. And I have found Fleurs de Rocaille, Narcisse Noir, and even Nuit De Noel. Plus Nocturnes, Aimez Moi. But I very much doubt that Alpona would ever crop up anywhere. And I can’t even find the one vial that I do have.

      Hope nothing bad happened this time!

  8. carole

    Neither! East coast of Canada. In a town with a Wal mart, and not much else. Some really lovely people and some other people. Do you know the famous picture of a woman wearing Dior New Look Couture, just after the war-her clothes are being ripped off her person by people who cannot believe she is wearing something beautiful? Some days are like that. Some people are like that-they cannot stand for you to have a nice lipstick. It’s as if the fact that you have one somehow means they are going without.

    • And Canadians, along with the Japanese, are some of the most perfumophobic people in the world. To be honest, I assumed Canada to begin with….

      I am sure it is very beautiful. I enjoyed the Shipping News recently (he said quaintly). But I was never really one for a total lack of art. Nature is great, but…

  9. I just unearthed my Alpona parfum, completely forgotten about in the deep recesses of my embarrassingly unmanageable collection. It’s a highly emotional fragrance, isn’t it? Rich and oily, “sous bois” earthiness. The colour in my mind is olive brown . . . Quietly, assertively stunning.

    • Do you have a whole bottle of it? What is the bottle like? Picture for the nerd please!

      Your collection sounds amazing. I love the idea of all this quiet, pristine nature with just the smell of trees and air without, and then all this decadent warmth of the French parfum within. The idea is glorious.

      • No, unfortunately, just 5mls or so siphoned from friends into glass vials, which is why I didn’t think of it as something I had, being more a bottle girl. I’ve boxes and drawerfuls of bottle and decants, and a fridge devoted to those I want to keep as pristine as possible, especially vintage.

        Oh, Neil, I am so tickled that you have conjured up that kind of vision. I know that you and Duncan have found a spot in the world that is special to you, too. That’s truly what it’s like here in Roberts Creek. So close to beauty. Here is the mandala by the ocean jetty, a hangout for the locals. At night at my cottage, all I hear are the waves. I don’t know if these pics will work, but will try:

        And my cottage deck this past summer:

        /Users/robin/Pictures/iPhoto Library.photolibrary/Previews/2016/06/14/20160614-124623/v0NBhIMeQCu2qzUw7QOenA/IMG_3514.JPG

        And my ‘fume fridge:

        /Users/robin/Pictures/iPhoto Library.photolibrary/Previews/2016/12/23/20161223-161407/ygpAZvAPT4yc%plmjo5C8w/IMG_3597.JPG

  10. Ah, well, you can see “downtown” Roberts Creek, anyway~

  11. My Favorite Perfume.
    I bought it in the Caron in Paris last summer. I’m happy to see this article.Thank you.

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