I usually have an encyclopaedic memory for perfumes. I can remember what all my friends wore, and their mothers, and their brothers : some perfume bottle in a teenage bedroom in 1983; a dusty old Balenciaga Ho Hang bottle in my grandparents’ bathroom in the 1970’s: random friends from university who I have lost contact with and whose full names I do not remember but whose signature scents I always will….from childhood onwards these coveted, talismanic, secret-holding bottles of scent belonging to a great variety of individuals held me mesmerized.
The voyeuristic fascination of someone else’s bathroom. Half used,precious liquids. The heightened experiences engendered by them- known only to their users ( and those subtly, or brazenly, influenced by their effects……)
The bottle of Patou Sublime, set carefully on a glass, mirrored space, in a pristine, wealthy person’s bathroom, belonged to someone or other’s mother ( in this one instance, the face and identity of the perfume’s owner has inexplicably escaped me- I see no faces), and as I locked the door firmly behind me I would have gone straight to it; clasped it; uncapped it and smelled it from the nozzle, and then wiped the eye of the spray onto tissue to know it further (spraying it would have been too obvious , too in flagrante delicto); deeply inhaled its un-Patou like contemporaneity : its creamy, big-boned; thick-fleshed luxury ambivalence caught somewhere between a rich, golden patina’d voluptuousness (all sandalwood, balsams, civeted vanilla and cedar painted thickly with neroli and ylang ylang, heavy jasmines) and a more civilized, and distancing, greener leafed note of bergamot, coriander, and tangerine. Not particularly ‘Patou’ ( any more than Samsara seemed representative of Guerlain ), but part, certainly, at that time, of a memorable, if short-lived, trend of bold, unabashedly burnished High Class Sex Perfumes – all décolletage, bare skin, and buttered, licentious and glittering scent trails, that brought to mind the imagined excesses of Versailles, just transported to a late eighties/ early nineties setting ( Sublime was released in 1992), the executing guillotine of waifs and grunge and anorexia soon to come in the skeketal aqueousnesses of L’Eau D’Issey, CK One and their emaciated, transparent sisters.
Sublime is most definitely in an oblivious, comfortably contemptuous class of its own. It is a mature woman’s perfume. It is sexy ( I found the vintage parfum you can see on the right of the picture at the back of my closet the other day, forgetting that I even had it) and it is flush, compact and radiant as ever in its dignified effulgence as I remember it. Smelling it again, the souffléd sandalwood comes immediately to the focus, the carnal id at the heart of a perfume that shares some similarities with other shamelessly flagrant Women of the day such as Creed’s Vanisia; Chloe Narcisse; and the for me more compellingly delectable ( and definitely undervalued ) Caron Montaigne.
All of these no longer fashionable perfumes share Sublime’s thick, balsamic and floraled vanilla and sandalwood base with sharper and orange accented sheens to give a patina of a certain well-off, tasteful respectability ( although I did in truth always feel that Narcisse – also released in 1992- was always too sweet and overegged/ oversugared personally with all its peach and overflowery sickliness, tipping easily into a more unadulterated vulgarity).
Vanisia, released five years before in 1987 at a time when Giorgio Of Beverly Hills had given the green light for perfumers of the day to go quite crazy with their smothering formulas to the point of annihilation, is a breathy, and heavily stealthy adult perfume: quite brazen in its lust, while managing to reside -just – by the skin of its lace-biting teeth – within the agreed upon realms of ‘respectable decency’, while Montaigne – a gorgeously idiosyncratic, even eccentric, precursor of Sublime, spikes the slightly obvious seductions of this kind of perfume with more interesting and unexpected angles. Like the Patou, it contrasts oranges and coriander with the undulous nudity of the base, but in Montaigne there is a glintingness- with violet, blackcurrant, green narcissus and mimosa – that adds a slyness ; a curiosity and intrigue.
Sublime, composed with a deft and intuitive hand by Jean Kerleo, is removed from all such extraneous experimentation. All is smooth, and balanced, and ‘effortlessly’ sensual. Quite womanly, solid – a perfume to hold your attention. Centered. Pedigreed. Well kept.
Still available, to my knowledge – if presumably altered from its original, generous formula – Sublime is a perfume for the grand occasion; a perfume to think secretly to yourself as you take your time before your mirror pondering what to wear for the evening, fuck it, I’m going for it tonight no matter what anyone else thinks, I WANT to smell like this, and to then spend the remainder of said evening- as you pass between people and conversations…. self-contained; perfumed; just basking, enveloped, in the warm acknowledgements of its glow.