Both Cécile Zarokian’s ‘La Surprise’ – inspired by the Rococo painter Fragonard’s work of oblivious springtime love and joy as a young woman in a garden surrounded by flowers is startled by her admirer – and Nathalie Feisthauer’s ‘L’Aimée’ (The Beloved), based on the tender picture by Jacques Louis David of a woman holding the hand of her child – are pleasing, fresh florals based on priceless classical paintings for French house MDCI, a well-esteemed niche company that usually employs a wide range of noted crème de la crème perfumers to make its scents, from Patricia Nicolaï to Francis Kurkdjian, Bertrand Duchaufour, Pierre Bourdon, and many others – yet manages overall to achieve an all round, smooth and refined palette of fragrances in its collection.
These two new perfumes make nice additions to the roster. If you were to read the full list of notes of the perfumes, though – in the case of L’Aimée, a veritable multiplex of flowers, fruit, woods, and resins (with a heart of rose, jasmine, champaca, lily of the valley, heliotrope, peach and raspberry, overlaid delicately with a bright introduction of blackcurrant bud, orange, bergamot, mandarin over a more sensuous sounding rich base with officially released notes of amyris, oakmoss, cedarwood, vetiver, patchouli, vanilla, amber, and musks) – you may be forgiven for expecting a more full-figured perfume, in keeping with Madame Sériziat’s dress; more of a hint of underlying sensuality. Instead, while I liked this immediately (though posited as a neo-classical creation, to me this is like a more attenuated, aqueous Beautiful by Estée Lauder, with a prominent and high quality rose and jasmine centre polished cleanly by all the fruit notes and the lightest dab of patchouli in the final dry down) – it is somewhat faint on my skin, reticent and ladylike – which probably captures the idea of the painting as intended.
La Surprise – also neo 1980’s or 90’s, rather than obviously alluding to the eighteenth century and the carefree Rococo period for which Fragonard is famed, has intimations of Fleur de Rocaille or Red Door, just prettier, more petal-scattered and fresh, less burdened, and is even lighter than L’Aimée, with its green notes of bergamot and cardamom, blended with new rhubarb, a bouquet of freesias and other white flowers alongside a ‘solar accord’ that adds a certain modern lucency, while a sandalwood/rose/violet heart and ‘woody notes’ musk conclusion add up to a scent that is eminently wearable – I can see it being nice sprayed on a cold sunny Autumn morning – but not, if truth be told, especially memorable.
In perfume terms, the artist Fragonard is of course most famous for the painting used in the middle label on the bottle of the (in)famous Bal A Versailles, a thick, musky animalic floral amber from the 1960’s that is legendary in its animalism and decadent extravagance. It is also most definitely memorable, even if most people would never want to wear something this heavy and enveloping on a daily basis ( I save it only for cold days on a whim). The two MDCI perfumes I am writing about here are the polar opposite of the masterwork by Jean Deprez: fresh floral evanescences that are worth seeking out if you like clean flowers, but – given the provenance of the origin and concept of the brief for these new additions to MDCI’s painting series ( I think Ms Feisthauer’s L’Homme Aux Gants, a woody suede-nutmeg balsamic based on the painting by Titian that I was wearing last night – is more effective; I also love Ms Zarokian’s stand alone gardenia orange blossom-vanilla confection Nuit Andalouse) – – perhaps not entirely worthy of the Louvre.