PERSOLAISE : Would you agree that the extrait is the most luxurious form of a perfume?
THE BLACK NARCISSUS : I suppose it could be argued that buying an extravagantly huge bottle of vintage Shalimar cologne and splashing it on willy-nilly over yourself would also be an undeniably luxuriant experience – truly indulgent – but at the same time, the experience of taking a boxed extrait from your perfume cabinet, carefully removing the inner box with its plush velvet interior and lovingly applying some precious Shalimar extrait from the stopper (knowing that with each drop you use from the 7.5ml you have been given, the contents gradually disappearing, almost a mascochistic pleasure) cannot entirely be beaten. Just that one drop, which will unfurl and reveal itself over time and reveal the essence of the perfume’s message. There is something special about all of this.
Why do you think extraits fell out of favour?
Perhaps because popular fragrances became so strong and powerful in the 80’s and 90’s (Giorgio etc), that no one needed a more potent version of the same thing when the mileage was already so impressive with a simple ‘edt’ (having said that, the original extrait of Calvin Klein’s Obsession is actually pretty sublime), or else the perfumes in question were ozonic, aquatic – light by design.
And why do you think they are becoming a bit more popular?
Regarding the current rise in popularity of extraits, the cynic in me thinks it just another way to capitalize on ‘exclusivity’, by making already expensive perfumes even more so (it is amazing to think how reasonable the old extraits were!). On the other hand, it is possible that perfume lovers are just rediscovering the enjoyment to be had from a more private experience that is less about sillage and more about a certain private intensity.
Do you think that some perfumes were ‘born’ to live as extraits, whereas some simply work better as an edt or an edp?
I do. Grès Cabochard is incomparable in the extrait; the balance of the leather patchouli hyacinth combination is perfect; I find the top notes in the light versions extraneous, almost an obstacle to ‘get through’, where in the most concentrated version it just is what it is, how is was ‘meant to be’. Other perfumes, say Givenchy Ysatis, I am not sure benefitted from having an extrait version, as the gorgeousness of the edt allowed all the multifaceted components to shine through more fully. You shouldn’t necessarily try to ‘condense’ something which is perfect already.
To be honest, it all depends on the type of perfume that are in vogue at any one time. I don’t think fruity florals or ‘florientals’ lend themselves as well to the eau de toilette/ parfum stratification as well say, say, the chypres did. The vintage extrait of Yves Saint Laurent Y, for example, is very dark and moss/ patchouli rich, quite private, moody and autumnal, whereas the far fresher edt was all honeysuckle and mirabelle plum and green notes that made it incredibly joyful and springlike. If you were an Y lover, you could have modulated the precise tone of the perfume you wanted on any given day, wearing either/ or depending on the weather, or both together for more layered and intriguing effect. I can’t imagine the same thing happening with a perfume like Angel.
Many other perfumes also come in different concentrations, of course, almost making them feel like entirely different scents; in which case it is a question of trying them and seeing which iteration speaks to you personally. While many people adore the No5 extrait, for the quieter, but more concentrated and fulsome jasmine ylang rose triumvirate over the very perceptible old fashioned musk and iris that holds it all together, for me, in the extrait you totally lose the essential aldehydic triumph of Ernest Beaux’s creation, which needs the lighter zest and delirium-inducing orchestrations in the edt to properly shine through. I also never really felt that Après L’Ondée entirely worked as a parfum (despite the chilly, extra cold almond-stone atmosphere that the now discontinued extrait contained……..) as it was actually even more attenuated and shy than the original (which is very diffident to begin with!).
What defines an extrait? Is there something operatic? Intimate?
Some extraits are truly operatic: outrageous. The old Carons were like a miniaturised box at the opera and the stage and the theatre as well; opening up with crenellated satin fan interiors like a diva’s drawing room, taking up a huge amount of space on the dresser: attention-seeking, resplendent, to reveal the star of the show – the bottle of extrait – at the centre. A perfume like Poivre studded with tears and glowering with spiced menace, was a true duchess and prima donna. Mess with her at your peril.
At the other end of the spectrum, because you usually apply an extrait with a stopper, not the more workaday action of spraying from a slight distance, physically touching your skin in order to be judicious about how much you want to wear – there is a bond between you and your perfume once this ritual has been enacted – and that action in itself makes this form of perfume far more intimate.
If you had to choose…..
No19 vintage extrait is my ultimate perfume in terms of just smelling fantastic; a scent I can trust, and admire very deeply. But if I am honest with myself, I don’t know that I love it more than Vol De Nuit, which is so extraordinary and emotive in extrait it truly takes me to another realm……
Some of these decadent Narcissian quippings form part of Persolaise’s recent piece on Extraits, the full article of which you can find in the latest edition of The Perfume Society’s Scented Letter.
Thank you to Persolaise for letting me pontificate on these glorious preciousnesses. x