Guest post by Gabrielle
As I sit here about to write I cannot help but have a profound longing for the springtime. Outside there is enough snow to make one think that this was a village in the Swiss Alps, yet the first day of Spring is less than three weeks away. Such disparity is the fate of those who live in New England I guess.
I am someone who does not mind the snow, I am usually enchanted by it, but with another snow-fall on its way this evening…well, I have had enough. I want to see green grass and flowering buds, I want there to be a rebirth of nature… I need to see green grass I tell you!
As you can tell, I am now anticipating – longing for would be more truthful – the arrival of Springtime; more than I can ever recall. Seeing that it is still further off than I would want, I have decided to apply one of my favorite scents, one that will make me feel that greener, brighter days are not too far off. That magical scent I have worn for most of my life, one that always feels like Springtime in a bottle, would be Ma Griffe by Carven. A truly spectacular fragrance that never fails to put me into a sort of optimistic, nice weather is almost here, all things are possible, kind of mood.
Ma Griffe, which translates roughly to “my mark” or “my tag/label” was created by Jean Carles in 1946. The fact that Jean Carles was capable of creating such a glorious scent at that point in his career is truly amazing, since by this time he was already completely anosmic and had to rely on his vast fragrance knowledge to compose the fragrance. But if that was not challenging enough, he managed to create a scent that marries green and white, Madame Carven’s signature colour combination, into a masterpiece that is still relevant almost seventy years after its launch.
Whenever I wear Ma Griffe I am completely dazzled by the way the scent combines green notes along with creamy white florals and seamlessly transitions from top notes through to the base notes without missing a beat. Which makes me think of how whenever I wear Ma Griffe I always find my self humming Grieg’s Morning Mood: I tend to have a multi-sensory experience whenever I wear particular scents, Ma Griffe being one that truly opens me up to colour and sound as well as imagery.
Upon application, the first thing that strikes you in the opening are the aldehydes; such beautiful nose tickling aldehydes. Not to worry though, Monsieur Carles has tempered the aldehydes so they will not become too rowdy and take over. But, before you have too much time to indulge in the aldehydic opening, here come the green notes, courtesy of galbanum and clary sage, which balance the aldehydes so perfectly you do not feel too overwhelmed by them, much in the same way that the opening of Morning Mood is balanced perfectly between the flute and the oboe, neither taking over too much, each just there to compliment the other and move the piece along. You then notice the slightest hint of citrus there also, the effect of walking outside on a Spring morning and experiencing the glorious freshness, but then becoming aware that the sun is gently caressing your skin.
Before you have realized it, you are aware of the flowers. A bouquet brimming with all the glorious white flowers one could imagine, the jasmine in particular catching your attention. But this is not a dirty jasmine: this is a soft, velvety, creamy jasmine. One that caresses and soothes, one that makes you feel as if you have just been wrapped in luxury. Yet you are still aware of the lingering greens in the opening, perfect. You then start to notice that the jasmine is not alone, and slowly become aware that gardenia is there also; rich, creamy, sweet and sensuous, yet never cloying nor overbearing. Before you know it the ylang-ylang, also accompanying them, makes herself known. This is when you start to understand how reserved she can truly be, when added so perfectly by the hands of a master parfumeur such as Carles. Truly, the ylang-ylang just adds depth and dimension to the the scent: it never takes over, never takes the scent into exotic territory, marrying perfectly with the other white florals to lend balance and polish to the greenness of the scent.
Wait, though -there is still yet another presence joining in… the rose. How could we ever have such a glorious bouquet without the rose? While not knowing if the rose is red, or pink, or white, I have always preferred to believe the essence used was of the white variety. In such a lush, dewy application of rose absolue, one can only imagine that creamy white roses were used. Such is the nature of the rose used in this: pure creaminess and smooth.
The perfection with which the florals are executed is an amazing accomplishment. It makes one shake one’s head in disbelief that Monsieur Carles could not perceive any of this while composing the scent, yet he composed with such aplomb. This also brings me back to Morning Mood, the way in which the orchestral movement opens up so seamlessly after the oboe and flute play their part. Yet the oboe and flute are consistent throughout the piece, just in the same way the green notes remain with us lingering in the background throughout the scents development.
Now we have a shift, and every thing starts to relax as we begin to recognize the vetiver. Are we at the base notes yet? Has the scent run its course? Or has the vetiver been lingering in the background the whole time? Well, after many wearings I have come to understand that the vetiver starts to make itself known from the beginning, in a very subtle way. We are just so enraptured with the aldehydes, the citrus, the greens and of course the glorious creamy white floral notes, that we just have not taken notice of it. It is only as the green and floral notes start to move along and soften that vetiver comes into its own, a vetiver that is not left to its own devices, but is tempered, on its best behavior, not trying to steal the spotlight.
In much the same way as Morning Mood keeps interjecting different movements towards its finale, we notice that there are other notes here as well. One of the most intriguing is a spicy note. I am always so profoundly surprised when I become aware of a hint of spiciness. But it is so delicate that it takes a few moments to understand which spice it may be. I am always so tickled when I become aware that it is cinnamon. Cinnamon! Yes, cinnamon. Who would have ever thought to add cinnamon to a green, floral, chypre scent? Well Monsieur Carles did and it is amazing. It not only never truly smells of cinnamon, it somehow manages to smell as if we are thinking of what cinnamon smells like, just the reflection of spiciness, just the subtle personification of cinnamon. It melds so perfectly in with the whole it never feels out of place, again adding to the overall seamless quality of the scent.
The final appearance to be made is the tonka bean and benzoin combo. Why do I say combo and not treat them as individual notes? Because the two meld so perfectly it really takes a bit of work to discern what is what. The two add just enough weight to the base of the scent as to prevent it from floating off into the ether, or just fading away. They help carry the remaining impressions of the scent on for quite a while after initial application, just as in the closing of Morning Mood. Yet, just as in Grieg’s piece the familiar theme is there until the final note plays, the greenness and creamy floral notes linger on until the scent finally and gently fades to its close, which I am happy to say almost fifteen hours later is just happening.
The most amazing thing about Ma Griffe is the ability it has of making me feel so optimistic, youthful, and hopeful while also giving the effect of being perfectly polished and put together. You feel as if you are a worldly ingenue, if that is even possible, no matter what your age. Definitely a scent worth experiencing in vintage form: mine is a bottle of extrait from the 1940’s that was still sealed in its outer paper when I found it years ago. It is truly not only a classic scent, but should definitely be regarded as one of the masterpieces in the art of scent from the 20th century. This is a fragrance which does not show its age, nor does it ever feel “dated”. This scent is as much relevant today as it was almost 70 years ago when it was released. It is the fragrant equivalent of an older woman who looks 20 years her junior, at the least.
Even some of the greatest scents cannot say that, but then again, so many of the greats have had a lot of work done…even Ma Griffe. Since I have not smelt the recently re-released version, I am not able to tell how much it has in common with my beauty…hopefully it was only just a little nip and tuck, not an overhaul.
Gabrielle is the writer of the perfume blog Brielle’s Musings.