Category Archives: Chypre

TO LIVE……….VIVRE by MOLYNEUX (1971) ; THE JOY OF VINTAGE PERFUME, AND WHAT TO WEAR WHEN MEETING LUCA TURIN.

 

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I recently picked up an old extrait de parfum of Vivre by Molyneux at the junk shop in Zushi for just three hundred yen ( £2.27 ). Not in prime condition, the top notes faded, perhaps, but still alluring – a mixture of dark and light. Inscrutable. I couldn’t quite resist it. The perfume intrigued me : it has a pull.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Far less well known that other famous couturiers of the time such as Balmain, Balenciaga, Givenchy and Madame Grès, Edward Molyneux (1891 – 1974) was a British designer who later settled in Paris and became known by those in the know for his ‘impeccably refined simplicity’. According to historian Caroline Milbank, Molyneux was the designer ‘to whom a fashionable woman would turn if she wanted to be absolutely right without being utterly predictable in the Twenties and Thirties’. His skills were thus much appreciated by the likes of Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Vivien Leigh as well as European royalty. A perfume line was launched with 1932’s debut fragrance, Le Chic.

 

 

 

 

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I first heard a mention of Vivre in the original French version of Luca Turin’s Parfums: Le Guide, first published in 1992 but which I never laid eyes on until around 2006, when Helen sent me a copy in the post. I would feast my eyes on it passionately instead of preparing for lessons in the teachers room, hiding it under other papers; exhilarated (this was the first time I had ever really read anything meaningful and beautiful like this about perfume and it excited me to the core, the marriage of the olfactory, and the linguistic as a way of conjuring a hidden world. It wasn’t very long afterwards that I embarked on similar journey myself, putting pen to paper in my first perfume that I ever wrote – Mitsouko, in 2008), but I still remember the sheer joy of being able to read about a topic that hitherto I had experienced, profoundly, but not seen expressed. Many of the perfumes in that original guide were not possible for me to smell; either discontinued or reformulated into unrecognisability. Lost in France. But while the exacting and very poetic descriptions of perfumes I did know in the book always produced a delicious frisson of recognition, the perfumes I had never smelled, nor was ever really likely to, produced even stronger a yearning in me; a vaguely masochistic ache of desire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Assessing the nobility of this perfume  – one of the writers on Fragrantica describes Vivre as having an ‘incandescent elegance’, with a smell as cold as marble on the skin of her mother –   I thought it would be interesting to ask New Hampshire based vintage perfume collector and connoisseur Gabrielle Baechtold about her thoughts on this enigmatic perfume – which I happen know is one of her favourites. It also turns out that Gabrielle was actually wearing Vivre vintage parfum, the very time that she met Luca Turin in person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Black Narcissus:

 

 

 

 

I love the idea that you met Luca Turin while wearing Vivre and that he told you it was one of this favourite perfumes. How did this come to pass? Where did you meet him? Did he smell it on you directly and comment on it (knowing what it was?) What made you choose that perfume for that encounter?

 

 

 

Gabrielle:

 

Meeting Luca Turin happened through my friend Mark Behnke, who has his own blog Colognoisseur. He is a research scientist by trade and was in contact with Luca Turin, who at the time was doing research work in a Boston area university. There were three of us, along with Mark who met Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez; Ida, who you know ; Catherine Bromberg, from BaseNotes and myself. We all met at a cafe in either Cambridge or Somerville Massachusetts, near where Luca was doing research. I think I wore Vivre that evening because of a comment he had written about it on his on-line blog. It reinforced my love for the scent. I let him smell my wrist during the conversation and said it was Vivre and he waxed poetic about it for a few minutes and lamented it being extinct. He said it smelt very nice on me, again solidifying my fragrance choice.

 

 

 

BN:

 

 

 

How did you first come across Vivre?

 

 

G:

 

 

I had first heard about Vivre by looking through my mother’s magazines and seeing the advertisements for the scent. My first interaction with the scent came years later at the little shop I told you about, Colonial Drug, where I would buy all my Guerlains. I have to say, I was not in love with it upon first smell; I was pretty much a Guerlain cultist at the time, but I eventually purchased a small extrait of it and grew to love it over the years. Aldehydic, floral chypres had not my been my go to at the time, but as the years went by, I grew to passionately love them and for some reason I am wearing them quite often during quarantine now.

 

 

 

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BN:

 

 

 

Me too. I find that I am wearing aldehydes a lot during the lockdown as well. There is just something so otherworldly and yet comforting about them; you can disconnect from the harshness of reality.  A noblesse of refuge.

 

 

 

In terms of Vivre, I don’t quite know how ravaged the bottle I got the other day is (the hyacinth notes have substantially gone ) but I can still feel that there is something quite distinctive about this perfume. It isn’t quite the usual soft floral aldehyde in the manner of Detchema, and yet it isn’t the leather chypre like Givenchy III etc : it is ALMOST like a hybrid in between. Would you agree? The perfume’s notes include artemisia and coriander;  a fresh green leaf accord; incense and myrrh too, which are unusual in a floral aldehyde. Would you say there was any correspondence in scent construction between Vivre and, say, Nina Ricci’s sententiously brooding floral aldehyde,  Farouche? I personally feel some similarities. 

 

 

G:

 

 

 

 

It is funny that you mention if there were any correspondence between Vivre and Farouche –  one of my all-time favourites –  and there is. They both start out with a big note that announces their arrival, but slowly they start to warm up to you and open up and become much more intimate. Kind of like the punk-rocker with spiked hair you meet, who then confides in you she likes reading Baudelaire in a gauzy silk dressing gown. I would definitely say Vivre and Farouche are cousins, either first or at least once removed.

 

 

 

BN:

 

 

 

Another thing I would say is that to me, Vivre feels almost mischievous. It is not a perfume of mere gaiety and joie de vivre. Would you say that musically this perfume was in a major or a minor key? For me a perfume such as Chanel No 5 is definitely major. I think this, like Farouche, is minor. It is not ‘happy happy’ as such; I feel it has a certain vigour and energy that comes from self belief – not as yielding and soft as some others. This person definitely knows who she is. 
G: I feel Vivre is definitely a minor key: it’s a more profound presence.

 

 

 

 

 

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1. You will love me. I know it. 2. You will be jealous. I know it. 3. You will take me to Venice. I know it. 4. You will never leave me. I know it. 

 

 

 

 

 

I KNOW WHAT LIVING IS.

I know what it means to live…..

 

 

 

 

 

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BN: Despite the elegant refinement of this perfume, I can see how the words in this seventies’ advertisement (You will never leave me ……...a self-knowing lover’s imperious command) definitely correspond to the smell of the perfume itself. There is something quite compelling, obsessive about Vivre; I think possibly  from the vetiver and leather and the aridity of the oakmoss/sandalwood/myrrh base but without the bitterness of some of the more acrid heavier chypre leathers. This treads a deliciously fine line.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How do you personally feel when you wear Vivre?

 

 

 

 

 

G:

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I wear Vivre I feel alive, which is pretty ironic, considering the name, but it does make you feel aware of the moment you are in. There is a juxtaposition in the scent, between the sparkling notes and the dirty floral note. Almost as if you had put a touch of Chanel N°5 on then went out and did some serious gardening; getting your forearms all dirty and smeared with flower nectar. There is something oddly compellingly and comforting in the fragrance, something that makes you want to keep sniffing at your wrist. Something warm and nurturing. This could just be my take on it, though, because my Mama was fond of similar scents and it reminds me of her “skin scent”.

 

 

 

 

 

BN:

 

 

 

 

I agree, though. Calming, yet also somehow slightly unsettling.

 

 

 

Gabrielle, you are a great lover of vintage perfume – your collection sounds truly magnificent. Do you still hunt down vintage bottles of Vivre?

 

 

 

 

 

G:

 

 

 

 

 

I only wear 70’s vintage Vivre. Molyneux first released a scent named Vivre in the 30’s, but that was completely different. They also just released a newer version a few years back and that is utter garbage. The 70s version is the perfect one. I always try to hunt down vintage bottles, especially of the extrait, which can be quite pricey, but I love it.

 

 

 

 

Another thing I can say about Vivre, after wearing it now for most of the day, is that it develops into the most wonderful melange of hothouse flowers. I had never really noticed that aspect of it before. It is truly sublime. 

 

 

 

 

BN :

 

 

 

I hope one day that I can smell it on you in person!

 

 

 

 

 

A few years back, I remember you once very kindly sent me a very generous spray sample of another forgotten classic from the house – Fȇte (1962). Can you tell us more about that perfume and any others you might have by Molyneux?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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G:

 

 

 

 

I adore Fête so much. It’s like the lovechild of Mitsouko and Femme with a quick wit about her. Truly and underrated gem. Then again Molyneux as a whole is such an underrated house. I own Le Numéro Cinq by them which was more popular than Chanel’s 5 at one point, but Chanel’s N°5 won in the long run and Molyneux had to change the name to Le Parfum Connu so as to save face. Le Numéro Cinq is a gorgeous scent, aldehydic floral, but with a deep and enticing heart. I also own Le Chic, Rue Royale, Gauloise, Quartz and Initiation by Molyneux all of which are exquisite. Gauloise in particular is a stunner, but each is a treasure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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BN:

 

 

 

 

Gorgeous.

 

 

 

Thank you so much, Gabrielle.

 

 

 

 

G:

 

 

 

 

My absolute pleasure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

18 Comments

Filed under Floral Aldehydes, Floral Chypre, Flowers, Vintage

MORABITO OR NOIR (1980)

 

 

 

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I love perfumes like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Packing up Z’s collection (they are driving down now as we speak from Tokyo and I am going to take them out to lunch), I am trying a few last things before all the precious fragrances are carted away forever. I vaguely remember reading about Or Noir – Black Gold – in the original Luca Turin Le Guide, and it is a lovely, delicate, lucent floral teetering on the edge of chypre : may rose fuelled by narcissus, muguet and ylang; a quiet shine of oakmoss and a hint of clove, with a dry allegation of vanilla (and possibly patchouli); so flawlessly understated and blended and put together ; so elegant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(sigh)

 

 

15 Comments

Filed under Chypre

IN SHADOWS…………ALPONA EXTRAIT DE PARFUM by CARON (1939)

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

 

 

 

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‘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.

 

 

 

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

29 Comments

Filed under Chypre, Citrus

TOKYO CHYPRE: : : INOUI by SHISEIDO (1976)

 

 

 

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Japan is justifiably famed as an ingenious imitator of other cultures’ inventions, while usually adding that perceptibly nipponesque something to the mix to makes them its own – tucked guilelessly under powdered kimono sleeves.

 

 

 

In terms of fragrance, Shiseido, perhaps the most famous cosmetic company here, has a domestic perfume range that is somewhat run-of-the-mill and prestige-free for most Japanese women (while remaining unattainably exotic for some perfumistas overseas), comprised of mainly elegant, if unexciting, japonified versions of western classics: Murasaki (a green iris clearly based on N°19), Koto (any fresh floral 70’s chypre), Concerto (Patou 1000), Memoire (a whiff of L’Interdit) and More (a copy of Nº 5 or Detchema.)

 

 

 

 

 

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mode, architecture, beauté,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inouï, though, which presciently signifies ‘extraordinary’ or ‘unprecedented’ in French, seems on this one occasion to have pipped its jealous Paris to the post and been a very clever innovator. A fantastic, green-balsamic chypre that predated Lancôme’s Magie Noire (another masterpiece of this genre) by two years, its reputation in some quarters as ‘the perfect chypre’, which I cannot dispute, has allowed its cachet to grow to the extent that a bottle of this  perfume will now regularly go for $1500 at perfume specialists and internet auctions (and aside one tiny mini, it has tellingly never come up at the fleamarkets either….)

 

 

 

 

 

Like many, I myself had also only read about this perfume and had assumed that I would never get to smell it, but then was lucky one day to have access to an intact version when a Japanese dressmaker friend of mine happened to go back to her parents’ house one weekend in Kamakura and retrieved an old bottle of the Inoui eau de parfum that she had hidden away, long ago, somewhere in her bedroom closet (she had got rid of it when the boyfriend who had given it to her twenty years ago suddenly finished with her…the scent was still too much of a painful reminder and she had no plans on wearing it any more,  holding onto her bottle now more as an investment for the future).  Despite this, she generously let me borrow the bottle for a whole weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This really is a compelling and delightful perfume.  While the forested, chypre-animalic finish of the scent, played out with a dry, resinous blend of oakmoss, myrrh, cedar, civet and musk, with evergreen tonalities of juniper, thyme and pine needles, is slightly reminiscent of Lancôme’s finest black magic hour (but without all the patchouli), the top notes of Inouï are a different affair altogether: a peerlessly crafted, assured, and very upliftingly green accord of galbanum, lemon, peach and raspberry-breathed freesia that reminds one a little, just briefly, of the dewily sylvan opening of vintage Y (Yves Saint Laurent).

 

 

 

 

Elegant and mysterious, the final result on the skin, lingering and insistent, is confident, sexy, and inscrutable, with none of the red-nailed and gold more obvious vampishness of other perfumes in the category. It is perfect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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14 Comments

Filed under Floral Chypre, Flowers, Japanese Perfume

VERT ET BLANC: : : MA GRIFFE by CARVEN (I946)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gabrielle is the writer of the perfume blog Brielle’s Musings. 

22 Comments

Filed under Floral Aldehydes, Floral Chypre

MDCI PARFUMS’ LA BELLE HELENE (20II)

 

 

 

 

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by Olivia

 

 

 

 

 

Like Chinese Whispers, ideas that pass through different hands undergo a metamorphosis; their stories morph through the artistic prisms of different media, of different minds. La Belle Helene, a fruity chypre from Parfums MDCI is a perfume teased from the classical French dessert, Poires Belle-Helene – itself a gustatory reimagining of Offenbach’s 1864 operetta La Belle Helene, a parody on the onset of the Trojan War and Helen’s elopement from Paris. Whereas the dessert pays homage to the operetta with pears poached in sugar syrup, adorned with pod speckled vanilla ice cream, gilded with rich chocolate sauce and the amethystine jewels of crystalised violets, perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour plays out a rococo interpretation draped between modern chypre and velveteen oriental facets: an abstract, thoroughbred gourmand shot through a fruity-woody structure.

 

Just as in the most delicious desserts, the success of perfume is in the balance. Rather than the dense indulgence you might expect from a perfume based on pudding, La Belle Helene flirts with suggestions of the tantalizing and sumptuous but ultimately pushes back from gluttony: its decadence is portioned, understated, brief – like that of an amuse-bouche or a single spoonful of ganache sucked from a cold silver spoon. It is a house of cards, tense and fragile in equal measure, pitched and poised at a ginger equilibrium. Taken as a whole in fact its rather understated, even somewhat aloof in parts. At the top a cool, transparent shot of aldehydic lime tickles the nose elevating the glossy, rich floral heart and allowing, even at this stage, a flash of the dark ambered base to flicker through. My very favourite part, and to my mind perhaps this perfume’s most striking feature, comes soon after – an interplay of hawthorn and dry vetiver, which alongside the floral-leathery character of osmanthus conjures a near photorealist image of pear skin. This contradiction between rough, freckled skin – the texture of velvet rubbed in reverse – and succulent, lush flesh is a startling olfactory still life, completely delicious in its tangibility. It’s a very grown up, refined approach to ‘fruity’, eschewing the all too often saccharine, hyperglycemic shock of one dimensional, ‘shampoo’ pear accords.

 

As it dries, these grainy edges are lulled by a voluptuous fresh/cold lipstick accord – the rose and orris emulating the sweet puckering waxiness of vintage makeup, and further enriched by the tiniest amount of the burnt butteriness of ylang-ylang. Played in symphony with the rich and warm sugar plum and crystalline violet the heart is a floral fruity miscellany that through its layered chorus straddles the line just so between boudoir and bakery.

 

After this swell of the heart the base cuts in a more sober angle. A sitting up straight as the dusty cocoa, mossy qualities of cedar, a pinch of the bitter-spiced resin of myrrh and a prominent anisic licorice combine to ground the long ebbing half-life of this perfume in quotations of classical orientalism. A light hand of white musk, delicate as icing sugar and pearlescent as face powder, serves to feather dust and feminise, cocooning the base in its characteristic sense of lived in skin.

 

This is a clever, technically exciting perfume but it also wears with a beautiful naturalism and ease. Sharing a several times removed kinship with Feminite du Bois, and recalling at points both Caron’s Parfum Sacre (in its sweet, lipstick rose dustiness) and even Lolita Lempicka (through its fantastical violet-licorice dance between gourmand ‘feminine’ notes and baritone ‘masculine’ ones) La Belle Helene is a modern take on the baroque fruity chypre, a tease between sensuality and sobriety. A merging of cultural high society chypre and the fun loving, sweet toothed gourmand, it is in turns both sexy and cerebral; a perfume in which all constituent parts speak to each other fluently, creating a subtly shifting prism. A dappling effect in tones of muted pistachio and viridian drawing together complimentary textures from opposing surfaces: glossy and dry, silk and leather, cool and comfort. In its medley of perfectly pitched discord between realism and fantasy, it is a perfume unusual enough to be both strange and beautiful, mischievous but never weird. It’s seductive in it’s meeting of distinctive peculiarity and warm familiarity – interesting and easy to wear, it has elegance and sexiness running through it in parallel from top to bottom. This richness served with a deft hand conjures a sort of Marie Antoinette a la mode aesthetic – powdered and cheeky, tucked and puckered and flashing winks of pillowed flesh, managing at a step back to be both an alluring and absolutely satisfying.

 

 

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Adulterous: CABOCHARD by GRES (1959)

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A dark, brooding, and very three-dimensional scent of greys, purples and black that hovers, tantalizing as velvet, above the skin, Cabochard (French for ‘obstinate’ or ‘pig-headed’) amazes with its complexity, the devious integrity of its construction. Its suggestiveness; the citrus, the hyacinth, geranium and sharp flowers: its strong woody tang of patchouli, tobacco, amber, and leather, alluring facets that all seem to develop on different levels simultaneously, right up to its last shadowy, chypric, powdered exhalations.

 

It is a perfume that was once described by one eminent critic as illuminating the secret life of a woman in Paris, her tweed suit tossed onto the bed after a hard day at work in a moment, perhaps, of clandestine liaison. And it is true that Cabochard is  reminiscent of lipstick, perfume and powder compacts falling from a well loved leather purse in the late light of afternoon. There is a nonchalance, a madamish insouciance. But the piquancy of the citrus oils and tobacco also make it in today’s context rather masculine,  androgynous at best. It is a gorgeous, intriguing scent, especially in its final, powdery, patchouli earth notes, and in vintage parfum, essential.

 

 

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PRECIOUS ONE by ANGELA FLANDERS (2012)

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The talk is all of tuberose, and jasmine, and fleurs de nuit, flowers floating ethereally above vetiver and oakmoss; a velvety, new, but classically-leaning chypre that won Angela Flanders the award for best independent fragrance at the 2012 FIFI awards.

The first thing I can say about this fragrance is that I can really see why it won this award: it has depth, richness, and integrity, and is one of the earthiest women’s perfumes to have been released in decades.

Which brings me to the second point: there is some serious gender subversion going on here, as the perfume, to me, smells emphatically masculine, almost brutishly so. I love the idea of delicate, spindly, fashion creatures honing in on the Precious boutique in Spitalfields, London, on a  cold Monday morning, being seduced by the immediacy of the store’s in-house fragrance, and emerging, clad in moss and peat, ready to overturn perfumed clichés in a ‘back to Bandit!’, balaclava-wearing revolution.

While the name of the perfume seems to allude to a beloved – only one in my life – for me, no matter how many times I smell Precious One, this is nothing but a vivid, bisexual, menage à trois.

She may be wearing white flowers, procuring a slight sense of vague floral sweetness to the proceedings, but her two men, young, sinewy and virile, vy for her attentions and each other, almost completely drowning her out with their male aromas, which compete in the air like a dance of the dryads, their bodies and aromas concurring and wreathing aromatically: the spice and fougèrish warmth of vintage Paco Rabanne Pour Homme; the classic, dark green auras of the oakmoss and pine-drenched vintage Lauren Polo: mouthing up the flowers, kissing, and merging with the trees.

Sparring together, the three lovers eventually settle on an arid, mousse de chêne-covered rock to catch their collective breath which they exhale together, sighing: a bark and foliage layered vetiver, tarry in the early evening light, somewhere in the heart of the forest.

 

 

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A bristling citrus: PHILTRE D’AMOUR by GUERLAIN (2000)

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With so many perfume houses releasing limited editions that are released, fanfared and then disappeared without trace, it becomes easy to equate their brevity on the market with similar levels of imagination. Neverthless, occasionally, the spontaneity and lack of expectation placed on limited editions can produce bursts of creativity that lead to more singular, less market-tested and common-denominator fragrances; scents that pop up unexpectedly like crocus-bulbs in spring and enchant you with  their fresh-breathed joie de vivre.

For a while at the beginning of the 2000’s, Guerlain would release limited perfumes that were not flankers to their main-line-up perfumes, but separate work, released in a prolific spirit of productivity that yielded such well-regarded treasures as Guet Apens and Gentiana.

In a spirit of mercy to these more inspired saplings that were culled before their prime, some of them were given a reprieve, a chance to star again, however briefly, on the billboard of ‘Les Parisiennes’, a kind of Guerlain Golden Hall of Fame for discontinued classics and limited releases that stubbornly refused to die a death, and Philtre D’Amour, a wonderful, moody citrus, is one of them.

I found my bottle at the flea market and bought it unsniffed, expecting, as the name would suggest, something sultry and floral. Spraying the scent was thus a total shock. Philtre D’Amour is a sour, concentrated, and very natural accord of verbena, myrtle and lemon-leaves layered delicately over a sharp, fantastically dark patchouli: a mysterious and lovely, almost powdery citrus chypre that leaves an intriguing and surprisingly nuanced trail in its wake.

She is a delicate thing, this Philtre; treat her carefully, don’t rub her up the wrong way or step on her emotions, and she will yield; show you through the ivy-covered doors of her secret garden to the other side: her neroli’d, fresh air garden petals of jasmine diced with petitgrain: gentle walks around the topiaries, the April skies opening up and bestowing newness, vitality and Spring as the lemons shine youthfully and you sigh gratefully that someone out there still knows how to make a modern, yet classically structured, perfume.

Vistas and groves open up when I smell Philtre D’Amour: it is slight, it is curious, but it is something I would wear all the time if I had more of it:  the delicate, little 30ml cylinder you see in the picture is kept for special, precious use.

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Filed under Chypre, Citrus, Lemon, Patchouli, Verbena

THE WITCHY CHYPRES : Mon Parfum by Paloma Picasso (1984) + Magie Noire by Lancôme (1978) + Eau du Soir by Sisley (1990) + Sinan by Jean-Marc Sinan (1984)

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I was, in some ways, quite a weird child.The boys would be playing football, play-punching, or moronically shooting each other with invisible karashnikovs. The girls would be playing with dolls and each others’ hair, skipping daintily, bitching, and doing whatever else little girls do.

I was always off somewhere with my posse, imagining I was a warlock doing magic with my petalled potions;  reading my secret collection of Flower Fairy books, or else pretending to be a black panther (which was my ultimate dream at the time…)I would lie in bed at night and see myself morphing, slowly, into that beast, feeling the power of the claws start to surge as I leapt off into the undergrowth…

Might these childhood urges be one of the reasons why I am so drawn to the sleek, pantheresque perfumes that follow; the rose/patchouli/ leather chypres, those taloned, ruminating creatures that come nearer to approximating that black cat in perfume than any other type? Those perfumes that have been replaced in the contemporary canon by industrial effluent and the drabbest of candyflosses, but which, when worn correctly (and knowingly), can be quite delectably pointed and erotic?

 

In Annick Le Guerer’s academic treatise ‘Scent’, the panther, long venerated by various cultures for the beautiful perfume of its breath, is said to have been historically viewed as ‘prudent, intelligent, and cunning…’, emitting an odour that is ‘agreeable to all other animals’, a blessing/curse of nature that allows it to hunt, furtively, by ‘remaining in hiding and attracting animals to it by its smell…’

 

And, like a beautifully-attired woman sat in some late night bar wearing Paloma Picasso, esconced patientlyin her corner with her trailing cigarette, ‘…. it conceals itself in a dense thicket, or in deep foliage, and is invisible; it only breathes. And so fawns and gazelles and wild goats and suchlike animals are drawn by the spell, as it were, of its fragrance and come close up…….

 

Whereat, the leopard springs out and seizes its prey…..”

 

 

MON PARFUM  by PALOMA PICASSO (1984)

 

Probably the most successful of perfumes in the chypric rose genre, by contemporary standards Paloma smells hopelessly out of fashion and animalic:  just smell the beaver. Less pronounced in the eau de toilette form, which is essentially a different fragrance and less impressive, in the eau de parfum, the oily, leathery note of castoreum, extracted from the sweat glands of the Canadian beaver  – troubling, aphrodisiac –  is very apparent in this perfume and verges on shocking. It is, nevertheless, with a flourish of Iberian magic, extravagantly cloaked in woods; lashes of patchouli; a spiced Spaniard heart of the deepest rose, jasmine and mimosa; and a sharp, sassy green top note like the click of glinting heels on a Barcelona sidewalk.

 

The perfume has been around for quite a while now, and despite the fact that the world’s tastes in scent have since changed irrevocably since its release, in a survey done by various global beauty editors and perfume people (and not so long ago, either), Mon Parfum by Paloma Picasso was voted the sexiest perfume on earth. While I am not sure if the perfume can definitively claim this title, it certainly is damn good on the right person who can carry it off, and it is very hopelessly difficult to resist.

Mon Parfum is just so…….cocksure of itself: an adult woman with experience,  sexual confidence and power coursing through her blood. It needs a glammed up, lipsticked predator with attitude to do it full justice, to unleash its torrid potential –  a woman, or man, who doesn’t mind, in fact loves, its eighties femme fatale clichés.

 

 

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MAGIE NOIRE  by LANCOME  (1978)

 

Paloma’s darker, occultist, more serious elder cousin, Magie Noire has a similarly ensorcelling theme of sharp green notes contrasting with a rich Bulgarian rose heart, patchouli and provocative, animalic/woody finish. But in Lancôme’s finest scent there is very little sweetness (there is a touch in the heart of Paloma) and the sharp green/earth divide (a mesmerizing accord of galbanum, bergamot, raspberry and hyacinth, contrasting with a mossy patchouli note tempered with honey) only grows more potent and disturbing with time, stronger and more scary as the day, or night, progresses.

 

It is witchy, truly, but also tender, mysterious, elegant, erotic, and a touch sinister, as you are gradually drawn into the depths of a midnight forest. Or at the very least to a very edgy seventies dinner party hostess in a busy black dress.

 

EAU DU SOIR  by SISLEY (1990)

Eau Du Soir, especially in vintage, is more dormant, and quietly explosive, than either of the above scents, a tasteful and intoxicating brew that, as its name suggests, is the evening perfume par excellence, absolutely made for black and grand occasions.

What I love about the Sisley perfumes is their lack of the saccharine ; where their first perfume, the classic Eau de Campagne (created by Jean Claude Ellena in 1974) is astonishingly green, almost unbearably so, as if you were trapped inside a giant basil or tomato leaf, Eau Du Soir is Campagne’s night counterpart, similarly dry and unsentimental: a ravishing patchouli, rose d’orient, seringa, juniper, and Moroccan rose absolute accord with a centerpiece of the perfume’s star ingredient, Egyptian jasmine absolute (less civilized, rougher, more animalic than its French counterpart), which purrs and insinuates itself beautifully within the radiant, effortless chic of the spicy chypre base. Eau Du Soir is a difficult scent, almost formidable.

 

You would never mess with someone wearing this.

 

 

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SINAN by JEAN-MARC SINAN (1984)

Sinan, an obscure fragrance not so easy to find these days, is another taut, chypre animalic with a full-bodied, sweetly lingering rose twined with woods and patchouli: one more fur-clad siren leading her black-widow victims to their (always willing) fate….

 

The perfume bears some similarities with Paloma, and also Lauder’s fabulous Knowing (which took this essentially European idea and Americanized it), but where that perfume has a certain seamless infallibility (present in all Lauder’s creations) prone to exaggerations with its honeyed electric rose, Sinan presents a similarly perfumed face but less emphatically; not a white-gated mansion in the centre of Florida, but a house, near the woods, somewhere in the depths of France…

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Chypre, Perfume Reviews, Witchy