Category Archives: Floral Aldehydes

NE ME TOUCHES PAS : : : : : : COMPLICE by COTY (1974)

 

 

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The thing about Complice is the bottle – possibly the most exquisite I’ve ever seen and held in my hand but never actually owned:  a pleasurably weighty and luxurious glass flacon labelled in a flourishing Art Deco script and an elaborately cut glass headdress that rests on top like a nuptial coronet.

 

The scent itself though – rare, especially in the pristine vintage form I encountered it in once – also has something, despite its familiarity (the more you encounter old perfumes you realize that they too often had a ‘generic’ nature to them in the way that the current scents do: there were a lot of copy-cat,  ‘generally pretty’ floral aldehyes about: not every old perfume was especially distinctive or an olfactory masterpiece).

 

Complice is one of these lady-like, filigréed Parisian florals, with the light, silk foulard of green and spice we’ve experienced many times before in perfumes such as the more idiosyncratic L’Air Du Temps, typical, delicate, yet affecting scents that once breathed their incorrigible elegance on air of the streets of Paris like soft, unravelling secrets.  Yes, it cannot be denied that the Complice’s flacon is perhaps more memorable than its delicately forlorn contents of musk and narcissus: its exhalations of peach skins, lilacs and cold, powdered orris. But there is still, once the top note aldehydes fade, an untouchable aspect within the classically constructed blend that makes it  appealing – something papery, white and pristine, like the cool breath of February snowdrops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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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Filed under Floral Chypre, Flowers, Japanese Perfume

JUST A GLIMPSE……… DOBLIS by HERMES (1955 : 2004)

 

 

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Reorchestrated in 2004 in a strictly limited edition batch of 1000 (extortionately expensive) worldwide bottles, I found myself one day in the Tokyo Marunouchi Hermès boutique panicking:  racking my brains financially and deliberating whether there was any feasible way in which I could possibly buy one. Rarity. Preciousness. Utter exclusivity. Standing there on the shelf, before me:  peerless and irreproachable, and one of the only bottles left in Japan; a mythical gazelle, about to disappear quietly, but forever, behind the leaves….

 

Though a modern reworking of a timelessly classic genre,  as soon as I smelled this beauty by genius perfumer Guy Robert (Madame Rochas, Dioressence) I knew that it was one of the most superb aldehydic florals I had ever smelled.  Victoria from Bois De Jasmin – and this woman certainly knows her perfume -cites this as her all time favourite scent. Now I understood why: it was like a dream. All the perfume’s notes were truly glass-like, crystallized, effulgent, clear –  a moment in history brought to life. I had never smelled the original, but I could imagine that this formula had possibly even been improved upon by the perfumer’s son, Francois Robert: divinely eliding past and present with no budgetary restrictions , cutting out fust and extraneity and reviving the formula to the most sublime proportions within his artistic grasp: a grand, fresh cut-flower bouquet of green florist flowers; sparkling, delicious neo-classical aldehydes, and a gentle, soft-wood finish of tender, tactile calf-skin leather. I was stunned, moved even, desperate to have it, though I knew that it was impossible. Doblis was the perfume equivalent of the Venus De Milo, angelically dignified and love-inducting: as beautiful and stainless as  Calèche, but played on celeste.

 

 

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MIND OVER MATTER: : : : : : : :: MEMOIRE DU FUTUR, PARTICULES IMPREVISIBLES, ABSTRACTION RAISONEE, IRIS PALLADIUM, CHAMP D’INFLUENCE & MOMENT PERPETUEL by LES EAUX PRIMORDIALES ( 2015 )

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‘Les Eaux Primordiales’ is a series of new perfumes created by 28 year-old perfumer Arnaud Poulin. Intellectual in inspiration, with a very French emphasis on philosophy, culture and the abstract, the key concept behind the brand is apparently ‘atemporality in movement’, the Cinquième Sens-trained perfumer basing his creations on the foundations of the traditional ‘Great Perfumery’ while seeking to ‘redefine contemporary classics with the use and reinvention of sometimes forgotten olfactory families.’ In essence, all six scents are well made and attractive, with enough personality to perhaps achieve Monsieur Poulin’s goal of creating emotions ‘able to make body and soul come closer to each other, to be an imaginary addition to one’s persona, to create a world of one’s own’.

 

IRIS PALLADIUM

Notes: Italian Orris, bergamot, carrot seed, sage, ‘solar jasmine’, violet, sandalwood, cedar, tonka bean, labdanum, patchouli, white musk.

 

‘Duality between two materials: a flower and a precious-metal. The smell of a time when ladies would use perfume and powder. Our iris comes from Italy and diffuses smells of makeup powder, violet, and also, dust’.

 

From the above description you might imagine that Iris Palladium is a feminine, maquillaged iris along the lines of Frederic Malle’s Iris Poudre or even Chanel’s girlish, lipstick-smeared Misia, but nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, I find this staid and savoury iris to be more akin to Armani Privé’s La Femme Bleue (though without that perfume’s inherent mystery).

I do love iris, particularly when it is on the more melancholy tip: Hermès Hiris, Iris Silver Mist, Le Labo Iris 39 and N0 19 immediately spring to mind, but I can also enjoy a more sawdusty, mellow, almost salty orris number like Iris Palladium. Androgynous, subtle but diffusive, this makes an intriguing skin scent that would draw people to you even if it is perhaps lacking the wow factor that would make me want to buy it. For the fiercest iris aficionados, though, those who want to have an orris for every shade along the irisian PH spectrum, this new take on the powdery, dusty classic is certainly worth sampling.

 

MOMENT PERPETUEL

Notes: lavender, violet, blackcurrant, blackberry, fir balsam, hedione, musk

 

‘The name comes from the mechanical universe, perpetual movement. By definition, a moment has a beginning and an end, therefore Moment Perpétuel is the idea of an infinite moment, infinite joy, and why not, infinite love’.

 

Ahem. That is quite the spiel to introduce what is essentially a fruity lavender, but fortunately, the opening of this perfume is rather joyous: a very beautiful, and original, high quality, French lavender top note tinted with violet, and aureoled quite inspirationally with a beautifully optimistic, fresh, and bucolic  note of blackcurrant and blackberry – a purple fusion of happiness that really works. Both I and my other half immediately took to this one, and I insisted that he go out into town later to do some shopping wearing it to see how it progressed. It smelled lovely. An hour or two after he had come back home though I kept wondering where the smell of Gucci Envy was coming from, or if he had sprayed something similiar in the bathroom. It was a smell I was quite enjoying – fresh, clean, green, soapy – as I do like Envy, that stilettoed green classic from the nineties that was inexplicably, along with Rush, discontinued (coincidentally, we had just got a miniature Envy For Men the other day from a recycle shop – lord that stuff is sexy, a virile ginger swooner, I had forgotten) and I was actually planning to do a review, soon, of both. Nice though that scent might be, however, it was a strange ending – and one that he smells quite strongly of this morning – for a scent that began with a totally unconnected, and very natural smelling, burst of provencal lavender. A curious scent, then, this ‘perpetual moment’ and something of a schizo, but one I can imagine one of us, if the right multiple-personality mood should suddenly take hold,  probably wearing again.

 

PARTICULES IMPREVISIBLES

NOTES: pink pepper, rose berries, cumin, elemi resin, cypriol, guaiac wood, ginger, thyme, rosemary, smoked woods, incense, labdanum, vanilla and amber

 

Unfortunately, I detest the synthetically enhanced wood trend in current perfumery to the extent that I can’t be rational or objective. I can’t even test this sort of fragrance on my skin, nor even stand to have the room I am in smelling of it either if I were to spray some on a card (seriously), but fortunately, for the sake of perfume fairness, my best friend in Japan, Junko, can. She is the opposite of me, and thus the recipient of any and all boisés I might receive in the post. Perfumes that I would immediately simply want to throw out of the window usually without getting to know how they actually develop on the skin because I really just can’t stand that rasping, harsh dessication for even a moment, I get to experience (and even quite enjoy, bizarrely) on her. She is my ‘wood model’, if you like, and in this way I have been able to get different perspectives on such intense unalloyed woodies as Sacred Woods By Kilian and Bois d’Hiver by Ex Nihilo, a scent she has become so obsessed with she is now in London, as we speak, trying to  find it. She would probably also like Particules Imprévisibles (and I will of course give my sample bottle to her), so named because it is ‘absolutely unpredictable, the numerous spicy and woody raw materials giving it the peculiar property to react to every skin in a unique manner’. I like how Junko’s skin reacts with these more traditionally masculine accords – such smells make her fierce and stubborn independence in such a simultaneously girly and sexist place as Japan even more manifest – and this dry, warm, spicy, almost YSL M7-like blend (not at all original; we have all smelled this kind of thing many, many times before) would probably smell great on her brown leather jacket when we meet up for our occasional, tête à tête conversations over wine and Japanese food, and I smell her subtle, but noticeable, incense- like dryness (dignified, magnetic) – from where I sit across the table.

 

CHAMP D’INFLUENCE

 

NOTES:  Lemon, lavender, evernyl, geranium, Aldehyde C12 MNA, vetiver, oud, patchouli, white musk, amber woods

 

Speaking of gender and masculinity, Champ d’Influence, a classically butch kind of perfume if ever there was one, is a ‘homage to my grandfather, a childhood olfactory memory. Each morning before school, my parents would drop me to my grandparents’ house. There, my grandfather, while being a farmer, still took the time each morning to soap his face, then to apply a traditional shaving cream with a vintage shaving brush, finishing that routine with an aftershave balm. I’ve always wanted to recreate this precise and peculiar fresh smell: this fougère base with lemon notes, lavender, geranium and vetiver, so typical of the odours emanating from a barbershop. A very manly fragrance that still appeals to a lot of women’.

I would agree. I do know women who still like the smell of Brut, the suave, hunk-chested, smooth-cheeked precursor of this kind of fragrance. It’s a classical formula that works very well if you like that sort of thing (and I sort of do: on the right man – one with a good sense of humour who doesn’t take himself too seriously, it can be quite sexy), even if Mr Poulain tries too hard, perhaps, to bridge the gap between the past and the present with a harsh note in the base accord that brings to mind more metallic, aggressive fougères such as Diesel Life Fuel. With similarities, also, to YSL Rive Gauche Pour Homme (the best of this type of new skool/ old school fougere, in my view) Champ D’Influence is a very effective scent – generously replete and full (though some might say a bit too full of itself) that will probably have a certain type of woman or man who is genetically programmed to go for the big bulge kind of guy champing at the bit; getting all riled up and horny and bothered and ready to ransack him thoroughly, though personally, I think I would much rather be chatted up in a bar by someone wearing Iris Palladium.You could probably expect better conversation.

 

ABSTRACTION RAISONNE

NOTES: Grapefruit, bergamot, rhubarb, hedione, violet, tobacco, nutmeg, benzoin, amber woods, vetiver.

‘The paradox between abstract and reason. This perfume is the definition of it. Vetiver is usually heavily used for masculine fragrances. Here, this material is twisted with an acidulous rhubarb note which reminds me of the delicious rhubarb pies my mother used to make. Also, some greener and more fruity notes evoking passion fruits and a hint of mangoes. Finally, a benzoin and tobacco base to infuse leather and amber tones’.

 

I must admit that I don’t quite get what the perfumer is going on about here: ‘the paradox between abstract and reason’ nor, his assertion that this fairly typical contemporary vetiver is the ‘very definition’ (quite an immodest claim to make, actually) of anything whatsoever. The perfume is quite nice though: fresh, sharp, almost sour, the citrus and rhubarb mingling nicely with the rounded vetiver note that works in harmony with the other softer and more balsamic ingredients, although in truth this accord is already very familiar to me in perfumes such as Aedes De Venustas  – which is also based around rhubarb and vetiver, and fresh, fruity vetivers such as Atelier Cologne’s Vetiver Fatal. If I were going for a vetiver of this type ( I occasionally do when I feel like hiding myself), I would probably plump instead for Vetiver Moloko by Ex Nihilo (another recent Parisian start up), which includes a Bulgarian rose and cypress note in the heart and takes this overdone fragrance type to slightly more restrained and rarified tenure.

 

 

MEMOIRE DU FUTUR

NOTES: Italian bergamot, aldehydes, rose, jasmine, carnation, violet, tonka, violet, hyraceum

 

Arnaud Poulain’s ethos for his brand  – a blend of the brand new and the classical – is probably best encapsulated in the ideas around this curiously unfashionable blend:

 

‘In order to invent the future, a prerequisite is to master the past. For this perfume, I wanted to recreate and do justice to the great fragrances created between 1920 and 1940. A floral perfume revolving around a chypre base. A perfume with some of the most noble and traditional perfumery elements while still being completely contemporary, by combining them with modern ingredients’.

 

Possibly the least successful of this sextet, I would have to say that Mémoire Du Future, for me personally, fails in its mission. This scaled down skeletal attempt to bring le grand parfum back to life is far too dominated by simplistic and overpowering aldehydes that drown out any other naturals that might be in the blend and remind me of the dirt cheap, roll-on oil perfumes you find at Arab and Indian markets masquerading as Chanel No 5. Granted, the base is quite sexy and animalic (because of the hyraceum, or African Stone, a potent animalic ingredient blended possibly with some vanilla), reminding me of the original, eponymous perfume by Moschino – that naughty, buttery oriental that had no class really, despite its Milanese credentials, yet sure smelled big-thighed down n’ dirty when it ripped off its fur coat later on in the evening – but it’s hard to realistically compare this with the more orchestral, deep and fully rendered classiques of the Golden Age, alluring and curvaceous though it may be.

 

 

 

LES EAUX PRIMORDIALES: VERDICT

 

 

Quite nice. All six of these are competently made with a solid savoir faire, and you would probably be quite happy to work with people wearing these perfumes at the office. Admittedly, worn at high dosage, Champ D’Influence, Mémoire Du Futur and Particules Imprévisibles might occasionally be discovered groping and shagging frenetically in a three-way session behind the photocopier, unable, by 3pm to resist their surging impulses, bored at their desks and turned on hopelessly by their ruggedly pre-ordained sexual tropes; while Iris Palladium – assured, warm, enigmatic; Abstraction Raisonnée – fashionable but unforthcoming, and Moment Perpetuel – clean, soapy, ‘lovely’, if smiling a bit too incessantly, you wouldn’t mind at all sharing some desk space with and having a late morning meeting over coffee.  You would get used to them. Their perfumes would blend with their personalities. Their scents most definitely become them and they would not offend. At least not most of the time. Still, as you daydreamed from the window, thinking of your perfume collection back home, you would still sometimes find yourself, as the working day progressed , smiling to yourself knowingly, eyes closed as you smelled your wrists- defiantly, surreptitiously – when no one else was looking.

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Filed under Floral Aldehydes, Flowers, Iris perfumes, Vetiver, Woods

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. 

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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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Filed under Chypre

PACO RABANNE METAL (1979) : CHAMPAGNE JACUZZIS, BIANCA; BUBBLE-FOAMed ECSTACY, AND THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO

 

 

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This week I find myself deeply drawn to Paco Rabanne’s Métal.

 

 

It is spring outside.  Bright, something between warm and cold, and the flowers are blossoming slowly: tulips pushing through, peach blossoms already blown away by the wind.

 

 

With the sunlight, the new air, and all the freshness I feel in the atmosphere, as well as the freedom of being off work for almost three weeks (sheer heaven), I want optimism: zest, but with emotional, and aesthetic,  intelligence.

 

Métal, a sly, forever fresh, delicious concoction, fits the bill perfectly, a scent that is not often written about for some reason, but one that I find very beautiful, and strangely not dated considering the fact that it is already 34 years old.

 

No: Métal is ageless. A shimmering, (dirty) angel of the disco set who constantly has one eye on the next: a laughing, exuberant, parfum savonneux: always soaped down and lightly fresh from the shower, washing away the sins from the night before with dismissive,deft swishes of the hand;a foaming, aldehydic sparkle of fresh greens; ylang ylang, white iris, rosewood and peach, all gently laminated with the classic, subtlely metallic sheen of rose à la Calandre, Paco Rabanne’s other, rather more philosophical and held back masterpiece from 1969.

 

 

Upon contact with the skin, this lugubrious scent bursts with life: quills forth from the bottle clean and energized, elegant, green and sweet, the protectant veil of aldehydes preserving the joyous flowers and fruit within in a bubble of about-to-step-out-the-house ecstacy that never fades; a white pant-suit (white, white, most definitely white – the white of Bianca Jagger and her Studio 54 stallioned entrance, the white of the Scarface mansion:  that seventies, flared Travolta white; the white of the lights; cocaine, and the mindless, careless, flamboyant last days of disco……)

 

 

Under the glorious sheen of this scent is that effervescent, pampered smell of expensive designer bubble baths that was taken up again later in the eighties in such scents as Courrèges In Blue (1983) and Byblos (1989). Beneath all that luminosity, if you look at her closely, Métal is smiling, of course; but wide-eyed, with gleaming shark-white teeth. Though she never betrays it, there is something depraved beneath this epidermis, and herein lies the real beauty of the perfume: unlike other disco era perfumes of the period – Ivoire, Scherrer, Rive Gauche, Michelle – which all have some internal self-awareness of their in-built shelf lives, an inner knowledge of their decadence, Métal conceals this side of herself to mad perfection – even to herself :: we see just a glimpse of it, occasionally, under her future-seeing façade, in her eyes: and, as with other such perfumes such as Chanel’s Cristalle, to which this perfume bears a slight resemblance (though fruitier, younger, less haughty), this is, to me,  what seals the scent in forever-fresh immortality.

 

 

 

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Unlike the ‘clean’ fragrances of current climes though, which are so chemically preened you immediately smell a rat, Métal is evincibly human ( if perfectly put together: it is very difficult to pick out individual notes – all so sheened and shined together effortlessly in a manner very much of the time); a scent that must have smelled stunningly beautiful emanating from the shoulders of the disco creatures of that era;  or the valiumed wives moving about their bay area lidos and mansions, as sunlight spliced their vodka martinis and their long, floating sleeves trailed the secretive jungles of their houseplants.

 

As they, like Nina Van Pallant in Robert Altman’s  The Long Goodbye, concealed the potential numbness within the cold veneer of the current, of the fashionable, the momentary; the flesh that would decay; but which, at this moment in time, laminated in Métal, felt preserved.

 

 

To me, there is definitely something of all this in this scent, like the liana females who also inhabit Harry’s House, one of my favourite songs by Joni Mitchell…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caught up at the light of the fishnet windows

Of Bloomingdale’s

Washing those high fashion girls

Skinny black models with raveen curls

Beauty parlor blondes with credit card eyes

Looking for the chic and the fancy

To buy

 

 

He opens up his suitcase

In the continental suite

And people twenty stories down

Colored current in the street

 

 

A helicopter lands on the Pan Am roof

Like a dragonfly on a tomb

And businessmen in button-downs

Press into conference rooms

 

 

Battalions of paper-minded males

Talking commodities and sales

While at home their paper wives

And paper kids

Paper the walls to keep their gut reactions hid

 

 

Yellow checkers for the kitchen

Climbing ivy for the bath

She is lost in House and Gardens

He’s caught up in Chief Of Staff

 

 

 

He drifts off into the memory

Of the way she looked in school

With her body oiled and shining

At the public swimming pool….

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yes: these slender, maquillaged, loose-limbed, pant-suited women who, in the movies at least, exist to rest on the arms of the rich men who own them…

 

 

And the white Art Deco mansions, in Florida.

 

 

 

I have referenced De Palma’s perennially popular classic Scarface before in relation to Léonard’s lovely, if simple, Tamango (1977), which always reminds me of the character Elvira and her gauche, ‘bored’ moves on the dancefloor early on in the film as Tony is listing to possess her, materialistically, as his trophy wife. Métal, which is far more complex, expensive smelling, and downright gorgeous in many ways, might, in some ways, be the same character a couple of years later, when, married to Pacino, we see her, still beautiful, but pining away in their gilded mansion, their giant, ivory jacuzzi filled with foam, champagne bottles and excess.

 

 

 

 

This perfume might almost be what holds her together: it never loses its ever-recurring sparkle, its  foaming, delirious lustre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For this review I have been discussing two bottles of vintage Eau De Metal, and also the parfum (pictured), a bit ropey and old now, but still lovely. There is not a great deal of difference between the two perfumes; one is just lighter and fresher, the other more long-lasting, as you might expect. Ultimately, though, I think I like Eau De Metal best and would recommend it to anyone who goes for this deeply appealing, timeless, feminine sheen,  still easily found at discounters online. Get vintage if you can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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73 Comments

Filed under Floral Aldehydes, Perfume Reviews