Master perfumer Jean Guichard was the creator of complex and full bodied masterpieces that screamed blockbuster success. Obsession, Loulou, La Nuit, Deci Dela, his perfumes are seamless but bold. Arresting. Also quite experimental and diverse – Cartier’s So Pretty, a peculiarly vivid floral that once entranced me throughout an entire flight with Air France each time the attendant passed me drenched in its morbidly feminine petals- on-pause, has no connection to Fendi Asja, another of his discrete creations. Likewise, though Loulou – one of my very favourite perfumes of all time – was Cacharel’s cash cow, the perfume house was adventurous enough to let Jean Guichard have free rein with his next project for Cacharel : the entirely different and bilgily aquatic semi-oriental that was ‘Eden’.
The nineties were full of new and stimulating oddness. There were dramatic shifts in music; Nirvana – Massive Attack. Primal Scream. Kate Moss wore the face of drugged out emaciation in grunge fashion. Dior came out with the mesmerisingly peculiar oceanic amber that was Dune, a perfume that, in its vintage concentration, was appallingly attention grabbing (who could properly continue a conversation with a woman drenched in such a scent, your neural pathways clogged with that gorgeously cockle-coloured sea sludge?). Guichard’s own Parfum De Peau for Montana, a true mindfuck of a patchouli leather powerhouse in the manner of Estee Lauder’s Knowing, but with death defyingly huge hair and Freddy Krueger like talons scintillating with ginger and blackcurrant and killer roses, narcissus and incense and one of the strongest sillages in the history of fragrance, was the eighties personified; Eden, which made me feel bilious yet hypnotised and somehow slightly angry when I first smelled it, was perfectly emblematic of the more ‘environmentally aware’ and supposedly more gentle decade that followed.
An uncanny congregation of unexpected ingredients (melon meets pineapple meets mimosa; muguet melds with tuberose flooded into itself with a non-indigenous self-replicating aquatic water lily; ‘luminous citrus fruits’ segueing into a warm and clingingly womanly base accord of cedar wood, sandalwood and a prominent, de-fanged patchouli musk….), when I first excitedly smelled this perfume at the chemist’s down the road I remember marvelling at its brilliantly hermetic wholeness (one of this perfumer’s trademarks: his fragrances like giant Jeff Koons statues to be erected at the Pompidou) while simultaneously feeling slightly disappointed andsick.It was the algaed wateriness, a stagnant lake streaming with reeds in the circles of water like a dead maiden’s hair; slow, blind fish that have lost their way, coelacanths loping coldly up onto the muddied shores, staring into nothing as man-eaters and Venus fly traps lie in wait for huge hairy fireflies. It was no Eden – but an alligator infested bayou.
The shock of the new always fades with time. There were other, much greater, horrors in store for us: Calvin Klein’s tinnitus-inducingly screeching Escape, for instance (trust me, I really wanted to, but it was everywhere). Issey Miyake was biding his time patiently with his furiously hygienic (and explosively successful) Eau D’Issey which could singe off your hairline. In comparison, Eden seems innocuous now; warm and mellow, secretive and strangely binding. True, I never got on with anyone who wore it at the time – there was something both homely, yet also very passive aggressive about this perfume; those that thought of themselves just a tiny bit outside of the mainstream because they had a Tracy Chapman album or had been to Lilith, were vehemently against animal cruelty but were mean with their emotions – but in time I have come to quite like its jade coloured contours, its ease on the body, and now actually have a reformulated bottle of my own.
The newer version of Eden has definitely been de-swamped (drain the swamp!) and has lost that bloated fresh-water tang of lotuses and water lilies dangling Evil Dead tendrils into zombie patchoulied tonka beans of the original, although it is still long-lasting and smells fantastic on a hoodie when you need some emotional protection (along with the first Kenzo perfume, Kenzo (1988) , and Van Cleef by Van Cleef & Arpels (1993) I think of these as being smooth and unosmosable perfumes with no rough edges; soothing like hugs and mugs of milky tea on a cold cloudy day). Decontextualised from the 90’s backlash from whence they came – the revenge on Joan Collins – the annihilation of Hair Metal and Jive Bunny; Tiffany’s I Think We’re Alone Now and Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven Is A Place On Earth, Eden is now just mere pleasant background noise for me; a scent for a harmless blue moon. Not hellish, now. But certainly not close to paradise.