I will confess that will power is not my strength. Chocolate; booze; tightly sealed bottles of vintage perfume. And coming home late last night after my first day back at work, and reading the exhortations to open and experience the beautiful bottle of Moment Suprême that I discovered the other day in an out of the way bric-a-brac shop in Yokohama, I had no choice: my pitifully low levels of resistance were destroyed.
Usually when I find a flacon of vintage preciousness I have some idea of how it will smell. Not so with Moment Suprême: I had vague remembrances from somewhere, but had no concrete conception of the perfume that was locked within the bottle, and box, an undiscovered perfume that spoke to me, in its subdued presentation, of the twenties or thirties in the most elegant, and simple manner possible.
I was told that Moment Suprême was an amber lavender, and it is, in a sense, but not at all what I expecting (something more sensual, oriental and ruddered). Plying open the strings around the papery, waxen hymen of the bottle’s opening – it felt like a sacrilege, if I am honest, like greed – the perfume’s pristine aureole of immaculately preserved top notes rose up instantaneously from the vapours and assured me, immediately, that this scent was in fact in perfect condition. You can just tell. When a perfume’s orchestration has that fresh and flawless equilibrium – boxed, in all probability, for decades until I tore it from silence – you know that it has been preserved, waiting timelessly for its moment. (For good measure, I also twisted and snipped at my beautiful Vol De Nuit treasure as well, for comparison, thirst, and a deep desire to know just what it smelled like driving me to ravage both at once (also extraordinarily pristine: exactly as it was intended, I am sure, by Jacques Guerlain)).
The first impressions of Moment Suprême: of purity, of an almost sacrosanct, uncontaminated fineness of English lavender, touches of green, and a fresh, sudsy translucence, as clean an escape from vulgarity as it is possible to be. Beautiful, but I regretted violating its integrity, all the same, like peering, voyeuristically, through a keyhole into a dream garden I had no right to be in.
From underneath, what then, rose up, slowly, through the cold and mirror-glassed lake was : Joy.
Joy? But there was no mistaking it: Joy is there, at the heart, within: the rose, the jasmine, the civet, the green-laced musk, but in embryonic form, as though she were a drowned nymph reaching up, lost in the hermetically quiet dream of an arcadian pool.
Oh no, I think to myself (why did I have to open it?) Is Moment Suprême merely going to be Joy plus lavender? That is not what I want. Joy is Joy, it is beautiful, really, but so not me; a sourness, a petulance, as it resolves itself in that prideful orgy of flowers, that implicit tension that I sometimes lack the patience to reside with. Fascinating, though, from a perfumed genesis viewpoint: Henri Almeras, the creator of all the classic Patous, clearly finding something inspiring within this ’29 creation that he could then use, to douse and plunder with excessive quantities of May rose, tuberose, and jasmine, and thus produce one of the most successful perfumes of all time – Joy, that exorbitant, luscious, exuberance.
But wait. Despite its name – suggestive, perhaps, of the pleasures of the flesh, Moment Suprême, beyond its interstitial allusions to Joy, soon veers down a quite different path. Soon a carnation, jonquil and clove ingress appears, otherworldly,untouched, faint, ambered, skinnish undertones notwithstanding.
She has a secret. You cannot touch her. And I realize quite quickly, with my perfect Vol De Nuit now blooming on my other hand (sultry, dark, me), that this really is a perfume from a Golden Age, a time when things could be left unuttered, to speak, silently, for themselves. For a moment, as I glide, haltingly, from one hand to another, I feel sentient apparitions of two, beautifully dressed women arise in my mind.
I see them, in some imaginary, colonnaded garden, other guests fading into background, as they brush unknowingly past each other, lost in their own illusions. Two, beautiful people. And for a moment this lost, unmitigated elegance makes me feel almost tearful. The touch of real beauty that transcends. Cloves: le parfum giroflé – we are now in the chimeric, astral l’air de temps of the angelic.
She is an enigma.
The original magazine advertisements for the perfume reflect this. In one, in spite of the claims that the scent is un succès retentissant, a resounding success, the perfume is nevertheless presented in silhouette, in blurring, receding shadow, as it retreats to the recesses of the unconscious, the place, perhaps where this ‘supreme moment’ first takes place.
In another, the perfume is described as being ‘l’irréel d’un rêve, la realité d’une joie’ – the irreality of a dream, the reality of a joy, and this, in truth, is how I experienced the perfume last night.
It is not a perfume I am likely to wear (though the insistent clove facet is an aspect of the scent I am deeply drawn to), but I am very glad, despite my simultaneous regrets at opening it, that I have now experienced firsthand, this exquisite, almost peerless encapsulation of abstract emotion in perfume.
The supreme moment, it would seem, is love.