I find myself in a green temperament; aggressive almost, for fresh, sharp, verdant scents that match the shooting growth and push away the winter, the comforting sloth of my recent smothering orientals and let me feel like a snake shedding its skin.
And D’Humeur Jalouse is the snake: possibly the greenest scent ever made (please tell me if you know of one that is greener);: almost painfully so at first – a serpent in the grass, the eyes of jealousy; spiked, strident tones of malicious stinging nettles and grasses, softened, only barely, with a sinuous touch of barely detectable almond milk to temper a rather curious, olfactory sketch that is bitter, unusual, and solitary: green to the point of catharsis.
A movement from the river bank under the shades of weeping willows- a swan glides slowly by…..
Evoking a green riverside garden, the shadows of plants rippling the waters, L’Ombre Dans L’Eau (Diptyque’s most iconic perfume?) is at first intensely green – a sharp, rush of galbanum resins entwined quite cleverly with the lush, tanging tartness of blackcurrant leaves, but from this compacted flourish there then emerges, unhurriedly, the quiet, more melancholic dignity of the Bulgarian rose: calm, romantic, yet austere, rather supercilious and snobbish even, and thus, the main theme of L’Ombre Dans L’Eau (‘the shadow in the water’) is set.
As light fades, and the murmurs of evening approach, a soft base note of pot pourri-like rose, with the slightest hint of something like peachstone, finishes off a singular, enduring composition that breathes an air of familiar timelessness.
Eau De Campagne
The perfect green?
This classic scent from 1974 is the summer; the exhilaration of meadows; of stalks crushed underfoot, swords of sunlight infiltrating blades of grass.
Chlorophyll at dusk; ladybirds….
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.
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.
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…
Nitobe Inazo, author of the classic (if highly supercilious) tome on Japan, Bushido, may consider the Japanese quite superior with their love for the evanescent fleetingness of the cherry blossom flower, a sweet but sorrowful bloom that symbolizes the ‘stoic’ samurai warriors’ desire to sacrifice their lives at the drop of a hat; while the gaijin, or westerner, ‘selfishly’ favours the rose that clings, with every last drop of its life, to the putrifying, stinking stem even when dead ….but I’m sorry, the rose is one of my very favourite flowers, and I imagine that I also will be clinging at my last; thorny and desperate, rather than plunging a sword into my gut and ripping out my innards, all for the sake of appearances and some dull and pointless idea of ‘honour’ (the code of the samurai is much more nuanced and spiritual than this, I realize, but you get my drift: I have never quite forgiven Nitobe for the disdain he shows the non-Japanese in that book, and the rose is an emblem I therefore adhere to even more passionately as a result.)
Anyway, the rose is a tricky one.
Rose oil, or its synthetic reconstitution, is a component of the vast majority of perfumes, and there are wildly different interpretations of this flower, meaning that although you may think you hate the rose if you have been brought up on granny talcs, or else Stella, and Paul Smith, and all those uptight, irritating contemporary roses, there still might be a perfume out there that might sway you if you deign to explore the rosaceous galaxy further.
Though none in my opinion has ever truly captured the exquisite beauty of a living, breathing flower (surely one of the most enthralling scents in the universe), a few come close, or take the theme to newer, unexpected places.
Rose is also, my view, a floral that is perfect for winter, not clashing with that touch of patchouli oil that is still hanging on to your jacket, remaining poised and stoic……an aroma of both piercing sorrow and hope; with a dignity, poeticism, and romantic attachment that make it far superior in my (not even remotely) humble view, to the puny, and nothingy, frou -frou cherry blossom.
ROSE ABSOLUE/ ANNICK GOUTAL (1984)
Supremely expensive for an eau de toilette, Rose Absolue is a diaphanous, sense-delighting spray of real rose oils, with several of the most prized species in perfumery. The crisp, exuberant top notes are truly delightful, and come very close to smelling like a garden of roses on a summer morning. The middle and base notes lose something as the essential oils evaporate (making it a costly habit to maintain), but for a delicious rose spritz, this cannot be beaten.
NAHEMA / GUERLAIN (1979)
The top note of the Nahéma vintage extrait is breathtaking: perhaps the most ravishingly gorgeous and complete rose absolute in perfume; a scent to make your heart swell, your diaphragm tremble. Whether you will fall for Nahéma or not though, (and it has its very faithful adherents), will depend on your liking roses romantic, full on, and sweet. Nahéma folds this stunning rose note in peach, hyacinth, aldehydes; ylang, vanilla and musk, and is deliriously rich, romantic – very Guerlain. If it is right for you, you will smell resplendent. If not, overdone.
ROSE/ CARON (1949)
If the roses in Goutal’s Rose Absolue are freshly picked, and the scent their breath, Caron’s is their blood; the enshrinement of a beauteous Bulgarian absolute (more regal, melancholy than Moroccan rose – the more ‘classic’ rose note) over a gentle bed of vanilla and musk. The extrait is beautiful; potent, emotive; a scent to be cherished. Almost painfully pure and beautiful.
For a similar, but somewhat chicer rose, try the other Caron rose perfume, Or et Noir: for sexual mystery, the house’s woody, musky incense rose, Parfum Sacré.
FLEURS DE BULGARIE / CREED (1880/1980)
A centenary reformation of an aristocratic, very strange scent from Creed, this peculiar, haunting rose perfume evokes another time and place, leagues away from brash current trends. It is at once tender, reserved, unabashedly tasteful, yet with an undeniable whiff of madness: generations of interbreeding among the loopy upper classes. A dry, high pitched, almost saline bunch of Bulgarian roses over an insinuating natural ambergris: the smell of stately homes, the fragile, yellowing pages of old books.
A difficult, but rather brilliant perfume, to be placed on a dresser by a window over the lawns, on which to do ‘one’s toilette.’
Beyond, the reedy river, in which perhaps to drown…
SA MAJESTE LA ROSE / SERGE LUTENS (2000)
A scornful rose. Dark swishes of crimson rose fragrance: grand, extravagant, a perfume of strength and beauty, but with ironic, opaque bitterness. Serge Luten’s rose is not romantic: his perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, was presumably ordered to do away with such nonsense. Instead there is a stark regality here, just as the name suggests (a tart note of geranium, lychee and guaic wood sees to that), but also an elaborate heart of white roses, vanilla and honeyed Moroccan rose. It is an effective, gorgeous perfume that will leave you feeling splendidly detached.
CE SOIR OU JAMAIS / ANNICK GOUTAL (1999)
Perhaps the most vulnerable of rose perfumes, Ce Soir Ou Jamais (‘Tonight Or Never’) is a rich, breathy Turkish rose, unfolding in a tearful desperate embrace. It is natural, supremely feminine, and one of the most romantic perfumes you could ever wear.
ROSE OPULENTE/ MAITRE PARFUMEUR ET GANTIER
As it says, opulent, gorgeous, red-silk Bulgarian roses, for high camp and rose adorers. Quite beautiful, with leafy green top notes gracing a subtly spiced, ambergris rose.
ROSE EN NOIR/ MILLER HARRIS (2006)
Exclusive to Barney’s New York stores, this is a mildly repugnant, dark animalic rose with woody musk facets and top notes of jammy rhubarb.
Interesting, like someone unravelling at the seams.
ROSE DE NUIT / SERGE LUTENS (1994)
Paris. Had I had any money left by the time I got to the Lutens boutique at the Palais Royal (having already ‘done’ Caron, Guerlain, and Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier), this is what I would have bought from the astonishing selection of perfumes curated by the mysterious ladies hovering behind them. On myself I like darker, more menacing rose perfumes, preferably underscored by patchouli, and this really did the trick for me. Rich, effusive, and very outgoing, with a touch of jasmine, apricot, beeswax, and chypre. A rose for nighttime and adventure, to be worn with leather.
SOIR DE LUNE / SISLEY (2006)
A gorgeous, dark, honey-drenched rose enveloped by rich notes of chypre, mimosa, and powerful patchouli, Soire De Lune is almost tailor-made to my personal olfactory tastes. It is diffusive, warm, sexy and of high quality; not dissimilar to the company’s fantastic Eau Du Soir, but in my opinion even better. A rounded, accomplished scent with presence, and a new alternative to such night time illuminaries as Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum and Voleur De Roses. I doubt I will ever be without a bottle of this.
VOLEUR DE ROSES L’ARTISAN PARFUMEUR (1993)
The rose thief is a dark figure dressed in black, moving with stealth through the undergrowth, night soil underfoot; rose bushes standing erect and waiting in the moonlight, sensing they are about to be picked. A sensous, woody patchouli is entwined with a deep, rich rose and an unusual note of black plum, resulting in a very gourmand, intriguing scent worthy of its wonderful name.
Mastic, or pistacia lentiscus, is a rare ingredient in perfumery, particularly as the most prominent note in a fragrance. A bitter green resin, which forms from the ‘tears’ of liquid mastic when the trees are lacerated (on the Greek island of Chios, the only place the gum is produced), it was used as a remedy for snakebite in ancient Greece and regularly employed as an incense. Legend has it that as St Isodorus cried out in pain during his martyrdom, God blessed the mastic tree, which then began to cry……
Such lachrymosal stories are the foundation of Eau d’Ikar, a spiky, sapful scent based on green notes, resins and florals, agreeably poetic in concept and execution, but which I don’t find entirely works. The perfume is described by the company as happy and revitalizing, and while it is certainly stimulating, and very green – almost startlingly so – I can’t think of it as happy.
In fact, given that the scent, and even the bottle (in very eighties frosted glass, reminiscent of Cerruti 1881 and Paloma Picasso’s similarly themed Minotaure) is based on the tragic tale of a quixotic, restless young naïve (Icarus), who is burnt by the sun and drowned by the sea, it is not surprising that the overall impression is morose.
Some reviewers have compared Eau d’Ikar to several classical citruses such as Dior’s Eau Sauvage or Eau d’Orange Verte d’Hermès, but what immediately struck me on spraying this refreshingly unclichéd masculine was its curious resemblance to Estée Lauder’s wonderful Private Collection, that beautifully supercilious seventies’ green-powdery with its arch, manicured talons; its diffidence, and impactful emotionality. The perfumes share a number of notes: galbanum, and bright citruses such as bergamot; florals in the heart of iris and jasmine, and the ambered woodiness of the base. But where Private Collection achieves compositional perfection (too much so, almost – the only complaint I have about the fragrances the company produces is their olfactory equivalent to a flawless, patina of exquisite make-up that leaves little room to breathe), Eau d’Ikar, with its rough hewn maleness, has a strange impetuousness – the sense that things are not quite sewn together.
On the skin, the two in the later stages become at times almost indistinguishable. But where Private Collection has a much more natural balance, the chakras passing right through uninhibited from base to tip, Ikar is clogged up with mastic: feathers and wood bound together with wax, sweat, and honey.
The scent comes on forceful and green, with a waxen smell you could almost rub between your fingers: mastic, tea, bergamot, carrot seed, lemon, extract of reed, and a sour, fruity smell like just picked blackcurrants that contorts the mouth – the hard, white eye of youthful determination – as Icarus and his father Daedalus strive to escape from the labyrinth and the minotaur. At this stage, the scent is difficult to like, yet alone love, with its sense in the stomach that something is not quite right. And yet this resinousness is bright and intriguing, like a flash of sparkling clarity on the blue Aegean that beckons from the sunbaked rocks.
Half an hour or so later, the perfume suddenly blooms; takes flight; when it becomes a quite haunting, powdered floral, quite beautiful and androgynous, with a sun starched, drier quality of vetiver and ambergris underneath and the resinous note of mastic lingering throughout. The Hellenic feel is authentic here, and Sisley do achieve something akin to impressive olfactory prose. Still, I am not sure whether or not I would buy Eau d’Ikar (though I have considered it as a potential summer scent – there is something in the blend that pulls me in, some masochistic pleasure, even, in that bitter unpleasantness). What I do like about it though is the shimmer of shadows, the naturalness of the ingredients, the sense of erect integrity.
But it also has a thickness, an airlessness I am uncomfortable with: a suffocating dryness within its chlorophyll that encapsulates (if you really will yourself into the myth) the burned locks and parched lips of the dying ephebe: the shuddering of feathers; his sundazzled death chute as he falls, senseless, into the glittering Icarian sea.