Babylonics: Chaldée by Jean Patou
Here’s some food for thought: In 1930, the House of Jean Patou released “Joy” – right smack at the beginning of the Great Depression. “Joy” was an expensive perfume before the age of perfumes that needed to announce their expense. People were broke and dejected, and there was Patou himself – suffering due to the loss of precious American business – directing perfumer Henri Alméras to create an extravagant blend of 28 dozen roses and over 10,000 jasmine flowers. To this day, it stands as one of the great marketing coups of the last century.
Alméras himself had weathered hardship in 1925, the year his illustrious employer Paul Poiret went bankrupt (along with his beloved Parfums de Rosine label). Patou represented a new start for him. One of his memorable early creations was a complete succès de folie. Patou was banking on the newfangled vogue for sunbathing and tennis, and in 1927 had Alméras create a suntan oil called Huile de Chaldée for the jaunty young flappers who were laying themselves out on yachts and plages across the Mediterranean. The scent of the oil caught on, and later that same year the parfum version was released.
Chaldée was inspired by the ancient Babylonian empire which, I guess, stood out in Patou’s mind as a mythic dream of sun-drenched ruins and cerulean seas. Like Shalimar, which preceded it by two years, Chaldée leveraged the popular opopanax-amber accord in its base. Its formula was deceptively short, with notes of orange flower, hyacinth, jasmine, narcissus, lilac, the aforementioned accord and a warm nuzzle of what can only be (now-illegal) nitromusks.
Unlike other scents that share its birth year – Lanvin Arpège, Caron Bellodgia, Guerlain Djedi and Weil Chinchilla Royal – Chaldée lacks the ubiquitous geranium and rose in its base.
I love it for its jasmine and its long-lived amber core. It is casual for Patou, worlds apart from the opulence of “Joy” – but, then, who needs joy when the party is still in full swing, before the walls of Babylon have tumbled?