Monday, May 25, 2009

Djedi today?

First there was Cuir de Russie (Chanel, 1924), then Shalimar (Guerlain, 1925) and finally Djedi, Jacques Guerlain’s creation of 1926, launched in 1928 to commemorate the house’s centenary. A beautiful dry damask rose couched in civet and vetiver. It has the warm, soapy resinous quality of Shalimar and the smoky leather of Cuir de Russie minus the Grasse jasmine and ylang ylang. For me, it is the epitome of Art Deco like a John Hughes set from Night and Day or Rhapsody in Blue, though the woman who wore it probably wouldn’t have been caught dead in such crass glitz.

Would Djedi sell today? Considering the surprisingly endless appeal of Shalimar, I don’t see why not. Simply market it as Shalimar d’Automne d’Hokaïdo and watch it fly off the shelves.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Jasmine Too Girly for a Guy?

This morning I did something out of the ordinary: I pulled a volume of Cavafy from the bookshelf and read his 1915 poem “Orophernes,” while I sipped my cup of Assam (Golden Tips, for those theaphiles among you). I guess a poem about “delicious Ionian nights” was a good side to my northern Indian indulgence. What struck me most about the poem were the lines describing the royal Cappadocian ephebe “among the strangers” of Ionia:

In his heart was he ever the Asiatic,
but in his conduct and discourse a Greek:
arrayed in precious stones, in Hellenic garb,
scented all over with jasmine perfume.
Among the beautiful young Ionians
he was the most beautiful (ὡραῖος), the most ideal.

The Koine Greek adjective ὡραῖος comes from the word ὥρα which means “hour.” Beauty comes from ripeness, literally “of the hour” or -moment. Interesting, then, that the young Orophernes scents his body with jasmine, certainly the most indolic of smells (read “animalic”) – ripeness, indeed!

Jasmine eroticizes the youth, drawing attention to his fleeting hour of beauty “among the strangers.” I love how scent here makes quick work of the gender divide. It makes me wonder how, when a man or woman wears a scent at that appointed hour, regardless of all external limitations, it transforms him or her into an object of instant desire. This is the magic of perfume, the thing which has always made us view it as an elixir of love.

Good jasmines for men nowadays are hard to find. Caron’s 3-ème Homme comes to mind, along with Annick Goutal’s Le Jasmin (smoky and woody). Fougère accords traditionally used jasmine notes, but many shed them on account of added expense. I wonder what Orophernes would wear today, faced with a night out at the clubs. Any suggestions?

So.... I am raffling a sample of The Perfume House Private Reserve Yasminale, which IMHO is - along with vintage Joy - one of the most beautiful jasmine-lily of the valley perfumes available. The winner will be drawn from the pool of comments on this entry on Saturday, May 23.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Colonial Coffeehouse: Eau des Îles

For some time, coffee fragrances have enjoyed a certain vogue among the perfume cognoscenti. Maurice Roucel’s Riverside Drive, Jacques Huclier’s flanker for Thierry Mugler, A*Men Pure Coffee, Jo Malone Black Vetyver Cafe and the coffee granddaddy, L’Artisan Parfumeur’s L’Eau du Navigateur – each has showcased this ultimate comfort note, which, along with chocolate and tobacco, forms a triad of vanillin-packed scents. To smell a cigar humidor, a dark chocolate wrapper or, as is the case here in New York City, to walk past a branch of Porto Rico Importing Co., is to fall under the smell of the bean (coffee, tonka, cocoa or otherwise).

As some of you may know, I recently completed a move to a new space, and in the process many samples and bottles were jostled about ... which is to say that quite a few things, which previously languished in the dark, got their proverbial moment in the sun. Maître Parfumeur et Gantier’s L’Eau des Îles was among them, and now I am kicking myself for not having recognized (or better appreciated) its strong features years ago. Jean Leporte, who also was responsible for L’Eau du Navigateur, created it in the pre-gourmand days of the mid-Eighties. Taking a spicy, musky coffee note and allying it to the weedy note of galbanum, Laporte created something beautiful in its hardness – for lack of a better analogy, a sort of tropical flanker to Germaine Cellier’s galbanum-bombshell, Bandit (as recreated, of course, by the Guichard duo at Givaudan).

It is an unsung wonder, and if you like Bandit and, albeit for a very different reason, Patou’s Colony, this cup’s for you.