Caron – Parfum Sacré

Caron – Parfum Sacré

caron Perfumes Parfum Sacre There are those loves which we know will endure forever. Such is the beauty of this peppery rose-inspired fragrance by Caron. But where Caron’s Rose is simple and Marni is sheer and evanescent, Parfum Sacré positively smolders, bringing new depths to the pepper-rose combination.

As the vintage advertisement for Caron perfumes at left attests “What is seduction if not a man, a woman and a Caron perfume?” While the fragrance’s name references the sacred, Parfum Sacré is nothing if not sensual.

Though Parfum Sacré opens with a burst of lively, citrusy pepper and spices, like many Caron fragrances, it is perfectly blended to create an more of an overall impression. Despite its spicy opening, Parfum Sacré is as warm and enveloping as a lover’s embrace. The presence of rose lends a velvety texture to the underlying woods and spices, elements which on their own can often be perceived as dry.

Though vanilla and floral notes make an appearance, it is only to support the romance between rose and spices. While the distinct Caron drydown is recognizable, it remains enrobed in the warm, dark rose, adding a hint a smoky drama.

While both the extrait and Eau de Parfum have impressive lasting power, they wear fairly close to the skin, making for an intimate yet luxurious fragrance experience. While the vintage versions have more complexity and depth (especially the extrait which is truly magical) the reformulated version available today is a reasonably close facsimile and worth seeking out for those seeking an elegant and unusual rose-tinged oriental.

Notes: Vanilla, Myrrh, Civet, Cedarwood, Lemon, Pepper, Mace, Cardamom, Orange Blossom, Rose, Jasmine, Rosewood

Chanel – Égoïste

Chanel – Égoïste


One of my all-time favorite fragrances from Chanel is not even a woman’s fragrance, though according to an interview with its creator Jacques Polge, Égoïste was inspired by one of Chanel’s most iconic women’s fragrances, Bois des Iles. Polge reportedly stumbled upon Ernest Beaux’s original formula for Bois des Iles, which was released in 1926 and adapted it to a male sensibility.  Égoïste, not to be confused with Égoïste Platinum which debuted in 1994, was released in 1990 and despite an almost cult-like following among its admirers, failed miserably outside of the European market. As a side note, Égoïste Platinum which was created in keeping with a more American olfactory aesthetic of clean, sporty fragrances flourished, in the travesty of what my friend at Chanel refers to as “the baby killing the father”.

Égoïste was originally released under the name Bois Noir, a nod at the source of Polge’s inpiration, and only available at Chanel boutiques similar to the way Les Exclusifs are marketed now. The fragrance was intended to accompany a line of men’s clothing, although this idea was later axed by Chanel, leaving Bois Noir orphaned. When the fragrance was finally made available for wider distribution, it was done so under the name Égoïste, perhaps another reason for its lack of popularity in the United States.  Égoïste roughly translates into “selfish person”, one who is self-centered and overly preoccupied with their individual needs. Without getting into a debate over why it is healthy for a person to be concerned with their own needs and desires, let’s just say that while this name was perfectly acceptable abroad, it was not well-received state-side.egoiste3

I will never forget the first time I saw the commercial for Égoïste, probably one of the most brilliant and bizarre marketing campaigns I had ever witnessed – beautiful women dressed in magnificent couture gowns, throwing open the doors of a French apartment building, shouting impassioned cries at the offending Égoïste, their lines loosely based on Pierre Corneille’s “Le Cid”, while Prokofiev’s dramatic “Dance of the Knights” plays in the background.

“Égoiste. Où es-tu ? Montre-toi misérable! Prends garde à mon courroux, je serai implacable. Ô rage ! Ô désespoir ! Ô pourquoi m’as-tu donc trahi ? N’ai-je donc tant vécu que pour cette infâmie ? Montre-toi égoiste ! Égoiste…!”.*

The only glimpse we get of the cause of such calamity is the masculine hand of the Égoïste himself as he sets a bottle of the fragrance on the balcony of the apartment building he shares with all of the women has apparently seduced and forgotten. In an instant, without being bombarded with images of virile male models, we understand at once that Égoïste is about seduction. And while it is evident that our invisible Don Juan and his fragrance have moved on from these various women, they have left their indelible mark on these women, a scented memory of seduction.


The fragrance itself is gorgeous, a hybrid of Bois des Iles and Chanel No 18, the latter created around the scent of ambrette seed, one of the components of Égoïste. From the first opening notes, one is immediately aware that Égoïste was a new creation in men’s fragrances, one that left the classical fougere and chypres behind. In the opening we are greeted with a spicy mix of flowers and fruit, that comes across as rich and slightly plummy.

As the fragrance warms on the skin, the seduction continues. Égoïste deepens into a beautiful, slightly creamy woods softened by vanilla and traces of ambrette. The effect is stunning, and equally delicious on a man or a woman.

Woody Oriental

Notes: Tangerine, lavender, rose, coriander, Bourbon vanilla, sandalwood, rosewood and ambrette seed.

*Where are you? Show yourself, you wretch! Beware my wrath. I will be implacable. O rage! O despair! O why have you betrayed me? Have I lived only for this insult? Reveal yourself, egotist!


Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle – Iris Poudre

Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle – Iris Poudre


Iris is one of my favorite perfume notes, so I am constantly seeking out fragrances where it is prominently featured. The 2000 launch of Iris Poudre taught me, however, that not all irises are created equal. Indeed, Iris Poudre, while undoubtedly lovely, is not very iris-like, nor does it contain much poudre (French for powder). The nose behind this fragrance is Pierre Bourdon, the man behind behind such classics as Yves Saint Laurent’s Kouros, as well as Feminite du Bois in collaboration with Christopher Sheldrake.

Several have drawn comparisons between Iris Poudre and Chanel No 5, however the aldehydes in Iris Poudre are more evanescent than the sparkling champagne bubbles of Mademoiselle Chanel’s iconic fragrance. Where No 5 is crisp, Poudre is shimmery. While the iris becomes more prominent in the heart, it feels overshadowed and is rendered almost fruit-like by the presence of ylang-ylang, magnolia and jasmine. Absent from Iris Poudre is the metallic tang of iris or its deep, earthy root smell. While the fragrance takes on a delicate, fluffy warmth in the drydown thanks to some delicious, nearly edible amber and musk, I found that the absence of the ghost-like aspects of iris gave the fragrance a slightly two-dimensional feel. A serious contender, but unfortunately not the winner for the top iris fragrance. iris poudre2

Notes: Bergamot, Orange, Rosewood, Ylang-Ylang, Carnation, Magnolia, Jasmine, Muguet, Violetta-Rose, Aldehydes, Iris, Musk, Amber, Sandalwood and Ebony.

Chanel – Cristalle

Chanel – Cristalle


I largely put myself through college via a combination of scholarships, student loans, and numerous jobs to supplement whatever assistance my parents could provide. While this would teach me the importance of careful planning and budgeting, it left little room for personal items, especially those which were not absolutely vital. Exacerbating the situation was the fact that I was attending college in Manhattan, a city not necessarily known for its reasonable cost of living.

Dedication to my studies was not as difficult for me as it was to some of my classmates. I was enrolled in a very challenging school, in one of the toughest cities of the world. I knew that I wanted to be bright and sharp and to do that in such a competitive environment would really require all of my effort to shine. While this did not reconcile well with my love for fragrance and for Chanel in particular, it was a great motivator for success.

During my first year of school, while attending a chemistry seminar, I met a young woman who ultimately became my best friend. She had a similar upbringing and we shared many of the same goals, both scholastically and personally. This included, not surprisingly, a love for Chanel. Given that we were both struggling to meet our immediate needs, together we devised creative ways of sampling and purchasing a few special items. This largely involved two activities which most of us master in childhood: dress-up and pretend.

My friend and I would save up for bus fare to Bloomingdale’s (which cost a dollar in those days) but made it a point always to walk back home. After all, we only needed to look presentable upon arrival. No one needed to know the many blocks we would walk back to return to campus uptown. To prepare for our excursion, we would put on our best outfits and make ourselves up to be sure we looked the part. We also did our research, which in those days involved pouring through magazines at the library. We needed to ensure that we seemed extremely knowledgeable when we arrived at the fragrance counter.

As we sampled the latest releases (which was not the terrifying task it is today), we came up with creative escape clauses for those we did not like, so as not to put off the eager sales associates who were so generous with the vials of liquid gold we so craved. “Oh, my mother just purchased that for me for my birthday” or “My sister wears that one and I could not bear sharing the same fragrance”. With these intentioned hints, we were often able to come away with considerable samples of the fragrances we did want, having given the impression that we were certainly able to afford any of these fragrances at a moment’s notice.


It was during one of these excursions that I happened upon Cristalle. It was unlike anything I had ever smelled before, though I have since seen it reincarnated to some extent in the magical Calyx by Sophia Grojsman. Henri Robert’s 1974 masterpiece was perfectly named, for it is the scent of something sharp and bright – precisely everything I longed to emulate. Cristalle cuts a sharp plane of light with its bergamot opening but it is the complexity and range of the green notes which is most alluring. These range from savory to sweet and grass-like thanks to a vetiver note. While the EDP version later introduced by Jacques Polge in 1993 pushes the floral accords into a sweeter, headier territory, the original 1974 release achieves in my opinion a greater balance by not allowing the floral notes to drown out the composition.

While Cristalle is often cited on top ten lists for summer and spring fragrances, it is a wonderful winter scent and shall forever remind me of cold Manhattan days and of the power of imagination to forge our destiny.


Notes: lemon, bergamot, basil, petitgrain, galbanum, jonquil, jasmine, hyacinth, oakmoss, rosewood, and vetiver

Christian Dior – Diorissimo

Christian Dior – Diorissimo


There are times when life’s trials become a bit much, and we crave some comfort or small happiness. While for many, the first thing that comes to mind may be food or drink, I find that fragrance often has the power to be an uplifting presence and bring a smile to my face. In these times, I will often reach for a scent that is beautiful in its unadorned simplicity, rather than provocative or challenging. One fragrance which can always bring a smile to my face is Christian Dior’s Diorissimo. Diorissimo perfectly captures the scent of the lovely Lily of the Valley, so much so that it seems one is wearing a living flower, and yet the fragrance is a ruse: for it is not possible to extract the scent of this beautiful white flower.

Diorissimo was the magical creation of Edmond Roudnitska, the nose behind the beautiful Femme, as well numerous perfumes for Christian Dior. Given the impossibility of utilizing actual Lily of the Valley extract, Roudnitska’s work is nothing short of an optical illusion. More than any other fragrance, Diorissimo truly captures the scent of Lily of the Valley, to an astonishing degree. The creation relied heavily on Hydroxycitronellal, an aroma chemical with a sweet, green, soapy scent which very closely resembles that of the flower. As with many other vintage beauties, Diorissimo has suffered greatly at the hands of the IFRA regulations regarding potential allergens, as the use of Hydroxycitronellal in fragrances is restricted, because of potential sensitization.


I have both the Eau de Toilette and Parfum versions of vintage Diorissimo and each has its own distinct beauty. While the Eau de Toilette has a sharper, greener opening, as it unfolds, it becomes a gauzy Lily of the Valley, supported by a touch of jasmine with a slightly powdery feel. The fragrance is extremely light and inspiring, the scent of innocence and youth. I love this version just after a shower or right before bed.

The Parfum version is much deeper and somewhat hypnotic. I always have the impression of having crushed the flower on my wrist. The Parfum has a richness and animalic earthiness that is absent in the Eau de Toilette. It is richer, deeper and slightly indolic and an absolute beauty. diorissimo1


Notes: Green notes, bergamot, lily of the valley, ylang ylang, rosewood, amaryllis, boronia, jasmine, sandalwood, and civet.



Diptyque – Eau de Lierre

Diptyque – Eau de Lierre

Bruges, Belgium. Photo by Quintessence

Bruges, Belgium. Photo by Quintessence

“Green” is a term that gets thrown around quite a bit when it comes to discussions on perfumery. I am always amazed by the range of interpretations that this accord can have, and how uniquely it manifests in different fragrances. Green can run the gamut from fresh and invigorating to dense and mossy, and everything in between.

Diptyque’s Eau de Lierre is inspired by the scent of ivy and indeed, lierre is French for ivy. For me, this scent could easily be named “Eau de Dark Green”, as it truly conjures the deep verdancy of this evergreen climber. The fragrance was launched in 2006 by the innovative house of Diptyque and it is very much in keeping with their minimalist aesthetic. Eau de Lierre opens with a slightly spicy green note that is as true to nature as one can get without being outdoors. While some fragrances interpret dark green notes as herbal, Eau de Lierre has a distinctly vegetal character. Eau de Lierre is by no means a marine fragrance, and yet there is an overall impression of wetness. The opening feels somewhat dark and earthy, the equivalent of trudging through the garden during a light rain with a sturdy slicker and Wellies.

While the fragrance dries down to reveal a slightly woody, musky scent, the green impression prevails, making me think of the woody stems of an ivy plant that has overgrown its intended bed. The fragrance is devoid of any sweet notes, making it a good candidate for men as well as women. Eau de Lierre does not have an especially potent sillage, yet it manages to cling to the skin quite nicely. On the evening I was testing it, I still had traces of the scent on my arm the next morning. While perhaps not on par with the house’s L’Ombre dans L’Eau, creator Fabrice Pellegrin has nevertheless composed a unique and enjoyable composition which evokes the English countryside.

Bruges, Belgium. Photo by Quintessence

Bruges, Belgium. Photo by Quintessence


Notes: Ivy, cyclamen, geranium, gray amber, rosewood, green pepper, musk and woody notes.

Lucien Lelong – Balalaika

Lucien Lelong – Balalaika

Lucien Lelong

One of the advantages of having friends who share an interest in perfumery, is the exponentially increased access to various fragrances, especially vintage or niche items. A friend of mine recently acquired a bottle of Balalaika by Lucien Lelong and was kind enough to allow me to sample for review purposes. Named for a three-stringed, triangular, Russian folk instrument, the name alone held the promise of the exotic.

Lucien Lelong was a French coutourier who gained considerable popularity between the 1920s and 1940s. He favored a fluid, draping style for women, one that would move with its wearer. As a result, many of his creations appear distinctly modern today. Lelong did not create his own designs, rather, he oversaw and directed a team of designers which included Christian Dior at one point. He is credited with rescuing the Parisian fashion scene from forced migration to Berlin during the Nazi occupation, arguing that talent of this quality and calibre had taken generations to develop, and could not simply be reproduced or taught overnight. The Lelong house began producing fine fragrances in 1924 and is still in existence today.

While Balalaika did not smell too promising to me upon first application, my patience was rewarded. While I do not have another sample for comparison purposes, my impression was that the Mandarin top note may have deteriorated slightly, as it came across a bit brash and pungent.  This impression was brief however as the fragrance soon took on a lovely warm character. At the heart of Balalaika is an earthy, woodsy quality made lush by a combination of rosewood, gardenia and violet, just as the name might indicate. The wood and musk basenotes appeared fairly early on, giving the fragrance a distinct earthy odor, reminiscent of ancient tomes in a vast library. Despite the strong opening, the fragrance is fairly mild-mannered and light, however, I only tested the Cologne concentration. While the fragrance lasted through the day, it wore close to the skin, with minimal sillage. I have no doubt that Balalaika’s unique combination of woods and flowers would be exquisite in a parfum concentration, but for now, I will have to content myself with my imagination.

Natalie Paley, wife and muse of Lucien Lelong

Natalie Paley, wife and muse of Lucien Lelong

While many vintage perfumes are still widely discussed, I have seen little mention of Balalaika. It may be that the musty, earthy quality renders it too “dated” for some but it nevertheless is an artful creation and one which I consider myself supremely fortunate to have experienced.


Notes: Gardenia, Woods, Mandarin, Musk, Rosewood, Vanilla, Violet