One of my very favorite collections in all of perfumery are the Jean Patou Ma Collection perfumes which were re-released in 1984. These were the original formulations from Jean Patou’s master perfumer Henri Almeras. Within this collection is the perfume I consider to be the best green perfume ever, Vacances. All of the perfumes which make up Ma Collection are among my most-worn perfumes. I have waited for many years for someone to come along and bring these perfumes back for a new generation to discover. Starting in 2013 perfumer Thomas Fontaine has undertaken this challenge. It is a nearly insurmountable challenge as with the restrictions on materials he is able to use, which M. Almeras never had to consider, M. Fontaine is pushed into many difficult decisions.
It probably isn’t fair to even do this comparison because M. Fontaine is composing with one hand tied behind his back. On the other hand I do want to provide a comparison for others who love the originals and want to know if there is a reason to try the new ones.
The original Vacances was created in 1938 and was to celebrate the advent of mandatory time off. As a result M. Almeras was looking to make what he thought was a summer fragrance. I have always found Vacances to be that quintessential early spring fragrance. Vacances is early on a translucent purple flower fragrances as hyacinth and lilac provide the shading. Hawthorn adds a slightly woody quality before galbanum tints the whole composition deep green. The florals are still readily apparent but now everything is green. The base is the musk accord reminiscent of skin M. Almeras would use often throughout his tenure at Patou. This is as close to perfection in a perfume as I can ask for.
The Heritage Collection version of Vacances makes some interesting alterations. M. Fontaine rearranges the sequence of the notes development. He also speeds it up so even though things seem to show up in different places they arrive at the same ending place when everything is taken together. For this new version M. Fontaine opens with the galbanum supported by mimosa. The mimosa provides bright points of light through the dense verdancy of the galbanum. Lilac inhabits the heart but also jasmine and rose add their presence. This is meant to intensify the lilac to similar levels found in the original. Overall it does have that effect but I kept getting distracted if I focused too intently by the jasmine and rose. The hyacinth has moved from the top to the base and it is far less potent. M. Fontaine also did his best at using the modern musk aromachemicals to recreate M. Almeras’ musk accord. It is good but if you’ve smelled the original it feels like a copy.
Both versions of Vacances have 10-12 hour longevitry and above average sillage.
I think I would have eaten one of those boots in the header picture if M. Fontaine could have truly re-created Vacances. Of course he couldn’t. As I’ve said previously with the work M. Fontaine is doing here if you have never smelled the original these are very good perfumes. They only suffer when compared to the original masterpieces by M. Almeras. But the Vacances he has created is worthy of carrying the name. It has its own presence matched with a subtle power M. Fontaine emulated from the original by skillfully shuffling the notes around.
Disclosure: The 1938 and 1984 versions are from bottles I purchased. The 2014 version is from a sample from Aus Liebe zum Duft.
The calendar tells me that spring begins at the end of March with the vernal equinox. Emotionally spring begins for me on May 1 or May Day. May Day in most of the world, except the US, is celebrated with wonderful spring traditions. May Queens and May Poles all celebrate the burgeoning life as the world begins to transition from the grey of winter into the verdancy of spring. In France, lily of the valley is given as a token on May Day; not to mention the fragrances this tradition has launched. For many perfumistas that means the great lily of the valley fragrances are brought from the back of the wardrobe to the front. For the tenth year I will be spending May Day in my favorite green perfume of all time, Jean Patou Vacances.
Vacances was released in 1936 by perfumer Henri Almeras who would go on to be the perfumer behind all of the early Jean Patou fragrances. M. Almeras is also the nose behind Elizabeth Arden Bluegrass although back then it was for Fragonard. For Vacances M. Almeras composed a fragrance to celebrate the advent of mandatory paid vacation. Vacances means vacation and I read that this was supposed to be a summer fragrance. I have to disagree as Vacances is the softness of new growth on top of the fragile temporary beauty of lilac in the spring. This is all on top of what would become M. Almeras’ signature musky base for much of the collection.
Before we get to that base we start on top with hyacinth and hawthorn. Hyacinth has an opaque purple quality and hawthorn is sweet with a woody character on the periphery. Lilac arises out of this as the purple becomes less translucent. Mimosa shrouds it in bright highlights. Galabanum adds the green but this galbanum is so silky soft while still containing the oomph it is a miracle of perfumery. The final phase is this skin accord M. Almeras is so good at by blending different musks together.
Vacances has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Vacances has been out of production since its appearance as part of Ma Collection in 1984. When I spoke with Thomas Fontaine at Esxence earlier this year he told me he is currently working on reformulating Vacances to be released again. M. Fontaine has a deft hand with this kind of olfactory restoration project which makes me more hopeful for the new version of Vacances to be worthy of the name. When I wake up this morning my art deco bottle will be waiting for me to practice my personal rite of spring.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle of Vacances that I purchased.
For those who read last week’s Boot or Reboot on Patou pour Homme I can understand if you might be unsure about my confidence in perfumer Thomas Fontaine’s ability as the keeper of the Jean Patou flame in the 21st Century. Patou pour Homme was a good opening statement if not entirely successful in recreating the original. My confidence really comes from M. Fontaine’s work on the 2013 version of Chaldee.
1930 Ad for Huile de Chaldee
In 1927, Chaldee was the fourth fragrance released by Jean Patou. It sprang up from another Jean Patou product Huile de Chaldee which was meant to be used a suntan oil, as “sun culture” was just coming into its own in the late 1920’s. Suntan oil in those early days was just castor oil and so Jean Patou asked their perfumer Henri Almeras to add something to the castor oil to make it smell nice. After its launch they found women wearing it even when they weren’t in the sun because they liked the smell and so M. Almeras designed the perfume version simply named Chaldee.
1984 Ma Collection Jean Patou Chaldee
The original Chaldee was a mix of orange blossom, narcissus, and vanilla predominantly over a musky base meant to evoke sun warmed skin. When you sniff the 1927 or the re-released 1984 Ma Collection version it is mostly the deep musky aspects which predominate. My small sample of 1927, or so, Chaldee and my Ma Collection bottle both smell very similar so I am guessing that somewhere after around 20-30 years of aging the oils have hit their steady state. That is something that should always be taken into account when doing these comparisons. Any vintage fragrance has had tens of years to continue to evolve. In essence it has continued to macerate in the bottle which means it has changed somewhat. This was especially brought home to me when Patricia de Nicolai of the Osmotheque shared with me their freshly made versions of vintage perfumes. There is an essential brightness that is lost upon aging for an extended period of time, although an extra level of depth is probably commonly added. Which brings me to the new version of Chaldee.
Jean Patou Chaldee 2013
For the 2013 version of Chaldee M. Fontaine retained the core trio from the original of orange blossom, narcissus, and vanilla. What is different is the narcissus has a much more pronounced presence. Narcissus is one of my favorite floral notes in all of perfumery and its enhanced prominence adds an intensity to the heart of the 2013 version which doesn’t exist in either of the vintage versions. M. Fontaine also adds a pinch of lilac which makes the new version feel fresher. The base is opopanax and vanilla as in the original but the musky aspect never hits the depths it does in the original. Here is where M. Fontaine makes a truly ingenious decision. Instead of trying to plumb the same depths that the original Chaldee did he lets the 2013 version add some musky aspects and then before going deeper he asks the 2013 version to hold that lesser intensity through to the end.
In this battle I am extremely surprised to be choosing the Reboot over the Boot. One reason is I think this new version is more truly close in style to its suntan oil beginnings. M. Fontaine shows an understanding of its history and the 2013 version smells like something I would smell on a beach or next to the pool. When I smell my vintage versions I’ve always giggled a bit at the thought of a beach full of women smelling like Chaldee on a summer’s day. The 2013 version feels like it easily could be seen like that. This singular achievement has me excited for M. Fontaine’s future efforts because I think he gets what it means to be a Jean Patou fragrance and with the restrictions placed on him by IFRA I think he is the best person to try and revive my beloved Jean Patou.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample of 1927 Chaldee, a bottle of 1984 Chaldee I purchased; and a sample of 2013 Chaldee from Aus Liebe zum Duft.
Editor’s Note: There is also a 2013 version of 1976’s Eau de Patou and it is also very well done. If I was going to do a Boot or Reboot on that it would be another very close call for Boot but M. Fontaine keeps making me think about it.