For all of the series I have on Colognoisseur there is a long list of potential subjects which I choose from when I am ready to write a new entry. For the series called Dead Letter Office which is about discontinued perfumes which I think are incredible pieces of olfactory art I recently noticed an interesting thing. When I started the blog in February of 2014 I made up a list of discontinued perfumes and the perfumer for each. When I look over the list of about thirty there is one perfumer who is responsible for five of the entries. All of them were released from 1998-2004. All of them were composed by perfumer Jacques Cavallier who I now dub the Postmaster General of the Dead Letter Office.
Those five perfumes are Issey Miyake Le Feu D’Issey, Yves St. Laurent Nu, Yves St. Laurent M7 (co-created with Alberto Morillas), Alexander McQueen Kingdom, and Boucheron Trouble. If there is any similarity between the perfumes it is that they failed for being out of step with the prevailing perfume trends at the time of “fresh and clean” or fruity floral. None of these followed those trends and thus the marketplace rejected them to eventually be discontinued. If you think M. Cavallier himself was out of step that also isn’t the case as he is the perfumer behind Issey Miyake L’Eau D’Issey which could be said to be the standard bearer for “fresh and clean”.
The reason M. Cavallier is associated with these discontinued perfumes is because the Creative Directors for each of them was willing to take a big risk. These are all perfumes which flew in the face of the market forces attempting to shift the trends onto something different. Those two visionary Creative Directors were Chantal Roos and Tom Ford who are responsible, in part or together, for the creative direction of all five. If there is anything I repeat over and over is I want a brand to take a chance on breaking away from convention; these perfumes do that.
M. Cavallier has provided truly unique aspects to each. The raw coconut milk accord of Le Feu D’Issey. The cumin based human musk of Alexander McQueen Kingdom. The fantastic green cardamom of YSL Nu. The contrast from lemon meringue to wood infused vanilla in Boucheron Trouble. Finally, most famously, the first prominent use of oud in western perfumery in YSL M7.
This is the soul of creativity and what turns a perfume from fragrance to olfactory art. That M. Cavallier can seamlessly create mega-hits like L’Eau D’Issey and any of these five perfumes mentioned above shows how talented he is. Even if he does spend an inordinate amount of time in the Dead Letter Office.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of all of the fragrances which I purchased.
There are a number of fragrances which have been released and had a very short shelf life, for a variety of reasons. In the Dead Letter Office I want to take a look at these perfumes which are alternatively called “ahead of their time” or “colossal failure”. The reality is often found somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. What I can confidently say is that the perfumes I will profile in this series did not play it safe. In their daring they sometimes paved the way for better executed fragrances years later. Sometimes it was just proof there are some ideas which never should’ve been unleashed on the public. 1998’s Le Feu D’Issey is a fragrance which has been described as both ahead of its time and a colossal failure.
In 1998 perfumer Jacques Cavallier was riding a wave of spectacular success especially with the two fragrances which defined Issey Miyake as a fragrance house; L’Eau D’Issey and L’Eau D’Issey pour Homme. Those two fragrances are still big sellers to the present day. He would design the third fragrance, Le Feu D’Issey, to be completely different to the aquatic pair he previously created. In that desire to be different M. Cavallier probably went a little too far especially as the pendulum was starting its swing firmly towards the “fresh and clean” era of fragrance. M. Cavallier had made a safe Woody Oriental in 1995 with YSL Opium pour Homme. As he sat down to compose Le Feu D’Issey he clearly wanted to make a new version within this style.
Le Feu D’Issey challenges right from the first moment as M. Cavallier creates a raw coconut milk accord. If you’ve ever been offered a coconut fresh off the tree, opened so you can drink the coconut water within, that is what the early phase of Le Feu D’Issey smells like. It carries a pungency which some have described as “rancid”. I don’t agree with that; it has a watery quality which also carries some of the husk of the coconut as well as the white meat. This right here is where Le Feu D’Issey probably went wrong as a commercial enterprise. I can imagine them handing out strips of this to passers-by and having them grimace and move on. That’s where they make a mistake because in the heart the next risk M. Cavallier takes actually works amazingly as he takes a milk accord and pairs it with jasmine. If the coconut water accord was off-putting the jasmine milk accord draws me in and fascinates me. This is the richness of whole milk which allows all the sweetness of jasmine to float on top like a floral crème. The base is pretty normal as a woody mix of sandalwood, cedar, and gaiac grounds this in safe territory at the end.
Le Feu D’Issey has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
When I wear Le Feu D’Issey I always find it to be a significantly different experience each time. I’m not talking about slight differences but phases which seem to come off very different and often not for the better. Especially the opening. There are times it is right on the verge of unwearable but once that heart accord comes together it is all of a sudden something special. As to how to classify it? I would call it a noble experiment. In the last few years we have seen the milk accord used to great effect in Jean-Claude Ellena’s Hermessence Santal Massoia and by Christine Nagel in Jo Malone Sweet Milk. So far the coconut water accord has not yet found the right fragrance for it to be featured in again. Le Feu D’Issey has found itself consigned to the Dead Letter Office for being too different at the wrong time.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle of Le Feu D’Issey I purchased.