As one who fully embraced the disco culture of the 1970’s there was one thing I loved about the music; the vocal hooks. All of the great disco anthems had one or two lyrics repeated many, many times usually over a smoking bass line. Disco was about dancing not contemplation. If I list, the name of many of those songs you wouldn’t remember anything but the title like an earworm. The art of a memorable hook is what sets apart the perfumers of the past who have passed the test of time. If I list those esteemed artists, they also all had very distinct olfactory hooks within their perfumes. The great Paul Vacher was no different as the new Le Galion Sang Bleu confirms.
When Nicolas Chabot oversaw the resurrection of the perfume brand Paul Vacher built he also found some recipes which had not been produced; Sang Bleu is one of those. M. Vacher was working on this in the 1970’s while also working on Eau Noble. Eau Noble was mix of citrus floral and leather in a very refined cologne architecture; as such it was contrary to prevailing trends. Sang Bleu was M. Vacher setting sail with the prevailing trend winds filling the sails of this Le Galion as Sang Bleu is a powerhouse chypre. As you can see in the ad campaign for this release M. Chabot enthusiastically embraces Sang Bleu as a perfume of the era it was created in. M. Vacher forms an intricate line dance of many notes into something great.
Sang Bleu opens with that herbal citrus mixture so common in those 70’s powerhouses. All of the usual suspects are present; lemon, orange, rosemary, and tarragon. M Vacher ups the ante with a fascinating push-and-pull of eucalyptus and artemesia. These two whirl on that dance floor provided by the citrus and herbs. The floral heart is primarily geranium and violet. To keep it from getting too feminine M. Vacher throws in a fistful of clove and galbanum. This turns everything a satisfying shade of green to set up the chypre finish. That comes courtesy of sandalwood, patchouli, cedar, and vetiver. I am fairly certain the original recipe had real oakmoss as an ingredient but the vetiver and cedar make an adequate substitute.
Sang Bleu has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.
One of the nice things about M. Chabot’s bringing Le Galion back is we get to experience M. Vacher’s portfolio all together. When doing that you see what an accomplished perfumer he was. Sang Bleu was one of the last recipes he would write down prior to his death. It is very fitting way to remember his style with a chypre powerhouse last dance.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Le Galion
If you play perfume word association and I say “aldehydes” your response is likely to be “Chanel No. 5”. Certainly perfumer Ernest Beaux’s use of aldehydes in that iconic perfume was the bellwether for their essential use in perfumery for nearly one hundred years. The aldehydes are so integral to the success of Chanel No. 5 I suspect many would say that is their baseline for an aldehydic perfume. I have a different answer when it comes The Gold Standard for aldehydes although it comes from the same time period, Lanvin Arpege.
Arpege was created in 1927, six years after Chanel No. 5. Andre Fraysse the in-house perfumer for Lanvin would collaborate with Paul Vacher on Arpege. It was meant to be presented to Jeanne Lanvin’s daughter Marie-Blanche for her 30th birthday. It has become one of the classics of the time and Arpege has always been available. What I consider The Gold Standard is the 1993 reformulation overseen by Hubert Fraysse, Andre’s brother. What makes it my aldehydes reference standard is that in the 1993 reformulation they are very much more prevalent. They form a sharper presence to compensate for a slight attenuation in the floral character before heading to a defined vetiver base.
Arpege opens on a tiny bit of bergamot and neroli before the aldehydes start popping like fireworks. When I’ve tried a vintage version of Arpege the aldehydes are mostly long gone. In the reformulation not only are they there, they form a sparkling halo which overlays the transition into the floral accord in the heart. Primarily composed of orris, rose, and ylang the use of clove and coriander enhance the spicy facets within those florals. In the early moments the aldehydes fizz through everything like pixie dust drifting down among the petals. Arpege holds this kineticism for a good long while. This is where the reformulation differs from the vintage. I think the cost of the florals got prohibitive and the compensation was to up the aldehyde content. Usually this would not be something I would think positively upon. In this case I like this 1993 version of Arpege better than the original. The base of vetiver, patchouli, and sandalwood, tinted slightly sweet with vanilla reminds me of a lot of some of the classic masculine powerhouse bases of the 1980’s.
The 1993 Arpege has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Luca Turin in Perfumes: The A-Z Guide writes that “Arpege supports the theory that perfumes become more masculine over time.” That is something which I consider in my affection for the reformulated version of Arpege. I might not be the target audience but it sure does speak to me. In any case the ability to acquire a fresh bottle with the aldehydes intact is one good reason why this reformulation is my The Gold Standard for aldehydes.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
One of my favorite discoveries at Esxence in 2014 was the revival of the Le Galion line of perfumes. Owner Nicolas Chabot has done an amazing job of restoring these perfumes to life so a new generation of perfume lovers can discover them. The perfumer who was behind the original Le Galion was Paul Vacher. M. Vacher is one of those ghosts from the time when perfumers were not spoken of. Once he formed Le Galion he was no longer quite as hidden. Le Galion eventually went out of business. Until a couple of years ago when M. Chabot stepped in. Last year at Esxence he premiered nine perfumes, all re-interpretations of M. Vacher’s originals. They were one of the most buzzed about brands at Esxence in 2014. Which made me wonder what the follow-up would be.
Nicolas Chabot (Photo: Sylvie Mafray)
The answer is six new releases, five of which are brand new creations. As it was a year ago I was very impressed with the continued evolution of the Le Galion brand. I will be reviewing all of the new perfumes over the next few weeks but before heading into the new there was one last nod to the past, 1968’s Vetyver.
M. Chabot’s partner for much of this olfactory architectural restoration has been perfumer Thomas Fontaine. M. Fontaine is becoming the best modern perfumer at finding a way to use contemporary materials to retain the feel of the past which is what he does very well with his re-work of Vetyver.
Vetyver was definitely a product of its time. When I entered the booth at Esxence this year the poster above greeted me on one wall. The very 60’s woman holding a pistol and a bottle of Vetyver are like a visual time capsule. Vetyver thankfully is not as mired in the past. It does have a bit of that Austin Powers-like Shagadelic vibe very early on. As it develops the 60’s get left behind especially when Vetyver moves into the middle and end phases of development.
The early moments of Vetyver are like an homage to the classic men’s powerhouse fragrances of the 60’s and 70’s as bergamot and mandarin are blended with nutmeg and coriander. The opening moments of Vetyver will remind you a lot of those perfumes. It has such a strong evocation of the time that I was worried the rest would feel as dated. Instead it uses the same ingredients which might have made up the next phase of those dated fragrances and instead re-balances them for a much different effect. Petitgrain, verbena, and lavender were also normal running partners to spicy citrus openings. M. Fonatine takes those ingredients and instead of ramping up the intensity into a knockout punch he turns it into a caress. The lavender forms the first light touch with tarragon and clary sage used to accentuate the herbal nature. Verbena is also kept feather light and is bolstered slightly by a precise amount of petitgrain to accentuate the lemon nature. This all leads to one of the more interesting appearances of vetiver I’ve tried recently. M. Fontaine brings the vetiver forward and allows it to have the next part of the development to itself. With a grouping of notes only slightly more intense than the ones used in the heart he shades Vetyver darker but more twilight than midnight. Sandalwood and tonka bean provide some depth and sweetness. Musks go for that slightly earthy effect that goes so well with vetiver as a note.
Vetyver has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Vetyver is a good example of the care M. Chabot and M. Fontaine have taken in updating M. Vacher’s perfumes into the 21st century. As I wore Vetyver over these first few warm days I noticed how different it was than many of my other vetiver fragrances. This speaks volumes about how to effectively bring the past into the present. Le Galion has done that extremely well.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Le Galion at Esxence 2015.
The last fragrance in this collection is something “new” to the Le Galion line. When Nicolas Chabot acquired Le Galion he also acquired all that was left by perfumer Paul Vacher upon his death in 1975. The notebooks by themselves were a treasure trove of information to allow perfumer Thomas Fontaine the knowledge of the detail M. Vacher added to each composition so M. Fontaine could re-formulate where necessary. If that was all M. Chabot had it would be enough. Except during the examination of the Le Galion archives they came across a box they believe dates from 1930-1935 and in it a small bottle of fragrance. This was an unreleased composition by M. Vacher and is now being released under the name 222.
222 is really the culmination of all of the work M. Chabot and M. Fontaine put into reviving Le Galion and M. Vacher’s perfumes. It also feels like the perfect coda to my exploration of this collection as it encompasses the dedication of M. Chabot in obtaining and using M. Vacher’s original source material to re-introduce the line. It also shows how skillful M. Fontaine is in using modern materials to replace the ingredients from the past that no longer are available or available to be used. 222 smells retro and it smells modern which maybe makes it the Nouveau Retro poster child.
222 opens with violet and Kashmir wood. The Kashmir wood pulls the woody aspects of violet more to the foreground and as a result the opening feels more like light wood with a hint of floral. Lavender adds a bit more floral before the resinous mix of myrrh and styrax set the heart. This is a slightly sweet and comforting warmth at this point in the development. M. Fontaine adds in a cocktail of white musk as contrast to the softness and they intersperse themselves throughout the resinous core. It is right here where it seems M. Vacher and M. Fontaine come together with the old and the new. Sandalwood forms the base and it is bolstered by oak moss and a soft leather accord.
222 has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
I have spent the last week reviewing this revived Le Galion because I believe this is the best re-formulation of a vintage perfume line to date. It helps that besides Sortilege few are familiar with the other fragrances in the line although they are out there to be acquired. The truth is few perfume lovers know this line very well, including me. The one thing I do know well is Paul Vacher was one of the great perfumers of the early 20th Century and even though Lanvin Arpege, Miss Dior, and Diorling live on as testament to his timelessness it really was these creations for Le Galion which was where he allowed his creativity free rein and I think it shows. There is not a weak link in the entire collection and all of them have a modern aspect on top of the vintage feel. Nicolas Chabot is to be congratulated to his attention to detail in getting this just so. There have been a number of these kind of projects over the last year which have gone badly astray, M. Chabot just wouldn’t let that happen. Finally Thomas Fontaine’s work in re-formulating and updating the six fragrances he had a hand in maybe makes him the best perfumer working when it comes to the Nouveau Retro genre. I know his work here has my hopes very high this same magic will be applied to his re-formulation of my beloved Jean Patou Vacances. All of this together has created a magical confluence where the past and the present co-exist in a singularity of quality.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Le Galion.
When Nicolas Chabot acquired the rights to Le Galion he also acquired the original notebooks perfumer Paul Vacher wrote down his recipes in. For most of the collection perfumer Thomas Fontaine was required to lend a hand to update these formulae. Whip and Eau Noble were two of the three that were able to be reconstructed without change from what was written in M. Vacher’s notebook. Both of them share some similarities in that they are floral citrus cologne compositions. That they were separated by almost twenty years shows an interesting difference in what M. Vacher thought a cologne should smell like in 1953 and 1972.
Whip was the one from 1953 and of all of the perfumes in this very excellent collection is my favorite. M. Vacher creates a cologne full of bullwhip-like pops of percussive notes. He takes traditional cologne architecture and snaps in spices in between. Then a very green jasmine heart leads to a greener base over the supple coils of the whip.
The best colognes all have a bit of an olfactory snap to them from the first moments. Whip ups that to something that lives up to its name. M. Vacher marries lemon, bergamot and lavender but then lashes them with high concentrations of tarragon and cardamom. I really like this beginning it gets my attention and it is fascinating. The heart is jasmine and violet again lashed with a healthy amount of galbanum. This forms a floral encased in green which is dominant and very spiky. The green theme continues into the base as oak moss, vetiver, and a little patchouli usher Whip towards its end. In the very end the titular leather of the fragrant whip forms the final accord.
Whip has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Eau Noble would be the last perfume by M. Vacher before his death in 1975. As in Whip he is again exploring a citrus floral leather trio in a cologne structure. Where Whip is all about power Eau Noble is much gentler, a more subtle perfume experience. It also reflects the prevailing trend towards citrus focused fragrances that Edmond Roudnitska has ushered into style in 1966 with Eau Sauvage.
Eau Noble, like Whip, uses lemon and bergamot on top but this time there is only a bit of galbanum to turn the citrus aspect more towards the rind than the pulp. It modulates the citrus into something softer. Lavender and sage form the heart of Eau Noble and here it takes on almost classic cologne formula with sage substituting for the rosemary. We finish with a leather accord of patchouli, oak moss, and musk. This is a soft supple leather befitting the softer nature of Eau Noble. Cedar provides a bit of woody framing at the end as well.
Eau Noble has 6-8 hours of longevity and average sillage.
Disclosure: These reviews were based on samples provided by Le Galion.
In Iris and Tubereuse, Le Galion perfumer Paul Vacher wanted to create beautiful soliflores. With 1950’s La Rose he was not interested in adding to the rose soliflores out there he wanted to create a full-throated rose fragrance that would make a larger-than-life version of the bloom. It is said in the press materials that M. Vacher smelled over 70 species of rose to find the right one for La Rose. I am not sure if perfumer Thomas Fontaine who is in charge of the re-formulation of La Rose was able to find that specific species but whatever he has found has a special character to it and makes La Rose feel like one in a million, or at least one in seventy.
The opening is violet leaf and bergamot. The violet leaf sets the stage like the green surrounding a rose bud. In the heart this imaginary rose bud bursts into life sending out waves of floral sweetness. The rose used here has a subtle fruitiness which is amplified by a bit of peach to allow it to flourish. There is also a lovely dewy quality as if this rose has bloomed in the early morning capturing dew drops within the petals. La Rose finishes with a patchouli and cedar pair of base notes and they are also very pronounced. La Rose is no soliflore it is exponentially rendered rose exquisitely done.
La Rose has 8-10 hour longevity and prodigious sillage.
When I sat down with owner of Le Galion Nicolas Chabot at Esxence to try out the line he made a very wise choice on which fragrance to show me first, Snob. First the name itself brings a smile to my face simply because I am a snob about so many things, especially perfume. As I raised the strip to my nose and smelled I immediately understood why everyone was buzzing about Le Galion. Snob was created in 1952 but this could have been created in 2052 because it seems so forward thinking in its construction and aesthetic. Snob at its most basic is a white flower fragrance but it is a perfume for a lover of fragrance because hidden throughout its construction are buried grace notes which add pleasure enough to satisfy any perfume snob. I also have to mention that M. Fontaine’s re-formulation here had to be extremely difficult to achieve this kind of delicate complexity using modern materials.
Snob opens on a pedestrian combo of bergamot and mandarin but just underneath there is something decidedly less ubiquitous as saffron and crisp apple turn the pedestrian into provocative. It was this initial sniff which made me think these Le Galion perfumes were going to be special. The heart breaks out a chorus of floral notes centered on jasmine and orange blossom radiating their indolic beauty. Iris adds powdery contrast while rose adds a hint of spicy floralcy. Together they proudly lift their floral nose high in the air the better to look down on those other mere perfumes. The base is sandalwood and a cocktail of white musks. There is not a moment when I am wearing Snob that this feels like a creation from 62 years ago it feel like it was from 62 minutes ago.
Snob has 8-10 hour longevity and significant sillage.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Le Galion.
The second soliflore from Le Galion is Tubereuse and it was these creations of specific soliflores that inspired perfumer Paul Vacher to branch out on his own. As a perfumer he was drawn to the creative challenge in essentially creating a perfume featuring one singular note. What I have always enjoyed is seeing the different visions every perfumer brings to their version of a fragrance of a single flower. M. Vacher’s vision for Tubereuse is very different than most other tuberose soliflores out there. Tuberose is a floral that is hard to like, for many, and one of the reasons they will cite is that it is too much, too bold, too flowery. In short tuberose is a pushy note. M. Vacher wanted to display a softer side of tuberose and he has made a downy soft version of it in Tubereuse.
M. Vacher, I believe understood that the natural exuberance of tuberose, if turned inward, could create a special effect and so the construction of Tubereuse is all about taking the showy aspects of tuberose and calming them down. The taming of tuberose starts with a fruity foil of raspberry and pear. You might think this would make the tuberose sweeter but it has an effect here of adding a crisp fruity quality more than sweetness. Galbanum and mandarin also provide opposition to the sweeter nature. It takes all of this to keep tuberose from getting out of control and it works surprisingly well. In the current day of fruity florals this exudes a sophistication not often seen within the genre. Tuberose displays its floral charms in the heart but it also has competition from rose and orange blossom to, again, temper the tuberose. The base uses cedar to add a clean woody outline to allow amber and musk the opportunity to welcome tuberose to the finish.
Tubereuse has 8-10 hour longevity and modest sillage, unusually modest for a tuberose fragrance. If you’re looking for an office friendly tuberose this might be the one.
There are three of the nine fragrances in this re-launch of Le Galion which were able to be re-made from M. Vacher’s original recipes, 1947’s Special for Gentlemen is one of them. At this point Le Galion has survived World War 2 and France was beginning its post-war revival as the center of style. M. Vacher has positioned Le Galion as a major perfume player in that. Along with Jean Carles he would create the iconinc Miss Dior also in 1947. For his own line he wanted a gentlemen’s fragrance that also exhibited a savoir faire. I wonder if he envisioned a stylish Parisian couple wearing these two fragrances walking alongside the Seine as he composed Special for Gentlemen. It is definitely a throwback to a time when men wanted a fragrance that was less clean and had some oomph to it.
Special for Gentlemen opens on a duet of lavender and galbanum. I like this combination a lot as galbanum reminds me that lavender has a bitter underpinning lurking underneath the more familiar floralcy. Cinnamon and labdanum hold the central part of the development and as with the tuberose in Tubereuse M. Vacher makes the cinnamon atypically soft. The use of the labdanum is what makes this work as it provides foundation for the cinnamon to push against. The base is castoreum modulated with a bit of vanilla, oak moss, and patchouli. This is the kind of animalic finish masculine fragrances had until the words “Sport” started showing up on bottles. Special for Gentlemen reminds me how much I miss those perfumes and how happy I am that the pendulum might be swinging back a bit.
Special for Gentlemen has 6-8 hours of longevity and moderate sillage. This is for a night out on the town.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Le Galion.
If you remember anything about Le Galion you probably remember Sortilege. Sortilege was the first perfume Paul Vacher created for his brand new Le Galion line in 1936. By this time the use of aldehydes had become de rigeur in perfumery and M. Vacher wanted to create his version of a floral aldehyde as his first fragrance. M. Vacher created three distinct floral layers before his base notes set things into a deep musky foundation. Thomas Fontaine’s challenge in re-formulating was to get that layered effect and to keep the depth in the base while using modern ingredients that could replace the restricted earlier ingredients.
When it comes to the perfumes of this era there is almost a “No.5” like intensity to any aldehydic perfume and the early moments of Sortilege are no different. The aldehydes carry energy and power with which to elevate the floral layers to come. The first layer is muguet, lilac and ylang ylang. Muguet provides a bit of green, lilac a bit of light floral and ylang ylang sweetness. The second layer is provided by jasmine, narcissus and a tiny bit of mimosa. This is indolic white flower territory and it is pure and extensive reaching for the bass notes of the florals. The remaining aldehydes add a bit of St. Elmo’s Fire crackling around the perimeter. The last floral layer is rose and iris and the transition from indolic to pure beautiful rose underpinned by the powdery aspects of the iris is striking and it occurs languidly as the rose seductively pushes its way forward and eventually the trailing iris catches up and adds to the effect. The base leaves all of this floral stuff behind as sandalwood, musk, vetiver, and amber combine into a musky woody finish. M. Fontaine pulls off the musk here especially well as it has the power of the old nitro musks M. Vacher undoubtedly used in 1936 but M. Fontaine cannot use in 2014.
Sortilege has 10-12 hour longevity and prodigious sillage.
M. Vacher followed up Sortilege a year later with his first soliflore Iris. Iris is a deceptively simple construction with much of the pleasure coming from the places where the simplicity of the phases overlap. Iris reminds me of something much more modern and it is hard for me to accept that this was made 77 years ago. If I sniffed this blind I would spend a lot of time naming current perfumers for whom Iris feels like their style. This is also one of the many reasons I like the whole Le Galion line so very much. While these are vintage fragrances made fresh through M. Fontaine’s efforts they feel much more contemporary to me. Iris perhaps is the one which carries this characteristic the most of any of the Le Galion fragrances.
Iris opens up with the iris and it is matched with green mimosa and ambrette seed. The iris used here is very powdery and these notes accentuate that quality. Galbanum adds a green intermezzo before lily and rose return the powdery feel. The base notes are cedar and amber which provide a delineated framework for the iris to take root upon.
Iris has 8-10 hour longevity and modest sillage.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Le Galion.
Editor’s Note: Sortilege has never been out of print in the US because Irma Shorell of Long Lost Perfume has provided her re-formulation of Sortilege for many years and she holds a US Patent for the rights to Sortilege in the US. As such that might mean the Le Galion Sortilege reviewed above may only be available in markets outside the US.