I sometimes am completely confused at the timing of certain perfume releases. Most of the time the new fragrances I receive are for the current season or the one adjacent to it. Less frequently I get one that is going to be perfect six or nine months from when I received it. Which makes reviewing it a bit challenging. Finding a day which at least resembles the normal temperature of that future season in the current season is one. Another is the thought that writing about something for the autumn before Memorial Day seems like it will be forgotten by the time it is right to wear it. Unfortunately, Lubin Epidor has decided to provide that kind of challenge.
Lubin Epidor is based on a previous version from the brand in its early days in 1912. Perfumer Thomas Fontaine was again tapped to perform another act of perfume restoration. If you think I’m kidding about this being a harvest scent here is the copy from the website: “The ripe wheat swayed yesterday in the summer breeze. The blond sheaves now lie scattered on the ground and the laborers have filled their jute sacks with the golden grain. The village girls lay down their sickles, and in a shady copse, quench their thirst in the stream. They’ll dance tonight to celebrate harvest’s end. A peddler came by yesterday, and now, their skin is fragrant with orange blossom, mingling with jasmine and violet. Their rough smocks have a musky scent, and notes of fresh-cut hay and frangipane tart swirl in the air. While darkness descends upon the fields, they close their eyes for a moment, giving way to their dreams.” If I needed more there are animated wheat pinwheels. I caught a bit of a break as we had some unusually cool weather recently and I jumped on the opportunity to give Epidor a test run. What I found was a rich hay and orange blossom perfume.
Epidor opens on one of my favorite fruity floral combinations, violet and plum. M. Fontaine also adds a bit of musk in the early going. The sweat of the field workers perhaps? It is a body musk and not the cleaner laundry musks. It supplements the richness of the violet and plum setting the stage for the focal points in the heart to arrive. First orange blossom joins the violet and plum until jasmine moves the orange blossom more firmly into the foreground. Then tonka bean and its natural source of coumarin is enhanced by even more coumarin to really accentuate the hay nature of the tonka. This mixture of the sweet dried grass and orange blossom is gorgeous I found this part of Epidor to be enchanting. Vanilla is the base note over a few woods. The vanilla serves to tease out the sweet but M. Fontaine keeps it at the appropriate pitch so that it doesn’t harm the balance previously attained.
Epidor has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Epidor is a wonderful autumn fragrance redolent of the wheat harvest and orange blossom. I will be returning to it in six months.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample provided by Lubin.
Every era has their movers and shakers. In the current time they can be internet moguls as well as the more traditional business kind of mogul. Also in 2016 the corridors of power are less defined. Back in the 1880’s not only were those corridors well known the members were a select confederation of men. Lubin Paris has been a brand which has explored, through fragrance, different European historical figures and times. With their latest release, Upper Ten, it is the American experience being interpreted.
Upper Ten comes from American Nathaniel Parker Willis who in 1850 described those men who were the visionaries and bullies as America began to exert more influence as “the ten thousand who matter”. President and Creative director of Lubin Gilles Thevenin wanted a perfume which captured the wood paneled parlors where those “who matter” met to divide up the opportunities. He enlists perfumer Thomas Fontaine to bring this to life. What Upper Ten really does well is to settle into a nice leather wing chair surrounded by polished woods.
Upper Ten has a very beautiful but maddeningly fleeting top accord. M. Fontaine uses bergamot, saffron, juniper berry, cardamom, and baie rose. It is a lovely opening but it comes and goes so fast it doesn’t have the chance to make an impact. It is a shame because I really liked the energetic way those notes all came together and could’ve done with a little more time with them. Geranium and leather form the core of the heart notes. This begins to assemble the lair of the men of influence. M. Fontaine imparts a softness to the leather by a judicious use of peach to blur the sharper framing leaving something more refined. That leaves the woods to arrive with gusto as cedar and sandalwood become the overwhelming accord for most of Upper Ten. These do have a sharp separation between the strong lines of cedar juxtaposed against the more arid features of sandalwood. The woods in Upper Ten are extremely desiccated and are only modulated ever so slightly by a bit of patchouli and white musk.
Upper Ten has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
Upper Ten is mostly a very dry woody perfume. Everything that comes before develops rapidly until you are left with the woods. I think the unforgiving nature of these dry woods will only be enjoyable for those who really like cedar and sandalwood. One day I was happy to be smelling it into the evening. The other time it was borderline irritating because of the almost unforgiving relentlessness of the woods. I liked it but it something I will only wear when I am in the mood for woods or getting my Vanderbilt on.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I purchased.
As I head to New York City for Comic-Con there is something I am very much not looking forward to; dodging the obstacle course of selfie sticks. In the last year the habit of taking your own picture with your smartphone, called a selfie, has exploded. Previously it was smaller in scale now the narcissistic desire to take a picture of one’s self anywhere they happen to be is out of control. Like many things it is something which will get much worse before it gets better. With that preface about what the grumpy curmudgeon who writes this blog thinks you probably have some idea of where my mind was at when I heard the newest release from one of my favorite brands, Olfactive Studio, was called Selfie.
Ever since its inception in 2011 I have been a huge fan of owner and creative director Celine Verleure’s method of using a striking photograph as the brief for her perfumer to design a fragrance. It has been so successful with me that no matter which one of Olfactive Studio releases I wear I see that picture in my mind’s eye when I spray it on. So what was the photographic inspiration for Selfie going to be? The answer is instead of a photograph on the label there is a reflective surface which you can see yourself in. Mme Verleure is exploring the commonality between taking a picture of yourself and wearing perfume. Are not both of these ways of drawing attention to yourself? Or are they ways of sharing an experience in a larger virtual community? Not sure any of these have simple answers, or answers at all but for the first time an Olfactive Studio perfume is sort of unmoored from the visual and attached to the philosophical.
The perfumer she is collaborating with, Thomas Fontaine, has been so diligently involved in resurrecting heritage brands that he perhaps relished an opportunity to give us a perfume selfie of himself. I think that is one of the advantages of working with Mme Verleure that there are no preconceived notions of what an Olfactive Studio perfume smells like. It has led to one of the more diverse brands currently on the market. Selfie continues that.
Selfie opens with a right on the edge of chaotic mix of notes. Ginger and anise first make their presence known then angelica, incense, and elemi all try to crowd into the frame. There are moments early on that it seems like there are too many notes in this selfie. It takes a little while for them to all find the right spot so the entire group can be captured and appreciated. Once it comes together it does make me break into a smile but the very early moments are fragmented. The heart has no such problems as M. Fontaine uses a maple syrup accord as a sticky matrix for three diverse notes to blend in to. Cinnamon, lily and cabreuva wood are the choices. The cinnamon adds a bit of zippiness. The lily adds a bit of green floralcy. The cabreuva reminds me of the smell of Brazil nuts sort of woody and sort of nutty. All trapped in the maple syrup accord, which adds a significant sweetness, this comes together like a bunch of disparate friends meeting up after years apart but feeling like they have never been apart. The final phase of Selfie is a portrait of two accords; suede leather and chypre accord. When I saw this mentioned I was concerned this would be a return to the frenetic early moments. Instead this is a partnership of equals which forms a leathery chypre foundation. After everything which has come before ending on a base of strong accords is the best partnership of all.
Selfie has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
As I’ve worn Selfie over the past few days I will admit I am not narcissistic enough to see a picture of me when I wear it. What it does bring to mind is a perfume with a strong sense of self which almost asks those around to “look at me!” In the final reckoning maybe Mme Verleure has it correct as taking a selfie and wearing Selfie are both acts meant to draw attention. In which case I’ll take my attention getting in perfume form, happily.
Disclosure; this review was based on a sample provided by Olfactive Studio at Pitti Fragranze 2015.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It is exciting to be in a place where you can feel an organic groundswell of approval begin to form. When I attended Esxence in March of 2014 I watched this happen. Esxence is one of the largest perfume expositions in the world and their well curated exhibitors show off the best of niche perfumery. As such it attracts a pretty knowledgeable crowd and as you meet people the most common question you ask is, “Smelled anything good?” Everyone usually has a different answer but when you start hearing the same answer from a number of people you might want to make sure to check it out. This year the answer to that question was almost overwhelmingly, “Have you tried Le Galion yet?” I met Roja Dove in the lobby of our hotel on the morning of day two and this was the exchange we had. I had already heard enough the previous day and so set out to visit the booth.
When I arrived Nicolas Chabot greeted me and told me the story of the line. In 1936 perfumer Paul Vacher purchased Le Galion so he could produce his own fragrances. M. Vacher was most known for his Lanvin fragrances that he co-created with Andre Fraysse; Scandal and Arpege. He would work for other houses as he continued to expand Le Galion, most notably working with Jean Carles to create Miss Dior in 1947. M. Vacher would guide Le Galion through the post-war world and continue to make perfume for Le Galion until his death in 1975. The brand was sold in 1980 and was mismanaged into oblivion; another classic line of perfume lost, or so it seemed.
M. Chabot acquired the brand and began the work of resurrecting it. One bit of good fortune was unearthing M. Vacher’s original notebooks containing the recipes for all of the perfumes he created for Le Galion. Obviously one of the challenges for bringing back to life perfume that was created originally in the early 20th century is the sourcing of some of the raw materials and the restrictions don’t allow for the ability to just use the same ingredients. M. Chabot had to turn to a current perfumer to help with those and he chose Thomas Fontaine. M. Fomtaine is currently taking on the monumental task of re-formulating the classic Jean Patou collection and his early efforts there have made me hopeful. After experiencing the six fragrances he worked on for Le Galion I am now more than hopeful as M. Fontaine has done a fantastic job for Le Galion. There are three of the new Le Galion that didn’t need any re-working as their raw materials were still able to be used. The real proof of how well M. Fontaine did is I wasn’t able to pick out the three “untouched” ones as being different from the rest of the collection.
As I wrote in my wrap-up of Esxence when I named my top 10 fragrances from the whole exhibition I could have just listed these nine and added one more and been done. The Le Galion collection might be the best Nouveau Retro collection to be released so far. I have spent the last two months getting to know these fragrances and want to share that. So for the next week I am going to give extensive reviews on all nine perfumes in the “new” Le Galion line.
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.