Those who have followed me over the years know there is a special section in the Dead Letter Office for the perfumes of Jean Patou. Much of their reputation rests on the creations of perfumer Henri Almeras from 1925-1946. The only remaining evidence of the glorious history of the brand is the evergreen best-seller Joy. This is not to say there haven’t been numerous attempts to bring the brand back to life. Perfumer Jean-Michel Duriez oversaw one of the more confusing transitions through the turn of the century. Most recently perfumer Thomas Fontaine has been re-formulating the original collection the best that he can with modern substitutions. In between there was another short creative spurt overseen by perfumer Jean Kerleo from 1972-1995.
M. Kerleo’s tenure has provided one of those rarest of unicorn fragrances, Patou pour Homme, in 1980. It lives up to every bit of the hype. Lost within this group of Patou perfumes done by M. Kerleo is one I admire just as much; Ma Liberte.
Throughout this time M. Kerleo seemed to enjoy using lavender as a keynote. It would show up in both Patou pour Homme and Patou pour Homme Prive as well as Voyageur. Ma Liberte was another example of the flexibility of lavender in the hands of an artist.
In the beginning of Ma Liberte M. Kerleo chooses to contrast the lavender with tart citrus which is ameliorated with the lighter nature of heliotrope. Jasmine will become the note in the heart which picks up the lavender and allows it to flower more fully. Then the other hall mark of M. Kerleo’s time at Patou is his use of spices. He swirls in cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove to create this swirling warm shimmer covering the florals. It leads to a rich cedar and sandalwood base.
Ma Liberte has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.
If there is a question which has perplexed me; it is how the Jean Patou collection never caught on beyond Joy. I’ve never seen a reliable explanation on why they never were commercially successful but that is the reason they populate my favorite corner of the Dead Letter Office.
For those of you who look at the prices for Patou pour Homme and Patou pour Homme Prive on the auction sites and just groan at the prices you are who this version of this column is for. Ma Liberte is as good as either of those and it can be found on the same auction sites for much, much, less. If you have given up on obtaining the Patou pour Hommes give Ma Liberte a try.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
The world of movies and television is full of what are called reboots where a beloved older property is given a fresh interpretation by a new set of creative minds. An excellent example of this is the television series of the 60’s Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry and the fantastic re-imagining of that universe in 2009 by J.J. Abrams and the movie version of Star Trek. Both retain the essential soul of the creation but each set of artists imparts their own sense of style to things. Particularly over the past few years the perfume world has seen a number of cherished “out of print” vintage fragrances get a modern reboot. Sometimes the results are similar to the Star Trek experience where both retain the essential soul but differ in fascinating ways. Other times one is clearly better than the other and not always in the original’s favor. In this series I am going to examine both the original (boot) and the reformulated version (reboot) and give you my opinion on both of them.
Of all the purely masculine marketed fragrances to have ever been released 1980’s Patou pour Homme by the perfumer Jean Kerleo is one of those Holy Grail type fragrances. When the discussion of what the best masculine fragrances ever created are I have never not seen Patou pour Homme not make the short list of contenders and is often the winner of many of these olfactory beauty contests. It has created a hunger for the vintage bottles which show up on auction sites and estate sales with bottles fetching between $500-1000 regularly. For me personally it is not just Patou pour Homme but the entire output of Jean Patou which is priceless and they are the most prized parts of my perfume collection as I think they are the very pinnacle of what perfume can be. Patou pour Homme is just one of those which sits very high in my personal esteem.
Over the past fifteen years I have watched as numerous business entities have taken a run at reviving the house and reformulating these classic fragrances. All throughout the process I was simultaneously rooting for its success and fearing the worst. Finally in 2013 Jean Patou was bought from Proctor & Gamble by a British firm Designer Parfums, Ltd. They hired perfumer Thomas Fontaine to oversee the resurrection of these perfumes. In the second half of 2013 they released their first three recreations, Chaldee, Eau de Patou, and Patou pour Homme.
Patou pour Homme 1980 was groundbreaking for its day as Jean Kerleo used a mix of pepper, lavender, clary sage and tarragon to create a shimmering heat at the beginning. Patchouli, cedar, and vetiver took the traditional triptych of men’s fragrances and moved it up the pyramid into the heart. The finish was a lavish amount of oakmoss, labdanum, and sandalwood. The synergies and interplay has always made this one of the most fascinating fragrances that I have ever worn and M. Kerleo’s skill at keeping this as kinetic as a kaleidoscope is not to be underestimated. This is a fragrance which lives up to its hype.
Patou pour Homme 2013 has a couple of difficulties for M. Fontaine right from the start. First he has to comply with IFRA restrictions and so the oakmoss is out. The shimmering heat effect also was going to be difficult to replicate. M. Fontaine consulted with M. Kerleo and worked from the original recipe as he composed this modern version. The top notes are much brighter as bergamot and lemon partner the tarragon and galbanum is added to the top notes to try and create that shimmery effect. The effect it gives is a deeper richer citrus accord but the stunning piquancy of the original is gone. Instead of having a two-step of very intense notes M. Fontaine crafts an intermezzo of jasmine, violet, and rose which partner the top notes quite pleasantly. The base is clearly a bit of inspired perfumery as since he can’t use oakmoss he goes for a raw leather accord, olibanum, patchouli, and ambergris. While it misses that “je ne sais quois” of the original it really works at the end of the brighter less extreme lead up of this modern version.
I think it is obvious that the winner of this battle is the original Patou pour Homme but that really is unfair to the newer version. M. Kerleo had a fuller palette to work with than M. Fonatine did and he used that to his advantage. The fragrance that M. Fontaine has created is very good and maybe the real disservice is calling it Patou pour Homme. If it was named Patou pour Homme II I think many would think it was much better than they are going to with it having the same name. If you have never tried the original, the new Patou pour Homme is very good without being compared to one of the great perfumes of the last 35 years. If you’re looking for that experience you’ll still need to haunt the internet and auctions to get your fix.
In this case I would say Boot is the winner but the Reboot deserves its own amount of attention because M. Fontaine has made me believe he is the right person to oversee this revival of Jean Patou.
Disclosure: Thie review was based on a bottle of Patou pour Homme (1980) that I purchased and a sample of Patou pour Homme (2013) I received from Aus Liebe zum Duft.