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.