Le Parfum de Therese by Frederic Malle
If a perfume could have a face, Le Parfum de Thérèse’s would be one of those non-conforming faces described by Adorno and Horkheimer, faces that, like Greta Garbo's, do not look as if you could say "Hello sister!'' to them. Le Parfum de Thérèse was created in the early 1950s by Edmond Roudnitska for his wife Thérèse, who at that time was the only person allowed to wear it; in my mind, Le Parfum de Thérèse is associated with Greta Garbo. This perfume has Garbo’s husky voice, perfect bone structure and mesmerizing, impenetrable eyes.
I file it, along with Chanel’s Bois des Iles and Guerlain’s Chamade, under the category of "Golden Perfumes”, because the image of shimmering warm gold is the one they evoke in my adoring mind. Le Parfum de Thérèse is vivid, but it is still an intimate perfume; to borrow Luca Turin’s phrase, it is full of shadowy recesses, as if illuminated by a candle (“Des parfums intimes, pleins de recoins sombres, comme éclairés à la bougie,“ from Le Guide). I would have never thought that a fragrance containing melon and jasmine could work so well on my skin, but it does; the blend is so smooth, not a single note stands out as too loud, yet the perfume keeps developing, changing from the darkly ripe fruity beginning to lovely understated green jasmine, to stunning rose, to the elegant woody- leathery drydown.
“The face of Garbo is an idea”, said Roland Barthes. Le Parfum de Thérèse is Edmond Roudnitska’s concept of olfactory beauty, incandescent, ever-changing composition that is both soulful and awe-inspiring.
Le Parfum de Thérèse is available from Editions de Parfum or from Barneys, $160.00 for 3,4oz.