Reflections on "Haute Couture" in Perfume and a Review: Querelle by Parfumerie Generale
There was recently a discussion in the comments to one of the posts whether the term haute couture can be applied to perfume, and if so, how. What haute couture means to me is Fashion as Art, and if we agree that perfume is or in certain instances can be Art as well, then the use of the term haute couture, or rather haute parfumerie, is fitting and justified. Haute Couture creations are expressions of designer’s creativity (almost completely) unrestrained by considerations of wearability and useability in every day life. Very expensive (only the best materials, handmade, etc.), very original, sometimes strange, at times downright bizarre- this is haute couture. Haute couture is where the trends originate in their purest, unrepressed, original form. From there they will be translated into daily fashion, adopted to contemporary lifestyle, tamed and made wearable. An example of a haute couture perfume (and actually produced by a very haute couture designer) that started a trend and launched thousands smell-alikes? Angel! We are so used to it now, perhaps it doesn’t strike us as exceptionally remarkable anymore, but when it was first created, it was truly groundbreaking.
A fashion or perfume creation does not have to be odd to be considered haute couture. Originality is not always synonimous with strangeness, often it lies in absolute perfection, harmony and classicism of the lines (or the notes). Older Chanels are haute couture, as are the classic Diors, Guerlains and Carons. They have depth, they are built on unique ideas, they are unlike anything else, but I would not call them bizarre. Other creations achieve that haute couture quality by being utterly strange. Comme des Garcons fashions and perfumes are a perfect example. I feel that here, in the land of quirky, weird and outlandish, perfumes walk a particularly fine line between being bizarre yet full of meaning and soul and just being bizarre for the sake of setting themselves apart from everyone else. As with everything else, judging the one from the other is a very subjective matter. What is soulless, meaningless and pretentious for me, would touch another’s heart. Having said that, a couple of Comme des Garcons creations, for instance Guerilla No 1, had, to me, that shallow feeling of “we are Comme des Garcons and we must be weird no matter what”. There are also some perfume makers that attempt to achieve originality taking a shortcut through the route of not simply strange, but downright Shocking. If it is sordid, obscene and outrageous, it must be unique, think they (I am looking at you, Etat Libre d’Orange).
Beloved classical haute couture perfumes like Chanels and Diors aside, my favorite type of a haute couture fragrance is the one that successfully combines the bizarre with the beautiful, the one where strange, unappealing notes are functional and not just there for the shock value. Many Serge Lutens creations are there on the mount Olympus of Couture. The new kids on the block, Parfumerie Generale, have, in my opinion, also already proved themselves able to infuse their fragrances with strangness in a way that does not push them over the edge into the territory of superficial and affected.
And that –finally!- brings me to today’s perfume, Querelle. Inspired by Jean Genet’s book of the same name (and, I can only assume, by Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s film as well), Querelle is, to me, most definitely a haute couture scent. It is strange and beautiful (ugly-beautiful would be a better word, perhaps), eccentric and refined. With notes of citruses, black caraway (aka black cumin), myrrh, cinnamon, vetiver, incense, oakmoss, and ambergris, the perfume is a picture of a bleak, deccicated landscape, right out of some violent and surreal dream. It speaks to me about dust, roots, the color grey, the cruelty and the utter loneliness. The beginning is darkly-spicy and a little earthy. From the middle stage forward I start to smell quite a bit of myrrh and I think that it is the one note that brings all the striking ingredients together, softens and sweetens them a little; it is the note that adds “beautiful” to the “strange” and thus elevates the composition to the level of couture. The drydown should delight the fellow vetiver lovers. Combined with incense and moss, vetiver here smells deep and intoxicating, a brutal, witchy, bitter smell, erotic and evil.
Querelle is sold at Luckyscent, $80.00 for 50ml. It also available at Parfumerie Generale online boutique, where Querelle can be found in regular and higher concentration.
The images of Thierry Mugler and Christian Dior designs are from operagloves.com.