Just give him the oh-la-la... Frederic Malle French Lover
Review by Denyse Beaulieu (Carmencanada). This week, Denyse's new book, Sex Game Book: A Cultural History of Sexuality, is coming out in France and the United States. To read more about it, please visit assoulineusa.com. French readers, please go to assoulinefrance.com.
His dark, brooding looks. His slightly scruffy, might-have-tumbled-out-of-bed chic. His argumentative intellectualism. His consummate mastery of the art of the “cinq-à-sept”, the late afternoon assignation for a “sieste crapuleuse” (the English translation, “dirty siesta”, doesn’t quite convey its charm)… There’s nothing like a French lover – take it from a girl who’s spent the last twenty misspent years of her life in Paris, and sampled an extensive number of nationalities from several continents.
Even in a professional context, a French man will never let you forget you’re a woman, and he fully expects the courtesy to be reciprocated. Somehow this seldom slides into the discomfort zone: the French language allows considerable finesse in the seduction game.
It is to this subtle subtext of erotic tension that Frédéric Malle’s new scent, French Lover, pays tribute. Pierre Bourdon’s extra-dry, aromatic chypre, touted as “the ultimate man fragrance”, never quite forgets its virility, without ever straying into macho after-shave territory. Which isn’t to say it can’t be pulled off by a woman. But from the first, warm burst of pimento and clove notes, this just says “man”.
Its inspiration is meant to be the archetypal Gallic seducer portrayed by the French 60s actor Maurice Ronet, seen in the classic film noir Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (known as Elevator to the Scaffold or Frantic in the USA), directed by Frédéric Malle’s own uncle, Louis Malle, in 1958, to a chic score by Miles Davis. The name itself, which has already drawn a fair amount of flak, was reportedly uttered by an American woman friend of Frédéric Malle’s, when she smelled a try-out formula: “Oh. French Lover.” Take it with a smile, a grain of salt and, as Cole Porter would say, “just give him the oh-la-la”…
Despite its having been initially conceived as an amped-up version of Jean-Claude Ellena’s slightly melancholy Angéliques sous la pluie — the delicate nature of the scent, says Malle, couldn’t withstand such treatment — French Lover’s angelica note isn’t prominent; its marriage to incense doesn’t recall Creed’s sexually ambiguous Angélique Encens (1933). Unlike other classic masculine chypres, such as Chanel pour Monsieur (1955), with its neroli opening, and Guerlain Derby (1985) with its floral, carnation-laden heart, French Lover is totally devoid of floral notes: even its iris, which Pierre Bourdon treated masterfully in Iris Poudre, hasn’t got a speck of powder. The pimento-incense accord, infused with a touch of tobacco, pervades the scent from start to finish: on the spray card, it’s still going strong after 48 hours. Galbanum, vetiver and tree moss lend a green, earthy undercurrent; after several hours’ wear, the drydown settles into a slightly ambery, still peppery skin scent that would lend itself better to feminine wear…
Though the Frédéric Malle website lists musks in the notes, Osmoz lists several ambergris substitutes such as trimofix, ambroxan and karanal. Googling « karanal », one learns that it is either “the epitome of power on Gaeleth” or a synthetic amber: Luca Turin likens it to Saint-Elmo’s fire, “the smell of high tension”. Trimofix, according to our fellow blogger Mimi Froufrou from The Scented Salamander, is an “amber woody note with vetiver and smoky tobacco nuances”. Ambroxan is yet another ambergris substitute with overtones of labdanum, wet paper and cedar. Blended cedar wood and patchouli, also listed as notes, lend their dark-brown depth to the base, yet somehow never conjure an oriental composition.
Though this is indeed the scent of a man, I would consider wearing French Lover in searing heat – fighting fire with fire, as it were, with the hot pimento and the fierce dryness of vetiver.
I would also consider carrying a bit off the skin of the eponymous French lover after a tussle… Did I say fighting fire with fire?
Image: Maurice Ronet, from festival-larochelle.org