Beautiful Ghosts: Smelling Blotters from the Osmotheque
Friends are the best. Friends-in-perfume are the best of all. You read Judith's article about her fabulous smelling expedition to Paris yesterday; in it, she mentions the visit to the Osmothèque, which was the excursion I envied the most. To be able to touch or rather inhale perfume history, to smell "disappeared" fragrances has been a dream of mine for a long time. Imagine my amazement and joy when a couple of days ago I received from a marvelous perfume friend two dozen blotters from the Osmothèque, carefully signed with the names of the perfumes the (surprisingly strong!) traces of which they were bearing.
Fath Iris Gris was there and Rosine Le Fruit Défendue and Coty Ambre Antique...I spread the blotters on a table, the aromas fusing into a powerful, poignant blend ...the house was unusually quiet and ... trust me, I am most decidedly not a believer in the supernatural... but I had a strange sensation of the long-gone perfumers standing behind me. To put it in saner terms, I felt myself in the presence of greatness.
I own samples of a couple of the scents, but could never bring myself to review them. How can I possibly do justice to Chypre de Coty? Millot Crêpe de Chine? I am hesitant to smell deeply, let alone analyze Lanvin Scandal in fear of breaking my leather-loving heart. (I live in fear of Lanvin deciding to reissue Scandal. Rumeur, a lovely fragrance when taken on its own merit, had nothing whatsoever to do with the deep and bold original scent. The thought of a politically-corrected Scandal is too unbearable. Lancôme is about to release the new Cuir, and I am apprehensive, to put it mildly.)
The blotter with Chypre de Coty (1917) in one hand, the sample vial in the other, I inhaled. Dark, honeyed, slightly bitter rose accord was slowly transforming into subtly-indolic jasmine, the base (and the aroma of the blotter) had subtle earthiness and elegant animalic-ness. I liked the other legendary chypre, Crêpe de Chine (1925), perhaps even more, as it was spicier, more aromatic, and had an earthier, darker base. (By the way, in Classification des Parfums et Terminologie, Société Française des Parfumeurs attributes the creation of Crêpe de Chine to none other than Jean Desprez, he who gave us Bal a Versailles). The luxurious and dirty leather of Scandal (1933) was nothing short of divine...or perhaps it is more fitting to say that it was diabolically gorgeous. The top notes of the scent from my sample smelled sweet and musky and a little obscene in an indescribable and very alluring way. The orrisy heart was languid and slightly powdery. Testifying of the strength and long-lasting nature of the fragrance, the blotter smelled amazingly strong, as if freshly sprayed- of tarry, dry, almost a little incensey, pitch-black leather in the base of the composition.
While the samples gave the illusion of reality to the three perfumes described above, the others were truly the ghosts. And what heartbreakingly beautiful ghosts they were...Fath Iris Gris (1947), the scent I longed to smell the most, was ...ah! unbelievably beautiful. Imagine a more "substantial", less "ethereal", warmer and somewhat woodier Iris Silver Mist with an almost fruity note added...and that would give you a very vague idea of the heavenly aroma of the blotter...
Coty Ambre Antique (1905) left on the blotter a tantalizing trace of slightly fruity, milky amberiness. The honeyed, dark-red roses of La Rose Jacqueminot (1904) made me understand like never before why, after Coty intentionally broke the bottle of this fragrance in Grands Magasins du Louvre, the world has gone crazy about his perfumes.
Rosine Le Fruit Défendu (1914) was true to its name, exactly as I would imagine a mythical forbidden fruit to smell like: an indolent, creamy, sinfully sweet aroma of nectarous, over-ripe fruits (apples? plums? maybe even bananas?) enriched further by a buttery floral accord (ylang-ylang? tuberose?) with an almost coconutty undertone. The fragrance evoked an aroma of fruits and flowers so ripe, they are starting to decay, reminding us of Thanatos, which is forever inseparable from Eros. Le Fruit Défendu was perhaps the most unusual and intriguing of the Ghosts and, along with Iris Gris, the one that I would have most loved to own and wear. A girl can dream!
Image sources: the top image is mine, the rest are from osmotehque.fr.