That Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi. The French-iest Perfumes
Writing the post about my favorite American scents made my mind wonder in the direction of yet another sweeping generalization. I realize that it is absolutely impossible to definitively describe French perfumery, the field is so large and so diverse, and perfumery as such is so closely associated in our minds (OK, in my mind) with France that the adjective, "French", next to "perfume" is almost redundant, much like "Italian" next to "pizza" or "American" next to "baseball". So what I want to talk about in this post is not French perfumes in general but the perfumes that evoke in my imagination a generalized image of the French women I admire: Francoise Sagan, Brigitte Bardot, Coco Chanel, Catherine Deneuve, Patricia Kaas, Carine Roitfeld, Emmanuelle Beart, Jeanne Moreau, to name just a few. And yes, they are all very different, but there is a certain something, that legendary je ne sais quoi that unites them. It is hard to describe what that something is ... effortless elegance, confidence, irreverence, an élan, a kittenish, sexy quality would describe parts but by no means the whole of the appeal. It is just ... at this point one makes a vague gesture and sighs...just that something that they have and I want to have. Taken in that context, "Frenchness" is an aspirational quality for me. Don't get me wrong, I am happy and proud to be Russian, but I like perfumes which can make me feel a little bit French. And such perfumes are the topic of this post.
So which perfumes to me are "the French-iest"? The classic, grand style of most Guerlains and Carons is undoubtedly French but I personally find that Chanel, with its pared-down elegance, is more French still. Choosing between Chanel scents, one is practically pre-conditioned to proclaim Chanel No 5 to be the most French of all, but it seems to me to be too ubiquitous and "universal" at this point to actually feel particularly French. I think that Cristalle, Chanel No 19 and above all, Chanel No 22 are especially chic, refined, and nonchalantly French.
Aldehydic fragrances in general, with their polished aura and exquisite liveliness, seem to me to be very French. Together with the marvelously warm aldehyde wonder that is Chanel No 22, Malle's Iris Poudre and L’âme Sœur by Divine more or less embody the "French-ness" for me.
The almost Severine-like (Catherine Deneuve, in Belle du Jour) duality of scents like Tubereuse Criminelle and Diorama, that irresistible, tantalizing combination of elegant, cold aloofness and lustful, practically depraved sensuality is to me French.
Coming back to Guerlain, as far as my vision of French-ness is concerned, the poignantly sharp, sublimely complex Chamade, the scent the astounding sensuality of which is inferred rather than obvious, is the French-iest Guerlain creation. It might be of course that I am influenced by the fact that the fragrance was inspired by La Chamade, a novel by one of my most favorite French writers and a French woman extraordinnaire, Francoise Sagan, but the perfume does suggest to me the sensitive and austere style of writing and the excessive hedonism of Sagan herself, and that makes Chamade very French indeed.
Perfumes that are overtly glamorous, "dressed up", opulent and rich to the point of being creamy are also very French. This is the French-ness of Marie-Antoinette's over-indulgence, of the fantastic extravagance of haute couture...Parfums de Nicolai Sacrebleu, many Patou scents, from Joy to Adieu Sagesse to Que Sais-Je, practicaly all Balenciagas, a lot of Carons, Yves Saint-Laurent's Paris and Champagne/Yvresse, Divine by Divine, Piguet Fracas, Parfumerie Generale Bois de Copaiba, and, funnily enough, the Omani Amouage Gold and the American Amoureuse (both, however, created by French perfumers) are among such perfumes.
And last but most certainly not least, scents that possess a kittenish, coquettish, playful, pouty, pinup-ish, Brigitte-Bardot-like quality are most definitely very French. The prime examples would be the unapologetically feminine, joyful and coy Lipstick Rose by Frederic Malle and Fifi Chachnil, which hides a husky, sophisticated sensuality under a deceptively girly exterior.
Which scents, to you, are the most French? Please share!
Image sources, okadi.com, wc.pdx.edu, imdb.com, arcadepub.com, allposters.com