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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Floating Like a Vapor On the Soft Summer Air: La Haie Fleurie du Hameau

Review by Donna

When I think of a white flower fragrance, I usually imagine something radiant and bright, happy and open, and of course sensual and romantic. The perfume named Joy is called that for a good reason, and Fracas is a rollicking and overflowing celebration of cheerful excess. Even the chilly perfection of my beloved Un Lys is more elegant than somber, shining with a cold light yet shining brightly nonetheless. Among such perfumes, A La Nuit is the epitome of this quality – it gives off an exuberant white heat as dazzling as any desert sun. For this reason, I was somewhat unprepared for what I found in another white floral scent, L’Artisan La Haie Fleurie du Hameau.

This exquisite fragrance was created in 1982 by the master perfumer Jean Claude Ellena, and is available as an Eau de Toilette at L’ Artisan boutiques, as well as their web site and a few other online sites, but since it has limited distribution it may not be very familiar to many. All I knew before I tried it that it was supposedly an ode to jasmine, and I will try anything at all that is about jasmine. Even the “cheap” perfumes with lots of jasmine usually appeal to me. (Sand ’N Sable, I am talking to you.) Jasmine almost guarantees that I will at least like a fragrance if not love it outright.

When I first dabbed this on, it was deceptively simple, just a lovely floral blend with an obvious tilt toward jasmine, ladylike and refined, and exactly what I am usually drawn to. Soon the indolic quality of the jasmine emerged, though it was not overwhelming, just a nice backbeat to the other floral notes. I wondered when it would soar into the sunny brightness I have come to expect from this style of perfume – but it never did so. The reason for this soon became apparent, for not only does this have jasmine, it also has generous doses of honeysuckle and narcissus, both of which can have a melancholy aspect, as well as the pleasing surprise of wisteria, queen of all the pea family blossoms, adding a nostalgic haze of sweetness that it is not in the least sugary for all its intensity. This is an ingenious theme; a fragrance with a focus on the romantic twining vines of jasmine, honeysuckle and wisteria, the evening stars of early summer when the evenings are long and the twilights are magical. It could almost be said to be mainly a honeysuckle perfume, so pervasive is that note in this fragrance. The whole gave me an impression of flowers blooming on a rainy night, a wet and somewhat lonely feeling. “La Haie” is French for hedge or hedgerow, and I can imagine traveling in the countryside in the summertime and breathing deeply of the scented air as night falls. Then the rain starts, and it gets a little chilly as damp clothes cling to the skin in the aftermath of the rain shower. It is a relief to see the lights of home appear in the distance.

White flowers are traditional for weddings of course, and they have bedecked many a bridal bower, church pew and garden arbor. Perfumes based on white flowers such as orange blossom are very popular with brides as well, and nothing says gaiety and optimism like a heady floral fragrance on a happy wedding day. However, if I were a bride, I would not choose this one to wear as I walked down the aisle. This is a white floral to be sure, so beautiful as to be heartbreaking, and that is the point; this is a fragrance for the one who waits in bewilderment as the groom fails to show up at the church. It is tinged with a sadness that other white floral scents do not have, a sense of loss that underlies its sweetness. It is a perfume of love letters saved until they are yellow and brittle, of waiting for someone who never comes home, an essence of regret and longing. The bride who wears this perfume has a faded gown that she keeps in vain, having been saved for years in the faint hope of ever being worn outside the bedchamber where she puts it on and looks in her clouded mirror, seeing the hopeful girl she once was superimposed on the reflection of her true appearance as she herself fades away with the years of waiting. The wind has blown the shutters open, allowing the scent of the night blooming vines that climb the walls of the old house to enter. The somber rain sluicing down her windows only intensifies her sadness.

I would like to own this fragrance, but I am almost afraid to have it, and only so it could be worn for the pure enjoyment of its beauty, and not necessarily for wearing out and about in the world. It brings out emotions I did not expect, and it is just a little disturbing because of it, yet that makes it more interesting than many of the bright and cheerful white florals I have known. It has a dark quality that I find to be almost unique among perfumes of this class. When it finally dries down to an earthy oakmoss after many hours, the honeysuckle wistfulness still lingers. It is a scent of great and tender beauty, but I would need to be in a certain mood to wear it. It is not for those times when one already feels vulnerable and emotionally raw, for it is certain to amplify that state of mind. (One aside: if this was made in a Parfum or even an EDP I would be even more inclined to possess it, though I almost don’t want to imagine how much lovelier it could be that way.)

This old song came to mind for some reason when I experienced this fragrance. I have always loved it, but it is undeniably sad:

“I long for Jeanie with the daydawn smile,
Radiant in gladness, warm with winning guile;
I hear her melodies, like joys gone by,
Sighing round my heart o'er the fond hopes that die:
Sighing like the night wind and sobbing like the rain,
Wailing for the lost one that comes not again:
Oh! I long for Jeanie, and my heart bows low,
Never more to find her where the bright waters flow.”

-Stephen Foster, “Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair”, 1854 (excerpt)

From Basenotes, the main notes of this fragrance are as follows: Honeysuckle, Jasmine, Wisteria, Tuberose, Narcissus, Hyacinth, White Lily, Oakmoss and Vanilla.

Image credit: “Ghost” from art site (Google cached)


Blogger tmp00 said...


Wow. Just wow. Beautifully written, evocative; I bow before your epistolary goodness.

I love scents that can do that- and jasmine is only second to lilac for me in notes that can sometimes be wistful and sad, reminding of summers past and of how many summers have past. The inexorable slog into Autumn.

On a happier note my slog into Autumn will include a trip to NYC, and borrowing my friends little roadster for a trip to New England. Sometimes age has perks.

11:46 PM EDT  
Blogger The non-blonde said...

Miss Havisham? Is that you?
I need to try this one, because "normal" white florals either turn on me or just sit there, reminding me that I'm not the right person to wear them. This will show them...

11:51 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Tom, thank you! *Blush*

Lilac does that for me too - when I first tried En Passant I giggled and choked up with tears at the very same time. It was so very lovely.

I envy you your New England trip - I grew up there, and Autumn was by far my best season, especially the first two weeks of October. Have a blast!

11:59 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Gaia - LOL, no, not her, she was just too mean. And she only wore one shoe, every day - a real woman would never do that. ;-)

12:09 AM EDT  
Blogger tmp00 said...


Where? I wonder if we were neighbors?

12:59 AM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Tom, maybe so! I was born in southern Vermont near the town of Brattleboro and grew up just across the state line in New Hampshire. (The closest "large city" was Springfield, Mass.) The fall color usually peaked on Columbus Day weekend - I still get homesick every year at that time. Then around November I remember how the winters were and get over it until lilac and apple blossom season in May, after which time I remember how the summers were. :-)

1:59 AM EDT  
Blogger Colombina (Marina) said...

The passage on love letters and the faded dress...ah! beautiful!

Do you find LHF at all similar to Van Cleef & Arpels First (also Elena's creation)?

8:18 AM EDT  
Blogger marchlion said...

What a lovely, lovely post. I am not a lover of all white flower fragrances, but I am of this one. You have expressed perfectly the attractiveness I'd failed to pinpoint -- it is melancholy rather than relentlessly cheerful. I always have a mental image of wandering too far away from the flowers and into some deeply shaded, magical woods.

And anyone who likes Sand & Sable is a friend of mine!

8:21 AM EDT  
Anonymous Silvia said...

Beautiful review, must go and smell it a.s.a.p. Jean Claude Ellena does have this ability to appear almost conventional and then stun you when you least expect it.

8:27 AM EDT  
Blogger donanicola said...

Donna I cannot thank you enough for reviewing this perfume (and so beautifully!) I stumbled upon it a few months ago and was struck dumb by its beauty. It isn't sold in the 50mls (at least not in the UK) and I baulked at buying 100mls when I knew that however much I loved it I wasn't going to use that much. I'm cured of such silliness after buying 200mls of 31 rue Cambon so this returns to my lemming list with a vengeance. I must admit I hadn't felt its melancholy but maybe I've been in happy (going home!) mood when I've sampled it and not partcularly vulnerable. I love the hedgrow aspect - probably the hay like narcissus. btw, have you read Marcello's post today about a small book written by JCE? Very interesting. The comment someone above made about First makes sense. Thanks again.

9:01 AM EDT  
Blogger donanicola said...

oops sorry - meant to say - Marcello's post on NST.
And "waves" to Silvia!

9:03 AM EDT  
Anonymous Suzanne said...

Donna, I second everything that Tom said about your writing. Wow. This sounds like the kind of scent to have around for those times when I'm in a "melancholy baby" kind of mood. Also, I am a lover of white florals and JCE, so I definitely have to try it.

9:03 AM EDT  
Blogger donanicola said...

Marina it was you who mentioned First! I'm sorry - having a ditzy day!

9:23 AM EDT  
Blogger tmp00 said...


Close- I grew up in Northampton, about 20 minutes up route 91 from Springfield.

I miss Autumn, but don't miss winter at all! We Maple trees on Alden Drive (but oddly, not on Maple) that do the leaf thing in January. That's our winter and I'll take it

11:33 AM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Tom , we went to Northampton ALL the time! Cool!

1:07 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Marina, thank you!

I have not smelled First in a long time but I do recall that it was very airy and elegant. I will have to revisit.

1:09 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

March, you are so kind!

It's always good to find another Sand 'N Sable girl - I may just have to get some more soon!:-)

1:10 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Silvia, thank you, and I agree about JCE - therein lies his genius. :-)

1:12 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Donanicola, thanks so much - I was also "struck dumb" by this one. It is one of a kind.

1:14 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Thank you, Suzanne! It really is one of those that should be on everyone's smell list, regardless of whether they ever wear it.

1:16 PM EDT  
Blogger Ducks said...

That was lovely-- now I'm fascinated, although this sounds so very un-me.

Yes, En Passant has that effect on me too... my mom had a high school sweetheart who brought her lilacs, and her sweetly regretful reminiscences of him have always made lilac a sort of sad fragrance for me. It doesn't hurt that I wore it when I was a "tweenager" and I vividly remember it as a part of my grief when I lost my first dog. Fortunately, it is just awful on my skin-- turns to melted plastic-- so I don't wear it and brood.

1:53 PM EDT  
Blogger Ducks said...

The "it" in question being lilac fragrance, not En Passant. I'm not that young. ;)

1:55 PM EDT  
Anonymous denise l. said...

Intriguing.. a "dark white floral", this may be a white flower I can actually wear! At least, I want to sniff this. Lovely review.

3:44 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Ducks -whew, what a relief that it's NOT En Passant that turns on you! That would really be awful. I know what you mean about other lilac scents though -unless they have something else in them to keep them smelling fresh, they end up smelling like the inside of the vacuum bag or something.

Talisman(Madini) used to have a perfume oil caled Leila - it was nothing but lilac and bergamot, and it was wonderful. The bergamot kept the lilac from "turning." They don't seem to have it any more, but I used to get it for my sister, who loves lilac. If they ever have it again I will have to stock up.

4:03 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Thank you, Denise. Others may not have the same take on this as I did, but I did not find this to be cheerful at all - but of course, that is a great part of its beauty.

4:06 PM EDT  
Blogger elle said...

Lovely post. I bought this one years ago when I was trying to force myself to appreciate white flower scents. Didn't work and I remained sadly prejudiced against it for many years, but I feel I need to give it another chance. Your review definitely predisposes me to find the beauty in it now.

5:06 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Elle, thank you, I hope you rediscover it someday. There are many perfumes I can't wear but I just love to smell them and appreciate their unique qualities as works of art. I can't imagine being averse to white flowers myself, but then I like some things others find impossible.

12:26 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for such pristinely melancholic prose. What a joy to read. And of course I yearn for La Haie.

10:27 AM EDT  
Blogger Eleven European Mystics said...

oh...the words to say it, isn't it? that quality of 'authorship' you make happen in your blogs. I searched the blog because today, the anniversary of my mother's birthday - had she been still alive - I sprayed some Haie Fleurie du Hameau on my wrist, without stating to myself what I was doing to her memory and to my grieving self. Whenever I read the words that seem to fit my perceptions, I feel gratitude. To Ellena, to his creation, to your blog.

11:42 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen !, Indeed beautifully written !
'Poignant' is the word that comes to my mind.

I am Dutch, so excuse my English, but did y'all know that La Haie Fleurie du Hameau actually smells a lot like:

M.A.(Marie Antoinette) Sillage de la Reine ??, a perfume made for The Queen of France by her perfumer Jean Louis Fargeon.

So, there you are, we all know what happened to her (and her loved ones).

M.A. asked one day (a summer day?) Monsieur Fargeon to come and visit her at her beloved Petit Trianon and its gardens. She wanted the smell of the flowers captured in a scent.

This particular recipe still exists.

Bas (Netherlands)

2:37 AM EDT  

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