The Green Goddess: Vacances by Jean Patou (1936) - And a Prize Draw
Vacances was introduced in 1936 by the famous perfume and fashion house of Jean Patou, in celebration of what is now a French and indeed established worldwide tradition – the introduction of paid vacations for workers. It evokes the feeling of a fresh spring morning in the countryside as the windows are opened to the rising sun. This was the Golden Age of French perfume houses, and one of its legendary creative collaborations was between Jean Patou and his great house perfumer Henri Alméras; this fragrance is one of the crown jewels of fine French perfumery. The House of Patou was once more famous for its couture gowns coveted by wealthy society women than it was for its perfumes, but the fragrances long ago eclipsed the fashions; led by the justly iconic Joy (1930). Sadly, Jean Patou died the same year Vacances was released, though the company was carried on by his sister and remained a family enterprise until it was sold to Procter and Gamble in 2001.
Vacances is widely acknowledged by professional perfumers and expert “noses” to be the greatest Green Floral in the history of perfumery. Having tried many others of this style from the finest houses over the years, I must concur. This is a true work of art; and if I had but one perfume to choose to wear for the rest of my life this would be it. (Considering how many perfumes I have tried over the years, and what I currently own, that is high praise indeed.)
It opens with a very sharp, fresh, almost peppery green burst –not black pepper, but rather juicy cut green pepper, as in bell pepper not spice, a quality it gets from a heaping overdose of the plant gum Galbanum-accompanied by the intense freshness of stunningly heady Hyacinth, twiggy/earthy Hawthorn and deeply verdant grass notes. As the opening subsides, something else wonderful happens – the arrival of soft, wispy Mimosa and the most ethereally lovely Lilac imaginable, an eternally fresh Lilac that never fades or becomes musty. This lingers a long time as the fragrance finally dries down to subtle woody notes. The lasting power is excellent, even for the EDT. It is a relatively simple combination of accords, but elegant in its perfection. To me it is not only green but all the colors of the rainbow, the essence of Spring itself.
This is a fragrance of happiness and exuberance, but also of memory and intense longing. It has been known to elicit an unexpected emotional response when experienced for the first time. It was the first perfume that to which I ever had such a strong and visceral reaction that tears came to my eyes and I knew I had found “The One.” For one thing, it reminded me of the great hedge of purple lilacs that grew outside my childhood home. After a rain, the delicious scent would drift through the air, and I would shake the sweet drops that clung to the heavy flower heads onto my face and drink the perfumed water as though it were the nectar of the gods. That, mingled with the aroma of freshly cut grass (we never had a gas mower, so there were no fumes to ruin it), the damp earth and the rising breath of other spring plants as the sun broke through after the rain, is the soul of Vacances.
This fragrance, along with eleven other historical perfumes from the Patou line from the 1920s to the 1950s, was re-released in the 1980s to celebrate the history and success of the Patou house. The gorgeous bottles were all of a similar style but had different color themes and package designs, and each bottle contained a matching silk pocket square. The reintroduced scents, known as Ma Collection and also once available as a coffret of miniature bottles of all twelve perfumes, are sadly now all discontinued again. This is very likely the last bottle I will ever have. Its like will not be seen again. I know I said I would stop reviewing discontinued fragrances, but I must pay tribute to my most beloved perfume before it’s gone forever and only its memory remains to me. All the scents in Ma Collection are very good to great, but to my mind this is far and away the most original and beautiful of them all.
To honor this wonderful perfume, I am offering a sample of the Eau de Toilette. It was the last formulation offered when the scent was reissued; for a glorious time there was also Eau de Parfum, and a Parfum that defined the very idea of Beauty. Now they are all gone, victims of the times and the sale of the Patou company to Procter & Gamble, to my profound horror. Some of Patou’s recent offerings since this happened are nice enough, but nothing approaches their earlier releases, and the last really good ones, in my opinion, were Sublime in 1992 and Patou For Ever in 1998. If the new owners had any sense at all these classic perfumes would be brought back in all their glory along with the rest of the Patou back catalog. (You can still find them online, but bottle collectors have driven the price up to about $400 or more each and I would personally be very wary of eBay or other independent sellers claiming to have unopened bottles for sale, especially at a low price.)
If you want to be entered in the drawing, please say so in the comments, and the winner will be announced the week after this post appears.
Image credits: The beautiful Vacances bottle and box from perfumedistributor.com. Artistic rendition of the Elven Queen Galadriel (as portrayed by Cate Blanchett) from the Lord of the Rings film trilogy from calacirian.org