More than twenty years ago I discovered a perfume that I really loved, though I never did buy a bottle of it; maybe I thought it was out of my league. It was called Odalisque, and it was made by American fashion & jewelry designer Nettie Rosenstein, who is often given credit for inventing the concept of the “little black dress” which is now a fashion staple for stylish women everywhere. I was new to fine fragrances at that time, and Odalisque had a quality that I had never encountered before; it smelled like money. By this I mean it smelled like wealth, like what I had always imagined people who had real, serious money would smell like. (After all, everyone knows the rich are different.) Something about its restrained elegance exuded the aura of privilege. Ms. Rosenstein was a very smart woman so I am sure she knew that this fragrance would give the wearer a certain confidence, a feeling of knowing her place in the world without question. If I closed my eyes I could see the woman whose signature scent this would be – she was a society matron wearing handmade shoes and a perfectly cut Forties-style suit of the finest quality material, and a little hat with a veil. She never had to worry about where next month’s rent was going to come from. Odalisque can still be found if you look hard enough for it, and have the means to pay for a vintage bottle, as it has long been discontinued. (Not to be confused with the 1989 scent of the same name from Parfums de Nicolai, they are unrelated.)
Fast-forward to 2008, and I have discovered another fragrance that makes me feel the same way, though it is very different in character. Sabi is by another jewelry designer, Henry Dunay (his own brother, Richard Loniewski, is actually the “nose” who created it in 1998), and it is a wonderfully cool yet buoyant green floral, or floral chypre, depending on whom you ask, but with none of the astringent quality one could expect from that style of scent. Putting it on my skin for the first time, I felt as though I were getting ready to go to the opera or some other special occasion both festive and formal. I kept looking around for the ladies in ball gowns and the gentlemen in dinner jacket and the limousines whose doors would close soundlessly behind them. Mostly I wondered where all the rich people were, because it sure did make the place smell expensive all of a sudden.
This perfume contains what the ad copy calls “a blend of 250 captivating oils”, an impressive number indeed, although anything resembling the full list of notes has never been revealed as far as I know. There are some obvious ones; jasmine, rose, ylang ylang, hyacinth, lily of the valley, narcissus, white lily and galbanum. I get just a whisper of oakmoss and I would not be surprised to learn that it has stephanotis too, though it is not in the least a soapy scent. Sabi goes on rather chilly and ethereal at first, which is fine with me, but after it has been on the skin for a short time it softens and rounds somewhat, with the rose coming out a little more and some barely-there hidden spiciness emerging as well. I would say it has an almost haunting quality, as the elusive notes weave in and out of the threshold of detection, teasing the wearer and inviting yet another application of the nose to the arm to figure out just what is being smelled. Throughout the development of the scent, a sleek and penetrating greenness prevails, though it is never harsh or sharp, it just reins in the sweetness of the ylang ylang and the jasmine and keeps it from becoming overly heady. Lasting power is excellent for this style of scent and the sillage is exquisite. (It reminds me a little of the lovely Molinard de Molinard, but less herbal/green than that perfume, which is an unusual fragrance that has a “wet” and slippery quality to it while also being somewhat astringent.)
Green florals are my first loves of the perfume world, and although I now have great appreciation for many other styles, I tend to hold these to a higher standard - I really have to fall in love. I have to say that this has indeed happened with Sabi. It is exquisitely tender and feminine yet never fluffy or sweet. It is seamlessly elegant, yet it can hold its own at the most glittering party (a quality I have yet to test, actually) or corporate boardroom, or even a wedding – I think it is an ideal perfume for a bride whose style is simple and classic rather than fussy and overdone. As sophisticated as it is, it is by no means austere like some green scents, and it is neither dusty nor powdery. It is not a “sporty” green either, for those who might shy away from that label, though it is superb in hot weather, one of the best summer scents I have ever worn.
Sabi is available at Neiman-Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, both in-store and online, and at selected finer perfume boutiques. It comes in Parfum, Eau de Parfum, body lotion and body wash. Despite its being produced by a company that caters almost exclusively to very wealthy people, it is reasonably priced for its quality, topping out at $225 for the .68 ounce Parfum, and the same size of Eau de Parfum is $85. (Take that, Clive Christian. You know what I’m talkin’ about.)
Image credits: Photo actress Elizabeth Taylor with Henry Dunay’s famous “Lachrymosa” Diamond Mask from jewelrycentral.com; photo of gold band ring from the “Sabi” collection design group by Henry Dunay from 55secretstreet.typepad.com; Sabi perfume bottle from raoung.com.