Parfums 137 Hollywood Stromboli 1950 and Nara 1869: A study in contrasts
Over the past few months I had been reading quite a lot of buzz about the new fragrance trios from Parfums 137, a line which I had never heard of before, and I now have them both due to a very generous perfumista who sent them to my all the way from Paris. Each group of scents is meant to tell a story, and I looked forward to finding out what visions they brought to me.
The packaging of the samples is quite striking – each trio is in a pretty little black organza netting bag containing a card that tells the fragrance story, and the stoppers are not the usual plastic “popper” style, but an actual mini-stopper made of smooth glass that fits the vials perfectly. I quite enjoy that attention to detail. (Even though some the large perfume bottles I own also have a glass stopper and therefore must be decanted into smaller atomizers for daily use to keep them fresh, I really like a nice stopper.)
The weather here has been extremely and unusually hot, so after a brief sniff of all of them I started out by wearing the lighter fragrances. The Nara 1869 trio is Bigarade, Osmanthus and Olibanum and the Hollywood Stromboli 1950 set has Spearmint, Immortelle and Myrte (myrtle). Both are inspired by tales of forbidden love; the Nara 1869 by the idea of a (fictional) French perfumer named Akimoff and his encounter with a geisha apprentice, and the Hollywood Stromboli continues the narrative with the story of Betty, the perfumer Akimoff’s descendant who falls in love with a man with gangland connections and the ensuing drama of that situation. I have to say that the style of all the Parfums 137 scents except the Olibanum reminds me a lot of the Histoire de Parfums line, in that the florals are very bright and sparkling, and they have clearly made use of aldehydes in the formulations. That’s fine with me, as it makes them eminently suitable for the summer heat.
I made a beeline for the Osmanthus first, as I am always looking for more versions of this note, which has become real favorite; ever since I discovered that there is a flower that smells like ripe apricots after trying The Different Company’s version, I have been in why-wasn’t-I told mode and seeking out perfumes with osmanthus in them. I love Serge Lutens Nuits de Cellophane for this very reason. Parfums 137 has made a very sweet and intense scent, less sheer than TDC’s take on it and with fresh peach notes to amp up the fruitiness, and I really love it. Patchouli in the base gives it longevity but I could not really detect it by itself.
The Bigarade is a very pleasing version of bitter orange, and the drydown is just that, very dry and refreshing with a beautiful woody base that gives it good lasting power. It really takes to the heat and does not turn into the sweetness of orange blossom – not that there is anything wrong with that, but sometimes you just want a dry orange scent more in the vein of a men’s fragrance, and this could easily be worn by anyone.
I was almost afraid to try the Spearmint in the Hollywood set, but as it turned out, there was not a trace of “toothpaste accord” in it – it was very green, opening with what I assume is bergamot along with other citrus notes, and the spearmint is actually the heart note combined with florals, so the mint part is simply a lovely breeze of very life-like mint, the crushed stems of the plant itself, and I just love it. My only complaint was that it did not last very long, but then it is an Eau de Parfum with almost nothing but top and heart notes, with just a whisper of wood at the base. I look forward to trying it in cooler weather; perhaps it will not burn away so quickly. So far this is the best mint-themed fragrance I know of, though admittedly I do not seek them out.
The Immortelle was not what I expected at all. It opens with a feeling of a flowery meadow in the sun, which I did expect from a perfume with this name, but it got very sharp after a short time, and for me this one demonstrated a synthetic scent profile more than any of the others. I like it, as I do appreciate a sharp fragrance, but my sister was visiting me when I first put it on and she said it gave her a headache. Just be warned.
One day the weather cooled down and I put on the Myrte – it was quite sweet and a bit heavy at first, and the base is vanillic and very feminine. It tickled my memory, and I just could not put my finger on what other perfume it reminded me of, something from a long time ago or some vintage scent. It has a deep and pleasing woodiness to counterbalance the sweetness once the initial impression subsides, so I am assuming that the myrtle in question is actually myrtle wood and not the unrelated flower, and after trying it again I decided that it reminded me a lot in character, if not in actual notes, of the old-school Dana perfumes Ambush and Tabu, only in a much lighter form. It is very “perfumey” in the sense that it harks back to a time when this style was so popular with American women, and so it is very fitting that it be included as homage to Hollywood. I finally decided that I could wear it in hot weather if I feel like it, which I do. It is ideal for evening wear, preferably with the wearer all glammed up.
Finally, I came to the Olibanum, which could not be more different from the others. It is not sweet but rather serious once the spicy black pepper opening is done. I also detected a piney, balsamic note that I liked very much, an almost “Christmas-y” aroma, but of Christmases long past, when the tree was a freshly cut fir and the ornaments were made of antique glass. Other spices float over the incense accord, though it’s hard to tell what they all are, but I got a hint of cumin and something else vaguely foody, almost like bread, perhaps caraway? It’s a fascinating mix in any event. I waited until the weather was cooler to put it on but it’s actually perfect for high summer since it is so devoid of sugary notes; it is dry and definitely unisex, perhaps even leaning more toward the masculine side, and if a point of reference can be made, I would say it’s “Timbuktu Lite,” bearing a resemblance to the L’Artisan scent but with a much lighter touch on the cumin.
One nice touch is that each trio is available in a coffret of 15 ml bottles and costs 60 Euros (about $85 USD) for the set, and sample packets can be had for on 5 Euros (about $7 USD) each. They can be ordered directly from the Web site, but be aware that shipping will be steep. It’s in French, but there is a visual demo on how to combine the three essences of each set into seven different perfumes by layering/blending your own. At these prices it’s worth a try and you get more perfume bang for the buck, so to speak. I am not one to do a lot of mixing myself, preferring my scents as they come, but for those who enjoy experimenting these would be a lot of fun.
Image credit: Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in 1953’s The Band Wagon via For The Love of Opera Gloves, one of my favorite sites – see lots more at operagloves.com.