I discovered Absolu well after it first appeared – it was one of those perfumes that I had never seen in a regular store when it was introduced in 2002, and I only spotted it when I started trolling for bargains at online discount sites several years later. I was intrigued by the description but I was afraid to buy it untested. One day I ran across a mini of it, and I took the plunge. The descriptions of this fragrance made a point of mentioning what a man-trap it was, so I was eager to find out what the fuss was all about, especially since it was deeply discounted; what was wrong with it, I wondered?
As it turns out, Absolu lived up to the copywriter’s excesses and I was smitten. A rich, ambery floral-Oriental scent, it begins with a delicious wallop of mandarin that reminded me very much of the 1992 Jean Patou masterpiece Sublime, with a warmth and softness reminiscent of Chopard’s Casmir, but not as heavily gourmand as the latter. Fig leaf chimes in and then it unfolds in waves of orange blossom, diving into the lovely heart of rose and spice notes, including a twist of black pepper. The base is rich with benzoin, ciste labdanum, and Tolu balsam, almost liqueur-like in its intensity, and if this style of scent is not to your liking it will quickly become too sweet. For some reason it’s not too sweet for me, perhaps because it does remind me so much of my beloved Sublime, which I once wore as my signature scent back in its heyday, in all weather – I cringe at the thought of what those around me were subjected to with my freely applied spritzes– no one ever said anything but I must have had quite a cloud around me! It is my understanding that Sublime is no longer its former glorious self, a victim of reformulation and Patou’s absorption by Procter & Gamble – which regrettably now owns the house of Rochas too. In the absence of any original formula Patou to be had, the Rochas will do just fine.
I have to admit that there is something to be said for the spellbinding excess, the utter abandon of something that is aimed squarely at the clichéd but timeless idea of seduction by scent. No convoluted explanations, no complicated ideas about art and abstraction and interpretation and all of those things that modern perfume houses (and their publicists) seem to go on about ad infinitum. There are no obscure mystery notes that require a degree in comparative Norse mythology or string theory. Nope – this is all about sex, and that’s just fine. It’s not crude or vulgar in any way; in fact it is a very well made perfume composed of fine materials. It took the perfumer (the very prolific Jacques Cavallier, who also did Alchimie in 1998) a long time to come up with the complex formula and make it work. It just has a plan, that’s all, plain and simple. The end result is all black lace and sidelong glances and lights turned down low and all those other delicious things that fuel a spark between two people. It’s the fireside chess scene from The Thomas Crown Affair in a bottle – and I mean the original 1968 film, not the entirely unnecessary remake. (Did I mention that it really takes a mature woman to wear this stuff?) Case in point – I just got a nearly full bottle in a swap from a friend who loves it but she says she can’t leave the house in it; it’s just too sexy for daytime wear. That never stops me, so I was happy to have it. I like to wear perfume like this when I am doing something mundane like grocery shopping or thrift store cruising – you never know whom you are going to run in to, right?
In its infinite wisdom, Procter & Gamble Prestige/Rochas has discontinued Absolu - perhaps it was too close to its sister brand’s Sublime for comfort? Or did it just fail to catch on? I even sent them a letter asking about it and my other favorite Rochas heavy hitter, Alchimie. Both are officially gone for good, and Alchimie’s asking price on the discount and auction sites has shot up recently, since it must be getting scarce. Get this one while it’s still a bargain. I recommend starting with a sample or mini if you are unsure of your relationship with this style of perfume. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who appreciate the ambery style, it’s hard to beat.
Image credit: Screen shot of actress Faye Dunaway in the 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair via plaindeliriousbird.tumblr.com, original Web source unknown.