Back To The Future With Mr. Morillas: Salvador Dali & Panthère de Cartier
For some reason I have really been appreciating the retro perfumes of the Eighties a lot more recently. Perhaps it’s time and distance, making me forget the horrors of Giorgio Beverly Hills and Christian Lacroix C’est La Vie, or maybe I just dismissed many of the better fragrances of the era, tarring them all with the same brush as the bad ones, so to speak. Many of them are now discontinued, but fortunately not all, so there are plenty of true gems to be discovered under all the fake rhinestones and glitter of the “Me Decade.”
As it happens, two of my favorite fragrances from that time period are both currently available and by a perfumer who is perhaps better known now for more modern and minimalist compositions such as Calvin Klein’s CK One and the Bulgari Omnia series, the well regarded master perfumer Alberto Morillas. Yes, there was a time when he was responsible for far more opulent creations than his recent oeuvre would suggest. (It’s fascinating to me to see how a perfumer’s range develops over time; after all, the reigning king of minimalism, Jean-Claude Ellena, made First for Van Cleef & Arpels back in 1976, and it’s not exactly the perfume equivalent of a haiku.)
I was delighted to acquire the original Salvador Dali women’s perfume from 1983 recently; it was last seen here adding interest to DSH Perfumes’ magical mushroom scent. I had smelled it when it was first released but I never wore it then, since I did not consider it to be my style. Little did I know that I would soon branch out from my signature romantic florals and learn to appreciate a wide range of fragrance styles when the “perfumista” bug bit me very hard. This is a big, roomy floral-oriental perfume with a sense of humor; the fizzy, fruity, mandarin-rich opening has a syrupy quality not unlike pineapple, though that is not a listed note. Basil and other greens add a unique signature. The rich floral heart briefly threatens to turn into an Amarige-like foghorn, but this one is far more good-natured and it mellows into something very wearable. All my favorites are in there: tuberose, jasmine, narcissus, lily-of- the-valley, and lily. This is a very warm fragrance, and the delicious base of musk, cedar, vanilla, sandalwood and benzoin is a pure pleasure. My vintage version seems to have an exceptionally nice grade of sandalwood in it, the kind that’s hard to find today. It is bit loud, but not the sloppy drunk kind of obvious that ruined so many other eighties scents for me. It’s user-friendly and just plain fun, suitable for either a night on the town or just kicking back at home when you want to be enveloped in something delicious. This was the first of many Dali fragrances and I can’t keep up with them all anymore, but it’s certainly one of the best from this house. It’s fairly easy to find online; just be sure you are getting the right one, since several later Dali releases also came in a similar “Lips and Nose” bottle.
In 1986, Cartier released the wonderful Panthère, a fragrance that seems to be aimed squarely at the kind of woman who likes big, luxurious special occasion perfumes, and it definitely hit the target. Panthère has a similarity to the Salvador Dali scent, sort of the sober sister to the Dali’s Froot-Loopy optimism. It is equally rich but the sillage lies much closer to the skin. Mine is the vintage Parfum and it has aged very well, with a distinctively dry, spicy-herbal aspect of pepper and ginger setting off the deep sweetness of the other notes to perfection. The generous florals are rather similar to those in the Dali perfume and so are some of the base notes, but oakmoss, patchouli and civet are included to make a seriously sexy impression. The first thing I think of when I smell this one is “evening” and I picture an elegant little black dress accented with a few nice jewels, smoky eyes and a chic French twist. I am not that kind of woman, but I still appreciate this perfume. It is perhaps more restrained and civilized than the Dali, despite the name; this cat purrs but she does not snarl or bite. The really good news is that Cartier still makes it. I have been very disappointed in their recent mass-market releases such as the dreadful (in my opinion) Roadster and its equally unfortunate flankers, but at least you can still get Panthère.
Image credits: Salvador Dali bottle from online discounter perfume.com. Panthère de Cartier bottle from collector site passionforperfume.com. Disclosure: The perfumes in this review are from my own personal collection of vintage fragrances.