This really Gauls me: DSH Perfumes Passport to Paris Collection
Artisan perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes has presented another set of perfumes based on a collaboration with the Denver Art Museum, an artistic venture that brought us such past gems as the Secrets of Egypt fragrances and the YSL Retrospective collection. The new trio, inspired by iconic works of French art, is called the Passport to Paris collection. Each one was made to reflect the character of a particular piece, and after testing these all I can say is get me on a flight to France immediately if this is what happens when one contemplates French masterpieces.
I began with the delicately delicious Amouse Bouche, which translates (very) loosely to “there's a party in my mouth.” I only wished that I could have a real strawberry confection like this to eat instead of being tantalized by the perfume. It is a gourmand with a feather-light touch, beginning with a realistic strawberry note heightened by lemon before the florals, including rose, jasmine and ylang ylang chime in to ensure that it's more than just a novelty scent. Soon the gourmand notes of tonka bean, buttered brioche and vanilla show up, and their restrained sweetness makes this smell like a sophisticated pastry, the kind that's almost too pretty to eat. I am a huge fan of strawberry in perfume, and therefore I am very critical of it when it's done badly. This is exactly right, and as a gourmand fragrance it's just sweet enough to make you want more, as though you were looking with longing into the storefront of a patisserie that has closed for the day and you have to be satisfied with the lingering aroma in the air. Amouse Bouche was made to match the mood of Toulouse-Lautrec's “The Dunce's Cap' and it is as lighthearted as its inspiration.
Vers la Violette is entirely different, a moody green violet perfume with a refined sueded base. Its touchstone was a pastoral painting by Post-Impressionist painter Hippolyte Petitjean. I adore violets, so I was predisposed to like it, and it exceeded my expectations. Look “French perfume” up in the dictionary and you might well find a picture of this; nothing could be more Parisian than a bunch of violets, and this fragrance exudes chic right from the beginning. It is subtle but not wistful as the green notes of galbanum and oakmoss keep it away from the fainting couch; instead it strides breezily down the boulevard, cool and confident. This is the kind of violet fragrance that a man can wear with ease – notes of lemon, leather and ionone tamp down the floral sweetness. The perfumer really has a way with this fragile and temperamental floral; this is just about the polar opposite of her amazing Quinacridone Violet but no less deftly composed and it shows the range of possibilities to be discovered for the humble yet beautiful violet. It might even remind you a little of Balmain's Jolie Madame with its violets and leather, but with the chypre darkness replaced by buoyant spring green. If you can't be in Paris for the April violets, just wear Vers la Violette instead.
Passport à Paris was a real surprise; it was the last one I tested, I did not expect that it would become quite strong on my skin after the initial impression of bergamot, anise and lavender made me think it would be as delicate as the other two. It is a classic fougère with a twist; as it develops it becomes richly animalic and decadently powdery, laden with patchouli, rosewood, civet, coumarin (of course) and sandalwood and with impressive staying power. The perfumer took her inspiration from Claude Monet's “The Beach at Trouville” which is a glimpse into the life of the upper classes taking the air at a seaside resort. It owes more to iconic unisex perfumes like Guerlain's Jicky than to strait-laced English style fougères that conform to a narrow definition of what “men's colognes” should smell like. (Don't worry, it's not a huge stonking monster like Drakkar Noir either!) This juice is anything but stuffy, spicy-powdery but with a soapy back beat that is irresistible, like a really sexy man fresh out of the shower, wrapped in a towel and shaving with a creamy lather, and all you can think of is unwrapping him. I don't often wear traditional masculine fragrances myself except for a few favorites like Grey Flannel, but I would wear this one, if only to conjure up a mental image of the guy in the towel...but I digress. Passport à Paris is as good as it gets in the fougère department in my opinion, but don't take my word for it, since I am not as well versed in this genre as I could be. I can only say that both men and women should give it a try, because it's really great.
Image credit: Eiffel Tower wallpaper (the kind you can buy in a roll) from spoonflower.com.; also available as fabric. I want some!
Disclosure: the fragrance samples for this review were given to me by DSH perfumes.