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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Reflections on "Haute Couture" in Perfume and a Review: Querelle by Parfumerie Generale

There was recently a discussion in the comments to one of the posts whether the term haute couture can be applied to perfume, and if so, how. What haute couture means to me is Fashion as Art, and if we agree that perfume is or in certain instances can be Art as well, then the use of the term haute couture, or rather haute parfumerie, is fitting and justified. Haute Couture creations are expressions of designer’s creativity (almost completely) unrestrained by considerations of wearability and useability in every day life. Very expensive (only the best materials, handmade, etc.), very original, sometimes strange, at times downright bizarre- this is haute couture. Haute couture is where the trends originate in their purest, unrepressed, original form. From there they will be translated into daily fashion, adopted to contemporary lifestyle, tamed and made wearable. An example of a haute couture perfume (and actually produced by a very haute couture designer) that started a trend and launched thousands smell-alikes? Angel! We are so used to it now, perhaps it doesn’t strike us as exceptionally remarkable anymore, but when it was first created, it was truly groundbreaking.

A fashion or perfume creation does not have to be odd to be considered haute couture. Originality is not always synonimous with strangeness, often it lies in absolute perfection, harmony and classicism of the lines (or the notes). Older Chanels are haute couture, as are the classic Diors, Guerlains and Carons. They have depth, they are built on unique ideas, they are unlike anything else, but I would not call them bizarre. Other creations achieve that haute couture quality by being utterly strange. Comme des Garcons fashions and perfumes are a perfect example. I feel that here, in the land of quirky, weird and outlandish, perfumes walk a particularly fine line between being bizarre yet full of meaning and soul and just being bizarre for the sake of setting themselves apart from everyone else. As with everything else, judging the one from the other is a very subjective matter. What is soulless, meaningless and pretentious for me, would touch another’s heart. Having said that, a couple of Comme des Garcons creations, for instance Guerilla No 1, had, to me, that shallow feeling of “we are Comme des Garcons and we must be weird no matter what”. There are also some perfume makers that attempt to achieve originality taking a shortcut through the route of not simply strange, but downright Shocking. If it is sordid, obscene and outrageous, it must be unique, think they (I am looking at you, Etat Libre d’Orange).

Beloved classical haute couture perfumes like Chanels and Diors aside, my favorite type of a haute couture fragrance is the one that successfully combines the bizarre with the beautiful, the one where strange, unappealing notes are functional and not just there for the shock value. Many Serge Lutens creations are there on the mount Olympus of Couture. The new kids on the block, Parfumerie Generale, have, in my opinion, also already proved themselves able to infuse their fragrances with strangness in a way that does not push them over the edge into the territory of superficial and affected.

And that –finally!- brings me to today’s perfume, Querelle. Inspired by Jean Genet’s book of the same name (and, I can only assume, by Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s film as well), Querelle is, to me, most definitely a haute couture scent. It is strange and beautiful (ugly-beautiful would be a better word, perhaps), eccentric and refined. With notes of citruses, black caraway (aka black cumin), myrrh, cinnamon, vetiver, incense, oakmoss, and ambergris, the perfume is a picture of a bleak, deccicated landscape, right out of some violent and surreal dream. It speaks to me about dust, roots, the color grey, the cruelty and the utter loneliness. The beginning is darkly-spicy and a little earthy. From the middle stage forward I start to smell quite a bit of myrrh and I think that it is the one note that brings all the striking ingredients together, softens and sweetens them a little; it is the note that adds “beautiful” to the “strange” and thus elevates the composition to the level of couture. The drydown should delight the fellow vetiver lovers. Combined with incense and moss, vetiver here smells deep and intoxicating, a brutal, witchy, bitter smell, erotic and evil.

Querelle is sold at Luckyscent, $80.00 for 50ml. It also available at Parfumerie Generale online boutique, where Querelle can be found in regular and higher concentration.

The images of Thierry Mugler and Christian Dior designs are from

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Blogger ForTheLoveOfPerfume said...

Amazing post colombina. The parallels you draw between fashion and perfume are, well, unparalleled! The way you describe Querelle, although fascinating, makes it utterly unwearable for me. (You know I'm a citrus-y, flower-y girl.) Have a great day!

10:36 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you, but I think the parallels are super-obvious though :-)

You should still give Querelle a chance. :-) It might turn out to be the scent that would lead you to "the dark side" :-)

10:39 PM EST  
Blogger ForTheLoveOfPerfume said...

I'm growing horns as we speak. ;-)

10:42 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

he he

10:44 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

I have this in my "to try" list (I even have the sample from ScentBar) and your description is rocketing them to the top of the list.

I find that we are a bit "Yin and Yang" (or perhaps Castor and Polux?) on these: you tend to see them as brutal and gravelike and I find them comforting.

Which means one of us is irretretreivably wierd, and I think it's me. :-)

10:55 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

...Marx and Engels, Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson...oh, the list is endless :-)

I find Querelle comforting too. It is weird and a little wicked,'s kind of cozy. :-D

11:04 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

As long as it's not Martin and Lewis. Or Crawford and Davis..

**skipping off hand-in-hand through the graveyard**

11:07 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

**skipping off hand-in-hand through the graveyard**...hahaha!

Yes, like this

11:16 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent! I very much agree with you on the definition of haute couture in perfumery - it doesn't always have to be bizarre and shocking. To me haute couture in perfumery is more about highest quality ingredients, complexity, excellent execution, balance than the presence of the bizarre factor. That said, Querelle is indeed an amazing scent but I need to figure out if it falls into the haute couture category. :D

11:56 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Complexity and balance are definitely the great criteria!

12:04 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you! Finally...I agree so much with you (talking obscenety etc.). I think in fashion we see the same pattern. Let's look at Chanel. Channel was groundbreaking, revolutionary, but never vulgar or obscene...
Fragrant wishes to you

12:37 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Querelle is the only one of the PGs I'm yet to sniff. I like a little bit of bleak beauty every now and then and so I'll give it a go.

4:10 AM EST  
Blogger March said...

Sold! I'll order a sample. Great post -- BTW did you see the Sunday NY Times Style section yesterday? Carine Roitfeld of French Vogue is wearing a coat I'd kill for, even though I think I'd look ridiculous in it. Picture a Degas ballerina shape in black patent leather and fur...

7:47 AM EST  
Blogger elle said...

Wonderful post! I need to go do some serious digging now and find my Querelle sample. I actually am somewhere between you and Tom....I find brutal, gravelike and wierd scents are almost always comforting to me. Very bright scents can leave me quite depressed. Always make me feel like Katie Couric in her morning incarnation must be lurking around somewhere in surreal perky mode.

7:52 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I absolutely agree. When a company has to resort to being outrageous in order to be paid attention to, it does not have a very bright future ahead of it.

8:21 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I think you'll like it. It's very well done.

8:22 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I haven't, and I am glad...:-)Beautiful coats I can't have break my heart :-)

8:23 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I find them comforting too! The only one of this kind of scents that truly disturbed me was Black March.

I am with you on very bright scent. Very cheerful scents and very cheerful people make me depressed :-)

8:25 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post, Marina! I agree that haute parfumerie can and does exist. I have a sample of Querelle and have yet to actually try it. I must amend that at once. I hope to love it as much as you (and at the same time, I hope I don't. You know I don't need any lemmings...)

8:45 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

...and if you don't love it (for some reason I feel it isn't "you", but I might be very mistaken), there are penty other couture scents out there to lemm :-)

I lemm therefore I am. :-D

8:48 AM EST  
Blogger Gail S said...

Maybe I just really like the weird stuff. Liked the opening a lot, then about an hour in, was completely in love. I can't tell you what in particular made it so perfect at that point, but it was. But then the drydown was sort of....generic? I'll have to keep trying it I guess to see if maybe it was just my nose that day.

9:15 AM EST  
Blogger donanicola said...

Fascinating post thank you. I agree with your parallels. My fav museum, the V&A had a Haute Couture exhibition a few years ago. I went and was on the point of tears looking and marvelling at some of the creations on show. My favourite was a Vivienne Westwood gown - a huge ball gown with train - it had two seams. Two seams! Truly a work of art. (shame her scents not quite as wonderful). Anyway, as you say, then there are the Chanels and Diors etc (no disrespect intended by the etc)in parumerie. I look forward to trying this latest PG - so far I love Aomassie - need to sniff more.

9:29 AM EST  
Blogger lilybp said...

So glad to see this terrific review of my beloved Querelle (which I am wearing today in honor of your piece). This was my immediate favorite of the PGPCs, and the only one I felt I HAD to buy, but it seemed to get lost in the general love for BdC (the opening of which is much too sweet on me, although it's very nice in an Or-des-indes sort of way after that). But this--I find beautiful, unusual and, yes, comforting. And, as I told you, I do get a definite "metallic" feel here (I think Sergey said something similar in his review--which you can read so much better than I:). Even though I tried the HC, I couldn't decide whether it was worth the money (I might have gone for it, except it's only available in 3.3, making it much more expensive than 1.7 of the reg.; also--my somewhat bizarre DH declared it "similar but not as strong!" when compared to the reg [he was wrong, but still. . .]).

BTW, I want--and would wear--either/both of the fashions you show today---maybe not the hats, though!

9:40 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Aw, bummer about the drydown. Well, since you loved the beginning so much, maybe give it another chance?

10:22 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Westwood's fashion is breathtaking. Not so much the perfumes...for me, that is.

10:22 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

The more I look at the first, Mugler, image, the more wearable it begins to look :-) I want that corseted jacket thing. They can keep the hat, the gloves and the leggings. :-)

10:24 AM EST  
Blogger lilybp said...

I do think the jacket thing (with ordinary leggings or a maybe a tight black skirt) underneath would be wearable. But I also think their vinyl (leather? rubber?) gloves and leggings would be fun for, um, special occasions (although I am sure they are far to expensive to buy as "fun" items--or, probably, as anything). I actually even like the hat, and I bet it would look stunning on some (maybe you), but I have shoulder-length, very curly hair, so I would look like a clown with a plate on her head:)

10:36 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Big hats do look good one me, but where on earth would I wear it. Now, if I were English nobility and went to Ascot...*sigh* :-DDD

10:40 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marina - it's such a pleasure to read your wonderful post about 2 of my favorite things - perfume and haute coutoure. For me, some "Haute" perfumes would be Serge Lutens, JAR, and the Mugler Coffret - which was not created with wearability in mind, but is pure art. It also has the "haute" price tag, but once in a while I crazily consider going to the web site and buying it - I would pay that for a painting I like, so why not the coffret. But then it is not that simple.

10:45 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I absolutely agree with your choices. JAR is definitely super-haute couture :-) I've been tempted by the coffret too...but it ain't gonna happen :-(

10:51 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marina, I love a challenge, and when you said it isn't "me", I took it as a challenge and went off and put some on right away! :-) Alas, you are right. It isn't quite me. But I am fascinated by it. It *is* ugly/beautiful, as you say, and what can be more fascinating than that? I will need to do a full body test to figure out whether this fascination grows into anything more. :-)

11:20 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you! Why were you horrified? :-)

11:38 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Fascination is great. Love might yet grow out of it :-)

11:39 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

You don't find Lutens perfumes wearable as personal scents?

12:30 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

M, I couldn't agree more on your small essay about Haute Couture in perfumes. very well put and so true!
I also agree on Serge Lutens being one of the most highly fashionable and noble perfumers (speaking of which, do you really think that Daim Blond would suit *me* :-S ?). I'd also list some of Frederic Malle's creations bordering on haute couture. but I must admit that sometimes it's hard to spend all your days in it, so I am very thankful for all prêt-à-porter fumes ;-), too.

12:44 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I think it would suit you perfectly!

One needs couture scents and pret-a-porter scents and scent that are equivalent of a basic white t-shirt bought for not too much money on a sale in a department store:-D

1:02 PM EST  
Blogger NowSmellThis said...

Great post! I need to retry Querelle, I actually rather liked it although in the end, I'm not sure it is something I'd wear often.

1:04 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you! It's not something I'd wear often either, I don't even think I need a bottle of it, just a mini or a decant.

1:08 PM EST  
Blogger chayaruchama said...

I loved my sample- but I don't remember it lasting very long- sigh.

it's definitely a me kind of scent.

2:37 PM EST  
Blogger Kelley said...

Marina, I had written something so wonderful this morning and I am sure very witty but I ran to the bathroom for more Kleenex (I have a cold) and when I got back, my comment was gone! I was under the influence of some strange Mexican cold medicine so who knows? Maybe I accidentally deleted it? To the point, I love your review! You are so right about fashion and perfume! Being a guy, it's a little different because we aren't supposed to be that into fashion but then again, we aren't supposed to be that into perfume either! When I mention that I am a perfume freak in mixed company, I get funny looks from people. You would think I said I am growing six fingers on my right hand or something! Keep up the good work and I can't wait to smell Querelle. I tried reading the book and thought..."Strange", which is the same thing I thought when I watched the movie with Brad Davis. I have a feeling I am going to love the perfume though!

2:43 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I think it is your kind of scent too! :-)

2:44 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Aw, I am sorry the first comment disappeared. Stupid blogger!

I think it is your kind of scent, actually, there is no doubt it my mind. Would love to hear what you think about it, when you get to try it.

2:46 PM EST  
Blogger Kelley said...

I am ordering samples from Luckyscent after I finish typing! Getting mail to Mexico is another problem I haven't solved yet. It might be weeks before I get them. I will let you know though.

4:01 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I didn't realize that the mail was so slow :-( I hope they arrive sooner rather than later.

4:18 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I must admit I am a little tired of the flow of heavy-dark-brooding orientals from Lutens. I'd love him to do something different next. maybe a floral, maybe a green scent.
MKK and ISM are my favorites from the line too.

7:43 PM EST  
Blogger Qwendy said...

There is a great show here in LA at MOCA about Fashion and Architecture, and I think that certain types of perfume also has a lot in common with visionary architecture, as well as haute couture, as you draw the parallel so well. There is, to me, an element of abstraction in these highest forms of expression.

That said, I found Querelle to be immediately wearable for any occasion! Though I must admit that my motto is "always overdress," and I am a couture designer of sorts myself, so perhaps it's all more "normal" to me, always the wierd one!

Thanks for a stimulating post!

11:11 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

You make such a great point. Abstraction is really a very important quality for a "couture" scent to have. In fact, I am hard-pressed to think of a single literal translation of a smell into perfuem (i.e. a soliflore of some sort) that would be "high fashion".

11:18 PM EST  
Blogger Qwendy said...

Now that you mention it, I have a Jacques Garcia Orange Blossom roomspray that I wear as a scent that transcends the soliflore quality and might border on the couture aspect of scent. But the fact that it is marketed as a very expensive home scent instead of a very reasonably priced perfume (how'd they do that? LOL) conveniently places it out of the running of fashion and places it squarely into the "classic" arena I suppose. Jacques Garcia is the baroque interior designer who did Laduree on the Champs Elysees.

11:29 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

That sounds wonderful!

11:31 PM EST  

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