- a review and a tale of vero profumo Kiki
Today was one of those breathless summer days in Paris with the metallic taste of impending thunderstorms in the air, a hot tetchy, moody afternoon where the dark gray clouds that loomed so ominous to the south had somehow worked their humid, moody, tetchy ways into the very paint and canvas, and even Foujita had to give up and shrug that Gallic shrug he worked so well, to say…
“Pas plus aujourd’hui, ma chèrie. The paint…it sweats even more than I!” At that, he mopped his brow and polished his glasses, shrugged again, and laughed that laugh an artist laughs when he knows the moment may be lost for now, but the time will come again, as time always does.
And even though I lay on the chaise as naked as the day I was born under the dappled shade of the plane tree in the courtyard, finally cool after a long, sudsy soak in his bathtub, I could only agree, and we said our amiable goodbyes as I dressed, tweaked his nose with a laugh as I left, and made my way down the Rue Delambre.
What could happen on such a hot afternoon, what to do and who to see? I felt the summer work its way beneath my dress, felt my stockings rustle against my skin. Even they seemed too much, too thick for such a summer day, where all the windows down the street were open to the still air, when all of Montparnasse and therefore all of Paris groaned beneath that leaden sky, and so I turned the corner and came to La Rotonde, which was nearly empty at this hour, most of the clientele sleeping off the wine of dejeuner in their studios with their loves and muses.
“Gaspard!” I called to the waiter as I walked in. So much cooler in here, out of that merciless heat. “A pastis today, I think, cigarettes of course and perhaps a citron pressé as well. Make sure the water is very cold!”
“Kiki! Foujita paid your tab this morning, Said you were posing for him this afternoon. So how is l’art moderne on this hot afternoon?” he laughed back as he wiped the counter down with a rag.
“Très moderne and très artistique, Gaspard, always!” I pointed to a banquette table beyond the bar, unoccupied except for a dark man with an interesting face who sat at the other end and eyed me with a great deal of interest, but then again, they always did at La Rotonde.
I headed for the Ladies room to wash off a dark green splotch of paint on my hands I must have received when I tweaked Foujita’s nose and to take off those beastly hot stockings and the garters that held them much too close and far too tight to my skin. Even silk was too torrid for such a day.
Madame Lenois, who normally tended the Ladies’ powder room, snored away in her chair behind her counter full of face powders, feminine sundries and eaux de toilettes, overcome by the July afternoon, but someone had left a pink felt pochette tied with a silk string behind on the sink since she slept, or it should not be here…
I glanced to the door, but it remained closed.
I removed the garters and rolled my stockings off with a sigh of relief as I felt the air on my legs. After washing the paint off my hands with Madame’s excellent Marseilles soap, I opened up the pochette and discovered two small vials. Perfume? The elixir of youth? Divine madness?
Only one way to find out!
Perfume! Alors! Oh…and such a one…
As I dabbed a few drops of one on my left hand and down my décolletage, a few sprays of the other on my right, I was transported in a heartbeat, far, far away from Montparnasse to Bourgogne and grand-mère so long ago, to M. Simon’s lavender field beyond the village church, blooming such a burning shade of purple amid the endless vineyards it seemed to dance beneath the summer sun, when simply to breathe in became its own singular happiness, that happiness I kept so close in spite of all the hard lessons and sharper secrets Paris taught me. There was no hard and no sharp in these two little vials, no secrets I couldn’t sing in any cabaret with all the conviction of my almost twenty years, just the eternal green, herbal, floral dance of lavender itself repainted sweet as crème brûlée and more daring, reinvented as new and as artless as a limitless blue sky.
On my right, that lavender bloomed as just as purple but perhaps not so sweet. It wore its mischief cut a little lower and a not a little fruitier, and danced a measure of its own around and around its lavender heart, no less grand and no less burning.
I had to sit down a moment on the setee in front of the mirror, overcome by the memory, as Madame Lenois snored her siesta away and all of Paris groaned beneath a heatwave outside, as Gaspard prepared my pastis and my citron pressé, as the dark man with the burning eyes in the corner no doubt waited to watch me again.
These two little perfume vials were like nothing I had ever encountered before. I was so surprised, surprised at how lavender could dance not just in the wind but in a perfume, overtaken by a memory of long-forgotten Bourgogne and grand-mère and the Alice Prin of long ago, astonished most of all that a memory of my childhood and the scintillating life of my present had somehow come together all in a rush, all in a moment, all of it entirely contained in these two perfumes that now defined me, Kiki. Fresh from Foujita’s chaiselongue and canvas in a Rue Delambre courtyard in search of new adventures and new mischief and …
Wearing this, I could well end up anywhere – on a wall, caught in a sculpture, capturing that concealed thread all those artists needed me to pull out and call forth inside them with a laugh, a bawdy joke, an impromptu dance among the pastels and tubes of paint on a dusty studio floor, or another kind of dance…
Wasn’t that what muses did?
Somehow, these two little vials had found a way to define me as deftly, as brilliantly and as assuredly as Soutine, as Foujita, as Derain had ever done.
I breathed in their promises, breathed in that dusky purple laughter and delicious crème brûlée, and then I checked my hair, reapplied my lipstick, pulled my neckline a little lower, and walked out to introduce myself to that dark man, his own eyes burning with the fires of any artist in any era, a cool tendril of the thunderstorm – or was it that lavender? – twining itself up my legs in the heat of the afternoon, chill with future possibilities.
I slid into the banquette with a sideways glance. That dark man was still there, looking toward the end by the bar where I sat down, and even at the other end, I could recognize another kind of mischief when I saw it, a mischief not unlike my own.
“Monsieur? We have not yet introduced ourselves, you and I.” I lifted up my glass of pastis, mercifully cool and wet on such a hot summer’s day.
“I am Kiki. No more, nothing less.”
“The Queen of Montparnasse!” shouted Gaspard from behind the bar. “Nothing less than that!”
“Ah.” I saw him hesitate for a moment as he wrestled with his words.
Un Americain? They were everywhere in Paris these days.
The next instant, he rose and slid in beside me on the banquette.
Indeed an artist with indeed a vision, I could see it so clearly in the fires behind his eyes, tell in the way he held his glass of pastis, the way his shoulders shifted towards me as he spoke.
“Pleased to meet you, Mademoiselle Kiki. I call myself Man Ray.”
For a long moment, we simply sat and watched each other over the edge of our pastis, breathed in the purple promises of lavender and the sweeter pledges of crème brûlée beneath it.
And in that moment, life and even art was reinvented and made anew, wrapped up in all its burning purple promises, on a July day on Montparnasse.
Notes for Kiki extrait: Bergamot, citron, blackcurrant, lavender, geranium, musk, patchouli, opoponax, amber, caramel
Notes for Kiki eau de parfum: Bergamot, citron, passionfruit, blackcurrant, lavender, geranium, musk, patchouli, opoponax, amber, caramel
With a thank you to the beyond wonderful and hugely inspiring Vero Kern.
My samples were sent by Campomarzio70 as part of a promotional Facebook draw.
Original photo of Kiki de Montparnasse (Alice Prin) by Man Ray.