An Embarrassment of Riches


– A review of Parfums MDCI Chypre Palatin

Sometimes on gray ordinary days, those days you expect nothing more scintillating than more of the same gray, the same mundane, the same quotidian wonders of simply being alive and able to breathe, lightning will strike out of nothing and nowhere. Subterranean rumbles shake the bedrock of your soul and new, untold tales will take you unaware.

Any perfumoholic will tell you… these are the moments we breathe for, the revelations we seek, even as we all know one irrefutable fact.

You don’t find revelations so much as they find you.

This happened to me recently on a completely humdrum day, a day of few expectations and less anticipation, rooting around my perfume cabinet looking for the backlog pile, and MDCI’s Chypre Palatin fell into my hand as if planted there by the Fates themselves.

At the time I received it from a perfume fairy, I couldn’t quite decide what I thought about it. All my usual phrases came to mind – decadent, delirious, a throwback, opulent bordering on over-the-top and maybe just a bit… too much for a D-list blogger buried in the Z-list boondocks of northern Europe.

Mind you, as a devoted (if not definitively debauched) Amouage fan, that says something. To be honest, I just wasn’t sure whether I had enough chest hair for this one. My initial impressions were of shaving soap – of a kind sold in 18 karat gold cans with dead-exclusive distribution and three-figure euro price tags – but I felt this needed two glands and one appendage I certainly don’t have even on temporary loan, so back it went into the cabinet and off I moved to other preoccupations.

Yet something tugged insistent at the back of my mind about Chypre Palatin, as if it held a secret that was just beyond my reach at the time. When this happens, it also happens that a perfume I can’t quite grasp will return to haunt me later, and just as with those epiphanies, when I least expect it.

One night over the holidays while buried in a book by Edith Wharton, I dug in the cabinet for something to wear as I read. The Fates decreed it Chypre Palatin, and made the penny drop at some point in the story where I was riveted by the dastardly deeds of the British upper crust. I settled down to read, Hairy Krishna purring on my lap, and…what was that?  That minute-long burst of hyper-expensive shaving soap morphed into something so utterly beautiful, it was like hearing a three-chord death metal guitarist suddenly flip during a soundcheck and break out the first movement of Beethoven’s Pastorale and play it – exquisitely. (True story.)

All associations of shaving soap and lavender machismo were gone, and in their place was a thickly embroidered, three-dimensional tapestry of chypre, the kind of chypre you rarely find any longer, a chypre to live and breathe for.

One distinguishing characteristic of chypres, or should I say, the best ones, is their stubborn refusal to be taken apart, especially in the heart notes. Those who can are better noses and writers than yours truly, but the very best of them are so peerlessly constructed, so seamless and gravity-defying, they exist more as an evolving aura than as an easily decoded mélange of notes that progress from one stage to the next. With the best chypres, there is no linear time travel from point A to point B – they can spiral, circle and even dance around and through their notes, and all you can do is enjoy the scenery  and the story as it unfolds upon your skin.

Chypre Palatin is no exception. After that initial barbershop blast which lasts less time than it takes to tell, this marvel opens wide into a limitless horizon of plush, posh elegance with a surprising fruity-green pulse, a pulse that slowly deepens into a sweetly leathered, mossy animal throb, the kind that would spell danger were it only slightly less refined, and even then, I’m not convinced it doesn’t.

This is not your usual gender-bending masculine-leaning perfume, nothing like those run-of-the-mill ‘chypres’ that pass through the needle of the IFRA these days. This is a defiantly green and definite challenge to all of them. Chypre Palatin has a vintage heritage and a classical structure yet nothing like a vintage feel. It walks an improbable tightrope walk between opaque and translucent from its surprisingly dark opening through that blooming, fruity-floral heart all the way to its rich, brocade-leather-vanilla-moss drydown many, many hours later, and just like Beethoven’s Pastorale, with not one note, one refined phrase, one phase out of place.

On a man of discernment, it would be devastating. On a woman, it is a sublimely elegant revelation. (At least on this woman.) As a perfume, it is, for lack of a better term, as much an embarrassment of riches as the rose petals in Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s painting above, like a moment you look up or around you – and all you can see, all you can sense is beauty everywhere you look and every time you breathe.


Top: Lavender, labdanum, hyacinth, galbanum, sage, clementine, aldehydes

Heart: Iris, jasmine, gardenia, rose, plum

Base: Styrax, benzoin, tolu balsam, vanilla, castoreum, leather, costus, oakmoss and immortelle

Chypre Palatin was made by Bertrand Duchaufour in collaboration with the Creative Director of Parfums MDCI – Claude Marchal. Parfums MDCI Chypre Palatin is available directly from the Parfums MDCI website by email request, at First in Fragrance and Luckyscent. Parfums MDCI also has an exquisite sample program of 5 12 ml samples redeemable with any full-bottle purchase.

With deep gratitude to Diane for providing this window of opportunity! For the review of Chypre Palatin I wish I could have written, I recommend Suzanne of the Perfume Journal.

Image: Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, The Roses of Heliogabalus (1888).

The All-Gifted

– a review of Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ ‘Pandora’

I have known so many perfume loves, so many different families of fragrance. I have swooned over incense and amber, spice and fruit. I have breathed in the heady rush of tuberose and swooned over jasmine’s eternal beauties, I have laughed with carnations and I have wept for lily-of-the-valley. I have without question loved and adored them all in all their many wonders in all my many times and moods.

Yet some loves spring eternal, some refuse to wane, and one family above all others I will love until I die.

I can wonder, these many years later, what it was about that family – so imposing, so steely and stately in its perfection, that made me love it above all others and at all times in my life. Was it a chance encounter, one perfumed rite of passage in the Avenue Montaigne as a girl of fourteen, looking for that liquid definition of womanhood and all it meant to be? Was it that heady trail of another family member, wafting behind a woman so chic, she could only live in Paris? That moment on the Pont Neuf, frozen in time and memory – her shining, carefree hair, blowing heedless in a soft May breeze over the Seine, the click-clack of high heels tapping out a tattoo on the cobblestones, the perfume in her wake and the epiphany it caused for one gawky, bookish girl – that was what it meant to be a woman, that attitude, that fearless posture, that impossibly beautiful, impeccably seamless trace…of chypre.

Or was it simply one girl’s determination to mark out her own perfumed turf and stake her own claims on the world, which at fourteen meant one thing…anything her mother wouldn’t wear. So goodbye to Mitsouko, farewell Shalimar, adieu Jolie Madame, au revoir L’Air du Temps, all immortals that you are…one newborn girl-woman swore her undying fealty to the chypre…and there it remains.

It was the second renaissance of chypres in the late Seventies…who had already said hello to Chanel no. 19 and showed no signs of stopping. In those days and for many years thereafter, many famous chypres gave me steel for my spine and an aura of confidence when I needed it. I wore Miss Dior to Clash concerts and Fidji to demonstrations, Dioressence to political rallies and Vent Vert when squatting with my eighty closest friends in closed down museums. I wore Bandit for very close encounters. They defined my life as no other family of perfumes ever has, until that heartbreaking Sleeping Beauty moment I woke up and discovered…they were gone.

Yet hope did not escape that jar – for I also discovered I wasn’t alone in my love for these Green Fiends. And I discovered Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, who blew me completely to dandelion fluff with her Vert pour Madame, and several times since.

Now, with ‘Pandora’, she had done it again. Simply because ‘Pandora’ blows me to fluff and then takes my breath away.

Created to highlight the famous base of so many chypres – the Mousse de Saxe or ‘Saxon Moss’ created by Marie de Laire, ‘Pandora’ – named for a stunning Odilon Redon painting as well as the Eve of Greek mythology – is neither as fiercely green nor as steely-determined oakmoss as some of the great chypres of old. It shares a good deal of its character with its sibling, Vert pour Madame, but Pandora is a shade or two darker, less verdant and more seamlessly floral. The Mousse de Saxe shows itself right from the start, but stealthily and softly, like a sudden silky whisper that takes you by surprise.

It is – as well it should be – rich and rounded from the first breath of ozone and aldehyde that makes it sing to my synapses all the way to the gossamer drydown of that mousse de saxe base. It is bright as an errant sunbeam and later dark as the thunderclouds on a far horizon.

Mousse de Saxe gave a lot of distinction (and basso profondo) in many famous perfume bases. I can’t say it’s happened often that I’ve thought of it as sheer, but in Pandora, it is. She never shouts her presence. Instead, she wraps you in her flawless aura like a shawl made of woven Olympic air, to comfort you and heal all your worldly woes. A thunderstorm rumbles far away outside your window, but it can never touch you here.

In Greek, ‘Pandora’ means ‘the all-gifted’, because all human virtues and skills were bestowed upon her. As a last, vindictive joke, she was also given a jar as a wedding present and told never to open it, ever. (The Gods surely must have suspected this is something you never say to a woman?)

So she did – and so all the evils of the world befell humanity…but also knowledge, truth and the ability to distinguish between truth and lie, and last, but not least…she remembered to slam down the lid before hope was lost, too!

Once upon a time, I, too, felt that hope was lost for perfumery, and lost in particular for all my beloved chypres, never to return thanks to reformulation and IFRA regulations. Once upon a time, I thirsted for knowledge and true artistic vision – a way of saying something I had never heard before, or saying something I had heard before but never quite like this. I wanted perfumed revelations, I wanted journeys to places unknown, and more than anything else I wanted to believe that all hope was not lost. I wanted to believe that somewhere in the world were artists with visions and dreams and that particular elevated effortless sleight-of-hand talent money never buys.

Hope was never lost. It bloomed in a dream and a vision Dawn Spencer Hurwitz conjured up from essence and absolute, aldehyde and ambergris she bottled up and called ‘Pandora’. All I have left is my gratitude and to marvel that such beauty can still be dreamed, created and found right when hope is needed most.

One doesn’t mock the King of the Gods unpunished. Yesterday, when I grabbed my little sample vial for yet another addictive spray, it slipped from my hand and smashed on the floor. I could have swept up and tossed those spiky shards, but instead, I wrapped them up in tissue paper and one last, final, heartbreaking time, I breathed in the perfume of hope.

‘Pandora’ is available from Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ website

Top: Ruby fruits (botanical accord), bergamot, aldehyde, spice notes, ozone, violet leaf absolute, davana, cassis bud, green and pink pepper
Rose de mai absolute, juhi jasmine, linden blossom absolute, yerba maté absolute, cabreuva wood, orris CO2, green tea absolute
Base: Mousse de Saxe accord (botanical), cyperus, fossilized amber absolute, ambergris tincture, patchouli CO2, vetiver CO2, muhuhu, Australian sandalwood, tonka bean absolute, green oakmoss, vanilla absolute

Disclosure: Sample was sent to me by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz for review.

Painting: Odilon Redon, ‘Pandora’
Photo of ‘Pandora’, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Other reviews of Pandora:

❁ Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ own blog, describing her creative process
❁ EauMG
❁ Esscentual Alchemy
❁ Eyeliner On A Cat
❁ Indieperfumes
❁ Oh, true Apothecary!
❁ Perfume Pharmer
❁ ScentHive
❁ This Blog Really Stinks

Wicked Pussycat

Once upon a time, I was the sort of woman who had…adventures, shall we say. They did not involve anything so daring as climbing Mount Everest, white-water rafting in Brazil or rappelling off sheer cliff faces straight into the Atlantic, but they were sometimes very nearly as dangerous! There are many ways to have adventures, as I’m sure you know! Since I had a background in the netherworld, it would follow that my adventures were of a more cerebral and, well…netherwordly kind.

In the course of those adventures, a friend gifted me with a bottle of perfume suitable for that kind of adventure. It was nothing available in Copenhagen, nothing I had come across before, and it was – perfect. Perfect for the headspace that came with it, perfect for the part I had to dress for this kind of adventure, cerebral, complex, complicated – just plain…perfect.

That was Robert Piguet’s “Bandit”, and there was, in those heady, single days of living dangerously in the early Nineties, no perfume more perfect for dotting the is and crossing the ts of donning the whole domme mindset, the final accessory to the leather, the six-inch spikes and fishnets, the occasional latex outfit that involved things like extra help and a serious dose of unscented baby powder. It was leathery but not entirely, it was ashy yet not completely, it was strange and rubbery and compelling in a way not many perfumes had the ovaries to be in those days, and not many women had the ovaries to wear it.

Wearing “Bandit”, I became a completely different woman. Not my Pollyanna usual self, not my other absent-minded self, but this other…woman, who liked the dark and the darkly erotic, who liked to push buttons, take control and walk on the wild side and see where it would take her – often into territory a good deal more dangerous and thrilling than any sheer cliff face by the Atlantic.

Oh, yes.

Somewhere along the line, I gave “Bandit” away to a girlfriend who would appreciate its take-no-prisoners qualities, who could carry it off with aplomb and èlan, and life got in the way, as it sometimes does.

Lo and behold, these many years later, “Bandit” arrived in a sample set from First in Fragrance, and lo and behold, it is not ruined by reformulation.

There is something about certain green, galbanum-laden chypres that appeal in a good many ways to my inner fearless female – the one who never takes no for an answer, the one who is in perfect control of every situation, the one who always knows what to say, what to wear, and what to do once the door closes and there’s no turning back, he’s toast and he knows it and he wouldn’t want it any other way. Tomorrow, he’ll be breakfast, and he knows that, too!

My inner bitch, my inner domme, l-o-v-e-s chypres. Dee of Beauty on the Outside talks about another chypre that brings out her inner Maleficent, and I’m sure it’s glorious on her. Me – I’ll happily take Bandit. For the memories, for the sheer, compelling, complex strangeness of it, and for being created by Germaine Cellier – who surely put the B in Butch, Bitch and Bandit and not by accident.

Right out of the bottle, it has that smoky, dirty-ashtray vibe that should be utterly repellant, and yet is not. Bandit is not just smokin’, she smokes, too. So? You have a problem with that? Then you might have a problem with the rubbery, green facets of Bandit as well, and with the leather, because of course, Bandit is into leather…big time. Not exactly an overdose so much as just enough to unhinge you and unnerve you, the violet notes just soft enough to whisper in that low, sexy smoker’s voice. Bandit never raises her voice. She doesn’t have to. She walks into the room and you will automatically sit up straighter, pay very close attention and only just refrain from mentally pulling up your socks. Shut up. Did she give you permission to have an opinion, too?

I get the floral aspects, but Bandit is so dry teetering on bitter that it’s hard to tease out the flowers from the floorshow. They soften the leathery, ashy edges all the way through the drydown, still all about glove-soft black leather, warm above some very dangerous curves suggested by a touch of vetiver, myrrh and what smells like oakmoss. Can it be? Oakmoss? In this day and age? I don’t know how it can possibly be much else.

The reformulated eau de parfum, which is what I tested, is softer and not quite so butch as the original I remember. I seem to recall something nearly feral, but since my memories of Bandit are tied up, literally, with other memories, I could be wrong!

What I do know is this – holy (dead) COW, this is sexy. It plays in a slightly lower key than it used to, and that’s not a bad thing. I wore this to the office today (OMG, yes I did!), just to gauge the reactions I got, and Bandit is my new favorite chypre. The response was very gratifying. Those poor guys will have their heads spinning the rest of this week! It’s not quite so obvious as it used to be, and I don’t mind. I’m at the age where I don’t like to give too much away at the outset…;) First you have to lure them in…

So, as Bandit ‘walks her catgirls on leashes in leather’, to paraphrase one slightly cheesy video that captures its vibe perfectly, I do hereby solemnly declare…Bandit will very likely be one of my next two full-bottle purchases. It’s that good!

Because sometimes, I want to be that kind of woman, just for the thrill. Because I like those boots. And because…a little danger never hurt…too much! 😉

Robert Piguet “Bandit” is available at many online retailers and sometimes at perfume discounters, too.