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).

A Dream that Time Forgot

-a review of Olympic Orchid’s “Siam Proun”

There is something in the term “Oriental” that tickles the imagination, a sense of ancient history and timelessness. In perfume, an oriental denotes something spicy and opulent, a dream of far-away lands and old, sensuous secrets hiding within the depths of a perfume bottle, something ever-so-slightly decadent, even a touch forbidden, which only makes it that much more alluring.

My own relationship with the oriental category has not always been an easy one. With the exception of Lancôme’s “Magie Noire”, I’ve tended to avoid them. I just wasn’t sure I was that kind of woman, or else just woman enough to add that potent weapon to my arsenal. So over the course of my life I gravitated toward other categories, the greens and chypres and verdant florals I still love to this day.

Caught in the all-pervasive miasma of a dismal winter and the blahs that follow, I decided a few days ago to do something about it, and set about rearranging my bookcases. In the course of doing just that, I came across a dream journal I kept ten years ago.

In the dream, I stood at a gatehouse at Angkor Wat, that recapturing of creation laid out in Khmer stone, both ruin and reality. Until the next moment, it wasn’t, and it lay before me, still standing in that gatehouse, not as it is now, a tourist attraction and World Heritage site, but as it was during, say, the reign of Jayavarman VII, surrounded by priests and officials and courtiers, and the Mount Meru in stone I saw before me was opening up to me, some test I had passed, some deed I had done had gained me access to this place both sacred and profound. Needless to say, as I walked on flower-garlanded feet down that processional path lit by torches, I woke up…

But the dream remained and refused to budge, so I wrote it down and forgot about it, only to be reminded the instant I opened my tiny vial of Olympic Orchids’Siam Proun”…

Siam Proun is an Oriental in the true sense of the word – a mystery wrapped in the fragrant secrets of spice and incense. It’s at once both contemplative and evocative, serene and slightly disturbing. Just like the mood in my long-ago dream, it smells both sacred and profound, and just like my dream, it evokes a unique history in its notes – a time that lay waiting to be rediscovered. It is not sweet, but heady, spicy and floral, less a composition of parts than all of a piece and entire – one mood, one time, one place and one place in time. Is there patchouli and sandalwood in there, incense, Doc Elly’s signature spice, a touch of jungle flowers hiding in the green? Yes, and a time capsule too, of a dream of the East, an idea of the Orient, a frame-freeze of history and splendor I all but forgot until it wafted out of a vial on fragrant, flower-garland feet along the path to Mount Meru where the world began, a frieze of beautiful temple dancers, dancing for the glory of Vishnu just above the milky ocean.

On my everyday excursions to places like perfume stores and the stores that smell perfumes, I don’t often come across time travel in bottles, never mind the kind of time travel I might even be persuaded to wear.

But this little-genie in-a-bottle is precisely that, a long procession of dancers, weaving through time and place and history in their gleaming silks, on those flower-garland feet, and if that’s not a cure for the dismal winter blahs, then what is?

It wears unisex, although I’d hate to encounter any man who wore this. Resistance would be futile. In no time at all, I’d be dancing quite a few measures of my own!

I want a bottle. Yesterday. Just so I can be reminded of history and beauty and far-off, exotic places past, and faraway, exotic pleasures present – and future.

Image: Temple carving from Bayon, Cambodia, 13th century.