Marquis de Sade is an interesting muse for this fragrance. In true French style, Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, was a writer that mixed philosophy with pornography. A particularly shady and licentious fellow, he was tossed in prison and spent time in an insane asylum for exploring the eyebrow-raising themes of 50 Shades of Grey (and worse) far before its time. The themes of his writings are far too explicit to discuss in detail here, but let’s just say that there is a reason why the modern term “sadism” is derived from his name.
Anyway, given the choice of name, I went into the fragrance expecting a scent that is obviously raunchy, perhaps something along the lines of Maison Francis Kurdkdjian’s Absolue Pour le Soir. Instead I found an unconventional and deeply masculine fragrance, paired with leather and immortelle, that comes across as both refined with an edge. One can’t quite place what exactly this fragrance smells like – the notes are clear and easily recognizable, but its as if there is something naughty lurking underneath that is difficult to identify.
And it smells fantastic. The oily, leathery feel is sweetened by immortelle, enlivened by spices, and nestled in patchouli. Just when you feel that it is just a bit too one dimensional, the fragrance produces one note or another that interjects itself into the overall balance. From the cedar to the birch, from the elemi to the vanilla, the evolution of this fragrance is subtle, yet masterfully done. Throughout – underneath the facade of prim and polish – is that growl, that hint of the animal.
Don’t get me wrong because it certainly is gentlemanly, as Ana Maria Andreiu has suggested. The question is, what kind of gentleman does this reference? Is it the archetypical Englishman, back straight, teacup in hand, immaculately dressed and prone to pearl clutching? Nope. Or the American, industrious, to the point, populist, and with an odd sense of humor? Absolutely not. No, 1740 Marquis de Sade references the most lecherous gentlemen of the French tradition. It is aristocratic, yes, but also irresponsible. Its very magnetism comes from its lack of boundaries.
There is no pearl clutching here: only a blush from fair maiden, followed by a wink from the Marquis de Sade. In her commentary on 1740, Claire Vukcevik writes the following:
“Apart from just loving this perfume down to its bones (I feel like it’s a person rather than a thing, this one), I just freakin’ love that they still make perfumes built to a humongous scale in this day and age. 1740 is a 25-course banquet, and a six-hour-long opera, and the full deck of cards. Amazing that people still bother to make this sort of thing…”
As you can see, she loves it, and her choice of words is telling. A 25-course banquet, a six-hour-long opera, a full deck of cards – these things describe the luxurious and excessive lifestyle of the wealthy playboy. Ana also enjoyed this fragrance:
“An elixir of tender, intelligent manliness, I like to wrap myself into its warm embrace, to pull it around my shoulders like I would a cashmere blanket, stretch my legs in front of whatever heat source handy and reminisce all the men I’ve ever loved, still in my life or long gone… A true man wearing 1740 is irresistible. It’s how it should be. And nothing to do with Le Marquis, who in spite of his intellect and courage in assuming his views notwithstanding serious repercussions, was most decidedly lacking in the gentle department of the gentleman.”
She is correct of course, because the Marquis de Sade was not known for being gentle or generous. But what then was his attraction? Why name a perfume after him? By all accounts he was a violent, misogynistic thug who was little constrained by ethical precepts. As Camille Paglia writes, “Sade has barely made a dent on American academic consciousness. It is his violence far more than his sex which is so hard for liberals to accept. For Sade, sex is violence. Violence is the authentic spirit of mother nature.”
This, perhaps, is what makes Marquis de Sade an interesting choice for Histoires de Parfums. It isn’t necessarily the sexual nature of the man that they are referencing, nor are they meaning to capture his vices. Instead, I think the perfumer was intended to capture what the Marquis would have seen as the authentic spirit of man, the point of tensile transformation where man becomes animal: in resistance, in passion, in war, and the struggle for survival. This kind of man is a gentleman – sometimes – but first and foremost he is a hairless ape who is capable of shedding his obedience to societal restraints in order to achieve his desires. The scent captures this kind of person, being simultaneously gentlemanly and licentious.
But, alas, this is not me – I am not a libertine. However, I do appreciate this beautiful and artistic work by Histoires de Parfums. This is a fragrance that exemplifies what it means to be a “niche” scent, which to me are characterized by their uniqueness, beauty, and artistic merit. I will close with a quote from the Marquis de Sade, which introduces the essence of his philosophy:
“Voluptuaries of all ages, of every sex, it is to you only that I offer this work; nourish yourselves upon its principles: they favor your passions, and these passions, whereof coldly insipid moralists put you in fear, are naught but the means Nature employs to bring man to the ends she prescribes to him; harken only to these delicious promptings, for no voice save that of the passions can conduct you to happiness.”
– Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade (Philosophy in the Bedroom, 1795)