It’s such an ancient pitch
But one I wouldn’t switch
‘Cause there’s no nicer witch than you
After the monumental success of Chanel’s aldehyde-laden floral, le monstre No. 5, every French perfumer en valeur son sel rushed to put out his or her own. Some were successful, some not. Le Galion nose Paul Vacher knew a thing or two about this genre—he collaborated with André Fraysse to give the world Arpège in 1927. By the 1930s, he was creating perfumes for his own house, Le Galion, and presented the world with Sortilège in 1937. Sortilège, which means “sorcery” in French, was a huge hit for Le Galion—arguably their most famous perfume and the anchor tenant to their perfume empire which included classics like Brumes (1939), Special for Gentlemen (1947), Snob (1952) and Whip (1953).
Compositionally, Sortilège is also similar to Coty’s L’Aimant as well as No. 5 and Arpège. These perfumes set the standard for feminine elegance in their day and they all cast long shadows. Among her peers—not just floral aldehydes—Sortilège seems like she should sit alongside Intoxication, Écusson, Réplique, etc.; all sophisticated, glamourous and very French. This is from a time when women wore furs and diamond bracelets on gloved wrists and hats with veils. Sortilège might have a slight edge in the sophistication front as it was the house scent at New York’s Stork Club, a stroke of marketing genius.
The Stork Club is long gone, few women wear furs and as for diamond bracelets, if inherited, they seem to get sold to pay for school fees and mortgages. Sortilège has reawakened from a long, long sleep to find that the world has changed around her. She has come back to the party freshened up and wearing a new gown, thanks to the new Le Galion, only to find that le five o’clock, matching accessories and canapés en gelée have all disappeared in a puff of (Gauloise) smoke, which just shows how out of it she had become….
So what does the new Sortilège smell like and where does it fit into today’s world? It is soft, sensual glamour in a bottle. Old school, gilt-edged glamour.
A slightly dusty violet note accompanies the top notes of bergamot and aldehydes just long enough to remind you that she has knickers older than you, then steps aside allowing the gorgeous floral heart to bloom. Jasmine, muguet, rose, ylang and lilac, with a hint of lipstick and powder thanks to the Iris/orris, soon take over and let you know that this is a lady you’re talking to—she may be knocking back dry Martinis with the boys but she is a lady.
By the time the basenotes come around you can see that she is a lady alright, a lady you would like to see lots more of. Musk gives this perfume a sexy glow, while the vetiver, oakmoss and sandalwood give it a slightly masculine, slightly jarring note—perhaps the smell her stockbroker/polo player/diplomat left on her skin after their last assignation.
Could this work today? You bet. Today’s sorceress would be well advised to tap into the energy that Sortilège invokes. These days, you don’t need a mink and diamonds and a debutante ball to be sexy, glamourous and ladylike. All you need is a bottle of Sortilège.