Lavender happens to be a tricky note for me. It’s there in a huge proportion of fragrances but I only seem to be able to register two variants of its presence. It will either dominate the entire composition rendering it a soliflore or it will blend into the background diminished to an extra in the cast of ingredients. I have the same problem with fig leaf. I have very rarely seen uses of these two notes that manage to tread that fine line, be visible but also allow other players to have their say as to which direction the fragrance will take. In the case of fig leaf, Annick Goutal Nimfeo Mio is a characteristic example of a composition where yes, it’s all about the rough, wooly, palmate leaf, but in a unique way it doesn’t smell like a variant of Diptyque Philosykos, the golden standard for this ingredient. It’s a completely new idea. The only lavender prominent scents that seem to offer a new take on lavender are (marginally) Gris clair…, the short lived and criminally under-rated Tom Ford Lavender Palm and the old faithful Lancôme Sagamore.
Sagamore has changed form and formulations over the years. I have a mini of the original 19986 release in the über-masculine bottle and contrary to anyone’s expectations, it opens much livelier than the full bottle of the second incarnation that I have.. Tart citruses explode and meet cinnamon and labdanum immediately. Where is the lavender? It’s there but so intricately interwoven with all other notes that it completely blindsights you. All the medicinal sharpness or the botanical bitterness that usually come with lavender are masterfully masked by the amalgamation of tart, creamy, powdery notes. Even back in 1986, this must have been a strange fruit. The black bottle predisposes for something like Givenchy Xeryis but the juice inside speaks of softness and and pale sepia hues. Full bottles of this vintage can still be found online but the asking prices are at Section d’Or rates.The most modest and ugliest bottle that’s right next to it, comes from the same generation as m own full bottle. The citrus spark in the opening is missing (aren’t citruses supposed to be one of the most toxic perfume ingredients…?) but instead I find a slightly aquatic note in its place performing the opening honours. It actually goes very well with the rest of the development. The spices are not so prominent., instead you are guided directly in a heart of sandalwood and powdery benzoin. The powdery theme continues but the addition of labdanum and patchouli reinstate the tart creaminess of the original version. Lavender still characterises the composition but always plays by the rules of the other players. The exquisite bottle of the third generation can often be found as a set of four classic Lancôme perfumes that were re-released ca. 2005 as “La Collection”, together with Climat, Mille et Une Roses, Sikkim and the eternal Cuir de Lancôme. I have never smelled this generation of Saganmore but I would be ready to forgive a lot for this beautiful bottle. The fourth incarnation of Sagamore can be found as a limited release in select stores and I cannot register any significant differences from my bottle. It signals Lancôme’s effort to come back as a creator of masterful perfumes. Out form the vault another “masculine” classic, Balafre, in a more metrosexual version than the original that I remember my dad wearing, plus Magie et Peut-être. Also in bottles of similar design with the necessary gilded oriental decorations, the newest Grands Crus collection of ouds and other monothematicly named perfumes (Lavandes Trianon, Jasmin Marzipane, Tubéreuses Castane) to easily guide the shopper through what should be expected. They are nice but not ground-breaking. Why should they be anyway? Great perfumes come far and wide apart, with a very specific distribution over time, so churning out entire collections of perfumes in one go will probably dilute one’s creative powers.
I came back to my bottle of Sagamore because I recently tried Chanel Boy and there it was, that huge lavender note taking up every space in the pyramid, blasting away nuances and subtleties and opening the grandma’s sock drawer. Needless to say I found it underwhelming and rather unnecessary given the existence of the much more interesting Jersey. The reviews I read about how Boy revisits the fougère genre and gives it a feminine touch made me think of the great work that was done in Sagamore. Traditionally it is classified as a masculine chypre but I cannot register it in this group because I can’t pick out the mossy background, especially in the post-inaugural formulations. Instinctively it feels more like a fougère, with this lavender backdrop on top of which creamy sandalwood and slightly dirty labdanum smudge the pristine, clean aura of lavender. I strongly believe that the greatest perfumes defy classification and Sagamore is a bright example of this axiom. It can fit into many perfume taxonomy boxes, depending on which way you want to look at it. Others see the tart-sweet interplay of citrus, labdanum and vanilla as a hint of orientalism. They are not wrong. Sagamore sits comfortably in-between all classically defined perfume styles. And most surely it straddles confidently gender barriers. Even though it was originally released and marketed to men, its current fine-tuning and position among the other La Collection perfumes is most fitted. Sagamore is a lesson in subtlety and nuance and a more Chanel-esque treatment of lavender than anyone has ever achieved.
Notes from Parfumo: Bergamot, Lavender, Petitgrain, Sage, Lemon, Carnation, Ginger, Jasmine, Lily-of-the-valley, Pelargonium, Rose, Cinnamon, Amber, Benzoin, Musk, Patchouli, Storax, Vanilla
Notes from my nose: Ozone, Cinnamon, Labdanum, Patchouli, Benzoin, Sandalwood, Lavender