The day has come to say what I never thought I will: I love aldehydes! And I ain’t talking about the delicious C-14, the one with an almost lactonic peach skin vibe which gives Mitsouko its lit-from-within glow, although I love that one too, in fact I loved it from the get go. I’m talking about the fatty, waxy, fizzy, soapy brigade: C10, C11 and C12 which are used abundantly in fragrances like Chanel no. 5, Chanel no. 22 and practically any other perfume that smells as if you’re drinking a glass of Moët while you’re soaking in a big, white porcelain bathtub filled to the brim with the bubbles of the finest, most expensive soaps money can possibly buy.
My growing obsession has started with Noir Épices, created by Michel Roudnitska for Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle. It has enough aldehydes to start its own production line, but somehow it never has the sudsy, excessively retro vibe that so many times put me off certain perfumes. Strangely enough, as I’m all about retro. Anyway Noir Épices to me smelled fizzy and dry, icy and heated at the same time. Haughty, domineering, sexy and very sophisticated, I was conquered and realised that I might after all, learn how to love the dreaded aldehydes. Noir Épices opened up my mind, wetted my appetite and I tentatively started to retest some of the aldehydic perfumes I blatantly rejected the first time around. Serge Lutens La Myrrhe was one of them. Nope, I still hated it. Chanel no. 5, still too damn soapy retro. Chanel Eau Première hmmm, that’s more like it. Chanel Cuir de Russie wow, this is right up my alley now, I actually like the delicate rush of aldehydes at first before it gets all dirty floral leather. And then I stumbled upon something I hadn’t properly tried before, namely the reissued version of Sortilège, the once famous fragrance created by Paul Vacher for his own brand Le Galion. The 2014 reinterpretation of Sortilège is signed by Thomas Fontaine and in my view he has done a terrific job. I suppose the new Sortilège is to the old Sortilège what Eau Première is to Chanel no. 5. A more lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek, flirtatious option that is tweaked to suit the modern tastes, albeit less brave than those of our grandmothers and grandfathers. And I adored it! It made me smile, I felt a sudden wave of happiness taking hold of me. So chic, so luminous and carefree. It makes you feel clean and put together but also quite the sensual vixen, as the aldehydes and sweet florals slowly reveal a golden, melting muskiness underneath which smells good enough to lick. It’s a very appealing, soft animalism, almost gourmand in a way with a chocolatey, hazelnut paste undertone. Although no fruit notes are listed, I smell at first something really juicy and sweet, almost like peach nectar, but it could be just the rich white florals, like jasmine and ylang-ylang combining beautifully with honeyed, powdery mimosa. There’s a touch of something dark-green and somewhat sweaty-sour and I think that it might be the narcissus, but really, everything is so well blended that all I can sense is the fragrance as a whole, rather than separate notes. It’s practically a very pretty aldehydic floral which smells fruity sweet, warm, powdery, sour, ambery and gently animalic. It’s a very optimistic, feminine fragrance and great for lifting up spirits on a dull day. Works just as well with a white T-shirt as it does with evening finery. It has an amazing capacity of making itself cozy on the skin as if you were born smelling like this rather than borrowing an appealing aroma from a perfume bottle. Sortilège has no pretensions of originality, boldness, dramatism, it won’t ravish you, make you cry, give you an orgasm, sweep you off to exotic lands or provoke a sudden spiritual transformation but it does smell darn good. For a while I can escape my own crazy, messy mind and just feel relaxed, uncomplicated and content. And terribly adorable to boot. It has a kittenish vibe but it’s not vacuous or stupid. Truly reminds me of Marilyn Monroe, who enjoyed so much all the superficial props of being a woman like the clothes, make up, killer shoes and so on but also loved reading, wrote poetry and was by far a lot deeper and more intelligent than perhaps the public gave her credit for. Sortilège is like a happy Marilyn, feeling good in her skin, smiling, playful and fun. But the serious side is nevertheless present in the refined, classical French sophistication of the perfume. I don’t know how Sortilège smelled in the old days, but the new version suits Marilyn to a T. I always thought Chanel no. 5 is too much of a grand dame for the pretty Marilyn, too dangerously sensual, too femme fatale for a woman who played up her assets in charming pin up style rather than film noir style. Sortilège, in spite of its strictly French pedigree, has nevertheless an American wholesomeness, a girl next door kind of feel which makes it endearing and a perfect fit for a star who only wanted to be loved by everybody.
I was hurrying alongside a friend down a little street in the centre of Dublin one day and I suddenly caught a whiff of Sortilège, just like that, out of the blue. I turned around only to see a big, bearded, black leather clad motorcyclist and I inaudibly chuckled to myself: yep, Marilyn reincarnated as a badass biker, makes sense after all. Another delicate perfumed whoosh teasing my nose and I spun back on my heels towards my blonde, smiling friend wrapping her coat tighter around her slim, elegant body. Oh, yes, of course, it could only be her. I smiled back happily, gave her a hug and walked away, olfactive receptors still holding on to the good luck charm that is Sortilège.