Maybe it’s old age creeping up on me, but I’m beginning to appreciate fruit-heavy fragrances in a way I have never done before. Key to unlocking a whole category that you’ve previously dismissed is, of course, finding one example of its form that steals your heart before you even know what’s happening – for me, that fragrance was Robert Piguet’s Visa. I ordered a sample of it as something as an afterthought (I was exploring the house of Piguet and didn’t want to leave one off the list), and let is sit in my sample box for over a year before finally trying it out in a fit of boredom one night.
Well, that sneaky Visa – she stole my heart. The first sign that I was in love was that I started hiding the sample from myself, popping it into drawers and into cereal boxes and so on, in a vain effort to slow me down. That didn’t work and I bought a decant from a friend. That had barely arrived at my house when I decided that I needed a whole bottle, such was my anxiety that I would someday be without Visa in my household. This is crazy behavior, by the way. As for Visa itself – well, one could argue that it’s nothing revolutionary. But for me, its fantastic peach and plum notes were my aha! moment, when I realized that fruit could and should be “my thing”. I started to explore and sample more fruity florals, and here thus far are my favorites of the genre.
1969 Parfum de Revolte by Histoires de Parfums: The perfume’s name refers to the sexual revolution occurring in San Francisco in the late 1960’s, of course, but by 1969 the once idyllic hippy kingdom that was Haight-Ashbury had already started to be corrupted by hard drugs, homelessness, and unsavory criminal elements. And in a way, 1969 Parfum de Revolte pays homage to this shift, by grafting an exuberantly sexy, brash fruit top onto a darkly spiced patchouli and musk base.
At first glance, 1969 is all about playtime. It opens with the biggest, trashiest peach note ever – as crude and as effective as a child’s painting of a peach, smeared with DayGlo pink and orange paint. Joined by a dizzying swirl of rose, chocolate, and vanilla, the peach vibrates and expands on the skin at an almost alarming rate until you feel like you are literally walking around in your own personal fantasy ice-cream sundae (one that features liberal helpings of vinyl and boiled sweets, that is). Like its close cousin, Tocade, I find it both vulgar and charming in equal measure.
Soon though, once the shock and awe of the fruit-vanilla assault dies down, darker, spicier elements enter the picture and quietly anchor the whole thing. The mid-section is a fruity rose and vanilla spiced with the green heat of cardamom pods and the woody warmth of coffee beans. The fruity, creamy roundness is still there, but it is given depth and presence by the resinous spice and woods. The base is a subtle musk and patchouli mixture, which, when mated with the vanilla, creates a creamy chocolate accord that brings it close in feel to Tom Ford’s wonderful Noir de Noir, a slightly darker chocolate-rose semi-gourmand.
I love 1969 Parfum de Revolte because it gives me both the low-rent pleasure of a Tocade-style plastic rose-vanilla and a darker, more adult finish that rescues the whole thing from tipping too far into the gourmand category. What’s more, when all analysis of this is folded up and put away, here’s what’s left – a loud, sexy catcall of a perfume that has just the right balance of fleshy vulgarity and wry sense of humor.
La Belle Helene by Parfums MDCI: This is a beautiful piece of work, and entirely fitting with Claude Marchal’s focus on commissioning perfumes that nod at French classicism without getting bogged down in pastiche. La Belle Helene has the feel of an old school fruit chypre but none of the somber tone that characterizes most of the classic examples. It opens with a shimmering pear note that’s realistic without straying into Pear Drop or acetone territory, and sharpened with juicy tangerine. Held aloft by a spackle of fizzing aldehydes, the opening notes smell slightly boozy and metallic, like the feeling you get when you knock back a glass of champagne too quickly. It’s sweet though – you have to be ok with some sweetness to like it. I do, and for me, the sweetness of La Belle Helene falls – just – within acceptable limits.
I love the start, but really, the best is yet to come. The heart notes are comprised of orris butter, plum, myrrh, rose, and osmanthus, which meld to forge a most wonderful vintage lipstick or cosmetic powder smell. It smells absolutely gorgeous – soft, rosy, waxy, and creamy. Literally, like the most expensive and most luxurious body cream you could ever afford, perhaps one of those Chanel ones that come in the white box. The osmanthus, in particular, provides an apricot jam note that is close to edible. What’s even more impressive is that the pear note is still present and detectable in the heart notes, and casts its bright, green fruit aroma over everything. At some point, the iris starts to dominate things a bit, and the perfume takes on a more powdery character.
By the time La Belle Helene reaches its drydown, much of the sweet fruits and florals have been whittled away to reveal a more adult backbone of sandalwood, moss, and patchouli. The landing is soft rather than bitter, and has an inky cocoa feel to it, an effect deliberately created, I am guessing, to suggest the dark chocolate sauce that is poured over the poached pears and whipped cream of the famous dessert this fragrance is named for (Poires Belle Helene). Delicious and elegant – a real gourmand treat in the beginning, and then a chypre in the base.
Visa by Robert Piguet: As I’ve mentioned, Visa was the first perfume to convince me that fruity florals have a place in my wardrobe (not to mention my heart). The fruit notes are remarkable – white peaches, plums, and pears that smell true to life without smelling the slightest bit loud or fake. Darkened at the edges by the burnt sugar of immortelle and wrapped up tenderly in a powdery benzoin blanket, Visa’s peaches and plums feels bathed in autumnal dusk compared to the strobe-lit glare of most other fruity-floral fragrances. There’s a certain winey, “stained-glass” glow to the stone fruit that makes me ridiculously happy.
When I visualize the type of person that might wear Visa as her signature fragrance, I see a sexy librarian with glasses and a knowing smile. As deep and as comforting as a well-powdered bosom, Visa presents the wearer with a restrained take on loud fruit-chocolate-gourmand “chypres” such as Angel and Chinatown. Here there is no excess, no loud notes playing out of tune, and thankfully, no fruit loop-flavored syrup anywhere to be found.
Everything in Visa is set at hush levels. Even the leather note is gentle – a buffed grey suede rather than a twangy new shoe. The suede and the slight drinking chocolate powder feel in the base offers a gentle cushion for the fruit notes, and a dignified end to the story. Half the pleasure I derive from wearing Visa lies in trying to guess what category it falls into. Actually, it straddles several at once – the fruity-floral, leather chypre, fruit leather, gourmand, and maybe even the dreaded fruitchouli. But far being a brainless fruity, sweet thing you use to stun the opposite sex into submission, Visa is poised and a little bit mysterious. It’s for grown-up women who know their place in the world, not little girls trying to fit in with the crowd.
Pear & Olive by Slumberhouse: A surprise hit for me! But then again, I’m not sure why I am so surprised – after all, I love the juxtaposition of salt and sweet in foods (strong cheddar and apples, salted peanuts and chocolate, fresh white cow’s cheese and honey…), and Pear & Olive is an almost classic balancing act between savory and sweet elements. Primarily, this is the play of sweet pear against a grassy olive oil, but there are also pleasing contrasts between the sweet hay-like smell of chamomile and the bright green calamus. The pear note almost tips into acetone territory, but ultimately it is restrained by the olive oil, and I particularly appreciate the clever way the grassy fruitiness of the olive oil plays off of the juicy sweetness of the pear. This is pear done right.
For me, though, the defining note of Pear & Olive is that of the Massoia bark. It lends a creamy coconut milk feel to the base, and a dry, nutty woodiness too. The slippery olive oil note, though, ensures that this is a savory type of creaminess. The texture of the scent reminds me of my favorite cleansing oil by Clarins which starts off on my skin as a thin oil and then, when drops of water are added, turns into an unctuous, opaque cream. Pear & Olive feels a bit like this to me – oily, fruity, and green-grassy at the start and turning slowly into a salty, thick cream towards the end. Either way, fans of thick, creamy scents should run to try this. I find it so pleasurable to wear.