Perfumery has long had a (sometimes prurient) fascination with flagellation. Fragrances with names like Coup de Fouet (Caron), Cravache (Robert Piguet), and Riding Crop (Demeter) all suggest the menacing danger and pain of the lash. There are no less than three called whip—Whip (Black Phoenix Alchemy), Whips and Roses (Kerosene) and Whip (Le Galion).
The act of whipping evokes images of cruelty: slavery, abuse and sadism. From Jesus Christ to Kunta Kinte the whip has inflicted punishment. Pleasure, too, is associated with its sting, as illustrated by the character of Séverine in Luis Buñuel’s 1967 film Belle de Jour. The riding crop—a whip in miniature—has been wielded by villains and equestrians in equal measure and in fact is used in advertisements for Guerlain’s Habit Rouge.
The cracking of a whip can have a positive association as well. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “to act with authority to make someone work harder.” Given the choice between a stick and a carrot, I’ll always take the carrot, but I like to think the “positive” persuasion of the cracking of the whip is what inspired Le Galion’s 1953 masterpiece and—as the name suggests–Caron’s 1954 offering.
Le Galion is a true Phoenix arisen from the ashes—there are several once great French houses which, upon falling on hard times falter, fail, change hands and try to revive themselves. These relaunches often present an offering that is a shadow of its former self; visiting the websites of Jean Desprez, Lucien Lelong and Worth (and even, perhaps, Patou) tells the whole story.
Not so with Le Galion. They, along with a few others like Grossmith, have re-emerged at the high end of the luxury market (where they started) with beautiful marketing, a leveraged heritage, proper capitalization and—most importantly—spectacularly high quality products as good now as when they made the reputation of the brand. Old classics brought back to life in pristine form and a pipeline of new offerings in the house style. This gives me hope.
The nose for these classic scents was Le Galion owner Paul Vacher who also gave the world monumental classics like Arpege and Miss Dior—he worked for other houses even while producing his own scents for Le Galion. Le Galion’s most famous perfume is arguably 1937’s Sortilege (house scent at the Stork Club, no less) but they have a fine stable of hits from their heyday including Brumes (1939), Special for Gentlemen (1947), Snob (1952)…. and Whip. Whip was launched in 1953, the same year as Elizabeth II’s coronation and it is “a fresh and young fragrance, especially refreshing in the summer.” According to Le Galion, “Originally created for men, women also grabbed hold of it quickly.”
Le Galion’s inaugural men’s scent, Special for Men, is fresh and citric but with an underlying muskiness that is similar to underlying dirtiness of Mouchoir de Monsieur or Moustache. This is a style that the French do so well and that sexy clean/dirty accord is done brilliantly in Special for Men. Whip, which came only six years later, cleans all of that up, adds a slug of beautiful flowers and lights the whole thing up with galbanum, presaging the green movement that arose in the 60s and 70s.
The top notes are very citrusy, with lemon and bergamot. Herbs such as Tarragon and cardamom provide the perfect foil for floral notes like jasmine, violet and lavender. The notes suggest that there is “a hint of iris” and if that is so, the lipstick cap is firmly in place; no makeup smell here. Galbanum illuminates everything and provides the chiaroscuro for the darker notes of oak moss, patchouli and vetiver. Leather underlies the whole thing—it couldn’t be called Whip without some leather, right?
Whip is the perfect scent for men who wants a fresh scent with a floral, leather kick to it and for women wanting a sparkling, clean distillation of classic French perfumery. This is close enough to the classic cologne construct (although one of Le Galion’s new offerings is an excellent Cologne) to be right on trend today and be a potentially ideal signature scent. When the whip comes down, I will be galvanized into action. I will also be wearing Whip.