Being an avid reader, and a repeat reader of those stories I identify with, certain books become like personal memories. Associations of history, especially literary history, are potent for me. I would venture to say in the culture of France, allusions to literature are an even more powerful trigger. The French are famous for worshiping their writers as cultural icons that sanctify every archetype of human personality (like actresses or other performing arts celebrities in the U.S.).
I know from myself, and observation of others that psychological associations have a powerful effect, and even the mention of certain famous people or events can affect the interpretation of an actual experience, especially with scents. I do indeed enjoy the concept of Histoires de Parfums, and I know this colors my experience of the fragrances. This may be even more the case than usual because lately I have been on a mental vacation, in full immersion in French literature of at least 100 years old (as read aloud on Librivox: Gautier, Dumas fils, & Balzac, for example).
Personally I think that Paris of the nineteenth century is like a sister to NYC in the present. I see a similarity to our own cultural moment that is psychologically and spiritually bankrupt but sensually deep, narcissistic, corrupt, creative and avaricious, in a perpetual state of longing, tragic, hopeful, with a background continual war being waged between the sexes. As Balzac says, our people are motivated by two things only: "pleasure and gold".
There is an alternate universe of living in or through the past, as depicted in the legends and allusions to rich and varied lives in the themes of these perfumes. They are titled by years such as 1826 and 1740 and 1873 and connected to great literary figures such as Colette, de Sade, Baudelaire, Sand, Verne and glamorous adventurers like Mata Hari and the Empress Eugenie and idealistic youth culture of 1969. There is also a series of iconic perfume types, such as dark patchouli and white violet, the peony bud and a series of three on tuberose, and a complex Amber with a 114 element composition.
For me the theme of this line is contrast -- of white floral, citrus and amber, and though there are some that are not amber at all, I think the exception proves the rule. Amber as a faint burnt honey that is in the background, and white floral and citrus as a high-keyed notes that thread sweetness through most of them too. Their contrast makes a push pull that is energetically modern even while the allusions are to the aesthetic of the past.
I was offered a set of samples of the 16 perfumes, out of the blue. It is luxurious to have this selection of them all at once, and to try them all at once, and at first I tried them rapidly one after the other. Later, I chose one or two at a time, giving the ones I liked a chance to bloom out around me for a fuller experience. I would recommend this way of trying them, if possible, as a way to get the overview of the line as an experience in and of itself.
For me, the tone of the collection as a whole is cool, even modern for all the references to writers of the past, quite wearable, transparent, and ultimately fresh for all the amber which reveals itself like something seen through an open window. Detachment rather than identification, a little distancing to keep the intellectual flavor, more of a sparkle than a lushness or sinking into the sensations of fragrance. The sample collection gives an opportunity to leisurely try them as a line, or as layering elements, and if you are eventually attracted to one or two more than the others, this will reveal itself and you can decide if a full bottle calls to you. For me these are 16 elements of a whole work, rather than one or another being individually a foreground star.
In rough order of my personal preference, these are the ones that appealed to me right away:
1876 (Mata Hari) a spicy citrus rose, with bergamot, orange, litchi, iris, cumin, vanilla, vetiver, santal, gaiac. Tubereuse 1, Virginale (Baudelaire) which is a pale green and the most floral of the three Tubereuse suite. These three based on a sometimes cloying note are at a well calibrated level of intensity for this humid summer weather, and could be layered or varied over the course of a day.
1873, Colette - a strong citrus with white floral, notes of lily of the valley, orange flower, violet and lavender. 1969, a light sweet and sunny citrus rose, with patchouli and white musk (I understand our modern celebrity icon Angie Jolie wears it) I tried it with other green tea and patchouli scents as a layering element yesterday, and it put me in a good mood, which is all I can ask of perfume.
I like the masculine scents too, 1740 (de Sade), bergamot, patchouli, coriander, labdanum and immortelle and 1828 (Jules Verne), citrus, eucalyptus, pepper, vetiver, incense. These are more interesting than what "regular guys" might venture to try on their own, but I suspect if they did they would prefer them over the typical selections they are offered. I liked the perfumer Gerald Ghislain's concept of masculinity of three parts: the romantic, the erotic, and the adventurous.
For a complete list of notes and perfumes, please see the Histoire de Parfums site and the blog site for more information and background.
Above photo, Colette looking as if she is a perfume on a pedestal, herself.