Perfume Review: 1740 Marquis de Sade by Histoires de Parfums

Depiction of the Marquis de Sade by H. Biberstein in L’Œuvre du marquis de Sade, Guillaume Apollinaire (Edit.), Bibliothèque des Curieux, Paris, 1912.

A few months ago, in my Facebook group For Love Not Money, some of us took part in a perfume review challenge. In this group task, we each chose a fragrance house that we wanted to become more familiar with, and wrote a review on a different scent from that house, every day for seven days. This was a great way to get through some of my samples, which seem to have multiplied faster than Mogwais in the movie Gremlins over the past 18 months, and to really explore both the fragrance house, and their scent compositions.

I chose to review seven fragrances by the French company Histoires de Parfums and I’ll be sharing some of these reviews with you here at Perfume Polytechnic.

Day 1: 1740 Marquis de Sade

Histoires de Parfums: Some Background

Histoires de Parfums describes its fragrances as “an olfactive library that is telling stories about famous characters, raw materials and mythical years. The collection created by Gérald Ghislain is governed by no rules other than inspiration. With his luxuriant imagination, this loquacious individual has chosen to bring his stories to life in perfumes, a sensitive and sensual medium. Histoires de Parfums releases its fragrances in a deluxe edition to be read on skin.” (Text quoted from Histoires de Parfums website.)

Ghislain is both a chef and an ISIPCA (Institut Supérieur International du Parfum, de la Cosmétique et de l’Aromatique Alimentaire) trained perfumer, and while he is clearly presented as the face of Histoires de Parfums (HdP), it remains unclear to me as to whether or not he is the perfumer behind HdP’s creations. Luca Turin, in The Guide, credits Sylvie Jourdet, Professor of Olfaction and Perfumery Accords at ISIPCA in Versailles, as the chief composer of most of HdP’s scents. In one online interview, Ghislain talks of a “small laboratory team” behind his creations. So, it might be that the conceptual ideas for HdP’s fragrances are generated by Ghislain, but translated into fragrance form by others.

Today’s reviewed perfume, 1740 Marquis de Sade, is from the first collection, or “volume” of fragrances released by HdP in 2000 (there have been several other collections added to the HdP fragrance “library” since then). As stated on the HdP website, this first collection was “inspired by famous people who influenced their generation. The name given to the perfume is that of their date of birth.” In this instance, 1740 refers to the birth year of the infamous Marquis de Sade. The HdP description for this perfume describes de Sade thus: “For this man, whose licentious morals had him imprisoned many times, luxury rhymes with literature.” It is from de Sade’s name that the words “sadist” and “sadism” were derived.

De Sade was a French aristocrat and writer of saucy tomes with a violent and/or blasphemous bent. He was a radical and a revolutionary who did not want his actions to be constrained by law, religion or morality; for his behaviour and for his lascivious writings, he spent more than 30 years in prison.

1740: The Fragrance

The following notes are listed on the HdP brochure that came with my samples:

Top notes: bergamot and davana sensualis.
Heart notes: patchouli, coriander and cardamom.
Base notes: cedar, elemi, leather and labdanum.

Last night I sprayed this on the palm of my hand, cupping it and bringing it to my nose, which created an intense little olfactory cocoon, perfect for a first, yet thorough examination. Today, I sprayed it ten times, on pulse points, the hollow of my neck, below my ear lobes and on my throat, and “wore” the fragrance, without reapplying throughout the day, which is my usual habit.

My first impressions of the opening of this glorious fragrance were that it was dark, rich, and intensely earthy: “masculine” in the extreme, and a very bold fragrance. I first visualised a heavy, black leather jacket, not the buttery kind, but the sort you would find in a vintage clothing store, stiff, sturdy and well-worn, like those from the late 1960s. Next, an entire scene came to mind: a drawing-room in an exclusive club, filled with Victorian gentlemen in smoking jackets, puffing on pipes. Men lounge on leather Chesterfields, cedar shelves line the walls, filled with thick volumes bound in embossed leather. Smoke tendrils fill the air, and civilised banter punctuates quiet contemplation. Is this image lascivious? No. Does it represent one aspect of de Sade’s character as an aristocrat (though not of the Victorian era)? Perhaps.

The leather used in 1740 is tinged with the sharp, repellent note of birch tar; which succeeds in somewhat matching, yet somewhat masking, the deep, slightly bitter note of labdanum deep beneath it. There is in intense blast of patchouli too, that extremely earthy type, which smells like cocoa powder and black potting mix combined, the kind used in Serge Lutens’ Borneo 1834. 1740 is a fragrance in which the base notes dominate and define. As for the other notes, I can smell most of them, but they are less integral to the fragrance’s character. I also detect something zingy, a zesty layer hovering somewhere midway above the earthy, grubby base notes. Is it cardamom? Like the labdanum, this note is well blended, perceivable, but not in its entirety. I also smell something very subtly sweet, just around the periphery of the composition. Is this vanilla? Or a sweet green halo of coriander leaf? The absinthe note (aka davana sensualis) makes a brief appearance, but the aniseed-y note blends so well with the other dark, luscious ingredients that it is only perceivable if you know it’s there.

The development of this fragrance seems to take place in two acts: the first, an overwhelmingly rich and exciting, dark brown blast of many co-ordinating notes, as described above, with radiance of at least an arm’s length and promising incredible tenacity. But the intensity fades, as does the complexity, from about an hour in, heralding the start of a very long act two, in which one of the starring ingredients of 1740, immortelle, gradually emerges and takes centre stage. After about two hours, the dry, hay-like note of immortelle becomes clearly obvious. At this stage, the composition is about a 50/50 blend, to my nose, of immortelle and birch tar. Six hours on, as I write this review, 1740 is a skin scent only, with no discernible wafts permeating the space around me.

1740 gets a five-star rating in Perfumes: The A-Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. It is a rich, sumptuous fragrance of significant depth and is composed of fine quality raw materials. It is redolent of gentlemen’s clubs and parlours with its dominant, deep and earthy, “masculine” notes, but whether or not it captures the more rebellious, transgressive side of de Sade’s character, I’m not so sure.

Have you smelt 1740 Marquis de Sade? If so, I’d love to know what you think; leave your thoughts on this fragrance in the comments below!

Creating Karatta Perfume: Part Two – Process

Adding the ingredients directly to the bottle drop by drop to make Karatta perfume. Photo credit: Emma Leah from Fleurage.

PREPARATION

In Part One of this post, Creating Karatta Perfume, I wrote about the inspiration for the perfume I made at Fleurage Perfume Atelier in South Melbourne, during my Create Your Own Perfume experience. You can read that post here.

To quickly recap, the notes I wanted to capture in the fragrance were my scent memories associated with Karatta House, a wonderful old dilapidated mansion that my family owned when I was a child. The smells that I was keen to recreate in this perfume were:

cedar / honey and beeswax (the bee hive)/ leather / smoke / mulberry / salt / orange / chocolate / fig

Along with these notes, from Emma’s list of 80 ingredients, I then chose a few more that I thought would complement the composition and the concept. These notes were:

forest / earth / seaweed / ambergris / resins / amber / sandalwood / warm wood

PROCESS

My Create Your Own Perfume experience was a one-on-one experience with perfumer Emma Leah and took about two hours. The session took place in the Atelier, which is a combination of workspace and shop. Fleurage is a gorgeously decorated old shop, very stylish with vintage and Art Deco accents. The store was closed for business the day I was there, so I had the space to myself, which certainly felt luxurious. The work bench was set up on my arrival with all 80 ingredients lined up in racks according to scent families (Fougère, Chypre, Oriental and Floral) and in groups of top, heart (middle) and base notes.

As I mentioned in Part One, my session didn’t follow the usual process as I had a concept for the perfume I wanted to make and some knowledge about perfume already. So, rather than familiarising myself with all of the notes and scent families as is usually done in a Create Your Own Perfume session, Emma had me pull out and sniff all of the ingredients I’d chosen to use, and I smelt them one by one. Then began a process of elimination. Did I like the note or accord? Did it remind me of Karatta House? Did it smell how I thought it would smell? I eliminated a few that I didn’t like or that I thought wouldn’t work, but kept many of the notes I chose before the session.

Some smells are tricky to replicate in perfumery, which often uses synthetic ingredients to replicate natural smells. And sometimes natural essences, while extracted directly from the raw ingredient, don’t match up to our conceptions or memories of how things might actually smell to us in nature. From the group of smells I was trying to recreate in Karatta, salt, the bee hive and mulberry fell into this tricky area. Emma explained that we could create illusions of these particular scents by combining multiple notes or accords. So, mulberry was created from raspberry, a touch of lime and geranium; the smell of a beehive from a combination of beeswax and warm woods; and salty and beachy smells from seaweed, ambergris and an accord called seaforest.

Once these notes were chosen, Emma suggested a few more heart and top notes to round out the composition and these were used discreetly in the final formula. The extra notes and accords we decided on were:

metallic / cinnamon / ylang ylang / dryspice / champa flower / chypre accord / pepper

Emma explained to me how top, middle and base notes interact, and how each of these categories literally have a different molecular weight to one another. Base notes are the heaviest, so when you make a perfume in a bottle, as we did, they literally sink to the bottom of the formula, the heart/middle notes hover in the middle, and the top notes sit up top. When mixed with perfumer’s alcohol and left to mature, these notes combine, rather than staying in their separate layers. The different kinds of notes also evaporate from the skin at different rates – the top being the most volatile and transient, evaporating quickly, but most apparent when we first spray a perfume. The middle or “heart” notes create the body, or main character of the fragrance and last a moderate amount of time. The base notes provide support for the whole composition and last the longest.

After deciding on our notes, Emma devised a formula for the fragrance. She worked out the relative proportions of base, heart and top notes that would work well, and then the number of drops of each ingredient that we would need to use to achieve both a balanced fragrance and something that represented my vision of Karatta perfume.

Once Emma had all the numbers worked out, it was my turn to add the various notes and accords, drop by drop, directly into the perfume bottle. You can see a photo of me doing this at the top of the post. It takes quite a bit of time and concentration to make sure you get the correct amount in the bottle and don’t make a mess!

We added the notes in a specific order too, effectively building the fragrance from the bottom up, and testing the formula along the way to ensure it was progressing well. Starting with the list of base notes Emma had entered into the formula sheet, I added ingredients in groups of three or four at a time. After each group, Emma dipped a fragrance blotter into the liquid and we would smell the result. As I added more and more ingredients, we kept testing and sniffing the new results on blotters, both on their own and in combination with each other. It was a fascinating, additive, creative process and we continued this method right through the middle and top notes, until I had added all our ingredients and we had our final creation.

Emma advised me to leave the fragrance to settle for 24 hours before testing, to allow the notes to properly combine and give a more realistic effect of how the fragrance would smell. It was hard waiting those 24 hours, but well worth it.

THE PERFUME

So, what does Karatta perfume smell like? It is a wonderful and unusual concoction, and is very rich, strong and complex. Each time I sniff it I smell new ingredients that I haven’t noticed before. At first spray there is something green and vegetal mingling with the dominant heart notes of mulberry and seaweed; this is probably fig, but it also reminds me of cut grass, pine needles and crushed leaves. It’s a very curious and fascinating fragrance, and like nothing I’ve ever smelt before. The beeswax note is strong, adding a warm, sweet and animalic smell to the composition. The woody/resiny notes, so evocative of Karatta, with its polished wooden staircase and floors, is very much apparent, becoming even more so as the fragrance develops. All of the base notes that I chose combine to form a solid, complex foundation for the fragrance and are complementary to one another. But it is the overt combination of mulberry and seaweed that really grabs me: it’s edible, it’s odd, warm and sweet, salty and sexy all at once. This is the heart of Karatta.

VERDICT

I would recommend Fleurage’s Create Your Own Perfume experience to anyone – it was such a fun, educational and enriching creative activity and it would appeal to both perfume aficionados and to those with no prior knowledge of fragrance. I had such a wonderful time making my own fragrance with Emma from Fleurage; it was a really magical experience and a wonderful way to make a tribute perfume both to my father and my own childhood scent memories.

You can read more about Fleurage’s Create Your Own Perfume experience here.

Creating Karatta Perfume: Part One – Inspiration

Dad_Karatta_Painting_Edited v3

Dad in front of a painting of Karatta House by Kenneth Jack

Recently I had a very special birthday. My wonderful partner, knowing that (A) I love nothing more than making things and (B) I am obsessed with perfume, gave me a fantastic gift: a voucher for a Create Your Own Perfume experience at Fleurage Perfume Atelier in South Melbourne. Fleurage is a traditional, European-style perfumery. Emma Leah, owner and perfumer of Fleurage says:

We created Fleurage to re-establish the lost art of classic European perfume making. The Fleurage Perfume Atelier is a traditional working perfumery. We manufacture our own perfumes, conduct classes and offer unique perfume events and experiences. (Text from Fleurage website)

The Create Your Own Perfume experience is a two-hour, one-on-one experience with perfumer Emma Leah that involves the creation of a custom scent with the perfumer’s guidance and assistance. At the end of the experience you get to take home your own unique, 40ml perfume. You can read more about the Create Your Own Perfume experience here, and the usual process that it involves.

In this post, Creating Karatta Perfume: Part One, I will write about the inspiration for my fragrance. In Part Two, I will talk about the process that Emma and I went through to create my fragrance.

The time I spent with Emma was a little bit different to the usual Create Your Own Perfume process. I contacted Emma prior to the appointment as I wanted a list of the 80 scent ingredients available for use (both single notes and accords). I had a concept in mind that I wanted to work with, and I wanted to see if this would be possible. Emma was very open to me bringing in ideas, and was very excited when I told her about my concept, which was to recreate my scent memories of a holiday house that my parents owned when I was young: Karatta House.

KH_1977

Karatta House c. late 1970s

Karatta, situated in the idyllic seaside town of Robe in South Australia, was built in the 1850s and was Governor Sir James Fergusson’s summer residence between 1869-1873. Karatta sits on a large parcel of land, flanked by a harbour on one side, and Karatta Beach on the other. By the time my family bought Karatta House in the early 1980s, it was in a state of disrepair, bearing more resemblance to Miss Havisham’s house than a grand mansion.

My father had a close attachment to the house. He had dreams of returning it to its previous, majestic state, but sadly it never happened. He reluctantly sold it in the late 1980s, and felt a keen sense of disappointment and loss for many years afterwards. Dad died four years ago. Karatta reminds me of him, of his striving to be different and to take on big things. I wanted to create a perfume that would be a tribute to Karatta House, my scent memories of the place, and to my Dad, with his courage to dream big.

When I was a child, we would spend most holidays at Karatta House: Easter, Christmas, school holidays. It was an eccentric and magical place for a kid. Karatta was a relic of a bygone era: it had a ballroom with a marble fireplace, crumbling servants’ quarters, deep feather mattresses, an old pedal organ, a magnificent, curved wooden staircase, pressed tin wallpaper, a claw-footed bath, rotting floorboards and peeling paint. My mother would often dig up 19th Century bottles and crockery when gardening. Up the road were the ruins of an old gaol, and an obelisk on the edge of a crumbling cliff.

There were many places in the house that were forbidden to my brother and I, which only made Karatta more exciting. One of these places was an upstairs room that contained an active bee hive. Oh, the smell! That waxy, mellifluous sweetness!

When we first stayed at Karatta House I was only six years old. Sleeping upstairs was terrifying for me with the howling winds coming off the ocean; I honestly though the house was haunted. We quickly moved our bedrooms downstairs, and I felt much safer. Dad built a rope playground for my brother and I just outside our bedroom, with swings and tightropes. I still remember the feeling of rope burn on my hands after a day of play. But the best place to play, apart from the rope playground and Karatta Beach, with its caves and rock pools, was in the Morton Bay fig tree. This massive, old tree, with its dusty smell of powdery figs and earth and protruding roots was the site for a game that we invented: Tree Chasey.

One day last year I was thinking about Dad, and Karatta, and I came up with the idea of creating a perfume based on scent memories from Karatta House as a tribute to him. I made a list of smells from the house that I would want to include in my perfume:

  • Cedar: for the wooden floorboards, antique furniture and staircase
  • Honey and beeswax from the forbidden hive
  • The warm leather smell of Dad’s car seats from the long drive down to Karatta
  • Smoke from the fireplace
  • Mulberries: juicy and sweet-tart, fresh from the tree
  • Salt: the smell of seaweed, the ocean, and seafood
  • Oranges that I would gorge myself on every summer
  • Chocolate Easter eggs
  • The Morton Bay fig tree

As I lack the technical skills and knowledge to make perfume, this dream lay dormant for a little while, until I received the voucher for my Create Your Own Perfume experience. Two worlds collided. This experience would provide the perfect opportunity to create my Karatta perfume with the expert guidance, assistance and knowledge of perfumer Emma Leah. I couldn’t wait…

Next: Part Two of this post, in which I discuss the process of making the perfume, and write about the resulting fragrance and how it smells.

In Which I Welcome You to my New Blog, Perfume Polytechnic.

Welcome to Perfume Polytechnic. I am a perfume enthusiast, creative, ex-academic and auto-didact. I love to learn about the things that interest me in great depth. Eighteen months into my fascination with perfume, I feel the need to expand my knowledge, to delve more deeply into a range of areas in the field of scent and olfactory art. I am not an expert in this area; I know a little, but not a lot.

So, what do I want to learn? I want to find out more about the science and creation of scent and how it affects us both psychologically and biologically. I want to learn how to make perfume. I also want to increase my conscious appreciation of both everyday smells and fine fragrances (olfactory art), through activities such as scent walks, reading, writing, making and sampling.

Eventually, I hope to be able to create perfume of my own, or to be able to incorporate olfactory elements into my work as a composer and textile artist. I am fascinated by scent memories and the idea of creating scent tributes to people and places.

I’ve launched Perfume Polytechnic to focus and channel my learning. I want to learn, but just as importantly, I want to share what I learn with you. I hope you find Perfume Polytechnic both interesting and educational and that you’ll come along for the journey.

You can read more about me and the purpose of this blog here, or click on the “about” button at the top of the page.

Thanks for visiting,

Polly Technic