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!