Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Après l'Ondée : Guerlain : Jacques Guerlain

Since I've become rather obsessed with perfume this past year, I've been fascinated by the idea of a perfume evoking a place. But I've discovered that, for me, it almost never does. I'm not saying it doesn't stir the imagination. Perfume satiates some combination olfactory/spiritual hunger of mine. I know -- what the hell is that? I don't really know either. But it was a hunger I didn't even know existed until I started learning about perfume. Perfume suits my imagination by allowing me to select a protective avatar to pull around my overly sensitive little self like a cloak against the world when I want, or a glamour to expand my effect on the world if I want that. But a perfume evoking a place? I love traveling, so I'm disappointed to say that perfumes don't transport me.

But there's an exception: Guerlain's Après l'Ondée, created in 1906. Just smelling this perfume is time travel in itself, since it's formula is over a century old. It's been name-checked by Nancy Mitford in The Pursuit of Love, for criminy's sake. I like to imagine all the women who have adored this scent. But beyond the history of the perfume itself, it's scent is magically the smell of a sunwarmed, serenely arranged garden patio in France. The pea gravel and limestone garden borders have just been cooled by a summer rain shower. There's a remote, tawny, aromatic meadow in the distance, with a big thunderhead looming over it. Closer, there is the comfort of garden beds containing yeasty, pampered garden soil full of rain-battered violets and heliotrope.

So I have to admit something that other passionate perfumistas have also admitted: Après l'Ondée makes me cry. It is a magic perfume; it is a release of ancient breath. The anise is both dusty and brilliant, the violets and heliotrope are tender, and the combination is incredibly moving, because it both comforts and makes you feel vulnerable at the same time, somehow.

Notes, according to the lovely review of Apres L'Ondee at Now Smell This: bergamot, neroli, aniseed, hawthorn, violet, heliotrope, iris and musk.

Image from Savvy Gardening

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