Dyptique : Olène



Created by : Serge Kalouguine

Date : 1988

Genre : Jasmine soliflore

Concentration : eau de toilette

I love indole… that is, I love what indole does to white florals.  For me, it gives white florals that poisonous, decadent edge.  It’s like adding a steroid to perfume and for jasmine soliflores, when properly done, it can light up the GALAXY!

Indole occurs naturally in human feces and, supposedly, dead people emit it.  I wouldn’t know.  Contrary to popular belief, us librarians don’t hang around dead people all that much.  But when a perfumer adds just the right amount of indole to a jasmine soliflore, particularly, it gives the perfume a third dimension.  With all the talk of feces and dead people. strangely, the jasmine note comes alive.

Now… I’ve read perfume reviews of Olène claiming that it is so heady that it can suck the oxygen out of an elevator… and if you don’t go lightly, people around you will hate you.  I don’t believe that.  Granted, the first 20 minutes are a little shrill but when Olène morphs into its true character, it’s beyond pretty.  For me, Olène is an interpreted jasmine just like Edmond Roudnitska’s Diorissimo is an interpreted lily of the valley.  Both are better than the actual flower that inspired their creation.  Although Serge Lutens’ ultra-synthetic À la nuit may be a truer jasmine soliflore, I find it difficult to wear and therefore, Olène the better of the two.

I could list the floral notes but it wouldn’t tell you much… narcissus, honeysuckle, wisteria.  See?  Suffice it to say that Olène is the most wearable, prettiest jasmine-centric white-floral bouquet I’ve ever tried.  On a woman, it would be delicious… on a man, it would turn heads.  It doesn’t surprise me in the least the men in India wear jasmine perfume.

While writing this post the understated, tasteful and simplified Ziegfield production of A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody came to mind.


Dior : Diorella

Created by : Edmond Roudnitska

Date : 1972

Genre : Floral (jasmine) wood

Concentration : eau de toilette

I often refer to Diorella as the feminine Eau Sauvage because in the literature that is how it is presented.  But when recently rereading Michael Edwards’ Perfume Legends : French Feminine Fragrances, I was surprised to read the following passage :

Diorella has been called a feminine Eau Sauvage, but Roudnitska disagrees.  “Diorella was not inspired by Eau Sauvage,” he claims.  “I worked with a different formula.  Like Eau Sauvage, Diorella has a touch of chypre, but apart from that, it has absolutely nothing to do with Eau Sauvage.  Of course I had made use of the experience I had gained from my earlier work, but if Eau Sauvage was the daughter of Diorissimo (1956), the formal structure of Diorella makes it the granddaughter of Diorissimo, without really being the daughter of Eau Sauvage.  Diorella was the transformation of quite another formula.”

I’m not sure I understand the convoluted geneaology, but having tested the latest formulation of Diorella recently I can attest that it is NOT the feminine Eau Sauvage, it is the masculine Eau Sauvage (and consequently, Eau Sauvage is the feminine Diorella).  Both start quite similarly but Diorella doesn’t have the citrus flourishes of Eau Sauvage.  One could confuse Eau Sauvage with an eau de cologne but never Diorella.  More importantly, Diorella’s  jasmine heart is denser and although there is the occasional soapy note its voice is in the masculine range.

As for classification, I’m going to disagree with Michael Edwards on this one who puts Diorella in his Citrus family, although I suspect he was working from a preformulated Diorella.  For me, it’s more of a floral wood, the floral part supplied by Hedione or jasmine.  Both men and women could wear Diorella but I think most women would prefer the lighter, citrusy Eau Sauvage as would most men.  It doesn’t surprise me that Eau Sauvage is available everywhere as opposed to Diorella which is a treasure hunt find… still beautiful but after wearing it for a few days, I prefer Eau Sauvage.

Serge Lutens : À La Nuit

Created by : Christopher Sheldrake

Date : 2000

Genre : Jasmine soliflore

Concentration : Eau de parfum

“This is not perfume,” I said to a friend about À La Nuit.  It was an off-handed comment made for effect but as I said those words I had a flashback to 1979… way back to a lecture on Modern Art and Concepts by the late Professor W. Judkins at McGill University.  Professor Judkins was a Harvard-trained art historian who had taught at Harvard and Radcliffe and who almost single-handedly started up the Art History Department at the University.

“Next slide please,” Professor Judkins said with a gravelly voice to his assistant in the projection room.  A Canaletto painting of Venice flashed up on the screen.  I leaned over to whisper to a classmate, “So beautiful… this is great art.”

“THIS IS NOT ART,” Professor Judkins emphasized word by word.  “It’s nothing but a lovely postcard meant to be purchased by the rich during their Grand Tour of Europe.  Where is the interpretation?  Where is the abstraction?  The art part of painting lies in its abstraction.”  I was horrified.  But more than 30 years later while testing À La Nuit, I understood what he was saying.

À La Nuit is a soliflore which means it attempts to reproduce the scent of one flower… jasmine, in this case.  It doesn’t develop much over time and, in that sense, it is not unlike an essential oil.  It smells flat and uninspired but for what it’s meant to do, it does it well.  If you absolutely love the smell of jasmine and you don’t want to go to a headshop to pick up some jasmine essential oil (at a fraction of the cost), well then you’ll love it.  I’m not a fan because I prefer my perfumes to be more complex and to evolve over time.  All this reminds me of Edmond Roudnitska and what he did with Diorissimo.  He did not give us a straight up lily of the valley.  He interpreted and embellished it.  And that is why Diorissimo is infinitely more interesting than say, Yardley’s Lily of the Valley.  But for those on a limited budget who like the smell of muguet… well, the latter is still pretty good.

So if À La Nuit is so boring why is it part of my collection?  I wanted it as a reference scent to calibrate my nose when I’m looking for jasmine notes in other perfumes… but I’ll never wear it.

And so my flippant comment was exactly that… not very well thought out and a little unfair.  Of course À La Nuit is a perfume.  But, is it art?  I don’t know.  Probably not.

By the way, if anyone out there has any Canaletto “postcards” cluttering up your walls, please feel free to send them my way.  I’ll gladly pay for the shipping.

Have a nice week everyone!

Image : The Grand Canal and the Church of the Salute (1730) by Giovanni Antonio Canal (Canaletto)

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