One Thousand Scents

Monday, June 05, 2006

Calm Before The Storm: Jacomo de Jacomo


When I was 18, in 1981, which seems like a long time ago, I went to Europe for a couple of months. I wasn't the fully fledged scent addict I became--I had bought only two scents in my entire life--but even then deep down I knew something I didn't know. I went on a tour of the Fragonard perfumery in Grasse and bought a bottle of their Vetyver (which I still remember vividly, with its oddball celery note), and in Paris I bought, on an impulse and the strength of a single sniff, a bottle of Jacomo de Jacomo, which I could hardly afford but understood dimly that I had to have.

The bottle lasted me a good few years, but all good things must end, and eventually it died--it was a pour, not a spray, bottle--and was given a dignified burial. I had thought about it from time to time but assumed that something so venerable must have been discontinued. Imagine, then, my astonishment when, a couple of months ago, I spotted a single bottle of the stuff in a pharmacy here in Moncton! I had tried telling myself I wasn't buying anything else for the time being, but once again, just as I had done in Paris a quarter of a century ago, I helplessly bought it.

Jacomo de Jacomo is structured like an impending thunderstorm. It opens in a damp garden with a sparkle of lavender, citrus, and bright-green galbanum, but already the storm clouds are gathering; something dark is looming over the greenery, and though you can't quite make it out, you know it's coming. As the top begins to fade away, spicy notes appear; caraway seeds and cumin, cinnamon and clove, tempered with sage and basil. But they're just grace notes for what's coming.

The scent is dominated by two deep, thunderous notes: rosewood and patchouli. (The brightness never fades away altogether; there are always flashes of it to illuminate the darkness, but darkness it is nonetheless.) What's fascinating about Jacomo de Jacomo is that these two notes seem to exist independently of one another; they're not blended in any meaningful sense. Out of nowhere I suddenly catch a whiff of rosewood so strong and pure that I'm startled by it; later, a gust of patchouli--cleaned up but not quite clean, grimy around the edges but not dirty--appears. It's dazzling, tempestuous.

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