One Thousand Scents

Friday, July 28, 2006

Light Rain: Guerlain Apres L'Ondée


When I look back on my childhood I realize that all my life I've been obsessed with the smell (and tangentially with the taste) of things. I wasn't devious enough to hide it well, but even so I knew as a child that this was something forbidden to me: back then, boys just didn't take an interest in scents. Times may have changed: there are now fragrances for teenaged boys and even those younger than that. But I'd be very surprised if things have changed enough that boys are allowed to love scents unreservedly, to get as much pleasure from their noses as they choose. The scents that teenaged boys are permitted to wear have one advertised goal, to snare every woman within a three-block radius; boys aren't allowed to wear scents just because they're pleasurable, and I don't doubt that any boys or young men who try that, even to this day, are looked at askance.

One of the things I loved the smell and taste of was French pastilles, which are tiny hard candies in small metal tins. It was pretty clear that the French knew things about candy-making that North Americans didn't, and I always had a tin of La Vosgiennes candy around somewhere. Then at perhaps the age of 11 or 12 I discovered Flavigny pastilles, compared to which La Vosgiennes, nice as they were and still are, were lumps of coal. Flavigny made a coffee pastille which was irresistible, and even better were the intensely scented anise pastilles; this may be what triggered my lifelong adoration for the smell and taste of anise, and led to my eternal search for the perfect licorice scent.

Eventually, in a fit of bravery, I bought a tin of Flavigny violet pastilles. It seemed like a strange idea, eating something made of flowers, but they were there, and just as nowadays I have to try every scent that comes along, I had to try all the flavours of these candies. (Now I see that they make flavours I hadn't heard of as a child: Jasmine! Rose! Vanilla!) There's still something odd about the idea of eating flowers, and as lovely as the scent of violets is, the taste of the pastilles was not something I was mad about. But I can still remember the fragrance when I opened the tin; sweet, giddy, dancing.

One hundred years ago, Guerlain launched a delicate floral scent called Apres L'Ondée ("after the rainshower"), and, astoundingly, it smells like Flavigny, in the best possible way.

The top note shimmers with the freshness of raindrops: a clear anise note is joined with indistinct citrus notes and orange-flower water, and it sparkles--glitters, almost. The body of the scent is violets and more violets. They're light and fresh, and just a little old-fashioned; there's a slightly vanillic sweetness to them, but it isn't overbearing or cloying. Over time, the scent darkens; the violets are joined and eventually overwhelmed by a dark, wooded iris.

I wish modern perfumers would take a page from the Guerlain notebook: you can achieve lightness, sparkle, spontaneity without having to drown everything in ozone.

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