One Thousand Scents

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Curves: Le Classique by Jean-Paul Gaultier

Jean-Paul Gaultier's scents, on the whole, don't work for me. Fleur du Mâle was a gigantic misfire, I thought; Gaultier² was boring (ambered vanilla musk with no development whatever), and Fragile was a hideous blast of tuberose (in a really fantastic bottle). I wore his first men's scent, Le Mâle, for a while, and while I can appreciate it as an objet d'art, it doesn't suit me, at all. But his first scent, Le Classique, is a women's floral-oriental that manages to be both classical and modern. It's a wonderment.

How about a couple of lists of notes to start? They have nothing to do with one another, and neither of them seems to be entirely correct, but I'm not a trained nose, so what do I know? First, from Basenotes:

Top Notes: Rose, star aniseed, orange, mandarin, pear liqueur.
Middle Notes: Iris, orchid, plum, ginger, orange blossom, ylang-ylang.
Base Notes: Musk, vanilla, woody amber.

And from Susan Irvine's "The Perfume Guide":

Top notes: Cyclamen, freesia, lotus, rosewater, bergamot, lemon, mandarin, plum, peach.
Middle notes: Carnation, peony, lily, ginger.
Base notes: Ambrette seed, woody note, musk, osmanthus, cinnamon, tonka bean.

Not much overlap there!

I once called the scent "rosy-sherbety", and that's the overall effect for me, despite the fact that Gaultier famously (and worrisomely) said, before its launch, that the scent was concocted to remind him of his grandmother's dressing-table, with the scents of face powder and nail polish remover. No acetone in here, though.

It starts out sweet and it stays that way for its entire life, which is a long, long time, thanks to the preponderance of base notes: Le Classique is a floral oriental, but as it dries down, it's most definitely an oriental. The top is a compote of sweetened fruit (peaches and plums, reminiscent of Gem by Van Cleef & Arpels) with a little frisson of citrus and anise. Immediately underneath this is a bouquet of flowers: primarily rose, de-thorned, softened, and powdered, and orange-flower, though rose is still the predominant note, if anything can be said to predominate in this seamless blend of flowers. (If there's carnation in there, I can't find it. )

The flowers soon sink into a vat of durable oriental notes, still sweet and perfectly smooth; mostly ambergris, tonka bean, and vanilla. Gaultier's clothes might be modern, but this scent, without being old-fashioned, is comforting and extraordinarily pretty.

You can't really talk about Gaultier's scents without talking about the bottles, since they were clearly designed to be conversation pieces. This one, which caused a sensation when it was launched, is based on Schiparelli's Shocking

(which was supposedly modelled after Mae West's torso), but more so: Gaultier's version is exaggerated, with its big bosom and tiny nipped waist, an homage to his famous corset couture (also alluded to by the bottle's frosted clothing). Over the years, he's rung any number of changes on the bottle, too: it's always that same curvaceous, holdable shape, but the clothing is designed to appeal to women who once played dress-up with their dolls. One version came in a removable metal corset, and another was wearing a tiny peach-coloured fabric corset. Yet another had the underwear applied as red flocking, and every year there seems to be a new version depicting the clothing as filigree, handmade lace, or an elaborate tattoo. At least he's had the good sense not to mess with the juice inside, and why would he? It's a classic.


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