One Thousand Scents

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

White Hot: Caron Coup de Fouet


The sense of smell is an extremely subjective thing: what smells like a field of white flowers to someone else might as well be an open septic system to me. There's hardly any agreement at all about what constitutes a beautiful scent, or what makes it beautiful: teenage girls seem to love fruity floral perfumes, while more sophisticated noses might prefer a bone-dry chypre or a slightly bitter green scent. (The one thing pretty much everyone on Earth agrees on, it seems, is that vanilla is beautiful. Otherwise, all bets are off.)

I love carnations. Nowadays, as is the case with a great many flowers intended for sale to the general public, they're being created to be as visually beautiful as possible, which usually has the unfortunate side effect of diminishing their scent if not obliterating it entirely, but I've smelled enough of them to know what they ought to smell like. One of the wonderful things about them is that they distill exceptionally well: carnation essential oil really does smell like carnations, whereas lilacs, roses, and various other flowers, if they will give up their scent at all, often do so only grudgingly, and are changed in the process; they need some tinkering to make them smell like the real article.

I had read so much about Caron's Coup de Fouet in the last few years that I was desperate to try it. I knew beyond a doubt that I would love it, the certainty of the obsessed. I finally came face to face with it in London last month, and it was everything I had hoped for; I bought it on the spot. But something baffled me and continues to do so, and it's tied into the pure subjectivity of the human nose.

Susan Irvine, in "The Perfume Guide", wrote the following:

Will keep you as warm as a fur coat in winter. It's what Cruella de Vil would have worn. Wear it when you're feeling similarly vicious.

Vicious? Really?

Coup de Fouet, which means "crack of the whip", smells like a dazzling burst of sunshine to me. It does have a certain sharpness, but so does the sun, which can feel like little needle pricks on the skin (to me, at any rate, but I concede that I am an odd duck where sunlight is concerned). It's warm, but not like a fur coat: it's warm like a fireplace.

CdF opens with an overdose of spices, the better to underscore the clove scent of the carnation. Black and red pepper fly off the skin, followed in short order by an armload of spicy carnations, softened (but only a little) with ylang-ylang, which bolster the floral aspect of the carnation without muting its spiciness at all. Underneath the flowers is an equally warm base with notes of sandalwood and vetiver, sweet opoponax, and a little oakmoss, giving it a slightly smoky, incensy character (which, I think, is what makes me think of that fireplace), a dreamy haze that lingers on the skin for hours. It's an ideal winter scent--not a powerhouse oriental, but an extremely sophisticated floral-oriental which is as much at home on a man as on a woman.

I know some vicious scents; Givenchy Indecence is perpetually in full attack mode, and there are some men's scents (YSL's M7, for one) that have a murderous cast to them. But this Caron is nothing like that to my nose. It's radiantly warm; it's generous.

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