One Thousand Scents

Friday, June 20, 2008

Summer Loving: Guerlain Terracotta Voile D'Ete

At first, Terracotta Voile D'Ete seems like the result of a scientific experiment in human perception, designed to demonstrate how brief a top note can be and still be said to exist. Nerve impulses can travel at up to 120 metres per second. If we assume that the distance from the olfactory epithelium to the olfactory cortex is six inches, leaving room for the occasional detour around bones and hinges and whatnot, then we can calculate that twelve hundred and seventy microseconds is the minimum possible duration for a perfume's top note, which in this case appears to be bergamot and mint.

After this tiny shred of a second has passed and the minty top note has vanished into the ether, the middle of the scent shows up and is a stripped-down version of Old Spice, with the gasoliney herbed-geranium quality of the scent gone but the core intact. I'm not sure why someone would want to make a copy of Old Spice, since the original has been on the market since the 1930s and is available inexpensively just about everywhere, but if you want a costlier yet less complex duplicate, here it is. It smells primarily of carnations and vanilla, and sometimes the vanilla, intriguingly, will simply detach itself from its surroundings and wrap itself around you in an extremely ingratiating way. Since carnations and vanilla are close to being, in my estimation, the two best things that anybody or anything can smell like, this alone makes the scent a winner.

After a couple of hours of this luxury, Terracotta Voile D'Ete descends into a dark pool of langorous warmth, supposedly iris and ylang-ylang, where it remains for the next few hours before vanishing. It is very attractive.

If you expected a typical bright-fresh-clean summer scent--Voile D'Ete means "summer veil"--then you are of course in for a shock. This isn't a scent for summer; this is a scent that's an interpretation of summer, all sunshiny carnation and tropical heat. It isn't original, but it's charming from top to bottom, particularly in the way it expresses warmth without ever being cloying or overpowering. (It is, after all, a veil.) I should also mention for the trepidatious that Terracotta Voile D'Ete is entirely wearable by a man; despite the floral base, it's neither flowery nor florid, and thanks to Old Spice, the carnation-vanilla accord is unimpeachably well-established in masculine perfumery.

The bottle is simple but striking; a sort of torus (twin sister to Byzance, cousin to Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum, great-niece of Bijan) with a little gold dunce cap which can be removed and replaced with a sprayer (which does not, unfortunately, accommodate the dunce cap) . The sprayer has a very high output; it gives you a bath. Since the scent is (despite its ingredients) fairly lightweight, and since it comes in a 100-mL bottle, this is not a problem.

Although the scent was launched in 1999 and discontinued not too long afterwards, it's still widely available at many online discounters. I bought mine at Imagination Perfumery for $24.99. It was worth it.

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  • Thank you for this lovely review. It is very timely, since I just bought a bottle of Terracotta this week unsniffed. The first night I tried it I was not sure, but I had been wearing Douce Amere earlier.
    I wore it on its own yesterday and it is understated but very nice.
    It was interesting that the review is in the middle of all those fun Demeters you have been reviewing.
    Have a great weekend!\

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:59 AM  

  • I'm still doing my every-Friday blog posting in addition to the whole month of Demeters, which explains the Terracotta review.

    I bought it unsniffed, too, which is not usually a good idea, but I figured, carnations, how can I go wrong?

    By Blogger pyramus, at 7:28 AM  

  • Your review made me buy unsniffed -something I NEVER do! I adore carnation in a scent, and I do remember sniffing Terracotta many years ago, thinking it was very attractive, but dismissing it as just an adjunct to the makeup line and not a 'real' fragrance. I'm kicking myself now - having received Terracotta, I'm enraptured. The soft, salty vanilla/carnation drydown is just heavenly. In fact, it's kind of a lightweight summer version of Guerlain's Metalys, which I find a bit too much in warm weather. Thanks for pointing the way to this beauty!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:23 PM  

  • I'm really glad you like it! It's true that buying things unsmelled is not usually a good idea, but I figure if enough people give it a thumbs-up and it sounds like something I like, then it's probably worth a shot. That's price-dependent, though: if it had been $75, I would never have tried it without smelling it first, but at that price, it was obviously worth a shot.

    I've never smelled Metalys, but some reviewers say that Terracotta is like a simplified version of Guerlain's own Quand Vient L'Ete. Maybe they're just re-doing the same thing over and over again. All I know is, with Terracotta, they got it right.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 3:47 PM  

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