One Thousand Scents

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Kaboom: Montana Parfum D'Elle

Yesterday at work I had a customer who smelled so strong I could hardly stand to be around him. Not body odour or stale smoke: cologne. I don't know if he doused himself with it before leaving the house, or had just come from Wal-Mart where he'd been trying a new fragrance (or six), but it was an armoured assault with scent as the weapon. A co-worker walked by, passed through his scent cloud, and stopped as if she'd hit a wall. (The customer couldn't see her.) I met her eyes; I know, right? Yike!

It's people like that who give scent a bad name.


Claude Montana's Parfum D'Elle, launched in 1990, might have the same effect if you sloshed it on before heading out to face the world.

The first thing you smell is a colossal fruit note: mostly citrus, with a sweet creamy-bakery element, not so much lemon zest as lemon loaf (whipped cream on top, for some reason), joined by lime, orange, and a melony undercurrent. It starts out big, and then it just seems to get bigger; it's hard to overstate the volume of it--like an olfactory blob of that insulating foam that keeps expanding and expanding. God help you if you've applied more than a couple of spritzes, though even that might be too much. Right from the start it's radiant and effusive; beautiful, but showoffy.

The core of the scent is on the same scale; a big fat chypre floral with hothouse tuberose and ylang-ylang, warm and thick. It doesn't read as a pure floral, not flowery; the floralcy is muffled by the liberal applications of oakmoss and amber, and it's a chypre above all else. A big one.

All this is pretty typical of perfumery from the era; by 1990, things were starting to scale back, a little, but a scent that had probably been in the planning stages for a year or two was still going to have that larger-than-life quality that was the hallmark of the mid eighties. Parfum D'Elle was Montana's second women's scent, four years after the mesmerizing Parfum de Peau, and both of them take up a lot of space, as well they might; the eighties, remember, were a time of radioactively bright colours and big shapes in clothing were the norm, when a Claude Montana garment such as this

would not seem odd or out of place at all. Both Parfum de Peau and Parfum D'Elle were entirely in the spirit of the times.

After an hour and a half or so the heaviness begins to abate, and the base that reveals itself is sublime, well worth waiting for, even if the rest of the scent is not exactly to your taste; oakmoss, but subtle and refined, drenched with honey, bathed in vanilla, wreathed with tobacco and amber. (I once sent a vial of Parfum D'Elle to a fellow scent hound, telling him, "Even if you don't like the rest of it, you have to smell the base.")

The bottles--there were two of them--are stunning. Parfum de Peau was encased in a bottle that is essentially a rotated stack of oval discs, and it's a genius piece of work that calls to mind an abstracted female torso, a maple seed spinning through the air, and the helix of DNA. The Parfum D'Elle bottles are also stacks of discs, but taken in a completely different direction: the eau de parfum bottle

seems to be a sort of mollusc shell, suggesting a liquid pearl inside, and the eau de toilette bottle

is like a remote control from the future. The back of the bottle, which is what you're looking at here, is made of up the discs, and bears the designer's logo; the front, where the sprayer is located, is a perfectly smooth oval curve. The glass is frosted, and it feels ridiculously good in the hand. (Don't let the picture fool you--the bottle doesn't stand up.)

Parfum D'Elle was relaunched in 2002, and as far as I can tell it's the same box (a brilliant yellow well suited to the contents, the same colour as that suit up there) and bottles, but it's evidently a very different scent, with, predictably, a big reduction in the oakmoss content; my bottle of EDT is vintage, and I haven't tried the 2002 reformulation (or any of the presumably subsequent reconstructions). If you should stumble across this, and are sure it's vintage--I don't know of any way to tell, unfortunately, though no doubt some connoisseur out there does--and are the sort of person who, like me, has an appreciation for the scale and structure of eighties scents, then for the love of god, buy it!


  • You know it's sad, but I would wear that suit to work now, if I owned it.

    By Blogger Existentialist, at 9:37 PM  

  • As someone who was around and having his taste shaped in the eighties, I am not the best person to judge, but I think the suit is fantastic and I bet you would look great in it. Montana had a big hand, I think, in creating the look of the times, and that is a pretty good example of it--serious but fun at the same time.

    But then, I like that peplum-nipped-waist-shoulder-pad look that is well out of fashion. If it came back in a serious way, it would probably look cartoony. But Montana's proportions were gorgeous.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 9:10 AM  

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