One Thousand Scents

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Melting: Vanille Ambre by Comptoir Sud Pacifique (eventually)

I would have posted more in the last few weeks — I was all ready to — but I spent a week and a half in Ontario with my mother, who is now a widow. Her husband of thirty-five years, my stepfather, Hans, died a few weeks after his 77th birthday, on October 29th, of various complications of lung cancer and cardiac disease. He emigrated to Canada from Germany at the age of 23, speaking literally no English; he learned quickly enough, mostly from television and wrestling matches, but kept an unmistakeable German accent until the day he died. He was quick-witted, unhesitatingly generous, personable, stubborn, charming. He adored my mother. He was an excellent man and the world is a smaller place without him in it.


Over the last thirty years I have given my mother many, many scents: full bottles, many miniatures, uncountable samples. I guess she got others by herself along the way, but most of it was my fault. She has kept pretty well all of them, even if she doesn't wear them, and a good thing, too, because during my visit I reclaimed a few of them from her — borrowed them back for a while, though she knows she may never see them again and doesn't care. I now have a tiny bottle of vintage Montana Parfum de Peau, thank god, and an ounce of Lancôme Magie eau de cologne (she didn't get it from me and has never opened it) from what seems to be the seventies. Or maybe the sixties!

Another thing she had that I didn't take but did wear a couple of times for the memories was a mere few drops of vintage Trésor, and if you could smell it alongside what Lancôme is now marketing as Trésor your heart would break. It's baleful stuff now, thinned out, brightened and freshened in the modern style, where it used to be ravishing, a dreamy cloud of apricots and roses with just the barest hint of bite, honeyed, with that warm-skin smell that perfumer Sophia Grojsman calls "cleavage". (She used this in an even higher dosage in her astounding Spellbound two years later: I smelled it while out shopping with my mom and, I am delighted to report, smells just as it ought to, because nobody seems to resist reformulation of the classics quite like Lauder.)


On returning from my mother's in Penetanguishene, I had an hour in Toronto between the bus and the airplane, so I checked my bags at the bus terminal and headed over to the Eaton Centre. I poked around in the fragrance department of Sears, not really expecting to buy anything but wanting to see the Christmas gift sets, and I was plagued by salespeople, despite wearing visible earphones and plainly minding my own business. (One of them continued to stand expectantly by my side after I said, "I'm fine," forcing me to elaborate: "I'm fine, I'm just browsing, thanks.") After about eight interruptions I gave up and left, so mission accomplished, Sears, if your mission was to drive a customer away.

I moseyed up to Sephora, where I was completely ignored, thank goodness, and where I discovered to my surprise that they carry Comptoir Sud Pacifique; I hadn't really paid any attention to the line since they stopped carrying it locally five years ago, and the couple of them that I had tried since then (including this one) hadn't impressed me. So what did Sephora have? Not much: Vanille Extreme (I have enough plain-vanillas already), Coco Extreme (yuck), Vanille Abricot (of course, the top seller), Coco Figue (new, and really yuck), and...what's this? Vanille Ambre? Gimme!

I sampled it. I bought it, of course. Vanilla plus amber? For me? I think so.


When packing to head up to my mom's place I brought a bunch of little vials and decants of scents, some old favourites and some new things that I thought I'd have time to review. (I managed one.) Among the things I brought was a little decant of Vanille Abricot that I had made up a few years ago so I could have it with me all the time, but had forgotten about when other things moved in to fill its niche in my backpack. And an amazing thing had happened to it: exposed to a small amount of air in its bottle and left to its own devices, it had ripened into something glorious, a deep apricot-brandy scent, boozy and heady, underlined but no longer dominated by that cooked-vanilla-sugar scent that the fresh version still has (I checked). It is magical, alchemy, and I couldn't duplicate it if I tried, but I am going to enjoy that little decant for as long as it lasts.


Once I got to the Toronto Island airport, I took the Vanille Ambre bottle out of its box and transferred it to the one-litre bag we have to fit all of our various liquids into: better that than risking it in checked luggage. Once in line for check-in, being a clumsy sort, I predictably dropped the bag. The Vanille Ambre bottle, being very heavy glass, survived the experience intact, but two of those dozen or so vials I'd brought didn't (because I suppose the CSP bottle landed on them), and one of the demolished vials was AB, which fortunately I had already written about but unfortunately I despise, meaning that everything in the bag now smells like that, and who knows how long it will take to fade away.


You do not sample a Comptoir Sud Pacifique scent expecting classical constructions of depth and subtlety. They are without exception simple, often minimalist, expressing a single idea: chocolate-chip cookie, red fruit, briny seaside. I love them: they're mindlessly fun.

Vanille Ambre is more or less exactly what it says: that warm rich CSP vanilla drizzled all over a chunk of warm amber. There's a slug of patchouli, just enough to give the scent a pleasantly musty old-book smell from time to time. And that's it. It lasts twelve hours without flinching. Unless you have gingerbread fantasies at this time of year, it is hard to imagine a better winter scent than Vanille Ambre.



  • Arriving late to say that I am sorry for your loss. He sounds like someone I would have wanted to know.


    By Blogger Existentialist, at 10:44 PM  

  • Thank you. He really was amazing: he treated me like a son even though he and I were just about as different as two people can be, and I'm glad I got to know him.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 7:04 AM  

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