digging (into) vintage: Guerlain Parure, 1975

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A large decant of the discontinued but coveted Parure was sent to me by a generous friend who has a particularly good ability to read perfume. I think there was some degree of test implied in the gift. What would I make of Parure? How would I “place” it?

image, The Stepford Wives (incidentally, also from 1975)

Parure was released in 1975, composed by Jean-Paul Guerlain. For perspective, Guerlain released Chant d’Aromes, a prim powdery floral in 1962; Chamade, an exquisitely powerful green floral in 1969; and Nahema, an over-the-top disco queen in 1979. How is it possible that Parure is so much more in the conservative mold of Chant d’Aromes than Nahema?

Parure was released into a market that had many similar aldehydic floral chypres like Paco Rabanne Calandre (1969), YSL Rive Gauche (1970) and Estée Lauder Private Collection (1973). Also, a new wave of emancipated green fragrances had started to leave the dainty floral aldehyde behind. By emancipated, I mean taking the lead like Aromatics Elixir (1971), carefree like Revlon Charlie (1973), or active and engaged like Estée Lauder Aliage (1972). For god’s sake, 25-30 years prior women were wearing Rochas Femme (1943), Robert Piguet Bandit (1944) and Miss Dior (1947). These perfumes were erotic, some tacitly, others blatantly. They highlighted the sensuality of the body. By comparison, Parure’s powdered daydream suggested as much distance from the body as a perfume can create.

I don’t think Parure was intended to be retro per se, but it was conformist and cautious. It applealed to a sentimental longing for an arcadia before Women’s Liberation/the Civil Rights Movement/Youth Culture. It is the fantasy of a 1975 that opted out of the decade of 1964-1974. Parure is the manifestation of nostalgia and denial. Parure was intended for a woman who closed the drawing room doors before the Summer of Love started and still hadn’t opened them in 1975. Even the name, “Parure” which means both a matched set of jewelry or simply finery, shows how out of step this perfume was in 1975.

But that was then. As a homo in 2014, I reclaim Parure. Removed from the context of the retiring bourgeoise of the mid 1970s, it is a soft floral chypre with fruity elements that, after 15 years of syrupy tactless fruity florals, seem subtle and sexy. Its dynamics are delicate and balanced just so. Appropriating staid perfumes that were well designed but fundamentally conservative and making them a bit come-hither breathes life into them. God, it’s great to be queer.


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