(image lifted from Philip Lorca-DiCorcia)
(1979? 1982? Perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena; Art Director, Jean-François Laporte )
I read that Luca Turin called l’Eau du Navigateur dated. He’d know better than I. I never smelled it before 2013. Still, there is a distinction the era-specific and the tired. Navigateur might be dated today, over 30 years after its release, but it’s held up well. To be innovative in 1982 and still smell good in 2013? Sounds successful.
Navigateur safely negotiates a few categories of the era: the hyper-woods on the Antaeus/Quorum/Krizia Uomo axis and the pushy fougères like Drakkar Noir and Azzaro pour Homme. It avoids the pulverizing quality of the synthetic woods of the former and the Close Encounters brass-meets-church organ creepiness of the latter. I don’t see l’Eau du Navigateur Navigateur as a crude precursor of more refined hybrids from the meek/tasteful 1990s. Rather, it re-envisions the “oriental” with coffee in lieu of vanilla and predated the Serge Lutens new woody “oriental” from later in the decade. Coffee bridges culinary spice to resin via woodiness, just as vanilla does. While Navigateur might also have heralded the gourmand era, its focus is the roasted coffee bean. Not cotton candy, not frappuccino.
We twist ourselves into knots to imagine that without oakmoss and coumarin the chypre and the fougère are still alive. Witness the original Miss Dior Cherie, already redacted by Dior, and Penhaligon’s Sartorial. If we want to view perfumery historically, I vote for acknowledging and embracing the extant, significant perfumes such as l’Eau du Navigateur.
Let’s learn from it and enjoy it while it’s here. Who knows when the IFRA will limit coffee use?
(Note: if you’re a fan of Ellena’s water-color minimalism, this bad boy from early in his career will blow your mind.)