Oriza L. Legrand (redux)

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Oriza L. Legrand was relaunched in 2012. The rights to the brand were by acquired by perfumer Hugo Lambert and Frank Balaiche who apparently sought out the records and artifacts of the original house. The line relaunched with a number of perfumes based on formulae from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, though the original brands (Oriza and L. Legrand) apparently date to the 18th century. Reviving a brand that has long been defunct is an interesting premise and raises questions regarding the relationship of the new line to the old. Acquiring the rights to an esteemed historical house could be either a chance to examine and celebrate perfume’s history or a marketing trick–an ‘instabrand’.

There have been many ‘reanimated’ lines that ostensibly recreate/reformulate historical perfumes (Parfums de Rosine, Grossmith, Eight and Bob…) They often go to to great lengths to explain themselves. To their credit, Oriza L. Legrand (re)create a complex, anachronistic line with great attention to quality and detail. The genres, the style of the marketing and packaging–the perfumes themselves–are coherent. The upside is the that they offer a taste of an old-school sensibility without the faded topnotes and corroded basenotes of vintage ebay finds. The downside is they only offer an illusion of history and heritage. For better or for worse, Oriza L. legrand’s lineage starts in 2011 when the brand-name was purchased.

The line is the fragrance equivalent of ‘period’ film and television. Whether it’s Pride and Prejudice, Mad Men or Oriza L. Legrand’s Chypre Mousse, a convincing appearance of historical authenticity is the goal. Film uses sets and costumes to provide seamless narrative without jarring discontinuity. Oriza L. Legrand use old-timey bottles and fonts to achieve the same effect and convince us of the ‘realness’ of the experience.

The key points in their argument, with text from the Oriza L. Legrand site:

Lineage.  ”…fragrances based on the original formulas, faithfully preserved in the company’s archive.”

Authenticity.  ”This challenging renaissance of the House of Oriza L. Legrand was accomplished with the help of French craftsmen and family businesses, drawing respectfully on the traditions of the Master Perfume Makers and the most noble raw materials.

Street Cred.  “We invite you to enter into the story of our prestigious House…”

The brand successfully recreate ‘period’ styles, resurrecting violet and heliotrope perfumes, soaps, bath salts and candles packaged with with sepia images, retro-fonts and old-fashioned presentations. The brand is sorted into era-based collections, such as the Collection Belle-Epoque and the Collection Art Deco. These historical tropes already have hooks in the minds of the buyers, who are likely acquainted with the fashions, architecture and customs of the eras from literature and film. The perfume takes those images and flesh them out with scent. For the buyer looking for ‘period’ perfumery Oriza L. Legrand provide a detailed world. If you don’t buy the premise, it looks like a lot of superficial details and has a ‘play-acting’ feel. The  lineage-worship narrative and the sense of precedence reads as a little genuflecty, à la Creed.  If on the other hand historical restaging is your bag, Oriza L. Legrand offer a head-to-toe experience.

I’m pretty well lodged in the non-believer camp. Still, I fell for Violette du Czar, my introduction to the line. It dove headlong into the creaky, Victorian posie. It has a comedy of manners style that balances the expectations of a historical authenticity with a wink and a nod. Other perfumes in the line take different approaches to historical verisimilitude with varying degrees of success. In attempting to convince the audience that a perfume is not simply of an historical style, but based on an original formula, the brand sets an expectation that’s hard to meet.

I’ve briefly sniffed a few others in the line, such as Heliotrope Blanc, Muguet Fleuri and Vetiver Royal Bourbon all of which play on the single-note style of early modern perfumery. Below I focus on a few of the perfumes from the first couple of years of the new line. Each is ostensibly based on an original composition so I list the original and the relaunch dates for each.

Chypre Mousse 2013 (1920)  Chypre Mousse is a ‘nu-chypre’. The dynamics of a moss accord are approximated via a dusty, chilly, earthy set of notes. It’s foresty with huge herbal note. Or vice versa. It has a the woodland mix of dry air and wet underbrush. Green and brown pair nicely in the woodland but they can’t find a detente in the bottle. Galbanum and mushrooms. Mint and chestnut. Fennel and leather. If the goal is to recreate the chypre, the combinations of cool and warm elements fit awkwardly. Chypre Mousse comes off as inadvertently abstract. Imagine the chypre as an old car that’s been rendered for parts, and then rebuilt with stray parts.

Here is where Legrand might shoot themselves in the foot by focussing so closely on recreating the chypre. Not burdened with the expectation of the genre, Chypre Mousse is energized and moving. The cool/warm dynamic gives the perfume a frisson and character that make it stand out. Chypre Mousse succeeds for standing apart rather than for attempting to fit into any particular category.

Dejà le Printemps 2012 (1920)  Dejà le Printemps is the sibling of Chypre Mousse, preceding it by a year. It emphasizes the scent of soil (geosmin?) more than Chypre Mousse at the same time that it dials back the camphorous chill.  Both perfumes have an ‘herb-garden-in-a-forest’ quality that suggests a common accord that’s meant to recreate a vintage sensibility. A ‘house’ accord would serve a number of purposes. It provides a work-around for the chypre genre, which appears to have made up a good portion of the original Oriza and Legrand lines. It also gives the line a recognizability that reinforces brand identification and supports the illusion that the DNA of the original line has survived intact to the 21st century. Breaking the illusion, the wet-forest herbal quality reminds me of more than a couple Miller Harris perfumes from the 2000s.

Religue d’Amour 2012 (1900)  The Lily/Incense accord. It has been done before, and exceedingly well. Olivia Giacobetti’s Passage d’Enfer for l’Artisan Parfumeur (1999) paired incense and lily to create an olfactory white out. Relique d’Amour has a cool flintiness that fits well with the description of cold stone church walls impregnated with accumulated incense smoke. The effect is extremely specific and by using it again, Relique is, unintentionally or not, unoriginal. For a brand that sells authenticity via lineage, this sort of inadvertent repetition of a distinctly modern perfume makes it hard to let go of disbelief and participate in the wink/nod genuineness.

Reve d’Ossian 2012 (1905)  Reve d’Ossian runs into the same problem as Relique. It is a contemporary composition, in this case, one that falls into a contemporary style, the “liturgical” incense. Comme des Garçons Avignon summoned the interior of a Catholic church. It’s a very precise, evocative olfactory image and one that’s been imitated many times since Bertrand Duchaufour composed it in 2002. There are plenty of these perfumes available: Heeley Cardinal, Unum Lavs, Profumum Olibanum, Lorenzo Villoresi Incensi, Jovoy La Liturgie des Heures. I’m told this sort of chilled, pine-like incense accord is an easy, staple built from woody ambers, C12 aldehyde and olibanum.

A modern perfume in a line that touts Edwardian and Victorian styles and roots to the early 18th century is incongruous but understandable. The challenge for the perfume is to succeed compared to the contemporary competitors. Unfortunately Reve d ‘Ossian doesn’t distinguish itself from the pack.  It lacks the sparkle of Heeley Cardinal, the bittersweetness of Avignon and the resinousness of Lavs. It fills the niche liturgical incense slot but lands flat.

Violette du Czar 2014 (1862)  Whether you like this kind of a thing or not, and it suits a very specific taste, this is a solid violet-leather. The genre is anachronistic but Violette du Czar demonstrates why leather and violet were such a popular pairing in the late 19th century. The violet note has a brilliant effect up top, and lasts well into the heart won’t where it lands softly on a leather note. The top is super synthy, as violet notes have been for the last 125 years. The blend of the two notes is utterly pretty and quite long-lasting. A leathered sweetness remains through drydown and gives a powdered kiss good-night. I’ve seen a little back-and-forth about the gender specificity of Violette de Czar, something I usually ignore. But the mannered, play-acting tone makes the perfume so specifically dandyish that I summon my inner Quentin Crisp when I wear it. This alone makes me love this perfume.

The reanimated Oriza L. Legrand presents a unified ‘old-fashioned’ image and would have the buyer believe that each perfume shares a common lineage to the original perfumes from 100-150 years ago. Different technical and compositional approaches suggest otherwise and the seams of the story show when the perfumes are looked at closely. Story aside, the perfumes are well-finished and extremely durable, plus the price point for the line is excellent compared to many other new independent brands. Violette du Czar is so richly stagey that the conceit of reviving a perfume dead for more than a century falls away. It demonstrates that true fiction might be more successful than the mock-vintage appeal of Chypre Mousse and Dejà le Printemps or the surreptitious contemporary approach of Reve d’Ossion and Relique d’Amour.

 

Photo, Quentin Crisp at 88 by Andrew MacPherson, 1994.

Samples obtained from Luckyscent and friends.

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