Pissara Umavijani received a lot of attention in online perfume communities when she launched Parfums Dusita in 2015. Her perfumes go straight for the heart of classic French perfumery. Two of the original three extraits took on traditional genres, the fougère (Issara) and the mixed-white floral (Mélodie de l’Amour). The third (Oudh Infini) renovated the woody floral with a contemporary oud note. With Le Sillage Blanc, perfumer Pissara Umavijani takes a crack at another revered genre and sharpens her focus even further. She stakes a claim to the leather-chypre genre, one historically owned by the likes of Bernard Chant, Germaine Cellier and Paul Vacher, some of the most noted perfumers of the mid-20th century.
Interviews with Umavijani have noted how pleasant and cordial she is. Her perfumes, though, show a pluck and determination that an affable demeanor might disguise. She has said that Germaine Cellier’s Bandit for Robert Piguet (1944), the archetypal butch leather, was a model for her perfume. She asks us to compare her to Cellier, a serious gamble to take publicly. If her bet fails, there will be quite a few fumies watching it happen.
The chypre is famous for its capacity to reconcile seemingly opposing forces and many chypres are hybrids–floral chypres, fruity chypres, etc.. Bandit’s trick was not to balance opposites. It squeezed together two adjacent genres, the green chypre and the leather, taking advantage of the dissonance that comes from juxtaposing slight differences. Fans relished Bandit for its fierceness and its unapologetic nature. Detractors simply found it harsh. Le Sillage Blanc mashes the same two genres. It places a smoky leather note on a mossy base that runs toward wood more than amber and is just as contentious as Bandit. It shares Bandit’s jarring inkiness and has a similar bitter green streak that runs from top to base. Furthering the comparison to Cellier, Le Sillage Blanc has a touch of the powdered-cosmetics-and-ash-tray vibe of her other iconic leather chypre, Miss Balmain.
The best of the leather-chypres had a family resemblance. They had an ambiguity and an untamed quality that made them a fascinating read. Umavijani’s perfume does smell a bit like Bandit, but it also smells like Grès Cabochard and (especially) Diorling. Le Sillage Blanc matches the aesthetic of these vintage paragons perfectly and stands defiantly with one foot in the past and one in the present. The reference to a specific set of iconic perfumes is apparent, but it is well thought-out and the similarity isn’t superficial. Le Sillage Blanc successfully riffs on the peculiar dynamics of the bad-old leather queens and offers something very rare: vintage perfume, but better. Imagine smelling Chanel Cuir de Russie, Jolie Madame or Diorling when they were freshly bottled. Then imagine that they have a lost sibling in the present.
The state of the art of the leather-chypre has been an open question. It has been more damaged by restrictions of materials than most genres and has a shaky reformulation history. Perhaps more significantly, the genre has been out of fashion for decades and has little foothold in the era of sweet, unthreatening perfumes. I’m usually hesitant to cite ‘reference’ perfumes, the ne plus ultras of their categories, but Umavijani’s audacious wager should be acknowledged. She went mano-a-mano with the ghost of Cellier and succeeded.
Note: I don’t make a point of writing about new perfumes. I’m more interested in looking at perfumes years after they’ve launched to see how they’ve faired. I also don’t typically refer to how I have come across a perfume, though I’m considering following Mark Behnke’s commendable policy of stating how he acquired the perfumes he reviews.
In this case, I received samples directly from Pissara Umavijani, with whom I have been in touch via email since I tried her first three perfumes a few months ago. I’ve written about her perfumes sooner rather than later because I’ve been struck by them and I think that they are significant. When I come across a perfume of Umavijani’s that doesn’t impress me I’ll make a point of writing about it. But not today.