Parfums DelRae Amoureuse, 2002

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Perfumer Michel Roudnitska

Growing up, history was never my strongest subject and I’ve wound up with a child’s understanding of history. It’s a kind of chauvinism of the present where the exceptional is always manifest in the present and therefore every moment is the best ever. It’s exhausting.

As a result of this skewed view, my bias is to regard contemporary trends as separate from history. Cultural trends are a break from tradition, a break from history, not a continuity. Amoureuse is my lesson in continuity.

It’s easy to refer to certain perfumes as traditional, old lady perfumes, retro… and therefore value style over composition and intention. That is to say, a perfume is characterized and then dismissed based on it’s superficial qualities. Amoureuse isn’t strictly ‘old-school.’ It’s successful for the same reasons that the better perfumes from the mid-20th century were so good. The canons of perfumery might appear obscure due to the historical secrecy of the perfume industry but the practices of perfumery are codified and precise. Classical technique isn’t a stab in the dark. It is a methodical and successful means of achieving an artistic goal.

Amoureuse points out an important distinction between style and intent. Post post-modernism, it’s easy to see belonging to a particular artistic school (ie. minimalism, expressionism) as merely a matter of style. A brief that calls for a simple or accessible perfume doesn’t imply minimalism. It describes the desired end product. It might have a simplistic goal (eg. a sweet berry perfume with notes of rose) but lead to a complex formula. Minimalism, on the other hand, is a doctrine, or a working set of principals that links concept, method and product. Minimalist Jean-Claude Ellena makes perfumes such as Terre d’Hermès and Jardin sur le Nil by distilling concept and formula to as few working parts as necessary to express his ideas.

Amoureuse is a gorgeously lush perfume, and is about as minimal as a Bernini sculpture or a Transformers movie. Applying traditional compositional methods to an unconventional mix of notes (lily, cardamom, tangerine) gives an unexpectedly tropical bent to the flowers. A spiced lily with a creamy citric base underlines the ripeness of tuberose and jasmine and gives the perfume a languid, heady feel. It’s similar to the lay-in-and-be-seranaded-by-the-sirens quality of Patricia de Nicolai’s other-worldly Odalisque. Histoires de Parfums 1804 shares Amoureuse’s sensibility of a prim French person on vacation in the Pacific tropics.

These three perfumes demonstrate the value of a trained, classical approach. Assured technique, a slightly unorthodox mix of materials and a creative mind lead to something new and fresh.

One way to create something new in perfumery is to take a new aromachemical or a new technology and to build a perfume around it. Advances in science have always made for changes in perfumery, from coumarin and vanillin to nitro musks and ethylmaltol. When the impetus is not a new chemical but a new idea, the perfume is a particular thrill. Amoureuse isn’t earth-shaking, and it doesn’t rewrite the rules of perfumery. But it is a joy and a pleasure that is perfectly suited to the personal scope of perfumery.

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