While I was reviewing Coeur d'Eté and wearing it for the second time, I realized that this time I was comparing it to other sister scents. Smelling it then, I was less lost into it; I had switched on to an annoying analytical mode, or so I thought. As I felt somewhat disturbed by this, I decided to jot down some notes. Here they are:
I think that it (Coeur d'Eté) smells, however briefly so, a little bit like Champs-Elysées by Guerlain, a little bit like Carolina Herrera, and a little bit like Le Dix by Balenciaga, but all these being fused and made more subtle and complex. This, I think the second time that I try the scent. I cannot help but feel that it is rather reductionist on my part to try to break down the perfume into tiny bits and to find external references for it. In the end, it is not interesting....
It has a practical purpose which is to communicate better about a perfume with another person who has never smelled it, but might have come upon the other ones you mention. yet, I realize also that it is unfair to the perfumer. It is like trying, too soon, to decompose the colored pigments found on a picture instead of contemplating it. It is also unfair towards yourself as it distorts your perception of the perfume.
I am reminded of Edmond Roudnitska's advice. He once said that one should never attempt to compare a perfume to other scents because a perfume is by essence unique, meant to be appreciated on its own terms and that it was composed with that ontological orientation in mind. Doing otherwise would be like attempting to read two books at once or listening to two musics at once or deciphering a book instead of reading it. Confusion, cacophonia and analytical poverty will ensue.
I find that, perhaps, this strong idealistic streak we find in the perfume creative process, as envisionned by Roudnitska, is somehow irremediably linked to an idealization of womanhood and femininity. The perfume is unique like a woman is unique to a man who loves her; it is meaningless to situate that woman within a series of comparisons for that man. In other words, Roudnitska is begging us to view a perfume with the eyes of love in order to take in its full beauty and uniqueness. So, we should resist the temptation to say "Y is a little bit like X."
This idea is not lost on women; instinctively we look for the quality of uniqueness in a scent. That uniqueness will help underline our own uniqueness, make us true objects of love. An erotic dialogue is thus expressed through perfumes in our cultures.
Roudnitska's ideals are embodied in Le Parfum de Thérèse which he created originally for his wife Thérèse. It is now available to the wider public of those other women through the Malle Editions de Parfums. We can thus touch that dream both aesthetic and erotic with the tip of our fingers and be reminded of a principle of unicity that was very important to him.
Of course, this principle does not need be applied to serially produced perfumes who enthusiastically copy each others. But when we encounter a perfumer-composer with integrity and personal vision, we should, I think, forget about the other fragrances that fleetingly juxtapose themselves on the perfume you are smelling. It is perhaps like saying that an ensemble of seven notes are similar to that other musical passage in that other musical partition. It does not make much sense and it gives too much importance to the external reference. It makes your view of the perfume superficial.
However, I must admit that if I feel bad doing this for a work by Roudnitska and a good one by Harris, I am much less embarrassed to do so for a perfume that is mass-produced and whose artistic aims are set lower. In this latter range of products, the defining mode of creation is extremely referential and fully aware of the externality of fashion trends in fragrances. One does not seek uniqueness in this case because it is simply too demanding and too risky. You seek variation rather or a twist on an idea. The irony is of course that people in fact crave uniqueness in perfumes. A perfume like Angel was mass-marketed, yet it was innovative and daring, and it has now taken over Chanel No5's place as the most popular perfume in France. And of course, Chanel No5 was daring too.
Coeur d'Eté, to me, cannot be approached in a comparative manner. It has an integrity of its own which is the result of the artistry that presided over it and this should be respected, I think. At any rate, something in this perfume made me feel guilty for looking sideways at others.
Photo is from Art et Parfum