Quadrille is a perfume from the 1950s. More precisely, it was introduced in 1955. It came after Le Dix (1947) and La Fuite des Heures (1949.) The date appears little relevant in this case because I think that its creator was more interested in expressing atemporal qualities such as natural elegance, refinement and I would even say more unexpectedly, courage. A recent fragrance like Agent Provocateur connotes much more of the 1950s period to me.
What I particularly appreciate about this perfume is that despite it being marketed towards women, it successfully avoids the pitfall of encoding or stereotyping womanhood into a perfume.
The fragrance is very well balanced including both traditional feminine and masculine aromatic codes. Thus, it is a mix of dryness and sweetness, of spiciness, frutiness and floralcy, of austerity and sensuality.
I could perfectly see a man wearing this perfume; he would only need to apply it more lightly...
There is a sense of balance in it that is similar to the type of aromatic balance that can be found in Jicky by Guerlain except that Quadrille is even drier and less sweet. Jicky was initially created as a unisex fragrance in 1889 and I think that Quadrille can also be easily considered as a unisex scent.
The name is a little puzzling to me as I am not certain whether the word "quadrille" is a reference to a dance that was popular in the 19th century or to the meaning derived from the Spanish term "cuadrillo" used to designate the party of four people helping the "torero" during a bullfight. Judging by the aroma of it, I lean towards the evocation of a bullfighting ring rather than that of a ball dance room. Allow me some poetic license.
Originally from Spain, it is well-known that couturier Balenciaga sought inspiration in the culture of Spanish bullfighting and, in particular, in the "jacket of light" worn by matadors. In 1947, he created boleros as evening clothes for women that were directly inspired from the emblematic outfit.
One can note that Balenciaga turned an originally masculine outfit into a feminine one because of the dominant civilian sartorial code, which ascribes embroideries to the feminine wardrobe.
I am further encouraged to contemplate the bullfighting reference as I see the perfume as embodying both traditional feminine and virile virtues.
It evokes to me, the symbolic character of the toreador who represents, at once, a feminine and masculine figure.
The torero is dressed in a tight-fitting, luminous, colorful, and elaborately embroidered costume, in an era when masculine costumes are of a limited color palette and bearing no frills. He holds a cape that appears almost like a feminine skirt with its flowing lines. Both the lines and the colors are feminine. The toreador further wears dainty ballet slippers and brightly colored stockings. At the same time, the toreador is wielding a sharp sword to kill the bull.
There is, to me, a yin and yang balance in bullfighting, because it is both a graceful, feminine dance and a masculine, martial confrontation with death.
A fascinating insight I got into the art of the corrida was when I saw how toreadors actually talk to the bull they fight, and sometimes very softly so, accentuating again this mix of the masculine and the feminine. Ultimately in the corrida, these distinctions evaporate because what is left is the universal human confrontation with the idea of death.
Quadrille is such a perfume. It says, "I am ready", it puts its foot down. May come what may, the person who is wearing Quadrille is determined, ready to confront all situations and be at ease in any one of them. In other words, that person possesses natural elegance.
Like the corrida and the matador, Quadrille is rigorous, disciplined, and artistic. Its gendered characteristics give way to the expression of a moral character.
Quadrille is sometimes classified either as a fruity chypre or as a fresh-mossy chypre; in truth, it is both.
At the start of the perfume, there is a very distinct licorice accord which moves later to the background of the notes, but will not leave the perfume. The fragrance seems to be of an amber color with touches of deep licoricey black and later, a transparent blue-green breath of fresh air will appear floating above the base notes.
After the initial outburst of licorice, the perfume becomes slightly sweeter and definitely fruitier. I can detect plum and a little later, peach. It smells slightly sour and sweet, like prunes do, as in Parure by Guerlain or Femme by Rochas which have also characteristic plumey chypre notes.
A discreet jasmine floral note emerges but fruits remain the dominant accord. The perfume thus warms up, expands, but at the same time appears structured, controlled thanks to its austere, dry notes: the clove and the cardamom. It really smells of aniseed and/or licorice. As the perfume reveals its character, its mettle, if you will, controlling its undeniable sensuality, it encourages mental focus in the perfume-wearer.
This last characteristic is also an intrinsic element of the corrida; the matador offers a rare example of an extraordinary intensity of focus in his engagement with death.
The drydown is warm, sensual and a bit dark due to the licorice-y background. At some point, you start catching a breath of fresh air hovering above the amber and musk, probably the green part of the aniseed. On good days, the aniseed maintains its green character and releases a strange and seductive accord in the drydown. It is strange because it contributes to a mixed effect of cold and warmth. The spices are sometimes so dry, I can almost hear them crackle, like the clove in burning Kretek cigarettes.
Quadrille may turn off some people at first who will find the licorice, clove, and cardamom too much to handle, but it is undeniably a distinctive and elegant fragrance which develops a superb, sensual drydown.
Notes include lemon, bergamot, coriander, plum, peach, clove, cardamom, muguet, jasmine, oakmoss, vetiver, ambergris, powdery musk.
You can buy the perfume, starting at $21.99, at 1st Perfume.
Bolero by Balenciaga
Torero VI (salmón y oro) by Pedro Moreno-Meyerhoff
oil on wood panel
Image is from www.arco.ifema.es