As previously announced, the lifestyle and apparel label Zadig et Voltaire launched their debut perfume this spring 2009 called Tome 1 La Pureté (Vol. 1 Purity). The world is certainly not lacking in new fragrance launches, so why review this one, why even pay attention to this launch? The answer for Zadig et Voltaire fans is probably obvious: the perfume is a new element in the boutique, tester sprays are strategically positioned, why not try?
For others, especially the ones suffering from blurred vision after seeing too many perfume bottles in their recent lifetime, there are still four elements that can be both eye-and-ear catching. 1) founder Thierry Gillier associated himself with a perfume house that has a reputation for preferring to err on the side of edgy rather than staid, i.e., Le Labo -- it could be interesting and there must also be a reason why Le Labo is willing to work on someone else's project; 2) The theme of the fallen angel is conceptually and visually if not morally intriguing and possibly translates into an interesting creative olfactory composition - you may choose between visuals of Barbarella (above) and Wings of Desire (below) to whet your appetite;...
3) The packaging is "different" in that it looks and feels like a book, even when you open it. The pages are close to the quality of the "papier bible" found in the volumes of La Pléïade, albeit a bit less fine.
4) Finally, the promise of a serialized perfume project contained in the name of the perfume titillates the imagination further and hits on a great intuition, the fact that perfumes are also stories offering seemingly culled-out narrative structures, like the culled-out pages of the Zadig et Voltaire book here, to be filled by your own words, emotions and memories. Fragrance compositions thus are like silent stories/movies with few words but with a welcoming memory-touch texture that can take your imprint. In the empty, blank spaces left by non-utterance, surfaces become more fillable and poetic.
You can just think of those calm spaces and planes of silent movies that invite contemplation, a quality that can also be experienced in the purity of film stills. They are the best moments of a movie, their most touching ones.
My memories in this case go quite a bit in the direction of cinematic references as you can see although none are proposed by the perfume copy itself. I might have been influenced subconsciously by a fictitious perfume called Voltaire No. 6 seen and used as a leitmotiv in the movie The Darjeeling Limited, which I keep thinking is a twist on the image of Chanel No. 5. Gabrielle Chanel in her old age started to look like the shriveled and valetudinary Voltaire with a similar facial expression, a fact that has always struck me. Or perhaps it is the whiteness of the whole La Pureté concept that looks like the white canvas of a movie screen. The flacon can be interpreted both as blank page and silver screen in its flatness and nudity.
But more importantly, the perfume smells white or rather of different shades of whites from the glaring white of a hospital ward, to the haloed white of a museum gallery or by evoking the feathery whiteness of an angel sipping tea accented with a cloud of milk. The scent has enough question marks and blank spaces and slightly disorienting cues in it to invite you to make up your dream.
Even in the word, that I almost missed at the end of the book, "Patchoulait" (patchouli + milk) I see the same kind of dramatic ending than with the word "Rosebud" in Citizen Kane. A key word is given at the end, almost hidden, nearly overlooked.
You will have understood that Tome 1 La Pureté is good at setting a context for your appreciation of the scent. But I would have probably never looked inside the book if the perfume did not smell good and "open" enough to invite those associations.
White, as it turns out, is the color of desire and story-making, even in scent form.
Next, Part II: How La Pureté Tells Its Story in Words and Perfume Notes