Yesterday, someone was asking me what feminine fragrances one could offer that would be quasi certain to please across international borders. In the context the request was put to me, it was clear that there was an element that should be included: the scent of French elegance contained in a perfume which could be seen as a good ambassadress of French or Parisian chic...
That fragrance, I felt, could not be too particular or quirky, but on the contrary ought to contain a certain universal quality and express in an iconic manner what France is about as when you see the Château de Versailles in a picture, only expressed on the olfactory plane. I only had a couple of minutes to answer and so here are the fragrances that immediately came to my mind.
Perfumes as Charm Ambassadors of French Culture
• J'Adore by Dior has exemplified for me from the very beginning a certain bon ton à la française. It may be too sedate by some standards but I cannot deny it the quality of embodying the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie, French style, and without any second-reading subtext about Bunuel-worthy sexual fantasies. It has this edge called bon chic bon genre in French. On top of that it feels classically balanced and as rational as a French garden: never too much, never too little.
• Hermès, 24, Faubourg is a more lively composition, a fragrance with sillage which bespeaks for me of Paris and luxury more than of France. This is more about an elegant, fashion-conscious Parisian woman with well-modulated chien. The difference between a French woman and a Parisian woman? The attitude, the nervousness, the vivacity, the seduction are the prerogatives of the latter if she wishes to claim them. It is a fragrance which knows how to sashay her way through the city.
• Chanel Cristalle is for me the scent of the 16th arrondissement in the eye of my mind although I capture more regularly, like an olfactory pattern, the scent of Guerlain L'Heure Bleue emanating from well-groomed ladies of the local café society. L'Heure Bleue however is not about identity; it is about daydreaming and vagueness, feeling lifted from a moment in time and space, even though it was inspired by a moment lived in Paris. It is also for me about the more biting and incisive aspects of French culture with its slightly off-putting noli me tangere nuances. But we don't want that strong a medicine.Therefore Cristalle is better suited to be a scent ambassadress of elegant, ideal tailored Frenchness with nary a a crease. I recall incidentally that Cristalle by Henri Robert is a study of an elegant neighborhood in Paris, but which one, it was not specified. If I were a perfumer, I would go to Avenue Montaigne to capture some of the atmosphere of headspace elegance which can be inhaled in little puffs.
• Chanel Eau Première even better than its forebear the No. 5 can be this scent of diffuse French elegance which knows how to restrain itself and not impinge on others. Never loud, it is delicate, elegant (iris), sensual (ambrette), with a certain gaity (citrus) and a self-confidence inherited from tradition. To me, it reminds me of the color of the quarry stone buildings in Paris with their elegantly beige, sandy tonalities and their crispness when they have just been freshly cleaned and renovated thanks to water-pression.