As the day of the Epiphany nears - just four days away - I wanted to call attention to designer fragrance Catch Me...by Cacharel which was released in 2012. It is a composition by one of the stalwarts of the fragrance industry, perfumer Dominique Ropion, for a mainstream brand, yet not overly popular...
There are two main aspects to this perfume which I find striking. Meant on the face of it to woo young girls and women as a perfume of seduction, it should be experienced for its particularly successful sensual signature - agreed - as well as for its French touch marking the gourmand accord, which is very much influenced by the country's taste for bitter almond and almond. From the first days of primary school when pots of glue are scented with bitter almond, to the cycle of pastries offering their rythmic pauses round the year, almond is a key note of Gallic flavor and fragrance cultures. The French love to go back to it as a note of childhood nostalgia and grown-up comfort. Add the scent of milk and it becomes Proustian evoking the snow-white, milky color of the glue used by French pupils, meant no doubt to conjure up almond milk. From this synaesthetic imbroglio emerges different possible pathways to the past.
© 2014 Chantal-Hélène Wagner
Ropion spoke then of a mouthwatering almond-milk accord but what struck this nose at first was how Catch Me...showcases a subliminal olfactory and holographic reference to la galette des rois, that almond wheel-shaped feuilleté pie filled classically with an almond-based filling called "frangipane". It is traditionally broken on January the 6th to celebrate the arrival of the Magi. In it there is a fève - a remnant term for when those charms were hard beans - and which today are made of ceramic or biscuit. The perfume willy-nilly seems to be inspired by this festive pastry.
Catch Me... on one significant level revisits Ropion's composition for Thierry Mugler, Alien, and its main orange blossom accord making it lower-key, more gourmand and accented with different woods.
The Cacharel eau de parfum as it unfolds offers an orange blossom note - orange blossom absolute - with a counterpoise of cedary rose - you smell delicate shavings of the fragrant tree reminding you of Inis A Rose. It is as if you had dipped your school-days era munched-on pencil into an inkwell filled with rosewater. At the same time, the orange blossom theme of Alien has become milkier with a subtle suggestion of syrupy heft. The cedarwood however continues to play an important role in the composition preventing it from becoming too cloying, sweet or maudlin.
The perfumer has taken into account the fact that young women in the beginning of the 21st century are more marked by unisex culture. Woods therefore allow for a note of emancipation from old-fashioned codes, just like tobacco did in the 1920s in feminine perfumery - see Tabac Blond and Habanita.
Pink peppercorn further adds spice and more energy to the core softness of the composition. Other spices have been included including cardamom, cinnamon, and star aniseed. Overtime, an ambery accord of - needless to say - synthetic ambergris joins the milkiness of the lactonic almond accord adding its own milky notes, but also animalic tonalities.
The ambery base manages to smell a bit like caramel but without putting too much insistence on this nuance as it is not the main focus of the composition. It however supports the overall gourmand thematic. The cardamom next to the milk also suggests Indian chai. The composition is coherent in its research of olfactory bridges and gourmand linkages.
Once you have digested all these near-edible olfactory cues you become aware again of the orange blossom note.
Perhaps that galette des rois accord is not really there. I have smelled it however, making an instant association. The recipe for the traditional pie mixes the scents of almond paste, butter, orange blossom, sometimes rum and bitter almond flavor. We are not too far off from a virtual galette des rois however the connection be made. If today, you added some black grains of musk to the pastry like you did for sugary treats sometimes in the 17th century, or even nowadays in some candies, you would obtain something which smells akin to Catch Me...