The Stealth Assault of Rosemary

If there is ever a contest for the world’s most romantic perfume, one of the chief contenders, indeed, possibly the all time champ, will be Guerlain’s Apres L’Ondee.

It is the most delicately decadent perfume in the whole canon of classic French perfumery, and yet it is also one of the most sentimental ones. It is a fumic partner to the aimless melodies of Ravel, the pale blue to mauve shades of hydrangeas languidly disposed about summer lawns, and only the very silliest and most sentimental of Impressionist paintings.

I’ve worn different versions for years, and the current formulation is the one that I had to bail on- because of my philistine sinuses. In any case, my favorite part of the whole complex production which is Apres, is an unexpectedly wholesome herbal segment.   I’m pretty sure that it’s rosemary.

It’s the part of the evaporation that for a moment turns the composition from sweet to savory during a complex evaporation.  Roughly it goes like this: heliotrope, iris, rosemary, finally aniseed, shading dark purple to palest mauve.

The official notes by contrast are: violet, bergamot, cassie, neroli, carnation, ylang-ylang, iris, rose jasmine, mimosa, vetiver, sandalwood, vanilla, musk, amber, heliotrope, and there you really don’t see the herbal note, but it is in the heart of the perfume.  Mr. Turin in his Guide calls the note fines herbes, and while he’s on the right track, I’m stubborn about my rosemary ID here. I’ve grown the herb for years, owned rosemary essential oil. Basically – it’s rosemary.

Here’s what happens when other perfumers reference Apres, which they do on a regular basis.  They forget the savory note. Take, for example, a Jacques Cavallier perfume reminiscent of Apres from 1998, Salvatore Ferragamo Pour Femme.  It is ultra feminine;  it has a lot of floral notes, but no herbal ones: anise, neroli, cassis, iris, rose, peony, nutmeg, pepper, raspberry, almond, musk.

What happens is that the composition veers perilously close to the gourmand.  Only pepper keeps it on the rails as the centrifugal force of all that sugar threatens to tip it off the track.  You begin to see, with all the re-iterations of Apres, just how good the original was.

I’ll mention two other versions which I consider near misses because they once again, don’t get the herbal note right.  Etro’s Anice is an example.  Anice strips down the whole idea of Apres L’Ondée to a minimal white wash of aniseed, but it needs something in the heart of the fragrance to give it heft and conviction.

In this case, following the well worn pattern of a natural with a synthetic bringing up the rear (so to speak) – Anise never gets it.  It is a non-fragrant tribute to a great perfume, and possibly it’s just me, but what is the point of celebrating a classic perfume with something that has next to no smell?

On the other hand, you can also get too liberal with the herbal note, a case in point being Guerlain’s own simplified re-think Anisia Bella.  There the aniseed note is almost entirely partnered by herbs, rosemary included no doubt, and the effect is to loose some of the delicacy of the original perfume.

Perhaps the takeaway from these exercises is that it’s sometimes the humble part of the formula, and how it’s handled that contributes materially to its greatness.  Vanillan for Jicky,  rosemary for Apres L’Ondee?

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