When Caron’s Parfum Sacre first came out in 1990, I did not like it at all. It was, to give me some modicum of credit, not the same perfume that it is today. It was much, much stronger, and in a perfume guide from 1993, the sole notation I wrote about it is: ooph. Monstre Sacre!
This is really getting to the heart of the matter, because the perfume was made in order to attract attention. The original version was a show-boater of a scent, designed for maximum olfactory impact in the way that something along the lines of Flowerbomb is today. Never being a fan of the overly emphatic scent, I avoided it.
Moreover, I certainly wasn’t alone in finding it striking. The industry apparently was so impressed by Parfum Sacre, that the formula was the rumored starting point for Serge Lutens’ Feminite du Bois, released two years later in 1992, and composed by the crack team of Pierre Bourdon and Christopher Sheldrake. (By the way, here’s a short video of Serge Lutens discussing Feminite du Bois.)
It takes a little while to reach the axis of similarity between the two scents, but the point of intersection seems to be a spice, cedarwood, rose accord that is at the heart of both perfumes. In Parfum Sacre there is much more rose and spice and much less wood, and in Feminite du Bois there is much more wood, and at least in the original formula there was a prominent beeswax note as well.
What makes all of this so interesting is the fact that here you have a kind of hybrid oriental /woody, though it isn’t a woody/oriental like say, Opium. There weren’t any feminine wood notes before Feminite. The Lutens’ perfume also takes a completely different line from the scents normally called chypres, because there isn’t any oakmoss in it.
Parfum Sacre dries down into a marked myrrh, forsaking that small whiff of wood for incense, while Feminite du Bois is famous for being cedarwood all the way down just like the turtle on whose back the universe is perched( there being nothing but turtles, if you are fool enough to ask, underneath that original turtle) .
Cosmology aside, Parfum Sacre is something very haunting, in the way that perhaps Samsara originally intended to be, only in the Guerlain’s case, it got sidetracked by riotous living and santalol, and so failed to evoke the mysticism in a bottle that Parfum Sacre and Feminite du Bois both do.
These days I find Parfum Sacre easy to wear. Time and cost have thinned the formula to a comfortable dilution for me. Even though I admit to using the eau de parfum intense that Caron puts out currently. It is almost cosy to wear on wet or chilly days and has something delightfully crabby underlying its eastern philosophy, rather like David Tang’s agony uncle column in the Financial Times.
Parfum Sacre was itself predicated on Or et Noir the oriental rose perfume that Caron sells from crystal urns- only in extract form. I used to love Or et Noir and to wear it, but if it is not in fighting trim, you can always use this. I find that Parfum Sacre is also a stand in for its child Feminite which has itself been reformulated.
That perfume was always so dense that you could almost smell in advance the many variations that were going to be composed on its formula, a long and complicated demonstration of the perfumer’s art of inflection, that all began with Parfum Sacre’s outrageous scent. I wonder if whoever composed it didn’t start by pondering what would happen if they spilt quite a lot of Poivre into Or et Noir?
I hope they didn’t burn a hole in the carpet.