Nothing Gold Can Stay

When Sublime first came out I was stuck in smell Limbo in Central Vermont and really couldn’t smell much perfume.  This was a shame because 1993 was a very good year for perfume. Besides Sublime, we saw the release of Femininite du Bois as well (anyway in the States).  I had to be traveling if I was going to  catch a whiff of these two masterpieces.

Sublime was Jean Kerleo’s great signature scent for contemporary women. It was definitely complex but adaptable enough to wear every day, and you did not tire of the scent easily.  But Sublime was elusive.

I mean that Sublime was the sort of perfume that has about it something hard to define, something that you think you’ve almost categorized in your mind, and therefore also in your memory, only to find the next time you smell it, that you were quite wrong.  The sense of the perfume eludes you.  This makes for a fascinating experience and one you tend to come back for time and time again because you can’t believe (oh well, okay, I mean, I can’t believe) that something as simple as a perfume has slipped my powers of recall for the fifth or sixth time in a row.

In Jan Moran’s book, Fabulous Fragrances the notes listed are: Pure flowers, jasmine, rose then a base of : amber, musk.  Not much to go on, is it?  But the perfume itself smelled broad and open, like a meadow somewhere on the steppes of Russia, and inclusive of many more ingredients than those five listed.  Probably this meant that the original version was much more synthetic than the previous Jean Patou releases, but the effect was without the harshness, thin-ness, or chemical condescension that you could already smell in 90’s scents.  My personal note on Sublime from ’93 is “flowery butter” and yet there was nothing remotely greasy about it.

It seems too, that I wasn’t alone in finding Sublime a hard scent to categorize.  One of my perfume books has it listed as Floral-semi amber and that means a neighbor of Opium, Coco and Dioressence, and that oldie but goodie J’ai Ose, but those dark perfumes don’t express at all what Sublime was about and in the Jan Moran book, Sublime is placed among the florals.  Who’s right?  Well, as I said the original Sublime was unctuous and golden and when applied to skin had a kind of radiance, almost a glow, and was light, full of light.  You didn’t have sillage as such when wearing Sublime, but you did have a kind of golden perimeter around you that people could step into and out of and yet possibly never quite identify as perfume, because that golden atmosphere was so understated. You might best call it an aldehydic floral oriental, but even that description is wide of the mark.

When I moved to Connecticut some years later, I could frequently smell Sublime expanding and contracting on indoor air around me.  Evidently the scent had found favor with the well-heeled inhabitants of Fairfield County, and Sublime maintained the golden radiance, the subtlety, and the intense femininity, that were its hallmarks in the first blush of its release.

I failed to wear it for the sole reason that what Sublime lacked was a little bit of dirt.  I need a small amount of grubbiness to feel comfortable in a perfume.  Some musk of a nasty nature, or a tiny blob of earth, or perhaps a smidgin of mud make me feel right at home, and Sublime was too golden and glowing and angelic, to contain those things.  The perfume smelled like something the Madonna as opposed to Madonna would have worn.  Sublime under-painted the skin with ochre just as Fra Angelico and Botticelli used to do, in order to give their models’ complexions a heavenly luminescence, only the light was translated into smell in those perfumed turn of the century years.  I admired the heck out of it as a work of art, and frankly enjoyed passing by the women who could wear it.

Then, as always happens when anything earthly gets too sublime, something critical occurred: Procter and Gamble bought Jean Patou. Retrospectively I’m inclined to say that the scents began to deteriorate in the time it took to say “Oh-oh”, but that’s not true. Jean Michel Duriez who succeeded Jean Kerleo as in house perfumer, fought a splendid rear guard action against loss of quality in the products of the perfume house, but P&G were always going to be after profits, and wide profit margins, before anything else, and so the result was inevitable.  One day I smelled Sublime at an NYC perfumery and the golden glow had died, in its place was a flat beige amber perfume that barely recalled Sublime’s glory years.

Today I can’t think what approaches Sublime as it was, besides a bottle of vintage Sublime.  It was a little like 70’s versions of Arpege in edt or edp, but fuller and more ambery, and among recent productions I think Arquiste’s Anima Dulcis has the lightness and the delicious butter note, but not the flowers, and Dulcis skews distinctly gourmand.

Oh well, I suppose it’s not something you can profitably chase after, being in essence, like the poem by Robert Frost: Nothing Gold Can Stay.

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6 Responses to Nothing Gold Can Stay

  1. Mals86 says:

    I haven’t smelled Sublime; I’m not a big amber fan and I suppose that’s the reason I hadn’t sought it out. I do like a nice floral amber, of which my favorite is Teo Cabanel Alahine – and I’d put 31 Rue Cambon in that category too.

    But just the other day, my teenage daughter and I rewatched “The Outsiders,” and so the post title caught my eye. (Was there ever, ever a movie more full of teenage-boy eye candy? I saw it THREE times at the theater when I was 15, spending my baby-sitting money and cajoling rides with friends.)

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Sublime is well worth a smell if you haven’t ever tried it, though try to get the old stuff because the modern version really misses the boat. I know Alahine and have smelled 31 R C, but don’t think old Sublime is like them. It’s much more solid than 31, more floral than Alahine, and the amber isn’t allowed to dominate the party.
      As to “The Outsiders” yes it was pure eye candy! Matt Dillon was there I recall, before he got beefy. There was a concession to the boys as well because wasn’t Diane Lane in the cast?

  2. Undina says:

    I haven’t … not even smelled – heard about Sublime until this your post and, unless I come across it somewhere, I doubt I will be trying to get to test it: why bother if it might have only one of two outcomes: either I won’t like it (it happens with more perfumes than not) or I’ll like it (and it will be a heartbreak since it can’t be had). But I liked reading your story. And it made me sad a little.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Maybe the story of Sublime is a little sad, but there’s a rumor that the new owners of Jean Patou have contacted Jean Kerleo. I hope it’s true, because he was in house perfumer for so long he may be able to help them decide what to bring back, and there’s a lot from this house to bring back-not just old stuff from the thirties. The company that acquired Patou from Procter & Gamble also owns Scherrer and Worth apparently, and they’ve done pretty well by both of those companies, a lot of people like Scherrer I, Nuits de Scherrer, and Je Reviens Couture. Let’s hope for the best.

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