Patou’s 1000 came out in 1972, which was when my family lived in Rome. Back then, Roman real estate was relatively cheap, and we were right in the heart of old Rome in a penthouse apartment of the sort that I suppose few people could afford now. Anyway, there were little perfume and makeup shops around every few corners, and one of them was on my route home from school.
Not being of an age yet to wear perfume, or make up, for that matter, I still was compelled to go and stick my nose into bottles out of curiosity, and would stop by. That proprietress must have been fond of the young, and pretty indulgent. Most shopkeepers would have tossed me and my tatty book bag out the door. Instead, if she was not too busy, she would tell me about what was in the bottles, and let me smell things on a finger (no paper strips then). This was how I first met the Balmains, Balenciagas, and Cotys of the era.
Of 1000, she said that it was “troppo sofisticato”, too sophisticated for the likes of me. 1000 was for middle aged women with wealthy husbands or lovers, and Roman women at the time frequently had both. It was not for grubby young girls who sometimes walked around barefoot. Wouldn’t I like to smell some more Deborah perfumes (Deborah being the cheaper brand that Italian teenagers wore back then)?
But no. It was the French things that I liked best.
Part of the problem with 1000 was how very expensive it was. I was only ever allowed to test it once. Indulgence of the young only went so far. I smelled it again during trips to Europe at Charles de Gaulle Airport which had a positive fairy land of duty free shops on one of the main concourses. I’d go over and sniff 1000, along with lots of other things. It never occurred to me to try and buy the stuff even in miniature. 1000 was still for contessas.
1000 was hard to fathom. It was complex like the Guerlains. I liked 1000 because it had something green buried underneath all its opulence,burrowing along under all the pricey flowers, something animal – the millipede, or catterpillar in fact – and I could smell it.
Over the years the formula has changed, but never radically to my nose. The notes are: greens, bergamot, angelica, coriander, tarragon heart: osmanthus, jasmine, rose, lily of the valley, violet, iris, geranium and base: vetiver, patchouli, moss, sandalwood, amber, musk, civet.
1000 is a typical Jean Kerleo perfume, I think, in differing distinctly depending on whether you are smelling the edt or edp, and no doubt the extract as well. At Jean Patou they weren’t just giving you a lighter, less expensive iteration of the scent, they were giving you elegant variations. The edt could be worn in summer, and you might normally wear the extract or edp in winter, but the formulation was different. So the edt was drier, and maybe a little greener with more jasmine, and the edp was more floral more rose centric. I’ve never smelled the extract.
The osmanthus always used to throw me off. I’d get through that herbal beginning, and then smell the osmanthus- and in the past I think it was more prominent than it is now- and I couldn’t quite square the smell of tarragon and angelica with the smell of floral apricots that osmanthus has. But that was merely the first paradox of 1000, and 1000 is full of twists and turns. Today when I smell it, I also notice its similarity to parts of the old Patou perfumes Que Sais Je, and the green floral Vacances, but although putting together a fruity chypre and a green floral is supremely paradoxical, there is more to 1000 than that.
I notice that people reviewing the perfume tend to call it dry. I’d say that was the effect of the orris, which always smelled dry. Back in the day, orris was made by drying the iris roots and then grinding them into powder. You could buy the powder from herbal suppliers in powdered form and use it to fix pot-pourri, and that’s the source of that desiccated, dried grasses scent in 1000.
By the time you got to the orris, the evaporation of 1000 wasn’t even half way along. The segmentation of the perfume, like that of millipedes, proceeded beyond the probable and into the imponderable. 1000 was herbal, floral, fruity floral, dry floral, proceeding in a many footed march to a green and almost aqueous note, and then it went on, on its thousand foot trek, to a slightly woody note and finally, in the last version I smelled, to a sweet amber final dry down. How many segments is that? I’ve lost count, but smelling the perfume run on was like watching a millepede cross a log. More of it kept coming, even after you were sure that there couldn’t be any more left.
But the march of millipedes is ultimately repetitive and dull, whereas nothing could be further from the case with 1000. It turned into so many different things during its journey across your wrist and about eight hours of time, that it struck me then as something of a perfume marvel. And although millipedes don’t turn into butterflies, 1000 does eventually take to the air in that last puff off your skin.
I wonder if modern perfume smellers want to stick around that long? Recent perfumes truncate their stories to Twitter length; only 1000 insists on that lengthy process of creeper to butterfly.