Some people clearly think of perfume as being analogous to the movies, but I come from a family of book lovers and to me, perfumes are most closely related to written material. Maybe that’s how perfumers see them too, as I notice they refer to “writing” a perfume, and their different styles can contrast as strongly as literary ones, from the huge Zola-like effects of Maurice Roucel, to the pithy short stories of Jean Claude Ellena.
If you look at scents in this way, then some perfumes scarcely merit the name at all. They are the equivalent of trip downloads on your Kindle, read to help you pass the time at airports, and vacate your mind completely when you finish them.
Other scents are long convoluted yarns set in exotic locales. Bertrand Duchaufour seems to specialize in these, Alexandria Quartets for the air, with so many scene changes, you can get a bit disoriented. Others again write plot driven thrillers, like Mark Buxton’s, which require you to focus on a main character of a dark and complicated sort, and their dark and complicated doings.
However back in the dawn of the twentieth century one of the best story tellers through perfume was Ernest Daltroff of Caron. Though not all of his perfumes tell a story, N’Aimez Que Moi of 1916 certainly does. The tale is an epic, on a scale that matches in length something like Mille, that Middlemarch of the perfume world, only in the case of N’Aimez perhaps you are dealing with something more like Sebastien Japrisot’s A Very Long Engagement, or Manzoni’s The Betrothed, with their themes of faith, and the keeping of it.
The rose violet scent which is at the outset of N’Aimez is still there in the modern release, but to my nose what you smell now is a simplified, almost a Cliff notes version of the original. The beginning, all floral, rose, violet, lilac, is very vivid and strong in the older bottles, faintly reminiscent of Fleurs de Rocaille, and powerfully of old cosmetics. It’s a pervasive, purposeful fragrance, and the chypre nature of it gets stronger as time goes on and the flowers fall away, just as they do in any romance. This is the halcyon time of love, the light before the dark, or before the first Zeppelin attacks on Paris.
Then the perfume takes on a tone of determination. The times are tough and going to get tougher. N’Aimez knows its end, will stick to its man, through thick and thin. This is not a soft meandering scent at all in its mid section. N’Aimez despite the romanticism of the name is tough, and in its heart notes would suit people who are not easily dissuaded. This is the scent of Penelope determined to wait it out till Ulysses comes home. The iris, cypress, vetiver and sandalwood of the heart give N’Aimez this almost masculine message of perseverance and endurance.
Then the perfume changes again. Underneath all the iris- woody fortitude (like Heure Exquise on a diet), there is a soft touch of gourmandise. This is one of the areas where the new N’Aimez differs from the old one. Perhaps it alludes to the humble comforts of the soldier’s return.
I thought I smelled some chocolate in the coda of the original which is not in the new perfume. Chocolate is not listed in the notes, perhaps it’s mimicked by the kind of amber preparation used in the old bottles. When combined with the vanilla and the crackly dark oakmoss you get a chypre that alludes to the pleasures of the table and the hearth. This is a perfume for the married, or the nearly married, with an allusion near its end to the comforts of domesticity, as though N’Aimez’s ragged, shell shocked hero makes it home to his fiancée clutching a box of chocolates, obtained who knows how, and a bunch of violets.
As to keeping faith on the epic scale and over the long haul nowadays, one hopes that most Frenchmen do this better than their current president. One cannot imagine any heroine enduring cold and hunger and privation to be awarded with Francois Hollande in the end.
Chocolate or no chocolate.