Variations on a Musk Theme: Sylvaine Delacourte

Mme. Delacourte

Mme. Delacourte

Reviewing is something I  seldom do.  I suspect perfumes are critic proof in the first place, and in the second, supposing the reviewer is simply wrong?

Here  though, I was intrigued.  If you paid attention to Guerlain in the oughts, you knew about the career of Sylavaine Delacourte their skilled artistic director.  Now here was an individual who had learned (few people do) the highly inflected language of  Guerlain perfumes.Let me translate that back into un-inflected English.  I mean that everything expressed by Guerlain is expressed with subtlety, in long perfume sentences full of as much compound complexity as anything Marcel Proust ever wrote. Mme Delacourte was famous for wearing L’Heure Bleue as a signature scent- as many thousands of French women still do- and her style is unimpeachable.

So what about her first five scents?  They are all musk based and she has created an elegant little website to explain what she is doing with each one but, if you were paying attention for the last ten years or so,  at times you can guess where some of the inspirations came from. The point here is that all are musky in the end, therefore soft, rather unemphatic, easy to wear.  If you’re looking for striking originality-don’t look here.

Five variations on a theme...

Five variations on a theme…

One inspiration is definitely L’Heure Bleue, although Florentina is more pastel than most gourmands on my skin.  This has a mandarin orange flight, then there is definitely a wash of pale blue iris and a soft violet as well.  The iris reminds me of proper old orris root and is quite dry so keeps Florentina from becoming a  sugared almond scent.  This is less orange blossom than fruit and the heart is quite powdery.

If you compare it to earlier efforts to update the Queen of ambery florals to a post modern age, this does quite well.  Unlike previous versions Madame Delacourte has resisted the temptation to tumble into the candy dish.  This is not Hilde Soliani’s Conafetto a perfectly fun gourmand, and not Patricia de Nicolai’s Kiss me Tender with its super sweet beginning. This is more nuanced and versatile.  The down side is that Florentina really is not particularly well suited to men.  On men I think the perfume would be lost or else smell like foot powder.  The slight vetiver of its far dry-down is not strong enough to resonate on male skin.

The five Musk series from Delacourte

The five Musk series from Delacourte

Instead, guys should try her modern chypre Helicriss. She relies on immortelle here to do her serious moderating, and the darker musk used in the tail of the perfume makes the scent both more lasting and more attention getting.  This is like a modernized Italian tailored version of Heritage, and is perfect for men or anyone who has been missing good chypres.

Smeraldo by contrast is her green scent and  is a very soft focus rose chypre, a genre of perfume that is perennially popular.  In the same way that Portrait of a Lady is so pleasing to the gents, this one could charm people who enjoy the rose chypre category but, and there is a major but here, the opening section of Smerlado is fruity.  Extremely fruity so that if you are  bored by fruit notes, or feel that they trivialize scents, then Smeraldo is not for you.  If you enjoyed Parfum d’Empire’s Eau Suave on the other hand, this will be a good choice.

Finally there is Lilylang.  First of all I love the name which like Pamplelune is not quite a pun but close enough so who cares?This reminds me of so many Guerlains.  Firstly it reminds me of Ylang Vanille which was one of the first five Aqua Allegorias issued around the turn of the century. Slightly, very slightly it reminds me of the beginning of that perfume  release but then the tone changes.  The face cream and the Terracotta/Guerlain No 25 dry off of YV, is not here, instead you get a far more pungent and sophisticated heart with something indolic in there, and it’s probably hawthorn. This and its sister scent Dovana also recall Cruel Gardenia, and Lilylang reminds me quaintly of Mayotte.

Five rather soft and gentle musks...

Five rather soft and gentle musks…

Here is one of the oddities of this line, you get peculiar little twists, like  helichrysum or hawthorn, or the frank evocation of soap in the white Dovana, but everything is hushed down to a whisper.  These are rather like the Louis Vuitton fragrances, very pretty, very wearable, not at all strident.  Their subtlety is rather like those bon mots in foreign languages you can’t quite understand and aren’t entirely sure you heard in the first place.

The likely bestsellers?  Helicriss and Florentina.

My personal favorite?  I went back and forth on this but my favorite is Dovana, which is a pretty good joke and a nice understated soapy perfume.

As a ps to this post I should say these samples were my own purchase and are to be had quite reasonably for 5 euro.

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