Diptyque: Perfume for the Counter-Culture?


Old Herbal Page

One of the aspects of perfume that gets short shrift on blogs and social media is its power to make you feel good.  Meaning, lively, healthy, at home in your own skin as the French would put it.  I find it a critical aspect of scent, and one of the reasons why I garden, because that is another way to feel well, really well, and plants have something to do with this.

Diptyque, the child of three entrepreneurs in Paris during the sixties, took this philosophy to heart.  The only two perfumes in Basenotes database credited to Desmond Knox-Leet, the best known of the three*, are l’Eau Diptyque and Eau Lente, which was supposedly a recreation of a perfume in use  at the time of Alexander the Great. 

I sometimes use L’Eau Diptyque, which I prefer to the perfumes created afterwards by the house.  Several of those, L’Ombre dans L’Eau, Do Son, Tam Dao, and Eau Duelle, have been very successful, but are not in the style of the house really.  Only the first two, and possibly the discontinued Virgilio truly express that rustic style, but that rusticity modifies what actually?  Hippie-dom perhaps, a  kind of Woodstockian aesthetic, if you are American, or 68-ish vibe, if you are European.  Either way, the bare foot or Birkenstock striding through the undergrowth, is part of the Diptyque signature-or was-once upon a decade.

Early Knox Leet sketches from Pinterest

Perhaps I know what Desmond Knox-Leet and his partners were after.  In the early seventies and late sixties, the still room was rediscovered.  (What is a still room?  Actually, not the place where Grandma cooked up White Lightning or anything else illegal.  Once it was the coolest room in the house, where soap, sachets, and vinegars were distilled and scented for household use.)  When the back to nature movement began in earnest around 1967, various counter cultural doyennes took themselves to the basement, and rediscovered the joys of home made soap and potpourri.

These recipes often begin with the direction: take four ounces of orris root, and continue on through ounces of musk,  carnations, and cloves.  You get the idea.  Most of these antique recipes are spicy, and the reason is that spices kill bacteria and help  preserve the scents of the flowers or herbs.  Old potpourris are  cold chasers, evicters of moths and insects, preservers of linens and woolens.  Long before the sterlite box, or the plastic vacuum sealed packet under the bed, there was fragrance.

There is something very anti-department store about those mixtures.  Done well, they are not muddled or fusty.  Instead there is something immediate and familiar, but also distant and ancient  about them.  Consider this simple recipe:  Rose-Lavender Potpourri**

Start with ten ounces each of rose petals and lavender, and add five ounces of sweet rose leaves ( I think this is rose geranium) two ounces of ground orris root (Etsy and Walmart stock this for about four dollars an ounce) 3/4 ounce of cinnamon sticks broken up ( try Pensey’s for these) 1/2 ounce each of cloves and allspice, and a few drops of tonka bean oil or ten beans ground up (Eden Botanicals has this).  There, your very own pot pourri.

The first Diptyques mimic these old preparations, and I like their simplicity, their spiciness, and the air of wholesomeness they have.  You must admit that whatever else you get from modern perfume, you seldom get that comfortable integrated sense that you could eat what you are wearing, and you could just about eat the last recipe.  Not that I’m recommending you do.

Potourri of the conventional sort from Wikipedia

Knox-Leet’s view of the world (for he was an artist before he was a businessman) permeates the brand, and may have assured its success even more than its perfumes.    This is a very particular and beautiful way of looking at things,  as a whole and not in parts.

Does anyone else try concocting their own preparations these days?

* the other two were Yves Coueslant and Christiane Gautrot.

**Recipe from Potpourri, Incense and Other Fragrant Concoctions, Ann Tucker Fettner


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