On the docks of Marseilles in the time of the last king Louis Philippe there was told the story of the scandalous woman known as Olympe. Her father was the proprietor of a spice shop near the center of town and as a young woman of 15 she often went to the docks with her father to meet the ships arriving from the East. Spice ships laden with every imaginable wonder from the Orient by way of Silk Road and the Red Sea routes to India. The ships were also full of sailors.
(Port of Marseilles)
Olympe was not beautiful but she was tall and of a certain elegant carriage. She had little interest in boys let alone men at an age when her girlfriends were giddy with mere dreams of affairs of the heart. That all changed in an instant one August morning when a ship known as The Marie Thérèse docked at Marseilles. As her father was inspecting a shipment of coriander Olympe idly twirled her parasol made of Mysore sandal wood and Belgian lace and became fascinated by the play of light that threw dancing shadows across her face. Something on deck flashed silver though the tiny holes in the lace parasol and she stopped twirling it. Slowly she tilted the parasol up to peek from under its brim. The silver braid on the epaulet of the right shoulder of the most beautiful captain’s uniform she had ever seen was twinkling in the morning sun. She looked up to the face above it. He was eating a mandarin orange from Sicily and as he bit into it the gold juice exploded in to his right eye. Olympe laughed too loud and the squinting captain turned with an angry grimace to see her. She covered her mouth with a gloved hand but could not stop laughing. That was when he smiled at her as he whipped his chin and tossed the now forgotten and ravaged orange overboard. The cedar gangway swayed as his impressive form sauntered down to the dock. He bowed and took her hand to kiss it. Olympe had just caught up with her girlfriends. The Captain would teach her to surpass them on the road to scandal in ways she could never imagine. She would remember always that that the first time he kissed her he smelled of a refined masculine Indonesian patchouli.
After he deserted her, and his bastard baby died there was no reason to stay in Marseilles. Her father wouldn’t have her in the house and tore here heart when he called her a whore. In Paris her luck changed. She went to work for a dress maker Prudence Duvernoy who as it turned out was in the business of turning out courtesans. Olympe had the kind of look that was popular with the aristocratic young men who haunted the Opera and in no time at all she was in demand. She was famous for her charm and dry wit. She was always laughing, never sad and very busy. For a brief time her only rival for business was a young courtesan by the name of Marguerite Gautier.
Only late at night when she was thankfully alone at last and no one could see her would she let down her guard. In the ritual of preparing for bed she would peel a mandarin orange form Sicily and eat it. Then sitting at her vanity with her hair tied up in a hundred cotton bows to tighten the curls she would dab on her wrist, behind her ears and on her décolletage the rarest Indonesian Patchouli bought at a very great and dear price. On occasion as she inhaled the alluring seductive fragrance one tear would slide though the powder on her cheek to her chin and twinkle in the candlelight for a moment before it fell.
From La Collection Privée by Dior comes the stunningly melancholy and hauntingly beautiful Patchouli Imperial. This elegant perfume was created by François Demachy who is the nose behind so many incredible perfumes, Colonia Intensa, Dior Homme, Fan di Fendi, The lion’s share of the Privée line to just scrape the tip top of his the perfume career.
This enticing elixir is captivatingly designed to work well on men and women and envelope the wearer in a vale of oriental splendor that shimmers and vibrates with only a few well chosen notes. It opens with the majesty of the great bell at Notre Dame deep and resonating Indonesian Patchouli leaf that dominates the perfume. Smaller simultaneous notes ring in of Sicilian mandarin orange, Calabrian bergamot, Sandalwood, coriander and cedar. Blending together these wonderful notes play off of each other in the most complementary tones. It isn’t in any way symphonic and complicated like some great perfumes are but rather like chamber music for cathedral bells.
Patchouli Imperial wears so well and for a considerable time. I have had it on now for ten hours and it is yet to diminish in its blooming tendrils that like a tide move in and out and have been delighting me all day. It has a good projection too at about arms length for the first three to five hours and then moves in to be more personal at about ten inches.
Seductively inviting and not your grandparent’s patchouli of the 1960’s at all. There is so much more here in this refined and truly oriental patchouli than you would ever suspect if you only know the old hippie oils of the last century. There is a feeling I get when I wear it that it is as I mentioned, melancholy, not sad but more nostalgically romantic and filled with memories of first love before the world and fate stepped in to wake up the dreamer.
PATCHOULI IMPERIAL BY CHRISTIAN DIOR ~ FIVE PLATINUM STARS
(PHOTOS OF 19TH CENTURY BRITISH BORN PARISIAN COURTESAN CORA PEARL)