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I had a hunch that I was going to get on well with the newest perfume from Puredistance, the intriguingly-named Sheiduna. It was created, as each of this luxury brand’s perfumes are, as a collaborative effort between Puredistance’s founder, Jan Ewoud Vos, and the perfumer he personally chose for the project: in this case, Cécile Zarokian, who just happens to be one of the perfumers of Amouage Epic Woman, the fragrance I’ve worn the most over the past two years, which she created with perfumers Daniel Maurel and Angeline Leporini in 2009 while an intern at the fragrance house of Robertet. (Having learned that Maurel was her mentor at Robertet is the icing on the cake for me, as his name is behind three of the most beautiful perfumes in the Amouage arsenal. In an interview with Zarokian at CaFleurBon, she pays tribute to him, noting, “He was a great teacher, very open, and I learned a lot from him”—and later mentions that he trusted her to deal with briefs from clients, which was how she landed Epic Woman as a project.)
Why do I mention all of this?
Because I often find that you can smell a signature in the style of certain perfumers—perfumers who are memorable, such as Germaine Cellier, Jean-Claude Ellena and Olivia Giacobetti, to name a few—and while I am only familiar with two of Zarokian’s creations (she has authored at least 30-some perfumes for a number of houses), I notice parallels between Amouage Epic Woman and Puredistance Sheiduna that make it tempting to say that Zarokian has a signature. There is an arresting intricacy to both her perfumes for Amouage and Puredistance: a level of complexity that denotes passion on her part, as the perfumer, and, by extension, conveys this same attribute to her perfumes, which have a passionate nature and a deep sense of romance. At the same time, the very intricacy of their structures also lends these perfumes a feeling of intelligence and an intelligent sense of self-control. I’ll attempt to explain this by the time I get to the end of my review, but let me state up front that my hunch was right. I love Sheiduna. It is a perfume that stirs one to dream of another life—perhaps the next life?—where by some divine stroke of fortune you are reincarnated as one of the world’s most singular redheads or you become the lucky partner of one. (The decision is entirely yours, and it can be any redhead you like, from Damian Lewis to Emma Stone.) For the purposes of this review, I’m choosing Jessica Chastain—she has many of the qualities I see embodied in this perfume—and again, I'll attempt to explain this connection by the time I'm done, but to get there I need to back up a moment.
What I need to tell you first is that Sheiduna is a tangerine dream of a perfume that is on a wandering path through a rose garden, somewhere warm, like Morocco, and it doesn't miss or overlook any part of this exotic landscape. Not the intermingling scent of lemons and oranges that have fallen from the trees that line its walls, nor the cool scent of mint that springs up between its stepping stones. Not even the spices the gardener has sprinkled on the foliage of the roses, nor the woody-amber aroma of his perfume that spirals around the more velvety scent of the blooms. Essentially, Sheiduna is the feminine personification of such a garden, and that is why the actress Jessica Chastain comes to mind when I smell it. Not only is she a gorgeous redhead—and so much of what I smell in Sheiduna comes across in undulating shades of orange and red, from its tangerine top-note to its rose-infused heart, as well as it tendrils of cinnamon-and-clove spice—but her approach to her vocation is marked by the same romantic intensity and sense of exploration I feel when wearing Sheiduna. A willingness to go deep into the garden. “She is known to prepare extensively for her roles," says the writer of her Wikipedia bio, who relates a number of these ways in the article. (In preparation for her role in Tree of Life, for instance, Chastain “practiced meditation, studied paintings of the Madonna, and read poems by Thomas Aquinas,” while for another role she prepared by reading graveyard poetry.)
Beautiful actresses are a dime a dozen, but Chastain is more than that. She’s 'all in,' so to speak, while also exercising a sense of discernment and a level of sophistication about her choices, and that's why I find in her the perfect analogy for Sheiduna. Which, now that I've made it, I'll abandon so that I can describe the perfume in a more straight-forward fashion, below.
A few weeks back I was pawing through my perfume samples searching for something I hoped would truly grab me, and found it in a sample of Must de Cartier I’d been holding onto for six years. A blogging friend once professed her love for Must and sent me samples of it in its various concentrations (including the flanker scents Must I and Must II), and though I remember liking it, I didn’t fall for it, hard and headlong, the way I have now. This remaining sample (the others are long gone) had me scratching my head as to exactly what I was smelling: the original edt (eau de toilette), which launched in the early 80s, or the supposedly reformulated version of recent years, which perfume reviewers often claim is nowhere as good as the vintage 80s juice. To figure it out, I recently went to the two biggest perfume decanting sites on the Internet, where I ordered samples of the original 1980s version of Must in both the eau de toilette concentration and the original parfum concentration. While awaiting their arrival I tried to focus on something else to write about, which proved futile: “The heart wants what it wants,” as the song goes. I spent my time reading other people’s reviews and comments about Must and emailed my friend photos of the carded sample, which she is skeptical of having sent (maybe I acquired this one elsewhere?), as she’s a collector of vintage Must, and the carded sample is indeed a more recent version, she noted, judging by the way the C in Cartier is printed on the card in a large and curving text.
Now that I have the decanted samples I ordered in hand—I’ve been wearing them non-stop for over a week—I can say one thing for certain: this stuff smells damn good regardless of age or concentration. After doing side-by-side tests on both my wrists and my husband’s, the two edt samples (the “modern” one from 2010 and the 1980s version) smell identical. Not just to me but to my husband, who has a pretty good nose. And having also conducted a side-by-side of the edt versus the parfum, the only significant difference is that the parfum version is richer, longer lasting, and, by extension, more animalic than the edt. The latter (the amplified animalics) is only to a minor degree. Contrary to what I’ve read about Must elsewhere on the Internet, the parfum is not a whole other animal from the edt, in my opinion. Both are sexy in that understated, classic French way that is hard to describe but easy to recognize, and both are every bit as beautiful as they are sexy. Given that every sample I have of Must is nearly identical, it would seem to bode well for a purchase of a current bottle ... and yet, as reformulations in perfumery have been rather sweeping in recent years (due to IFRA regulations), I do wonder: Is my 2010 sample of Must de Cartier edt representative of the perfume being produced in 2016? That question I can’t answer because I don’t live near a fine department store, such as Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus or Saks, where one can test it. Thus, I decided to write my review based on the original 1980s parfum concentration (Must was launched in 1981) and be done with it.**
Must de Cartier vintage parfum is a multi-layered floral-oriental fragrance that unfolds on the skin, not in pyramidal fashion, but in two parts. Being the perfume of a company famous for its exquisite watches is a telling detail, as Must is a fragrance through which time is measured by these two very distinct stages, both of which seem equally weighted during this fragrance’s long wear-time on the skin. Day and Night, it says in its unique and unhurried way, with daytime arriving first, on a mantle of green galbanum that smells herbal and full of taut citrus notes that are more aldehydic than sunny, making it sparkle like an emerald and smell as expensive as a rare piece of Park Avenue lawn. Attendant with Must’s crystalline greenery is a patchouli note (either real or a product of my imagination, since it isn't listed among Must's notes) that is part chocolaty, part camphorous; a narcissus note that lends a feral quality with its cat-pee scent; and the furry, dirty smell of civet and jasmine. These dark elements are accents: they in no way undermine the brilliant greens but instead shape them, lending a particular character to the perfume—one that is feline, mysterious and sensual—as well as a sense of context. Without these accents, the grassy and herbal smell of Must might send up a bucolic picture in one’s mind. Their inclusion marks Must as an urbane scent, for these are neither dewy greens nor woodsy ones; they are the sharper, more sophisticated greens that make one think of the privileged person who begins their day on the manicured grounds of a country estate, but who is in the city by afternoon or evening.
When first jotting notes about Must de Cartier in my notebook, before I’d ever researched it, I wrote: “The middle stage of this perfume, if indeed there is one, is what I need to sniff for, because I already know, from previous wearings, what the drydown is like. It is the surprise of creamy vanilla and sandalwood emerging through the sharpness, like a sleek woman suddenly showing you her impressive backside, a backside that is curvy and firm and delicious, but with a compactness such that you weren’t previously aware such a backside could exist on this fine frame. It is a thing she kept hidden until now.”
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The Shimmering Beauty of Daytime, The Warm Sensuality of Night:
Must de Cartier vintage parfum
October 11, 2016:
‘For Sheiduna I used a lot of naturals: starting with real and expensive rose oil, real tonka absolute (and not coumarin!), expensive real vanilla absolute, benzoin resinoide, real ambergris infusion, incense resinoide, myrrh, vetiver, patchouli, labdanum, geranium, lemon, tangerine. And of course I also used, in small quantities, some aroma chemicals, for example amberXtreme and ambroxan, the only amber woody molecules in the formula, since without them there is no perfumery!'
- Cécile Zarokian
Puredistance SHEIDUNA has notes of lemon, tangerine, blackcurrant, aldehydes, Bulgarian rose essence, geranium, clove, vetiver, patchouli, amber-woody notes, incense, benzoin, myrrh, tonka bean, vanilla pods and musks. It is a perfume extrait, with a 27% concentration of perfume oils, and will be available for purchase from the Puredistance website in late October (as well as at Luckyscent.com), where the prices will likely be the same as the other Puredistance fragrances. (Currently the Puredistance extraits start at $190 for a 17.5 ml flask, with larger bottles also available.)
My review is based on a small spray bottle of Sheiduna that I received gratis from the company. It is likely I will end up purchasing a bottle of Sheiduna at some point; in the past, I have purchased flacons of Puredistance ANTONIA and Puredistance WHITE for myself.
Image credits: photograph of Jessica Chastain, top of page, is from the cover of the April 13, 2012 issue of T magazine, the style magazine of The New York Times. Photo of Paris-based, independent perfumer Cécile Zarokian was provided by Puredistance, as was the photo of the Sheiduna perfume flask and bottle.
Puredistance SHEIDUNA: The Essence of Sophistication
November 15, 2016:
And a little later, I wrote, “There really isn’t a middle stage to this fragrance,” which, considering the intricacy of this perfume, surprised me. Prior to my research, based solely on the smell of the Must edt sample I fell for and the fact that this perfume comes from Cartier, I had a theme in mind and intended to couple Must’s complex nature, its leisurely unfolding on the skin, with the notion of it representing one of life’s most precious commodities: Time to one's self. I'd even gone to the bother of creating a photo essay conveying the deliciousness of spending a sunny afternoon leafing through magazines, having tea, and paying attention to the niceties of one’s table and one’s perfume. Once I realized there wasn’t a true pyramidal unfolding—that Must's greenness lingers from its opening into its heart (its impressive staying power bolstered by vetiver and iris that ride on galbanum’s wake)—I thought I’d have to completely nix that line of thought.
But while waiting for my other samples to arrive, I read Barbara Herman’s superb review of Must at her blog Yesterday’s Perfume, which describes its backstory and how perfumer Jean-Jacques Diener created Must as a perfume that is (metaphorically at least) two fragrances in one: a daytime and a nighttime scent. So, this notion of time which I can’t help but equate with Cartier actually does figure into this perfume’s concept, only it is time portrayed in two discrete parts, with the second part, Evening, represented by the firm cushion of sandalwood base that this fragrance sits on. Smelling languidly autumnal and seeming to emerge out of nowhere, this base is fascinating for that very reason. What came earlier—Must’s daytime element—strikes me as an overdose of green that achieves a gorgeous sleekness and just enough astringency to obscure the oriental base for a good couple hours. (Two hours, on my scent-eating skin, is a long time for a base to be obscured). Because Must is so compact and feline—its animalics eliciting sensuality in a contained way that eschews theatrics—one can easily forget that it is classified as an oriental. It smells more like a fine-boned chypre at first. Then, like the evening sky in late autumn catching you unaware because you’d grown accustomed to summer's long daylight, Must de Cartier reveals its other side, its moon. Sandalwood, arid yet custard-like, and vanilla, warm and silky, become its focus. This oriental accord is light on the sugar, immune to fluff, and not prone to ostentation, either. Its shapely curviness is in keeping with the rest of the fragrance. Self-assured and elegant, Must neither hides nor flaunts its treasures, but wears them, naturally, like a second skin.
**Addendum: While writing this review, I found myself so drawn to this scent that I purchased what is called a refill, or recharge, bottle of the parfum from the Cartier website (this link shows the bottle), which very much matches my impressions of the original, 1981 version of Must parfum. It should be noted that the refill bottle was originally created for one of the older Cartier parfum bottles (essentially, a metal case that the refill bottle snaps into), so I’m still not sure whether it's the very same parfum sold in the swoon-worthy new bottle.
Cartier Must de Cartier parfum can be purchased from fine department stores (Saks, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus) and online from the Cartier web boutique, where a 50-ml bottle is currently priced at $230 (for the beautiful new bottle) and $206 for the 50-ml refill bottle (not as fancy but still darn nice!). As mentioned above, my review is based on a decant of the vintage parfum concentration of Must that I ordered from surrendertochance.com, but I also ended up purchasing a refill bottle from Cartier, and it is the equal of the vintage, in my opinion.
Lastly, I’d like to credit my friend Ann, who writes for the Perfume Posse, for first introducing me to this perfume, and theperfumedcourt.com, where I purchased vintage samples of Must in the edt concentration.
Photo of actor, singer and model Vanessa Paradis (top of page) is by Ben Hassett for Violetgrey.com; the nude photo of Ms. Paradis (middle of page) is by Karim Sadli for the Vogue Paris Christmas 2015 issue; the image of the vintage Cartier Must perfume ad is from Aromablog.ru.
I’ve never smelled a more clear-and-singing tangerine note than the one I experience in Sheiduna. Along with lemon and a geranium that introduces a cool-green minty element into the perfume’s opening accord, the tangerine start to this perfume is nose-catching in the same way that seeing a woman with gorgeous locks of flaming red hair walk by is eye-catching, or stumbling upon an unexpected garden in a city will make you pause. These notes are not only uplifting, they are breathtakingly pretty and they linger long enough that you can have an actual conversation with them before they depart and the fragrance transitions into the next stage. Some twenty minutes into its development, the scent of roses start to emerge, and they are soft, dewy expressions of rose that have a garden naturalness about them. Intertwining them are smells of gentle spices—they resemble a mixture of cinnamon, clove and coriander that are restrained rather than heavy. Rather than taking over the perfume, as spices often do, they seem to make the other notes dance and have a sense of undulation. Alongside this mix, there is the scent of arid wood that lends Sheiduna exoticism—as if its lush garden resides in a city in the Arabian desert—and this element, too, has been tempered such that it achieves this effect with as much restraint as the treatment of the roses and the spices.
What is most impressive about Cécile Zarokian’s composition is that she creates a very intricate tapestry of olfactory elements while having a great sense of balance and proportion. When I say that Sheiduna is a perfume with presence and a sense of passion, that is true: it will get you noticed. It wafts beautifully, and, as much as I use the garden reference in this review, smells womanly and perfumey rather than like something found in nature. Still, its passionate nature isn’t blowsy with a let’s-throw-all-caution-to-the-wind sensibility. Smart choices have been made here—Zarokian has exercised a deft hand with the heavy notes, an audacity with the lighter notes, and (by whatever sleight-of-hand makes such a thing possible) brings a sense of movement and breath to the entire composition. The latter allows me to smell the more nuanced aromas within Sheiduna—a low-key vetiver, with its citronella-grass-and-light-floral aroma; little puffs of vanilla that are softer than clouds.
Altogether, this is the scent of sophistication. That difficult-to-describe essence that goes beyond natural beauty is what I recognize when I see a Jessica Chastain film, and it's what I find in Sheiduna.