Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Perfume and a Movie: Carner Barcelona D600 and Joueuse

For the past few months, I’ve been trying to catch up with the rest of the world in watching Mad Men, a series I thought I would love but which more often than not leaves me feeling depressed. Mad Men’s relationships, pretty much all of them (whether between co-workers, lovers, husbands and wives, or parents and children) have so little in the way of buoyancy about them that I always feel like the characters are drowning, and the only two people I find I myself consistently cheering for are Roger Sterling and Joan Holloway, as they genuinely seem to enjoy each other’s company, not only when they’re sleeping together but when they’re at work and even when they’re no longer lovers. I’m hoping those two don’t let me down in season five, which I’m now only starting, but with only two other characters who still interest me at this point—in addition to Roger and Joan, I’m on board with Peggy Olson and Megan Draper—I find myself needing to take a lot of breaks in between watching these episodes. For this reason, I turn to French films, though not the serious ones (not after watching Mad Men, though I’m sure when I’m finally finished, the more serious French films will appeal again).

Whether believable or not, the French film Joueuse—about a chambermaid who in mid-life becomes curiously interested, and then utterly infatuated, in learning how to play chess, and enters into a relationship of sorts with a widowed doctor who teaches her how to play the game at a tournament-level of skill—is the perfect antidote to too much Mad Men.  I know absolutely nothing of chess (my husband did try to teach me once, but I am not of the chess mindset) and yet I found this film completely enchanting in that very nonchalant way that French films of the feel-good variety manage to enchant. Of course, it helps when the chambermaid is played by an actress of silky intelligence—the ethereally lovely, Sandrine Bonnaire—and the widowed doctor is played by Kevin Kline, an actor who is like the older version of Robert Downey Jr., in that he has a facility for both comedic and serious roles, but is never more mesmerizing than when he undertakes the latter.

It also helps that the film’s scenery is idyllic. The story takes place on the island of Corsica, where Bonnaire’s character, Hélène, rides her bicycle to work each day at a seaside hotel—and because she and her husband seem to be struggling to make ends meet (he works at a ship yard and the two of them have a teenage daughter who is at that stage of resenting their blue-collar lives and its lack of cash), Hélène also cleans houses on the side, including that of the reclusive expat American, Dr. Kroger. One morning while at the hotel, Hélène is refreshing the bed linens in a room where the couple who occupy it are out on the hotel balcony, lingering over a game of chess. Glimpsing them through the filmy curtain, she is struck by the intimate nature of the scene. The woman (played by Jennifer Beals) is wearing a satiny piece of lingerie, the spaghetti strap of it falling from her shoulder, while her fingers caress the chess piece she is about to move. The man is across the table but leaning forward in anticipation, and they are talking in soft, cooing tones, absorbed in both the game and each other.

This scene sets off a craving in Hélène—for the intimacy that has gone missing in her own marriage—but for something larger than that, too, which becomes evident after she buys an electronic chessboard for her husband on his birthday and, when he refuses to play, begins sitting up late at night in her kitchen, teaching herself the game. She learns the basics but reaches the point where she’s basically butting her head up against the wall; she needs a teacher, and one day while cleaning at Dr. Kroger’s house, she spies a beautiful wood chessboard tucked away among his things, and figures she might just as well ask him. Not an easy thing to do, considering how cold and aloof he is—and suffice it to say, he’s not thrilled by the notion of teaching his housecleaner how to play. But they begin anyway, and the rest of the movie is like watching a very quiet but passionate affair unfold, where such affairs truly take place—the mind—and cerebral though it is, it changes everything: it upends the status quo, breathes new life into things that were stagnant, causes hurts along the way, and lands people somewhere other than where they thought they were going (at least metaphorically). Only here it does so without drowning anyone. In fact, it is the thing that ultimately keeps Hélène, and those who are hers, afloat and swimming towards brighter shores.

This week, I couldn’t think about what to write in regard to perfume, and then I thought about this movie and decided it was worthwhile talking about, so why not come up with a scent for Hélène? What I came up with is Carner Barcelona D600, a fragrance that has a wonderful balance of masculine and feminine elements and a lot of refreshing uplift, thanks to a generous amount of cardamom (that note always smells brightly soaring to me, and perfumey in and of itself, such that it’s hard for me to think of it as being spicy). Carner Barcelona D600 starts off with a tingly hit of black pepper, bergamot and grapefruit—it smells brisk right off the bat, like I imagine the sea air of Corsica might smell as Hélène pedals her way through the winding roads each morning as she bikes to work. A commingling of smells soon chime in—a doughy iris note mixing with the piquant and uplifting cardamom, and something lightly salty smelling—such that the fragrance increasingly reminds me of sea air, but air that is now closer to shore. The floral note of jasmine is hard to pick out, but it sweetens the mix as the woody base notes gather strength, about fifteen minutes into its wear. When they arrive, there is a spell during which D600 smells woody, refreshing, and slightly masculine leaning. It seemed essential to choose a fragrance for Hélène that had an element of the masculine about it, as she is essentially entering what I think of as a man’s world: the game of chess. Not because women don’t play it, of course, but because it does seem to be heavily dominated by men.

In the same way, though, that Hélène truly flowers as a woman by entering into this more masculine domain, D600 entertains a similar transformation. The iris note does what iris often does, becoming powdery, and when it is met by a vanilla accord, the scent becomes fluffy and sweet, but with enough vetiver woodiness that it is almost hay-like. It continues in that vein for the rest of its long wear time on the skin, with the scent’s floral tones actually coming through a bit more distinctly as D600 enters its late drydown.

Overall, D600 is a modern fragrance of breezy and gentle refreshment that doesn’t offer up much in the way of challenge, so perhaps coupling it to Hélène is naïve in that it does not speak of the thornier things she encounters along her way. But nor does Joueuse (the film's English title is Queen to Play) dwell on those things either, and some days that’s a better choice for me than Mad Men and everything vintage.

Carner Barcelona D600 eau de parfum has notes of black pepper, bergamot, grapefruit, cardamom, iris, jasmine, cedar, vanilla and vetiver. It can be purchased from the MiN New York boutique (online at, $130 for 50-ml.

My sample came from blogging friend Ines of All I Am - A Redhead, whose own review of the fragrance can be found here.

Photo (top) of Sandrine Bonnaire in the 2009 film Joueuse (the film's English title is Queen to Play) is from  Bottle image for Carner Barcelona D600 from

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September 18, 2012: