Suzanne's Perfume Journal

February 24, 2009:

Une Belle de Jour: Deneuve, the fragrance


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In the 1967 film Belle de Jour, Catherine Deneuve played an affluent young woman who is married to a handsome doctor—a man she loves but is unable to share physical intimacy with, as she is preoccupied with some rather dark fantasies stemming from an incident in her childhood. To satisfy these cravings she ends up becoming a prostitute in a high-class brothel where she works only in the afternoons, in order to keep this secret from her unsuspecting husband. As such, the brothel madame assigns her the pseudonym “Belle de Jour,” which translates to “beauty of the daytime” (as opposed to belle-de-nuit—“beauty of the night”—which is a French term for a prostitute).

“Belle de jour,” translated literally and wrested from its cinematic connotation, is a perfect description of the fragrance that Catherine Deneuve helped develop and lent her name to in 1986, when Avon (yes, a subsidiary of Avon, believe it or not) decided it wanted to launch an upscale celebrity scent. While difficult to find much information on Deneuve the fragrance, according to the French website, Ecran Noir, Ms. Deneuve was actively involved in creating the scent, its package and advertising, but Avon’s poor distribution of the fragrance in the United States and its lack of advertising in Europe led to low sales and the fragrance’s discontinuation. A perfume tragedy, considering how utterly gorgeous this fragrance is. Classified as a floral-chypre, Deneuve shimmers like a lush garden under the caress of a French sun (a garden more green than flowery, smelling like what I imagine Monet’s water lily garden in Giverney might smell like: greenery shot through with sunlight).

On initial application, Deneuve resembles Chanel No. 19, a fragrance with which it shares an almost identical list of notes. There is the spring-lawn smell of galbanum made piquant with the inclusion of bergamot, neroli, basil and aldehydes. And both scents contain a goodly dose of powdery orris that becomes evident about 10 minutes into their wear. However, it’s at this point that the two fragrances part ways, with Chanel No. 19 drawing more heavily from the rose at its heart, while Deneuve leans more heavily towards bright hyacinth, warm jasmine and ylang-ylang, and tenderly sweet muguet (lily-of-the-valley). There is enough moss and verdant notes in both fragrances to characterize them as green; but whereas Chanel No. 19 is a cool and shady green, Deneuve possesses incandescence. Its warmer tone lends it a bit more sensuality, too.

It's a contained kind of sensuality—what you might expect from a perfume that Catherine Deneuve put her personal mark on. Known for her understated acting, classy deportment, and golden beauty, Catherine Deneuve passed these same traits on to her namesake. Considering that she is a perfume enthusiast, rumored to have a large collection, I imagine it must have been very difficult for her to oversee the making of this fragrance and then to watch the Avon Company let this unique gem slip away (it almost seems they tossed it away, like a worthless pebble into a pond). Perhaps she can take some satisfaction in knowing that it did not fall into oblivion: twenty-three years later, the remaining bottles of Deneuve still surface on Ebay and other auction sites, where they are as coveted as a certain woman known as Belle de Jour.


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The official list of notes for Deneuve include: green notes, galbanum, bergamot, neroli, basil, aldehyde, rose, muguet, jasmine, orris, ylang-ylang, violet, hyacinth, moss, musk, cedarwood, sandal, and civet.

Image: Catherine Deneuve as the call-girl, Belle de Jour, in the 1967 French film of the same name.