Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Dans Tes Bras . . .
On the Sum of Its Parts, More or Less

October 7, 2014:

Frederic Malle Dans Tes Bras eau de parfum was created by perfumer Maurice Roucel, with notes of Cashmeran, sandalwood, musk, patchouli, salicylates, incense, heliotrope and violet. It can be purchased from the Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle website and boutiques (or at Barneys New York), where it is currently priced at $180 for a 50-ml bottle or $265 for a 100-ml bottle. My review is based on a sample I acquired from Barneys.

Photo of the couple embracing can be found at various Internet sites; photographer unknown by me.

Photo of Dans Tes Bras bottle is from the Frederic Malle website, where it can be purchased.

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I often think my interest in seeking out new perfumes has reached its natural conclusion, and then something will happen that snaps me back, like a yo-yo, to perfume’s obsessive hold over me. It happened last week in the form of a cold—a cold I thought I’d licked but which proved otherwise when I sampled a perfume I’d never tried before. I was intent on trying Frederic Malle Dans Tes Bras—something about being sick usually puts me in a state of mind where I want to smell the oddball scents, or maybe being sick simply reminded me of Dans Tes Bras, because one of the most compelling reviews I’d ever read of it likened it to “a really cute nosebleed.” What does that smell like? I wondered. If you could draw a picture of it, what would it look like? My brain having finally surfaced from its groggy, cold-induced state was itching to know. First I had this picture in my head of the characters Lena and Barry in Punch Drunk Love (due to their endearingly macabre pillow talk), and then a few other visions that seemed more normal (like how when you really love someone, there is something cute about them even when they’re not well and perhaps having a nosebleed). So after thinking on this some, I found my recently acquired sample of Dans Tes Bras, applied several sprays, and then … nothing. Not a thing! I could smell my supper cooking for the first time in days, but I couldn’t smell Dans Tes Bras and this made me panic a little. For no other reason than I thought I was anosmic to it on a day when smelling it seemed essential.

Essential to what, you might ask. Essential to experiencing life again, I guess.

Luckily it was only the remnants of illness that kept me from smelling Dans Tes Bras (and not my anosmia to certain musk-based perfumes, which I originally feared was the case). A few days later, after applying one big spritz to the fleshiest portion of my upper arm, voila! There it was in all its strangeness. It’s progression on my skin went like this: At the start, a weird though not unpleasant scent resembling a combo of starchy banana, the ink cartridge from a copy machine and violets. Five minutes later, the development of something delicately powdery and vanillic, as if it’s about to pretty itself up, even though it never truly does. It’s more accurate to say that Dans Tes Bras entertains a notion of pulchritude (a tendril of vanillic powder is always present) as it continues to offer up a mix of industrial- and natural-smelling aromas, the variety of which bears the stamp of Steampunk (or a simplistic version of Steampunk, if such a thing is possible). In addition to the aforementioned odors, Dans Tes Bras exudes whiffs of metal and ozone and hints of mushroom, as well as the growing medium for mushrooms—an oddly-cool dirt smell that is lacking in true earthiness, such that I’m tempted to call it ghost dirt. And at its center, occupying a lot of territory in Dans Tes Bras, there’s an accord that resembles Johnson’s Baby Shampoo. It’s a defining accord, one that inspires affection as it nostalgically evokes the bath-time rituals of youth or recalls the scent of a child’s scalp (a favorite smell for many women). To me, it’s what puts the “cute” in the “cute nosebleed” description that the other reviewer (Victoria of EauMG) ascribed to this scent. Not because it makes one think of kids, but because it is an olfactory form of shorthand linking one to the feeling of affection. (Different from “love,” affection, by my definition, refers to the pure and uncomplicated feeling of being naturally drawn to a person or thing. It inspires the word cute—a descriptor I consider ageless, which is why I might apply it to a kitten, in one breath, and a good-looking guy in his 50s, in the other).

It’s obvious that perfumer Maurice Roucel took a very thoughtful approach to this composition as he attempted (in his own words) “to communicate both seduction and generosity” in a fragrance meant to convey the feeling of being in a loved one’s embrace (Dans Tes Bras is French for “In Your Arms”). That said, while Dans Tes Bras is compelling to me as a study of perfume—I love the beauty of the attempt, I love the odd elements that make it an intrigue and not simply a copy of other “skin scents”—it doesn’t hang together for me as a whole. Even though my cold is gone and I can now smell Dans Tes Bras, I feel anosmic to it unless I’m actively parsing its notes. From afar, it becomes amorphous—its individual components unable to fuse into anything that has olfactory weight or distinguishable presence to my nose. Its fragrance profile as whole becomes indeterminate.

Smelling it up close and with an analytic mind, it's intriguing and what I’d call the work of a genius. Smelling it afar: forgettable and almost non-existent. So would I ever purchase this scent?

Hmmm. Concurrent with sampling Dans Tes Bras, I happened to be reading Michael Ondaatje’s novel Divisadero—a work containing elements that leave my reading mind besotted: the poetic rendering of its prose; the tender way Ondaatje peels back the layers of his characters to reveal truths that are as universal as they are deeply personal. And yet I felt disappointed near the end of it, as Divisadero never gels as a novel. It’s written in an elliptical style, with characters whose lives and motivations are revealed in the same way an evening landscape in summer is illuminated by heat lightning: in brief strokes which dazzle but don’t grant much in the way of purchase. Lacking a true narrative that takes the reader on some kind of journey from one distinctive plane to another, Divisadero will likely vanish from my memory a year from now, whereas Ondaatje’s The English Patient will exist for me ad infinitum—certain passages always humming in my brain, making me reach for it whenever I’m in wont of a story that charts a course through the strange desert that is love.

Still. I’ve read a whole bunch of books this year, most of them with dependable story lines, and almost none of them as satiating on an emotional and intellectual level as Divisadero. And while I am far luckier in the perfume department (thanks to samples that come by way of friends who know my tastes), Dans Tes Bras is one of the most fascinating scents I’ve ever studied. Neither is what I think they set out to be: Divisadero, by its end, reads more like a contemplation on the writing life, its motivation and muses, its rewards and privations and quiet way of shaping a life; and Dans Tes Bras was certainly not conceived as an exercise or study in olfactory creation, yet it smells more like an homage to the art of perfumery than like perfumery’s end product. Both will pass from my memory sooner rather than later, but in the vast ocean of things I consume regularly, these are the two things that recently gave me sustenance.