Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Three years ago, if you had asked me what I thought of Frederic Malle Le Parfum de Thérèse, I would have pulled a face and said, “Miracle Whip salad dressing and basil.”  I had no idea why so many perfume bloggers revered it; to my nose, it had the tangy, sweet and sour, oily-watery smell of that condiment, which is the most awful substitute for mayonnaise I can think of, yet enduringly popular in the United States. (My late mother-in-law and beloved grandmother were both devoted Miracle Whip fans, so I do feel a twinge of guilt about dissing it, which might account for why I have avoided writing about Le Parfum de Therese for so long.)

If you can imagine Miracle Whip spread on leaves of freshly picked basil, pungently herbal, but also with basil’s lightly spicy, cinnamon-like edge to it, you sort of get the idea of how Le Parfum de Thérèse registered to my newbie-perfumista nose. It reminded me of a strange woman I knew—a young woman, very pretty, very thin, who kept iguanas as pets in a big spare bedroom of her house, and who seemed intent on adopting their diet. She loved Miracle Whip, too—or maybe it was mayonnaise; she spread it between two leaves of Romaine lettuce and called it her “sandwich,” though that’s all it consisted of—no bread, no anything else. “More like a salad,” I said to her once, but she insisted that since she never ate more than one or two of these filling numbers at any given meal (in other words, just a few leaves of lettuce rather than an entire bowful of greens) she viewed them as sandwiches.

Consequently, I began thinking of Le Parfum de Thérèse as Le Parfum de K. (iguana girl), and I suppose that's the other reason I have resisted writing this journal post. It seems almost sacrilegious to write down these crazy thoughts in regard to a perfume that was created, with great reverence, by one of the world’s most talented perfumers, as a gift to his wife. Edmond Roudnitska, the genius “nose” whose creations included the original Rochas Femme (1944), as well as Diorissimo (1956) and Diorella (1972) for the Christian Dior company, formulated the fragrance for his wife, Thérèse Roudnitska, in the 1950s. The scent was hers, and hers alone, to wear until the year 2000, when Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle acquired the rights to produce it commercially.

Yet, sacrilegious as it seems, those were my initial impressions when I first smelled Le Parfum de Thérèse back in 2006, and I think it would be a disservice to my readers—particularly those who might be new to the perfume scene—if I didn’t report on them honestly. I really didn’t “get” Le Parfum de Thérèse back then, but I decided to hang on to my little 10-ml bottle because of the comments of another perfume blogger, who basically said of this scent, “Don’t give up!  Keep trying!  You’ll ‘get it’ one day.”  She wasn’t speaking directly to me, she was commenting in general at the site of a blog I was reading, but I took her to words to heart. I’m not sure why, as I was pretty certain at the time that one’s tastes were one’s tastes: if not exactly carved in stone, not easily altered, either. Yet perhaps because Le Parfum de Thérèse was so very odd to my nose—the associations that sprang to mind so weird—my interest was piqued, and I did want to keep revisiting it. Even when I thought I didn’t like it, there was something about it that I found as compelling as a siren song.

To truly revisit something, you have to go through a process where you forget about it, too. With Le Parfum de Thérèse, I tucked my bottle away for four and five months at a time before bringing it out again, and in the meanwhile, I kept sniffing everything else that came down the pike—loads of samples—and expanding my wardrobe. Breathing in and out new scents, doing it consistently, is not unlike breathing in and out new words: before long, you acquire a new vocabulary, perhaps even a whole new language. Perhaps not surprisingly, one’s tastes do evolve and change in the process of all that learning. Somewhere along the way, I fell in love with two scents in particular that opened the door to my loving Le Parfum de Thérèse: the almost overripe, fruity-chypre scent of Amouage Jubilation 25, with its piquant lemon-tarragon top notes; and the spiced plums, leather and polished-wood smell of Guerlain Parure.  Both scents have elements that I recognize in Le Parfum de Thérèse, and somehow they helped me to reframe the way I smelled the fragrance. Or maybe, like new words, I simply liked the way those elements tasted, the more I breathed them in, until they became the very things I started to crave in fragrance.

I still perceive Le Parfum de Thérèse as being composed of tangy, sweet and sour, oily-watery smells, with a spicy-herbal undercurrent. And my earlier associations still roll around in my head—I can’t completely dismiss them, and I wouldn’t want to—only now they mix with newer associations:  Le Parfum de Thérèse now smells to me like the residue of a fruit and herb garden on a woman’s leather glove (as if the mistress of the garden decided that a leather glove would be better than a garden glove to cut fruits and leaves from their prickly vines), deposited onto the counter of a sunny kitchen, where the pretty iguana girl is whipping up a batch of fresh mayonnaise.

From Strangely Compelling to the Very Thing I Crave:
Le Parfum de Thérèse

July 3, 2009:

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Le Parfum de Thérèse, from Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle, has notes of tangerine, melon, rose, plum, cedar, vetiver and leather. It can be purchased from the Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle website and boutiques, or from, where a 50 ml bottle is currently priced at $150.

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