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In my kitchen cupboard there is an old bottle of Brer Rabbit-brand dark molasses that I’ve had forever and which I use so rarely, I have to employ a special tool to get the lid unscrewed whenever I do find occasion to open it. But the smell of that coal-black molasses is something one never forgets, and I only have to look at the bottle to conjure up its distinctive odor of sulfuric, tar-like sweetness. It is a strange and twisted sweetness, like liquefied leather with a dash of soy sauce and Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup. Like a pirate-y fermentation of dark Jamaican rum, minus the alcohol. It repels and fascinates me in equal measures.
What does this have to do with perfume? Well, for the past two days I have been sampling Histoires de Parfums 1740, named for the birth date of the Marquis de Sade, the
libertine writer notorious for exercising and espousing his belief that wanton cruelty was essential to the fulfillment of sweetest, sexual pleasure (his pleasure, anyway). Nearly 200 years after his death, he continues to be a figure who repels and fascinates people in equal measures, and while I am not one of those people, I am rather taken by this quirky gourmand scent inspired by the Marquis, which smells of leathery blackstrap molasses.
So, while this review won’t explore a Marquis de Sade theme, I did want to acknowledge that I have a sense of what angle Gerald Ghislain, the perfumer and founder of Histoires de Parfums, was pursuing when he created this deliciously odd fragrance.
According to the company, the list of fragrance notes for 1740 includes…
Top notes: Bergamot, Davana Sensualis
Heart notes: Patchouli, Coriander, Cardamom
Base notes: Cedar, Cistus Labdanum, Birch, Leather, Vanilla, Immortelle
October 17, 2008:
On application, the first molecules to hit my nose smell spicy and vegetal, but almost instantaneously, the powerful base notes of this scent make themselves known. Syruppy immortelle combines with resinous labdanum to produce the first whiff of molasses, which darkens and thickens as the astringent smells of birch and leather begin to permeate the brew. (I even get a sulfurous hint of birch-tar here, too.) Cedar is perceptible, but just barely—I sense it more than I smell it—its dryness ensuring that the nature of this fragrance continues in the vein of the resinous rather than the confectionery. Earthy patchouli helps out in the same regard; there is a primeval quality to the fragrance in its early stages, as if this was a molasses being stirred in a cauldron in the forest by the witches of MacBeth.
Considering this description of the scent in its early stages, what I’m about to say next might seem implausible. But my most surprising discovery with 1740 is what happens an hour into its wear: As the dark, smoky molasses thins out, becoming more palatable and slightly sweeter, I am astonished to discover in this “clearing” a shift in the fragrance, where it starts to bear a strong resemblance to another perfume that is a favorite of mine—Amouage Jubilation 25. This discovery blew me away because I consider Jubilation 25 one of the most unique perfumes I’ve ever smelled—a scent wholly unto itself, possessing a “one and only” sacredness in its arrangement of molecules. And it still is that (in addition to its distinctive composition, there is a richness of materials in Jubilation 25 that is without peer), so please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that 1740 and Jubilation 25 smell identical—they smell nothing alike at the start—but eventually both arrive at a place where there is a remarkable resemblance. I don’t have the nose to say what accounts for it, but my guess is the unusual Davana note they have in common, as well as labdanum and herbaceous notes. At any rate, this similarity continues into the drydown, but whereas Jubilation 25 retains more of a musky herbalness in its drydown (with nothing gourmand-y about it), 1740 is softened by touches of an ambery vanilla in its final stage, though, thankfully, the leather is still present too.
I’m not certain that Histoires de Parfums would agree with my assessment of 1740 as a gourmand (they classify it as a “masculine”), but because it strikes me as being one, that’s partly why I can’t commit myself to writing about its Marquis de Sade theme. The scent is leathery and edgy, but not so outré as to fall into Marquis de Sade territory. However, if I step back and consider de Sade in a broader context, as a man who was impervious to outside influence—his independent way of thinking admirable, even if other aspects of him were not—I see how this fragrance, inspired by him, follows in that same independent spirit. Considering that this fragrance was created several years ago and how many gourmand fragrances are now on the market (most of them Angel clones), I think most people smelling this scent would agree: this one follows the beat of a different drummer. Vive le différence!
Histoires de Parfums can be purchased from their French website or from the shop, Mio Mia, in Brooklyn, New York (or from Mio Mia’s website, www.shopmiomia.com, where they are quite reasonably priced at $115 for 4 oz.)
Image of 1740 fragrance is from the Histoires de Parfums website.
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Deliciously Different: Histoires de Parfums 1740