I am grateful to Lovethescents for introducing me to Vacances, without question the most exquisite green floral I have ever smelt. Originally launched in 1936 by the design house Jean Patou to mark the introduction of paid holidays for French workers, it was created by Patou's in-house perfumer at the time, Henri Alméras. He is perhaps better known as the nose behind Joy (1930), the most costly fragrance of its day.
Vacances was re-released in the 1980s as part of a range of twelve fragrances known as Ma Collection, which included Colony, Adieu Sagesse, Que Sais-Je and L'Heure Inattendue. All have now sadly been discontinued again, and remaining stocks of Vacances are changing hands at up to $550 for a 75ml bottle. Since 2001 the house has been owned by Procter & Gamble, so a third relaunch is probably not on the cards any time soon...
Given this sorry state of affairs, I wondered what scents in my own collection might conceivably come close to Vacances, for when the sample I have runs out I doubt whether I will be able to access further authentic stocks of it for sensible money. The first step was to eyeball the notes, have another sniff, and decide what its dominant characteristics are.
Top Notes: Hyacinth, hawthorn, galbanum
Heart Notes: Lilac, mimosa
Base Notes: Musk, woods
The opening is sharply green, with galbanum and miscellaneous twigginess to the fore. The heart note of mimosa adds a cheerful radiance, before the scent mutes down to a whisper-soft blend of green notes nicely cutting the perfumey sweetness of the hyacinth and lilac. It is ethereal and feminine, with a delicate fragility that makes one think of tiny nodding violets or snowdrops rather than bushy cones of lilac or fat hyacinth bulbs.
So.... are there any scent contenders with galbanum AND lilac or galbanum AND hyacinth which come close in character to the elfin beauty of Vacances?
I thought, for example, of AG HEURE EXQUISE:
Notes: galbanum, iris, rose, hyacinth and sandalwood.
It has a pronounced green quality, but HE is more about the iris than the hyacinth and is markedly more powdery.
Next up was BLUEBELL by PENHALIGONS:
Notes: hyacinth, lily of the valley, cyclamen, jasmine and rose, galbanum, clove and cinnamon.
Bluebell, possibly owing to the spices, has a prickly green note throughout its development - not unlike those six needle injections they gave you at school in the 1960s. It does have a very true hyacinth note and the right degree of sheerness, but is ultimately a bit too needley to be considered.
The I had a sniff of A SCENT by ISSEY MIYAKE:
Notes: jasmine, galbanum, lemon verbena, hyacinth, musk, cedarwood and crystal moss.
It has the galbanum/hyacinth combo, but the problem with A Scent, as with L'Eau d'Issey in my view, is that the experience of this perfume is like a big damp fog, not unlike a recently vacated shower cubicle. It is modern and abstract and blurry and actually went a bit sour on me in the end, which is the last thing you'd expect from a Miyake. So although A Scent is not a bad candidate in terms of notes, it isn't nearly as "defined" as it needs to be. It is the scent equivalent of terrestrial television to Vacances's HD. Plus it is too modern and androgynous, lacking the dainty girlishness of the Patou.
I briefly thought of MILLER HARRIS FLEURS DE BOIS, which has the right dewy English garden vibe, but not the correct notes, other than galbanum:
Notes: galbanum, grass, lemon, green mandarin, rosemary, rose, jasmine, iris, oakmoss, patchouli, sandalwood, vetiver and birch.
The overall effect is too astringent and not compliant and polite enough: I was getting tangled thickets and hedge clippings, flower stems and thorns. FdB is not like EL Private Collection (a heavy hitting galbanum floral), but like EL PC it has a certain angularity to it.
And then I remembered AG EAU DE CAMILLE, which gets onto the shortlist on account of its lilac and sheerness and pungent greenery.
Notes: honeysuckle, syringa, ivy and privet bloom.
Which led me finally to FM EN PASSANT, for its watery quality, femininity, and the lilac.
Notes: white lilac, orange leaves, cucumber absolute and wheat absolute.
Additionally, I briefly flirted with the possibility of MDCI Coeur de Mai, which also features galbanum and hyacinth, however, from memory the overall vibe is fruitier and there is simply too much going on with it!
Notes: hyacinth, lily of the valley, petitgrain, bergamot, Bulgarian rose, galbanum, black currant, melon, Moroccan mimosa, Bourbon geranium, black pepper, coriander, musk and precious woods.
And I also wondered about Balmain Vent Vert, which I haven't sniffed in a while, so please feel free to comment on any resemblance you may detect there. I remember it as being more lemony and aromatic than Vacances, but I could be wrong.
Notes: galbanum, lemon, basil, jasmine, rose, vetiver, oakmoss, sandalwood and styrax.
Right, so if I had to try to construct Vacances on the kitchen table, I'd use 40% Eau de Camille (for the lilac and that "dead", "flat" privet/ivy thing it has going on), 40% En Passant (to bump up the lilac quotient and generally prettify and feminise the scent, as Eau de Camille has a rather sombre character), and then I'd add 10% of A Scent to make sure we had some galbanum and hyacinth in there, even at the risk of introducing a bit of en-suite fogging. And 10% of L'Artisan's Mimosa pour Moi, to create the sunny brightness at the heart of the composition.
Now I am currently out of En Passant, so sadly I can't actually try this experiment, which might well have gone the way of Edward Lear's Amblongous Pie anyway...
But if anyone out there would like to have a go at making up my recipe, or can think of other scents that would make better substitutes for Vacances - either on their own, or plundered for their component parts - I would be glad to hear from you.
And perhaps if we are very lucky, and all stock up on Ariel and Fairy Liquid, Max Factor & Olay, P & G might just relent and bring back this wistful beauty.