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Saturday, 27 February 2010

Jean Patou Vacances: Does Anything Else Come Close?

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...

http://www.nonsenselit.org/Lear/ns/cookery.html

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.

22 comments:

  1. Well, here's what I'll say. First off, you are a-mixin' from the spectrum of perfumes that make me yawn and move on, so I don't have a lot of happy connotations from your list. That said-- the way you describe "Vacances" makes me want to smell it more than anything... Yet more proof, as if we needed it, that some of those vintage blends have a vision and potency that is rare to find today.

    The other thing-- more do-it-yourself perfume reconstitutions, please!! I like how you stack the elements in your mind.

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  2. Careless reader that I am, I thought for a moment you were comparing A Scent to "a big damp frog" which would've been novel. :)

    I won't be of much help with the DIY version of Vacances, though, not having tried *any* of the scents you mention!

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  3. 1) Thank goodness I never smelled this during my 'green phase'! I am very anti-green now, so I have managed to escape a potentially very expensive lemming

    2) I'll trade you some En Passant if you like... Email me Xxx

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  4. I have a sample of Vacances sitting in my to-test box right now, that I've been saving for spring weather (and a sample of I Profumo di Firenze Lilla, AND one of En Passant). I'm looking forward to them so much. Love the green florals...

    If you do try the 'speriment, let us know how it comes out, okay?

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  5. Fortunately this lemming is soo expensive - and so high risk in terms of reputable stockists - that it can comfortably remain the stuff of fantasy.

    I know these scents are on the mimsy side for you, LCN, but I think you might find this one pretty.

    Arachne, loved the frog image!

    Farah, could probably use 2ml to perform this experiment, so will be in touch...

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  6. Oh what a wonderful idea--trying to reconstruct Vacances! I don't have Camille or En Passant...I do have Highland Lilac and Bel Respiro?

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  7. Hi Mals - I think our comments crossed in the act of being posted. I find En Passant on its own a tad too sweet, so will be interested to get your feedback under appropriate weather conditions.

    I don't know that Lilla one, or the Highland Lilac that you mention, Lovethescents, though the latter is much talked about in the forums. Bel Respiro is lovely and perhaps should have been included because of its lilac and hyacinth notes(!), even though it doesn't have the galbanum. Must dig out my sample before the formula is set in stone...

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  8. Oh, V. Nothing comes close. And that's the end of it. I was dreaming about this beauty as I cycled to work this morning. Something about the spring sunshine made me think of it. It's beautiful and, truly, nothing *can* compare. Lilac and green, lilac and green. I got a set of the Patou minis and this is the only one that had leaked ... my heart broke :(

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  9. I could have sworn that AG Grand Amour had galbanum in it as well as hyacinth, but I am wrong; so my suggestion for another potential layering component is null and void. Moreover, I've never even smelled Vacances - though it is amongst the very top few sniff-lemmings I entertain - so I am doubly hampered. I'm eagerly looking forward to reading the results of your experimentation, however!

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  10. (I was trying to be me, not Anonymous, but am having trouble with profiling~)

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  11. I am not sure if I have any En Passant left, will check.

    These are all a touch too delicate for me, I am not a lover of lilac/hyacinth/bluebell scents in general. I hope you can something that is an adequate subsitute.

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  12. Oh dear me, Scentimentalist, and didn't your 1000 parfum leak too, not to mention the mini of Ivoire that exploded over your shirt...?

    Tommasina, I did think of Grand Amour and discounted it for the same reason. Chamade also has hyacinth but is fundamentally different in character, I'd say.

    Hebe, I never thought I would be such a rabid fan of this particularly note combo, but Vacances has made me a firm convert!

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  13. Oh, my. This sounds like something that I must avoid, because I might love it too much. Sadly, it sounds like it will be very easy to avoid.

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  14. I have never smelt or heard of this - sadly.
    Why can't we have these "moody" scents these days I wonder????

    Love Goutals Camille!! Nice on a very hot day.

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  15. I feel a bit of a fraud now: Lovethescents, who introduced me to this beauty, also spotted the sudden appearance of a mini of Vacances on Ebay from a trusted seller I have used before, so I promptly bought it for £16.99. 6ml I think, but it should definitely keep the wolf from the door. Which is not to say that I won't attempt the Amblongous Pie experiment detailed above, but you could say the pressure is off...

    Thanks, LTS, you are an enabler of the first water!

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  16. A bit late to the party but!

    have you tried Lelong pour Femme? My darling pal D, who knew of my longstanding love of Vacances (I wore it in the 70s-80s and used to scent my sheets with it!) - anyway she sent me a little bit to rewet my memory - and she sent along a little bit of Lelong.

    It's not the same scent, of course - but it's The Same Idea. And absolutely gorgeous!!

    xo

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  17. Hi Musette,

    Very interesting to learn that Lelong is in the same general vein as Vacances - I haven't tried it, but it has been on my radar for a while thanks to a tip off from Museinwoodenshoes.

    So I guess you have "rewetted" my "to sniff" list, as it were! : - )

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  18. I definitely agree that the most exquisite green floral I have ever smelt. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    cletsey

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  19. Hi cletsey,

    Glad you share my love of Vacances - why on earth would they discontinue something so beautiful?!

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  20. Yeah! you right flittersniffer I am looking forward to your next post. Anyway,will certainly visit your site more often now. Thank you! :)

    cletsey

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  21. Do you have any background on Shiseido Sourire? I was told is is an exquisite fragrance but can only be found in Japan?

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  22. Hi Anonymous,

    I do believe I tried this once, having heard exactly the same thing about it being amazing, and wasn't so wowed by it after all. I may even have swapped it on. I am just off on a work trip but next time I am rummaging in my sample bags I will see if I can find it and give you a more considered answer.

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