This fragrance, purchased for a song at an online discounter three summers ago – not even a whole song, to tell the truth, more like twelve whistled bars of an sweet old folk tune, maybe “The Happy Wanderer” – has become a summer staple for me, and more valuable with every new release of a so-called-”sexy” fruitchouli.
I was absolutely sure that I could blame Abigail of I Smell Therefore I Am for this one – but I can no longer find the blog review that I could have sworn she wrote for it, and so I can’t prove anything. (It’s possible that when ISTIA switched blog hosts a few years ago, the post disappeared into the cloud, but who knows?)
None of the other reviews I’ve been able to find – March at Perfume Posse, The Non-Blonde, Aromascope (no longer updated), Scent Signals (also no longer updated) – seem familiar to me as the post that first encouraged me to go searching for something to buy online, unsniffed, the biggest gamble I’d taken to date on this whole perfume deal. No, I’m sure it was something Abigail wrote. I don’t love everything Abigail loves; she’s a big-sillage fan, and she does love her some warm-n-cuddly orientals, stuff that would probably suffocate me. But when it comes to florals, we often inhabit the same space. There are any number of things her reviews have pushed me to try which I’ve wound up loving; most notably, her adoration of Alahine spilled over onto me.
So there I was, owning – what, five bottles of perfume at that point? All pretty cheap, except that 100ml tester bottle of Diorissimo, $72 via ebay. And I was looking for More Stuff To Wear. So I pulled the trigger on that little 30ml bottle of Ines de la Fressange, $14.
And it was delightful. Had I smelled it before I bought it, I’d have paid a great deal more for it. I did indeed go back and buy another bottle, a 50ml for $19.
This fragrance – released in 1999 under the banner of this famous former model and epitome of elegance – has long since been discontinued, and has disappeared from retail outlets. So far, though, I think the online discounters still have stock, and prices have not reached the truly-ridiculous level they will reach when stocks have gotten low.
I’d been attracted, to the best of my recollection, by the description of fizzy aldehydes and cheerful florals further brightened by fresh fruit, by the description of “fun yet ladylike.”
Just to clarify: Ines de la Fressange has released not one, but two fragrances under her label, under the same name. The packaging is quite different, however, so you will know just by looking at the bottle whether you’ve got the 1999 scent composed by Calice Becker, or the 2004 fragrance signed by Alberto Morillas. The Becker scent is packaged in an octagonal cylinder bottle, alternating plain and frosted glass facets, with flat silver cap, and its box is a light yellowy peach color, a couple of shades lighter than the old Karl Lagerfeld Chloe box. The Morillas bottle is actually much prettier – a flattened upright oval, with Ines’ signature oak leaves in gold and a funny little acorn-like sprayer button on top. Apparently the 1999 version is still easy to find at the discounters, while the 2004 one has all but disappeared.
Incidentally, the 2004 scent, which I haven’t smelled yet, includes a berry note and a musky vanilla base. Given my enjoyment of berry-vanilla scents, I might even like it. Who knows? A kind friend has offered to send me a sample, and I’ll be sure to report back.
The Becker scent is indeed a ladylike thing, and I’d call it a “refined fruity floral.” The notes, via Fragrantica: aldehydes, peach, bergamot, rosewood, carnation, iris, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lily of the valley, rose, sandalwood, tonka bean, and benzoin. In her review, March at Perfume Posse says that it smells almost exactly like the notes list would indicate, and I’d agree. What you see (in the notes list) is pretty much what you get (on your skin).
It starts off with a fizzy-fruity aldehydic rush of bubbles that burst up and pop, leaving little glitter sparkles behind them. The peach is very evident, but if you’re thinking of peach-flavored hard candies, stop right now. No, the peach note is tangy and fresh; my guess is that the citrus notes and rosewood – which I find very astringent on its own – do a lot to keep the peach from blowing up sweet and synthetic. From there, it’s pretty much a mixed-floral bouquet, and I only pick up on the rose and a hint of carnation. I don’t really smell iris or lily of the valley, just a lovely floral roundness. Eventually this floral accord is overtaken by a really beautiful sandalwood-benzoin base. I still get whiffs of peach into the drydown, which has the sweet richness of sandalwood without overt vanilla-ness.
Ines de la Fressange is rather firmly on the “femme” side, and because of the fruit and sweetness, it reads a little on the “young” side too. However, this is not the fragrance of a teenage girl listening to (oh gosh, what does your average teenager listen to these days? I’m pretty sure they outgrow Justin Bieber by 14 or 15. And MY teenagers like Springsteen and Green Day) the latest pop stuff on her iPod. No, this one has a grace and balance, a gentleness, that is vibrant but not callow.
If you lived through the 1980s, I’m sure you remember the fashion for Laura Ashley dresses. I didn’t own an actual Laura Ashley dress – too rich for my pocketbook! – but I owned several floral dresses at the time. To be absolutely honest with you, although I wouldn’t wear the look now, I still like it. The scoop or sailor neck, the short puffy sleeves, the narrow waistline and full calf-length skirt – that silhouette suited my body very well, and I have always liked floral cotton prints. What’s not to love?? I’ve recently seen the fashion criticized as being a backlash against “feminist” fashions of the 1970s: too girly, too frou-frou, too easy to dismiss. And perhaps it is so.
But the high school and college-age girls of my generation wore them, and we looked really pretty in them. The hair fashion of my college years was for one of two looks: either a short bob with minimal bangs, straight and shining, or medium-long hair pulled back smoothly into a ponytail at the nape of the neck (no higher, we were avoiding the cheerleader look) and then adorned with a big hairbow barrette. Velvet, satin, and grosgrain ribbon were all popular, and the bigger the bow, the better. The idea was to be able to see the wings of the bow when looking at the wearer head-on. “Mall hair” was not popular at either of the two colleges I attended; I suppose it was just a little too obvious, a little too outre’, for most of us, and even our bangs were subdued. But we went all out with those bows.
I really cannot wear Ines de la Fressange without a specific memory image coming to my mind: the annual brunch party for the University Singers on the Lawn at the University of Virginia, one Saturday in late April. Girls in puffy-sleeved floral dresses and flats or little kitten heels. Boys with short hair wearing what I always called Fraternity Uniform (Duck Head khakis, loafers or Topsider shoes, white shirts, ties and blue blazers). Pitchers of champagne punch, with platters of cheese straws and chocolate-covered strawberries. Gossip. Flirting. Clear plastic cups and pastel napkins. Sure, it’s a party, but a discreet daytime one, warm with conversation and romantic potential and the excitement of dressing up so everyone looks nice. We were all just a tad too intellectual to be really preppy, and there was room for Jenny the Goth Girl and David C the Dungeons&Dragons freak to be fully included, but there it is. Ines de la Fressange is a garden party in spring.
I’m so sorry I can’t offer a picture of one of these brunch parties – I put off this post at least a day so I could look for one. I’m pretty sure a few exist somewhere in my collection. However, I can’t locate them. But I raise a glass of fizzing mimosa punch to my besties: Kim, Suzanne, Marisha. Scott, Jeff, Mason. All the Davids. Myra Hope, Lisa and Christine. The Terrible Tenor Twins, Ellis and Foosh. Love you all, and wa-hoo-wa!