Pamplelune was composed in 1999 by then-in-house perfumer Mathilde Laurent (also responsible for one of my favorite comfort fragrances, Shalimar Light), as part of the simple and lovely first round of Aqua Allegoria fragrances. Pamplelune and Herba Fresca are the only fragrances that remain in production from that first release of these Guerlains With Training Wheels, both deservedly so. Pamplelune, despite having lost that first blush of newness, is still getting press – and wear – among fragrance fans.
Here, in part, is what Luca Turin of Perfumes: The Guide had to say about it:
“… without question the best grapefruit fragrance ever, and has that magical quality, typical of perfectly conceived and executed fragrances, of being much more than the sum of its parts… Laurent married grapefruit… with an intensely pink floral accord and somehow gave it durability and that elusive quality of radiance: the ability to project an accurate image of itself at a distance. A sunny masterpiece.”
I ran across this description in P:TG and promptly dismissed it. I don’t really care for citrus scents. They smell fine, but they tend to bore me to tears, and the phrase “a good citrus,” strikes me as having the same appeal as “a good car chase film.” Sure, there are people that like that sort of thing, but I am not one of them. It turns out, though, that grapefruit might be an exception for me, as in Pamplelune and in Moschino Funny!
I first smelled Pamplelune at the Duty Free shop in the Rome airport. I was already covered in Lolita Lempicka Si Lolita and Chanel No. 19 EdP, so I figured that if it bored me I’d still have other things to smell. However, Pamplelune surprised me: I was pleased that, first, I’d found a citrus fragrance that didn’t for once bore me silly, and second, that didn’t disappear at Minute 34. I had already bought a set of four Aqua Allegoria minis in Malta intending to bring them back home as souvenirs for various relatives: Flora Nymphea to my mother, who likes soapy-clean scents; Bouquet Numero 1, a citrus-fresh floral, to The CEO’s mother; Herba Fresca to The CEO’s sister J who loves fresh gardeny unisex smells, and Pamplelune to his other sister E, who used to wear Dune and had been looking for some lighter summer fragrances. E reported to me later that she really enjoys the happy, light-hearted cast of Pamplelune.
If you go to Basenotes or Makeup Alley or Fragrantica and read what’s written about Pamplelune, you will find widely divergent reviews. Some of them are as enthusiastic as the encomium written by Luca Turin in P:TG, and some of them condemn Pamplelune as being quite possibly the worst thing the reviewer has ever smelled, ever. The aromachemical making the difference seems to be the sulfur compound in grapefruit: to some people it smells quite strongly of sweaty body odor, and to some it smells unmistakeably of cat urine.
I had warned E about Pamplelune before she put it on. “Try it before you take the bottle with you,” I said. “Some people say it smells unpleasant, and if you don’t like it I’ll give you something else. I like it, but your nose might perceive it quite differently.” To her it smells of lemons, oranges and flowers. No locker room, and no incontinent cats.
I have lived with a cat in my house for most of my 43 years, excluding only my college years and the year I lived in my own apartment. Mr. Deedee, an orange cat, was succeeded by Smoky, the gray one. Then Midnight, who was exceedingly grouchy with everyone except my mom (who fed him) and my sister (who was a baby). Then Mittens, a tall tabby cat, came to live with us, and he was mostly my sister’s cat – she could hold him and ask for a kiss, and he’d lick her cheek. I found Callie, the stray calico, when I was a teenager and brought her home. Mittens and Callie were still with my parents when I moved out, Mittens living to the age of 14 before developing a brain tumor and Callie finally succumbing to old age when she was 17. Meanwhile, my brother brought home Buju, a chunky gray girl; when my grandmother’s beloved dog died, I brought her Herschel, a white-and-gray kitten from the litter that was born in the backseat of our neighbor’s car. Later, my parents took in Rosie, an enormous calico that I like to call “Meatloaf,” when her owner had to move into an apartment. And during the year that E lived with The CEO and me after we were married, her cat Tiger lived with us too.
The CEO, who had grown up with cats like Smoky and Morris and Dwayne (so named because he’d been found as a kitten in, yes, a dwainpipe), brought home two kittens he’d found starving and crying their heads off in a barn, with no sign of a mama cat anywhere. The black one he called Lucky, as a sort of joke that turned out not to be so funny when she crossed the street unwisely and was hit by a car. The small fluffy tabby with a bottlebrush tail we named Silvia, after a delicately feminine character in a Scott Turow novel. Silvia would place one tiny white paw on the side of the bowl of kitten chow and eat one kibble at a time, while Lucky planted both front feet right in the bowl and plowed in. Silvia, now old enough to vote and rather thin, is still with us.
So. I know the smell of cat pee, yes? Yes, indeed. I do. And despite the fact that an open cup of peach-flavored yogurt abandoned on the kitchen table often causes me to sniff suspiciously and check the litter box, I don’t smell any cat pee in Pamplelune.
What I smell in Pamplelune is bright citruses, mostly grapefruit but also an intense orange peel, followed by a floral note that I thought at first was orange blossom but now think must be neroli, because it does not go soapy and flat on me the way orange blossom usually does. Rather, it’s sparkling and has a happy feeling to it. The citrus phase by itself lasts almost twenty minutes on me, which is remarkably long for citrus, in my experience. The citrus+floral phase lasts a much longer time, perhaps an hour, before the citrus drops out altogether and the florals take over. I smell quite a lot of rose in Pamplelune along with the neroli (orange blossom?), and it is a classic, perfumey scent at this stage. Eventually, I smell the quiet woody base, which includes a faint, unsweetened hint of vanilla as well as a dry, herbal patchouli that does not send me screaming the way patchouli can. The whole fragrance is attractive and pleasant, shifting gears without a hitch throughout. My mini bottle is a dabber, and when I dab, the scent lasts about three and a half to four hours – extraordinarily long for an eau de toilette on my skin – while sprayed, it lasts about five or five and a half hours. It is not particularly loud, but it does have rather a nice gentle waft, well within my three-foot radius preferred wafting distance.
The notes for Pamplelune, according to Fragrantica, include lemon, orange, bergamot, blackcurrant, petitgrain, sandalwood, patchouli, and vanilla. There is no orange blossom or neroli listed, nor rose, but neither is grapefruit specifically listed. (I’d swear there’s rose.) Also, I think there might be just a little bit of musk, as a longevity extender. The entire fragrance has a cheerful, smiling face without that relentlessly perky clenched-teeth airline hostess perma-grin, and I find it both uplifting and easy to relax in.
It might be that the blackcurrant+citrus combination creates the grapefruit effect, and since these are topnotes that might be affected by skin acidity, I do recommend that anyone interested in Pamplelune try it before buying it. But do try it, won’t you? If it works on you, you won’t regret it.
Bottle image and notes list from Fragrantica. I note that Fragrantica also claims Jean-Paul Guerlain to be the nose for this fragrance, but I don’t think I’m buying that. Cat image is from cat-lovers-only.com (because Silvia is camera-shy!) Grapefruit image from Wikipedia.