As regular readers might remember, I usually love classic perfumes, and I especially love aldehydic florals. There’s something so enjoyable to me about smelling “perfumey,” which is one of the things that aldehydes do to a scent as well as giving it a burst of light and fizz, that I try all the aldehydic florals I can get my hands on.
Arpège is pretty famous. It was one of the classic fragrances that was widely available to American women in drugstores and department stores from the 1940’s through the 1970s, and it was also heavily advertised in magazines. It was expensive, but not madly so, and many of the ads seemed to encourage men to buy it for their lady friends: “Promise her anything, but give her Arpège!” I imagine that a fair number of women received it as a gift, and either wore it with pleasure, or wished it had been another fragrance and tucked it away under their girdles for several decades.
During my “vintage spree” on ebay a couple of summers ago, I bought a boxed bottle of vintage Arpège extrait; judging by the packaging, it’s perhaps 1970s or late 1960s. It was pretty cheap – 7.5ml for $12, including shipping. (I frequently buy “used,” especially if the fragrance is still in its box. I’ve had good luck with that.)
Perfumer Andre Fraysse created Arpège in 1927 for designer Jeanne Lanvin. As a birthday tribute to Lanvin’s daughter Margaret (later called Marie-Blanche), a violinist, the fragrance was given a musical term meaning “arpeggio,” a graceful broken chord. A sketch of Mme. Lanvin’s, depicting herself and her young daughter dressed for a dance, was adapted into the silhouette that became the emblem of Lanvin perfumes. I love the tender, joyous bond between mother and daughter in this emblem, and the design in gold on a black boule bottle is just beautiful.
A reorchestration of Arpège took place in 1993, streamlining the rich, dense original formula but keeping its structure intact. I received a mini bottle of reformulated eau de parfum in a swap, and it was interesting to compare it to the vintage extrait. My little mini is clear glass with the gold emblem printed on the front, and a tiny ribbed gold cap. I often see this bottle advertised on ebay with the description “vintage,” and the look is indeed retro, but this is the new.
Notes for Arpège, from Fragrantica (and these seem to be appropriate for the reorchestration, not the vintage): Topnotes are aldehydes, bergamot, peach, orange blossom, honeysuckle. Heart notes are rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lily of the valley, coriander, tuberose, violet, geranium, orris. Basenotes are sandalwood, vetiver, patchouli, vanilla, styrax, and musk.
Based on my experience of the two formulations, I suspect that the original may have contained a base or two (or more!) that is no longer available, as well as some florals not listed. I also suspect that the original did not contain vanilla, and did contain a hint of oakmoss. But like many classic perfumes, Arpège has been reformulated many times over the years, and at this stage, it’s difficult to say just how much has been changed.
The refo EdP is quite wearable really, even given its old-fashioned aldehydic top. It carries a golden sort of glow with it, beautiful rich saturated florals seen through the sparkle of aldehydes. There is a bit of lightness and sweetness to this scent, compared to the vintage – the violet and lily of the valley are quite apparent, and the squeakiness of geranium too. Rose, jasmine, and ylang-ylang are prominent in the heart, and only lightly touched with the herbal-spice of the coriander.
The aldehydes are pretty heavy in the vintage extrait, and the floral heart notes thick and almost sticky, heavy with that French jasmine that often shocks me with its indolic languidness. The jasmine-rose-ylang combination so common to classic perfumery is perfectly distinguishable here, even with the enormous list of other florals. The coriander is quite strong in my vintage bottle, adding an herbal twang to the mix. I sometimes find the heart of the vintage parfum too loud and buzzy, nearly overwhelming.
As the refo EdP moves into its basenotes, it settles a bit and the flowers stop humming. Sandalwood (Australian or New Caledonian, I think, judging by the brightness), vetiver and musk are prominent, and Arpège EdP becomes a dry, floral-woody fragrance with stature. It seems like the scent of a young woman who is described as “twenty, going on forty,” a sensible, reliable person.
In the vintage extrait, the richness continues into the drydown. The prominent notes here are sandalwood (gorgeous creamy Indian), vetiver, oakmoss, and a very sensual musk, and the entire thing is absolutely beautiful, a scent of grace and generosity and gravitas.
I have sometimes commented that I wished I could merge the top and heart notes of the reformulation with the incredibly rich and poignant basenotes of the vintage. There is something close to overripe in the florals of the vintage parfum, and at times it is almost too, too much for me to wear. Usually I just soldier on through the first couple of hours, because I know what’s awaiting on the other side: the most amazingly beautiful sandalwood-heavy drydown I have ever smelled. Ever. That includes the drydown of Bois des Iles, mind you, which may be an icon as far as sandalwood scents go. I do love BdI, but Arpège is just stunning at this stage, where BdI merely whispers.
I love wearing Arpège in the autumn; its tremendous richness complements the richness of the colors on the trees and the golden slant of sunlight across grass in late afternoons.
Other blog reviews: Angela at Now Smell This; Bois de Jasmin, Fragrance Bouquet, For the Love of Perfume, The Non-Blonde, Donna at Perfume-Smellin’ Things, Yesterday’s Perfume. Forum reviews: Makeup Alley (I especially enjoyed the review by FlameDancer), Fragrantica, Basenotes.