I recently got in on a split of this scent, without having sniffed it. I’d read the description at Now Smell This, and the person offering to host a split shared this favorable review of it, and the Magic Words were mentioned: “a true chypre.” Gasp! Can it be… oakmoss?!? Really? People, myself included, jumped on it like a duck on a Junebug.
It’s not that I have all that much love for old-fashioned chypres. I don’t dig the citrus ones, and the leather ones, like Bandit, sort of skeer me. I do not do well with fruity chypres – as you might remember, Mitsouko hates me, and YSL Champagne/aka Yvresse and Givenchy So Pretty made me nauseous. (Distinction here: I wouldn’t call them nauseating in themselves, but something about fruity chypres in general, while smelling fairly nice, make me feel queasy. I don’t know why.) The green chypres are iffy for me as well, often seeming unfriendly and standoffish.
But the floral chypre genre has been rich for me. I usually love floral chypres, from the original Victoria’s Secret fragrance, Victoria – a floral chypre alive with bergamot, rose, jasmine, moss, and sandalwood – through the changeling “green floral/floral chypre” Chanel No. 19, and on through the gorgeous, aquiline, dark-rose chypre L’Arte di Gucci, from the shy prettiness of Houbigant Demi-Jour with its violets, roses and moss, to the stunning complexity of Jolie Madame, a mossy suede handbag stuffed with violets and gardenias. I even love the “modern chypre” 31 Rue Cambon (that luscious amber, sigh).
So I had high hopes for Plum. The week my small decant arrived, I had been wearing 31 Rue Cambon, and had been spraying Coco Mademoiselle (which is classified as a floral chypre, although it’s heavier on patchouli and woods than on the classic oakmoss-labdanum base) on handkerchiefs while writing my NaNoWriMo novel.
At first spritz of Plum, my immediate thought was, Modern chypre! A lot friendlier than the old classics, and with the smiling fruity topnotes that seem de rigueur these days. My second thought was, Nope, I’m wrong, there really is oakmoss in there, and this is just… extremely pretty.
My third thought was, I could wear this for the rest of my life. The backstory, according to this Vogue article, is that Ms. Greenwell, a high-end makeup artist in the UK whom I’d never heard of before hearing of the fragrance, wanted to create a fragrance as a finishing touch to a woman’s look. Ms. Greenwell has long been a proponent of natural, understated makeup intended to make women look less artificial, with an emphasis on natural-looking pink lips and defined but understated eye makeup. It’s a look that I like very much, and which tends to be very flattering – with the right colors, of course – to just about everyone. Ms. Greenwell states that she’s always felt that fragrance was the last step in a woman’s toilette, and that shes always made sure that the models or actresses or celebrities whose makeup she’s done have a spritz of something to complete the look and make them feel beautiful. Apparently the name was chosen before the fragrance was, and it’s not so much like plum as it is a sheer veil of beauty, relaxed and without drama, but complex and balanced.
Plum starts off with fruit, but not the Jolly Rancher variety – it’s tart, mouth-puckering fruit with lots of citrus in the mix. I do not actually smell plum in it, or at least not the plum note I liked so much in Natori, J’Adore L’Absolu, and Black Orchid Voile de Fleur. I get very little peach, and what I do get is quite tangy. There’s a lot of lemon, and I can pick out the blackcurrant quite easily. The chypre base is immediately apparent underneath, although it is nowhere near as assertive as a lot of chypres; it’s very definitely the floral variety.
After half an hour or so, Plum has glided into its floral phase, which I find really beautiful. It’s heavy on the white floral notes – the gardenia and tuberose are quite noticeable – but I would not call it a straight-up white floral, as the rose is identifiable as well. People who don’t like florals are likely to find this stage too sweet; however, this is my favorite part.
When the drydown takes over, it is quite light compared to the classic chypre. Oakmoss is definitely present, as are patchouli and amber, but they are well blended with no one element standing out. I smell a lot of woody notes in the mix, which might be another reason I’d call Plum a modern chypre – it’s gentle and has none of the ferocity that, say, Bandit or Paloma Picasso has. This phase throws very little sillage, as far as I can tell, and it wears like a lovely secret I’m hugging to myself.
Plum is an eau de parfum, but it’s on the lighter side and wears more like an eau de toilette on me, four hours’ worth of wear from two to three goodly spritzes. It strikes me as being fairly weightless, in that it’s been light but noticeable in the freezing (16-24F) weather we’ve been having over the last couple of weeks, but that it would not be at all too heavy a scent for summer. There are very few scents I would wear all year round – Mariella Burani, Iris Poudre, No. 5 parfum, Eau Premiere – and I’d add Plum to the list. A good number of people who’ve tried it have called it “very dressy,” “perfumey,” and “a big frock scent,” but I would, and have, happily worn it as a day scent. To be sure, I’m not terribly interested in casual, not-too-perfumey fragrances, and rarely find anything too perfumey for my taste (exceptions? Amouage Gold and Dia, which I found absolutely huuuuuuge, though I love Ubar and Lyric).
I wore Plum several times, racking my brain for the name of the scent it was reminding me of, before it finally occurred to me: Victoria’s Secret Victoria, which no one seems to remember these days, much less mention how beautiful it was. It’s long discontinued, and I think I know why (leaving aside the question of the deterioration of the quality of Victoria’s Secret merchandise, as compared to its 1980s iteration): it did not age well. I bought a small bottle of it on ebay two summers ago, hoping it would smell as I remembered. Alas, it had gone off: the topnotes smelled like nail polish remover and maple syrup, and while the heart still smelled recognizably like Victoria, the syrupy sweetness never left. So I thought I’d try for another bottle, hoping that it would be in better shape. It wasn’t. I had one more go, thinking that of course those pretty ribbed-glass tapered laydown bottles would have lain on dressers, soaking up light damage, and that I’d have better luck with a nondescript cylindrical bottle in a “tester” box. Alas, again no. I can “smell through” the nail polish and syrup to the effortless grace Victoria once had, with simplicity and elegance in equal parts, but the scent as it exists now is damaged. Sadly, I notice that my bottles have deteriorated further since I bought them, with more maple-syrupy notes than before.
Plum shares that feeling of effortless grace, the kind that makes me want to be a better person. It feels both comfortable and uplifting, a second skin of warmth and happiness that reaches out a friendly hand to those around me. It has captivated me, and my decant is rapidly dwindling. I want a bottle.
Notes and info for Plum: Composed by Francois Robert, fourth-generation perfumer. “Plum, a contemporary chypre, blends top notes of peach, blackcurrant, plum, bergamot, and lemon. Harmonious heart notes of gardenia, tuberose, orange flower absolute, rose absolute and jasmine absolute. Followed by delicious drydown of precious woods, sandalwood, oakmoss, patchouli, amber and white musks. (from House of Fraser)
Exclusive to House of Fraser in the UK. Sold in 7.5 ml, 50ml, and 100ml; also in 3 gram solid.