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· Perfume Notes: Frédéric Malle Une Fleur de Cassie

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Perfume Notes: Frédéric Malle Une Fleur de Cassie
by Dain

Salvador Dalí, The Temptation of St. Anthony (1946)

How do you approach an enigma? This is the quandary that confronts you with perfume: it cannot be quantified. Even with a glossary of aromaterials and cultural references at your disposal, even after its position in olfactory history has been defined, even if we all shared a common interpretation, the translation from the sense of smell to the audiovisual medium of language is an imperfect one. Not that this dampens our enthusiasm, not at all. There is great charm in unraveling a mystery. A perfume review sits somewhere in between anecdote, free association that dives into the chaos of personal experience, and ekphrasis, a cerebral deconstruction, like taking apart a watch to puzzle out its mechanism. We never comprehend the whole, and it does not matter.

A good perfume is strange and unfathomable. A poor one isn't so much repellent, as far too easily compassed, indistinguishable from a hundred others. The collective howl of rage against cheap mainstream fodder, however querulous to some ears, is grounded in genuine loss: when perfume loses its mystery, it is simply an odor.

Truth be told, I don't know how I feel about Une Fleur de Cassie. Don't get me wrong; my ambivalence means nothing. It is the only perfume I've ever bought after one sniff, without the intermediary of decants. Reactions to Une Fleur de Cassie, a perfume so complex it is better described in binaries, are sharply divided, and yet no one is ever likely to dismiss it as poorly made.

Ostensibly, it is a homage to a single raw material, the absolute of cassie, augmented by its close relation mimosa. There is a tendency in most compositions to tone down cassie's irregular features—buttery-rich pastry, damp paper, bitter almonds, sweaty flesh, fragrant balsams—rather like a face striking in its asymmetry. Ropion, by both harmonizing and exaggerating its quirks, manages a remarkable feat of engineering. Une Fleur de Cassie utilizes a decadent near-overdose of Acacia farnesiana, fully exposed in all its crude glory, but ever so delicately polished by its supporting notes: a tart, citrusy rose to brighten, violet and peachy aldehydes to emphasize the powdery tenderness, cinnamon set against the anisic tendencies, just the right measure of indolic jasmine and cumin for a lush erotic overtone, mushroomy cashmeran and sandalwood and hints of pepper to draw out the weird, harsh, bitter, damp smell of wood quickly returning to the earth.

As with any soliflore, Ropion has enhanced characteristics extant in the original essence, but it is anything but one-dimensional. Perhaps it is because the cassie is itself so odd, perhaps the materials selected by Ropion's discriminating hand have a modernizing touch. Une Fleur de Cassie most closely resembles L'Heure Bleue, a floriental (albeit based around heliotrope) in a very grand style. It is a study in contrasts: it holds the promise of both fruitfulness and decay.

And still, I cannot tell you how I feel about it. It evokes many thoughts and sensations, but also nameless things I cannot phrase because mystery is beyond expression. It is simply special.

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