I have to thank my reader Jill for helping me discover the vintage perfume gem that is Nicky Verfaillie Grain de Sable. Jill contacted me to add a couple of fragrances to the Long Lost Favorite Perfume series I started to run on Fridays, and Grain de Sable was one of them. “I had never smelled anything like it then, and I still pine for it,” explained Jill. As it turns out, she keeps company with Luca Turin in her love for Grain de Sable. Luca called it an “obscure masterpiece” in his NZZ Folio article, and it was to him that I turned for help.
When Jill described Grain de Sable and its pebble shaped bottle, I realized that I’ve seen this fragrance at various discount shops in New York’s Midtown. However, I had never been tempted to buy it. A little research uncovered that Monique Verfaillie started out as a fashion designer before launching her own line in the late 1970s. Grain de Sable, created in 1980, was later presented as part of a perfume trio with Grain de Folie (1982) and Grain de Passion (1985).
I wrote to Luca asking whether my search for Nicky Verfaillie was worthwhile. He responded that Grain de Sable is one of his all-time favorites. “The fragrance was extraordinary and to my knowledge unique,” he said. “It was an all-out ripe sweet melon accord with a papaya garbage angle, in spirit not unlike Christian Dior Diorella but without the citrus backbone, in a more amorphous background, i.e. an early ’80s abstract floral like Balmain Ivoire or Madame Carven. No aldehydes, very watery and transparent fragrance. The overall effect was intensely languid and elegant and had an unwearable morning-after feel that I feel sure contributed to people staying well away from it.” Tania Sanchez, his co-author on Perfumes: The Guide, also named Yves Saint Laurent Champagne/Yvresse as a possible contender.
Armed with this information, I tracked down a mini of Grain de Sable for the bargain price of $15. Nicky Verfaillie’s archives describe Grain de Sable as a green floral, a perfume style in which the floral notes get a boost from an accord of crushed leaves or grassy notes. The ripe fruity notes described by Luca and Tania are obvious from the outset—nobody would mistake this luscious ripeness for the zesty lychee compotes ornamenting the top notes of many fruity fragrances today. This is what gives Grain de Sable its unique twist, but also as Luca warned, it makes the perfume a challenge to wear.
Besides the voluptuous Diorella and Yvresse that have a similar overripe fruity note, I would also recommend that Jill smell Frédéric Malle Le Parfum de Thérèse with its warm cantaloupe. Grain de Sable has a refined green note that remains bright and clear, while its floral heart is a sheer medley of jasmine and rose. Diorella leaves behind a patchouli trail, Yvresse embraces you in a fold of vetiver and moss, and Le Parfum de Thérèse caresses with its tangy leather accord. But Grain de Sable continues to tease with its fruity notes. A grain of sand is a fitting name for a perfume that smells like a day on the beach—warm skin, salty breeze and a brightly colored cocktail included.
Those who are curious to smell Grain de Sable should check online discounters and Ebay offerings. I see it popping up in my searches time and again.
Image: Grain de Sable advertisement from Parfum de Pub.