What fragrance would combine the crispness of winter air and the sweetness of hay warmed up by the sun? For the past few days I have been wondering about it because of a letter from my reader Dianna. Dianna wanted to help her mother find a new perfume to replace her beloved Jacques Fath Ellipse. She used to wear it exclusively, and now that Ellipse is impossible to find, Dianna’s mother misses it very much. “She often seeks a perfume that would smell as if she just stepped into a field with dry hay laying everywhere,” said Dianna, explaining that her mother loved whimsical, unusual fragrances. I had a vague memory of Ellipse, but since most of us here love a bit of whimsy in our perfumes, I thought that we might come up with some ideas.
Ellipse was launched in 1972, and it was a fragrance my own mother wore from time to time. But I could not recall much of it, other than it was a chypre, a mossy-earthy fragrance type. Dianna didn’t remember much either. “When I ask my mother about Ellipse, she says she thinks of wintery freshness and then some other clean and airy things in association with this perfume. I was too little to remember how it smells and cannot answer for myself but I do remember the silver bottle and its lid which looked like the moon, missing a piece,” she wrote in an email.
When I’m stuck, I turn to the person who is unfailingly helpful—Luca Turin. Luca’s knowledge of fragrances runs the gamut from big classics to lesser known gems. So when I asked him about Ellipse, he said that he had a sample and confirmed that it was indeed a chypre. He added that it was “intensely woody-resinous, like Parfum Grès Cabochard with all sweetness removed, perhaps more in the direction of Guerlain Sous le Vent or maybe Vero Kern Onda.” Sous le Vent and Onda are the must-try fragrances for anyone who loves the mossy feeling of classical chypre perfumes, and they’re also plenty whimsical. Onda in particular smells like cool stones, aged wood and soft leather. It’s rich and dark, whereas Sous le Vent has an airy, luminous feeling.
Although Ellipse may not be something many of us will try, the idea of a perfume that had the wintery freshness of a mossy chypre and the sunny sweetness of dry hay seemed so appealing and unusual to me that I became determined to find something similar among contemporary fragrances. For a moment, I considered Hermès Brin de Réglisse, which is a fantasy field in Provence, redolent of warm hay and licorice. But it’s warm and sweet, with a distinctive note of caramel and vanilla. Summers in Provence are scorching hot, after all.
Then my thoughts turned to Annick Goutal Eau du Ciel, which has a beautiful sweet hay note supporting its tender green violet. Eau du Ciel is a walk through a garden after a rainstorm, when wet grasses brush your bare ankles and you can almost taste the bitterness of lilac blossoms on your lips. Or how about L’Artisan L’Eau de L’Artisan, which is a Mediterranean summer fantasy of mint, green jasmine buds and warm hay?
I was going to stop there, but the other day I wore Parfum d’Empire Azemour les Orangers, and I’ve had a minor epiphany—I smelled a mild summer morning perfumed with orange blossoms and sun warmed grasses in this delicate chypre. It starts out on a bergamot and bitter orange leaf which are as refreshing as an ice cube melting on your skin, but the drydown is earthy and mossy. Wait an hour, and Azemour les Orangers reveals a sweet note of hay, which fits perfectly into this delicious fantasy.
What perfume smells like a sun warmed field to you? Do you have other suggestions for interesting green chypres?