Cologne was never one of my favorite fragrance types. You see, when you start out exploring perfume, citrusy blends (eaux de cologne) are suggested on the grounds that they’re “fresh and easy to wear.” Except that I found most colognes to be neither. They smelled either too dry, too sharp or evoked an unfortunate association with furniture polish. I admired the ease with which some women could douse themselves in Hermès’s Eau d’Orange Verte and project an aura of casual elegance, but for quick refreshment, I reached for either light florals or green perfumes. What changed my mind about colognes was Christian Dior’s Eau Sauvage and Jean Patou’s Eau de Patou.
Much has been written about Eau Sauvage, one of the most revolutionary fragrances in recent history, but Eau de Patou has kept a lower profile. Perfumer Jean Kerléo created it in 1976, and when you smell the original version, it’s remarkably modern and luminous with its generous dose of sheer floral notes wrapped around classical bitter citrus and moss. A touch of sweetness takes the sharp edge off the lemon and lavender, and the drydown of damp woods and powdery amber is comfortable and graceful.
By the end of the 1980s, the fashion business of Jean Patou had been closed, and the perfume division entered a period of stagnation in the first decade of the 21st century. Somewhere along the line, Eau de Patou had become difficult to find, especially in the US. It took an ownership change at Patou–the house was acquired in 2011 by Designer Parfums–for some of its classics to be revived.
The new in-house perfumer at Patou, Thomas Fontaine, respected Kerléo’s intentions with Eau de Patou, and this delightful cologne once again has its shimmer and radiance. The opening of green orange blossoms, spiced up with shaved lemon and orange peel is the smell of Provence captured in a drop of liquid. A dose of petals, which Fontaine, just like Kerléo, has kept white and sheer, gives a soft outline to the classical cologne, while the finish smells like skin warmed by the sun–sweet, creamy, with a hint of musk and toasted almond.
Eau de Patou is versatile, like most colognes, but it also lasts for hours and has a good presence. If you’re still tentative about citrus and find most colognes too brash, it’s a good choice. Other options are The Different Company Bergamote, L’Occitane Bergamot Tea, Guerlain Cologne du Parfumeur, NicolaÏ Cologne Sologne, and Clarins Eau Dynamisante. (Gents, please don’t be put off by my mentions of flowers in Eau de Patou, which are common in the most hair-chested of fragrances).
You can still find the original Eau de Patou at various discounters, and its pyramid shaped bottle is immediately recognizable, in contrast to the rounded new packaging. The biggest difference between the two versions is the herbs and moss. The new Eau de Patou increased the proportion of orange blossom vis-a-vis lavender, and the moss has been sheered out and sweetened. I don’t advise overspending on the vintage, because colognes are fragile blends that don’t age well. There is nothing worse than the rancid, sour smell of gone-off citrus.
Jean Patou Eau de Patou Collection Héritage, 100ml/180€. Available at Jean Patou boutiques and counters.