Paul Vacher : Perfumers on Perfume

Do you wear Arpège or Miss Dior? Have you smelled Le Galion fragrances? In partnership with the Osmothèque, I offer you an excerpt from Indiscretions apropos of a new perfume, a 1943 magazine article by Michel Arbaud, which pays tribute to French perfumer Paul Vacher. Vacher worked at Le Galion and Guerlain, and he collaborated with many legendary perfumers on creations that still inspire us. He co-authored Miss Dior for Christian Dior in 1947 with Jean Carles, and Arpège for Lanvin in 1927 with André Fraysse. In the article, Vacher describes how he would create a seaside inspired perfume and what notes lend fragrance a sensual effect.

sortilegesortilege1

Vacher had an interesting approach to fragrance, but he’s much less well-known to most perfume lovers than some of his contemporaries. Part of the pleasure of dipping into the Osmothèque’s archives is hearing the voices of other creators, not only the most prominent ones. Vacher passed away in 1975, but Arpège remains an icon. Miss Dior has suffered somewhat post reformulation, but you can still smell it at the counter. In other good news, Le Galion is reintroducing its collection, including the exquisite Sortilège and Iris. Both were created by Vacher and reorchestrated by Thomas Fontaine, the current in-house perfumer at Jean Patou.

For other articles from the Perfumers on Perfume series, please see perfumers-on-perfume tag.

“The true creator of perfumes, not he who is satisfied by a decent mixture that is more or less novel, but he who ceaselessly searches for a new range of smells, rich in suggestion and reverie, always filled me with a somewhat superstitious admiration. A strange poet is he who has no words; a strange musician who uses no sound; a strange artist whose means of expression consist of a quantity of little labeled bottles that contain the essence, so variously aromatic or malodorous, of that in the world which touches most violently our olfactory nerves.

Paul Vacher is certainly among the most gifted of these sentimental chemists, these aesthetes of the laboratory. He has created numerous of the great perfumes that have triumphed during recent years under various brands. Today he creates for himself in his own house. It is there that I went to inquire as to what would succeed his delicious Sortilège and Brumes, the lastborn of his extraits, this smell of nature, alluding to a thousand aromatic plants, all so finely feminized.

‘I have been seeking for quite some time,” Paul Vacher told me, “a scent that smells of the sea. I began with a name: Embruns (spindrift) and an idea: the marvelous aroma of the shore, where combine the ocean’s exhalations and those of the beach warmed by the sun. The seaside, in the glow of warm hours, when blows a mild offshore wind and, not far off, the heath is in bloom; know you anything that smells better? Alas, how difficult it is to express! … One needs something iodized, without the pungency of iodine. I distilled algae, kelp … A touch of oregano is needed and several floral notes; broom, gorse, a trace of acacia. Several seaside herbs — sage, marjoram, Breckland thyme — must lend, very delicately, emphasis. But it’s terribly ‘dicey’! The whole, evidently, must be powdered, tenderized, feminized. A woman must never ever smell of the sea. She must evoke certain hours of tenderness by the seaside, memories of happy vacations, emotions sublimated by the exhilarating climate of vast maritime horizons.’

legalion

Paul Vacher grows excited. He opens small mysterious bottles and has me smell their strange aromas. He is a sensitive poet who never stops breathing life into chemistry, and so it is that he achieves perfumes that possess a soul, that do more than touch the senses, that awaken the secret nostalgia, the unconfessed emotions and the suppressed ambitions within us all.

‘I also dream,’ adds my alchemist in a suit, ‘of another extrait that will be called Rendez-vous. A fine title, is it not? … For which I must find a most sensational justification!’

‘What note?’

‘You are indiscreet … Well, so be it! I am in the mood for confidences. A woody note. Rosewood, Makassar, ebony, champak. Perhaps a bit of cedar. Obviously some vetiver and sandalwood.’ ”

Arbaud, Michel. “Indiscrétions à propos d’un nouveau parfum.” Parfumerie Jan 1943. Print.

Translated from French by Will Inrig. Osmothèque, Versailles. 1 May 2014.

COPYRIGHT The Osmothèque 2014.

Image: ads for Paul Vacher’s creations via the Osmothèque and legalion.fr

Osmothèque, the International Perfume Conservatory and Museum
36 rue du Parc de Clagny
78100 Versailles, France
Tel : 01.39.55.46.99
email: osmotheque at wanadoo dot fr
www.osmotheque.fr (click on the Conférences et Visites tab)

 

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63 Comments

  • melissa: He sounds like a sensitive, kind person. Thank you for posting the article. I wore Arpege when I was a student. May 22, 2014 at 9:12am Reply

    • Victoria: I wish I could read more about him. All of these people have such an interesting background, and I find perfume history fascinating. May 22, 2014 at 11:00am Reply

  • Sandra: He sounds like an amazing person woth lots of dreams. I think more people need to dream and then out it into reality.
    I have smelled Mis Dior but not the Lanvin one. I like the perfume version of Miss Dior but never enough to own a bottle.
    My dream for today is having a relaxing day off (finally) of work, as I sip green tea with almond vanilla and rose, I am dreaming of going to the Met to see the lost kingdoms exhibit. Time to make this dream a reality! I think I will wear Mohur. May 22, 2014 at 9:21am Reply

    • Victoria: So true! Great perfumers are usually the ones who daydream a lot. :)

      Your day sounds wonderful and relaxing. Who makes the tea are you drinking? May 22, 2014 at 11:02am Reply

      • Sandra: Hey Victoria- it’s Palais Des Thès that makes the tea- Thè des Vahinès is the name.
        Have you heard of that brand?
        I had my bridal shower last weekend and it was a high noon tea party theme. I have already dipped into my tea gifts (not traditional thing to do- but I am not a traditional type bride either)
        Lost Kingdoms exhibit at the Met was good, if anyone likes Buddhist/Hindu statues and artifacts May 22, 2014 at 3:47pm Reply

        • Victoria: I love Le Palais Des Thès! It’s one of my favorite tea brands, and I even went to their tasting lesson in NYC a couple of years ago. I loved that it was started by tea enthusiasts and that it’s grew so well over time. I’ve a sample of Thè des Vahines, so that will be my evening cup of tea. Thank you for reminding me of it.

          Bridal showers are so much fun! I haven’t had one myself, but I’ve attended a few. Enjoy opening your gifts! Hope that there are some other scented ones. May 22, 2014 at 3:56pm Reply

  • Ann: Thank you for sharing. I wore both Miss Dior and Arpege. May 22, 2014 at 9:25am Reply

    • Victoria: Glad that you liked it, Ann! May 22, 2014 at 11:02am Reply

  • James: Great article! I could take it apart for quotes like “A woman must never ever smell of the sea. She must evoke certain hours of tenderness by the seaside, memories of happy vacations, emotions sublimated by the exhilarating climate of vast maritime horizons.” May 22, 2014 at 9:41am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes! I think I read in one of Jean-Claude Ellena’s books about the abstraction and how the truly exceptional perfumes don’t just mimic the reality but add something to it. May 22, 2014 at 11:03am Reply

  • KL: I like learning about not so known perfumers. Great series, thanks! May 22, 2014 at 9:49am Reply

    • Victoria: Me too! Happy to get this glimpse into the Osmotheque’s archives. May 22, 2014 at 11:04am Reply

  • Tijana: Loved both Miss Dior and Arpege and used to wear them both before tons of reformulation took place :-(
    Great article Victoria – many thanks! I agree with James above – some great quotes! May 22, 2014 at 9:55am Reply

    • Victoria: Do you find Arpege also very different? I kind of had to give up on Miss Dior and instead turn to other chypres like Chanel 31 Rue Cambon or Estee Lauder Private Collection. They don’t smell anywhere like Miss Dior, of course, but they’re very special. May 22, 2014 at 11:05am Reply

      • Alicia: Ah, Victoria, as much as I have loved Miss Dior, and still wear it with a nostalgic heart, I have to recognize that 31 Rue Cambon is immensely elegant, and EL Private Collection with Scherrer’s my chypre of choice. I find myself going through the bottle of EL PC very fast. That could be love. May 23, 2014 at 1:45pm Reply

        • Victoria: Oh, I forgot Scherrer, which is one of the best chypres. I can’t believe that it’s not talked about more on the blogs, where we have lots of people missing the classical green mossy blends. It’s really terrific. May 23, 2014 at 4:42pm Reply

          • Cornelia Blimber: Yes it is! Do you remember that I asked advice for a dark green chypre? you recommended Scherrer, Victoria, absolutely spot on! I read sometimes complaints about reformulation, and the Edt being too thin. I cannot compare, never smelled the original, but I have the Edt and love it. Maybe I should look for the Edp, seems to be still better. May 23, 2014 at 5:52pm Reply

            • Victoria: It’s thinner than the EDP, but it’s fabulous. So, whoever says that you can’t have the proper chypre in our IFRA regulated days didn’t smell this beauty. Glad that you enjoy it! May 24, 2014 at 5:07am Reply

  • Anne of Green Gables: Many thanks to Osmothèque, Will and Victoria for continuing this great series. I love his description of ‘Embruns’ and the perfume must have smelled amazing. Distilled algae and kelp! True smell of the seaside. :-) I smelled dried oakmoss while hiking and was surprised that they smell like seaweed. May 22, 2014 at 10:21am Reply

    • KL: I would love to smell distilled algae! May 22, 2014 at 10:43am Reply

      • Victoria: Annick Goutal’s Vetiver reminded me of the beach and dried seaweed clinging to the driftwood. May 22, 2014 at 11:07am Reply

    • Victoria: Doesn’t it sound incredible? I also wouldn’t want to smell of the sea specifically, but anything that conveys an experience sounds wonderful. May 22, 2014 at 11:06am Reply

  • Madelyn E: Oh it would be such a welcome relief to have Sortilege brought back . I remember it from my childhood so vividly . My mother wore it and so did I !! I adore This gifted perfumer ‘s romantic and sensitive translation of life’s previous memories May 22, 2014 at 10:47am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s been redone this year, so I suspect that the collection will make its way to the States soon. I’m very much looking forward to smelling Sortilege again. May 22, 2014 at 11:08am Reply

  • Lucas: When I was at Esxence in Milan this March I had a chance to try Le Galion fragrances in the just revived line. Unfortunately they didn’t have any samples available so I was unable to review them on my blog, but there were a couple of them that I really liked it.
    The assistant that I talked with said that these were the original formulas, just like the one used in the past.
    A bit doubtful, but maybe not? May 22, 2014 at 11:07am Reply

    • Victoria: Probably based on the originals, I’d guess, because given the current regulations, it wouldn’t be possible to reorchestrate something exactly that way it used to be 50 years ago.

      Which ones you liked the most? Do you remember the names? May 22, 2014 at 11:09am Reply

      • Lucas: It was Iris, Snob and Special for Gentlemen I think. May 22, 2014 at 11:43am Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you, I’ll have to look out for these ones and Sortilege too. May 22, 2014 at 1:21pm Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: Great series! Paul Vacher is another interesting person. Perfume with a soul, yes, that happens now and then. He said everything so beautifully!
    Arpège is in my collection (of course!). It is reformulated, but not sadly, imo.
    As for Miss Dior L’Original: I skip the initial rather harsh phase, but after ± half an hour I can smell something resembling the Miss Dior I wore in the 60s May 22, 2014 at 11:58am Reply

    • Alicia: Yes, Cornelia, that is exactly my experience. Arpege is still quite recognizable Arpege. Miss Dior Originale still brings a memory, and I welcome it. I wear both. May 22, 2014 at 12:32pm Reply

      • Cornelia Blimber: Hi, Alicia! Lots of fun and succes with Petrarca! May 22, 2014 at 12:47pm Reply

        • Alicia: Cornelia, thank you for your good wishes. As for fun with Petrarca, well, I am looking for other venues. Next month I am going to the Iguazú Falls, in the middle of a rain forest (in the border between Argentina and Brazil), then to a horse ranch, and from there I will try to combine the opera season in the grand Colón theatre in Buenos Aires, and the old Teatro Solís un Montevideo (Uruguay). It will be fun, but not with Petrarca. Will have to take two sets of fragrance, one for the southamerican winter, and another for the heat of the rainforest May 23, 2014 at 12:23pm Reply

          • Cornelia Blimber: Wow! What an adventurous program! Enjoy.
            I hope you will have some good Verdi’s. May 23, 2014 at 5:57pm Reply

            • Alicia: Yes, Cornelia, I always hope for Verdi. Two years ago I heard at the Colón, Simon Boccanegra, which I love,. Not a glorious, but a decent production. Some late Verdi is really what I want. And Mozart is always welcome, and perhaps a bit of Bellini… Ah, well, with two opera houses en jeu, it looks promising. May 24, 2014 at 3:40pm Reply

              • Cornelia Blimber: Simon Boccanegra is one of my favourites too , but I love Verdi in all the stages of his oeuvre, from sound Italian brass score to deep psychological drama, and all between.
                A decent production is imo the best you can have these days, with so many design productions lacking a good, strong stage direction of the characters and first of all, understanding of the action. Too often it’s all in the props and ”actualisation”. And too much psychology instead of action.
                The most impressing I ever saw was Otello in Brussels, stage manager: Peter Stein. Thrilling.
                Sorry, I was carried away.
                So glad to meet another Verdi fan on BdJ! May 24, 2014 at 5:34pm Reply

                • Alicia: Who wouldn’t be carried away with Verdi? Othello is my favorite of all his operas. I saw it in the Met with Placido Domigo. I don’t expect to hear a better one. Perhaps Mario del Monaco was as good, judging by his records, but I never heard him in person.
                  Cornelia, a confession: my favorite Italian opera composer is Verdi, but my favorite Italian opera is not his, but Puccini’s Tosca. I saw it, when I was very young, with Callas, who I also saw singing another great favorite of mine, Bellini’s Norma. I heard at La Scala Renata Tebaldi, glorious! As you can see, I adore opera. May 25, 2014 at 1:33am Reply

                  • Cornelia Blimber: With Callas!!! I envy you. Callas was really the greatest artist ever. She had to utter only one sound (for ex. Io? Medea…) and the whole atmosphere changed. Drama was there, Greek drama. To see/hear her as Tosca must have been a wonderful experience!
                    She was also a very intelligent singer with so many different colours on her palette.
                    I saw/heard Domingo as Otello in Vienna, Katia Riciarelli was Desdemona. Unforgettable.
                    I wish you many great evenings in the opreahouse! May 25, 2014 at 5:06am Reply

                    • Cornelia Blimber: operahouse, I mean. I am curious what you think of Bartoli’s Norma, but we must not forget this is a perfumeblog! May 25, 2014 at 5:08am

                    • Victoria: Oh, please carry on! I’m enjoying your discussion and learning something too. :) May 25, 2014 at 5:50am

                    • Alicia: I haven’t heard Bartoli in Norma,although I suspect she might be very good at it. The only other Norma I heard on stage was Monserrat Caballé, who was superb. Still no one can be quite like Callas. I must say the same of Domingo’s Othello, although there are opera lovers who think that Mario del Monaco was the ultimate Moro de Venezia.
                      Since this is a perfume blog, let me ask a question: which fragrance do you think Callas wore, or should have been her signature? May 26, 2014 at 1:02am

                    • Cornelia Blimber: I have Bartoli as Norma on disc. She is of course a great, virtuoso singer, and Norma on the instruments of the epoch is attractive. But to me she is not convincing as a powerful, charismatic priestess. Her spitting out of sss and other consonants work for me as mannierism, not as the passion and anger of the priestess. Callas had it all, in her voice and in her interpretation, and Caballé was convincing through the sheer, unbelievable beauty of her voice. The male singers on Bartoli’s Norma-disc have ringing voices, they attract more attention than Norma herself.
                      Bartoli had in Salzburg a huge success as Norma, although somebody in the audience cried: Evviva la Callas!
                      As for Otello: Del Monaco had more power in the voice, but Domingo may have not that volume, but he has intelligence, and still a large voice. What do you think of José Cura’s Otello? I saw/heard hem on Tv, a powerful singer and a marvellous, passionate actor. Very moving interpretation.

                      Perfume for Callas! What do you think? I think something dramatic and very feminine as well. Maybe Nahéma. Or Knowing. Or a great classic, like Bouchéron. May 26, 2014 at 4:33am

                    • Alicia: Cornelia, I have found out that Callas was devoted to Chanel, and her perfume was #5, no surprise, of course. Still, I believe that your choice of Boucheron is perfect for her. Nahema, my beloved, always brings to my mind Catherine Deneuve.
                      I have enjoyed our interchange immensely. Thank you! May 26, 2014 at 1:41pm

    • Victoria: I also think that Arpege is beautiful, changes or not. You’re inspiring me to revisit Miss Dior again, because the pungent opening really put me off it. I discovered something similar with Diorella and Diorama as well. They start out as something brash, but they settle into the suave, rich drydowns. Since that’s what lasts the longest, I don’t mind waiting out the intro. May 22, 2014 at 1:23pm Reply

      • Alicia: Yes, Arpege is beautiful, at not quite the same music, but still a lovely one. The changes in Miss Dior are undeniable, but it seems that something of its spirit has survived. Instead what happened to L’Air du Temps is a different matter. To scrap it might brake my heart. Well, at least I still enjoy Rive Gauche, which I wore a lot last summer in Portugal. What would you wear for a tropical rainforest, Victoria? May 23, 2014 at 12:35pm Reply

        • Victoria: In my fantasies, I would wear something lush and seductive like Annick Goutal Gardenia Passion or Frederic Malle Carnal Flower, but in reality, I don’t tolerate the heat well and most perfumes bother me. The times I’ve been to the tropics, I wore nothing at all! :) May 23, 2014 at 4:41pm Reply

          • Alicia: I think not wearing anything is a very good idea, particularly because a fragrance might attract insects. Even here, in my northern latitudes, I have noticed that if I am wearing some florals bees in my garden approach me. Thank you, Victoria, very good idea. May 23, 2014 at 5:57pm Reply

            • Victoria: I was just thinking that citrus could be a good choice, because many citrusy scents repel insects and make you feel refreshed. Envious of your trip! :) May 24, 2014 at 5:06am Reply

              • Alicia: Thank you, Victoria! Then, citrus it is. I am daydreaming of the Iguazu Falls, with its extraordinary flora and fauna. When Ms Roosvelt went there she exclaimed, “Poor Niagara!” Indeed, the Iguazú is really a collection of falls (over 350 of them), nine times the size of the Niagara. I’ve gotten a room with view of the Falls, in case it rains. There will be many new smells, and so I am bound to think of you. May 24, 2014 at 3:26pm Reply

                • Victoria: Please take notes on all of these scents and share with us when you return. Your trip really sounds amazing, and what an experience it will be! May 24, 2014 at 3:38pm Reply

  • annemariec: Oh but I want to know if Vacher realised his dreams and got Embruns and Rendez-vous out on to the market!? It sounds like maybe not. He’s right about not wanting to literally smell of the sea, but an idea of it. It would have to be rather abstract, but I like that. Literal perfumes – I’m thinking of Diptyque’s Philosykos especially – bore me after a while. May 22, 2014 at 6:52pm Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t think that Embruns was launched, but I’ll check with the Osmotheque. It sounds wonderful, and I like the way he explained it. I feel the same way about Philosykos (and L’Artisan Premier Figuier, also by Olivia Giacobetti, a similar idea). I enjoy wearing it time to time, but I often start craving something else, a bit less literal. I prefer Un Jardin en Mediterranee for a fig garden fantasy. May 23, 2014 at 5:03am Reply

  • Cynthia: This is a little off topic but I just love the old perfume ad illustrations. They used to convey the glamour of annointing oneself with perfume. Now it’s just a famous person smiling. So unimaginative. I wonder if the old ad style would still work in today’s celebrity obsessed society? May 22, 2014 at 8:16pm Reply

    • Victoria: I love them too! I definitely think that glamour of this kind can still work. There are those who would like to smell like their favorite movie/pop star, but for many people the idea of pleasure and beauty that has nothing to do with celebrities still resonates. May 23, 2014 at 5:06am Reply

      • Hannah: Art like this is really, really popular with my age group and you can see art students and recent (usually unemployed) graduates posting this kind of work all over tumblr (I don’t recommend looking through tumblr for it, though…………).
        But you really don’t see illustrated ads these days so I don’t think they’d be successful. But there are whimsical ads that have nothing to do with celebrities, like Gucci Flora’s ads. May 23, 2014 at 7:03am Reply

        • Victoria: Hermes uses illustrated ads, and I like their whimsy, especially since it complements the brand so well. But I agree, not that many others do. But perhaps, the illustrated ads might actually stand out among the trite “woman in a state of ecstasy/in a dreamy mood/vixed mood/etc” perfume campaigns. May 23, 2014 at 9:49am Reply

  • juicejones: I received a bottle of Sortilege for my 16th birthday. I am so excited about this reissue! I plan on getting a bottle this fall for my 60th birthday. May 22, 2014 at 9:05pm Reply

    • Victoria: It would be a terrific gift and a great way to mark your birthday! May 23, 2014 at 5:07am Reply

  • Karen: Evoking certain hours of tenderness by the seaside – that’s a phrase to aspire to! Arpege is my “rock” that I always can count on, and how wonderful that it was coauthored by such a poet! And I second the sentiment of wishing perfume ads were beautiful again – and not just ads for celebrities. May 23, 2014 at 7:06am Reply

    • Victoria: Mmmm, makes me want to escape the city and head to the seaside just for that. :) May 23, 2014 at 9:50am Reply

  • Leah: I wore Arpege and got married it in. Time to buy a new bottle? May 23, 2014 at 9:11am Reply

    • Victoria: Maybe it is the time! Or if not to buy a bottle, at least, to smell Arpege again. May 23, 2014 at 9:50am Reply

  • Annette Reynolds: I remember wearing Sortilege, but don’t remember what it smelled like. I’ll look forward to trying it again. It could be THE ONE!
    Thanks, Victoria. May 23, 2014 at 11:55am Reply

    • Victoria: My pleasure! I’m now even more excited to try Sortilege again after reading the comments and the article. May 23, 2014 at 4:39pm Reply

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