Saturday, January 19, 2008

Jean Patou Vacances

Jean Patou was known for his famous Joy perfume (1930), the cardigan, practical sportswear women can run in, and cubist sweater designs coinciding with the jazz age, borrowing inspiration from artists like Picasso and swing music by Count Basie. Duke Ellington. Benny Goodman. Roy Eldridge. Mary Lou Williams. Billie Holiday. If you've never heard of them, your perfume knowledge don't mean a thing (so go do your homework). We're talking about the 1930s: Americans lindy hopped at the Savoy in Harlem and the well-to-do vacationed in sunny places to enjoy a game of tennis or a round of golf, yachting and swimming in the newest bathing suits that showed off their midriff. There were many trends to keep up with in the seemingly extravagant era following the Great Depression of 1929, while many people were still scrounging or destitute across the country. One thing was certain: if you didn't have, you didn't announce that fact and learned to fake it well.

In 1936 France where they were also being affected by the Depression, people were celebrating the first mandatory paid vacations, and so in timely fashion, Jean Patou launched Vacances with perfumer Henri Alméras (who was also the nose who created Joy("the costliest perfume in the world") which helped keep the House in business and gave women a small piece of luxury they could afford while haute couture clothing was out of the budget). I don't know how well Vacances did with their American target market when it launched in 1936, but after Jean Patou died in the same year, his perfume lived on through periods of hiatus, and in the 1980s, Vacances was revived as part of a collection of miniature Jean Patou perfumes called Ma Collection. These were eau de toilettes, and I know I've tried them all because I once had the set, but had it not been for my friend Donna who recently sent me some Vacances to try again, I wouldn't remember it. It's a beautiful but very delicate Green Floral scent, and so lovely, so soft, it's like a whisper--not a wallflower per se but unless you stopped to actively pay attention to it, it wouldn't ask for any.

Surely Vacances was made to bring to mind clear Mediterranean sandy beaches, of living it up in Côte d’Azur or the Italian Riviera, sunbathing, dining and jazz dancing in the hottest spots in Europe! But Vacances is a summery yet dainty fragrance, like a garden filled with lilacs. It's also a bit reminiscent of one of my favorite jasmine blends, Rich Hippie Spring, heady and sweet with the mildest indolic hint of the smell of horses...or is that hay and grass I smell? Vacances isn't nearly as indolic but it's a sunkissed warm green scent, mild and soft, earthy, plantlike and alive--the smell of nature in as pure a form as it can be captured inside a glass container. What's truly special about this scent is how full of sunshine it really is, yet how green it stays through it all, from the opening burst of fresh galbanum to the honeyed end. You can really feel the sun on your skin as you smell it, like you've entered a scene in a still life painting, bees buzzing around and all. Maybe that's the sunny effect Jean Patou was creating...after all, he was one of the first to introduce suntan oil and encouraged the bronzed look in an era when dark skin was still considered a thing of the poor classes--people who have no choice but to work all day in the sun.

Some would rejoice and some would lament: "Oh, how times have changed"...but Vacances is still a beauty, worthy of being brought back and produced by the House of Patou (now owned by Procter & Gamble). It is the finest lilac-hyacinth blend I think I've ever come across.

Jan Moran's notes:
Jean Patou Vacances (1936 Floral Oriental)
Top Notes: Hyacinth, hawthorn, galbanum
Heart Notes: Lilac, mimosa
Base Notes: Musk, woods

(Image: Perfume-Smelling Things)