Saturday, February 07, 2009

Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle Musc Ravageur

As a diehard vanilla lover, I appreciate perfumers and lines of perfumes whom and which celebrate this elixir of the gods and goddesses in unadulterated fashion. I can't imagine life without vanilla, this superbly, deliriously intoxicating aroma, and thank goodness I'm no masochist and allow myself the pleasure of a variety of masterful, artful perfumes which incorporate it. Guerlain is notorious for utilizing vanilla in their seductive love potions from Jicky to Shalimar, Chamade to Samsara, all with equally seductive legends behind each fragrance. Even Chypre perfumes such as Mitsouko, Femme or Miss Dior, woodsy and seemingly vanillaless, contain some vanilla (usually as part of an amber accord) without which they would smell unfinished and harsh. Master perfumer Maurice Roucel can turn up the heat in bombshell classics such as Rochas Tocade and Hermès 24, Faubourg with his signature sweet, luxurious vanillic base, so often innocently camouflaging untold depths of other less polite, at times downright raunchy, fixatives which otherwise would take over the entire orchestration, changing their refined character. Soft, sweet and warm, vanilla so perfectly captures the essence of the angel with two faces, the age old myth defining a woman's mysterious duality - Venus the binary goddess of love herself, ruling two opposing seasons, bringing men to life in Spring and leading men to their fateful deaths come Fall. How can something so delicious-smelling be so dangerous an olfactive weapon? Vanilla can express the fine line between heaven and hell as no other note can, for vanilla is a most sinful pleasure deserving of purgatory, where it may be questioned forever how a note so low, so base, can seem so lilting and uplifting, so penetratingly deep yet so ageless, youthful and light, a paradox, oxymoron, an impossibility. Ah, but then, what is love but all those things?

As far as vanillas go, Musc Ravageur is a dark vanilla, bordering on chocolate but ever faithful to vanilla, the modern classic. It's a ravishing vanilla made for expressions of love, not a sinister and twisted, unsweet, passive-aggressive one. Ravishing = Musc Ravageur as its name implies so accurately, and it's all come hither with no holds barred, fearlessly, wholeheartedly ready to give it all away. Musc Ravageur isn't about games, coy, sadistic, masochistic or otherwise - it's the real deal, knowing of herself, mindful of the other, down-to-earth and sensual. However, it isn't a pushover and won't yield - rather, it sets the standard and wishes the admirer to be strong and of equal substance. Tonight, I want to talk about this fragrance which, to me, is like vanilla coming full circle through Guerlain's impressive history and Maurice Roucel's creative paths, overlapping and climaxing with its coming into the world in the year 2000. A very fabulous (and humorous and witty) friend known only to me as a pirate on a perfume forum I once frequented, had written, so unforgettably, that Musc Ravageur was like Charlotte Rampling on the pages of December 1974 Vogue. The same friend sent me a generous amount of Musc Ravageur to try, and I've been hooked ever since, but I've worn it with respect and reverence, for Musc Ravageur is not a scent that can be worn casually to just any place, without some sense of responsibility. It is a powerful elixir, paying homage to Guerlain's most memorable bestseller, the queen of Oriental fragrances, Shalimar (1925), from its first whiff of bergamot, amber, vanilla, precious woods and spices, regal and evocative of the Taj Mahal. As its predecessor, Musc Ravageur carries the weight of the legend it dares to reincarnate in a timeless olfactive tale.

However, it's also a musky, disturbing fragrance reminiscent of other more animalic Orientals such as Must de Cartier, and even more similar in its raunchy, indolic-urinous edge to another Maurice Roucel creation, Le Labo Ciste 18 (later renamed Labdanum, the name alluding to the rock rose or cistis labdanum, an ingredient in Chypre compositions), pungently warm with a dirty, raw animalic undertone, a bewitching cocktail of collective base notes including castoreum and civet. I'm convinced that the Maurice Roucel base often talked about (the one he creates first and builds from backwards) is, underneath the charming veil of sumptuous vanilla, the same dirty-musky "labdanum" accord I find in other creations of his, including L by Lolita Lempicka and Le Labo Jasmin 17. In Musc Ravageur, the accord is most exquisite combined with hints of lavender, plenty of red hot cinnamon and amber/tonka/coumarin. If there's a clean and dignified trace of Yardley English Lavender in its lineage as well, there's also no denying the animalic element which would make people wonder what exactly it is you do on those long office lunch breaks, not that it's anyone's business. Still, I wouldn't say it's as animalic as fragrances in the Animalic category (many Chypres are considered animalic: Givenchy Ysatis, Estée Lauder Knowing, Cassini by Oleg Cassini, Ungaro Diva, Elizabeth Taylor Passion and Miss Dior - for lovers of these perfumes, Musc Ravageur might seem too tame). Musc Ravageur is also close in composition and style to Yves Saint-Laurent Opium and Calvin Klein Obsession in terms of its spicy-ambery-sweet, unfloral and balsamic overall character (with synthetic civet as one of its notes, Obsession is slightly animalic). I've compared Musc Ravageur to a number of fragrances in the Oriental family, but in truth, Musc Ravageur is a unique creation in a class by itself, a true contemporary classic of highest quality. It's an epic, memorable composition, an extraordinary musk (not comparable to Jovan or any typical musk) and I'd imagine one that wears well on anyone who dares to be original and so forthcoming in being him/herself, unafraid of naked truth or baring all.

Musc Ravageur comes in eau de parfum and oil perfume (Huile à Tout Faire). The oil is to my nose sharper and more herbaceous, but also not as rich and full, with a subdued sillage which may work for people who feel the EDP is too aggressive.

(Images: assets.madame.lefigaro.fr, Charlotte Rampling "Georgy Girl", 1966, "The Night Porter" 1974 www.charlotterampling.net)