Thursday, March 15, 2007

Frédéric Malle Une Fleur de Cassie

I apologise to all those who have been faithfully checking in these last weeks: I had very limited internet access in France, and have busy working on another, deadlined writing project since I returned to Canada a week ago. After purchasing Bigarade Concentrée on the trip, I realized I had written very little about one of perfume houses I admire the most, Frédéric Malle's Editions de Parfums, and so I vow to rectify the situation over the next week with reviews on some FM favourites.

But first, my nemesis, Une Fleur de Cassie. About two years ago, after trying Caron's Farnesiana, I was under the impression that I enjoyed cassie flower or acacia farnesiana, a type of mimosa. Une Fleur de Cassie was therefore one of the Frédéric Malle scents I was most eager to try when I first sampled the line at the Los Angeles branch of Barney's in August 2005. Created by Dominique Ropion, who also did Vétiver Extraordinaire and Carnal Flower for the line, Une Fleur de Cassie contains bergamot, apricot, cassie, mimosa, rose, violet, jasmin, carnation, clove, cumin, aldheydes, salicylate, musk, vanilla, cedar and sandalwood. This list of notes in no way conveys the surpassing weirdness of the perfume.

When Une Fleur de Cassie is first sprayed - on to skin or paper, or into the air of Malle's pointless, television sci-fi smelling booths - everything is normal for the first 40 seconds or so: there is the bright, powdery, soapy smell of bergamot with a touch of fruity sweetness. Very quickly, however, a profoundly strange note begins to take shape, increasing in intensity as the seconds pass. Half gamey wildness, half "floral" cleaning solvent, the smell is aggressive, elegant and almost alien in its aloofness. It is floral in the way of one of those stinking, carnivorous plants at the zoo, feline in the way of the surreal big cat from Chez Jane, one of those hilariously confounding poems by Frank O'Hara (a favourite writer of mine) : "The white chocolate jar full of petals / swills odds and ends around in a dizzying eye... / The tiger, / marvellously striped and iritable, leaps / on the table and without disturbing a hair / of the flowers' breathless attention, pisses / into the pot, right down its delicate spout." Some reviewers have compared the smell to that of a papermill and certainly it has the pervasive, flat and yet peppery quality to it that such factories do, though it lacks that sulfurous, farty wind that comes off wet wood pulp. Une Fleur de Cassie smells as I imagine a tannery or furrier might. There is a sprinkling of chalk dust, a little warm and woody violet... but mostly that smell.

One of the many things I love about Frédéric Malle is the website: the product photos and descriptions provided are clear and helpful, the perfumer bios heartening, and their scent-choosing questionnaire pioneered the interactive approach taken up by other fragrance companies (their prompt replies and generous sample send-outs still make them the leaders here, too). One of the fascinating things I've noticed is that the website assigns a colour to each scent and the colours I prefer seem to mark the fragrances I love best - the sunny mango of Le Parfum de Thérèse, the grey-green of Bigarade Concentrée, the warm raspberry of Une Rose. The colour representing Une Fleur de Cassie is what we call around this house "baby-poo yellow". This is a remarkably appropriate colour - anybody who has changed the diaper of a breastfed baby knows that there is a rich, fatty smell to their poop which is bizarrely close to that of hot, buttered popcorn, and there is a hint of this scent in the heart of Ropion's perfume.

Indeed, despite its elegance, there is a circus air to Une Fleur de Cassie - a leathery, furry, urinous fug mixing with the smell of roasting nuts, popcorn and powdered sugar. In my opinion, it conjures the circus better than Dzing!, a subtler, warmer fragrance that sometimes feels to me like a dry run for another Giacobetti/L'Artisan creation, Tea for Two. It is interesting that some testers report that Une Fleur de Cassie smells of cardboard to them, as Dzing! is famous for that warm note. The Malle scent, however, has none of the sheer, cheerful wearability of a L'Artisan fragrance: in the words of the Malle website, it is "voluptuous", "disturbing", "bestial" and "verging on coarse". I find it utterly unwearable and yet oddly compelling. Please comment if you've tried the body butter (Beurre Exquise).

12 Comments:

At 4:17 PM, Blogger marchlion said...

You are the only person who has written about the smell of baby poop, so I can write: to me it always smelled yeasty, like bread dough. It's actually a great smell until they start other foods...

Malle Cassie I was not thrilled with. I got that urine-y thing. Of course, now you've written this, I have to go re-try my sample.

 
At 7:31 PM, Blogger Erin said...

Well, yes, I think we're going in the same direction here. The word "yeasty" had popped into my head also, that flat odour shared by dough and hot oil. So we agree on baby poo.

Also, on the perfume. I maybe did not make clear enough that I hate this scent. I admire FM for making such a difficult fragrance, though, because it cannot be a big seller, despite that "made for connoisseurs" bit on the website. Even the SA seemed faintly repulsed by it. It seems to fulfill the mission of FM very well: offering something rare, of high quality with an "assertive personality" that you can't find elsewhere.

 
At 9:57 AM, Anonymous AngelaS said...

I have problems with this one, too. I kept seeing descriptions of Cassie as being a classic scent referencing the 1930s, and I thought I'd love it. Plus, it was one of the two scents the Malle office chose for me when I did their questionnaire (the other was Therese). I still have my sample of Cassie, and I'm fascinated by it, but I just can't bring myself to wear it!

 
At 11:22 AM, Blogger Erin said...

Angela: I remember laughing at your description of it during the wardrobe articles on NST - something like "Wear it when you need to be alone. To contemplate perfume, say." (Only more gracefully worded...) Very true. I wore it out while I was reviewing it, and I felt I had to keep apologizing to people near me. Like you, though, I find it really intriguing.

 
At 5:21 AM, Blogger chaya ruchama said...

I think this one GROWS on you-
Not in a saprophytic way, lol.
I've grown to like it- but it's just not as fetching on my skin as I would like- so a decant is enough.

The Beurre Exquise, though-
NOW, that is good enough to eat, in any scent.
Right out of the ridiculously expensive jar, with your fingers.

See how much moola we saved ?

So nice to have you home, Erin !
How is Petitska ?

 
At 6:11 AM, Blogger leopoldo said...

Erin - this post is fantastically well-written. That's all I have to say. I loved reading every word, especially your synaesthetic associations...

 
At 6:30 AM, Blogger marchlion said...

I wasn't sure whether you hated it or not. The strange thing about perfume blogging is I can write "this smells like unwashed hootie" and mean that in a *good* way. So I was pretty sure you didn't like it, but if you look at the description of Dzing!, which many people (including me) love, it doesn't sound so hot.

BTW I'm still getting mostly pee. And not in a good way.;-P

 
At 11:57 AM, Blogger Erin said...

Thank you, dear Chaya, for your budget-endangering comments and for reminding me of the word "saprophytic"; I am glad to be back to converse with all of you. I was worried that I might like the Beurre better, as Victoria of BdJ was so enthusiastic about it. Somebody in this household is just learning to walk (oddly, only one week after finally learning to crawl) and all my moisturizing products are already in jeopardy. She ate a good quantity of shea butter hand cream before I caught her this week. I would fear for anything that cost 100 Euro.

 
At 11:59 AM, Blogger Erin said...

Leo: You are too kind! I strive to live up to your description of 31 Rue Cambon - it was so concise and perfect, that I am now afraid to review it myself: 'Nuff said.

 
At 12:18 PM, Blogger Erin said...

March: the good long laugh you gave me with the unwashed hootie comment was worth the probable appearance of related spam "comments" advertising unhygenic sex. (I don't actually understand how spamming programs work. Maybe they just target everybody's blogs.) I actually enjoy Dzing! but it is one of those L'Artisans that is extremely light and fleeting on me. I seldom reach for it, but when I test it next to another, similar scent (Tea for Two, Bvlgari Black or such), I find I like Dzing! better. Subtlety is a relative virtue for me.

 
At 7:08 AM, Blogger Haus von Stone said...

I was sent the dammed FdC from Malle as a 'suggested fragrance' as was a close friend of mine with similar (but more sugary) tastes. It makes me wonder what I said that was wrong :). Vomitous is the word I would use. On a more tasteful note, does anyone know if the tops of the little Malle sample bottles can be pried open to add more perfume?

 
At 3:46 PM, Blogger Erin said...

Haus: My recommendation was for Noir Epices, which made me wonder what I did wrong, too. I really like NE, actually, it is a real take-no-prisoners, chuck-you-Farley scent and I admire that. I admire Une Fleur de Cassie, too, as I've said, but I like to have both UFdC and NE at a safe distance. The Cassie does have a "let's mix all this together" quality that is vaguely barfy (the best one for that is the fabulous Feu D'Issey, original, un-lite version.)

 

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