Before I knew anything about Jean Patou’s Ma Collection, I saw the bottles of perfume lined up in an out of the way glass case in my local perfume shop, the Perfume House in Portland. I adored the names — Adieu Sagesse, Que Sais-Je, Divine Folie — and the bottles were curved and lovely, each packaged in a box that reminded me of Sonia Delaunay’s paintings. (The bottles’ labels, on the other hand, have a homemade, fresh-from-the-laser-jet look.)
Patou’s Ma Collection consists of twelve fragrances originally launched between 1925 and 1964, then re-released in 1984. Each of the perfumes in Ma Collection has a story. For instance, Adieu Sagesse, intended for redheads, first came out in 1925 and translates into scent the idea of throwing caution to the wind in love. Henri Alméras, the nose behind Adieu Sagesse, went on to create Joy. Vacances commemorates the French law granting paid vacation, and L’Heure Attendue celebrates V-Day in Europe.
Tracy, my favorite sales person at the Perfume House, took down the bottle of Adieu Sagesse and dabbed its contents on a cotton ball. The tester was old, and it took a few minutes before the scent really began to bloom. It was spicy and floral — maybe carnations? — and the dry down was velvety clove and civet. I asked about another of the Patous, and before long the counter was strewn with cotton balls dampened with golden splotches of Eau de Toilette.
I was bowled over by Cocktail, a green chypre with a quickly-vaporizing top note of lavender that feels like the first sip of martini, sharp and intoxicating. As it settles, it leaves only the barest tingle of dry, powdery flowers close to your skin. I also loved Normandie, which smells to me like a cedar chest with an armagnac-soaked prune in it. Que Sais-Je, a honeyed chypre that Luca Turin recommends for women who don’t like the vanilla in Shalimar, is difficult but beautiful, and reminds me more of Rochas’ Femme than a Guerlain. Wearing most of these Patous is like pinning on an old rhinestone brooch or carrying an alligator clutch from the 1930s. They don’t smell like anything made today.
The Ma Collection fragrances are now discontinued, but you can find some of them online, or, if you’re lucky, in a perfume shop with a lot of stock. The Eau de Toilette comes in a 75 ml splash or 50 ml spray bottle. The Parfum is a full 30 ml, in a bottle wrapped in a silk scarf. All twelve of the fragrances are also sold together as Eaux de Toilette minis.
More reading: a brief history of Jean Patou (in French, be sure to click on "Suite" to see the whole article). Luca Turin’s now defunct blog, Perfume Notes, has a great description of Jean Patou’s operations today; you can download a .pdf of Perfume Notes at Flexitral.
Note: image via Parfum de Pub.
Tomorrow: Jean Patou Mon Amour, part 2