On the top of the stack of books I'm reading now is Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française, a novel that takes place in France just as the Germans seize Paris in June, 1940. I'm only halfway through the novel now, but I'm engrossed in its contrast of the war's crazy beauty and horror, certainty and improvisation, and, of course, good and evil. Living my insular life as an American so many years later, it's hard to imagine what World War II must have been like for the average Parisian. Jean Patou L'Heure Attendue and Lucien Lelong Orgueil, both released in 1946 to commemorate the end of the war, bring an inkling of the feeling of relief and joy that the war's end brought.
L'Heure Attendue means "the awaited hour" in French, and according to the booklet that accompanied the 1984 Jean Patou Ma Collection, which includes L'Heure Attendue, the awaited hour was the Liberation, when "the mists have blown away, night is no more and the sun has risen again". The booklet adds that L'Heure Attendue gives off a "refined aroma, synonymous with a new mellowness of life". Its topnotes are lily of the valley, geranium, and lilac; its heart is ylang ylang, opopanax, rose, and jasmine; and its base is vanilla, mysore sandalwood, and patchouli. (Before we leave the booklet, I want to point out that it also mentions a cocktail that was popular just after the war called "Pink Flamingo Sperm" made of 1/3 fresh cream, 1/3 strawberry essence, and 1/3 cognac. To a gin martini girl like me, this sounds positively disgusting, like iced Britney Spears Fantasy in a glass.)
L'Heure Attendue Eau de Toilette has a calm warmth on my skin, just like the "mellowness" the booklet promises. It starts out gently aldehydic and floral in an Ingrid Bergman, grown-up but down-to-earth way, and then warms into a powdery wood scent. It is peaceful, secure, and stable. To me, it says that the end of the war was a time to sleep deeply and to start to make time from the pain of the past. Rations, poverty, and rebuilding were welcome respites from oppression.
Lucien Lelong Orgueil is a different take on the end of the war. In French, "Orgueil" means "pride". Richard Stamelman's book, Perfume, tells the story of Charlotte Dalbo, a French woman imprisoned at Birkenau in 1943. Dalbo smuggled a bottle of Orgueil into a rare shower at the concentration camp and poured it between her breasts, being careful not to rinse it away. "What a fine name for that day," Stammelman reports Dalbo later wrote. Of course, Orgueil wasn't released until three years later, but it's a telling story all the same.
Orgueil's expression of the end of the war is more passionate and assertive than that of L'Heure Attendue. My bottle of Orgueil Eau de Toilette is probably at least forty years old, and its topnotes have turned to urine-soaked cardboard. But once the ammonia smell burns down, Orgueil relaxes into civet-laced, dry, white flowers. The flowers feel celebratory, but the forceful, animalic undercurrent of the scent seems to say, "You're gone, but I'm still here, and I've come back stronger than before."
Suite Française's author, Némirovsky, never saw the liberation of Paris. She was Jewish, and in 1942 she was arrested and sent to Auschwitz where she died. Her victory — if you can call it that — was in making sense of the war the best she could with words. Perfumers made do with fragrance. Both types of artists left work that continues to tell stories and rouses us from complacency, if we let it.
Both Jean Patou L'Heure Attendue and Lucien Lelong Orgueil are discontinued. L'Heure Attendue is still available at a few online discounters; a "recreation and interpretation" of Orgueil can be ordered from lucienlelong.
Note: image via Belles de Pub.