The drizzly spring afternoon at an antiques mall where I found a bottle of Jean Patou 1000 Eau de Toilette also yielded a 1920s evening coat. The coat is gold lamé, dull and frayed at the cuffs and collar, and is covered with gold and green sequins sewn in the shapes of flowers with twisting stems. Green silk velvet lines the coat’s interior, even down the insides of the sleeves. Sewn in the collar is a label in a Gatsby-esque font that reads “Miss Wilson, 657 Boylston st., Boston.” The coat feels glamorous, mysterious, and decayed. That’s exactly how I feel about Jean Patou 1000.
House nose Jean Kerléo created 1000 (sometimes called “Mille,” the French word for “thousand”). According to the Jean Patou website, the formula took ten years and 1,000 tries to perfect. Kerléo had only worked for Patou for four years when 1000 was released in 1972, so you can take the story with a grain of salt or figure maybe Kerléo picked up on another perfumer’s work when he arrived. For 1000’s launch, Patou delivered by Rolls Royce 1,000 bottles of the fragrance in jewel-encrusted boxes to the “most elegant women in Paris.”
The Patou website calls 1000 a floral chypre and lists its top notes as natural osmanthus, natural violet leaves, and lily of the valley; its heart as natural rose oil, natural rose absolute, rosa centifolia, and natural jasmine absolute; and its base as natural Indonesian patchouli and natural Mysore sandalwood. (Don’t ask me why they feel the need to add “natural” to so many notes. It sounds suspicious. I kept eyeing “Procter & Gamble” at the bottom of the page and shaking my head.) Jan Moran’s Fabulous Fragrances adds angelica, greens, bergamot, coriander, tarragon, violet, iris, geranium, vetiver, moss, amber, musk, and civet to that list.
1000 goes on dry and herbal with a pillow of osmanthus that reminds me of Aftelier Parfum Privé. The herbs are bitter but aperitif-delicious. A cold, velvety violet shines under the herbs. This isn’t the bright, elegant violet of Balenciaga Le Dix or the retro, powdery violet of Frédéric Malle Lipstick Rose, but a violet with a hint of something medicinal seen through murky light. The foundation of the perfume, permeating it all, is a thick, seamless combination of animal, wood, moss, green, and musk.
Really though, 1000 is more than an assemblage of notes. It’s Perfume with a capital “P”. Do you know what I mean? So few fragrances these days come together as something both greater and different than the sum of their notes, simultaneously grand and intimate. Maybe fashion doesn’t welcome it. 1000 is definitely not fashionable. But it’s stylish, for sure.
The 1000 Eau de Toilette is light with minimal sillage and after half an hour wears close to the skin for another four hours or so. For all 1000’s massive construction, the Eau de Toilette almost wears like a skin scent. It’s interesting, sheer, and lightly sweet, herbal, and animalic. The Parfum is richer and more complicated to carry off. It smells more like something unearthed from an attic trunk, hinting at old wool, desiccated violet sachets, moth balls, and aged wood. Of course, I love it.
In Susan Irvine’s book, Perfume: the Creation and Allure of Classic Perfumes, she describes a 1989 television commercial for 1000 that was banned in some countries. In the commercial, a woman watches her husband leave for work, then she rushes to meet her lover. After her apparently exhausting rendezvous she repairs to church where she enters a confessional and says, “Father, I have sinned.” “How many times, my child?” the priest asks. You know the answer.1
I don’t know if 1000 is quite that carnal, but it’s definitely experienced. For an American woman like me with roots in the rural west, 1000 feels like it’s seen the inside of a few limos, stubbed out its share of cigarettes, and can deal handily with waiters in the toniest restaurants in old world capitals. For all that, the Eau de Toilette is surprisingly easy to wear, and I have a feeling I’ll spray through my bottle quickly.
The Parfum and Eau de Parfum formulations of Jean Patou 1000 appear to be out of production, but the Eau de Toilette is still available (15 ml and 75 ml) as are a shower gel (50 ml and 75 ml) and body lotion (200 ml).
1. This might be a shorter version of the commercial Irvine refers to.