The best way I can sum up Parfums Montana Parfum de Peau (originally released as Montana) is like this: Imagine that Niki de Saint Phalle and La Nuit de Paco Rabanne had a daughter, and they amped her baby formula with steroids. Other kids at school made fun of her for her big nose, protruding eyes and exceptional height. And when she turned 19, she became a supermodel. Parfum de Peau may be the ultimate jolie laide fragrance.
Jean Guichard composed the original Montana perfume in 1986. It's not clear when the name change took place, but by 1991 it was being referred to in the press as Parfum de Peau. It was apparently reformulated later in the 1990s by Edouard Fléchier, and has no doubt been tweaked since. Its notes include peach, cassis, plum, pepper, cardamom, ginger, rose, tuberose, jasmine, ylang ylang, carnation, sandalwood, patchouli, vetiver, civet, castoreum, amber, musk and frankincense.
In Perfume, Nigel Groom describes Parfum de Peau as an “avant-garde chypre.” As its list of notes hints, Parfum de Peau is something between a symphony and raucous nightclub. In brief, it’s a fruity chypre with a shimmering marigold top, a middle loaded with flowers and sweet plums and peaches, and enough animalic base notes to rival a hippo in estrus.
Parfum de Peau opens with a burst of aldehydes carrying gingered fruit and sharp, herbal marigold. (If you don’t like the marigold in Niki de Saint Phalle, you probably won’t like Parfum de Peau, either.) Building under this strange opening is a classic ladies-who-lunch bouquet of roses, jasmine, and tuberose supplemented with delicious, juicy fruit, which the marigold does a good job of keeping in check. Clove and cardamom and a hint of powder round it out. At this point, Parfum de Peau reminds me of an edgier, more intense Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum.
From five minutes in to a good ten hours later, Parfum de Peau’s powerful base grows and then simmers along in a viscous combo of motor oil, civet, patchouli and sweet wood. This fragrance is a wild, complex mix that likely repels many people (think of all those people who want “clean” and “subtle” scents who might be tricked by the “de peau” part of the name!). Others, though, will love love love it exactly for its crazy, alluring composition.
Warning: Parfum de Peau has stealthy but vigorous sillage. In the ring with any of the Reagan-era blockbusters — Yves Saint Laurent Opium, Christian Dior Poison or Chanel Coco — the smart money is on Parfum de Peau to smother them all. I wore one miserly spritz of the Eau de Toilette to work a few weeks ago, and I thought I had it under control until a coworker at least 15 feet away said, “Nice perfume. Floral.” Not only does Parfum de Peau have good reach, it has the persistence of plutonium. Don’t spray it on unless you’re committed to a full day’s wear.
Parfum de Peau is not an easy fragrance, but it’s smart and sexy and bends to no one else’s rules. Parfum de Peau is not here to get along, so if you don’t like her, you can go back to your safe Jo Malones and rules about when to wear white. She doesn’t care.
I’m reviewing an early version of the Eau de Toilette, before the name was changed to Parfum de Peau. If you've worn later versions of Parfum de Peau, please comment.
Montana Parfum de Peau is still in production and is available online in a number of versions, none of which will break the bank.