Six years ago, I bought (shipped from France) bottles of Astier de Villatte's Eau Chic, Eau Fugace and Eau de Cologne. Between the two of us in my house, we went through those bottles in record time (15 ounces of perfume!) and it was discouraging trying to track down Astier de Villatte perfumes in the US. Now, Aedes de Venustas (full disclosure: a long-time NST advertiser) just stocked them. (I actually let out a whoop when I heard the news.) Just like their great scented candle line,1 the Astier de Villatte colognes are well-made and interesting; this week I'm reviewing two newer offerings, Splash Orange Amère2 and Commune de Paris 1871.3
Splash Orange Amère begins with a strange mix of oily bitter orange and bergamot mixing with tangy-spicy (peppered) tarragon, a green and "edgy" scent. There's a food-y vibe to Splash Orange Amère, not the usual vanilla-sugar-caramel-toasted nut syrup, but a crisp, healthy-summer-salad smell. The base of Splash Orange Amère reminds me of the scent of dried potpourri with lots of pale, stiff orange rinds — and a faded, "nostalgic" aroma. Splash Orange Amère has a scent progression from green spring to moody winter.
Commune de Paris 1871 is described by Astier de Villatte as a "subversive" Eau de Cologne, named after the political events of 1871 in Paris. The Paris Commune comes up often in my life because of art and literature. Some of George Sand's most famous words were prompted by the Commune. She wrote to Gustave Flaubert on June 14, 1871:
What will be the reaction to the infamous Commune?.... I, who used to have such patience with my own species, and who for so long saw everything through rose-colored spectacles, now see only darkness. I used to judge others by myself. I'd made great progress in schooling my own character: I'd sown my volcanoes with grass and flowers, and they were getting on well. And I imagined that everyone could enlighten and correct and control themselves.... And now I awake from a dream to find a whole generation divided between idiocy and delirium tremens. Anything is possible now!4
One could expect Commune de Paris 1871 to smell of gunpowder, burning wood, stone and mortar dust, sweat. Not so! It smells more like what Sand and Flaubert might have smelled (and smelled like), writing to each other from their comfortable country homes, Nohant and Croisset. Commune de Paris 1871 is sweet and "composed," a lovely scented mix of country-walk (lemon and bergamot leading to lavender-coumarin-moss) and cozy parlor — a smooth benzoin-patchouli accord combining with scents I'll describe as "candy dish" and powder puff. Commune de Paris 1871 charms me. As I wore Commune de Paris 1871 over several days, it reminded me of two perfumes: Guerlain Jicky (without the musk) and Chanel Pour Monsieur Eau de Toilette (both old favorites of mine).
Proviso: in order to really experience Astier de Villatte perfumes, you cannot be a 'dabbler' (a drop on each wrist); that type of application will result in ten minutes of scent. The Astier de Villatte 150 ml bottles are made for generous application. When lavishly sprayed on skin, the complexity of the colognes is apparent and the enjoyment they provide lasts for hours.
How did Flaubert (way to the right of Sand politically) respond to her letter?
Why are you so sad? Mankind is displaying nothing new.... So I am not disillusioned now.... People have always been like this.... I too used to believe in the progressive 'civilizing' of the human race. We must expunge that mistake and think no better of ourselves than people did in the age of Pericles or Shakespeare, dreadful periods in which great things were accomplished.5
Astier de Villatte Splash Orange Amère and Commune de Paris 1871 are each $165 for 150 ml or $110 for 50 ml; available at Aedes de Venustas. (900 ml bottles are also available, but not in the US.)
2. Perfumer Christophe Raynaud: listed notes of bitter orange, bergamot, grapefruit, black pepper, cumin, tarragon, blond wood, oak moss.
3. Perfumer Françoise Caron: listed notes of lemon, rosemary, bergamot, pink pepper, lavender, labdanum, benzoin, patchouli, vetiver, cedar, Benzaldehyde (created in 1866) and Coumarin (created in 1870).
4. Flaubert-Sand: The Correspondence, translated by Francis Steegmuller and Barbara Bray, Knopf, 1993; letter number 278.
5. Ibid.; letter number 284, Sept. 8, 1871.