Vilhelm Parfumerie founder Jan Ahlgren, working with perfumer Jérôme Epinette, wanted to conjure "an old hotel on the Left Bank in Paris…blooming wallpaper in hushed hallways with heavy black doors…." The result, Dirty Velvet,1 was supposedly inspired by the Hôtel Villa d'Estrées in Paris. After perusing the hotel's online photo gallery I'm confident not one piece of dirty velvet lies within its lovely walls. I'm pretty sure any dirty velvet brought into the hotel by guests could be sniffed out by staff at the front desk, confiscated and burned off-site.
I've come to associate certain fragrance houses with personalities, not locales such as cities — or hotels. For instance: let's say I need help with an important personal matter and seek a Brand's input. (An "I-need-advice"-type question). Timid Jo Malone and Atelier Cologne would be appalled I even asked the question; they'd wrinkle their noses, bite a lip and whisper a non-committal/exasperated response: "I really don't know, Kevin. I'm so sorry. Can I go now?" Amouage will open its therapy lounge to me, but only if we're covering important topics such as Man/Woman relationships, Epics, FATE, Myths and the like. Guerlain would fidget: "I have to get back to the laundry room...I need to put more scented dryer sheets in with my towels! I love scented dryer sheets!!!" Hermès and Frédéric Malle would widen their eyes: "This question isn't about ME? Its about...YOU? I've got to run. I completely forgot I'm having cocktails with friends! Adieu!" (These two smell so good, you mourn their fast departures.) Serge Lutens would respond with a blurry, narrated video clip: "I have in this world of dreams and in an infinite pool of parfums an absence and avoidance of the personality of another existence, with its problems and problems of sustainability. I am full of regret. I can, not help." Caron would incessantly reformulate my question. Comptoir Sud Pacifique is on permanent vacation. Creed is too busy (constantly tweaking its company autobiography) to assist me. And from the sounds coming out of my phone, Etat Libre d'Orange is having sex and can't disengage at the moment: "UH! AH! OooooooH!"
Vilhelm Parfumerie would respond to my question by taking me out to a chic bar, ordering lots of spicy hor d'oeuvres and a large pitcher of ice-cold sangria ("Make it with champagne please!"); VP would then sit back and listen, laugh loudly, give blunt opinions while gesturing wildly (sending a crab and chili in masa tart flying off the table). Vilhelm Parfumerie would leave me feeling better than it found me. Likewise, its scents have big personalities and they are fun to be around (and wear).
Dirty Velvet is not about a hairy, crumb-sprinkled velvet throw on your sofa, that your cats and dogs sometimes sleep on and that you wrap around yourself while eating dinner in front of the TV. Dirty Velvet is not an ancient musty/disintegrating velvet blanket stored in a trunk with old lavender soaps. Dirty Velvet is the scent of an outdoor picnic held on a hot-pink velvet cloth: on the menu — juicy, ripe figs, outrageously pungent citrus slices (in this case, Citrus Maxima), and coconut custard pastries flavored with so much tonka bean you might might die if you eat two.2
I've worn Dirty Velvet on some dismal days this winter and every single time I've worn it I feel happier...it perks me up. Last Saturday I was stopped three times by strangers asking: "What cologne are you wearing? It's great!" and "What is your perfume called? I love it!" and (the best) "Did you get that here?" Question one was asked in a huge public garage by a guy; question two was asked an hour later by a young woman at the Seattle Art Museum as I was giving a gallery talk and walking from a Henri Le Sidaner painting of Venice to a Thomas Moran Grand Canyon canvas; and question three was asked by a sales assistant at the downtown Seattle Nordstrom. As you may have guessed from the compliments, Dirty Velvet has BIG sillage and amazing endurance; you WILL be noticed.
The only "bad" thing I have to say about Vilhelm Parfumerie perfumes regards cost. The pricing is in line with Hermessence fragrances but Vilhelm Parfumerie charges an exorbitant $80 for a stingy 18 ml travel spray (you can buy a gift set of four Hermessences...with each 15 ml bottle costing $41). Still: I recommend Vilhelm Parfumerie offerings; sniff them if you have a chance.
1. Listed notes of pomelo (Citrus maxima), tobacco leaves, fig, sandalwood, salt and vetiver.
2. Tonka beans are toxic when ingested in quantity.
Note: top image shows "Pretty pink velvet fabric", sold for $15.99 a yard at fabWorldFabrics at Etsy.