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June 30, 2005

Fragrance Review: En Passant by Frederic Malle


Attempts to capture rain often result in limpid and pallid quality of the composition. Worse yet, some perfumers employ ozonic notes to create a lift, which in most cases creates an artificial result. Water smells of nothing, yet rain is not mere water. Falling onto the soil and leaves, it leads scents to intertwine together and to share their unique qualities. Garden after the rain smells of soil, roots, flowers, and leaves, with individual scents blurring into a somewhat abstract olfactory vision. Created by Olivia Giacobetti in 2000, En Passant is one of the most successful "rain" scent, after enchanting Guerlain Après l'Ondée (1906). Giacobetti captures the Impressionist vision of the scent of raindrops trembling on the lilac bushes. All notes reveal themselves at once conjuring a vision of passing a lilac bush in full bloom, dropping a confetti of tiny blossoms into the puddles on the pavement.

When selecting a painting to accompany my discussion of this particular fragrance, it is not accidental that I selected a dark and somewhat ambivalent painting by Vrubel, depicting a dark figure against a large lilac bush, with the dusky shadows slowly creeping from the corners. Contrary to the expectations, En Passant is not a sunny heady lilac, but rather a scent of air still bearing traces of the rainstorm that ravaged the lilacs, tearing off their blossoms and leaving the ground covered with a haze of flowers. Although the rainstorm is over, En Passant hints at its distant rumblings.

Notes: white lilac, rain accord, cucumber, wheat, orange tree leaves.

Painting: Lilac by Mikhail Vrubel (1856-1910), one of the greatest Russian painters, founder of Russian Art Nouveau.



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