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October 1, 2004

"Guardian Angels" By Luca Turin

"Guardian Angels" By Luca Turin

The week, like the city, the wheel and writing, is apparently a Sumerian invention. Seven days, each named after a planet-god, is just the right length: long enough to get used to work, but short enough to make it across in one piece. The fit between planets and days is uneven (Mondays aren’t very moon-like, for example, though Friday definitely belongs to Venus). Sunday, however, really is dies solis, especially when enjoyed in vacant city streets basking in morning light. For those who like waiting for nothing in particular, Sundays are an inspiration. Hopper painted their emptiness, Aaron Copland wrote down their silent music in his masterpiece, "Quiet City". But if Sunday were a perfume, which one would it be ? Which one breathes the calm that slowly fills you to your fingertips during walks with only a guardian angel for company ?

My long-time favorite was Guerlain’s Jicky, that flag-like confection (I have the Ukrainian one in mind, big earth under big sky) of lavender and vanilla. Jicky is the oldest proper perfume in existence (1889, Eau de Cologne doesn’t count) and has undergone some restoration in recent years. For once, no damage was done. It is now as good as it gets, cool on top, warm below and mercifully quiet. Gone is the layer of French sexiness that used to cloud its simple beauty. Until recently, I could see no serious contenders. Now, unexpectedly in this world geared to Monday mornings and Saturday nights, comes another great Sunday fragrance: Osmanthus, by the Different Company. Its composer is one of the founders of the outfit: Jean-Claude Ellena, who has recently become the Hermès in-house perfumer. This is Hermès’ gain and, so far, our loss, because the first fragrance in his new job (Un Jardin en Méditerrannée) has turned out nicely crafted but not particularly interesting.

Osmanthus is a different matter. The plant itself, O. fragrans has, like hyacinth and tuberose, one of those smells that God must have composed while studying organic chemistry. Soapy, powdery, definitely inedible, it is Wedgwood blue for the nose. Ellena has set it in a structure reminiscent of the soft glow of ancient perfumes like Worth’s Je Reviens. The sum total shimmers like an opal: Osmanthus feels different every time you wear it, but always intimate and reassuring. The Different Company has had the brilliant idea of offering its fragrances in small, sealed 10 ml sprays they call "48 hour refills". Their discovery pack of three promises a sensational week, though anyone who gets through that much perfume so quickly probably needs expert help.

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