Thursday, October 25, 2007

Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum: fragrance review

It's hard for me to speak of Paloma Picasso perfume and not implicate the obliviously innocent in this. Because it happens to be the signature choice of someone I knew, someone who is most probably unawares of this blog, its writer and musings. I doubt I had even registered much in her mind back then when her scent made an impression on me. A really young novice I was at the Conservatoire, accompanying her vocal classes on the piano.

Anna was a creature of fire and spice, long tresses of chestnut trailing her back in thick curls, a straight, impressive nose under austere dark brows, but with a gregarious, roaring laughter that dared to flirt with anyone within a 10-mile radius. She dressed in full bohemia, just about 10 years after its heyday or about 20 before its resurgence, any which way you choose to see it. She wore dangling earrings made of ethnic beads and smoked heavy Gitanes. And her scent seemed to preceed her; which was not all that au contraire to the mood of the era, if only because there were numerous others, men and women alike, who followed a fragrance cloud rather than the other way around. That was the 80s, that was when Paloma Picasso launched Mon Parfum, a powerful chypre fragrance meant to embody her unique style.
Anna did not wear white shirts with black skirts, though, nor painted her lips in a crimson bloodfest that recalls the picadors in the tercio de varas. No, Anna was beyond such clichés...

The Ritual Fire Dance by Spanish composer Manuel De Falla conjures up comparable images in my mind. (the cello soloist is Julian Lloyd Webber and the clip was uploaded by gindobray)

The pungent green and dry chypré opening was like a bruise, aching long after the blow has been hit. And then roaring spices came cascading down in quick succession: clove and coriander, bold and proud, unashamedly pronouncing their presence before the hazy drop of flowers smelled at a distance was perceived, with a little hedione brightness. Rose was musty, musky, playing hide-and-seek with an effluvium of patchouli leaves with a little powder, much like that in Aromatics Elixir.
The gaunlet however was only thrown after the base notes develop, like the hides of dead animals, rich castoreum with more than a touch of the masculine, at a tannery on a warm day. The funk of a big animal in its ammoniac glory used to cure the hides is there and it dares you to bypass without closing your nostrils for a while, doubting if this is supposed to smell good or bad. A conundrum!

It came in a glorious soap formula that was made for bathing meant to make you smell dirtier than what you started with and didn't you love this, back then.
The eau de parfum was Anna's preferred concentration, encased in a black glass bottle from what I recall (current versions with lightned up base -due to restrictions in animalic ingredients used- are in plastic). And upon resniffing for the purposes of this review I couldn't but wonder how it was possible to tolerate, -nay, love madly- such a potent mix! It would take a very sparing application in this modern day and age to make it smell acceptable. But it is worth trying to find the perfect balance. The parfum/extrait which comes in a white splash bottle is perhaps the way to go as it is meant to be dabbed and not sprayed.
It's interesting to note that some modern day scents such as Sisley's chypre Soir de Lune were even inspired by Paloma's approach.

Paloma Piccaso, the daughter of Pablo, codenamed this scent Daphne 19, which puzzling as it is it is reminiscent of my own experience. Perhaps she knew someone named thus, while at her stint at Tiffany's as jewel designer, echoes of which are evident on the elaborate bottle, shaped after a pair of earrings made of petrified palm wood she designed for the brand? Or did she merely refer to the odorous plant? Dubious...
Mon Parfum was composed by Francis Bocris in 1984 with Paloma's guidance and includes the following notes:
Top: bergamot, lemon, hyacinth, angelica, ylang ylang, clove
Middle: Rose de Mai,jasmine, lily of the valley, orris
Base: Oakmoss, castoreum,vetiver, patchouli, amber, civet, musk, cedarwood, tobacco, sandalwood

The touch of a masterful persona that purposly discards social rules to do their own is evident in Mon Parfum by Paloma Picasso. Anna wore it amazingly well. Not all do.

Pics from parfumsdepub


  1. Anna seems like a gift to memory. You make me picture her so vividly.

    What is it about this scent that makes me keep a bottle, even though I find it unwearable. I don't have an Anna--I don't think I ever knew anyone who loved it. But it just won't let itself be banished. Must be that "funk of a big animal in its ammoniac glory." Who could resist?

  2. Anonymous22:33

    One of my all time favourites that I have worn at least once a week since it's release (on the days I didn't feel like wearing Chanel No. 5). This smells marvelous on my skin, initially a bit sharp but quickly settles into the base beautifully without being too animalistic. I'm new to the perfumista thing but reading this review, I realize I have not been shy about wearing strong perfume choices over the years - started on Magie Noire and No. 5, added Paloma and Opium in the 80's and those 4 were all I owned for years! Thanks for a marvelous review and one of my favourite blogs. Kim

  3. Anonymous08:36

    Dear E.,

    your evocation is so vivid! I can almost see Anna, smell her, hear her laughter.
    When i was realively new to the perfume-world i would spray perfumes on those little cards in the store, write the name down and carry them around in my handbag. Some made it into my drawers, some even got on the pillow. One night when i went to bed i suddenly got a irresistible smell from my bed... it was a two day old card with Paloma Picasso EdP sprayed on it!! Musty rose, herbs and spices galore!
    Then i fell for it. I have also tried the EdT version but would not recommend it. It is very sharp. The EdP ist best, imho, although dabbing is preferred, as you stated. I don't use it very often but if i didn't have it i'd miss it... to have and to hold...
    Actually 'she' was my first chypré experience.


  4. Dear M,
    we all youngsers admired her. She was quite a competent singer and is now rather prominent in her field.
    I also keep a little of it alhtough I can't wear it too often. But when I do...oh dear! It is difficult to resist.

  5. Kim,

    I am overjoyed that I have won a place in your heart and your favourites list :-))
    I can see that you're not a novice at all, though. Your choices are bold and make a statement! And you know it, which is half the battle won.

    Looking forward to hearing from you again.

  6. Nina dear,

    glad I evoked her so successfully. It's how she has created an indelible print in my memory.

    I love your budding perfume testing experiences! (I still do that, BTW...)
    I am also partial to the EDP in contrast to the EDT, nevertheless the parfum/extrait is even smoother and it would be my choice if to purchase another bottle.
    If you happen upon those white minis, it's a good deal.

  7. I wore this as a signature scent about 18 years ago and have gone through three or four bottles before moving on. I don't know if that's who I was or who I wanted to be.
    This review has made me want to try again and see how I've changed.

  8. I adore this, I cannot do without it - ever. I don't think I can express how much it defines who I am. Suffice to say, even though I don't reach for it often enough to go through bottles and bottles of it, if I had to choose just one perfume to live with, this would be it. Thankfully, I do NOT have to make that choice. That would hurt :P

  9. I too love this scent. Unfortunately, it's difficult to find, they changed the formula and the new stuff just isn't as good. I live in LA and I'm not sure where I would go to find a bottle vintage 1980's. Any ideas?

  10. MMichaels,

    thanks for stopping by and thanks for letting us know this is one fragrance which is also changed beyond the call of duty...it's so sad hearing that...

    Have you tried online discounters (like parfum1.com, perfume.com, perfumeencounter.com etc)? They often have older stock, sometimes you can spot it by the look of the packaging (or you can ask for batch codes and contact the producing company for chronology on them to cross check). That's an idea at least :-)

  11. Paloma Picasso has been my signature fragrance since the mid eighties there is nothing like it!!!! However IT HAS CHANGED!! so much. Something is wrong!!!

  12. Mizanti,

    alas, everything changes these days. They reformulate every couple of years, from what I know. To comply with allergy restrictions (see IFRA articles on the sidebar of my site), to ensure steady materials, to minimize costs and to "modernise" for newer audiences. Sacrilege I know!! Sorry for being the bearer of bad news.

    It also annoys me as a writer because reading a review on here means that you're reading a contextualized review of what I recall from the time I revisited the fragrance at the time of writing. I need to go and edit and update everything which is a HUGE toil!


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