Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Montana Parfum de Peau: fragrance review

On an ordinary morning on an ordinary weekday in Paris this past June, a rumour started to ripple through the mirrored design studios, the gilded, glossy magazine offices and the cramped workrooms of the French fashion industry. "Have you heard?" whispered voices ominous with impending ill news."The police found a body on Rue de Bellechasse this morning." "Have you heard?" they whispered, "about the death of Wallis Montana?"
~ Marion Hurne, Node Magazine Australia August/September 1996

Parfum de Peau, also known as Montana de Montana, as was its original name, is usually described as sexy, assertive, dirty, and sultry. It is all those things! But it is also tinged with tragedy as it was inspired by style guru Wallis Francken and the strange androgyny of her public persona. Together with Claude, they formed a weird couple and this is a weird perfume that can be easily imagined to be worn by people who love making a statement.
Almost unsufferably potent and single-minded in its assault, Parfum de Peau was given to me as a gift when I was a teenager. I wonder if the gifter was trying to tell me something. Because this zest has stuck. Did I always project a certain drama? Was that drama merely a plea for attention like every dutiful teenager does? All I remember is behind its bursting, blinding fruitiness peppered with spice it taught me what a furry little animal smells like when it’s hot and it lies dead on the street and one has the strange craving to go pick it up and lull it to sleep. There is the bitter and sweet odour of Thanatos which weaves such a strange net to lure us into a false sense of security.

Claude Montana, “king of the shoulder pads” and butch leather-man wearer is half-Spanish, half-German and began his career as a jewelry maker that got him recognition through Vogue coverage; that in turn helped him settle for a job at cutting and grading leathers at McDouglas, a Parisian firm in 1970. It would take some shows at Angelina’s Tea Room until he would start his own company in 1979 designing Amazonian, emasculating clothes for women. Those caused some ruckus with their inferred image of being reminiscent of Nazi uniforms. The Constructivism risus sardonicus that runs through his collections animates gyrating proportions with the addition of a peplum over narrow, wasp-waisted skirts. He greatly admired Mme Gres and Balenciaga which comes as no surprise. That kind of trapeze designs with the emphasis on shoulders and the power with which a silhouette moves in them was both reflected and bouncing back in his personal life.

His 1989 admission "I'm like a battlefield inside, a mass of contradictions" merely confirms the rumours of erratic behaviour and troubled inner life. He had married his muse, the German-American angular model Wallis Franken, 18 years after meeting her, when they were both 43. She, already a mother and a grandmother, always striking, always rail thin, knew all about the strange affairs of Claude. That warm July day, three years before the tragedy, she “gave up and yielded and went to Susa on foot to the monarch Artaxerxes”: she went on to be a wife ~"Oh, you know, cooking in the kitchen, fixing the dinner, lighting the candles..."
She was decked in an organza pant suit and white cowboy boots on that day. She was a vision.

What happened still remains a mystery: Wallis fell out of the balcony. Pushed or not? Out of her own accord or due to drug intoxication? The grim underbelly of fashion life in ne plus ultra Paris was just a hair away from being revealed. But it never did. It remained an agreement of silence: hushed, whispered in corridors but never out in the open.
What remains is one of her last public performances as an extra in the Madonna clip Justify my Love shot by Jean-Baptiste Mondino at Hôtel Ritz in Paris. I can smell the atmosphere in those rooms ~they reek of Parfum de Peau; they reek of contradiction and need; they reek of the desire to transcend death.

{Warning: uncensored version; unsuitable for office enviroment!}

(uploaded by nicubuleasa)

Parfum de Peau was originally composed in 1986 by Jean Guichard (Fifi, Deci Dela, Obsession, Loulou, Eau d’Eden) and was later reformulated with synthetic castoreum by the great Edouard Flechier (Poison, Tendre Poison, Une Rose, Lys Méditerranée, C’est la Vie). Not to be confused with the second feminine perfume of the house, Parfum d’Elle (1989) in a similar, shorter bottle.
The original Montana de Montana came in a breathtaking, award-winning helix-shaped bottle designed by Serge Mansau, inspired by the swirling fall of a winged sycamore seed as seen by a strobe light. It was encased in a cobalt blue box in both Eau de Toilette and Eau de Parfum versions.

The older versions had a packaging with the name Montana writ big, while the newer versions have a silhouette torse recalling the bottle on the outside of the box in orange, with the name Montana in smaller script underneath it.

Notes: green note, pepper, cassis, plum, peach, cardamom, ginger, rose, carnation, sandalwood, jasmine, tuberose, yalng-ylang, narcissus, patchouli, castoreum, civet, vetiver, olibanum, musk, amber.

Collage of Wallis Francken originally uploaded by Superchic1966 at Msn groups. Pic of ad from parfum de pub.


  1. Anonymous20:24

    ahhhhh... haven't seen this video since centuries. Loved it and... although loosing my hair and getting older still loving it. The more even. Especially the last scene, Madonna leaving, like a school girl, witty, breaking the earnest of all the heavy loaded pictures before. Thank you!

  2. That interim 80s time when Montana seemed to outshine M. Lagerfeld is a fascinating one. I can see Parfum de Peau in my mind's eye on the black lacquer b-way at Bloomingdale's 59th Street. How safe we've all become in the post-Reagan era...despite the extreme nature of all that rages in our midst.

  3. Dear A,

    so happy I brought back good memories. You're very welcome :-)It's very Mondino, isn't it? They did those things well back then. And yes, the laugh puts a spin on things not being as serious as they look. Which is just as well

  4. Dear C,

    indeed it was a fascinating time in fashion (and life in general): actually those people could sketch and draw (imagine that!!)
    I am sure your reminiscences are more accurate than mine.

    Ah...the more things become extreme, the more people are conditioned to become sedated and jaded out of their wits. But I sense that changing. And that's a good thing.

  5. Anonymous12:54

    Oh... what a stratagem to start this critique with an obituary...
    Did i mention i have a bad nostalgia for things long gone? Luckily it IS still available, though not easily.
    Thank you, E.!

    Yours lillie

  6. You're welcome dear N.
    This is indeed a friend from long ago.

  7. Just wanted to say that not only does this beauty still smell exactly the same now, as it used to back then, but it also still comes in the same cobalt blue box you so well remember! It really is worth seeking out once again!

  8. Dear D,

    of course you're right about the box! It is a great colour choice (although the scent doesn't smell blue at all)and it was very popular in 80s clothing.
    I love that shade, don't you?

    It is indeed worth revisiting, perhaps investing in a full bottle.

    I do perceive some differentiation in the base notes due to the substitution of castoreum: comparing with my natural tincture I can see that more clearly. However in general Parfum de Peau is a simple composition which focuses on very specific accords, therefore its beauty wasn't marred. It might have to do with the expert working on it too! :-)

  9. Anonymous18:08

    I am late in this, I know, but I have to say it: Helg you are unique in your style. Who would have thought of this Wallis? I didn't even know her! And this clip.
    Wow! I MUST try out this perfume.

  10. Yay, I thought this had been lost to me forever after it was disontinued, I am so excited that it is back!
    Nothing comes close to its unique scent, it is my favourite of all time and so different to all the insipid, generic fragrances on the market now.
    Do you know where I can get hold of a bottle? I am in Ireland.

  11. Welcome Tammi!

    I think it is available at

  12. Parfum de Peau, also known as Montana de Montana, is usually described as sexy, assertive, dirty, and sultry.

    what a great way to describe such a complex fragrance....

    I found it on my 1st trip to PARIS ..way back in his Boutique facing Galerie Vivienne

    I bought Parfum de Peau ,The Savon de Bain,and mens leather gloves in his trademark Cobalt BLUE...

    All these years ...I never used the Savon the Bain ...I kept the Cobalt Blue Gloves wrapped gently around the soap box still in its original boutique bag.
    His Fragrance, as well as the Savon de bain is so amazingly
    well constructed and expertly made ..... that the Cobalt Gloves are now infused with the fragrance...
    and I wear them with great pride of rare special occasions....

    I just bought Parfum de Peau on Ebay a week a treat to myself for my Birthday .. and
    yes, it remains the same formulation ...and if your lucky you might get a great deal on it I just did ..


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