Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Patou Ma Collection: part 2 ~Chaldee review

In a roundabout way it was Coco Chanel, Patou’s main rival, that upon returning from vacation tanned as a sailor made sun-bathing fashionable and ultimately desirable inducing Patou to mastermind a fragrance, Chaldée, inspired by the new trend. Sun-worship was to witness resurgence after eons of absentia since its pagan days of idolatry.
For millennia ancient Sumerians, Egyptians, Greeks and Incas embraced the sun’s warm rays as the giver of life. And then even before western society abandoned slavery it embraced distinct social ranking which manifested itself through a very simple means: light skin meant less time spent out in the sun, which was the destiny of workers of the fields and the low classes in general. Thus an Odyssey began for women around the world employing poisons such as lead or arsenic in their quest for the unattainable pale ideal. Until Niels Finsen, that is, who introduced his Light Therapy in 1903 with purported health benefits, creating a mini-revolution, at least amid the scientific community.

But it was Chanel’s finger on the pulse of fashion that brought things full circle. A 1920s accidental tan while cruising from Paris to Cannes aboard the Duke of Westminster's yacht was quickly transformed into a trend-setting fad that was unprecedented. Tanning became a sign of leisure, of wealth, the sign that someone was able to take a vacation, preferably in a warm sunny place. The idolatry angle of the golden sun’s effect was also to manifest itself through the adoration of Josephine Baker who, with her outré style of performance and caramel skin, mesmerized Parisians into wanting to emulate her. Famous fashion photographer Cecil Beaton describes the Duchess of Penaranda in the pages of Vogue magazine:

"She wore sunburn stockings with white satin shoes...the duchess's complexion matched her stockings, for she was burned by the sun to a deep shade of iodine."

Jean Patou could not let this new ideal slip through his grasp like grains of sand between a sunbather’s fingers: he acted fast with Huile de Chaldée, one of the first sun-tanning oils which Henri Alméras, then in-house perfumer to Patou, re-interpreted in fine fragrance simply named Chaldée in 1927. The chosen name was to recall an ancient Babylonian region famed for its amber-skinned beauties. Chaldée with its deap, oily-smelling ambery character bears no relation to modern aspirations to being a Bronze Goddess, no matter how pleasant those might be.

A terrible dawn is showing through the parapets of Chaldea and, as the initial darkness of the night ~heavy with the fatty smell of hyacinths~ lifts, slowly you see upon the ziggurat the woman, adorned in candied tones of orange blossoms; her warm, pulsating flesh offered as an oracle and sacrifice to the all consuming Shamash. Her skin deeply bronzed, emanating all the aromas of Arabia, resiny, intimate, fetid. You can see the furtive but excited looks of the common folk awaiting, smell their humanness. The great knife is raised and swoosh… there flows the blood; scarlet, young, full of life, spent to join Nergal.

Today we know better than to sacrifice our flesh on the altar of Sun almighty in order to achieve the bronze looks and feel of powdered warmth the sun gives us. Yet as author Naomi Wolf notes in her controversial book, "The Beauty Myth", in 1991
"the discovery of photo-aging has created a phobia of the sun entirely unrelated to the risk of skin cancer [...]turning nature into a fearsome enemy from the male tradition's point of view [...]which stimulates women's fears of looking
older in order to drive us in the opposite direction: indoors once more...the
proper place for women in every culture that most oppresses us."
Worth pondering on...
In the meantime slip out a bottle of Chaldée, immerse yourself into its golden nectar and imagine yourself a bloodless Sun-offer.

Notes for Chaldee: orange blossom, hyacinth, jasmine, daffodil, lily of the valley, vanilla, opopanax, amber.

Pic of carnelian stamp seal, Neo-Babylonian Dynasty, about 700-550 BC from Babylon, southern Iraq, courtesy of the British Museum. Pic of Chaldee courtesy of fragranceglobe.com


  1. Abigail13:29

    What a lyrical review! I want to be part of that crowd. Thank you for the wonderful writing and the information you provide.

  2. In California we have something called tanorexia, to the point that people get so obsessed with tanning that well it gets pretty scary. As for my self well I'll put it this way: I am pretty damn pale and skin cancer very much runs in the family, so tanning has never been real option for me. I have to burn before I get a tan. And I have been teased in California so often because of my paleness. So Chaldee sounds like the perfect option for my non-tan self to get a tan quality.

  3. I have already started looking forward to this series more eagerly than the latest installment of a prime time television serial! Fascinating.

    My introduction to the cult of pale was through Scarlett O'Hara...for those who read Gone With the Wind, they'll recall how even after she got money, Emmy Slattery's freckled skin gave away her "lowly" status.

    I do believe we can balance Naomi Wolf's concerns with proper skin care, no? (She said, off to garden with sun screen on her skin and a large brimmed hat upon her head. Oh, and of course gloves on her hands...with a wink to Scarlett.)

    Thanks again--see you tomorrow!

  4. Wait a minute...I forgot to add...the color of IODINE?!? Egads, for this pale person, that resonates of pain. Youch! I'm of an age where my friends and I would watch their older sisters lather up in baby oil, or, if they were really luxe, that--oh, what was the stuff that smelled of coconut? Dark brown bottle? It wasn't Chaldee...who knew?...

    ...back to SPF 650 ;) ...

  5. Anonymous16:53

    the first time i smelled chaldée i thought it smelled like sex and sun-warmed skin - very musky. it was startlingly sexual. now that i'm used to it i don't get that sexual shock as much. love it regardless.

    - minette

  6. Chaldee sounds like the perfect summer fragrance. I wish I could get my hands on some.

  7. Anonymous17:30

    We have a great selection of Patous for you, come and see

  8. stella polaris20:05

    Ahh, Chaldee sounds like something my skin would like! :) And: the sun is not so bad to worship after all; the newest medical research link low sun light exposure to higher incidences of heart diseases, many forms of cancer and low calcium density in the skeleton. At least here in the North of Europe the population get less UV-radiation than is good for us, and now the medical advise is to stay at least 15 minutes in the sun before applying sun screan, and not use the highest factors. Now they think more people get cancer because of to little UV-radiation than people getting malign melanoma in Northern Europe. For me it makes perfectly sense; we are not made for living in dark caves..

    (the nonsense latin: hope he will not bother you again: it is definitely not funny :(

  9. Anonymous02:19

    the beauty myth was a great book

  10. J,

    I wasn't aware of the term! I did know about the obsession.
    Chaldee sounds perfect for you.

  11. SLF,

    I am touched :-)

    It's true that in classic (and even not so classic) literature there is an insistence on paleness which is obsessive. Good paradigmn you chose. I also recall the peplum on Jane Eyre's antagonist, to protect her face and the gloves to protect the hands: in the British weather, for Pete's sake!

    That mention of "iodine" had me "ouching" as well: that's why I included the quote.

  12. M,

    great observation, I tend to agree with you: it's quite "human" in a pronounced (and lovely) way.

  13. Anon,
    I am certain of it, but I'd appreciate it if we kept this venue spam-free. Thanks.

  14. S,

    everything in moderation is a wise axiom. A little sun on the less exposed areas (such as the legs) is better than no sun at all for people in northern climates.

    PS. Since you mention it and thanks for the support:
    Alas, it's someone I know whom I have given access to ~has been very supportive, helping and commenting, but makes me look schizo sometimes, using my account! Got angry at me for something, hence the dummy text.
    We sorted it out through mails :-)

  15. Anon,

    I agree that it was a book worth reading and thinking about. No wonder we reference it all those years later.

  16. Sue,

    I think it can be traced on Ebay, although it's rarer than some of the others for some reason (?)

  17. I love it !
    And your writing, always.

  18. Loving the Chaldee! It took an extra day to find it, but in sync with the review was much more fun. If it had a color I think it would be an ambery orange yellow. And skin.


  19. Thank you PerfumeQueen, just saw this! Enjoy!!


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