Thursday, June 26, 2008

Patou Ma Collection: part 4 ~Divine Folie, Normandie reviews

The Great Crash of 1929 brought the US on its knees. The glamorous lifestyle of those who vacationed to sunny places, yachting and swimming in the trendiest swimming-suits with stripes and bare midriffs after the Chaldée ideal wasn’t at an end, but destitute people were a common occurrence across the country with diverse results as a consequence. Its echo was heard even across the Atlantic, to France where Patou saw many of his American clients diminish their orders in the throes of the Great Depression. In an era of tight economy, however, everyone tried to cope or fake it. "In times of crisis, we shorten the skirts"; a famous Parisian couturier has been known to say. And the best way to impart a little luxury is enjoying the more affordable items of a designer’s brand, such as lipstick or indeed fragrance.
Jean Patou who had devised Joy as “the costliest perfume in the world” at exactly this time, shocking the system, was well cognizant of that axiom: fragrance was still more affordable than couture, even if that fragrance was the “costliest” in the world. The extravagance which any period of crisis brings out in people was reflected in the trends of the 30s.

In 1933 Patou came out with an invitation to “a party mood of exquisite madness” to reflect that extravagance, with his Divine Folie (Divine Folly); an ambery fragrance with a powdery feel, a scattering of slightly sour, oily blooms and a spicy note to give it piquancy. That clove-y carnation whiff reminds me of Adieu Sagesse and the two share the overture but they part ways in the coda: Divine Folie is more ambery and powdery, with a pronounced vanilla veil. It has the nostalgic feel of old-fashioned putty makeup put on to convey a gaiety that is not really felt in the heart, desperation of seeing the end looming after what seemed like the promise of happiness: a little skewed a little flawed, einmal ist keinmal.
Divine Folie resembles Sophie in Maugham’s "The Razor’s Edge", a happy life shattered by tragedy, trickling into the doom of drink, opium and the promiscuity of “dumb but beautiful” sailors. Her decadent façade merely a vitrine, putty make-up to hide the wounds of her soul, her mascara-shoot tears black rivulets betraying the better side of promise.

Notes for Divine Folie: Neroli, Ylang Ylang, Iris, Rose, Jasmine, Musk, Vanilla

In contrast Normandie is Isabel, the proper but not without passion fiancée of Larry who settles for a married rich life instead of pursuing the path to spiritual enlightment with him. Her own disillusionment after the Great Crash and her re-evaluation of her life are aspects which have not yet being explored in Normandie. The fragrance is still the emblem of the good life, of yachting, of cruising, of travelling the world over in defiance of poverty or misery. How extravagant indeed to name a fragrance after a cruise liner! Perfectly fitting the megalomaniac tendencies of the Patou brand, Normandie the liner which showcased some of the most celebrated art nouveau décor in the world and its maiden voyage in 1935 was to be commemorated through Normandie the fragrance.
“The grandiose crossing of the Atlantic. An amber perfume with a pronounced oriental note. A fragrance full of character, mingling jasmine, rose and moss” is how Jean Kérleo chose to present it in the "Ma Collection" booklet. The charming gesture of presenting each passenger aboard the ship with a sample, slot in the funnel of a stylized metal steamer was the ne plus ultra in extravagant launches, on a par with parachuting Paris with Ma Griffe samples.

Normandie blends the prettiest powdery flowers in a picture-perfect bouquet of carnation, jasmine and soapy rose that rests on a table of rich mahogany, the smell of balsam in the background. Much like Ombre Rose or 24 Faubourg, Normandie is a sumptuous, expensive, woody floral with slightly sweet vanillic base which personifies the meaning of good taste and restraint. Exactly like Isabel: well mannered, beautiful yet subtle, an excellent conversationalist, it makes for witty small-talk about the latest gossip if you wish it, but also a discussion about Götterdämmerung. The question is whether she will find the chance to dwelve in the latter and that chance you have to provide for her yourself.

Notes for Normandie: carnation, jasmine, rose, opoponax, tree moss, vanilla, benzoin

Pic of Bonnie and Clyde film courtesy of athinorama.gr, of bottles courtesy of fragranceglobe and netstoreusa.us


  1. I have always been rather intrigued with Normandie for the name its self, because my mother's family originated from the region.

  2. The series continues in fine form. I believe I feel my veneer of "I don't HAVE to experience these scents" may be crumbling...


  3. Anonymous22:00

    Many thanks for this series on Ma Collection. As a relative newcomer to the world of perfume, I really enjoyed getting the historical perspective on Patou's work. I may even try to track down one or two of the scents!


  4. OMG Helg! Bonnie and Clyde was so big when it came out and I was a teenager. I remember wearing a beret and we wore the clothing that Fay Dunaway wore! I do not think poor Patou was that popular back then (or now sadly)

  5. I love Normandie, it's like... so elegant, but a little melancholy, like tears. There's a leathery quality to it too, I think. It reminds me a great deal of Caron En Avion.

  6. J,

    that's quite an endearing reason to be fascinated with a scent :-)
    I do hope you get to try it and actually like it!

  7. SLF,

    awww, thanks! Hopefully yes, the veneer will crumble and you will track one or two down to have them capture your heart...wouldn't that be good?

  8. Eileen,

    you're very welcome and thank you for your kind words. It was a pleasure to write and hopefully it will provide a reference.
    They're all lovely to different degrees.

  9. M,

    I LOVED that film and the fashions were smashing, weren't they? Of course I didn't have the chance to catch it in time to actually sport the trend, but it's good to watch any time.
    Patou was popular but not that popular, I agree.
    I think the 60s was the time when pop culture and fashion as a dictating phenomenon really came into effect.

  10. D,

    the comparison is interesting! I like En Avion very much ~at least I used to; I have to revisit in the newest edition and determine if I still do, after all these "rumours" ;-)
    Normandie is very elegant and I get a woody background mostly. Will have to try to see if I get any leather after your description.
    To me it's like someone who has lived their lives for someone else, if that makes sense...

  11. I WISH I'd purchased the 'ocean liner bottle' of Normandie , years ago, when I had the chance- SIGH.

    Silly me.

    I love the Chaldee and Adieu, Sagesse; have the former in parfum, the latter in EDT.

  12. I am sighing alongside you, dear I. What a missed opportunity :-(

    Chaldee in parfum and Adieu Sagesse in edt: excellent choices! If only the AS lasted a bit longer, huh?

  13. I adore Patou's Scents! I was introduced to them as a young girl, as Joy was my grandmother's favorite perfume. It's been one of mine for over 20 years, and I've tried many of Patou's other perfumes through the years. I'm just bidding on a few bottles of Vintage Perfumes of the collection and soon hope to be loving them as well.


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