"With maternal love, life makes a promise at dawn that it can never hold. You are forced to eat cold food until your days end. After that, each time a woman holds you in her arms and against her chest, these are merely condolences. You always come back to yell at your mother’s grave like an abandoned dog. Never again, never again, never again."
―Romain Gary, La Promesse de l'aube (1960)
by guest writer AlbertCAN
There. The mandatory quote from Romain Gary’s La Promesse de l’aube (translated into the English title “Promise at Dawn”), the autobiography which the fragrance is supposedly named after*. I am getting that out of the way because I still cannot—for the life of me—figure out the connection between the book and the fragrance. And I have owned Francis Kurkdjian’s composition for many, many moons.
Yet somehow that’s the beauty of artistic transposition, isn’t it? Ideas attributed to something else altogether. It’s as if one discovers that Luis Buñuel’s psychological sexual liberation Belle de Jour (1967) is actually based on Joseph Kessel’s 1928 thinly veiled cautionary tale of the same title about a young garçonne’s indiscretions and her eventual fall from grace. One story, two completely different tales! Or realizing that Truman Capote’s Holly Golightly takes after Marilyn Monroe in the original 1958 novella, really a kooky gamine who rather explores the whole wide world than resolving her insecurities. (Monroe, in turn, was considered for the starring role in the 1961 cinematic adaptation: her bid, however, pretty much dashed after her demand of getting paid in Tiffany diamonds. The more affordable Audrey Hepburn came into the picture—and becoming the highest paid actress of her time in the process. Much to Capote’s chargrin, however, and understandably he never embraced Hollywood’s vision on his beatnik tale.) Somehow that is the way I have felt about Promesse de l’Aube (2006): probably not exactly what Romain Gary had in mind when describing his youth, but a transcendental beauty in its own right nonetheless.
Parfum MDCI describes Promesse de l’Aube as an oriental floral “pour le jour” (daytime wear), but truth to be told the overall sheen and aura are just shy of the modern chypre terrain. Structurally it has also been favourably compared to Guerlain Attrape-Coeur, though not having the opportunity to experience Mathilde Laurent’s creation I cannot objectively comment on that matter. Still, the word honeyed comes to mind upon describing the opening Promesse de l’Aube; although the requisite graces of bergamot, mandarin and lemon are present, the focal point is more apricot-glossed in sensorium, candied yet delicate in tow. One can almost mistaken the olfactory refraction as the offshoot of a vibrant peach, but such is not the focus, at least not in the sense of the classic grande dame tone, how unctuously fruity Persicol is in Guerlain Mitsouko (1919). Instead, imagine a quality French citrus-apricot confit, say, from Fauchon: poised, polished, but knowingly with that touch of restrained decadence. The apricot here is that necessary gloss above the rigorously made crème anglaise and pâte sable, that requisite sheen on the French confections.
And that sheen gets subsequently buoyed by the white florals, of ylang ylang and jasmine. Knowning Kurkdjian’s style my money is also on orange blossom—not in the sense of the absolute but more of a modern accord with methyl anthranilate and the salicylates—but alas such is not listed. This is where having an unrestrained development budget factors in, the floral elements having a proper heft and sheen without the all-too-commonplace screech in its sillage before the balsamic elements (tonka bean and vanilla) ushering in the modern musks, along with the woods such as Indian sandalwood to give off an air of billowing cloud somewhere within the vicinity of a modern chypre.
Here lies the contradiction within Promesse de l’Aube: the compositional style nudges on the late fifties side with its solemnity and structure, yet the overall sweep is nimble and modern. To this day I am still doing double takes on its theme: the cerebral side of me knows all too well that an oriental floral is at play, yet from time to time I wouldn’t think twice about enlisting the base as a modern chypre...
Is it worth its hefty price tag? Ringing the affirmative. To me here the phrase “promesse de l’aube” is more literal, a take on l’aube without the fear of not delivering on la promesse.
For more information on the perfumes, flacons and on how to order, please contact Parfums MDCI
Photo: Promesse de l’Aube from LuckyScent.
* For a basic summary of the book please refer to this literary review.