Friday, June 27, 2008

Patou Ma Collection: part 5 ~Vacances review

This painting of Marc Chagall, Lovers in the Lilacs, has always striken me as the quintessential mark of an unanswered question which both love and flowers wear like a corona: how can the ephemeral be coaxed to last?
Lilacs especially live and die for all too brief a season, creating the yearning that short-lived pleasures know how to taunt us with, reminding us of our own mortality.
Vacances by Patou, a fragrance which tries to make them last, was composed by Henri Alméras in 1936 to celebrate the first paid vacations in France (“vacances” in French). Coincidentally it was the same year that Jean Patou himself died of apoplexy at the young age of 49, immersed in business worries and anxious for the future of his house. It seems that his touch on the pulse of trends wasn’t as firmly set in the 1930s as it had been in the 1920s. Luckily the house was saved by Raymond Barbas, his brother-in-law, who would persist and would be commisioning other fragrances to his in-house perfumers Henri Alméras and Henri Giboulet: Colony in 1938, then L’heure Attendue in 1946, and Câline in 1964, as well as other less-known ones such as the 1956 Lasso, Makila, Délices

Patou himself would have loved to see the deep appreciation lilac and hyacinth lovers feel for his wonderful fragrance, however. Vacances is the best showcase for the simultaneously green, oily and metallic aspects of hyacinth, but also for the richest lilac note one could wish for in a fragrance this side of respectable. And I am saying this because lilac blossoms are profoundly dirty-smelling really, but with such beauty, such wistfulness and such abandon that they know how to play with my heartstrings.

The elusiveness of lilac is due to its resistance to yielding a sufficient essence for use in perfumery, making it the par excellence recreated note, which so often recalls housecleaning products or air-fresheners (the molecule hydroxycitronellal which is also used to recreate muguet/lily of the valley is often the culprit, as well as Terpineol) The IFF Lyral base has also been used in lilac perfumes. On some occasions, perfumers go for an unexpected combination to provide a needed counterpoint, like the aqueous note along with yeast for En Passant by Olivia Giacobetti for F.Malle; or the modern dusty take of Ineke in After my Own Heart.

But immerse your soul into Vacances and you will understand that the message of the lilac panicles is more fulsome, beckoning you to oblivion. The rays of spring sun fall on flowers as if for the first time. But despite its allegiance to spring it can be worn year round.
The starkly green opening of galbanum in Patou's Vacances is the frame to the opaque jade and peppery spice of hyacinth, with its wet green stems smashed. And then the full force of oily-sweet indolic lilac, pretty and dirty like puce-pink knickers dusted with pollen, worn for a day too long and a shower too short. The golden muskiness that remains is subtle yet definitely there, posing a gigantic question mark seeking an answer that will never come.

Notes for Vacances: galbanum, hyacinth, hawthorn, lilac, mimosa, musk, woods

Although Vacances outlived Patou himself, it got to know a hiatus until 1984 when it was re-issued as part of Ma Collection by then in-house perfumer Jean Kerléo. In a coup of inexplicable tragedy, all the scents in Ma Collection however have been discontinued and are quite hard to find. Let’s fervently pray the masterminds at Patou ~and P&G who own them~ bring it back from the dead into the realm of the living where it so passionately belongs.

"Lovers in the Lilacs" by Marc Chagall, courtesy of Bottle pic by Frances Ann Ade via Basenotes.


  1. Anonymous16:24

    What a beautiful painting! Chagall is my big love! Thanks for another interesting post.
    "The richest lilac note"?
    That sounds irresistibly.

  2. Anonymous19:04

    I have often wondered about those same things myself :D
    Lilac fragrances can smell like a Glad plug-in, yuck. While a lilac bush smells divine.
    Aie, aie, I should probably hunt down Vacances after reading your wonderful review.

  3. L,

    you're welcome and thank you for your compliment.
    Indeed it is irresistible for the sheer beauty of lilac (and hyacinth too).
    Do you love lilac as I do?

  4. A,

    thanks a lot for your kindness. The nature-identical is hard to do with lilac, alas. But this one is very satisfying.

  5. Anonymous21:23

    eerrrrACK! **the sound of resolve crumpling--no comment today, off to research just where one can find these fragrances**


  6. Haha! Well...
    Try fragranceglobe and nellbutler, although I can't guarantee about the prices being reasonable :-(

  7. I've been neglectful, alas.

    This one is HARD to come by- for any decent price-
    But it is exquisite.
    I agree, my dears- a good lilac is like GOLD !

    All I have of this, is a drop from a sweet blogger who bravely parted with it, out of kindness...

    One of my sorrows, is how 'close to the skin' even the parfums are, regarding the Patous.

    They start off with 'big guns', and often peter out quickly.
    So, perhaps they work best as 'museum pieces'-
    My name for those I can't really afford to wear , but revisit in 'sniffage' , for education and pleasure.

  8. Anonymous13:39

    Looked around, *sob* Can't even pretend it's in my future...

    ...but I'll keep reading...

  9. I can't thank you enough for this series, E. I have been reading about Ma Collection for years. Now I feel as if I actually understand something about what they're like--you have an incredible gift for describing scents. I think Vacances is the one that really calls to me, but actually they all sound wonderful so far.

  10. Agree. Too tempting for words.

  11. I love Lilac and have one bush of it - like you say - its short lived but what a smell!
    There was a touch of lilac in Guerlains Parure but that is gone too!
    Whats wrong with the perfumers of today? I so wish they read blogs and took note what the public want and miss! Rrrrrr Helg!

  12. Dear I,

    I can feel the pain. Once in a blue moon they turn up on Ebay or one can find minis sometimes.
    I can't vouch for their longevity, because personally I don't usually have problems with that, but it seems that there is some diversity within the range: some last less than others, ie. Adieu Sagesse, Normandie.

  13. SLF,

    yeah...I know...maybe buy decants? Thanks for the support :-)

  14. Dear M,

    thank you for your most kind words which really make me all fuzzy inside. I hope I did them a little bit of justice because some of them are indeed magnificent and Vacances is among them (and perhaps the easiest to wear from the line).

    They certainly are gems, hence the 1984 re-issue I should think. I wonder why they didn't keep them, even only in the mini set form, as a collector's item. Perhaps the time this resurrection happened was too early to catch the online perfume communities phenomenon, hence they disappeared without a trace :-(

  15. Dear D,

    for better or worse! :-)

  16. Dear M,

    aren't you lucky!!

    Parure is (was) wonderful and I feel so validated I stockpiled. Less lilac-y than Vacances but a great scent, like you say.
    I sure hope they don't wait 5 years and then re-issue it at triple the price in the bee bottles in the boutique! That would indeed anger me.

  17. Anonymous13:43

    I love lilacs, we have several bushes in our garden, but there's a bush in every street here in my country.
    And every woman in my family uses Yves Rocher's Lilac body milk. :-)

  18. L,

    what a beautiful image! And the YR fragrance is not bad at all! Thank you for mentioning it.

  19. Helg - you know, they might just "re issue " Parure but - there is Always a BUT - it will be different!
    Its like the companies are doing everything cheaper these days.
    Anyway - I do not like my chances here but I shall look out for Vacances.
    We used to have Yves Rocher here by mail catalogue along time ago but they have left!
    Would have loved to try their lilac.

  20. Alas, you have a point, dear M!
    It's quite worth it to keep an alert on Vacances, although it usually goes for exorbitant prices *sigh*.
    Doesn't the YR take orders online?


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