Friday, 23 May 2014

Persolaise Review: Chaldée from Jean Patou (Thomas Fontaine; 2014 [based on Henri Almeras; 1927])

If Dior's Cuir Cannage (reviewed last week) is an attempt to conjure the ghost of a parent, Jean Patou's Chaldée is a near-archaeological endeavour to revive the spirit of an entire civilisation. I confess I wasn't at all familiar with this fragrance until news of its current re-release reached my ears, but I gather it started life in the late 1920s as the smell of a tanning oil which Patou decided to release as a fine fragrance in response to demands from slavering patrons*. I am in no position to comment on the faithfulness of Thomas Fontaine's new version to Henri Almeras' original, but I can say that if someone released this stuff as a sun lotion today, I'd be baying for it to be turned into a proper perfume too. In fact, I need to be careful that I don't lose all sense of critical decorum here, because I have been utterly in love with this stuff since I first encountered it a few weeks ago, and I am in serious danger of consuming my entire supply of it.

But enough of the histrionics: you want clear-headed descriptions. Trouble is, I'm not sure I can provide them on this occasion. Even though Chaldée seems to rise up from the fervour of some orgiastic, pre-Stone-Age bonfire dance, it also operates on an abstract level, defying attempts at simplistic note-spotting. This unfathomable quality recalls that great masterpiece of non-literal 1920s perfumery, Ernest Beaux's No 5; indeed, it's fascinating to note that both Chanel's monster hit and this lesser-known piece of work make prominent use of powdery notes. 'Powdery' is actually a useful starting point from which to begin an exploration of Chaldée's modus operandi. It unquestionably hints at talc-inflected cleaning rituals: the steam emanating from a bath, the laundered plushness of a fresh towel, the subtly marine-like taste of water on warm flesh. However, despite all this, it resists being labelled a 'powdery' perfume, even when it reaches its fine-grained, gossamer drydown. Beach connection notwithstanding, it isn't anything like the scents of a modern, Western holiday resort, either: there's no suggestion of coconut oil or biscuits-fresh-from-the-oven butteriness.

The real stars in this wondrous release are the resins and the balsams (chiefly opoponax). They possess powdery facets, of course, but their chief effect is to exude physicality. With the aid of a subtly contrasting lilac note and a well-judged dose of musks, they convey the unparalleled intimacy of skin meeting skin, clean sweat mingling with wisps of hair, lips brushing against the back of a hand, fingers easing their way to the small of a back, boundaries between bodies disappearing. They are carnal and unabashedly animalic, but they're also tender and suffused with the glow of genuine affection. In short, they're an olfactory representation of a living, breathing, vibrant body, eager to indulge in fleshy delights.

Whoever first conceived this scent knew what they were doing when they decided to call it Chaldée. From the moment it settles onto its fortunate wearer - entwining itself into the very fabric of their skin - the perfume speaks of antiquity, as though conveying a missive from centuries ago about the never-changing materiality that makes us what we are, about our inextricable connections with the earth, the sky and the sun that marks all our days.

Did I say I'd try to avoid histrionics? Forget it, I don't think I can. The simple fact is that I adore this stuff. Not all my perfume guinea pigs have fallen for its charms - 'old-fashioned' has been the main criticism - but I am smitten. I smell Chaldée and I feel the urge to shut down my Twitter account, throw my iPhone into the nearest river and move into a shed along the banks of the Tigris. After all, the present is vastly overrated... or at least, it seems to be when I'm wearing this sort of sorcery.

[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Jean Patou in 2014.]


* Not all sources agree on this version of events.


  1. Intrigued. Can it be found and smelled in London?

    1. Moodypaws, it'll soon be available at Harrods.

  2. After reading your enticing review, and wondering if I would ever have the chance to make a close encounter with a tester, I stumbled upon the complete Patou lineup in the least expected palce (a furniture and design concept store).
    So Chaldée testing time it was!
    The first thing I noticed was the most prominent pee not I have ever met against the familiar aldehydic floral signature of classics of yore (n°5) and today (iris poudre, une fleur de cassie).
    The subdued character of Chaldèe didn't convince me either, but as time went on the fragrance became more and more beautiful: the most wonderful floral bouquet started to bloom against a warm, cuddly base that made me want to lick my own skin.
    So I am intrigued and puzzled and must try this again.
    The pee note, however was just too huge for me to ignore. You got none, I gather, mr persolaise? I noticed another commenter at auparfum was troubled by that note, so maybe it is a matter of nose-to-brain subjective interpretation of a note.
    In case you wonder, Jicky, shalimar, pamplemousse rose, miel de bois (and any of the usual suspects I can think of) have never smelled "problematic" to my nose, only deliciously warm in a very human kind of way.
    Chaldée: must test again. But that HUGE pee note! wow and gah, at the same time!!!!;)

    1. Zazie, thanks for your comment.

      No, I'd be lying if I said I picked up a prominent pee note, but there is definitely something quite animalic in there. Opoponax can also smell quite fungal, which isn't miles away from a urinous feel, I suppose.

      Do let me know if you try the perfume again. Perhaps this is going to be a divisive release... which would be no bad thing ;-)


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