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My first visit to JAR PARFUMS in rue de Castiglione, Paris was soon after it opened, it is possibly one of the most magical places you are likely to encounter. From the street you will see a dimly lit interior the colour of deep Lilac soft and rich. This also happens to be the colour of the soft suede pouches JAR has used to present his jewellery for more than three decades. The large glass window is empty except for one small pebble shaped bottle of amber coloured liquid which seems to be floating in the air - Diamond Water. The interior appears empty. Every surface of the panelled interior is covered in deep Lilac velvet. The back wall has a large mirror on it reflecting the crystal chandelier with two shaded wall brackets creating pools of warm light either side. As you walk into the hushed interior a door opens and the charming boutique guardian appears to help.
In the middle of the room there is a mirrored table under the chandelier with what appears to be a number of over-sized glass petri dishes with some material or fabric hidden under the lids. Painted on the ceiling is an exquisite mural of a Bold of Lightning in a stormy sky. There are two chairs if you feel the need to sit. You are then invited to sniff the contents of each of the glass dishes which in fact contain pieces soft chamois soaked in each of the seven perfumes Ferme les Yeux - Diamond Water – Jarling – Shadow – Jardenia – Golconda – JAR (the perfume without a name often referred to as Bolt of Lightning).
You are told to just let your sense of smell inform your views, no more and no less. You will not be given the ‘notes’ or told anything at all about what you are smelling not even if it is gender specific. This is a very deliberate and important part allowing you to experience the perfumes without any preconceptions. For many reviewers this has been a major criticism of the JAR Parfums, I disagree. All you are simply asked to do is to allow your own perceptions to inform your views and experience without your preconceptions of what to expect by knowing the notes and ingredients. We mortal beings are creatures with an ego and if we encounter something beyond our experience and understanding we will either elevate it to the level of the divine and the supernatural or reduce it banal criticism.
Very few people know and understand perfumes unless they happen to be a perfumer with an extraordinary talent and a highly trained sense of smell. In our modern times with the massive amount of advertising we are exposed to and the proliferation of vast amounts of information (and misinformation) we mortals like to think we are more knowledgeable and better informed than we really are. So the deliberate way that JAR perfumes does not engage with this leaves many frustrated. A perfume, a smell, a scent is something we experience in a very personal and intimate way. JAR perfumes only asks that you to do exactly that but on its own terms.
Then you will be asked if you wish to sample any of the perfumes on your skin. I suggest that you choose carefully and try one or two on your skin. You will not be told the prices unless you express an interest in a purchase but you will be encouraged to let the perfume develop on your skin and not make an immediate decision. All the bottles are small and pebble shaped, with simple gilded caps. They are presented in small soft suede pouches the same deep Lilac colour as shop interior and set into very simple boxes with the name of the perfume (or simply a bold of lightening) and JAR Parfums Paris.
All the perfumes are complex and it will take several hours for each of them to develop on your skin so I would not recommend an immediate decision.
However, I loved JAR immediately, it was a revelation in what a perfume can be and it has never in my mind been surpassed. I was not even sure if I will ever wear it but I know I had to have it to smell just to remind me of the smell. It completely changed my perception about smell and perfumes and ultimately about that I will choose to wear on my skin.
I happen to love tuberose, the real flower not the notes you sometimes detect in perfumes. It is heady, rich, green and very powerful. The tight buds give you a tantalising hint of their power mixed with the green of the stems. As the buds start to open the scent can be almost too potent, but always deep and sensual. It is floral but not sweet and you can soon start to detect the smell of decay as the flowers start to die. In South East Asia this flower is associated with death since it was traditionally used at funerals to mask the smell of the decaying corpse in the heat of the Tropics.
So JAR made me think of tuberose; I do not know if this is relevant to the creation of this perfume and I did not care to ask. The complexity of the perfume is such that you cannot but let your olfactory senses be overwhelmed and stop your discursive mind from trying to analyse and understand. As the perfumes settles it becomes a presence on your skin - very powerful without the need to assert itself. And it will last for a long time. I will occasionally take out a jacket or a sweater from my wardrobe, one which I had not worn for a while and I will instantly know that I had worn JAR the last time I used it.
I have had the same bottle in its pouch for almost ten years and it has travelled with me all over the world. It never fails to captivate and enchant me when I smell it and wear it. And it still retains all its unique and characteristics smell. The soft suede pouch helps to protects it from the degrading effects of daylight. Incidentally, I keep my few other perfumes in my wardrobe for this same reason.
Much has been said about the cost and exclusivity of the JAR perfumes and the fact you can only purchase them in the boutique in Paris and in BERGDORF GOODMAN in New York. The JAR parfums are not for everyone, I do not believe they were ever intended to be. They will not appeal to most people and will not be considered worth the cost by almost everyone, but I doubt if anyone can deny that they are masterful creations. And what is essential is that what you are paying for is what is in the bottle, the perfume and the experience of purchasing the perfume is part of it. There are no advertising campaigns and the bottles they are sold in simple. The legendary, masterful and very private Mr Joel A. Rosenthal has created something unique as only he knows how to. How the rest of the world does and sees things is utterly irrelevant because Mr Rosenthal knows what he wants to achieve and will not accept anything less then perfection in his own vision. I believe if you value something then the cost is immaterial.
Incidentally, the Bergdorf Goodman boutique is a miniature recreation of the Paris boutique with the same enchanting experience on offer. To those who criticise the exclusivity of JAR Parfums this should be another clue as to what the creator intend for you to experience. To go through the effort of recreating the experience across the Atlantic with so much care and attention is an indication that this is as important for the creator as the perfumes.
And perhaps the most important clue about JAR Parfum is right there in the shop window for all to see:
Diamond Water the paradox of value
11th October, 2009