This is a beautiful piece of work, and entirely fitting with Claude Marchal’s focus on commissioning perfumes that nod at French classicism without getting bogged down in pastiche. La Belle Helene has the feel of an old school fruit chypre but none of the somber tone that characterizes most of the classic examples. It opens with a shimmering pear note that’s realistic without straying into Pear Drop or acetone territory, and sharpened with juicy tangerine. Held aloft by a spackle of fizzing aldehydes, the opening notes smell slightly boozy and metallic, like the feeling you get when you knock back a glass of champagne too quickly. It’s sweet though – you have to be ok with some sweetness to like it. I do, and for me, the sweetness of La Belle Helene falls – just – within acceptable limits.
I love the start, but really, the best is yet to come. The heart notes are comprised of orris butter, plum, myrrh, rose, and osmanthus, which meld to forge a most wonderful vintage lipstick or cosmetic powder smell. It smells absolutely gorgeous – soft, rosy, waxy, and creamy. Literally, like the most expensive and most luxurious body cream you could ever afford, perhaps one of those Chanel ones that come in the white box. The osmanthus, in particular, provides an apricot jam note that is close to edible. What’s even more impressive is that the pear note is still present and detectable in the heart notes, and casts its bright, green fruit aroma over everything. At some point, the iris starts to dominate things a bit, and the perfume takes on a more powdery character.
By the time La Belle Helene reaches its drydown, much of the sweet fruits and florals have been whittled away to reveal a more adult backbone of sandalwood, moss, and patchouli. The landing is soft rather than bitter, and has an inky cocoa feel to it, an effect deliberately created, I am guessing, to suggest the dark chocolate sauce that is poured over the poached pears and whipped cream of the famous dessert this fragrance is named for (Poires Belle Helene). Delicious and elegant – a real gourmand treat in the beginning, and then a chypre in the base.
Osmanthus is popular with niche perfumers. Witness The Different Company’s, Ormonde Jayne’s and Keiko Mecheri’s Osmanthus; Hermèssence Osmanthe Yunnan; and Parfum d’Empire’s Osmanthus Interdite. Now, close on the heels of Serge Lutens’s Nuit de Cellophane, comes Parfums MDCI’s entry, by Bertrand Duchaufour. Many characterize osmanthus as a fruity (apricot) floral note, and Duchaufour’s apparent object in composing La Belle Hélène is to see just how much fruit he can load the flower with before burying it altogether. The answer? A lot.
La Belle Hélène opens on a powerful fruit accord that spans candied pears, peaches, and apricots - all in Technicolor, stereo, and 3-D. These top notes might be mean to smell appetizing, but fruit at this intensity tends toward a plasticky, artificial character that’s anything but tasty. After a few minutes’ wear the fruit calms down just enough to reveal the powdery floral facets of osmanthus, backed by the sugared almond of heliotropin and a doughy iris note. These last two soften the profoundly sweet fruit accord while pressing the composition more firmly into gourmand territory. Indeed, the buttery, yeasty component that lurks deep within Duchaufour’s Amaranthine and Fleur de Liane finds fuller expression here. (Is it any coincidence, I wonder, that a similar accord anchors the French bakery allusion at the core of Serge Lutens’s more recent Jeax de Peau?)
La Belle Hélène balances precariously between fruity floral and gourmand – at least until the base notes emerge in full, to take the scent in a whole new direction. You see, beneath the flower-garnished fruit tart lies a classic chypre foundation of patchouli, moss, and labdanum that’s far more abstract and sophisticated than I’d expect from a run-or-the-mill fruity floral. In fact, as the chypre foundation comes into full focus, La Belle Hélène reveals itself as a modern, intensely fruity gloss on historic precedents going back - by way of Yvresse, Badgley Mischka, and MDCI’s own Enlévement au Sérail - as far as Mitsouko. Could I do with a little less of the cloying fruit syrup up top? Yes. A little less powder? Yes, that too. Nevertheless, Le Belle Hélène is one clever composition, and if you’re at all susceptible to hyper-realistic fruit notes, osmanthus, or fruity chypres, you ought to give this scent a wearing.
MDCI continues their exploration of fruit themes (pineapple in Le Rivage des Syrtes, peach in Peche Cardinal) in high-quality fashion with this pear chypre (!!). This is one of the rare fragrances that smells exactly like what you would guess it would smell like based on its description, and it is wonderful. (Interestingly, this fragrance is not made in Duchaufour's standard postmodern style - although I really like his usual style it's nice to see him working in a more classical mode here.)
so.... I really wanted this bottle.... and couldn´t find any fragrance of this house that I really liked. Until they released la belle hélène. When i read Ducheaufour made it, I wanted to give it a try. It is a gourmand Chypre. Even though the Chypre notes are not all present, this is the effect of it. Elegant, rich, gorumand but not overly sweet. Candied pear in a bed of gourmand and oriental notes. Nice and warm. Definitely worth a try for who dislikes the sweetnes of crushed fruit salad in perfume. nicely done