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Wild Gardener

Une aire de reformulation

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What makes L'Air du Temps so interesting isn't the complexity of the theme - it's just a carnation bouquet. It doesn't have an unusual structure - it's an ordinary head/heart/base triangle. Evolution of the profile is moderate - there are no surprises. What makes L'Air du Temps so interesting is the seductive quality of the materials and the textures they deploy.

Let's start at the base and work our way up. The profile starts with a pedestal of sandal, methyl ionone and a vetiver isolate, and there's also musk ambrette / musk ketone. Together they create a complex base that acts as a foil for the heart accords. The base is no perfunctory afterthought - put there just to spin out the longevity of the heart accord - it's an active part of the profile. I would imagine the base is where Fabrice Fabron started writing the formula and that's why we are begining at the bottom.

The next layer up is the eugenol spicy note of carnation - which adds some edge, and then moving into the heart proper there's the carnation centerpiece, bouqueted with rose, jasmin, ylang ylang, muguet, gardenia and a touch of lilac.* These materials add a great deal of complexity to what would otherwise be a rather straightforward and one dimensional carnation.

Above the heart there is rosewood, which lends a certain body to the aromatic head of lavender isolates and bergamot, and it also gives a smooth oily polished feel to the intro. There's also a fizzy salicylate note running through the whole thing.

Because both the structure and the theme of L'Air du Temps are unremarkable, interest is largely derived from the textures, and above all the sumptuous quality of the natural materials. Early formulations used rose and jasmin absolutes and their scent is simply gorgeous. The ylang ylang was also likely to have been high grade. There was a large dose of rosewood - which is now listed under the CITES convention; the oil is frowned upon and rarely if ever used these days. The base was Mysore sandal - another endangered species and no longer available. Other major components were the natural and expensive musk ambrette (or ambrettolide) and the now banned (but still highly prized) musk ketone. It's easy to appreciate how the formula could smell quite different if these original materials were replaced with low quality substitutes.

Materials were also added in very small quantities to give further complexity to the profile. Green notes, heliotropin, iris, and especially vanillin can be detected, no doubt amongst others which cannot be picked up but still have an influence on the smell. These fiddly bits, which are time consuming and hence expensive to dose - and which don't have much impact on the profile - are among the first materials to be stripped out in any reformulation.

Sadly the current formula of L'Air du Temps cannot, for regulatory as well as other reasons, be the same as it was back in 1948. To appreciate just how good a perfume this is there's no substitute for getting your nose on a good, probably 70's - or preferably earlier - vintage juice.

* Calkin R.R. & Jellinek J.S. Perfumery : Practice and Principles, New York, Wiley-Interscience, 1994

Updated 15th June 2018 at 08:37 PM by Wild Gardener



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