Christian Dior Eau Sauvage Parfum: scent as memory

Eau Sauvage Parfum

When I first read news of an upcoming Eau Sauvage Parfum release a few years ago I felt childishly excited. Eau Sauvage in its original form is one of the few cologne type fragrances that I call ‘perfume’. Citrus, vetiver and an elusive floral heart makes it an addictive and seductive scent that does not immediately excite but slowly creeps in to nest on my skin and senses. It has an immediate feel-good effect, smells clean and brisk but never surrenders and manages to unfold, delicately but intricately. Nothing big or bold or deliberately intense. But still is so complete and fulfilling. The idea of concentrating its essence in a parfum variant was truly exciting. I had to wait for months before I could sample this. And it was a weird moment. Have you ever had one of these totally formed preconceived notions about what an upcoming release would smell like and then when you sprayed it for the first time you would have to check again that you had picked up the right bottle? That was my first impression with Eau Sauvage Parfum. It was in the duty free shop at the Athens International Airport and during one of my super secret flights to Geneva for my job interviews. Very few people knew about it as I didn’t want people at work to know before I had some positive signs and I didn’t want to let my parents know before there was real reason for them to worry that I could be moving away from them. I would hop in on a plane, off to seek adventure for 24 hours full of intensity and then fly back, pretending nothing important had actually happened. I was living the moments through a gauze of stress but I can now admit to myself that I was getting a perverse thrill out of having to do things in this particular way.

There I was, spraying Eau Sauvage Parfum nervously on my wrist, looking for that electrifying, freeing sensation that I get from the 1966 Edmond Rudnitska original ‘Wild Water’. And then disbelief…. A quick glance at the bottle to confirm that I had picked up the right one… A whiff of my wrist… A look at the bottle…. I had been conned…. Where is my Wild Water? Why are you naming this Eau Sauvage? With great disappointment I hopped on the plane that would be taking me to Geneva. During my flight I tried to identify similarities with Eau Sauvage in vain. I forgot all about my failing discovery but hours later, in a hotel room I got a whiff of something that was bright, green revitalizing and oddly reminiscent of the original Eau Sauvage. This mist was coming from me, from my wrist. The closer I approached my pulse point the less evident the similarities. But from a distance the Wild Water cloud was there.

The opening of Eau Sauvage Parfum is the antithesis of Eau Sauvage. Bright citrus is replaced by what is commonly referred to in perfume reviews as ‘succulent bergamot’. This succulence however is undermined by a sweet and bitter, thick and velvety combination of myrrh, sandalwood and possibly wormwood or a very light-handed dose of licorice. This opening accord is somewhat unsettling. It is very intense and a very obvious battle between sweet and bitter takes place here. And it is not green! If you are not familiar with the original Eau Sauvage, please take my word for it, it is all about freshness and green energy. So nothing seems to be connecting those two scents at this point. After about an hour vetiver emerges through the black velvet curtains of the opening but this doesn’t change much my initial comparison. Vetiver can be played as a trump or as a wild card and towards the middle of the development it appears to be just that: a note anchoring the scent towards more familiar ground, just being there to help, not defining the course of the game but playing along with the other confusing notes. At this point I realize that what I am smelling is vaguely spicy in an antiquated sort of way. The kind of peppery spiciness that comes with old style sandalwood masculine scents. It takes several hours and a great deal of surrender for Eau Sauvage Parfum to actually reflect an image of the original Eau Sauvage. Gleaming greenness cuts through the sugary low-key humming composition to evoke the exact same greenness of the 1966 original.

alain delon eau sauvageEau Sauvage Parfum will probably disappoint Rudnitska fans as it disappointed me when I compared it to Eau Sauvage. But Eau Sauvage Parfum is a very intelligent and evocative composition. François Denachy created a tribute to the original, not a reinterpretation or a reworking. Being a tribute of one master to another, it carries a lot of personal luggage and leaves room for interpretation. Rudnitska’s Eau Sauvage and its sibling Diorella always stand as examples of perfumes that offer a clean, straightforward pleasing accord coupled with a seemingly discordant note that is seamlessly incorporated into the fragrance to create perfumes that  should be simple but aren’t. In my interpretation of Denachy’s approach, I find the discordance being set center-stage and agonizingly incorporated into a more minimalist accord deep, in the drydown.  Original Eau Sauvage carries 60′s references and promises of a carefree life. It is inextricably associated with images created by the legendary René Gruau, whose talent served as a hallmark for an entire era of fashion and particularly for the house of Dior. These images conveyed the idea of an effortlessly sophisticated freedom.  Fifty years later the perspective of fashion has changed radically and the promises of freedom have proved to be short lived albeit inspiring. Freedom is not as essential as security is these days. And security comes through power. The 21st century’s wild water brings a promise of power and introversion. It is more about knowledge than it is about dare. The choice if using a photo of Alain Delon in his most stunning youth for the promotional campaign of Eau Sauvage Parfum was a choice that I initially perceived as strange to say the say the least. To my knowledge this is the first time an image of an actor in his youth is used to promote a perfume while the person is still alive. The original image on the left was used, after a photosurgical excision of the cigarette from the hand of the actor. All this cannot but remind me the necrophiliac Dior film promoting J’adore with the use of digital resurrections of a bunch of dead Hollywood goddesses. In this light, Eau Sauvage Parfum is more of a commentary than a tribute. It will not excite but it will puzzle. There is no room for wildness in the 21st century Dior but wildness is revered.

Notes from Parfumo: Myrrh, Bergamot, Vetiver

Eau Sauvage Parfum notes

Notes from my nose: Bergamot, Myrrh, Licorice, Vetiver 

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About Christos

Scientifically minded but obsessed with the subjective aspect of things. Photos copyright of MemoryOfScent, with special thanks to Pantelis Makkas http://pantelismakkas.blogspot.com/. You are welcome to link to my blog but you are definitely not allowed to copy text or use the photos without my permission. All text and main photos are originals and property of MemoryOfScent All perfumes are from my collection unless stated otherwise.

7 comments

  1. Very interesting. And truly beautiful images. I used to love Eau Sauvage myself, but haven’t yet smelled this parfum.

  2. Several years ago, I received an email from a young man from Australia who spoke in such compelling tones of Eau Sauvage – he said something about it being the perfect scent for Don Draper of Mad Men and yet it was also perfect for this beautiful and fiercely confident Brazilian woman he had dated (I hope I’m remembering the details correctly, but I think it was Eau Sauvage she wore). His reverence for it made me want to sample it, but I never got around to it for all of the usual reasons and distractions But now, hearing it mentioned in a story by you … once more it makes me think that I should seek out the original. I like how you compare the two, saying that the parfum version is a thougthful tribute to its namesake, not a reworking of it.

    What stirred me in your essay: thinking about you making those super secret trips to Switzerland while you were sniffing the parfum and thinking about the original version. The way you coupled that experience of living under “the gauze of stress” – and the unexpected thrill of it – to the wildness factor of Eau Sauvage read both true and brilliantly for me. And then your concluding thoughts about freedom being not as important as security these days (and how that’s reflected in the new parfum version) – well, what can I say: I think you tapped into the nature of perfume, past and present, and the nature of our world, past and present, as well. Beautifully done, Christos.

  3. What’s interesting to me about this version of Eau Sauvage is that it smells to me a lot like Shalimar, and in that way it helped me understand (or at least feel that I understand) a certain “ground” in perfume where something can be intensely feminine and intensely masculine at the same time, if that makes sense. Definitely an interesting one, and from a purely superficial point of view, I think the leather band was a smart bottle design choice.

    • I can understand what you mean about Eau Sauvage Parfum being masculine and feminine at the same time. It’s sweetness, especially at the opening, seems a bit out of context in a masculine scent, while it’s bitter, medicinal myrrh keeps it relevant as a masculine. The leather band and juice color is very nice but I find the choice of the magnetic cap a bit gratuitous: there is nothing on the cap design to suggest the need for proper orientation in relationship to the bottle

  4. Oops! P.S. Great review. :) I just dove right in with my thoughts – sorry about that!

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