One of my first perfume memories ever was Jacomo Eau Cendrée (which translates to a mysterious Ash Water). I couldn’t have been older than six and yet I remember my uncle having a bottle of this. And what a bottle it was! Imagine this: mid 70’s, what did the perfume bottles look back then? Like bottles… And here it was, this perfect cube, red and black, no logo, just a name and dots. This bottle was designed by the pope of modern bottle design, Pierre Dinand, He has designed almost every bottle that has become memorable, from Eau Sauvage and Calandre (the first time plastic was made to look like metal in a bottle) to Obsession (inspired by the inside of a broken golf ball) and Amouage Ubar. After finding out about his work I realised that it was only natural that my impressionable mind was fixed by this bottle.
And the scent itself etched a lingering memory of warm, earthy smells to my mind. This was a classic 70’s smell, woody, spicy, deep, almost ceremonial. Once my fragrant vice was manifested the memory of Eau Cendrée was awakened. The warm, dark blanket of its fumes came back to me, vague, the kind of memory that the more you try to focus on the more detail you loose. I tried to find a bottle to relive my childhood but while Eau Cendrée is completely forgotten in Europe (as well as its female counterpart, Chicane with a similar black and silver bottle) prices for an old bottle of in the US are more than$100, a price I would never pay for a vintage bottle almost as old as me. I waited for years and the rare bottle appeared on British eBay The starting price was ridiculous, 5 pounds I think, but the seller would not ship to Greece. Time was running short and I contacted her. She was willing to send the bottle to Greece but I wasn’t allowed to place a bid. After agonizing for hours I found a way to bypass the problem and I got the bottle for 50 pounds. The seller, who had found the bottle among a relative’s things, was completely unaware of what this bottle could mean to a perfume aficionado and could not believe her eyes as the bids started rising. She even sent it to me without charging for shipping. The moment I got my bottle was really very special. With the first sniff the mists of time that were blocking my memory were lifted and the darkness of Eau Cendrée shone once more, clear and beautiful. It seems that the perfume gods were on my side because only a few months later doing a Google search I found a Spanish site were someone was selling three 50ml bottles (the simpler, cylindrical ones) for a total of 28 euro. It was time to be thankful for Europe forgetting all about Eau Cendrée. When the package arrived the kind seller had thrown in a fourth, just to thank me. I believe that the warn out boxes made him think that I would be displeased. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure I guess.
So what are my memories made of and how are they holding up after 40 years? I don’t know when exactly Eau Cendrée was discontinued but I don’t think it made it into the 80’s. My vintage bottles are missing their topnotes but it’s all the better for me! Straight out of the bottle there is a pissy musk that has been amplified by time and I love it. It’s a note straight from the past mixed with what is left from the bergamot that used to herald the opening when the perfume was still young. Some neroli is also there but this opening accord quickly starts singing a very different tune. Within a few minutes I get the earthy moss that will stay on skin till the end. The comforting smell of a cave or a basement, the smell of earth after the rain. As the musk starts to incorporate with the rest of the notes an entire forest springs into life. I get mostly cypress and oak with a deep green foliage over them. Woody and slightly resinous the heart of the perfume creates the feeling of a walk in a dark forest, in a place where only pin sized sun rays can reach. Between the tall, proud trees twigs of lavender magically appear. The lavender is so beautifully blended in this one that although it is obviously present, it never becomes the centre of attention. It is as if the purple flowers are covered in brown and green particles, exuding their fragrance through a vale of dark, wild nature. Geranium adds sweetness and herbal warmth. Later in the drydown the woody side takes over but all the elements that have taken you there are still present. At this stage Eau Cendrée smells like a heavy drawer where a gentleman keeps all his precious belongings: scents, leather belts, silk scarves. The undercurrent of earthy moss is the spine of the composition. It keeps everything smelling real, down to earth, rich. If I had to compare it with any other perfume only one other scent comes close in terms of richness and darkness: Chanel Antaeus. They do not smell the same, Antaeus is more urban and leathery, Eau Cendrée smells more like a walk in the woods and the leathery hints are more subdued. But they share a similar mat, velvety texture that I enjoy in fragrances and is not easily found in recent releases.
Smelling Eau Cendrée almost forty years after my first casual and undocumented encounter was devastatingly beautiful. Not only because I realised that classic smells manage to reconnect us with our emotions and are more open to interpretation but also because I discovered that even the deepest memories from my childhood can stay accurate even if they are difficult to pin down and describe. Although the memory was vague, smelling Eau Cendrée on my skin helped clear the mist and suddenly all the gaps were filled. Eau Cendrée was with me all the way and it probably shaped a good part of how I smell.
With this I celebrate my 100th post. It has been a wonderful experience and I would like to thank all of you are travelling with me. My fellow perfumistas who have been so generous with their gifts, Pantelis Makkas who has created visual analogues for my olfactory images and most of all the readers who have been following my meandering thoughts. A special thank you to all the Greek readers who are more than I ever expected. To celebrate my 100th post I choose randomly one of the commenter.The lucky draw winner will get to ask for 7 (for good luck) samples from any of the full bottles that I have reviewed or from any of the bottles in my collection. Enter till Sunday midnight.
Thank you so much!
Notes from Parfyym.pri.ee: bergamot, coriander, lavender, lemon, tarragon, orris root, geranium, cyclamen, nutmeg, sage, cinnamon, carnation, vetiver, tonka bean, sandalwood, patchouli, musk, moss, labdanum
Notes from my nose: musk, bergamot, geranium, cypress, cedar, lavender, vetiver, moss
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Christos, I am so happy that you were able to find a long-lost love! Please don’t add me to the draw (as you have been soooo generous to me already), and congratulations on your 100th post!!!! xox
Thank you for your wishes Carol.
First loves dye hard and it’s nice to see that you can keep them alive 🙂
Sounds absolutely fabulous. I just adore those early 1970 fragrances, so rich earthy and almost…dirty, in a way.
I love them too! The warmth of the ingredients used then is incomparable.
a wonderful story to celebrate your 100th post- I’m so glad you could find “l’eau cendree” and you weren’t dissapointed
here’s to many more posts… they’re a joy for us, your readers
Thank you Irina! I hope I keep you coming back for many posts to come
Congratulations on your 100th post! 🙂
I admit I never heard of this perfume until now (which isn’t surprising after reading your post) but I also managed to never hear about Pierre Dinand. The longer my love of perfumes lasts, the more I appreciate the beauty of bottles some of them come in.
Thank you Ines!
Jacomo is kind of a strange label. Very big in the 70’s, leather goods and clothing label. Nowadays I think only the perfume division stands. Still they have produced some very good stuff. I am still looking for a bottle of Chicane on the right price. It is supposed to be a floral aldehydic leather. A few years ago the Jacomo Art line was released and they were all good I think. Despite good reviews their prices plummeted and they can be found very cheap. All the better for us!
Congratulations to you, sweet Christos, on your 100th post and on finding this bottle of perfume that left its mark on you so long ago (and discovering that you are all the more under its enchantment today). No need to include me in the draw; just wanted to let you know I enjoyed reading this.
Thank you Suzanne. I feel like a child again when I war it and at the same time I feel ancient as the smell is so old fashioned and gentleman-like
Congratulations on your 100th post! Glad to read you found an almost lost scent memory. I had the same when I came across a vintage bottle of Signoricci in a charity shop three years ago. It was my first solo purchase when I was seventeen. I have a bottle of the re formulated brew which is not as rich, for want of better words. Alas, I have used all the good stuff, but as you say, there is always EBay !
Thank you Stephen! It is always so good to get reunited with these old scents.
Thank you all for your wishes. Irina was randomly picked from this short draw! Congratulations Irina. Prepare your wishlist and let me know.
I’m behind … everything but I still wanted to congratulate you on the 100th post.
It’s so great that you were able to find the perfume from your past (I know exactly how that hunt feels)
Thank you so much Undina! For all of us perfume lovers a scent from the past IS the scent of the past.
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I love this fragrance too. Have four bottles and, wait for a it, one Cube ! Keep them in the safe. That’s how precious they are. Discoverd this fragrance when I was 18. Always takes me back. The girls used to love It !
I have a 1oz cube and I recently got a Chamade cube to keep it company. I love these bottles
My boyfriend at the time (1976) used to wear this, and, of course, I borrowed it on occasion. Loved, loved, loved it. Will be looking for a vintage.
I have seen a couple of cylindrical bottles going round at reasonable prices