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