I know reading this you may think I am going crazy, but summer in Geneva is so much better than summer in Athens! Please bear with me, I am not saying that one should book a holiday for the Geneva beach (it exists! It’s by the lake). I am only saying that if you have to spend summer in a city, going to work and doing all the things that that you absolutely have to do and none of the things you love doing, this city better be the cool, volatile Geneva, Switzerland than the sizzling hot, crazy buzzing Athens, Greece. Summer in Geneva is the equivalent of Athens’s spring. Only spring in Athens is gone in the blink of an eye, squeezed between the mildest of winters and the balmy summer, just a couple of precious weeks during which the scent of blooming bitter orange trees can drive one crazy. Summer in Geneva is a wild-card. It lasts several months and it keeps you on your toes. Hot mornings sheltered by glorious blue skies and silver-lined clouds, grey afternoons, thundery nights shuffled by a mad man like a deck of cards. The heat incubates, the rain ferments, bushes in the parks go crazy, birds scream for attention and flowers pop up all the time like exhibitionists. The tiniest flowers have the strongest smells and grass keeps growing and dying everywhere, filling the air with the entire spectrum of vegetal smells. Sometimes green and acerbic and sometimes decayed and earthy, the backbone of Geneva’s perfume in the summer is a chypre.
The other day I was walking in the street near the old city centre and I was hit with this green chypre scent that I knew very well, only this time it didn’t come from a bottle, but from one of the rarest finds in Geneva, an unexploited plot of land in the middle of the city. Not a park but just a piece of land, iron fenced from the city life and going wild with all kinds of weeds and wild flowers. A stretch of land I had passed by many times before but never noticed. This time it grabbed me by the nose with the oozing scent of the circle of life. And it smelled exactly like Perle de Mousse. I bought my bottle in a different, more enchanting city, Barcelona, from one of the most beautiful perfume shops I have ever seen and in one of my all time best perfume shopping experiences, in La Basilica Galeria. Just walking in this place alerts all your senses and makes you feel like Alice trapped in a voluntary Wonderland, begging to try everything and the friendly service will just make it even easier to wander around and take the plunge. I left the shop reluctantly and only after having reached my imaginary spending quota for the day, with a bottle of Ann Gérard Perle de Mousse and a bottle of Juniper Ridge Big Sur.
Perle de Mousse is not a perfume I wear very often because it is not that versatile but I fell in love with it on the spot because green chypres make my knees weak. All four Ann Gérard releases were signed by Bertrand Duchaufourd but this one is the least Duchaufourd-esque. No incense-y, metallic notes here. Greenness is served up right in the opening, with a slight acidity that slowly morphs into the tart smell of lily-of-the-valley. Here however the smell of the flower is the real thing, green, wet and fruity, not the perfume-y version we usually get. Somehow the floral element does not dominate because it is smothered in earthy, muddy undergrowth notes and an almost milky texture. I don’t know if it is just good marketing, but I got immediately the pearly texture that the name implies, this mysterious hybrid of softness and coldness. And although I cannot say that I smell oak moss (Perle de Mousse translates from French as “Moss Pearl”) this composition links directly to the green chypre family and most notably to Estée Lauder Alliage. Poor old Alliage was a wonderful fragrance and has suffered through reformulations. If one wants to get an idea of the earlier versions, they can try Aramis Devin which is actually its masculine more gentrified version. Vintage Alliage had the same basic structure but was even greener and smelled like outdoors sex. The current version suffers from a harsh opening but given time it mellows and develops the same qualities as Perle de Mousse: greenness, earthiness and lusciousness. I don’t subscribe to arbitrarily assigning art terminology to perfume but comparing these two scents I find architectural terms very appropriate: If Alliage is the brutalist version of the seminal idea, Perle de Mousse is the postmodern rendition of it, full of references and ornaments. I find perfume to be more closely related to architecture than to painting, because it needs space and time to unfold, and some kind of immersion. Unlike paintings, buildings and perfumes offer an encapsulating experience. One needs to at least walk through them if not live in them to appreciate them. Which makes them all the more difficult to review.
Perle de Mousse tries to make green fragrances relevant for the mass audience once again. They have always been my favourite family but I have recently accepted the fact that “green” in any perfume description has the effect of a four-letter-word: it is immediately followed by apologetic reassurances. “Yes, it is green BUT in such a novel way!”. Green has become the new chypre and everybody is smelling their grandmothers in it. Of course this has never been a problem for me and I am happy to see Ann Gérrard and Bertrand Duchaufourd revisiting the genre and growing the family.
Trivial information of the day: mastic resin, lentisk and pink pepper are all cousins, botanically speaking. Mastic and lentisk are closely related. Pink pepper is the fruit of lentisk and has nothing to do with all other kinds of pepper. It just looks like it and has a tangy, peppery smell. Lentisk resin smells green and terpenic, like crushing pink pepper corns between your fingers. Mastic resin is bitter and slightly incense-y.
Notes from Parfumo: Aldehydes, Pink pepper, Bergamot, Mandarin, Galbanum, Ivy, Lily-of-the-valley, Hawthorn, Bulgarian rose, Clove, Jasmine, Gardenia, Mastic resin, Ambergris, Musk, Vanilla
Notes from my nose: Lily-of-the-valley, Lentisk, Galbanum, Oak Moss, Milk, Musk, Mud