Carmen is one of the most performed operas in modern times.
You make a collection like the Opera Collection by Histoires de Parfums, and dedicate a perfume to the femme fatale, I have to look at it from the perspective of characterisation. And I will.
The beginning is dazzling; a stage entrance. The citrus is radiant and the ginger has real bite. Little by little the luminous saffron adds to the overall feeling of stage lights so bold they would be worthy of only Carmen herself. But from here on I lose the thread of the compositional inspiration.
The white flowers could have been beguiling and alluring, the mix of sandalwood a husky come-hither, and the wooden back drop with patch and incense the low register of the mezzo singing, tough and raspy. It is none of all that.
To me the main actors are a gorgeous smooth sandalwood and that luminous saffron note which turns soft and milky after the initial blaze, and perhaps even remind me a bit of tea. The white flowers cuddle up to the sandalwood and become all doe eyed, rather than femme fatalesque. The woods and patchouli gives off a tiny bit of earthiness, but still it’s more a picnic in the park sort (the sandalwood and saffron still at large) than gipsies and smugglers caves. The very dry-down is a gauzy honeyed amber, rendering the whole composition yellow from lemo cadmium ending in gold umbra.
Now, I actually think it’s fantastic that 1875- Carmen by Gerald Ghislain is not a truism. It’s not showing up wearing a black curled wig, red rose in hair and a dotted black flamenco dress with cleavage down to the toes smelling of tobacco and sex. Maybe I’m weird like that, but I’m weary of that old-fashioned interpretation of Carmen both on stage and in anyone looking to explore Carmen through other media*. But what I don’t quite get is exactly what this is supposed to signal. She might also be (according to Carmen-the perfume) vulnerable, charming, full of light and energy, but I would actually call both heart and dry down cosy. And I must admit I never saw that coming; a cosy Carmen?
Don’t get me wrong I like Carmen- the fragrance a lot; it’s a beautiful, warming, cosy, bright yellow perfume in the style of classic french perfumery that I would happily wear during all the cold months to come. I love saffron, and this rendition is different from the other saffron fragrances out there. The closest comparisons would be the Dries van Noten/ Malle which is way more unashamedly cuddly, double cream all fluffed up, and I’d say Santal Carmin is also both a bit cuddlier and has a more contemporary feel. It is with superb skill that GG has blended the saffron from the headstrong opening scene with the ginger and artemisia into the mix of sandalwood-softness of the second act. Bravo.
But, and there is a but, from the man who created Tubereuse 1-3, Edition rare (Petroleum, Ambrarem), 1740 Marquis de sade, 1889 Moulin Rouge etc. I did expect a gutsier Carmen. To a certain extend I do get that you can’t sell extremely daring fragrances at this price**; they have to please so the people with the real cash can buy. And that said, I can’t help but feel that the real ‘Carmen’ perfume was already created, and by no other than Gerald Ghislain himself. It’s called Tuberose Animale, and it’s not a cliché; it’s bloody grrrreat!
*No other opera has so consistently been denied a modernisation in terms of directing and interpretation. Stubbornly, directors again and again want the same dark curled man-eater coming out of the 1870s tobacco factory, and the same Michaela (José’s fiancé) to wear a blond wig, with Heidi- braids and a lavender coloured dress. Like with everything else, if there’s no surprise ever, then why go at all, why not just put on the cd? (Rant over)
** Yes, the price is joining in the recent Roja-trend, it’s a whopping 360€ for a bottle of 60ml. I’m not going into that debate just now, but I heard someone mentioning that this sort of price had become criteria to get your perfumes into the new uber-exclusive perfume departments at the most high-end department stores…
Disclaimer I bought the samples.