One year, at Christmas, my father gave my mother a beautiful embroidered dressing gown for her Christmas present. I remember this for two reasons. First, it was the first (and only) time I ever remember my father giving mum something quite so obviously expensive. Second, even at age 12, I knew my mum wasn’t going to like it. A woman of plain and sensible tastes, she has a strong distaste for luxury, so I expected her to murmur her polite thanks and disappear it later under the stairs, which is where all unwanted items in our house went to die.
But she loved it. I’ll never forget the look of sheer pleasure came over her face as she stroked the material – a rich black velvet with an overlying brocade of silver, gold, and vermilion threads all wound up together tightly in an intricate Chinese design. As of the lily hadn’t been gilded enough, there was a huge cream ermine muff around the collar. Either my father had – for the first time in his life – guessed exactly what it was that would make her glow like that, or she had seen it somewhere and requested it. I’ve never asked, but I’m sure it’s the latter.
Every time she wore that dressing gown, it struck me as an act of perversity, somehow. That although lovely, she was working against the natural grain of her taste in wearing something so over the top.
Jean Patou “1000” works against the grain too. What’s the grain these days anyway? Well, the fashion for simple, clear florals that ring out as clear and sweet as a bell, for one. And the muffled, beige tonality of what I think of as the Narciso Rodriguez musk family – all pleasant, all background music.
Wearing something like Jean Patou “1000” is self-consciously anti-trend, deliberately eccentric, like a teenage girl wearing a tweed hunting cape to stand out in the crowd. Or like my mum, every time she put on that ridiculous dressing gown. She looked like a fucking pimp, but…… it did look fabulous.
Legend has it that it took Patou 10 years to make “1000” and a 1,000 attempts before being released, hence the name. The perfumer credited with “1000”, Jean Kerléo, joined Patou in 1968, by which time the perfume had been in development already for 6 years. It must have been a difficult task for Kerléo to pick up on another perfumer’s brief. I also imagine that by that stage, “1000” was the elephant in the room at Patou, with people coming in every now and then to poke the monster and paste something else onto the formula.
Maybe by the time Kerléo got to it, “1000” was just sitting there, a big, bloated sack of expensive ingredients so ludicrously rich and complex that it was impossible to edit for clarity. Maybe the best he could do was give it a coherent beginning, middle, and end – a structure that held it all together. I also kind of like to think that some board member at Patou just said, “F&*k it. Just release the damn thing already.”
“1000” is a dry floral chypre, which doesn’t really tell you anything these days. It boasts whole acreages of roses and jasmine from Grasse, as well as fields’ worth of osmanthus in China that Patou allegedly had to buy in order to secure enough osmanthus for the formula. But far from being the orgasmic cornucopia of flowers you might expect – hot and glowing like the nuclear Ubar, let’s say – the effect here is muted and shady, as if all the flowers cancel each other out leaving only the sense of their richness rising to the surface like oil on water.
The one note that signs clearly, to my nose, is the violet leaf. Fresh and metallic, this shimmers so brightly in the top of the composition that I couldn’t stop thinking about Fahrenheit and Cuir Pleine Fleur. Interspersed with starched-white-shirt aldehydes and a bitter, crushed-herbs effect (trampled artemisia?), the violet leaf opening is striking, and yes, completely out of step with the trends in modern perfumery.
In the heart, an orchestra of expensive flowers – rose, jasmine, powdery iris, osmanthus – raise their voice to the ceiling as one, but the effect remains soft, sottovoce. There is a vague hint of apricots and suede from the osmanthus, dusky soap from the iris, a thrilling flicker of indoles from the jasmine. But not one flower makes a break for it. Chanel No. 5 and Arpege strike me as much the same, a chorus of dark florals and powder and ambery fruits swirled together so that no one note is distinct.
A faint prickle of civet licks around the edges of the florals, spiking the composition with the warm glow of animal, like raw honey or stale saliva from licked skin. The tainted florals now merge with a golden, mossy drydown that features plenty of oakmoss, 70’s style patchouli, labdanum, and Mysore sandalwood. Interestingly, the oakmoss adds depth and shade, but no bitterness – it’s as if the herbal bitters and violet leaf had played enough of that role at the start.
The drydown is textured – creamy, but also earthy, mossy, woody, with enough lingering civet-licked florals for light relief. It’s at this stage I can see the familiar relationship with the far sweeter and more single-minded floral of Joy, as well as with other dry woody chypres such as La Perla. I don’t, however, see the connection to Mitsouko, as so many people seem to.
I can see why people might find this a bit too much. It’s overly complex and it’s hilariously out of step with the times. Every time I wear it, I feel I should come equipped with a map, a pencil, and a Venn diagram just to try and figure out what’s going on. It’s not even me, in particular. But the more I wear it, the more I like it, especially if I stop scrutinizing it and just let its monumental effect wash over me. It’s a question of letting my taste the time to adjust to a new shape, that’s all. Just like I eventually came to like that pimp dressing gown.