This is a beautiful piece of work, and entirely fitting with Claude Marchal’s focus on commissioning perfumes that nod at French classicism without getting bogged down in pastiche. Parfums MDCI La Belle Helene has the feel of an old school fruit chypre but none of the somber tone that characterizes most of the classic examples. It opens with a shimmering pear note that’s realistic without straying into Pear Drop or acetone territory, and sharpened with juicy tangerine. Held aloft by a spackle of fizzing aldehydes, the opening notes smell slightly boozy and metallic, like the feeling you get when you knock back a glass of champagne too quickly. It’s sweet though – you have to be ok with some sweetness to like it. I do, and for me, the sweetness of La Belle Helene falls – just – within acceptable limits.
I love the start, but really, the best is yet to come. The heart notes are comprised of orris butter, plum, myrrh, rose, and osmanthus, which meld to forge a most wonderful vintage lipstick or cosmetic powder smell. It smells absolutely gorgeous – soft, rosy, waxy, and creamy. Literally, like the most expensive and most luxurious body cream you could ever afford, perhaps one of those Chanel ones that come in the white box. The osmanthus, in particular, provides an apricot jam note that is close to edible. What’s even more impressive is that the pear note is still present and detectable in the heart notes, and casts its bright, green fruit aroma over everything. At some point, the iris starts to dominate things a bit, and the perfume takes on a more powdery character.
By the time La Belle Helene reaches its drydown, much of the sweet fruits and florals have been whittled away to reveal a more adult backbone of sandalwood, moss, and patchouli. The landing is soft rather than bitter, and has an inky cocoa feel to it, an effect deliberately created, I am guessing, to suggest the dark chocolate sauce that is poured over the poached pears and whipped cream of the famous dessert this fragrance is named for (Poires Belle Helene). Delicious and elegant – a real gourmand treat in the beginning, and then a chypre in the base.