I can’t decide if Heaven Can Wait by Jean-Claude Ellena for Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle is really that good or if I am just happy to get some relief from the heady amber, booze, and tobacco molecules that thicken the air on the high street at Christmas.
The juxtaposition between cold, rooty iris and warm clove is charming. Its texture? Also a delight. Despite a notes list that promises a battering ram, Heaven Can Wait has all the heft of a lace handkerchief. Initially, it reminds me of the delicate, gripe-water musks of L’Eau d’Hiver and the thin, hawthorn-ish suede of Cuir d’Ange, with a faint brush of Superstitious‘ green-copper acid over top. The plum is more plum skin (umami, bitter) than fruit and the magnolia doesn’t add any of its usual honeyed lemon cream. More Parisian greige than Dior’s Gris Dior itself, this is weightless elegance at its best.
But elegance alone is not enough to sell me. I have plenty of elegant perfumes, including Cuir d’Ange, Chanel No. 18, Iris Silver Mist, and a dab of Poivre extrait, all of which are references I would call upon to describe this scent. What makes Heaven Can Wait special is its weirdness, which you only catch glimpses of as it rounds the corner on the drydown.
It is down there that something extremely dry and gippy ‘catches’ at the corners of the scent, threatening to unspool the thin silk. The freshly-poured cement aspect of cashmeran, perhaps, or the raw, parnsippy character of the orris lingering long after the topnotes have burned off. The earthiness of the carrot seed is a contributing factor, for sure. But I suspect that there is also a fair amount of (unlisted) benzoin here, as this is a material that smells – to me at least – like the doughy-but-dusty aroma of potato flour just as you begin to add water to it.
To be less arcane, Heaven Can Wait kind of ends up smelling like the art room at your old secondary school, the air thick with the smell of pigments ready to be mixed into white paint, paste glue, plaster of Paris, and so on. An alluringly odd mix of the organic and inorganic, chemical and vegetable. I’ve seen the stupid ‘sexy’ advertizing images that were released with the perfume but I think the brand missed a trick by not leaning into its whole ‘Parisian high society lady slumming it in art school’ vibe.
Even the clove note is a quirky. Unsniffed, you might expect it to smell ‘red hot’ and sweaty-metallic like Eau Lente or the original Comme des Garcons EDP, or alternatively, like the frothy, frilly carnation accord from Caron’s Bellodgia. However, the clove in Heaven Can Wait is unmistakably that of an old-fashioned clove rock. Now, I think this is funny – borderline adorable – though others might not, given the almost $300+ price tag. But if you think about it, it is this clove rock note, mixed with the scent of art room pigments, that serves to keep the perfume feeling clean and modern, rather than ‘retro’. And this is a a good thing. After all, if we want perfumes like this to find a younger audience who might otherwise be looking at something like Angel’s Share, a clove that is candied rather than sweaty or Miss Havisham-ish is probably the right move.
Source of sample: A SA at House of Fraser, Belfast, was kind enough to give me a carded sample after she saw me empty half a bottle onto myself.