August 14th, 2007
By Donna Hathaway
When Inès Marie Laetitia Eglantine Isabelle de Seignard de la Fressange, known to us mere mortals as simply Inès de la Fressange, burst onto the European fashion scene in the mid-to-late 1970s, she was noticed right away, and within a few short years she was famous just about everywhere as the face of Chanel and the style muse of Karl Lagerfeld. Her face was on every high fashion magazine, and she was quite the runway diva as well. Lanky yet elegant, she seemed more like a “real” woman to me than most of the supermodels of the day – for one thing she was not a blonde and never became one, and I admired her for that – we brunettes have to stick together, because we know we are stunning just the way we are in a world that worships blondes, whether they are real, manufactured or imagined. I say “we” with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, as she was just about everything I am not; chic, fashionable, tall, gorgeous, graceful, and the list goes on. I had quite the girl-crush on her for years, as we were close in age and she had a sparkling intelligence about her that shone through all the glamour and glitter of her profession. I just wanted to be her more than any famous person since Sophia Loren. (You can’t say I don’t aim high!) I was somewhat disappointed that she also became the face for Chanel’s Coco fragrance, as I never did care for it all that much – it’s nice but nothing very special to my nose, and just not my style at all. However, I always enjoyed seeing her in the ads for it.
In 1989 Inès and Karl Lagerfeld had a falling-out and she left Chanel. This was at least in part because she was chosen to pose as the next “Marianne,” the iconic female symbol of France; it is reported that Karl did not want her to do it. This symbolic title has been accorded to a number of beautiful French women including Catherine Deneuve, so it was quite an honor. She did not model much more after that, and soon started her own company, designing luxury goods and home items such as bedding, and was considered to be a very astute businesswoman. She also designed her own clothing line, and I bemoaned the fact that I would never be able to afford or even wear her designs. They reflected her unerring sense of style, sleek and elegant. In 1990 she married Italian businessman Luigi d’Ursi, who also happened to make regular appearances on the International Best-Dressed List, and they later had two daughters. (He tragically died, suddenly and unexpectedly, in 2006.) I have followed her career as much as I can, considering that she is no longer a recognizable celebrity in America for the younger generations, though she still gets plenty of press in France.
A couple of years ago I discovered that I could fit into one of her creations after all – she had released a fragrance! More than one, as it turned out; the eponymous one available today is from 1999; there was another one in 2004 called simply “Inès” that seems to have disappeared, and I have been unable to learn much of anything about it. Online perfume merchants sometimes show both bottle styles, but the description of the fragrance is virtually always for the 1999 perfume’s notes. The latter one sounds even better from the description on OsMoz.com (it has peony in it, which is her favorite flower, and was created by Alberto Morillas), so I hope I find it someday. As a matter of fact, the site I got mine from had a picture of the wrong bottle, so obviously there is confusion all around. Anyway, I stumbled over it on an online discount site, and after seeing the description I thought it sounded very promising. I do not like to buy perfume unsniffed, but I figured hey, we’re talking about Inès here, she would never put her name on something cheap and trashy, right? So after some deliberation I ordered the smaller 50 ml bottle of the Eau de Parfum of Inès de la Fressange.
When it arrived I was immediately struck by the quality of the simple packaging and the spare elegance of the heavy frosted bottle. Eagerly I opened it, and took a sniff – wonderful! It was fresh and lovely, with notes of bergamot, aldehydes, and peach to start with, followed by rosewood, ylang-ylang, carnation, and lily of the valley, and eventually drying down to a light sandalwood, accompanied by tonka bean, civet, and benzoin. There is quote a lot of rose in it, as a matter of fact, but it’s a cool, understated rose, ethereal, soft and pastoral, like the wild Eglantine rose in Inès’ long list of middle names. The resulting juice cannot be said to be a “rose perfume” by any means. There is a bit of sparkling sharpness from the carnation that keeps it lively. There is not a whole lot of complexity going on, which is fine in this case, and once the heart notes make their appearance it stays much the same. I am a benzoin fan, and the civet is also welcome, making for a relatively long-lasting composition for its type. I am a peach fan as well, when it’s done right. Those who fear fruity-floral perfumes will not find the usual sugary mess that quickly turns into a wan, watery clone that smells like everything else – this is a quality fragrance. It cannot be called great or masterful, but it is very pleasing indeed.
It is only made in an eau de parfum, which is fine, since an eau de toilette of this formulation would probably be quite fleeting, but I like it enough to wish there were a parfum or even a perfumed body cream in the line. I am unable to determine for sure if it still in production, as I only see it at discount outlets, but some perfumes hang around for years once they leave the department store displays, so that does not necessarily mean it’s gone for good. Just in case, I bought the 100 ml bottle the last time. It has become one of my default hot weather fragrances, jostling for position with my other standby, Mariella Burani’s Amuleti, as it is always fresh and never intrusive, standing up to heat and humidity like a diva under the lights, which is only fitting. Her namesake should be very proud.
As a matter of curiosity, I would like to know if anyone out there has tried the other one, from 2004, just called Inès, and recalls where they it was obtained – it comes in a gold and crystal bottle overlaid with an oak leaf pattern on the glass, and has notes of bergamot, neroli, mandarin, rose, peony, iris, patchouli and musk, among other things. I have seen pictures of the bottle in a few places, but not nearly so many as for the one I have. Basenotes.net has it listed, but not the earlier one, which I found odd since they have some very obscure stuff in their database. Also, there is another discrepancy; Basenotes says that black currant is the fruit note in the opening, while OsMoz.com says it’s blackberry. I have no idea which one is correct, but since I love them both it matters not to me. I am starting to wonder if it another phantom perfume, but I would like to try it someday if it still exists. Perhaps there is a story behind its elusiveness. I just have the funny feeling that if I take the plunge and order it, I may just receive another bottle of the one I have and I will have to start over. But if it’s anywhere near as good as its predecessor, I will need a bottle of it in my life someday.
Image source: imaginationperfumery.com, divasthesite.com
Entry Filed under: Uncategorized