The opening of Diptyque’s L’Autre (1973) is so absurd that it makes me laugh. Almost like watching a hippie missing a front tooth in a tie-dye shirt walk onto the stage on a talent show, it’s quite hilarious – the mean judge immediately frowns and shakes his head, the teenage girls in the audience make an “eww” and the women start whispering to their girl friends’ ears. To me, the opening is so un-perfume like it smells of muscle ache rubbing cream, or may be Tiger Balm (my mom used it many years ago and I vaguely what it smells like.) Some people say it smells like armpit, or a hairy man after a round of boxing, but all I smell is the combination of spices (cardamon, nutmeg, pepper, and caraway seeds) and fresh coriander. It doesn’t smell B.O. to me at all (contrary to Serge Lutens’ Arabie).
The audience calms down and Mr. L’Auture starts singing the Song of Dry Down. The voice is sweet, exotic, a bit mellow, a bit fresh and carries a Thai accent (coriander). It’s quite beautiful but half of the judge panel decides to push the “Not For Me” button. I keep on listening. Suddenly a revelation comes… it resembles a Serge Lutens perfume, only that L’Autre was released much earlier than any SLs. The sweetness of L’Autre reminds me of Fille en Aiguilles (dried fruits/spice/vetiver/pine) except it is not as sweet, and of course, without the pine. I can’t say I love L’Autre 100%, but this is definitely a bottle to keep for show and tell.
Finding an occasion to wear this perfume is tricky; oh I know, I should take a hike.
I’ve observed that there are many kinds of perfume enthusiasts – some focus on new niche releases only, some like to collect vintage perfumes, and some are loyal to only one brand, and of course, those busy hummingbirds that need to sample every flower in the garden or they will die of boredom.
At one point I had focused only on niche perfumes; then I became interested in well-known perfume houses with a prestigous history in perfume making. Take Chanel No. 5 and Shalimar for example, they were created in 1920s. It’s cool and important to know what famous perfumes of the early 20th century smell like, but currently my interest in them is only skin deep.
As I smell more and more perfumes, I have developed some sensibility to tell approximately what decade a particular perfume is from. (Hmm, I should back track… may be not, but most likely I can tell if it is vintage, from the 80s or contemporary. I guess most people can do that too. Waahh wahh.)
Now what’s holding in my hand is a bottle of L’Eau Trois by Diptyque. It was first released in France in 1975. I was a toddler in Hong Kong back then. 1975 is really not that long ago, but I have very little memory of what things were like during the first 10 years of my childhood. Is L’Eau Trois an indicative perfume of the 70s? It makes me think… Christian Dior’s Eau Sauvage was released in 1966. Ralph Polo was released in 1978. In between we have L’Eau Trois, a frankincense perfume that smells like an Orthodox church? If I show you this scent and ask you what decade it’s from, can you guess it correctly? I myself can’t. So here’s my theory…L’Eau Trois is actually a timeless niche perfume from the 70s! (Dramatic lightning.)
L’Eau Trois smells particularly interesting to me because it’s all about frankincense and myrrh. I’ve played with frankincense and myrrh essential oil for aromatherapy, burnt frankincense and myrrh resins on a piece of hot coal – slightly different flavor, I’d compare it to poaching something vs roasting. But wearing a perfume that’s all about these two famous resins is another experience; it makes me feel like I am a hippie or someone very spritual who sells snake oil. (It also has rosemary and spices in it, but that seems almost irrelevant.) A must try, in my opinion.