Image after Caravaggio The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, source unknown.
Perfumer Maurice Roucel.
L de Lolita defined my fear of the gourmand genre. Thick scents of chocolate dessert are coupled with musks and ambers, both of which are known for their fixative properties. Amber ‘fixes’ the gourmand quality of L de Lolita the way concrete shoes ‘set’ in a mafia fable before you’re thrown in the river.
Wearing L de Lolita could well be a Catholic-school lesson on the sin of gluttony and the threats of eternal hell. The anticipation draws you close, the titilation makes you give in, the satisfaction is the pleasure you’ve been denied. Then you continue to eat, unable to control yourself, long past the point of nausea and revulsion. Jaques Guerlain gave a seminar on the line between plenty and excess when he took Shalimar close to crème brulée, but then pulled back. The value of gourmand notes is in the suggestion or the temptation, not in the pudding. L de Lolita demonstrates the lesson by failing it and falling into the more-is-better trap.
So if L de Lolita (2006) is a sin against god, does Musc Ravageur (2000) have a more original sin?
I experienced Roucel’s trio out of sequence. I first smelled Labdanum 18 (2006) in 2007, L de Lolita (2006) in 2008 and Musc Ravageur (2000) in 2015. I hadn’t known that the same perfumer made all three, nor had I known that the two 2006 perfumes were derived from Musc Ravageur. Now I understand who’s who, or better, who’s the flanker.
Musc Ravageur is the template. The other two variations were made by turning up and down the volume of specific notes of the original. Labdanum 18 skips the aromatic topnotes but overdoses the sweet vanilla and powdery musk. Without the loud aromatic topnotes of Musc Ravageur, Labdanum18 feels listless by comparison, yet is famously le Labo’s best seller. If Labdanum was made by subtraction, L de Lolita relies on the addition of chocolate and maple syrup to distinguish itself. The classic vanilla ‘oriental’ is given the chocolate-steroid treatment and the bergamot topnote of Musc Ravageur is twisted into a candied orange. Piling a maple syrup/imortelle/fenugreek note on top of the chocolate makes L de Lolita a Frankenstein-Gourmand and poster-child for the excesses of gourmand perfumery.
L de Lolita is so egregious that having smelled it a number of times seven years ago it tainted my experience of Musc Ravageur. This week (2015) I wore Musc Ravageur for the first time. I wore it three days in a row, haunted by the anticipation of recognition that wouldn’t come. While distracted, the flashback to L de Lolita struck me in the gut and having made the connection, there’s no turning back.
How might I have experienced Musc Ravageur if I hadn’t first been affected by L de Lolita? We all arrive to a perfume with our bags packed, but the recycling of ideas across different lines without marketing the subsequent perfumes as flankers muddies the waters. Maybe I’ve been damaged by the Lolita perfume association and have made the jump to Nabokov’s Lolita. With its effusive barbershop masculine reference and smarmy musky-amber sweetness Musc Ravageur reads like the perfume a stereotypical dirty old man would wear.
(Please don’t take my ‘kitchen sink’ quibble with Musc Ravaguer as a blanket criticism. I’m all for excess in perfumery generally and in Roucel’s work specifically. He’s used it to great success in Guerlain Insolence, Hermès 24, Faubourg, Missoni by Missoni and Gucci Envy.)