In a theoretical Venn diagram of fashion labels, there is little aesthetic overlap between Rick Owens and Lanvin. But it seems they share an olfactory connection.
As I browsed through the austere offerings at the Owens shop in Paris recently, I had, shall we say, a déjà-sent. Surely, this was not the same enchanting scent I smelled in the Lanvin men's boutique hours earlier?
Mais bien sur! As it turns out, both stores were burning the Baies candle from Diptyque, the cherished Left Bank fragrance line.
Baies is the unofficial ambience scent of soigné Paris. Its name may translate as "berries," but the scent itself is far from fruity lip gloss. Rather, it is a sophisticated marriage of blackcurrant leaves and Bulgarian rose.
Diptyque's regional sales manager Eduardo Valadez confirms that Baies, first introduced in 1983, is one of the line's "cult classics."
He notes that even men respond favourably to the scent, despite its floral overtones. "The scent is not offensive if you have a guest," he said on a recent trip to Toronto from New York. "It just has such a beautiful, clean quality."
I would also add refined and romantic – similar to how many nouveau romantics perceive the City of Paris itself.
New York-based designer Peter Som (a favourite of Michelle Obama's) not only burns the Baies scent, but famously also uses the candle's empty glass container to store his coloured pencils.
My first encounter with Baies dates back five or six years, when I visited the Toronto home of Marlo Szellos, a personal shopper at Holt Renfrew's Bloor Street flagship in Toronto. Immediately upon entering, I couldn't fully appreciate her chic contemporary décor because I was so captivated by a certain fresh, sensual scent.
Szellos lived in Paris for 13 years, which is how she discovered Diptyque and also came to love Baies (available at Holt Renfrew and Amazon.com, $34-$66). "The scent is incredibly trendy but timeless," she told me recently when I asked her to speculate on its enduring appeal. "It has so many notes but it doesn't read as floral or woody or fruit; it's just a unique combination."
Diptyque also offers personal fragrances and among the 15 eaux de toilette is L'Ombre dans L'Eau, an interpretation of Baies. Bergamot and mandarin add a crisp, sheer layer to the rose and blackcurrant leaf and the result is rivalled only by the poetry of the fragrance's name, Shadow in the Water.
Mosha Lundstrom Halbert, associate editor of fashion news at Flare magazine, always smells exquisite. So I wasn't surprised when she revealed to me that she wears L'Ombre dans L'Eau. She also burns Diptyque candles, including Baies, but had no idea they were variations of the same scent.
"I like perfumes that smell like a very specific time and place," she explained. "Whenever I wear (or burn) the Diptyque scents, I am transported to my time abroad."
Lundstrom Halbert spent six months in France but discovered L'Ombre dans L'Eau on a trip to London last year. She notes that scent plays a much more important role in experiencing spaces – public and private – across the pond than here in North America. "Stores smell so much better in Europe. And homes! … [good fragrance]is as important as making the bed."
Incidentally, to celebrate Diptyque's 50th anniversary this year, the brand has just debuted a new signature range, 34 Boulevard Saint Germain, named after the Left Bank address it has occupied for a half-century. The scent represents a collaboration between Myriam Badault, Diptyque's director of development, perfumer Olivier Pescheux and Roman Kaiser who is humorously known as a "fragrance thief." Basically, they sought to capture the essence of the actual store, itself a potpourri of fragrances combined with the aged wood fixtures, kilim rugs and wall hangings (trivia: Diptyque first began as a textile boutique in 1961).
This was no small undertaking given the surfeit of scents that are constantly fighting for attention in that small space. Fortunately, while 34 Boulevard Saint German could have been a noisome headache of a fragrance, it turned out remarkably sedate yet wonderfully spicy. Time will tell whether designer brands like Lanvin or Rick Owens adopt this scent for their retail environments and whether it will be worn or burned as a way to evoke our fondness for Paris.
But somewhere in there is Baies.