Many years ago I was standing in line with my girlfriend in a dismal Chinese takeaway in South London, well past midnight, when a young, pudgy, pale-faced young man behind us caught sight of my companion’s face. He put his hand to his mouth, took two steps back and in a shaky voice said “Blanche….. you’ve come back!” He explained that he had an obsession with a Victorian murderess, rummaged through his pockets, pulled out a wallet, from it a printed photo folded in four: the exact, uncanny, perfect likeness of my girlfriend. We left, quite shaken, and ate in awed silence.
I had a similar experience when smelling Le Mat, which is the unhoped-for reincarnation of a long-lost fragrance that means a lot to me, Lucien Lelong’s Elle..Elle.., composed by Jean Carles in 1948 and discontinued a few years later. I once had a bottle which, sadly, was emptied by a overzealous cleaner who upended it. It was (and now is again) one of the most affecting and rarest accords in perfumery: rose + camomile. Camomile has a heartfelt, hot-breath drama to it that, when mixed with the grandeur of rose, gives the impression of a combustible soul playing with matches.
I had once tried to recreate Elle… Elle… with the help of Guy Robert and Jean Carles’ son Marcel, and came pretty close. But Le Mat is closer still. It is always amazing how, within an essentially infinite combinatoric space like perfumery, some mathematical attractors seem to exist, that guide the hand of the perfumer towards forms that have more force and more meaning. This particular Angel is now back among us. Smell it before it returns to its celestial sphere.
Update: I’ve just checked Michael Edwards’ database. Le Mat was composed by Amélie Bourgeois and Anne-Sophie Behaghel at Flair. Edwards too uses the word celestial to describe it (a clear message is contained in the bottle, it seems), but to my surprise does not list camomile among the materials. Can this form be reached from different directions, possibly via the immortelle note? Mystery never quite deserts perfumery.
Categories: starred reviews