Once upon a time, when Karl Lagerfeld looked a little less scary and made more inspired clothes, he had a muse. Her name was Inès De La Fressange (actually, her full name was Inès Marie Laetitia Eglantine Isabelle de Seignard de la Fressange. Try saying that three times. Fast. And now with a French accent). She was an heiress, the daughter of a marquis, and a supermodel, who was the embodiment of Chanel style during the 80s.
She was also chosen to be Marianne, the female icon of the French republic, whose face appears on stamps and town hall buildings across the nation (think Queen Elizabeth, only with more sex appeal and no cranky Philip at her side). This unique career move was, supposedly, the cause of her falling out with Mr. Lagerfeld, according to whom Marianne represented ''everything that is boring, bourgeois and provincial,'' and that he was not going to dress a historic monument.
Inès quit modeling during the 90s and became a successful fashion and accessories designer. Issuing her own fragrance was a logical move (after all we have scents by Cindy Crawford, Naomi Capmbell, and soon Kate Moss). She partnered with French cosmetics company Payot and launched Inès de la Fressange in 1999. This is the perfume in the squat bottle and the official notes are:
- top: bergamot, aldehydes, peach, rosewood
- heart: ylang-ylang, lily, carnation, rose
- base: sandalwood, tonka bean, civet, benzoin
Apparently, the fragrance didn't live up to the expectations, and in 2004 Inès has commissioned another scent to bear her name. This time, the creator was Alberto Morillas, the nose behind many mainstream scents, from Calvin Klein to Carolina Herrera, some more questionable than others.
The notes of the new fragrance were decidedly fruity-floral, but the drydown might have offered a little edge:
- top: mandarin, blackcurrant, bergamot, neroli
- heart: lily, white rose, orris, peony
- base: patchouli, white musk, benzoin, vetiver
The new bottle had a beautiful gold leaf pattern which also appeared in Inès' other designs, from home accessories to jewelry. It made a brief appearance here in the US, but was gone within a year. It vanished so completely, that while you can still find bottles of the 1999 scent for a good price (though some of the online stores are already out of stock and the price have gone up since I got my bottle for a song recently), the 2004 version is nowhere to be found, and I've been haunting eBay and every online store known to mankind religiously.
That leaves us with my little 1999 bottle. This is what my nose declares as very French. It doesn't strike me as very aldehydic as much as floral in a classy and classic way. It's subtle and despite my big nemesis peach (and its second-in-command, lily of the valley), I don't smell anything cloying or heady. The sillage is minimal and inoffensive, the more interesting flowers, ylang and carnation, are enveloping the skin. It's not a bouquet, but more of a delicate flower tucked behind the ear.
Sometime before the drydown, the notes meld into a beautiful moment, the kind of nose-firmly-stuck-to-wrist experience. It might be the carnation, a note I've learned to adore, or the whole subtle composition. The drydown continues along the same lines. If there's civet in there, the animal is tame. The benzoin sweetness is minimal, the sandalwood and tonka bean streamlined but warm. It's elegant, close to the skin and very serene.
However, I can't help wishing it was bigger and bolder. I don't have a French bone in my body and I'm not sure I can really work this kind of subtle chic. I want something more along the lines of Inès the 80s supermodel: striking features and a personality strong enough to tell Karl Lagerfeld where to stick it.
February 2008 edit: I found a bottle of the 2004 juice. My review is here.