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Vêpres Siciliennes – Beautiful olfactory music – July 8th, 2016


Palermo Cathedral, Sicily - Wikimedia Commons

What’s in a name? Especially the name of a perfume. Many are in French or Italian or Spanish or Japanese, etc, which is frustrating to English-only perfume lovers, as in how-is-it-pronounced and what-does-it-mean? Some perfume brands have wacky fun with their fragrance names, like Etat Libre d’Orange and Smellbent or Imaginary Authors, others use subtle word play that appeals to my literary sensibilities, and some run with a theme in naming their collections.

Take Claude Marchal, for example, the creator and owner of Parfums MDCI, the very exceptional French luxury-niche brand which views perfume as art. We have gotten to know Claude a little, and he is a very smart, charming guy who not only continues to introduce drop-dead gorgeous perfumes to the perfume world, but who also seems to know his way around an opera or two when it comes to naming them. 

We’ve written about Enlévement au Serail or “Abduction from the Harem”, which is the full name of Mozart’s famous opera Il Seraglio, commissioned by the Austrian Emperor Joseph ll in 1769. This stunning chypre by Francis Kurkdjian was commissioned for discerning women in the 21st century, a fragrance in the classic feminine style but which is sleek, elegant and sexy.

And we’ve written about La Belle Helene, a spectacularly nuanced floral gourmand which features the pear note, named after the Offenbach opera, La Belle Helene, the opera which also inspired the famous chocolate-pear dessert. And in Spring 2016 Claude launched the haunting Cio-Cio-San, named after the tragic young heroine in Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. Do you see a theme developing here?

Wait, there’s one more. Vêpres Siciliennes, is named after the Verdi opera, I Vespri Siciliani, a story about war against the French occupation in medieval Sicily which, in the Verdi style, is a five-act veritable musical feast. Now I know that Vepres, Vespri, Vespers are evening prayers in Christian religions, and vespers is Latin for “evening” so even though this is a green fruity chypre, I’m ready for a soft contemplative scent before I open the bottle.

But this is about Sicily, and also a story about a war, so the opening salvo  is big sweet sun-warmed citrus, orange, lemon, and crushed leaves, jazzed up with pepper, rich and dense. It’s intoxicating, and is soon joined by a floral bouquet blended from spicy rose, jasmine, magnolia, tuberose, and powdery heliotrope as it moves into the heart. There are hints of raspberry and plum, wafts of moss and woods and amber notes which signal the dry-down but instead of deepening, the wood notes move to the side and fruit notes appear, a lovely sueded apricot accord of osmanthus overlaid with creamy coconut rising to the top. It’s a delicious surprise, a rich dreamy accord that evolves for hours, mixing to perfection with the earthy oakmoss and cedarwood, sweetening softly toward the end with a musky airiness.

Vêpres Siciliennes is not what I initially expected, and it continues to surprise me through the long dry-down by occasionally circling back to the warm citrus or edging into the mossy woods. It’s complex and rich and evolves constantly because there are A LOT of notes, but perfumer Jeanne-Marie Faugier has them work in perfect harmony, taking their solos, stepping back into the chorus, creating beautiful olfactory music.

There’s a great scene in the movie Amadeus: Mozart has worked himself into a frenzy to complete Il Seraglio, a new kind of opera, and has just performed it for the Emperor, who rises to congratulate Mozart, commenting that the work is  “too fine for my ears - there are too many notes”.  To which Mozart replies “There are just as many notes as there should be.”

And that’s exactly how I feel about Vêpres Siciliennes.

Vêpres Siciliennes is listed in our Decant Store. Decants are $6.00 for 1 ml.