It´s a truism that not every old formula in the Coty vault would yield a classic. I believe to some degree in the Darwinian laws as applied to fragrance. And, in an age when the first move of a wannabe starlet is to release her own celebrity scent, I comfort myself with the fact that in a year or a decade, much of this stuff will be gone (although, frankly, in many cases extinction isn´t coming fast enough for me.) There are also glorious fragrances (Donna Karan Chaos springs to mind here) that were killed off in their prime for reasons unrelated to poor sales. Anyway, all of those thoughts crowded my mind as I meandered my way to today´s topic, which was triggered by my tiny vial of Gobin Daude Nuit au Desert.
If you´ve never heard of Gobin Daude, don´t feel bad. I think the line existed for an eyeblink in perfume time. I´m going to sketch in some details from faulty memory, because in a way it doesn´t matter, but feel free to fill in and/or correct me. The perfumer was Victoire Gobin-Daude. There were five fragrances. The only other Gobin Daude I´ve smelled was Jardins Ottomans, a yuzu-laced oriental of such allure I sometimes wonder, now that my sample’s gone, whether my memory exaggerates it. I never smelled Sous le Buis or Seve Exquise, the green ones (boxwood and sap) with their own hardcore fans, and that´s okay because I don´t think I would have appreciated them. However, I´d hand over one of my kids for a taste of Biche dans l’Absinthe (Doe in Absinthe), with its notes of absinthe, immortelle, tobacco and leather. Anyway, there were distribution issues with the Gobin Daudes, or perhaps it was supply. My analogy is watching your favorite new, small restaurant bite the dust. The chef´s a genius, the food is a miracle. But the overhead´s killing them – they´re bleeding cash, the rent´s too high, suppliers balk, the pockets aren´t deep enough. Eventually the backers pull the plug. And where does that leave you?
Well, it leaves me with a few drops of Nuit au Desert. According to a defunct perfumery website, the notes are cedar leaf, hibiscus flower, nard, agar wood. I have no idea what desert Gobin-Daude had in mind, but the one it conjures for me is the desert Southwest, night in New Mexico. I´m pretty sure I´m smelling cedar and vetiver – but they´re dusty, an outdoor smell, footprints in the dark. There´s a note of something green and limpid that runs along in there forever, like the chamisa next to the arroyo. There´s also the faintest note of sweet and herbal – wormwood, maybe, or agastache, mixed with hummingbird vine. If I listen I can hear the wind.
In the end it´s the strange, sheer differentness of Nuit au Desert that breaks my heart. It´s like smelling the Guerlain base for the first time, or an Ormonde Jayne. There´s a shift in the tectonic plates, and in a small way, your world will never be the same. Whether you “like” Mitsouko or Ormonde Woman or Chaos or Narcisse Noir is on some level irrelevant; it´s the gift of smelling them that matters most. The day they locked the doors for the last time at Gobin Daude, at IUNX, and any other small perfumer with a gift, Darwin´s grand theory failed. Or maybe survival of the fittest is not survival of the best, in perfume. Maybe it all comes down to money.
It´s been awhile since we´ve had poetry hour here on the Posse. This one, which I read the first time sitting on a boulder south of Santa Fe, thinking I´d pretty much died and gone to heaven, was written by Loren Eiseley, a naturalist and essayist who was no slouch as a poet, either.
Words for Forgetting
Go forward on these simple roads,
Do not turn back.
The stars behind you in the wind will blow,
The coyote´s track
Delicately replace the lifted dust
Of your own heel.
Go forward and the dark will close
About you. You will feel
The fragrant emptiness of prairie miles.
Now you will own
Nothing that is not yours, yourself
Down to the naked bone.
coyote track: nps.gov