Scented Advent, December 22

Scented Advent, December 22

Only a few more days of Advent to go! Today’s Advent surprise scent is By Kilian’s Liaisons Dangereuses, named for the decidedly unholy, notorious 18th century novel that has inspired award-winning stage plays and films.

Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Liaisons movie
Dangerous Liaisons; image from Orion Pictures

Perfumer Calice Becker is the nose behind its creation, and it was launched in 2007. Fragrantica classifies it as a fruity chypre, with top notes of Peach, Plum, Black Currant and Coconut; middle notes of Rose, Geranium, Ambrette (Musk Mallow) and Cinnamon; and base notes of Musk, Sandalwood, Oakmoss, Woodsy Notes, Vetiver and Vanilla.

As one expects from Ms. Becker, this fragrance exhibits intelligence and elegance. To my nose, it is clearly unisex, reflecting the central roles of both Merteuil and Valmont, and their wicked collaborations. It opens with a sharp bite of blackcurrant, reminiscent of their malice. And that peach note! Dangerous, indeed. As that writer notes, “The peach is both seductive and deceitful.” The blackcurrant and peach dominate the opening, not unpleasantly; there is a languorous undercurrent that I will attribute to the coconut accord. Next up are the rose, geranium, and musk mallow, which convey seduction. I don’t smell cinnamon at this stage. The warm base notes are all about sex, with an undertone of bitterness from the oakmoss. Brilliant! The structure and development of Liaisons Dangereuses align closely with the actual plot of the story, without straying into explicitness. This is a scent many of us would be happy to wear, as opposed to the infamous ELdO creation, Secretions Magnifiques.

And yet, when you get right down to it, the latter might be a more accurate portrayal of the story, which involves illicit sex, seduction, betrayal, rape, miscarriage. The genius of the novel and its later iterations lies in part in how it shows the ugliness of the aristocratic characters’ actual behavior and how it is camouflaged and masked by their extravagantly ornate clothing, their elegant interiors, their wealth and breeding. Secretions Magnifiques could be a signature scent for the Vicomte de Valmont as played by John Malkovich.

Liaisons Dangereuses is more polite. The rose does not dominate the heart phase; I would say that rose, geranium, and musk mallow play equal roles here. In fact, one could analogize them to the three main characters of the movie “Dangerous Liaisons”, the rose standing in for Michelle Pfeiffer’s lovely and virtuous Mme. de Tourvel, the rose-resembling but astringent geranium for Glenn Close as the Marquise de Merteuil, and the musk mallow for John Malkovich’s Valmont.

I find this to be a very wearable fragrance, appropriate even for the workplace if applied lightly. The opening is actually wonderful, and different from more mainstream fragrances, and it segues beautifully into the heart notes. I found the base to be appealing and well-done, but less distinctive.

Confession: I’ve never actually watched the whole movie “Dangerous Liaisons”, because it gives me the creeps. That’s probably partly because of the outstanding acting by Close and Malkovich, who both have an uncanny ability to play attractive villains. Also, I find the whole storyline about C├ęcile, the 15 year-old virgin whom Valmont assaults for revenge (his own and Merteuil’s, for different reasons) very disturbing, especially in the aftermath of revelations about Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. Though I will continue to avoid the movie, I like the fragrance, and it is a brilliant creation. I’m not surprised that Luca Turin gave it four stars, and I’m glad to have had the chance to sample it.

I haven’t tried many of By Kilian’s fragrances, though I’ve liked the few I have tried, and one of my daughters really liked Water Calligraphy when she accompanied me on a perfume-sniffing excursion. Do you have any favorites? Or particular dislikes?