In the mere ten years of its existence, Netherlands-based perfume company Puredistance has produced some knock-out perfumes. Over the years, I’ve purchased flacons of Antonia, White, and Sheiduna, and have often considered a purchase of their masculine-leaning scent, M. While my favorite perfume in their collection remains the green-floral scent Antonia (its herbal beauty reminds me of the original, ’70s version of Herbal Essences shampoo, and that is no trite comparison), the company’s latest offering, WARSZAWA (pronounced var-SHAV-uh) is another dazzling green-floral that is likely to win over many a jaded heart in the perfume community. Particularly those who lament the passing of a specific genre of vintage perfumes known as chypres. Before I go further, let me be clear: technically, Warszawa is not a chypre — there is no cistus labdanum or oak moss listed among its notes. However, neither is Chanel No. 19, which often gets labeled as a chypre by perfume lovers for the same reasons that Warszawa likely will, too. These similar-spirited beauties smell mossy, sophisticated and every bit as fine-boned and feline as they do rich. To my nose, there is a fabulous contradiction inherent in the makeup of chypre perfumes: they possess an assured richness which gives them great presence, yet their mossy nature imparts an airy sense of refinement and movement that dispels any sense of dense weight. Whereas the amber-oriental genre of perfumes offers up the cushiony “Baby got back” scents of the world, chypres are the fragrances with arresting bone structure. Speaking of which . . .
“If you care for classic feminine beauty, Puredistance WARSZAWA will unveil a dreamy world of old-time chic,” says the company in its promotional materials for this scent, and this is one of those rare times when I am in complete nodding agreement with every word. Jan Ewoud Vos, the owner of Puredistance and the person who creatively oversees the development of each perfume, worked with French perfumer Antoine Lie to create a fragrance that pays homage to the city of Warsaw, Poland, and to the fashionable and gracious women he encountered on his travels there. Vos was particularly inspired by the relationship he has developed in recent years with the Missala family of Perfumeria Quality Missala (they own boutiques in several cities in Poland and are the exclusive retailer of Puresdistance in that country), and in particular with the family’s matriarch, Stanislawa Missala, who invited him into their home to share lavish lunches she prepared during his business visits there. Her warmth, beauty and style reminded him of the elegance of pre-war Warsaw he had observed in old pictures, and this connection became the inspiration for Warszawa, a perfume with a distinctly vintage sensibility. Vos underscored his tribute by limiting the availability of Warszawa to the country of Poland for its entire first year of existence — a decision I find impressive. When you’re the owner of a small and relatively young company, intent on delivering a luxury experience to your customers and making the kind of studied choices that such a stance dictates, launching a new perfume is no small undertaking. Considering how swoon-worthy Warszawa is, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were moments when Vos might have been tempted to unwrap it, so to speak, to the rest of the world, but true to his promise he waited a full year before launching it globally, and only now is it available for sale at the Puredistance headquarters and web-store in the Netherlands.
The first day I tested Warszawa (it’s spelled in all capital letters, but I’m going to use upper and lower case), I got very excited because it reminds me of some truly classic and iconic perfumes: namely, the vintage versions of Hermes Caleche, Chanel No, 19, and Estee Lauder Private Collection; the long discontinued Coty Chypre and Deneuve (the fragrance that actor and perfume lover Catherine Deneuve created for Avon); and Frederic Malle’s Le Parfum de Therese, a more recent perfume that, nevertheless, was composed in the 50s by the late-great perfumer Edmond Roudnitska, and which recalls his classic fruity-chypre perfume Diorella (for French fashion house Christian Dior). Perfumes like these aren’t being made much today because, on one hand, popular tastes have changed and fragrance is generally targeted towards a younger demographic that seems to have a predilection for sweeter fragrances (from Thierry Mugler’s Angel, to Viktor & Rolf’s Flowerbomb, to Prada Candy, there’s been a bent towards confectionery fragrances in the mainstream sector, while in the niche sector, a 180-degree retort to these sweet perfumes has resulted in a preponderance of oud-based scents). On the other hand, even if chypre scents were still in vogue, they could not be composed the way they once were, given the sobering restrictions on perfume ingredients that have been imposed by the International Fragrance Association (the self-regulating body of the perfume industry). So, when one encounters a perfume like Warszawa, a fragrance that by some perfume magic manages to smell like an oakmossy chypre of yore, when no such note is present — a fragrance with a jasmine accord as luminous as the floral accord at the heart of Hermes Caleche, but also as fruited and seductive as the florals at the heart of a fragrance like Le Parfum de Therese — then one has come upon something very special indeed.
Warszawa’s list of ingredients include galbanum, grapefruit, violet leaf, jasmine absolute, broom absolute, orris butter, patchouli, vetiver and styrax. It goes on the skin smelling sveltely green and sparkling, thanks to the combination of its green and citrusy top notes that have an uplifting, aldehydic expression in the early stages of this perfume’s long wear time. There is also a delicate sweetness at this stage, such that Warszawa isn’t as herbal or as grassy green as its notes might lead one to believe, but a more chiffon-like “shade” of green. And then, fifteen minutes into its wear, the floral notes emerge and the effect can be likened to a ripening of the scent. The jasmine absolute at the heart of the fragrance is not sweet and lilting, but a rich, stone-fruited aroma that has shades of plum and peach about it. The assertion of the jasmine over the greens changes them, rendering them mossy, although this effect is likely also achieved by way of the broom absolute — an aromatic which reportedly smells like a combination of hay, honey, tea, white florals and leather. By whatever means it is achieved, the melding of the perfume’s green notes with its fruited-floral heart deepens the greens, and Warszawa overall becomes more velvety. One would not smell Warszawa at this stage and think of a spring lawn or something sprightly; one smells it and can’t help but have a more visceral reaction. Personified, this perfume is a young Lady Constance Chatterley (D.H. Lawrence’s famous heroine). Sensual, sexual, yes — but also a lady, and a thinking one at that (“well-to-do intelligentsia” is how the novel describes her). I say this because, to my mind, Warszawa strikes a balance between intellect and sensuality; between cosmopolitan elegance and earthiness. Its smart green elements keep the composition reined in and composed, while its fruited-floral heart symbolizes all things feminine and womanly. Each element keeps the other in check, such that the greens never become astringently cerebral, nor the florals flagrantly wanton.
There is a quote by the famous perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena about Hermes Caleche (a perfume not created by him, but one he obviously admired), in which he refers to it as “the essence of classicism. Seduction through the beauty of the soul.” I think this quote quite rightly describes chypre perfumes as a whole: they are perfumes that speak of intelligence married to a deep, corporal awareness. Regardless of whether it can be labeled a modern-day chypre or not, Warszawa fits that description, too. There’s a reason this green-floral beauty reminded me of an esteemed group of classic perfumes from the first moment I wore it, and it’s not because Warszawa smells identical to any one of these great perfumes, but because it mirrors the spirit, complexion and temperament of all of them.
Puredistance WARSZAWA has notes of galbanum, grapefruit, violet leaf, jasmine absolute, broom absolute, orris butter, patchouli, vetiver and styrax. It is a perfume extrait, with a 25% concentration of perfume oils, and is now available for purchase from the Puredistance website, where a 17.5 ml flask is priced at € 175.00 (price is in euros), with larger bottles also available (pictured above is the 60-ml bottle).
I’m assuming that it will join the line of Puredistance fragrances available in the United States at LuckyScent.com, but as of this writing it’s not available there yet)
My review is based on a small spray vial of Warszawa that I received from the company.
Image credits: Photo of woman in white dress, top of page, is by Enrico Carcasci of Florence, Italy, and can be found at Unsplash.com. (“Beautiful, free photos. Gifted by the world’s most generous community of photographers,” is how they describe their site, and justifiably so.)
Photo of the Missala family is by Jan Ewoud Vos, the owner of Puredistance, and the images of the Warszawa perfume bottle and promotional art work are from the Puredistance company.
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