Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Moment Supreme

Moment Supreme is difficult.

After years of thinking of “lavender” as the sweetish stuff in hand lotion, I grew some. It took time to flower. When it finally did, the bitter scent of those spikes made me recoil. The beautiful purple fields of Provence smelled like this?

It was a taste I wasn’t ready to acquire.

Moment Supreme is all about lavender, and it, too, brought up associations I wasn’t ready to have until now.

My bottle is old, even for extrait. I think it was bought in 1960. It’s a beautiful bottle, the real thing, engraved Patou logo on a ground glass stopper and curved Art Deco lines. Last night, for the first time, I applied it generously, decanting some to spray onto my clothing.

At first, I thought it had turned. It smelled like hairspray and nail varnish. I knew, though, that this time I had to wait it out. Time passed, and those old lavender notes finally struggled up to the surface.

I was eight, and my parents were going out. My mother had come into my room to kiss me good night. Her full-skirted brocade cocktail dress rustled as she leaned over me. This was her perfume.

We didn’t get along. Both of us were of our times. She came of age in the second world war, landed my dashing fighter-pilot father, and took on the tough life of a not-quite-military not-quite civilian wife and mother, moving every year or two, packing up the house and kids, doing what she signed on for.

I came of age in the late Sixties, and questioned everything. Most of all, I questioned female artifice; the hair, the nails, the stockings, all of it. And I questioned her dogged acceptance of it, the insistence on that flawless presentation to the outside world. I was into honesty. Reality, I thought. For years, I didn’t even shave my legs. She did not approve, and we fought, often.

She died six years ago, surviving my father by less than a year. She took her illness like a Centurion, and she never let herself go, not for a moment, not even in her last moments.

It fell to me to settle their affairs. When going through her things, I found this bottle of Moment Supreme. I couldn’t bring myself to try it then, but now, I finally can. It smells like her, of course; and this is no lush Joy or shrinking violet. It’s dry, deep and tough. Rather than overwhelm his bitter herb with rose, as many perfumers would have done, Henri Almeras chose a peppery geranium and, finally, that real-French-perfume base of dark resins made pungent by a harsh climate.

This is the perfume she chose for herself. Of course. And this is what I finally understand.

A short history of Moment Supreme: Jean Patou, the designer who launched it in 1929, was a real innovator. He brought to market tennis skirts and the first suntan lotion (at a time when tanned skin still meant you were a peasant). He displayed his logo on some of his couture clothing and designed the first knit bathing suits. The perfumer, Henri Almeras, was a Basque; he also created “Joy”.

Notes for Moment Supreme, now discontinued, include lavender, geranium, rose and amber.

Moment Supreme, in EDT strength, was re-released for a short while in the 1980’s as part of Patou’s “Ma” collection.


Anya said...

To a lavender lover such as myself, it sounds divine. So true, however, that the scent memory imprint of conflict, anger, or any other negative emotion can ruin a note for us. Forever.

ScentScelf said...

Funny thing, those old bottles--even if they happened to have struck you as beautiful back when you were younger, their beauty and grace often become more evident as we ourselves gain more depth and experience.

It's not possible to fully appreciate a complex being when we ourselves are not yet so. (Especially in those heady days of youth when we are utterly sure of what we understand..if we are the type to believe that we do.)

I am glad that you were able to hang onto this object of your mother's in the first place, one that you knew at least superficially link you...and am especially glad that you found yourself ready to open and confront/embrace/understand what was inside.

That's quite a Moment, indeed.

bookishredhead said...

I feel the same way about my mother's Chanel #5. But your comments about this make me want to see what it smells like. I actually like lavender, and I'd probably not wear it, but would appreciate it none the less.

flannerygrace said...

Lavender can definitely be problematic, I grow it too and it is so much nicer wafted on an evening breeze than an up close sniff as one would sniff a rose. It isn't one of the flowers one wants to bury their face in, but when its scent is diffused it is wonderful.

My favorite way to use mine is to make lavender jelly, I use an apple base and then put in a good deal of lavender blossoms (dried or fresh) and then strain the liquid and make jelly and friends and family request it as gifts for every occasion.

I do want to explore more lavender scents, but I don't know if they'll ever smell better than that copper pan bubbling away with that jelly :)

Perfumeshrine said...

What a classy choice for your mother!
I have my own little issues with lavender (and yes, lavender does smell medicinal, contrary to all the ersatz stuff tinkered with vanilla in household products which has twisted our perception of it), but this old Patou is elegantly interweaving it with the base of the 30s that's obvious in the other Ma Collection frags as well.
A MOment worth capturing in memory...

Abigail said...


What a beautiful piece. It brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.