Last summer I paused at a rickety, hand-made perfume stall situated along the main drag of a Renaissance fair in New York state. Every year at Tuxedo Park there's a sizable Renaissance fair, full of bad costumes, bad actors, greasy food (if you go, try the famous turkey legs), unsanitary wooden barrels of giant pickles you can get for $3 each, and stall after stall of overpriced Renaissance-themed junk. It's loads of fun.
The perfume stall was really just a bunch of essential oils and cheap alcohol dilutions of unremarkable essences, rose water, Florida water, whatever. On one side were the absolutes, and on the other were the candles. I gave a few absolutes a quick sniff. The citruses were faint and absurdly expensive. The cinnamon oil was disgusting (is there such a thing as cinnamon oil, really?), and the pine wood was just okay. I was intrigued by the faint green lavender oil, and it was the last thing I tried. It smelled beautiful. Lavender oil always smells good. As I set the vial down, I thought to myself with amusement that they might have just poured a few milliliters of Caron Pour un Homme in there and called it lavender oil. No one would be the wiser.
PuH turns eighty this year, and this was rightly celebrated yesterday in an informative write-up by Serguey Borisov on Fragrantica. As it turns out, the fragrance is comprised of both lavandula and lavender oil, at 41% of the former, and 31% of the latter, making the combined lavender oil content 72% of the formula. This is astounding. Yet I'm not surprised by the figures, because I'm on my fourth 4 oz bottle (I also have two smaller nineties vintage bottles) and every time I wear PuH, I'm mesmerized by its natural freshness and elegance. It is always a pleasure to wear.
The fact that this fragrance has endured for eight decades suggests that simplicity has an excellent lifespan. Think of all the complex seventies and eighties masculines and feminines that have bitten the dust over the years. Most of them would have been no older than thirty or thirty-five today, if their manufacturers had continued making them. The secret to Caron's success is its directness, a basic, straightforward lavender, coumarin, vanilla, and musk quartet that plays on through the years and never goes out of tune. Its materials are inexpensive and unlikely to be restricted anytime soon. This fragrance is built to last for several centuries at least.
It was rumored a few years ago that Tom Ford wears PuH to work, and considers it an inspiration, yet his own Lavender Palm failed to add anything to the narrative of classic lavender fougères. This is one of those unimprovable designs of fresh minty herbal notes on a smooth bed of sweetened coumarin, which can and should be had for thirty dollars a bottle. Despite its low price, it smells pricey and sophisticated. May PuH live on for another eighty years, and continue to inspire and enthrall noses the world over.