Loosely translated from the French, the word "caleche" has two meanings: a woman's large folded, looped hood worn in the 18th century, and the folding hood of a horse-drawn carriage - the longtime symbol of the House of Hermes and icon for the brand.
Since 1961, the original Caleche perfume has gone through five interpretations, three under the direction of the current in-house perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena, who created updated versions of the scent under the name Kelly Caleche. In 2003, for a fleeting moment, one of the most beautiful of all the five Caleche fragrances managed to slip under the radar of many perfumistos; miraculously, Calèche Fleurs de Méditerranée has been reissued.
The fragrance is composed around mimosa; while rose and jasmine have long been recognized as classics – floral nobles in the art of perfume – the fine mettle of mimosa proves it can hold its own among the queens of heart notes.
The downy soft, delicate mimosa is actually a wild Australian beauty that grows freely and virtually untended throughout the Mediterranean basin. The tufts are handpicked by the bundle and heaped like floods of feathers into large white sheets, after which they are transferred to distillation vats, where they stew in volatile solvents. A vast volume yields a mere featherweight: 300 to 400 kilos (660 to 880 lbs) of flowers are needed for each kilo (2.2 lbs) of mimosa absolute: a precious yellow oil imbued with an airy yet sensual scent of astonishing softness and presence. "Golden puffs, the downy tufts of new-born chicks," wrote the poet Francis Ponge in LE MIMOSA. "The minuscule golden chicks of mimosa...", "powdered like Pierrot the pantomime in his yellow polka-dots”, “fireworks”, “tiny torches alight..."* No one has more beautifully described the mimosa than Ponge.
The original Calèche, characteristically elegant and undeniably feminine, is evoked in Calèche Fleurs de Méditerranée which plays with its more classic composition by adding a daring hint of violet leaf. Enlivened by the fresh breath of mimosa, gentle caresses of sunflower and beeswax echo the powdery, honey-sweet note of mimosa absolute. If you missed this beautiful scent in 2003, be sure to purchase it now before it its official re-launch into wider distribution for spring 2010.
Calèche Fleurs de Méditerranée is available worldwide at Hermes Boutiques, select Neiman Marcus stores, and Bergdorf Goodman in NYC. $165 for 3.4 oz.
- Michelyn Camen
* (La Rage de l’expression © Édition Gallimard; translation authorized by Hermes; courtesy of editions Gallimard)
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