If you relied solely on random reviews of Ivoire on the Internet, you might believe that this early '80s perfume merely screams "old lady" and "soapy" and call it a day. That would be a pity, because you'd miss out on the scent experience equivalent of going to a Sherwin Williams paint shop and realizing, after an hour or so of comparing paint chips, that the shades in between stark white and cream can be staggering and infinitesimal.
Ivoire is an olfactory meditation on how a clean fragrance can have depth and texture, and how its individual notes can reverberate and resonate with one another to signify "clean" and "fresh" in a complex, even sensual, way. By evoking the tusk of an elephant or the keys of a piano, the name Ivoire asks us to think about the richness of white — its "off-whiteness" — rather than its purity.
Top notes: green accord, galbanum, bergamot, lemon, aldehydes
Heart notes: Lily of the valley, rose, hyacinth, jasmine, carnation, orris, orchid, geranium
Base notes: Cedar, musk, oakmoss, amber, raspberry, sandalwood
Upon first whiff, Ivoire, (a green floral according to the H&R fragrance guide, to which I would add chypre) gives us the whitest paint chip on the olfactory color wheel: fresh, bright and citrusy top notes, further lifted by aldheydes. This first impression is a white of the flash-bulb blinding variety. This is only for a second, as the aldehydes die down and the piquancy of galbanum provides a wonderful first variation on clean — the resiny, piney, vegetal version, backed up by a hint of lemon and bergamot.
Ivoire then moves subtly and almost seamlessly to its floral heart with spicy carnation flanking the soapy-clean beauty of rose, jasmine and lily of the valley. A Basenotes reader commented that this is not an easy perfume to describe. I wonder if she meant that because of the skillful way the notes marry one another, shifting subtly from one note to the next, so that it's hard to tell where one note starts and the next begins.
Where Ivoire gets interesting for me is in the dry-down. The sandalwood, cedar and oakmoss create an incensey and woody finish, while the amber, musk and orris soften and blur what might feel, initially, like their harshness (like the burn you get when lighting incense followed by its mellow diffusion). A whisper of the warmth from these notes — the sweetness of amber, the animalic dirtiness from musk, the creaminess of orris — move you subtly from that white paint chip to the cream one. Or you could say they move your eye from the smoothness of the ivory tusk to a nick filled in with dirt that creates an interesting texture on the pristine surface.
Like a Mark Rothko painting meditating on white, Ivoire's notes hum and vibrate in unison, from the aldehydes and galbanum top notes, to the rose and lily heart, to the amber and sandalwood base. It's more than (initially) meets the nose.
I am happy I got to experience Ivoire. The fact that I did so by winning, on eBay, a janky $8 "Les Meilleurs Parfums de Paris" coffret in which half of the perfumes had dried up makes it even greater. It still astounds me that a tiny, half-used bottle of perfume from years gone by can prompt my imagination in this way. And the perfume obsession continues...