Fashion designer Jean Patou (1887- 1936), known for sportswear that is said to have influenced even Coco Chanel, cemented his name in history with the release of the classic floral perfume Joy. Marketed as “the costliest perfume in the world” for its use of rose and jasmine in unprecedentedly high concentrations, Joy was released, improbably enough, during the Great Depression (1929).
Although he is best known for Joy, Jean Patou also released Ma Collection, twelve perfumes originally launched between 1925 and 1964, and they’re nothing to sneeze at. (Actually, Que Sais-Je?, the Chypre I’m smelling, IS something to sneeze at! That always happens to me with oak moss, though.)
Ma Collection was re-released in 1984 using the original formulas by in-house perfumer Jean Kérleo (1967 – 97), who is now president of the perfume museum Osmothèque in Paris.*
The first three perfumes in Ma Collection released in 1925— Amour, Amour, Que-Sais Je? and Adieu Sagesse — were inspired by the different stages someone who has fallen in love goes through. Amour, Amour (Love, Love) is self-explanatory. Que Sais-Je? (What do I know?), represents the devil-may-care attitude of those who live by their hearts and not their heads; it’s what the enamored says to herself when she decides to give in whole-heartedly. Adieu Sagesse (Farewell, Wisdom) means she’s in deep, and there’s no going back.
So what does a perfume called Que Sais-Je? smell like? The first thing that hit me was an intense honeyed peachy-suede-leather accord that reminded me of Iris Gris and Empreinte, both peachy affairs. Unlike Iris Gris, which smells monumentally strange (like peach-scented pastry dough, according to some), and Empreinte, which is a more delicate and refined peach-melon leather chypre, Que Sais-Je? is a more straight-forwardly fruity-spicy Chypre. (Some people compare it to Femme, but that fruit Chypre seems way less fruity to me than QSJ.) I'm not sure I smell hazelnut, but there is a marzipan-like richness to QSJ that perhaps comes from this note.
Notes: Peach, honey, hazelnut (from Helg at Perfume Shrine); Perfumer: Henri Alméras
Although there’s some debate about whether it’s Amour, Amour or Que Sais-Je? that was marketed for brunettes, the ad at the top left lists Que Sais-Je? underneath the brunette mannequin. (Amour, Amour is supposed to be for blondes; Adieu Sagesse for redheads.)
Like Colony (a wonderfully weird pineapple chypre and the only other Patou I’ve sniffed), the strong chypre base creates an interesting dissonance with the syrupy sweetness of its beginning. Perhaps like the woman who has given in to love — to hell with the consequences — Que Sais-Je? asks us to think of her as strong and daring as well as girlishly impetuous. The more I sit with Que Sais-Je?, the more I respect its translation into perfume notes what plunging headlong into love is like, which apparently is a combination of syrupy sweetness and fiery passion.
And if such things sway you, consider this: indie perfumer Andy Tauer lists Que Sais-Je? as one of the top 10 perfumes you should try before you die.
* This historical information garnered from a great post about Ma Collection perfumes on Perfume Shrine.
Here's a great review of these Patous in French from the perfume blog Ambre Gris.