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Jean Patou – the book, the debonair Frenchman, and his perfume

Dear readers, in today’s fast-changing world of fashion and the heavy bombardment of fashion news, ads and social media posts, which fashion designer or couturier’s name, regardless his/her work is dedicated to menswear or womenswear, will come to your mind first that you are truly impressed with? I mean not just those accidental designer stardoms that we see in recent years, but those with much profound history in their body of work over the years, or even decades, that shows their capability, multi-talented creativity, distinctive style and sophisticated work, to transcend the mainstream style or commerciality, taking calculated risks, to turn their idea into reality with courage, conviction and strong-will to believe in themselves despite no others can. Someone who not just able to design beautiful fashion or haute couture, but also having a great taste, style and even standard in their personal life; which fashion designer can you recall at the first place? I have asked myself these questions because someone with such kind of remarkable traits, talent, mentality and ability, to be sophisticated both in their work and life, is getting less and less that almost disappearing like a mirage in the middle of Sahara; during one of my book hunt lately, I figured that I do have one in my head, and that is the late French couturier - Jean Patou, I started to reignite my interest with Jean Patou when I noticed the fashion house’s current creative director, Guillaume Henri (who was the former creative director of another rejuvenated French high fashion brands, Carven, and Nina Ricci, before heading to the House of Patou.), somehow it motivates me to take a deeper look with the original founding couturier himself; going back a couple of years ago, I remember that I did came across a copy of book about Jean Patou, titled “Jean Patou, A Fashionable Life" by Emmanuelle Polle (published by Flammarion in 2013) in a warehouse sale, but it just slipped through my mind that I didn’t have any intention to buy it even the price has marked down to unbelievably low, fast forward to mid last year, somehow I had a craving to find (and buy) that book back again, fortunately, I did found it about a few weeks ago and got that copy in my hands now! But that doesn’t satisfy me enough, not even close, as a high fashion and fragrance aficionado, my other craving about Jean’s work is his legendary and luxurious perfume, so I started to embark a journey of collecting his fragrances along with my book hunting journey simultaneously.

Finding Jean Patou’s early (vintage) fragrances nowadays is a bit of a challenge, especially his legendary ‘Joy’ Eau de parfum, as I realized that this forgotten perfume has almost varnished in the market, even in those sad discounted cosmetic and perfume brick-and-mortar stores (at least in my city), having said that, with a bit of luck over the past months, the perfume God did give me a chance to own a couple of bottles, either it’s the earlier vintage version or the watered-down mass reproduction ones. You may wonder, why did I layout all these stories about my pursue of this forgotten French couturier? And how does it relate to refined menswear and luxury lifestyle that my blog is intended for? Yes, that’s the exact same questions that I’ve been asking myself: why? What so special and worthy to talk about this forgotten French couturier whose fashion and style doesn’t even relevant to our time now? And here’s my realization after doing my kind of ‘soul searching’ thought about it.

First of all, Jean Patou is a male couturier, and his impeccable attire in either a well-tailored double-breasted suit, his signature bowler hat, and polished side button leather boots, or, a dashing gentlemen evening look in his tailored black tuxedo, accessorized with a delicate bowtie and his patent black slippers, he’s the man with great style, no, be more specific, a French couturier who has impeccable style and taste, even with the interruption of WWI which he served as a captain during the war, he hadn’t give up his hope and passion over haute couture making, that kind of unshakable spirit requires courage, conviction, passion and will-power, perhaps because of these great qualities, which makes him a heroic and nobleman that worth to be acknowledged.

Although I haven’t meet nor talk to Jean Patou in person before, and I never will be, but he seems to be the ‘walk the talk’ kind of person, given he did produce his creation with his own hands and mind, apparently a very hands-on self-made man. Secondly, besides his taste and style, he’s born to be a handsome man, there’s a photo of him that mesmerized me very much, it is the one that shows just the side of his face, when the couturier was half-sitting on his desk, lowering his head and doing his reading in a very focus yet enjoyable way, his debonair and scholar-like flair shows from within which I can’t keep my eyes off it. With his charming face and stylish look, he inherently became the icon of his own brand – both to the fashion house itself, and as the couturier or the face of his namesake brand, he has such an in-born charisma, which attracted many of his female clients to come back to him either for buying his haute couture or just getting together, no wonder why the American press described the French couturier as ‘the most elegant man in Europe’ back then.

I possibly believe, he has a very high standard to himself too - how the way he grooms himself, how he lives his life, how to present himself to the world and his demeanor etc., and he expected a lot from himself I presume, such traits requires discipline, setting boundaries, patience and self-control in order to achieve that, although according to the book, he’s constantly having female friends and clients around him (of course, his major business comes from the sales of his luxurious womenswear), it seems that he never marry, and I always wondered how could such a perfect Frenchman with such great qualities is not marry? Is he really that serious about his own liberty in life, choose to be single rather than settle down with a significant other? Or is he having another preference when it comes to companionship? Perhaps spending his life with another decent, cultured and stylish chap which complementing each other, or sharing similar calibre, intelligence, taste and style but not settling for anything less? In what degree of the ordeal and sacrifice he has made in order to live this life he’s chosen? And in deep down, how happy was he afterall? I don’t know, but maybe that’s what makes him so intriguing to me.

When talking about the impeccable style of Jean Patou himself, I can’t keep thinking of how’s the interior of his home looks like? Does it look as impeccable, chic and charming as his personal style? By having a glimpse with the old photos of his private mansion located at Rue de la Faisanderie in Paris, it did reflect his classic sleek-chic and elegant style! A clean, minimalistic and dark Art Deco atmosphere, the interior design is in fact commissioned by the French couturier to his French artist, interior designer and decorator friend, Louis Süe, along with André Mare, another French painter and textile designer (which the designer duo is known as “Süe et Mare”), the interior exudes the exquisite taste of a successful bachelor, who surrounded himself with sleek and artistic home furnishing and décor in a very understated way (I almost want to use the term ‘quiet luxury’ which we used in our time now, but the interior leans more to the old-world classical side), even the private bar in Jean Patou’s home is just as tasteful and luxurious as the one in any high end Parisian hotel back in the glamorous Art Deco period, I can almost imagine how sublime and glamorous it is when he was entertaining his fabulous and beautiful guests in his soirée, with full house of impeccably dressed and handsome Frenchmen and beautiful ladies, rubbing shoulders with the gorgeous and elites, in their most stunning outfit with a crystal glass of fine wine or champagne at their hands, the glitz bubbles inside the champagne flute reflects the glittering light from the lighting and the sparkles from the priceless jewellery; the masculine and indulging haze of smoke from the cigarette, the scent and the smoke forms the glamorous mystery to the sumptuous interior, how can one resist such an enchanting and elegant soirée invited by the French couturier himself? By the way, Louis Süe is also the artistic Frenchman who designed the first bottle of Jean Patou’s perfume!

While his beautiful and renowned haute couture is solely for female, somehow it unfolds another reason why I was so fascinated by this French couturier, and it’s because of his other artistic creation - perfume. Don’t worry as I am not going to review his long list of perfume, as you can find all those review from thousands of fragrance reviews and blogs out there, but, one of the thing that attracts me about Jean Patou’s perfume, is that they all made out of his artistry, wit, persistence and innovative ideas about how he grow his brand through this little bottle of precious scented juice, which makes it become his most legendary, and well-known product (even fruitful business at certain extent). When having a bottle of his most famous perfume ‘Joy’ Eau de parfum at my hand, and I did a bit of research, to my surprise that this legendary perfume, in fact, is not his first perfume creation!

There are two other perfume which created by the House of Patou long before the existence of ‘Joy’, and they are ‘Amour Amour’ and ‘Que Sais-Je?’, both perfume were born in April 1925, created by French perfumer Henri Alméras, and these two perfume are initially sold only in Jean Patou’s Paris headquarters, then later in various branches of his boutique in 1920s; the perfume made with precious ingredients and produces in Grasse, the capital of perfume in the world, the flacon of Jean Patou’s perfume, the first version was made of Baccarat crystal glass, with an unique topper design that looks like a pineapple, as the French couturier wants to create a luxury perfume that is exclusive, unique and compliments to his haute couture, that reflects the elegance and fashionable lifestyle that he intended to create.

The legendary ‘Joy’ only comes to live in 1930, and it served as a little treasure for the couturier’s clients in America during the Great Depression period, to give them something to possess and remembering about him and his work despite undergoing the rough patches that some of them are unable to travel to Europe, or, no longer able to afford pricey French haute couture regularly back then. Although with the tragic death of Jean Patou in 1936, the success of this legendary fragrance is literally a result of an audacious and innovative decision, which made by the French couturier. When his then-perfumer, Henri Alméras, revealed how costly this perfume will be given with the ingredients and the massive quantity of flowers being used in order to produce just a tiny bottle of it, Jean Patou didn’t back down after his discussion with Henri, but determined to push it through and created this “the costliest perfume in the world” back then, so you see, without his tenacity, courage, and boldness, his will-power to take a calculated risk and go to the unknown, this legendary perfume basically won’t even exist, nor letting us to have an opportunity to marvel and appreciate the beauty of the bygone fashionable Parisian couture era almost a century ago.

Jean Patou may not do the perfume formulation himself but working with a perfumer, with his vision, conviction and can-do spirit, the result is just as exquisite, sumptuous and beautiful as his haute couture. Perhaps due to that reason, I started to mesmerized by his perfume, and fortunate enough, to be able to sniff some of these legendary perfume work (although they might be reformulated I possibly believe after all these years), even the fragrant style might more belong to the yester-century than what we are living now (unless one is attending a vintage costume party in the theme of 1930s), it has become such a valuable and resourceful example about what and how an exquisite and elegant haute couture French perfume is made, letting the new generation of perfume makers and founders to be inspired, and to carry the torch of French perfume making savoir-faire ahead to the future, and keep flourishing.

I guess there’s another reason that I keep pursuing the story about Jean Patou, is to break the belief of such kind of qualitative and noble men, both from inside out, are extinct in this world but only exist in history, he isn’t, he did exist at some point although not in our time now, but he did exist, and I need to have faith, and to do my work and my best to find him at the same time; through reading the book, collecting his creations – either his haute couture or precious perfume, both vintage and recent ones, these memorabilia is going to keep me closer to this remarkable and debonair French couturier, to make me realize that great men do exist, even if it isn’t physically here yet, just believe and keep bettering myself by keep learning and putting great works out there, never discourage no matter how rough and lonely it is in our creative journey, or even a career or life.

To end this blog, I have to use an analogy from the movie ending scene of “W.E.” to describe how I feel; it was the scene when the two characters from two different eras, sitting together on each side of the bench – Wally Winthrop (played by actress Abbie Cornish) from our time, and Duchess of Windsor (played by actress Andrea Riseborough) from the past, in a sunny day time in the park, Wally returns the pair of white gloves that she bought from the auction of the Duke and Duchess’ collection from Sotheby’s to Wallis Simpson, and exchange a dialogue about believing in oneself and destiny; my fantasy is to exchange both characters into me and the French couturier himself, sitting on that exact same bench and giving a bottle ‘Joy’ Eau de parfum that I collected it hardly back to Monsieur Patou, and then I ask him: “Do you think that we can change our destiny?”, and he replies “well….I think you know the answer of that.”, we both stand up, facing each other and gazing for this final moment before we say our final goodbye, his fragranted hand gently touches my cheek like comforting a potential talented young child, then we turn our back against each other, and he disappears like a mirage in the middle of Sahara.


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