The History of Haute Parfumerie Diptyque

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Inarguably, 1968 was one of the most decisive years in modern American history. In this time we saw incredible heights—like Apollo 8’s journey to the moon and the introduction of Boeing’s 747 Jumbo Jet—as well as great losses in the assassination of both Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. It was an incendiary period, where things of both politics and pop culture—from the Poor People’s March on Washington to the first 49 cent Big Mac—would leave a footprint on the future as we know it today.

Across the Atlantic, France was no different, where the spirit of rebellion—both in social organizations and overall urgency—linked young persons across the country itself. In Paris, always the center of contemporary culture, the youth were rebelling, and while these students protested consumerism and imperialism (in this time, nine out of 10 French persons didn’t have a telephone; half didn’t have a TV), radical American rock ‘n’ roll and Brit pop had many under their spell. Not to mention the Yé-Yé Girls.

Around then, a gypsy-esque threesome compromised of artist Desmond Knox-Leet, interior designer Christiane Gautrot, and theatre craftsman Yves Coueslant set up on shop in Saint-Germain-des-Prés on the left bank of the River Seine in Paris. Their idea was to house a world of wonder at a then closet-sized boutique at 34 Boulevard Saint-Germain, where the collective could create and display art as well as treasures brought back from their travels in Greece or Turkey, goods unavailable to the rest of Paris at the time.

In 1963, Knox-Leet, the trio’s painter, created an experimental fabric, which featured geometric variations inspired by abstract and modern art. Using textiles from Wisembach, a mountainous region near France’s German border, the pieces were then hand-dyed in Haut-Rhin. The creation was dubbed Prétorien—after the oval shape of the praetorian soldier’s shield—and the symbol afterward became a mainstay of the group, who by this time became officially known as Diptyque. The name came from two outward-facing windows on the store’s façade that created a diptych effect. (In time, the boutique would expand as the neighborhood changed.) That same year Diptyque added candles to its shelves of objets d’art, debuting Aubépine, Cannelle, and Thé. Half a decade later—in the loaded year of 1968—their first eau de toilette came to life: L’Eau, a 16th Century potpourri-inspired, genderless scent comprising geranium, clove, and cinnamon.

Fragrances—for both the person and the home—quickly took off, and soon a delicately wrapped Diptyque fig leaf Figuier candle or a Mediterranean escape in the form of the Philosykos eau de toilette became the peak chic present around town. And boy did the people come running. Rumor has it that in 1983, right after his appointment to Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld dropped in to 34 Boulevard Saint-Germain looking for a signature scent. Apparently, the designer quickly fell in love with the blackcurrant Baies (now a fashion staple), and chose to stock them in every store of the fashion house.

Years later, Diptyque’s first official fashion collaboration was with John Galliano. The Gibraltar-born British-Spanish fashion designer had long been a fan of the fragrance house, and one day he asked them to create a warm, heavy, deep, and mysterious fragrance for him. Recalling Russian leather, dark bark, mellow musks, and dried herbs, Essence of J.G. was born thereafter.

Fifty years from L’Eau‘s debut, this spring Diptyque revisits its past in two new olfactive releases that continue the quirky charm of the French fragrance house today as well as its history of artistic collaboration and the spirit of the 60s. First, the patchouli-powered Tempo recalls the founders’ love of foreign extravagances, combining woody extracts taken from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi with violet leaf for a tribute to the summer of love. “I developed the fragrance with different qualities of patchouli—two essential oils and one absolute—which gives it its very unique aroma,” explains parfumer Olivier Pescheux, who wore working versions of the eau de toilette on his skin for nearly a year during its development. “When you wear it, you feel confronted by its intensity.” Artist Safia Oares followed Knox-Leet’s tradition of Indian ink for the bottle’s illustration, crafting a volcanic emancipation meant to mirror the scent’s vivacity and the history of counterculture. “Patchouli is a very powerful smell,” says Oares. “The drawing could not just be an easy blue sky.”

“When you wear it, you feel confronted by its intensity.”

While Fleur de Peau, which translates to “the smell of skin,” is one of the most sensual scents from the brand yet, and uses fruity, ambery ambrette seeds with pink peppercorns. Inspired by the love between Greek gods Psyche and Eros, the musky scent is as light as it is soft and moist. Encased in a dreamy floral performance designed by illustrator Dimitri Rybaltchenko, who says that blue is the color of our dreams: “I wanted to express some of the florals that are included in the notes, especially the Iris.”

Together, the new scents represent a duality of sorts that contrast as much as they converge. Both an image to the anniversary, each represents the storied tradition of parfum creation, what Diptyque CEO Fabienne Mauny calls an intimate process. “It’s really an important exchange—of ideas, creativity, and stories,” she says. “Diptyque’s founders were extremely open to the world, which was extremely unusual at the time. They were super interested in each and every artistic movement around the globe. Tempo and Fleur de Peau do just that, while continuing our unique dialogue.”

Both scents are available online now and at global boutiques, including Diptyque’s NYC pop-up at 112 Mercer St., until May 19, 2018.

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