Daim Blond (Serge Lutens)

I looked upon Elisabeth as a being from the old world of the Gods. She was Artemis--cold, beautiful, and arrogant. I saw her in fancy passing through the forests with her hounds hot on the trail of the deer.... her ivory loveliness gleaming in the moonlight...and in those scented solitudes she was like a Pagan called back from the Past.
-- Countess Marie Larisch
Has the very first sniff of an unfamiliar perfume ever reminded you of a person you've never known? I've only ever read about Elisabeth of Bavaria, but I find her impossible to banish from my mind-- particularly while wearing Daim Blond, a strange sort of leather made to suit a strange sort of girl.

In truth, strange doesn't even begin to describe Elisabeth, who could out-crazy any modern celeb with both hands tied behind her back. As the child bride of the future Emperor of Austria, the shy and sheltered "Sisi" abruptly found herself thrust before thousands of judgmental eyes. Her latent eccentricities flowered with a vengeance, and the young Empress spent the next four decades giving everyone around her the willies.

Elisabeth's litany of bizarre personal rituals provide a textbook illustration of body dysmorphia. No flaws, changes, or signs of age could be tolerated. Compulsive hair-brushing (lasting up to three hours a day) culminated in the paranoid numbering of fallen strands. Nightly raw-meat facials preserved her flawless complexion, while starvation diets, brutal exercise regimens, and extreme corseting kept her body childishly slender. Despite four pregnancies, her waist measured an inhuman eighteen inches-- three inches shy of the current world record. Every new outfit she wore demanded hours of precise fittings; even then, the Empress was never satisfied-- even opting to be sewn into her clothes at each wearing to achieve a wrinkle-free fit. Since standard ladies' undergarments spoiled the severe fit of her clothes, Elisabeth donned cuirassier-style leather leggings to maintain an ideal silhouette. But even when perfection had been achieved, her extreme horror of being looked at drove her into hiding -- under umbrellas, behind thick veils, in the anonymity of travel or the isolation of wilderness retreats.

Only when she mounted a horse did Elisabeth's demons grow quiet. Equestrian sports -- both haute école dressage and the more flamboyant "trick" riding espoused by her late father -- had provided emotional ballast since childhood.  In contrast to the stultifying Viennese court, riding symbolized a liberty of movement and self-expression essential to this wild child's equilibrium.  On horseback, her neuroses seemed to melt away; her sexuality -- normally encased in ice -- at last flowed freely.  She became one with her mount, wordlessly directing its every movement with a rare and delicate empathy that witnesses found remarkable.

This mesmerizing centaur-like creature is the "Sisi" which Daim Blond summons to mind.  Subtle, feminine, and unsettling, this unusual fragrance replicates the scent and feel of premium doeskin complete with the slightly creepy quality that leather retains when put to fetishistic use.  Tailored skin-tight, at once comfortable and claustrophobic, this "yellow suede" covers every inch of the body while revealing it to an almost indecent degree.  Thus encased, the woman in question (though doubtlessly hot-blooded) is off-limits to outsiders; she both tantalizes and denies.

As if the bouquet of leather wasn't suggestive enough on its own, perfumer Christopher Sheldrake underscores its seductive quality by adding apricot-- a sweet-yet-acidic fruit whose scent implies the female anatomy in its most intimate and startling sense.  Before you blush, know that there's nothing prurient about this accord.  A touch of chilly heliotropin reinforces a sense of virginal modesty and reticence to which base sensuality would be anathema.  The woman to whom this reserve belongs is a divine Diana intent on her quarry, with no time for the mundanity of mortal love.

Elisabeth famously despised perfume, denying even her ladies-in-waiting the pleasure of wearing it.  But in those days, florals dominated; the grand era of leather fragrances would not come until after her death in 1898.  How would this uptight tomboy with a passion for the saddle have enjoyed Cuir de Russie, Jolie Madame, or Bandit?  Not as much, I wager, as she would have liked Daim Blond-- the queerest of the cuir.

Scent Elements: Hawthorn, iris, Ceylon cardamom, apricot, musk, leather