Le De Vintage Parfum (Givenchy)

Occasionally a perfume will cause a complete person -- real or fictional -- to spring up in your head like a hologram. For me, most aldehydic florals conjure up a chorus line of ingenues who play at prudery even if it's just for show. Le De Givenchy surprised me by producing an actual virgin, and a nun to boot: young Sister Cecily Scallon from Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede.

When we first meet Cecily, she has just entered Brede Abbey to pursue life as a Benedictine. Is her vocation real, or does it amount to an escape from her domineering bully of a mother? Timid, obedient, introverted to a fault, she quails in response to the slightest criticism. "A cloister within a cloister," the other nuns call her. "Touched by frost."

Yet even among the unworldly, Cecily's beauty stimulates the kind of idol worship that overrides stray doubts. Much ado is made over the nigella blue coat-dress she wears as a new arrival. It is, after all, 1957-- quite an exciting time for fashion. The ultra-feminine crinolined ballerina look is ceding to the more tailored silhouette typified by Yves Saint Laurent's "Trapeze" dress, designed for Christian Dior's Spring 1958 collection. It even comes in nigella blue! The very fact that Cecily is trading such youthful vibrancy for Benedictine black-and-white is perceived as a measure of her devotion. She isn't just playing nun; she really means it.

Six months and ten days later, the community votes to receive Cecily for Simple Profession-- and even then the community "reads" her appearance as proof of her fortitude:
The weather did not smile for her as it had for Hilary; the sun and balmy warmth had gone; it was grey and cold with a sky full of rain... "I only hope you don't perish of cold," said Dame Clare, but nothing could have made Cecily feel chill that day, she was so lit with happiness, and as the procession came through the church door into the sanctuary, there was something more than the usual stir at the sight of the figure in white and a cloud of lace, walking between her matrons of honor...

Sister Cecily's that day was beauty no one could deny, like the wand of a lily, or a tree in white blossom... in the sheath of white satin she seemed slim and tall, her veil of fine lace making her look taller. Old Sister Priscilla became biblical and called her a pillar of cloud... She looked young, dignified as she walked, and the scent of the white freesias she carried -- given to her by her father -- came into the choir to the nuns.

Cecily knelt before the Bishop, facing the ranks of priests and monks. "What do you ask?"

"The mercy of God and the grace of the holy habit."

"Do you ask it with your whole heart?"

Her whole being seemed to breathe as she answered, "Yes, my lord, I do."
Le De could be construed as a wedding fragrance but for its coldness, its purity, its absolute lack of sensuality. These are not qualities oft sought in a bride, unless her groom's initials happened to be JC. However, like Sister Cecily, this perfume has a vocation-- and that vocation proves very winning. An aldehydic floral bouquet composed of muguet, violet, narcissus, lily and coriander, Le De overcomes its own icy nature to strike a chord of heartbreaking sincerity and youthful commitment. I am reminded of how the earliest and most tender spring flowers must force their way through a hard rime of frost to present their green buds to the sun. Nothing could be truly "touched by frost" that kindles such a flame of hope in the heart.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, mandarin, bergamot, coriander, clary sage, tarragon, violet, carnation, lilac, narcissus, iris, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lily, lily-of-the-valley, rose, oakmoss, vetiver, rosewood, sandalwood, guaiacwood, frankincense, amber, civet, musk