Due to the charms of the owner of the Perfume House, for a while it seemed every perfume lover in Portland had a bottle of Caron Parfum Sacré on her dresser. In the 1990s, if you were lucky enough to be at the store when the owner was there, he might pull you into a tiny side room and ask you to sit on one of the two ice cream parlor-style chairs against the wall. Then, he would present Parfum Sacré, "the greatest memory perfume" and "one of the top 10 fragrances in the world".
When I heard the story more than a decade ago, I remember the owner, grey suited and speaking with a Europe-tinged accent, gesticulating fervently. Backed by a glass cabinet full of Annick Goutal bottles, he talked about Parfum Sacré's launch in Portland. At the end of the story he said, "I told them, 'Wait'," here he touched his wristwatch, "In 37 minutes—" (or was it 67 or maybe an hour and 47?) "—they will be back. Thirty-seven minutes later so many of them came back to buy the fragrance the police had to close the streets!"
Did the Portland police really turn out to control traffic snarls caused by manic perfume buyers? Who cares? I love a good story told with passion. Plus, Parfum Sacré is a gorgeous scent. I bought a quarter ounce of extrait on the spot.
Perfumer Jean-Pierre Béthouart created Parfum Sacré for Caron, and it was released in 1990. Its religious imagery and rich oriental feel leads me to suspect Parfum Sacré was intended to ride the trend started with Yves Saint Laurent Opium and continued just months before Parfum Sacré's release by Guerlain Samsara. Caron's website lists Parfum Sacré's notes as rose absolute, musk, myrrh, pepper, and cinnamon.
Parfum Sacré Eau de Parfum opens diffusive and lemon-peppery. The lemon vanishes quickly, but the black pepper endures as dark rose and chocolaty wood take over. Although rose holds the throne at the center of Parfum Sacré, I wouldn't call it a rose scent. I dabbed on some Frédéric Malle Une Rose, the darkest rose I have handy, and Parfum Sacré's rose is drier and blacker and heaped with myrrh and spice to the point that it's almost obscured. Underlying its spicy floral heart is vanilla and musk. Parfum Sacré has a touch of incense, but it doesn't smell like a blockbuster Amouage. Instead, its French side shows with a hint of powder.
Parfum Sacré isn't a difficult scent — it doesn't take years of sniffing perfume to appreciate. Yet it doesn't smell like anything else I know. On February days when warmth and romance wear thin, Parfum Sacré is an easy answer. (I bought my Eau de Parfum online about four years ago. I'm not sure if or how it has changed since then.)
Parfum Sacré extrait is a far step above the Eau de Parfum. The extrait tones down the Eau de Parfum's vanilla, ramps up its complexity and longevity, and finishes with a persistent, sultry musk. If Parfum Sacré Eau de Parfum is a thick blanket of spicy, woody, peppery rose, the extrait details the fascinating pattern woven by these notes. It lasts through a bath and a night's sleep, leaving narcotic musk as its goodbye. If the extrait were still in production, I wouldn't bother with the Eau de Parfum.
This year, Caron released Parfum Sacré Intense. I only have a few drops of the extrait left and hoped the Intense could replace it. Testing the Intense next to the extrait gives a quick answer: Sorry Charlie. Parfum Sacré Intense is more aldehydic and slightly greener than the extrait and seems to use only half of the extrait's olfactory vocabulary. While the Intense is recognizably Parfum Sacré, it feels simpler, smoother, thinner, and oilier than the extrait. It has less pepper, too. Instead of a sexy musk, I get flat vanilla and wood in the Intense version's dry down. Plus, it doesn't last much longer than the Eau de Parfum.
In recent years, the Perfume House's owner has applied his tantalizing storytelling skills to other scents, leading to fragrant waves of Amouage Gold, Rancé Joséphine, and, most recently, Caron Montaigne washing over dinner parties in the ritzy West Hills. For me, though, it's all about Parfum Sacré.
Sadly, Parfum Sacré extrait is no longer made. The Eau de Parfum and Parfum Sacré Intense are in production, and rumor has it Caron has added a Parfum Sacré spray oil for hair to its line. For information on where to buy Caron Parfum Sacré, see Caron under Perfume Houses.