Smells like nostalgia. Credit: Diptyque

How do you capture the spirit of a place that no longer exists in a perfume? That was a question that Diptyque, the French niche perfumery house, set out to answer when coming up with a fragrance for its 60th anniversary.

The place in question is the Orpheon bar, a jaunty watering hole on the Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris. It was a lively meeting place during its heyday in the 1960s, a crossroads of artists, writers and dandies.

It was also a spot that all three of Diptyque’s founders – Christiane Gautrot, Desmond Knox-Leet and Yves Coueslant, an architect, painter and theatre director respectively – used to frequent. It was at the Orpheon bar that Diptyque, in its earliest form, was conceived and created.

diptyque orpheon

Diptyque’s three founders: (from left) Yves Coueslant, Christiane Gautrot and Desmond Knox-Leet.

Years later, when the Orpheon bar was set to close for good, Diptyque took the space over and subsumed it into its own boutique. You can still see a trace of the Orpheon today in that store in the form of a tall blue column that stands as a final vestige of the bar.

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To create that olfactory portrait of the Orpheon bar, Diptyque called on the talents of perfumer Olivier Pescheux. Pescheux has created 15 Diptyque fragrances so far, and the brand describes him as a “trusted friend”. The challenge, naturally, was to imagine what the bar would have smelt and felt like since it no longer exists today.

diptyque orpheon

The Italian visual artist Gianpaolo Pagni was commissioned to design the label art of the Orpheon fragrance. The front is inspired by fabric patterns and sketches by Gautrot and Knox-Leet, while the reverse has a trio of faces in profile. No points for guessing who they subtly represent.

To create this, Pescheux utilised a broad tableau of mental images and paired them with corresponding ingredients. Cedar, vetiver and patchouli, for example, create an olfactory accord to call up images of the wood furniture of the space. Its jazz club atmosphere was recreated with sharp mastic and galbanum notes to represent smokiness. The ambience, dimly lit and shadowy, was represented by warm and soft tonka bean and benzoin.

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To create the sense of people and liveliness, Pescheux looked to classic notes of men’s and women’s perfumes like ylang ylang, rose, musk and amber. These, combined with notes of juniper berries – a stiff gin cocktail, perhaps – create the sense of an intimate crowd of people at night. 

If you think that’s a lot of ingredients and notes: you’re right. The story here isn’t a hero note or ingredient. It’s the sense of being in a crowded and noisy cocktail bar, with everyone’s perfume mixing and mingling in the air.

You get whiffs of this and that, but the overall effect is abstract, and the most prominent sense from the scent is a comforting, downy soapiness – not unlike great classics like Chanel No.5.