SmackDown: Le Galion Sortilege (2014) vs Lavin Arpege (vintage)

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Post by Willa Zheng

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Psst, there’s quiet buzz about a new old perfume house on the scene. Two months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting creative director, Nicolas Chabot, whilst he was in town to promote the resurrection of the venerable but now largely forgotten fragrance house of Le Galion.

SmackDown: Sortilege 2014 vs Arpege vintage

sortilege Le GalionPhoto Stolen Le Galion

Owned by perfumer Paul Vacher (Miss Dior, Diorling) during its heyday (1935-1975), the flagship fragrance in Le Galion’s coffret is Sortilege. Sortilege was Vacher’s first creation for Le Galion when he purchased the house from a French prince. Prior to Le Galion, Vacher worked for Lavin and was one of the perfumers for Arpege. Now as the owner and head perfumer of his own perfume house, Vacher wanted to revisit his early work and create it now the way he would have it. Voilà, Sortilege, the unofficial “director’s cut” of Arpege.

Arpege Parfum Lanvin FragranticaPhoto Stolen Fragrantica

Unfortunately, with the restricted availability and banned use of certain raw materials, Nicolas had to enlist the help of perfumer Thomas Fontaine (Joy Forever) to reformulate Vacher’s 1935 masterpiece for the 2014 market. We know that Arpege is now but a wan spectre of its former glorious self but how does the new version of Sortilege compare to Arpege, as Paul Vacher understood it?

This month’s smackdown is a battle of the old verses the new. And to control for variability in vintage sample qualities, we’re smacking Sortilege (2014) against not one but two vintage versions, parfum 60s & edt 80s, of Arpege. Thanks Portia!

SmackDown Boxing Match tpsdave PixabayPhoto Stolen Pixabay

SmackDown: The First Hit

Le Galion Sortilege (2014)
Sortilege opens like a fruity-floral lemonade. The aldehydic experience is not unlike Chanel No. 5 Eau Premier. It’s peachy, juicy white florals. Complex and beautifully blended, Sortilege smell like spring – late spring to be precise.
The opening notes, curiously, are best described in Fragrancetica’s top notes listing for Arpege – aldehydes, peach, lily of the valley, neroli, bergamot and honeysuckle. I could not detect any lilac nor much ylang ylang at this open.
Lanvin Arpege (vintage)
Arpege parfum opens to what seems to be leather and oakmoss. There is some aldehyde but it’s not the fizzy sparkling quality found in Sortilege or Chanel No. 5. I suspect this is due to age of the sample. Then the parfum starts to develop a green, woody character. Is it patchouli? Or coriander? It’s hard to tell for vintage perfumes, when the notes can just be bruised.
Portia’s vintage EDT also opens to oakmoss, and birch tar. There’s a dark rubbery quality to it, and the aldehyde is soft.

SmackDown: Round Two

Le Galion Sortilege (2014)
As the aldehydes soften, deeper notes like rose and jasmine come to Sortilege’s fore. It is strong, sweet and assertive.
Lanvin Arpege (vintage)
Within minutes after the parfum opens, clean bright jasmines begin to sing. As the jasmine flowers soar, they lift up and carry along with it other white florals. Lily, rose, geranium, lily of the valley… they’re all there. The experience is like inhaling inside a white wedding bouquet. Sweet, radiant, and beautiful. Arpege parfum is the bride in her wedding dress; she is the centre of attention and will compete with no one.
Arpege EDT changes her posture at a breakneck speed. Before you could even enjoy the deep, heavy opening notes, they vanish and are replaced by a clean, soapy (iris, geranium, lily) jasmine accord. But there’s still a slight rubbery quality to it. A darker, smokier white floral fragrance than the parfum. It’s reminiscent of YSL Opium, if Opium had been spiked with powdery, white floral notes.
Warning: There’s no gentleness about either Arpege samples. The white flowers are LOUD and will wear out your nostrils. It’s like Giorgio Beverly Hills, the 80s, all over again. NSFW.

SmackDown: The Knockout

Le Galion Sortilege (2014)
Half an hour later, the Sortilege experience becomes less juicy and the final base of sweet sandalwood, amber and musk is revealed. This base remains linear to the conclusion.
Lanvin Arpege (vintage)
In the parfum’s final phase, sandalwood and amber emerge to ground the white floral bouquet just before she has worn out her host’s patience. But there’s a medicine box, chypre (green-woody) quality to this base, echoing Clinique Elixir and Estee Lauder Youth Dew. Her last breath is civet.
The EDT is heavier on the sandalwood, and has noticeably more labdanum and civet. The effect is sharper and more tenacious than the parfum.

SmackDown: Verdict

Although Sortilege (2014) and Arpege (1927) can both be classified as aldehydic white florals with a sweet amber base, they have completely different personalities. Sortilege is prettier and well suited for the modern fruity-floral palette. It’s very wearable and has no ugly bits. Arpege is more challenging – but rooted in the era when chypre was the new big thing.
Sillage wise, Arpege wins Paul Vacher’s bouquet toss. Sortilege wears close to the skin and lasts a moderate 6-8hrs. Arpege parfum and EDT tied at 6-8hrs as well.

Now tell me, is there a vintage fragrance you’d like to ‘make over’?
Willa Zheng

5 thoughts on “SmackDown: Le Galion Sortilege (2014) vs Lavin Arpege (vintage)

  1. Hi Willa,
    While the 2014 Sortilege is quite pleasing and pretty I prefer the old Arpege. To me it is simply a more interesting fragrance. Who is my vintage candidate for a “make-over”? None that I know of but I would love a “re-launch” of Lanvin Spanish Geranium – but only if it could smell exactly like the original! I wonder if that would be possible?;)
    Azar xx

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  2. Hi Willa! I loved this and thought of course there would be a ton of things I’d like to make over! But I came to realize my head is stuffed and I haven’t kept up. I love to bounce over into vintage, but that’s what I know as I’m older. Then I try to keep current and give everybody a shot. It’s become overwhelming to me.

    I have a vintage Sortilege mini and a vintage Arpege mini. They are floating in The Sample Sea. I will remember you when that wave comes to shore. I love that Le Galion, Caron and Jean Patou are reviving some of their classics. I understand that perhaps they can’t source the same stuff they used to, but I think they could definitely be competitive in today’s market if they would just step up and own it. It’s time we all embrace all the beauty and not apologize for being old-fashioned or naive. Fragrance is one of the many ways we communicate.

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  3. Yes I remember 2 x perfumes that my sister wore in the 70 & 80’s . (Sortilege was the other one she wore that I adored and would love to buy if it still smells the same)
    Both by Cotton, I think, I used to melt with the scent. One was ‘Ambush’ and the other ‘Imprevu’. I would love to know if they are available to buy and to smell them again to see if they smell as good as they did then. I can’t remember how they smelt only that in my memory they were a dusty not sharp aroma in my opinion. Can you help?

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    • Ambush is by Dana. still available and many people love it. Personally there’s something in there that makes me recoil in horror.
      Portia xx

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