In the Street of the Perfume-Sellers – al Ghazali

Guest Post by Azar.

Sometimes it is difficult for me to keep an open mind about a new fragrance. I become so attached to my familiar favorites that I tend to create a set of almost moral value judgments regarding what is “good” or “bad” about a perfume. As a result I don’t step out of my fragrance comfort zone long enough to expand my horizons. Whenever this starts to happen I remind myself of the day I discovered Fidji.

In 1975 (or so) my ex and I arranged a ski vacation for the two of us and several friends to Cervinia, the resort on the Italian side of the Matterhorn (Monte Cervino). Our “crowd”, a group of skiers from Tehran, was used to the high and powdery slopes of Dezin (3,600 m) and to the steep, icy, difficult runs of nearby Shemshak. Cervinia, with its long, easy and open pistes at altitudes of up to 3,833 m, seemed like great fun and the perfect ski destination. Counter to expectations, we arrived to an unseasonably warm January in Italy. While the snow was abundant, if a bit soggy on the upper slopes, we had to negotiate rocks and even patches of grass as we approached the base. But all was not lost! We headed for the restaurants, discos and shops. It was there in the mountains, in a small boutique on a snow-covered corner of Cervinia that I met and fell madly for the perfume love of my life, Guy Laroche Fidji.

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Azar discovered Fidji in Cervinia, Italy

My first impression of Fidji was shocking and green. I had been brought up on various Lanvin, as well as on Shalimar and Jungle Gardenia. My Persian perfume oils were all roses, jasmine and musks from the bazaars of Tehran and Mashhad.

Fidji‘s top notes of galbanum and hyacinth, while totally Persian in character and production, combined with what I later learned was bergamot and lemon to create a scent so fresh and sharp that it was almost painful and nearly took my breath away. I was stunned and didn’t like it at all. I purchased a brown cashmere sweater and a ski “suit” and left the shop, compulsively sniffing my wrist.

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Galbanum

As the perfume dried down in the cold mountain air I was warmed and seduced by jasmine, rose, ylang ylang and a spicy carnation. Later that afternoon I returned to the shop and purchased my first of many 14 ml Fidji parfums. As we danced the night away at the local clubs I could still detect the initial touch of my new fragrance lingering as musk and oakmoss.

Since that first purchase in Italy so many years ago there have been numerous bottles of Fidji in my life. In my current collection I have the original parfum as well as a reformulation, a flanker (Fidji du Soir) and what I believe to be a fake Fidji. Fidji du Soir was a deeper richer version which was released in 1977 to compete with the relaunch of the deep and rich Opium.

 Private Collection: Azar Vintage Fidji, Fidji du Soir, Reformulated Fidji and ersatz Fidji. Let’s call that a stash!


Private Collection: Azar
Vintage Fidji, Fidji du Soir, Reformulated Fidji and ersatz Fidji.
Let’s call that a stash!

My initial surprising reaction to and enjoyment of this scent has never faded. This morning, when I opened my current, in-use bottle of parfum, I was once again magically transported to Cervinia in the 1970’s. Instead of the tropics suggested by the name, I smell snow and the crisp air of a mountain village resort and see the afternoon sunlight slanting through the windows of the tiny shop. The romance of Fidji was created entirely from my own experience. It wasn’t until many years later that I learned of the significance of Fidji’s famous print ads and about its legendary creator, Josephine Catapano (Norell, Youth-Dew, Cinnabar, Zen).

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At this point in my narrative you might be wondering what does “In the Street of the Perfume-Sellers” have to do with snow and Fidji. This title refers to a little fable by the 11th century Persian poet and mystic, al Ghazali, the author of The Alchemy of Happiness. The parable, “In the Street of the Perfume-Sellers”, appears in Idris Shah’s collection of stories entitled Tales of the Dervishes originally published in 1967.

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The Tehran bazaar

Here is an excerpt:

A scavenger, walking down the street of the perfume-sellers, fell down as if dead. People tried to revive him with sweet odours, but he only became worse. Finally, a former scavenger came along, and recognized the situation. He held something filthy under the man’s nose and he immediately revived calling out “This is indeed perfume!…

أبو حامد الغزالي
Abu Hamid al Ghazali
11th century Persian poet and mystic
In the Street of the Perfume-Sellers
from the Tales of the Dervishes Anthology
Compiled by Idries Shah

Is there a story, a fable (or a cautionary tale) behind the discovery of your favorite perfume? I’d love to hear it.

Azar

Azar Smith Copyright 2013

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Fidji
Guy Larouche
Perfumer: Josephine Catapano
Released 1966

Notes
Head galbanum, hyacinth, lemon, bergamot

Heart carnation, rose, jasmine, violet, ylang-ylang

Drydown musk, patchouli, sandal, amber, vetiver, moss

Fidji du Soir
Released in 1977 as a deeper richer version to compete with the deep and rich Opium. Discontinued but sometimes seen on ebay.
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Further Reading
Yesterday’s Perfume – review
The Perfume Shrine – Fragrance Review and History
The Scented Salamander – One of the Greats: Perfumer, Josephine Catapano
Scent & Subversion – the book by Barbara Herman about vintage perfume is described by The Non-Blonde as “an unparalleled resource”.

Linda Evangelista – Fidji video

6 responses to “In the Street of the Perfume-Sellers – al Ghazali

  1. Great story within a story Azar. A Persian tradition I believe. I have avoided vintage for numerical reasons but as I had never heard of Fidji du Soir you have now widened the path of my fragrant journey. But I will need to covert another wine fridge for future storage as unlike you I do not have an entire wine cellar to convert underneath my home.

  2. Thank you, Jordan! I love telling stories almost as much as I love perfume. Fidji du Soir is darker than the original and worth a try.

    Regarding the cellar: The problem with a relatively large cellar storage area is that a lot goes down there and is forgotten forever. Wine and perfume are not the only collections that end up in the basement cellar. My music library lives there as well as food storage, old clocks and other forgotten treasures.

  3. I think I never tried Fidji. At least not a real one: I think I tried a fake one though🙂 And now I’m very curious about this scent – good job!

    I have a story for my favorite perfume but it’s too long for a comment so you can read it here if you’re curious.

  4. Hi Undina! Do we share the “hoarding” instinct? I am fully stocked but still want to make sure I never run out. Is this a response to an intentionally created scarcity mentality? From your story I sense that you might have the same connection to Climat.

  5. Pingback: Fidji by Guy Laroche « AustralianPerfumeJunkies·

  6. Interesting to find this story! Fidji for me is a winter perfume, as I discovered it one winter as a teenager. My wonderful mother gave it to me as a present. It’s great to read your perspective because I so often see this categorised as a spring/summer perfume. For me, Fidji really warms up the cold weather but is somehow fresh too. My standout perfume love. I have a stash that includes pre-2000 bottles.

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