You had me at “papier”

My now years-long obsession with perfume began with a hunt for perfumes that smell like books and paper. First there was In the Library by Christopher Brosius’s CB I Hate Perfume, and Paperback (also created by Christopher Brosius, for Demeter; the man is a perfume genius), and then Paper Passion by Geza Schoen for Karl Lagerfeld, and and and. Of course, now you can find book-themed perfume at Sephora, who carry Commodity’s Book and Paper. My go-to comfort perfume is (the now very sadly discontinued) Dzing! from l’Artisan Parfumeur created by Olivia Giacobetti, and this is how it’s described by Luca Turin in his wonderful Perfumes: The Guide:

Dzing! is a masterpiece. Dzing! smells of paper, and you can spend a good while trying to figure out whether it is packing cardboard, kraft wrapping paper, envelopes while you lick the glue, old books, or something else. I have no idea whether this was the objective, but I have few clues as to why it happened. Lignin … is a polymer made up of units that are closely related to vanillin. When made into paper and stored for years, it breaks down and smells good. Which is how divine providence has arranged for secondhand bookstores to smell like good-quality vanilla absolute, subliminally stoking a hunger for knowledge in all of us.

The first perfume I made after taking an Experimental Perfumery class (highly recommended!) through The Institute for Art and Olfaction was called Pencil Case, a woody scent that smells like fountain pen ink and pencil shavings.

I am all about the stationery-inspired scents! Imagine my delight when I was asked to review the new l’Eau Papier from Diptyque. If ever there was a perfect audience for a perfume inspired by paper, ink and the worlds that emerge from the blank page, it’s me.

L’Eau Papier

Diptique’s l’Eau Papier is designed by perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin. The brief he was given was to create the scent of paper, and the inspiration for this fragrance is inspiration itself:

As ink soaks into a sheet of white paper, shadows emerge. Worlds are invented. L’Eau Papier celebrates the power of the imagination – that moment, suspended in time, when ink, paper and the hand become one.
pThe inspiration for this fragrance is inspiration itself: ink soaking into paper: As ink soaks into a sheet of white paper, shadows emerge. Worlds are invented. L'Eau Papier celebrates the power of the imagination – that moment, suspended in time, when ink, paper and the hand become one.er
l’Eau Papier

Where Dzing! takes the leather-bound and old volumes of vanilla approach, l’Eau Papier comes to the task through rice and wood. This is the crisp smell of new, deeply grained, white watercolour paper. It is deckled edges; it is laid paper with its raised lines and velvety texture; it is vast expanses of white; it is the ink pot when you take off the lid.

The Fragrance Notes

L’Eau Papier opens with a creamy, warm, woodiness with fresh mimosa at its centre. I get a very slight citrus facet as part of that crispness at the top. It’s a marvel of olfactory magic to combine the warmth of wood and musk with the floral crispness.

On my skin, the fragrance retains its floral character through the dry down; on others it dries down to a clean, powdery musk. As it dries down, the white musk emerges and so does the evocation of the texture of the grain of the paper: powdery and velvety.

One of the most valuable things I have learned to notice in fragrance is its texture. It is so useful when trying to articulate your impression of a scent to be able to draw on all of your senses, and you can absolutely assign colour, texture, mood, movement, position and sound to fragrances.

At the very tail end of the dry down, I get the sweet and earthy rice facet and the faintest trace of the cedar of pencil shavings.

My overall impression is of white sheets drying on the line in the hot sun, that clean, baked, crisp smell of freshly laundered linens. This is a genderless fragrance that evolves beautifully. It has a depth of character and dynamism in keeping with a brief that calls on the power of the imagination.

Where to Try & Buy

The scent launches this month in select stores and in Canada’s first flagship store at Yorkdale. $169 for 50 ml. $237 for 100 ml. Check out their whole line, including my long-time favourite Phylosikos, a fig fragrance by Olivia Giacobetti. Always, always, always wear a sample of a perfume before you buy it. It will evolve over time, it will have a different dynamism on skin than on a blotter, and you want to be sure you are going home with a scent you will love for a long time.

For more on glorious fragrances, check out this post on celebrating our sense of smell.