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Passage d'Enfer Extrême – smoky and floral and woody

Olivia Giacobetti by Guillaume Luisette, 2001 - Wikimedia Commons

The first fragrance I wrote about when Kay and I started this blog waaaay back in April 2010, was Passage d'Enfer, EdT. It grabbed my heart the first time I tried it and never lost its hold on me. Let me take you back to that day. Kay and I were standing at the perfume counter at Barney's in New York. A sales assistant was going on about Annick Goutal this and Serge Lutens that. Tired from a day of shopping, I saw an empty make-up chair at the L'Artisan counter and sat down. "Can I help you?" asked a sales assistant. "No, thank you." I looked at the bottles on the counter. My eyes lingered over a bottle of Passage d'Enfer. Intrigued, I picked it up and sprayed it on my skin. A few minutes later, I bought a bottle.

Since that first whiff, Passage d'Enfer has been on my desert island list. But there's another reason it's on the list: Olivia Giacoabetti, the perfumer behind Passage d'Enfer.

I may own many fragrances from different brands, but there is no perfumer whose works I own more of than Olivia Giacbetti. Here’s my short list: Dzing!, Jour de Fete, Tea for Two, Fou d'Absinthe, Premier Figuier Extrême for L’Artisan, En Passant for Editions de Parfums de Frédéric Malle, Vamp à NY for Honoré des Prés, L'Original for Andrée Putman Preparation Parfumée, L’Ether de IUNX and L’Arbre de IUNX from her own line and I can’t leave out L b. for Agnes B.!

Daughter of famed French photographer and filmmaker Francis Giacobetti, Ms. Giacobetti knew she wanted to be a perfumer at the age of nine after seeing Yves Montand portray one in the French romantic comedy 'Le Sauvage.' By age seventeen, she was working for Robertet; by age twenty-one, she had signed l'Artisan Parfumeur's Premier Figuier, where she pioneered the use of the fig note in perfumery.

What I like most about Giacobetti is how she zeros in on notes in a minimalist style, then wraps them in nuances that are unexpected and hauntingly beautiful. For me, her fragrances are ethereal veils of scent shadows. It's no surprise then that Giacoabetti's new version of Passage d'Enfer, called Passage d'Enfer Extrême, has also found a place in my flacon-shaped heart.

Passage d'Enfer Extrême opens with a sombre note of smoky incense that's cool more than it is resinous.  Up through the smoke comes the strong, sweet smell of white lilies, bolstered by sweet, luxurious jasmine. The heady, aromatic flowers smell fresh and add sensuality to the fragrance. The lilies have spicy nuances that bloom on my skin and gives the incense a second act.  Creamy sandalwood stars at the base and joins the incense to boost the woodiness of Passage d'Enfer Extrême. Vanilla adds a coziness to the base; its sweetness tamped just enough by the smoky incens

Passage d'Enfer Extrême is one of Ms. Giacobetti's finest works. The interplay among the notes, as when the lilies appear through the smoky incense and then recede, only to reappear later wrapped in sandalwood that creates those ethereal veils of scent shadows mentioned earlier. She brings the nuances out of each note at just the right time in the progression of the fragrance.

Passage d'Enfer translates into 'passage to hell,' leading one to think that the fragrance is dangerous or edgy and suggesting that the Extrême version is even more daring. In fact, Passage d'Enfer refers to the address of L'Artisan's head offices in Paris in the 70's. There is nothing edgy or hellish about either of these fragrances. Instead, they are deftly designed skin scents, each with their own unique ethereal beauty and personality.

I've added Passage d'Enfer Extrême to my desert island list where it stands right beside Passage d'Enfer, like the two scent sisters they are.

Passage d'Enfer Extrême is listed in our Decant Store. Decants are $6.00 for 1 ml.