Story is everything, even, and I would argue especially, in perfume. The fragrance will give you the heart of the perfume, but its story is its soul. Of course the fragrance will be the last word in whether or not you wear a certain perfume, but the story of what a perfume was inspired by, who it was made for, what it reminds the creator of, these ingredients are just as likely to lead me to try on and to fall in love with a perfume. Such was the case with Diptyque’s Philosykos, a woody fig fragrance that is the epitome of summer comfort and grace.
My introduction to Philosykos was admiring it on a friend who said it’s the only perfume she wears. While I’m a gadabout and wear a different perfume every day, I respect and envy that kind of commitment. To choose a signature scent is such a compliment to the perfumer, and to the extent I have any regrets about not having a signature scent, it’s because I can’t honour the craft in this way.
I honour it, instead, by being a fume head and trying on perfumes as a form of leisure and by reading and learning all that I can. I recently had the great pleasure to attend a master class at Holt Renfrew offered by Mark Statham, where I learned even more about Diptyque’s iconic fig fragrance.
Diptyque was founded by three friends in Paris who shared a passion for art: Christiane Gautrot was an interior designer, Desmond Knox-Leet, a painter, and Yves Coueslant, a theater director and set designer. In 1961 they opened a shop at 34 boulevard Saint-Germain, where they displayed and sold their own plain and print soft furnishings, and where they made available traditional English perfumes. In 1968, they began to sell their own perfumes. Desmond had been a code breaker during the war, during which he worked at Bletchley Park. The scrambled letters in his design for Diptyque’s candles is a nod to his work as a decoder.
The story of how their Philosikos came into being is a beautiful story of travel and friendship. Desmond and Yves vacationed often together in Greece, and after returning from one of their trips, Desmond gave Christiane a box of souvenirs from the places they had visited. It included a fig leaf wrapped in tissue paper from a tree that had baked in the sun all day and under which they had sat. Years later, after he passed away, Christiane opened the box and the fig scent emerged, powerful and in tact. She and Yves decided to launch a fig perfume in memory of Desmond, and the perfume was created in 1996 by Olivia Giacobetti, the genius who makes one of my favourite perfumes, Dzing!
Two friends’ favourite holiday destination, a souvenir of a those travels wrapped in tissue paper, a box of mementoes infused with the fragrance of fig leaves, and a tribute to a dead friend. All of that is captured in the fragrant heart of a perfume whose storied soul makes me love it all the more.
Plenty is on holiday for two weeks and we are publishing from our archives. This piece was originally published on August 12, 2016.