COURTESY DIPTYQUE PARIS
WORDS
COVER IMAGE

Diptyque, Paris. Rebuses and inverted letters

Three guys cannot sell their drawings, so they open a two-windows shop in Boulevard Saint Germain: Dyptique

The three partners

In 1961, three young people were working together designing patterns and decorations on fabric and wallpaper for English houses, but they weren’t selling any. They decided to open a boutique where they could offer everything they loved — keepsakes from their travels, fabric, wallpaper, home furnishings, accessories, drawings, paintings. The shop was located at 34 Boulevard Saint-Germain, Dyptique Paris. It sold everything — wooden toys, Welsh wool blankets, Indian incense, Lorraine crystal, colorful seed necklaces, Penhaligon eau de toilette, the creations of a little girl who was the niece of some Irish friends, Laura Ashley. By chance, or by vocation, the three became trendsetters. Parisian intellectuals would stop by on their way from the nearby Café de Flore or the suburbs.

The three partners in dyptique — written in all lowercase — are Christiane Gautrot, who came from the Academy of Fine Arts with a passion for interior design; Desmond Knox-Leet, an English painter; and Yves Coueslant, who left a career in banking behind in favor of the theater. In the official photo for the brand, the founders are smiling but bashful, in a style that is more WASP than Bohemian. The choice of photo can be considered a joke among the three friends, who like to put each other on. 

A diptych

One door and two symmetrical shop windows on either side: this is how the store looks from the outside. The two windows form a diptych – dyptique. Inverting the y and the i creates confusion for the post office, for the letterhead, even in the telephone book. But apart from this, the name works. It rhymes with boutique, éclectique, esthétique, fantastique, and poétique. The brand logo is inspired by the pediment of an antique temple. The letters that form the word diptyque are scattered, so reading the word in the typical way renders it unpronounceable. The careful eye can read diptyque.

During the Second World War, Desmond served the Crown by decoding enemy messages. This left him with a passion for puzzles and encrypted messages. In 1963, the founders began created scented candles inspired by the colors of their fabrics– hawthorn, cinnamon, and tea – and to each candle and each perfume, the brand logo was affixed: a black frame, inspired by the elongated shield of the Roman soldier. In the center was a censer, and the name of the scent. As in the brand logo, the letters in the name of the scent do not respect the logical order – they are rebuses.

While half of 1968 Paris was behind barricades, Desmond created his first perfume — Eau — based on an English potpourri from the Sixteenth century. It is a mixture of flowers and berries that tries to recreate the scent of the flower children. The phoneme composed by the three letters, e-a-u, /o/, recalls the roundness of a drop of water. From that first perfume, all of the house’s scents — Olène, Ofrésia, Do Son — include this sonorous sign. diptyque’s creations elude the traditional perfumery palette. They are not intended for day or evening wear, or aimed at men or women. They belong to a frame of mind, or to a memory. Diptyque creates its fragrances to respond to memories or moods of their customers. Distinguishing head notes, heart notes, or base notes is a challenge: there is no predominant note, and ingredients are mixed in such a way that they become unrecognizable.

In 1983, Karl Lagerfeld, who had just been named creative director of Chanel, went to 34 Boulevard Saint-Germain in search of perfume. He fell in love with a blackcurrant fragrance. After his visit, Baies was distributed in all of Chanel’s shops. John Galliano, a longtime customer, went to the same address to commission a fragrance for himself. From leather, bark, musk, and dried herbs, Essence of JG was born.

Gardens of Eden

When they needed to recharge, each partner of diptyque would take refuge in their own Garden of Eden. In the family garden of La Ferté-Alais, Christiane would sit under a weeping willow. On her lips, the taste of blackcurrants, red currants, and raspberries. The willow reflects its shadow in the water, and L’Ombre dans l’eau (The shadow in the water) is born. In Ireland there is a small fenced garden covered with fragrant pea blossoms and hollyhock. Desmond bottles his refuge, giving life to Jardin Clos (Walled Garden}.  The garden of Les Lilas, in Normandy, is a refuge for Desmond and Yves both. It is scattered with statues covered with ivy. Eau de Lierre (Ivy Water) is its essence.

Yves Coueslant spent his summers in the pagoda his father had built at Do Son, in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. The ocean breeze brought the scent of tuberose. Do Son is his floral memory of a childhood spent in the French Indochine of Marguerite Duras. Upon returning from Greece, Yves and Desmond brought a gift for Christiane: a box containing a fig leaf, a chip of marble from the Acropolis, fragments of Mycenaean pottery, and a shell. Years after that gift, and combined with the memory of fields of fig trees, she would create Philosykos – a perfume for fig lovers.

Messages in a bottle

Desmond — the painter who loves puzzles — converted the fragrances to illustrations. On the back of the label, if you turn the bottle around, you can find his “messages in a bottle.” Today the illustrations include images in Art Nouveau style: stylized views of the Orient, jungles and orchards. As an artistic perfume brand, diptyque expresses itself using the highest quality materials – sandalwood from Mysore, vanilla from Madagascar, Indian tuberose, blackcurrant from Normandy. Together with its production partners, the house is guided by the ethics of sustainability. 

Homages

Eau Mohéli is a perfume with a ylang ylang base. In collaboration with the Givouadan Foundation, diptyque is taking part in the cultivation of ylang ylang on the island of Mwali, in the archipelago of the Comoros, in an attempt to save the flower from extinction. The brand supports three hundred farmers who are dedicated to the cultivation of this plant, which can prevent erosion of the volcanic soil of the island. They are doing the same in the vetiver fields of Haiti, where they obtain the wood that is the source of Vetyverio. Vetiver used by diptyque has obtained the ESR certification (Fairness, Solidarity and Responsibility) issued by Ecocert. 

The bitter orange tree, from root to top, flowers, leaves, and fruit – all are found in Eau de Sens. Oponé is the Orient, while Eau Trois evokes Mount Athos, but also the myrrh that is a part of the gift of the Magi. Volutes tells the stories of the transatlantic ocean liners that connect Saigon and Marseille, with the scent of tobacco aboard. Fleur de peau — On the Skin — is an homage to the love between Eros and Psyche. It has a musky base mixed with iris, creating a tactile sensation: perfume becomes skin.


Boulevard Saint Germain 34

Paris, France

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