Although Lamplight Penance does not come out until Saturday, October 13, it has been a long time in the making. On my end, approximately two years to find the right way to tell this story. But considering when an electrician uncovered Henri Chatillon’s secrets underneath attic floorboards in 1967, it has been just over 50 years. And if we really look at the big picture, it all starts in 1845 in the wake of a heartbreaking event during an expedition led by Chatillon that would later be detailed in The Oregon Trail.
The Story Behind the Scent
Henri Chatillon was famous for knowledge of the west, his skill with a rifle, his horsemanship and, most importantly, fluency in Native American languages and ability to strike a friendship with and respect for people from all walks of life. In fact, he was married to the daughter of Bull Bear, a chief of an Oglala Sioux tribe who adopted Chatillon as one of their own at a time when many held prejudice against the Sioux and other Native Americans.
As documented in The Oregon Trail, when news reached Chatillon’s expedition that his beloved wife, Bear Robe, had taken deathly ill, he immediately rushed back to be by her side and was grief-stricken when she passed away. Soon after, he brought their children back to his home of Saint Louis, entered into a marriage of convenience, adopted an understated fashion sense and retired to his farm home just a few blocks from Chatillon Lux’s headquarters.
Decades later, an electrician working at Chatillon’s mansion-turned-museum discovered Chatillon’s rifle and other mementos from the Oregon Trail underneath the attic floorboards, wrapped in a portrait of himself and his dearly departed Bear Robe. Lamplight Penance seeks to recreate Chatillon’s later years as he retired to a life of creature comfort and gardens while secretly, by the lamplight, secretly yearning for the trail along with his past life and past love, neither of which he could ever manage to forget.
Making the Fragrance
This dichotomy and contradiction was the impetus of Lamplight Penance. It paints the portrait of Chatillon stealthily ascending to the attic after Odile Delor Lux had fallen asleep so he could solitarily relive his fond memories by lamplight. With scents of daffodils, fruits and berries wafting through an open window, he would explore the leather and musk of the trail while longing for his undying love, with a burning oil lamp and a glass of brown liquor as the only witnesses to these journeys to the past.
In creating this scent, the most challenging aspect was the burning lamp accord. The fragrance begins with a smoky whoosh and mellows out as it settles in, much like when lighting of a lamp. For the oily smell, natural ambergris and a few other materials recall oil lamp made from whale blubber. This particular ambergris, a material derived from the undigested beaks from a whale’s squid dinner and naturally aged floating in oceanic salt water, was selected due to its highly animalic characteristics that most accurately give the effect of lamp oil
Additionally, the burning wick was a challenge. I considered cade oil, but it is smoky but can often smell like a barbecue. Rectified birch tar gives a woody bent, smelling more like a campfire than a burning wick. Eventually, I tried choya ral, extracted in much the same manner as rectified birch tar, but from a tree native to the Himalayans. Combined with the sweet smokiness of guaiacol and a touch of honey, we now have a burning wick that roars upon the touch of a match.
Finally, for the inspiration of the dichotomous notes of berries, fruits and flowers, I went no further than my own neighborhood to find them, exploring the garden at the Chatillon-DeMenil mansion and local parks, smelling daffodils and seeing berry bushes and peach trees. One of my favorite times of the year is when Eckert’s Farm harvests peaches and they flood the local markets. The smell of peach skin is surprisingly tart for as sweet as the juice that it contains is, and that peach skin scent plays outstandingly with raspberries and strawberries while melding into the green undertones of the narcotic daffodil.
Finally, the leather muskiness of the scent was meant to reflect the smell of the soft type of leather that Chatillon would have used for clothing and on the trail, not the treated leather jacket type. It carries the smell of musky adventure, of coffee beans meant to kick start the day as the first rays of light sneak over the skyline, of the smoldering campfire being coaxed back into action, of his trusted steed, and of Chatillon himself.
This fragrance is the juxtaposition of two seemingly incongruent worlds living, if not in harmony, at least in proximity. This is the struggle to let go of the past and prepare for the denouement of Chatillon’s storied journey, trading passion for comfort and peacefulness and riding off into the sunset.
• Berries, peaches, daffodils, orange blossoms
• Lamp oil, burning wick, bourbon, red cedar
• Mahogany, brown liquor, musk