MDCI: Roman Numerals Standing for French Excellence

MDCI began from the vision of one man, Claude Marchal. An art lover with a passion for fragrance and ancient Japanese woodprints, the Frenchman who saw the homogeneity of the industry as its most serious drawback into instigating true passion, decided to create his own with the help of the finest talent available in France. The acronym stands not for the year 1601, of which it is a Roman numeral representation, but for Marchal Dessins et Créations Indépendantes and the firm continues to be a true niche brand, independently funded since its founding in 2003. 

A warm and funny man, Marchal does not hide the fact that he fell in love with numerous artworks at museums around the world, from the Louvre and the palace built for Catherine de Medici, to the Schatzkammer in Vienna… 

Marchal’s vision of beauty and art being at the frontier of creation, he also revolutionized the market with his distinctive “bust” caps on selected bottles which reprise sculptures from classical Greek and Roman antiquity, the Italian Renaissance, the French court of the 17th century and the illustrious Gardens of Luxembourg, as well as the old Marais district. Other bottles reprise the paintings of the Grand Masters, in miniature form, on tasselled bottles like jewels to be displayed in a boudoir. The bottles are eye-catching, almost mesmerising, they differ so much from the sea of sameness of minimalist or kitsch bottles in the market today. They beckon to be felt and handled, to feel the beautiful contours, the smooth luxury of their solid lines, the delicate threads of their tassels. 

MDCI Parfums Bust, Perfume bottle

Perfumers at the top of their game were responsible for the masterpieces delivered in the bottles within the MDCI collection: Pierre Bourdon, Bertrand Duchaufour, Cecile Zarokian, Francis Kurkdjian, Stephanie Bakouche, Patricia de Nicolai, and Nathalie Feisthauer. An embarrassment of riches, an All Star line-up, chosen for their pure talent and experience. There were no concessions to raw materials budget, no cuts in craftsmanship. The end result should be excellent. And so it was. Among the first creations of the house, Ambre Topkapi, Invasion Barbare, Rose de Siwa and Promesse de l’Aube. 

For the purist, Rose de Siwa is the fresh morning kiss of the Queen of flowers; here it is interpreted with the delicate touch of the fruity lychee, freshening it into a contemporary delight, and the subtle shyness of violet and hawthorn, two retro notes which remind us of the romanticism of yesterday. The note of hawthorn, in particular, adheres to two varieties of rose, that of Turkey, with its richer, liqueur quality, and that of Morocco, with its sunny crystalline facets, enhancing them into a soft cocoon of femininity. Created by Francis Kurkdjian, it effortlessly brings to mind the icons of feminine beauty of the ages. The second creation by Francis for MDCI, Promesse de l’Aube refers to the seductive emanations of the jasmine, which lies in the heart of hearts of this lovely creation. Functioning as the other side of Janus, in the game of femininity, Promise at Dawn, as is its name in English, delivers a billet doux, a love note, of great passion to its wearer and the people smelling her. An ode to the solid perfection of fragrances of French elegance, this floral oriental scent is heaving under the welcome weight of ylang ylang from the Comores islands, and jasmine, fanning them on the soft bed of sandalwood and vanilla. The masterful juxtaposition of citric notes on the opening of the fragrance is what lightens and mellows the rich floral distillates and absolutes in the heart, making them piquant and producing an euphoric “burst” of the notes forth when you spray it on. 

What Kurkdjian made for women, Stephanie Bakouche made for men, in Invasion Barbare. Surely not a barbarous fragrance, as those could never be considered among the suaveness of the MDCI line which is classical to the bottom of its pillar like bottles, Invasion Barbare is the re-orchestration of a lavender scent with violet leaves which give it a contemporary and refreshing air. This is aided by a soapy hint of aldehydes (waxy smelling clean molecules), a piquant note of spice, and the murmurous sonority of patchouli. It feels as handsome as a Roman statue, as powerful as a consul from the same time, and as suave as only a modern fougère can be. On that same note, master perfumer Pierre Bourdon, creator of legends such as Cool Water (Davidoff) and Dolce Vita (Dior), delivered a different symphony in Ambre Topkapi, where lavender plays first violin, but is surrounded by the citruses, some melon with Calone, the earthy coolness of vetiver and quite a bit of clean musk for a groomed finish. It’s effortless and easy going and defies the Orientalist Ottoman name which implies something deep and heavy. 

There are no concessions to trends in MDCI, however the undoubted superiority of fruits into lifting the mood has not escaped Claude Marchal’s attention. Therefore he commissioned a happy perfume to Amandine Clerc-Marie, a young perfumer who made the ultimate peach scent with Péché Cardinal. The double-entendre of the name is brilliant, péché standing for peach but also sin, making it an allusion to the cardinal sin of succumbing into temptation. The juicy peach is allied here to a rare ingredient, davana, which creates a sort of peachy flan with the fruit, and then opens into the bubblegum quality of the tuberose flower absolute and the plum base. It’s just the right serving of sweet and it cannot help putting a smile on one’s face. 

The bottles with the portraits on their front belong to The Paintings collection, launched in 2019, and destined to become modern classics. Cuir Cavalier depicting Theodore Géricault’s 1812 portrait of a warring horseman of Napoléon’s Imperial Guard is a frenchified vision of a middle-eastern theme, indeed the horseman could be battling in foreign soil. The mix of oud, patchouli and rose, wrapped in the warmth and soft powderiness of amber, speaks of a grand presence for men confident in themselves and yielding only to the objects of their own indulgence. This creation by Nathalie Feisthauer possesses a sweet sillage which remains on clothes for ages ; as timeless as the inspirations behind the MDCI line itself. 

MDCI perfume bottleOn the other hand, L’Homme aux Gants (Man in Gloves) is depicting Titian’s famous portrait of a Venetian patrician wearing suede gloves, an innovation being that those gloves were scented with precious essences at the time, to mask the odorous solutions used for the treatment of hides. However there is no whiff of the tannery in this superb and somewhat contemplative fragrance of soft suede, nagarmotha and benzoin resin, which create an introspective woody-balsamic aura of sophistication. A man of few words, who makes them count.

Last but not least, L'Aimée is inspired by Madame Seriziat painted by Jacques-Louis David. Evoking classical French mentality, where beauty is balanced with intellect, this Nathalie Feisthauer creation fuses a classical French perfumery bouquet of rose and jasmine with a very sensual garland of sensuous musky materials (ambrette, musk, castoreum) and a few soft, plush, hazy ingredients (heliotrope, tonka, peach, sandalwood), therefore creating tension between the carnal and the cerebral. This newly launched Eau de Parfum is tangy with a dose of raspberry, very fresh with orange blossom, and clean like soap, with a complex structure that unites contrasting elements.

With MDCI, we’re sure that one or the other of those classical compositions will catch your yearning for the timeless. The spirit of golden era French perfumery lives on in those twilit bottles with Roman numbers on them. Who could deny a slice of the Eternal?

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