Monthly Archives: December 2011

The 1912 Overture part I

There are watershed years in practically every field, and in perfumery, 1912 was the year of grace.   It is one hundred years since Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue, Houbigant’s Quelques Fleurs, and Caron’s Narcisse Noir were introduced, amazingly, all three are with us up to the present day.  They are all classics and are all, in their various ways, ground breaking.

It’s hard to conceive of a time when fragrances weren’t launched with the  outsized caution and undersized budgets of our own era, and yet those pre-war years were the time of Francois Coty’s rise, and his competitors were responding to the market dominating successes of La Rose Jacqueminot (1904) and L’Origan (1905), especially the latter.  On the strength of these blockbusters, Coty  built a factory complex outside of Paris capable of producing thousands of bottles a day, and he was in the process of conquering overseas markets as well.

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Pluperfect Purple

When was the heliotrope last in fashion?  I wonder.  It may have been sometime in the  nineties.  The 1890’s, that is. It went out no doubt with hair pomade and gardenia boutonnieres.

What is the heliotrope?  It is a small flowering herb originally from Peru.  It has dense heads of flower usually horizontally arranged, violet or dark purple in color.  You grow them for the scent which is heavenly.  They used to be called Cherry Pie – a doubtful characterization to my mind since the flowers don’t smell like cherries or pie.

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Upon a Midnight Clear

Sometimes in smelling all sorts of things you stumble over a creation that is simply beautiful.  In writing about holiday scents – which is a difficult thing to do because there’s a jumble of scents tumbling about houses during the last week in December, you often are road blocked by cliché smells. The worst of them is pine.

Let me re-phrase that. The strongest of them is pine.  It out-smells everything else. Pine is the prima donna assoluta of Christmas time smells, and like the prima donna, will not be ignored.

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Monstre Sacre

When Caron’s Parfum Sacre first came out in 1990, I did not like it at all.  It was, to give me some modicum of credit, not the same perfume that it is today.  It was much, much stronger, and in a perfume guide  from 1993, the sole notation I wrote about it is: ooph. Monstre Sacre!

This is really getting to the heart of the matter, because the perfume was made in order to attract attention.  The original version was a show-boater of a scent, designed for maximum olfactory impact in the way that something along the lines of Flowerbomb is today.  Never being a fan of the overly emphatic scent, I avoided it.

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Not Smoking…Really

Tobacco, tobacco!                                                                       Sing sweetly for tobacco,                                                    Tobacco is like love, o love it,                                                   For you see I will prove it.

Tobias Hume (1567-1645)

If the new electronic cigarettes turn out to be truly less menacing to human health than the old ones, I wonder if smoking will find favor with a new generation?  My mother-in-law, who gave up smoking almost forty years ago, still misses it.  Periodically she remarks that one day, when she really gets old, she will take it up again.

I never smoked, but in common with many people who remember the sixties and seventies, I miss the smell of tobacco products.  I’ll admit that chain smokers did not smell very good but pipe tobacco, which I associate with the earliest memories of my father, smelled wonderful to me.

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Rangtang’s Bet

Back in the day, and I mean a long time back in the day, about 1919 or so, my paternal grandmother decided to use her birthday money to purchase some stock.

Now I know that to most readers, this seems like such a length of family memory to carry around that you’d trip over it, but by way of explanation, I should mention that I’m a southerner, and we tend to remember everything any of our relatives ever did, or said, or are said to have done, or said, and that is enough to turn anybody into Pat Conroy.

Anyway, to return to this particular birthday –  sometime short of 1920, Rangtang decided she wanted to do was to buy stock in a little soft drink company called Coca Cola.

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Generational Snift and How to Avoid It

“It’s an old lady perfume!” is the dreaded judgment frequently handed down by young and (youngish) reviewers.

Generally this classification is given to chypres which the neophyte perfumistas seldom appreciate.  It takes time to cotton to ingredients like oak moss, or patchouli, and some people never do.   Still, they recognize the style with all its clichés, and although they may not recognize the formula as artful or elegant, they know that it is not au courant.

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Brilliant, Brilliant! But Does Something Smell Fishy in Here?

When Guerlain came out with their l’Art et Matiere line some years ago, it was supposed to be, I guess, a dutiful effort by the venerable firm at edginess.  It’s been pointed out that the bottles are uncomfortably close to Serge Lutens’ in shape and size and the whole concept seemed to be an homage a Serge. Or possibly, homages had nothing to do with it and Guerlain merely had no intention of letting Serge eat their lunch.

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A Riddle, Wrapped in a Mystery, Inside an Enigma

Lana Peters, aka Svetlana Alliluyeva, daughter of Joseph Stalin, died last week in Wisconsin. Among the details of her life, the obituaries brought up the much repeated bit about her being the inspiration for a classic Soviet perfume, Svetlana’s Breath.

It’s one of those old chestnuts that makes those goofy Fun Facts or Unlikely Celebrity Perfumes lists.  Interesting, since according to Svetlana herself, Old Joe apparently hated perfume, both for patriotic and ideological reasons – though he did send the odd bottle of scent to Svetlana’s mother when he was away on business.

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The Stealth Assault of Rosemary

If there is ever a contest for the world’s most romantic perfume, one of the chief contenders, indeed, possibly the all time champ, will be Guerlain’s Apres L’Ondee.

It is the most delicately decadent perfume in the whole canon of classic French perfumery, and yet it is also one of the most sentimental ones. It is a fumic partner to the aimless melodies of Ravel, the pale blue to mauve shades of hydrangeas languidly disposed about summer lawns, and only the very silliest and most sentimental of Impressionist paintings.

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