Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Specialists

Ever notice that some perfume firms simply are better at certain kinds of fragrance?  I’m thinking of the fact that if you want a wonderful oriental, Guerlain still is pretty hard to beat (Shalimar, L’Heure Bleue), or that gourmand scents are the strong point of Parfumerie Generale (Aomassai, Cadjmere), or that even though Dior makes periodic sorties into enemy held territories, like the oriental, they are usually only partially successful, e.g. Dioressence, or that… but I expect by now you’ve got  the picture.

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Not Tonight, The King Has a Headache

As noted in a previous post,  it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.

Case in point, Louis XIV, the Sun King, one of the great over-indulgers of history.  This is the same man who built Versailles, and more extravagant than that, it is hard to be.  Between the painters and performers and the cakes and the wine and the women and the wars, he made time to confer with his perfumer Martial over new and exotic scents, and lots of them.  Not only was he noted as the most brilliant monarch of his age, but also as the sweetest smelling.

Then, one day late in the seventeenth century,  he just gave it up.  Went cold turkey.  Could no longer abide the stuff.  Said anything but orange blossoms gave him headaches. What the king would not, the court could not.  Women of quality fell into vapors at the mere sight of flowers and men declared (possibly truthfully) that they had hated perfume all along.

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The Salty Chypre

In musing over the reasons why chypres are no longer in fashion, I’ve come up with an argument predicated on taste-buds.  If the oriental is all about the sweet and the resinous, maybe the chypre is all about the salt and the woodiness. It’s that same division in taste you notice between people who can’t pass an ice cream parlor and those who can’t pass a deli.

I belong in the latter group myself. One of my great loves is a good deli, and the best thing in life is a really good pickle and really good potato chips.  The British adoration of crisps in a wide panoply of flavors is completely comprehensible to me.  Barbeque, Salt’ n’Vinegar, Chicken Vindaloo… bring it!

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Some Tame Antilope

Everybody talks about the disappeared genre of chypres these days, but quite frankly they’re not the only type of perfume that’s gone AWOL in the last decade or so.  There’s also the aldehydic floral. Those perfume bloggers and critics who mention them seem to do so in the past tense.

Lovely, they say, lovely perfumes from past times never to be revived.  This of course ignores the fact that No.5 is still one of the world’s top selling perfumes and that the public seem to be tiring of sweet fragrances and may be looking for more sophistication.  What better genre to revive than the aldehydic floral perhaps using some new molecular confection in the top notes?  I mean, I’d buy it.

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Under the Wind

There can seldom have been such a poetic name for a fragrance can there?  I’m referring to the Limited Edition Guerlain Sous le Vent of which the title here is a loose translation.

And yes, this is another in the series of very highly priced scents that you won’t run into at your local mall. Currently I think this sells for about $US 350.00 per 100 mls, and it’s a green chypre.

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Doubling Down

Sometimes plant hybridizers go for broke.  They’re going to do everything, the color, the size, the heat resistance, the double blooms.  In the mad race to twirl around those chromosomes faster than you can say Watson and Crick and select for the most spectacular hybrids, something gets spun off.

That something in the case of the Sweet Pea was scent.  For a large part of the twentieth century the Sweet Pea was a forgotten flower and when grown, it was grown for flower shows, primarily in the UK.

This was a minor tragedy of the commons.  None of the hybridizers meant to forego scent, but those flower showing gardeners wanted bigger and better blooms, basically the mid-century mantra had permeated the hybridizers’ plant growing world and on every day, in every way, the blossoms were getting better and better. Continue reading

Perfume in Clover

The always curious Guts, noticing the pending arrival of St. Patrick’s Day, asked me if there was much in the way of Irish perfume in general or clover perfume in particular.  I referred him to Le Trefle Incarnat (L.T. Piver) and to Yanky Clover (Richard Hudnut 1920-21), but it did make me wonder.  Two perfumes only? This was pretty slim pickings

I vaguely remembered stumbling on an article on perfumery written by Jean Carles. It was mostly a general lecture given to young perfumers (he inaugurated  the perfumery school at Roure in 1946), it was full of practical advice on how to cobble together new scents.  What struck me was his list of four perfume types to practice on and the basic components of each. He included fougere and chypre, but also foin (hay) and trefle (clover).

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The Green Green Grass of Guerlain

Sometime around 1959, Guerlain found themselves staring at a new trend, exemplified by the consumers’ love of a particularly green and herbaceous note: vetiver.

The vetiver of choice back then was Carven’s Vetiver (1957).  Dry, resinous, as chartreuse as a macaw’s tail, and growing popular, Carven’s Vetiver was a hit.

The thing was that the venerable house of Guerlain was resting, as it often did in those years of Mad Mennic peace and prosperity, cushioned by laurels piled up in the past.  There was certainly competition out there, but was it strictly necessary to roll the cannon up to the ramparts just yet?  The competition’s sails were only just beginning to be visible on the horizon.

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Beer on a Champagne Budget

“After you’ve been having steak for a long time, Beans, beans taste fine.                                      
And after you’ve been drinking champagne and brandy,                                                              
You’re gonna settle for wine.”

He said, “the world is funny, and people are strange                                                                  
And man is creature of constant change,              
And after you’ve been having steak for a long time,                                                                      
You know that bean’s taste fine.”

Shel Silverstein

Generally it’s supposed to be the other way around, of course, and I suppose that all of us assume that if we hit the big time, we would not have a fond nostalgia for the lager and weenies of our pasts. Continue reading

Five By Five

There are so many perfumes that are nearly No 5, but not quite.   This is what happens when you are the cool girl at your school, everyone wants to be you, and the melancholy truth is, that some variations of you may be more engaging than you are yourself.  Think of all the times you have said to yourself, well No. 5 is very fine but supposing she were warmer, or more floral, or had more aldehydes, or fewer aldehydes, or incense.  The list of possibilities is long.

Of the many contenders for most charming version of No5, I’ve included here five: Balenciaga’s Le Dix, Guerlain’s Liu, Robert Piquet’s Baghari, Estee Lauder’s White Linen and Mme Rochas.

Why these?  Why not say, Arpege?  Well, Arpege is a big enough variant to my mind to have broken free of the sister scent stigma.  Arpege is her own self, and always has been, warmer, deeper and much more ambery than No 5, at its best Arpege smelled to me like a floral butterscotch, of a most unctuous and melting sort.

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