Why So Few New Classics?

Why are so many new perfumes failing to become staples in the public’s wardrobe?  It’s a good question.  We still wear perfumes that are quite old by the estimation of the Industry. D&G’s Light Blue came out in 2001, Dior’s J’Adore in 1999, Lolita Lempicka in 1997 – you see what I mean.

And it’s not as though things are vastly more au courant on the other side of the pond.  Frenchwomen still wear Thierry Mugler’s Angel 1992, or Victor and Rolf’s Flowerbomb 2005.  In fact there weren’t many I could find on bestseller lists younger than three years.  Will things like Wonderstruck or Someday survive till next year or 2014?  Sensuous in the US, a 2008 Estee Lauder release, and in France  Idylle from Guerlain in 2009, might manage  a few more seasons in the sun.  Does it  take that long for us to make up our minds that we really really like something?  Or is it that we are now inundated with product and have a hard time filtering the perfume deluge? Are we so busy bailing out our little dinghies on the ocean of scent that we can hardly tell what we’re smelling before we heave it overboard? Continue reading

Missing Emeralds

“Aunt Alicia slid the great square emerald onto her slender finger and was silent for a moment. “Do you see…that nearly blue fire which burns at the heart of the green light…only the most beautiful emeralds contain that miracle of illusive blue.”

Gigi, Colette

I used to prefer green perfumes in daylight.  It seemed like the logical time for them, and for decades the perfume industry had pushed the notion of the green fragrance as a daytime scent, something to wear casually or to the office. Continue reading

Forgotten Fougeres

In the beginning was Fougere Royale.

That’s fougere pre-history to you and me.  We live in CW era, to be specific, the post Cool Water era.  Cool Water was such a tsunami in the world of fougeres (the fragrance based on the fantasy fern accord of lavender and coumarin) that nothing has been the same ever since it crested.  We can’t really  recall a time when fougeres weren’t classified as masculines.  I mean, Cool Water was certainly aimed at men, rather like a cool water canon, and hit them, square in the wallet, with the first dihydro-myrcenol powered aromatic fougere in 1988.  The result was that fougeres, which already appeared to be a masculine preserve, effectively became a masculine perfume cliche. Continue reading

Strange Brew

If it is true, as Mike Myers suggests, that most Scottish cuisine is based on a dare, what are we to make of the foundations of perfumery?

We are, after all, talking some pretty rank stuff – extrusions from the anal glands of feral animals,  digestive aids of over-sized ocean dwelling mammals.  Not the sort of thing the average person is likely to be on the lookout for when trying to attract the opposite sex.   Whatever possessed early man to have a go at some of this stuff?  Cruel jokes are all I can figure.  Imagine for a moment the local bad lads in a seaside town  in medieval times having some sport with the village idiot and suggesting he go roll in some of that nice musk deer corpse on the edge of town, or cover himself in some washed up ambergris.*

Joke was on them a few days later when the village idiot had a girl on each arm and several trailing behind asking if he would prefer cider, mead, or me?

Who’s stinky now?

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The Elusive Gardenia

The striking thing about the gardenia most people would probably say, is its idiosyncratic perfume. It can be a polarizing scent.  Luca Turin called it “…the flower smell that I rate as the most irresistible and impossibly pretty on earth.”

But the garden writer Tovah Martin thought differently: ”The gardenia has never been a favorite among folks who are young at heart, light of foot, and modest of taste.  A gardenia is a heavy burden for any nose to bear.”

Here is what I notice about the gardenia smell: it’s always just disappeared, or dissipated.  The scent’s not present. It’s gone. Continue reading

Befriending the Bandit

Sometimes I think that the first perfumer anyone who is interested in perfume learns about is Germaine Cellier (1909-1976?).  This figures, because she was such a glamorous entity. There she is, in black and white photos, wearing her well-fitted tailleurs like armor,  usually with a cigarette clamped between her first two fingers. The story goes, that she was lesbian, witty, the friend of Jean Cocteau, and very talented.  Then there’s the fact that she’s credited with the most memorable Robert Piguet perfumes – Bandit (1944) and Fracas (1945) and some Balmains: Vent Vert (1947) , Jolie Madame (1953), Monsieur Balmain (1964) as well as Coeur Joie for Nina Ricci in (1946).  That’s a lot of hits for a single career.

The one that people struggle with these days is Bandit.  I’ve read the reviews.  Everyone thinks that Bandit’s dark, difficult, a bad girl scent, even a scrubber.  Old lady comments seem to drop off, since I guess that even contemporary sniffers suspect this perfume saw more action than World War Two, and indeed, Bandit was worn by Marlene Dietrich, so probably did. Continue reading

Some Like it Hot

Then there is the perfume in which the whole spicy carnation floweriness I have been writing about sinks in a morass of heavier, hotter materials like a bouquet in a lava flow.  The one time floral composition becomes an oriental and a heated one at that.  This is what happens in Caron’s Poivre from 1954.  The perfume belongs to that group of Caron compositions done after the death of the house’s founder Ernest Daltroff in 1940.  Daltroff’s companion and business partner Felicie Vanpouille was still in charge at Caron and she employed the perfumer Michel Morsetti as in- house talent( he had been Daltroff’s assistant.)

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The Carnivorous Carnation

You may not think of carnation as being an aggressive kind of a flower.  I don’t certainly, but the fact is that Caron, the Parisian perfume house founded in 1904, seems to have meditated on the many ways to make carnation grow sharp long claws and an attitude to go with them.

One way was to make the carnation incredibly chic and competent.  Those – like me – who could not aspire to the heights of chic could at least get their chores done in style, and so carnation (or its chemical doppelganger eugenol) was made to keep company with a lot of sequentially charming florals, and voila! Bellodgia.

Another stratagem for toughening up carnation, seems to  have been a transformation into a floral oriental.  That is what happened with 1954’s Coup de Fouet, which translates literally as “Whip Crack” or, as the charming Caron SA in New York more loosely put it: Crack of the Whip. (My own even looser translation is When the Whip Comes Down. We all have our little preferences.) Continue reading

The Carnation Factotum

Sometimes floral notes are out of step with the times.  It’s not that they have two left feet and can’t dance to contemporary tempos.  It’s our fault, because we keep changing the beat.  Right now we like to drink all night with rose alcohols, or alcoholic roses down at the club, and we figure these barfly buds are better company than old teetotal carnation.

Besides, carnations are cheap dates.  In Europe you can bring home an armload of them for not much money.  A few bucks will get you a nice bouquet in New York from your local corner grocer.  They’re just not – recherché.

Their smell has not been emphasized by modern breeders, and they are not grown by modern gardeners, although actually they have one of the most individual and charming scents in flowerdom, and they come in every shade except blue and all have this nose teasing effervescence we call spiciness.

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Flowers You Never Smelled in the Spring

There is such a thing as the completely synthetic floral.  Some companies admit this, most do not.  Many perfume houses put the money, i.e. the naturals, up front and from there on out it is a matter of synthetics used to extend the scent, often pulling out the whole olfactory contraption as if it were taffy instead of perfume.  Thin and stretched is the frequent effect, rather like a hobbit who has held on to a magic ring for far too long.

I think the synthetic floral is probably an improvement over this state of affairs.  At least you know what you are getting. Estee Lauder seems to specialize in this kind of perfume.  As far back as 1998, I remember them coming out with Dazzling Gold and Dazzling Silver (now discontinued) in those odd stoppered bottles that looked like a Wagnerian tenor’s helmet. Continue reading