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.)

She chose that second perfumer well.  We owe Farnesiana (1947) to Morsetti, as well as Poivre, and Coup de Fouet (1954). He also composed Or et Noir (1949) which was to become the basis of Parfum Sacre (1991), yet another one of those original perfumes that inspired other works, among them Feminite du Bois (1992) by Shiseido. (Although, I have read that Morsetti frequently worked from notes left behind by Daltroff, so it may be that some of the fifties perfumes were posthumous collaborations.)

Say what you like about Caron, they have one of the best records of groundbreaking creations in classic French perfumery. Daltroff seems to have been happy to break molds and did so with Narcisse Noir (1911), Nuit de Noel (1924), En Avion (1932), Tabac Blond (1919),  and Alpona (1939) a green floral that- incidentally- pre-dated Vent Vert Balmain (1947), just to name a few.

Guerlain by contrast has stuck faithfully to the old “let someone else try it first, and then we’ll do a Guerlain version” trick. Essentially, they take  the popular scent of the day, clean her up and send her to Guerlain finishing school. The stratagem’s worked brilliantly well for them over the decades, but Caron, by contrast, actually did and does come up with new ideas that influence a lot of later creations.  Poivre may not be one of their most famous, but to this day the scent remains wonderfully idiosyncratic.

To begin with here, I have to issue the small caveat that I like pepper.  I mean a lot, and that is not a majority taste.  I don’t mind a perfume that has a head note of cinnamon red-hots, a heart of jalapeno, clove and carnations, and a dry down of black cracked pepper and roses over more carnations.  You may.

Poivre also isn’t either masculine or feminine, not a matter of boy or girl, it’s a matter of: do you like it hot or not? The version I just smelled is properly hot, although it may not be as hot as 1950’s versions.  The pepper smolders well and the whole thing is just as strange as anything created last week by the most audacious niche firm you like.

Only not many have turned out pepper perfumes that weren’t influenced initially by this one.

I speak severely to my boy                                                                                                              I beat him when he sneezes;                                                                                                           For he can thoroughly enjoy                                                                                                       The pepper when he pleases.

And because of Poivre,  so can anyone, although this is one I’d save for a night out.  It hasn’t turned anyone into a pig that I know of….

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2 Responses to Some Like it Hot

  1. Mals says:

    I love pepper. And carnations. And only have a small sample of not-exactly-current and not-really-vintage Poivre, which is fabulous and yet not something I felt I needed to pursue.

    And also, was delighted to look at your top illustration and have “Cry! Cry, you ugly pig baby!” going through my head this morning. (In college, our choir performed a suite of Alice in Wonderland pieces.)

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      The Poivre sample I have is new, and it smells alright to me. There had been such a to do about abysmal Caron reformulations in The Guide (internally I always hear Beethoven’s Fifth whenever I write that title.) Checking current Carons, however, is standard procedure for me, to make sure whatever they are selling is close enough to the original to warrant wearing. Reformulations are a fact of life for old formulas, sad but true. And yes, gotta love Alice.

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