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.Green perfumes weren’t always so informal.  The earliest of them is probably Jean Patou’s Vacances from 1936, it isn’t formal and belongs to an Arcadian style of green perfume, but the second green entrant, Alpona from Caron in 1939 is.  I found this out after trying to wear the Caron on an everyday basis for a couple of years.

Nothing doing.  That perfume dabbed on  cold, and raised goose bumps in the process, but warmed up later on skin. Alpona seemed almost to twinkle when worn, with a flashing step cut charm that was, frankly, more like jewelry than perfume.  Alpona just wasn’t a perfume you could wear before 6 p.m. But the scent wore out wonderfully well, and had a way of making itself attractively distinctive in the middle of everyone else’s floral-Orientals and Orientals. Alpona made you thankful you’d chosen something green and luminous and fresh, instead of yet another labdanum overloaded vessel about to capsize in a sea of vanillin.

There are a few more perfumes of this emerald green kind, though not many.  To my mind the most famous, and the most miscast is Chanel No 19.  The Chanel really isn’t a day time scent, even though you can smell it all around you, especially in summer, during business hours.  I’m always glad that people are wearing it because it’s such a beautiful perfume, but like lurex and gold or silver embroidery on clothing, it just performs better at night.  19’s slight coldness is set off by artificial lighting and the close quarters warmth of cocktail parties, bars, and theaters, then the scent sparkles.

I should I think, mention one other perfume that I guess falls into this somewhat obscure category, although, like the Alpona you may have to troll Ebay for it, because like Alpona, it is now discontinued. That is Gres’ Alix from 1982.  I have never been able to find it, but I do know the notes, which are: Moroccan rose, Florentine iris, violet leaf, Madagascan black pepper, Bulgarian oak moss and ylang-ylang.  This is another green perfume, but clearly it is not as light as perfumes like Vacances or Vent Vert, it does have a dry down, which by the way, seems to be one of the hallmarks of this formal kind of green scent, and the reason why they get confused with green chypres.

With Alpona the beginning was herbal, the heart floral, but the end had that Mousse de Saxe base that acts as ballast for so many Caron fragrances.  No 19 of course has vetiver these days, but used to have amber and leather as a dry-down, clearly the Gres used oakmoss.  The formula is an expensive one and suggests that Alix, thirty years, ago was not in wide circulation, but it may be worth trying if you like your perfumes green and limpid and pricey.

As for the modern emerald scent, I’m not too sanguine.  There are very few green perfumes released these days, and many of them don’t really have dry downs as such.  I found Parfumerie Generale’s recent green Papyrus de Ciane too herbal to qualify  although it certainly had a dry down, a reconstructed Mousse de Saxe no less. It was however, less emerald than peridot, and so was Maison Margiela’s Untitled. In fact, Untitled was something organic, moss perhaps, striking me as being opaque, and even fuzzy, rather than translucent.

Will someone revive the green for evening?  Who knows?  You may have to watch the niche houses, some of them have been releasing greens:  Ayala Moriel’s Ayalitta, or Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s Vert Pour Madame, but so far none of them measure up to the missing emeralds – to my mind, at least.


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