You know the sad story of the lost scent, as tragic as Gilbert’s famous song: The Lost Chord. You knew the smell, you loved the smell, and suddenly, the perfume’s out of production. Moreover, when you try to track down the missing bottle, you discover that many other users have beaten you to the punch, hoarding bottles heartlessly, so that you are left with nothing but your memories.
Take as an example the case of Moment Supreme (although you can substitute dozens of perfumes for this one loss). Moment was extremely popular for a very long time, well into the late decades of the 20th century (see Rangtang’s Bet and this review by Olfacta), but was discontinued by the house after they were purchased by Proctor and Gamble.
Patou’s 1000 came out in 1972, which was when my family lived in Rome. Back then, Roman real estate was relatively cheap, and we were right in the heart of old Rome in a penthouse apartment of the sort that I suppose few people could afford now. Anyway, there were little perfume and makeup shops around every few corners, and one of them was on my route home from school.
Not being of an age yet to wear perfume, or make up, for that matter, I still was compelled to go and stick my nose into bottles out of curiosity, and would stop by. That proprietress must have been fond of the young, and pretty indulgent. Most shopkeepers would have tossed me and my tatty book bag out the door. Instead, if she was not too busy, she would tell me about what was in the bottles, and let me smell things on a finger (no paper strips then). This was how I first met the Balmains, Balenciagas, and Cotys of the era.
First of all, should you? There are two schools of thought on this one and I remember a post on Bois de Jasmin from a year or two back, featuring a piece from French Elle on this subject of layering scents. Some whole lines are predicated on the idea that you should combine things, Jo Malone for instance, but other people are adamantly against the idea, their notion being that a finished perfume is a complex piece of engineering, and should be worn as is, and not tinkered with.
I was in the latter camp for a very long time. I don’t think it ever occurred to me to change anything about the scents I wore, except to switch them from time to time. I didn’t spray anything on top of anything else, I didn’t combine deodorant this with body crème that. But of course I knew that some women did, however I figured that they were the sort of ladies who were more sophisticated than I was, and that they had a better sense of olfactory style than I did, and – let us just cut to the chase here. I assumed they were French.
“Come, my Friends,
Let’s meet these Romans, and my Rebel Son;
Let’s kill till we are weary, then lie down
And rest forever.”
“Mithridates King of Pontus” by Nathaniel Lee (1653 – 6 May 1692)*
Mithridates (134 BC – 63 BC) was the great eastern enemy of Rome in the days before Caesar Augustus. Depending on your political inclinations, he was either the bold standard bearer of an oppressed minority defending his many loyal subject against a brutal Empire, or just another swell-headed killer on the make. Continue reading
When Sublime first came out I was stuck in smell Limbo in Central Vermont and really couldn’t smell much perfume. This was a shame because 1993 was a very good year for perfume. Besides Sublime, we saw the release of Femininite du Bois as well (anyway in the States). I had to be traveling if I was going to catch a whiff of these two masterpieces.
Sublime was Jean Kerleo’s great signature scent for contemporary women. It was definitely complex but adaptable enough to wear every day, and you did not tire of the scent easily. But Sublime was elusive.
I mean that Sublime was the sort of perfume that has about it something hard to define, something that you think you’ve almost categorized in your mind, and therefore also in your memory, only to find the next time you smell it, that you were quite wrong. The sense of the perfume eludes you. This makes for a fascinating experience and one you tend to come back for time and time again because you can’t believe (oh well, okay, I mean, I can’t believe) that something as simple as a perfume has slipped my powers of recall for the fifth or sixth time in a row. Continue reading
The Victorian ladies described here are actually shrubs called Philadelphus. Their common name is Mock Orange, and they can be found leaning, and lounging and flouncing their long green skirts starred with white floral embroidery all during May and June in these latitudes. They’re a bit self conscious, a bit apt to pose for the tableau vivants of a June garden.
But then, if you were that good looking, so would you.
Mock oranges have always frustrated me just a little bit. Every time that I see one in a garden bed or a shrub border I hurry over, ready to huff in that distinctive blend of honeysuckle/orange blossom/jasmine that is the hallmark of the shrub, but I am frequently foiled. There are, you see, lots of kinds of Philadelphus and some of them have no smell at all. Those, in my opinion, are duds. Continue reading
You were thinking that I meant the Titanic, perhaps? Actually, I was thinking of the Normandie. You may also be wondering what exactly this has to do with perfume? Well, the ocean liner was launched in 1935 and the first class passengers on the maiden voyage received bottles of Normandie the perfume in silver holders. Continue reading
Most of the bottles of scent I own do nothing for my husband. I don’t think he minds my perfume – except for some of the chypres and white florals – but then again, he doesn’t really think too much of them either. So it’s a rare event when I come home from NYC or Saks waving about samples of something he actually likes.
It happened the other day though, and what was I wearing you may ask? Well, it wasn’t a Chanel (although he’s alright with Chanels in general, finds Bois des Isles a bit overstated, but they’re “okay”) nor was it Guerlain (Guerlain’s never really appealed to him either, except for Attrape Coeur) and it wasn’t a Caron (although he’s made peace with the fact that I will always have Carons in the house no matter what, and hey, Poivre is not bad in his book). It was… Kate Walsh’s Boyfriend.
It can happen. For preference, you need a hit to avoid that catastrophe. It doesn’t have to be a mainstream hit. You don’t have to come up with the next J’Adore, but you do have to come up with something that makes the perfume world buzz just a little- like a disturbed hive.
Certain perfumers have a knack for this. Andy Tauer certainly does. His L’Air du Desert Marrocain still comes up on lists of things that the perfume-obsessed wear, and write about, and rhapsodize over. Pierre Guillaume is good at it too, he only has to stare hypnotically at a camera to sell perfume bottles, although the heck of it is, his stuff is surprisingly good, and if he resembled a cross eyed nanny goat I’d still think so.
In 1964, the year that Jean Patou’s Caline came out, I had a baby sitter. She was very pretty and had the kind of hair that everyone wanted back then, i.e. hugely puffy. It was shoulder length and had to be put up in curlers and then carefully back combed and sprayed to get the effect that younger people only recognize now from films such as The Blob, or old sitcoms like Bewitched. I was in awe of Linda. She listened to the Beatles! Wow, how fab was that?
Ratted hair, a portable record player, pale blue chenille bedspreads, and a bottle of Caline are what I remember of Linda’s bedroom. Caline was new that year and Linda was an only child, therefore spoiled by her Daddy who was probably the source of the Caline – if it wasn’t her boyfriend, who was about equally under her spell.