The Lost Liner

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.

It came in a lovely bottle modeled after the boat.  And by the by, this was no ordinary boat.  The Normandie had everything: gardens, a hydrotherapy spa, a gym, a movie theatre.  It had a huge saloon with vast colored glass murals, the bar had gold lacquered panels by Jean Dunand.  The whole liner was a masterpiece of thirties decorative art.  If anything ever was really like those art deco paradises Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musicals are set in, then the Normandie was it.

The perfume was described as “warm and determined”.  For that you can read an amber perfume.  The notes for it are: Fruits (well, the fruits in my little bottle may have evaporated over time) then carnation, jasmine and rose (those are present and accounted for especially the carnation) and finally vanilla, benzoin oakmoss, cedarwood and woods.  You can smell the cedar a bit but what I get is AMBER.  This one is not so very far away from Serge Lutens Arabie actually.

You might be surprised by this comparison and think surely not, it’s got to resemble Ambre Sultan, but actually Normandie is rather dry in its darkness and although it’s not so much of an apothecary shop as Arabie, it shares a number of the notes, only Arabie’s caraway and bay leaves are missing.  Both have that spicy cinnamon and clove kick on a dry dark base.

This also implies that Normandie is not at all a gender specific smell.  Normandie would work fine on any man, and I’m guessing would be a fine winter scent for the gentleman of means.  The meaning of means is that he’d have to outbid other hopefuls on Ebay.  I do not hold out much hope for him as I notice that a number of the re-issued Jean Patous are beginning to be quite expensive, and Normandie is one of the more popular ones.

The quality of the scent is reassuringly high and the last gasp of smoky amber that leaves the skin is reminiscent of the ultimate fate of that marvelous liner.  The Normandie burned in 1942 (thirty years after the Titanic) while being converted into a troopship.  The U.S. had appropriated her and, if wikipedia is to be trusted, renamed her the USS Lafayette (I always thought the marquis actually volunteered and wasn’t impressed into US service, but let’s not quibble about who nationalized whom.)  The battered and burnt out Normandie fell on her side in the Hudson River and what little of her wonderful interiors remained were salvaged piecemeal.

My father-in-law,  US Navy veteran, a member of the merchant marine and a ship’s captain as well, always shook his head sadly over the fate of the Normandie.  Her records of rapidity in crossing the Atlantic were never broken, and nothing was ever built again to rival her  speed or power as a liner.

But the age of the airline was upon everyone after World War Two.  After all, what else could you do with all those ex-fighter pilots?  At least you can still smell the ghost of all that opulence trapped in a bottle - for a price.

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One thought on “The Lost Liner

  1. Back around 1986-87, I was at a outdoor flea market in Little Rock, AR and in a box of odds and ends found an original ‘Normandie’ perfume bottle. Picked it up for $10-15 at the time. The stopper was tight and when I was able to get it open, the scent was still very distinct. Somehow I jammed the stopper and it would not budge so for years I’ve ignored it, not wanting to risk breaking the stopper. Tonight (7-5-2015) I tried it again and after a bit of steady pulling, the stopper came out. The scent is slight but still as wonderful as I remembered. The ‘bottle’ is a heavy gray metal (not sure if it was original chromed but suspect it was…otherwise it looks like the photo above).

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