Monthly Archives: July 2012

Being Henry

Recently I read a description in a style magazine of stylishly appropriate and inappropriate houses.   Among the latter group was Henry Higgins‘  in the movie of My Fair Lady.  (You know, the blockbuster with Audrey Hepburn making you feel fat and Rex Harrison making you feel dumb.  That one.)  According to the magazine, his was absolutely the kind of house YOU DO NOT WANT.

I think I read that statement over at least twice.  Not want?  What was wrong with Henry’s house?  It was well staffed and well appointed with yards and yards of William Morris wall paper on the walls and lots of carved mahogany everywhere (except Eliza’s bedroom) and lots of books.  What man in his right mind wouldn’t want to live there?

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Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

The churchmen knew their business when they brought scent into the worship of God.  Elemental stuff, you see.  Like Proust’s madeleine.  The origin of the word perfume relates to it. Per fumen – through smoke.   Some words are so ingrained in the vocabulary that one forgets that they have origins, and the origins of scented smoke are old indeed.

Early on, flavored smoke was a specific for ridding a place of other-worldy undesirables. Case in point:

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Day In the Night Garden

There may be nothing new under the sun, but sometimes you come across something that is at least new to you which is just as good.  This happened to me with two perfumes recently, Les Nez, Manoumalia 2009, and Van Cleef and Arpels Gardenia Petale from their Collection Extraordinaire, also 2009.  Possibly the reason that they both struck me as rather new, was the fact that both seemed to take inspiration directly from nature, not the most common source for commercial perfumery these days, and also, that they were both florals engineered for wear on human skin.  I find this business of wearability to be crucial in perfumes, and these two perfumes really need skin to bloom. Continue reading

Laughter Upwind

Something about perfume attracts people who love the beautiful and who are often quite serious about it.

But there’s this thing about beauty;  it’s just not as much fun as-  well,  fun.

Think about it.  Even Garbo, that queen of movie stills, had to open up, crinkle her perfect nose and laugh to give Depression era audiences a good time.

If you can conjure the genies of sexuality (Femme Rochas), sensuality (Miller Harris L’Air de Rien), ambiguity (Guerlain- Jicky;  Mick Jagger wore it, QED), wickedness (Caron’s Narcisse Noir), beauty (Guerlain Chamade), melancholy (Guerlain L’Heure Bleue), reverie,(Chanel Bel Respiro) sleepiness ( de Nicolai Cologne Sologne), heat (Dior’s Fahrenheit), cold (Hermes, Terre d’Hermes) clubbing at three a.m. in Paris (Kurkidjian Absolue Pour Le Soir), then why, oh why can’t you cram a laugh into a bottle?

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Rosewater, Marjoram, and Common Sense

Not what you would consider the world’s most formidable arsenal of seduction, is it?  And yet that combination won Mme. De Maintenon the heart of a king, and not just any old king either but Louis XIV, the Grand Monarque himself.

How do we know all this?  Letters.  Mme de Maintenon wrote letters all her life in a beautifully correct French the rhythms of which are comparable to the stately music of Lully.  They are not, unfortunately, very amusing letters because just before she died she decided to pile up all the interesting ones, all the ones which might have made us see Mme de Maintenon the prissy boots differently, and burn them.  “I wish to remain,” she remarked with that tone of slight superiority which marred her flawless French-“an enigma to History.” Continue reading

What to Smell When You’re Expecting

As little as possible, if you can.  You will go right off scent.  That was my experience.  Awful, I know, but the nausea of pregnancy makes most perfume torture, and in my experience it lasted all the way through.

I mean the aversion.

And the nausea too, come to think of it.  Unfair, isn’t it?

That having been said,  I should add that it was scent that helped me get through it all.  For a very long time,  the sickness was greatly ameliorated by the sharp smell of fresh ginger.  I made certain of having some ginger root in the refrigerator at all times, and if the nausea was truly awful- and sometimes it was- I would cut a slice of ginger root, sit back and, oh yes, I inhaled.  A lot.  Continue reading

The Strange Carapace of Coco

There is something sclerotic about the house of Chanel, perhaps part and parcel of the business, since it is all predicated upon the talent, business acumen (some might say rapacity), tenacity, and remarkable personal style of a dead woman.  The phenomenal sales of No. 5 may also have affected the slow evolution of the company in the late twentieth century, since success if it breeds anything, breeds caution.

In Dana Thomas’ book Deluxe, Jacques Polge, the Chanel in-house perfumer, is quoted about composing new perfumes for the firm. Initially, management were not very encouraging, “For a long time (Chanel executives) didn’t want to do any perfumes because they were afraid that it would cannibalize No.5.”

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Allons Enfants!

We have been successfully hornswoggled by the French.  The fact that it is a very old and sophisticated form of hornswoggilification is no real excuse.    They have put one over on us, that’s the fact, and one of the greatest parts of this deception is the notion that only French perfume is great, or indeed worth wearing at all.  Not so.

Well, you knew that, of course. But what you may not know is that as long as four hundred years ago, it was the fixed policy of the French government to promote the luxury trades for export.  This all began, or probably began, with M. Colbert (Jean-Baptist, not Stephen)  the brilliant minister of Finances under Louis XIV.

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Dear M. Robert

Mals of The Muse in Wooden Shoes recently posted about people who seem to gravitate to the work of certain perfumers (Nose Pickers) and while she didn’t think she had a favorite perfumer, I found that for years, I did, and it was the late Guy Robert.

That was not very unusual.  Millions of women wore his compositions; perhaps the largest number wore Caleche, as I did for years.  But this perfume has since been reformulated to meet modern standards, and one of the things lost in that process was the old Robert touch.  His perfumes always had something warm and worn about them.  Yes, even things like Dioressence which was quite animalic until sometime in the 90’s.  I was not surprised to learn that this sense of the broken in scent was part of his technique as a perfumer.

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Bigger Than a Beefsteak

There is something about paternity that seems to make men think of growing tomatoes.  Who knows what it is?  A sense of the passage of time, a yen to carry on tradition, or possibly noticing, while you are out putting Mazola oil on the grill that your neighbor is no slouch in the tomato growing department.

My father certainly went in for tomato growing.  He was not much of a gardener except when it came to three things: strawberries, asparagus, and tomatoes.  Continue reading