Scent of a Woman

The movie with Al Pacino was based on a 1974 Italian film (Profumo di Donna) with Vittorio Gassman in the role of the blind army officer who could tell exactly what every woman in a ten foot radius of him was wearing. Smelling women was all that was left for a man no longer able to pursue them, except through the ghostly passage of their sillages.

It’s an irresistibly romantic idea, but also an increasingly difficult one  to believe in an over-scented world.  Now you have to disentangle how people smell, separate their scent from how their deodorant, face cream, sun block, shampoo, conditioner, lipstick and fabric softener, and the whole thing is just confusing as heck.  Unless they’ve sprayed on something with reckless abandon, it can be hard to tell what they’re wearing.

Italy a good thirty five years ago was a great play ground for smells and by extension for smellers.  There were fewer smells then, but stronger ones, and a larger number of natural odors.  When someone passed you on the street in Rome, you sensed whatever they were wearing, mixed with the warm, in the case of brunettes, slightly musky scent of that particular human being.

There were, however, cultural differences between how French people and Italian people smelled.  French women really did have an absolute passion for scent and the scents they had absolute passions for were often aldehydic florals.  Paris in 1975 was a labyrinth of Chanel and Guerlain trails, laid down by passing Parisiennes, interspersed with the then popular Givenchy fragrances.  I smelled a lot of Givenchy III, and about that time I began to smell Coriandre which was a monster hit with French middle class, but generally, a lot of L’Heure Bleue and Chamade and Karl Lagerfeld’s Chloe, which was new that year. Tuberose was everywhere that particular April in Paris.

By contrast, Italian ladies never did take to Guerlain with the same abandon.  My theory is – especially back in the seventies- when the perfumes were some what stronger, the Guerlains weren’t so food empathetic.  (See Caron vs. Guerlain) and in my experience, Italian ladies were never so fond of the Oriental style as French and American women, possibly for the same reason: incompatibility with food and wine.

You smelled a lot of chypres in Rome.  Diorella is one I can’t smell now without being transported back to Italy; one of the only French perfumes I remember being widely worn, and indeed so widely worn, that its notes now are completely cliche for me. Diorella was very popular for a couple of years after its release, as was, I believe, Paco Rabanne’s Calandre, and also YSL’s Rive Gauche.  They must have liked Rochas’ Femme as well, because I know I smelled it.

In fact years later when I encountered Femme respectably in a shop, I had a shock of recognition.  I’d smelled that in restaurants!  And what a naughty scent it was!  Femme must have been reserved for mistresses. Y, on the other hand, was respectable, worn by una persona per bene (a proper person). Nice women wore it. In wintertime, some proper matrons wore Miss Dior (that would be Miss Dior Classic now).  They took to Nikki de St Phalle and the early Guccis with some enthusiasm too.

Citrus florals and citrus colognes were popular. Anything citrus seems to be in Italy. Puig’s Estivalia was ubiquitous in those 70’s summers, and Eau de Rochas, worn by both men and women, as well as Ô de Lancôme.

Although Italian ladies didn’t cotton to Guerlain, they did like Hermes in the Via Condotti area.  I remember smelling Caleche , and being charmed, so that I adopted it myself, despite the owner of the Profumeria’s warning that it was really too sophisticated for young girls.  She tried to interest me in Amazone, but the fruity floral was a new thing then and, it seems ironic to point out now, hard to sell customers on.

Believe it or not, US scents were pretty common also, more so in some ways than the French-probably they were a little more reasonably priced.  Faberge’s Babe was a  hit with the teen set, and ladies liked and wore Aliage (spelled Alliage in Europe – why is that?) and they took to the disco chypre Halston as well.

A lost age, it seems.  Judging from what I have been smelling lately, the Italians have adopted the gourmand concept, and the memory specific scent, e.g. strawberry jam breakfasts, coffee bars, Christmas pralines etc., but the common theme seems still to be that Italians favor scents on the human scale.  Was the outsized geodesic dome Angel popular there I wonder?

Is Alien?  It is here in Jersey, an Italo-American outpost for sure, in new parfum strength too.  Yesterday I encountered zero visibility conditions in the ladies room at Lord and Taylor.  Someone had spritzed a tropical storm’s worth of Alien in there. As I groped and coughed I did just wonder, is this evolution at work?

If so, in which direction?

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One Response to Scent of a Woman

  1. Pingback: Alien-Nation | aperfumeblog by Blacknall Allen

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