Working Definition of Beauty: Deneuve and Beautiful

deneuveMy brother as a boy once irritated me very much  by passing unkind judgements on the looks of all (or very nearly all) the females we knew .  In exasperation, I asked just who he did actually find attractive.

“Well,” he said after some long internal deliberation, “I guess Catherine Deneuve is sorta good looking.”

He was not the only one to think so.  Back in the day, around the late seventies, Chanel itself had hit a low point in No5 profits.  Their eventual salvation came with the hiring of Catherine Deneuve as the face of No 5. Her selection boosted sales immediately, and if you think these choices are slam dunks, just consider the recent debacle of hiring Brad Pitt as the face.  You can go wrong no matter how beautiful your model is, if the aforesaid model does not connect in some way with the aspirations of your audience.  All the women in the world wanted to look like Deneuve in 1978, but in 2011 not many of them wanted to look like the Pittster, and there were presumably not enough male buyers of No5 to make up the deficit.

Deneuve was at about that same time Marianne, personification of France, presiding over town halls nationwide, and considered one of the most beautiful women in the world. It’s not very surprising that she should shortly thereafter have gotten a scent of her own, one of the very first celebrity fragrances, simply called Deneuve.

My sample comes to me courtesy the generous Vanessa of Bonkers About Perfume, and although I had a distant memory of Deneuve it felt good to smell the real thing again.  Deneuve is quite simply a very green floral with a large galbanum note in the beginning and a pronounced lily of the valley heart.  The other notes, aside from rose and orris, are mostly floral reconstructions and therefore less expensive than the florals of other classic green scents like No19, but the  base is warm, very lasting, and very sensual. The perfume trails a mink coat after it from a nonchalant arm, and reminds me most specifically of No19 before that perfume had its elegant furry tail cut off, whereupon No 19 became known as an Ice Queen, mostly because vetiver was substituted for sandalwood and leather. In combination with green notes, vetiver always feels like a cold spot in a perfume although originally No 19 was a green perfume, but also a cozy animalic at the end, a cat green dress wth catcuddle of a scent.

Perhaps the first half of Deneuve was the template for Lauder’s eighties hit Beautiful?  They are both green but Beautiful had tuberose in its heart, along with lilies of the valley and some carnation over principally vetiver, sandalwood, and musk, and although the note is not listed, orange blossom. Beautiful’s was a slightly more expensive bouquet and extensively marketed.  Just as with Cinnabar and Opium before them, the contest ran distinctly one way. Now Deneuve has become a relatively obscure scent and Beautiful, when I last sniffed, was a pale copy of its former self, a bar of soap abandoned in the guest bathroom of yesteryear.

Deneuve by comparison seems fuller and more opulent, although it is also dated, however this style of green floral could, with some re-orchestration, work very well for a new generation of wearers.  The soapiness needs to be moderated, the florals need to come to the front of the formula, but the drydown is already a masterpiece of follow me down perfumery.

Such scents have been out for so long they might seem fresh again, and create a new working definition of beauty and come-hitherance for new wearers – boys and girls both.

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12 thoughts on “Working Definition of Beauty: Deneuve and Beautiful

  1. I tried Deneuve once (I had a tiny sample from a friend) and I loved it. I think this is a type of perfumes that I’ll always like. I just wished it wasn’t “vintage” – I want it freshly produced.

    • You know the subject of vintage has me thinking these days, because I feel the same way. Hate it when you try a vintage perfume and the top has turned to acetone. You lose the effect.

      I wish there were a way to revive some of these old frags without turning them into synthetic messes. I suspect scent matching services often substitute a lot of cheap ingredients though to be fair, I’ve never tried one.

  2. I’ve never noticed a resemblance between Deneuve and Beautiful but comparing them tonight, I can see what you mean. Ouch! I think you are being a bit harsh on the current Beautiful, by the way. It’s not THAT bad … Deneuve is much sexier though. Beautiful has always struck me as the sort of perfume a father, son or brother could give as a safe gift. The man can send a message that the woman is ‘beautiful’ without in any way acknowledging her sexual side.

    Speaking of greens, I loved your post on Odalisque and have resolved that 2014 will be the year I finally go for a large decant, if not a FB, of Odalisque. If I wait too long Nicolai will mess with it or d/c it. It’s a good alternative to Deneuve. I have a few mls of Deneuve parfum, not enough for a full wearing, just for reference. I recall reading (on The Non-Blonde I think) that it was licensed to Avon and that distribution problems were the cause of its demise?

  3. Hope I did not sound too down on Beautiful, which was for years my favorite Lauder, though I never wore any. But you’ve made a shrewd point about Beautiful, it was a compliment as well as a gift, and a respectful one at that.

    Deneuve, was just too dark and sexy in the second half I think. Scents were moving in this clean, proper direction without any naughty subtexts and I bet the music just stopped before Deneuve could find a seat, or a distributor.

    I hope you like Odalisque! Do test first, I’d hate to be the cause of anyone losing money on something she didn’t love unless of course you already know it :-)

    • I’ve been through two samples of Odalisque so I know it well enough. The issue is that in recent times I’ve been moving away from greens and into white florals, ambers and even (gasp!) gourmands, so I’m never sure if a greater quantity of Odalisque will be worth it. But two samples is surely an indicator that it must be.

      I’m sure you are right about the poor timing of Deneuve. Such a pity.

      • Yes so sad about Deneuve, and I wish someone would restore the second part of No19 one day. Pierre Guillaume of Parfumerie Generale once said that green florals have no dry downs-but Deneuve sure does.

  4. Deneuve is so lovely. Restrained and pearl-wearing, but in a way that suggests feral sexuality under the tailored clothing.

    Which, yes, was going out of style.

    You made my head explode, comparing it to Beautiful. Must explore.

    • The first part, she said hurriedly, because Heaven knows the second part of Deneuve is a departure from strictly ladylike terrain.

  5. Hey, I am glad you enjoyed this one, and thanks for the mention! I loved your teaming of ‘dated’ and ‘opulent’ – that was very much my take on Deneuve, but it was the extreme green facet that specifically put it out of reach for me. Do you like Puredistance Antonia, by the way?

    • I liked everything about Antonia but the far dry down which contained something too synthetic. But admittedly I am a nut on drydowns. They’re my Achilles’ heel in fragrance, I love anything which departs like Arthur for Avalon in mist and magic, if that answers your question.

      And no, they actually don’t often turn up as perfumers seem to prefer things that go from sniff to register in five minutes.

    • I think Deneuve is too well er… evocative… of the old 5-7 visit, the mid century version of the booty call, in its finale.

      So it’s all pleasure after business, only people don’t roll that way anymore. OK maybe Francois Hollande does, but not the rest of us;-)

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