Bubbles in the Soap Dish: Cruel Gardenia, Caline, Fleur de Rocailles

Cold Cream Camay

Cold Cream Camay

Most of us are very clean.   I’ve never met anyone interested in perfume who was not something of a clean freak.  Maybe we don’t take three baths a day a la Tom Ford but we are very fussy about hygiene.  So why do most of us just not like soap in our perfume?

Possibly the note seems old fashioned to us now.  Back at the turn of the century though J Lo did have that hit of hers Glow.  The whole idea there was freshness and something similar happened with Narciso Rodriguez’ Essence. I thought that the scents were nice enough and had the advantage of wearability in public places.  However, both were modern soaps, and understated.

If you paddle further up the sudsy stream of soapy fragrances, past the eighties with such commonly noted soapies as Ivoire and as far as White Linen, you get slightly more emphatic soaps.  These perfumes insist that you have remembered to scrub behind your ears.  They are not merely clean, they are starched, especially in the case of White Linen, a perfume that almost crackles like sheets left too long on the line.

1960's Fleurs de Rocailles ad

1960′s Fleurs de Rocailles ad

Starchier and more spotless still is Caron’s old Fleurs de Rocaille (note the plural, Fleur is different).  This is a matronly perfume with a distinctly aldehydic  clean overture to its springtime symphony of lilacs and roses. Older bottles begin to explain the perfume’s longtime hold on the public, but these days probably Fleurs is one of the Carons hardest to understand.  It’s a bit like photos of the greatest 19th century beauties with their chubby faces and corset bisected bodies bursting out of sepia print.  Difficult to detect beauty there, what did their customers see in them?  The same gap exists between some of these old soapy numbers and current tastes.

Another superb soap fragrance now discontinued, is the green chypre Caline.  This is the Jean Patou Caline by the way, not the Gres perfume of the same name.  Caline was another one of those Patous that went on and on in the most fascinating way, like a perfume parade.  But the introduction to everything else in the little circus march of Caline on skin, was a large arobatic soap note that summer-salted into the air and stayed  up there for far too long.

I happen to love old Caline (which translates as Cuddly in French) but even I  recoil slightly at all the soap.  Particularly as Caline over time gets more and more well…dirty. After the soap you get a bouquet of fresh flowers and herbs: neroli, mimosa, basil and jasmine, unexpectedly coriander and iris, then a myrrh interim, before you are lost among tall patchouli grasses, woods and oakmoss. The perfume is still not finished because the woods are followed by an expansive earthy, musky amber.

Caline is a distant cousin of Coty’s L’Aimant, but the ladylike-ness of Caline’s beginning has worn off by the time the perfume ends.  All of this, please notice, for teenaged girls back in 1964!  The same girls who buy Paris Amour in plastic bottles from Bath and Bodyworks  these days. Nothing so complex ever gets produced now, bar some efforts of Bertrand Duchaufour’s.

Vinolia Soap from the 1890s

Vinolia Soap from the 1890s

I thought frankly that soapy perfume was gone for good until I tried Cruel Gardenia again the other day and wore the scent for five hours or so.  The beginning was soap alright.  My daughter confirmed this, and I had to concur.   Camay soap was my best guess.   The perfume bubbled into a creamy mass of florals but eventually did harden into a gardenia mold; a lathery gardenia, perhaps a gardenia bath bar.

The initial impression though was with me for good, and that impression was: soap.  I should have disliked it, but you know, maybe that soap was charming.  Maybe I could live with that much cleanliness, although I suspect CG requires two showers a day.

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14 Responses to Bubbles in the Soap Dish: Cruel Gardenia, Caline, Fleur de Rocailles

  1. I do love my bubble baths, but I don’t have showers/baths everyday. And only wash my hair a few times a week. In fact, during the winter, you would be shocked by how infrequently I bathe. Yikes!! But hey, itsn’t that what perfume is for!? ;)

    (Oh that Caline sounds delightful – too bad it’s discontinued :(

    • If you live anywhere cold then I’m not too shocked. The combination of coldness and dryness does make for a very uncomfortable skin in the winter months so I understand, although I have to bathe myself being part walrus (that’s the more upscale half of my ancestry).
      Caline is delightful. I’d wear it exclusively except for the awful prices on Ebay. I must say I’d wheedle shamelessly for a comeback.

  2. Portia says:

    Hey buddy,
    I am a bath person and have one almost every day, I love soapy smells, especially the way orange blossom can sometimes read on my skin. Amouage Dia goes deliciously soapy on me, I wore it tonight and your post clicked perfectly.
    Portia xx

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Bathers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your stains!

      Love orange blossom myself, anything orange blossom-y if it smells natural.
      Have you ever tried de Nicolai’s Cologne Sologne? Orange blossom soliflore though listed as a cologne, and very relaxing. Almost as good as a bath, not really soapy though. Now I’ll have to try Dia.

  3. Mals86 says:

    I have issues with soapy-smelling perfume. It’s not that I dislike the smell of soap, I just don’t see the point in deliberately smelling of it. That said, I have to admit that I don’t buy much Real Soap these days, reason being is that the calcium content of our well water is quite high, and the combination of hard water + soap = Ridiculously Hard-to-scrub Leavings. Before we bought the water softener, the Culligan guy came over to test our water, and the calcium carbonate level was *off the chart*. It’s better now, and I can actually get a lather in my hair when I wash it (every day in the summer, every other day in cooler weather).

    I just don’t see the point of buying and spraying on a soapy smell. The few orange blossom scents I really like smell like flowers, and sometimes like candy, rather than soap.

    That said, I have to say that aldehydes do not translate as “soapy” to me. They declare, Perfume!! Orange blossom, however, as I’ve often mentioned, most often smells like Camay or Dove, or one of those richly creamy, luxurious soaps, on me, and I just don’t like that. I just don’t.

    I speculate that perhaps my mother’s preferences in perfume come into play here. When I was young, what she wore was Jovan Musk for Women (a very floral, skin-type musk with aldehydes) for “everyday” and her Chanel No. 5 parfum for “dressing up.” She dallied with Anais Anais, another famously-clean floral, when I was a tween and teen, and by the time I was out of college, she was devoted to Coty L’Effleur, another clean floral. Mom told me that she loved it BECAUSE, I quote, “It smells like the nicest soap ever.”

    (I remember blinking in surprise, but at the time I was still wearing tiny dabs of the original Chloe, as well as Emeraude and Revlon Xia Xi’ang, which was a pretty rose/sandalwoodish thing, sort of a poor-girl’s Tresor with a lot less peach.)

    I had a lot of trouble with Ivoire: the soapy-clean opening felt to me very disconnected from its moist, mossy green heart, and I kept having cognitive dissonance while wearing it. I finally passed on my bottle to someone else. Caline, of which I blind-bought a small decant of vintage EdT, was to me horrifyingly soap-bubbly, to the degree that I could smell nothing UNDER the bubbles. I should give it another shot, and perhaps more time… of course at this stage it may be age-damaged. Haven’t smelled Fleurs de Rocaille either.

    Glow I have only smelled once, from the bottle, and immediately dismissed as boring. Narciso Rodriguez I cannot smell at all. White Linen smells sour and mildewed to me, pretty far from the image of cleanliness and starchy, privileged uprightness, but then I always have issues with that Lauder base.

    I surprised myself by rather liking Cruel Gardenia, however. My notes for it say “creamy floral soap, very nice but certainly not worth the price of Guerlain LE.” What’s the difference? I suspect that white floral hint. Who knows?

    • Mals86 says:

      Oh, I see I left it ambiguous: I buy a lot of shower gel rather than soap, because it doesn’t leave the film behind. Favorite summer thing is The Body Shop Moringa – deliciously honeysuckle/white floral, and then ten minutes after my shower it’s gone.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      Soap is an issue, you know? I think back when plumbing was not so reliable, the soapy perfumes made up for irregular bathing. Hence Caline, and all those perfumes I must…um delicately refer to as bidet fragrances. I remember one awful summer in Italy when Cholera resurfaced and water was scarce, we all had to line up for shots at designated vaccination centers, administered from huge scary needles that hurt like the Dickens. Cleanliness was next to High Net Worthness! I suspect that’s why those old perfumes smell that way.

      But now…what do you think? Are things like Anais Anais and Ivoire outmoded? I think they may be.

      Like Portia I am an orange blossom nut, but recognize that it’s a specific taste, and fortunately OB doesn’t register as soap on me! Well not yet anyway, as to soap, I go through those big old bars of Fresh Lemon Verbena! And I too, liked Cruel Gardenia, not initially, but later on. It was -you know ladylike- and that is well nigh irresistible to Southern girls.

  4. Martha says:

    I hate perfumes that have that clothes-detergent white musk soapy smell. But I love Ivoire. I don’t know if these two facts are inconsistent or not.

    • I think it’s consistent. Am not much of a musk person myself and therfore have to have unscented laundry detergent, because I always smell the musk otherwise.

      Ivoire on the other hand is green and soapy and fresh- not powdery and white musky.

  5. annemariec says:

    Caline sounds like an intriguing combination of clean and not so clean. The oakmoss-y base of lots of cologne-style fragrances are like that too: Eau De Givenchy, Cristalle, Calyx. It’s a pity that thus style us rather out if fashion now, in favor of relentlessly clean stuff like Glow.

    For soap, I’m fond of Hermes’ Caleche Soie de Parfum – it really does have that gorgeous feel of really fine, triple milled soap. I don’t wear it often, but sometimes it’s just right.

    Pure White Linen always seems soapy to me, in a green, herbal sort of way. Like herbal shampoo.

    Great post – thanks!

  6. Blacknall Allen says:

    Glad you liked the post and you’ve pointed out one of my old favorites Caleche. Oh that was wonderful and still smells so good to me but the Hub can’t stand it.

    Caline is a very interesting perfume. Really complex and a signature scent for sure if you fall for it, because so much goes on there. But these days it’s hard to find on eBay without paying 100.00 USD, and that’s a bit steep for old perfume which may have deteriorated. Even the last mini I just looked at went for 25.00. Wish Patou would revive it. Ahem, M. Fontaine, “Please could you re-do Caline? With the myrrh note?”

  7. Vanessa says:

    I love Fleur de Rocailles – hmm, is it Fleurs or Fleurs that I have tried? – I don’t recall. It is soapy in a lemon sherbet kind of way, if that makes sense. I enjoyed the aldehydic style of it, whereas I don’t care so much for Cruel Gardenia, which to my nose was more your Herbal Essences kind of soap vibe, ditto Chanel Gardenia. That said, I can relate to your Camay image as well.

  8. Blacknall Allen says:

    My daughter was of your opinion on Cruel Gardenia. She said it was SOAP and she didn’t see why you’d want to smell like that all day. But like you she is also a vanilla lover, and suds are not her thing.

    Fleur de Rocaille was a floral oriental so if what you tried was aldehydic I’ll bet it was old Fleurs. How I wish that Caron would not use such confusing names. L’Accord 119 was a relief frankly, and they better not come out with D’accord 119.

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