The Golden L’Origan

L'aimant and L'Origan from an Ebay listing

L’aimant and L’Origan from an Ebay listing

When the afternoon light turns amber that’s the end of summer.  It’s a phenomenon that you see in many different parts of the world. The light is a clear bluish color in Spring, has a strong un-tinted intensity in summer but in autumn, light slants and steeps in the atmosphere like tea.  There’s probably a perfectly rational explanation for this but so  far I’ve never heard one.

Fall is brewing. The foliage is already beginning to turn ever so slightly in my town, and soon the whole place will be covered with the annual oranges, tobacco browns, saffrons and scarlets everyone loves. Except me that is, because for me, Autumn is a busy season clipboard clutching, the time interrupted by meetings, and oh yes I have to change perfume.

This year I decided to give Tabac Blond a rest until November and try something else instead. So I am turning to some vanilla fragrances to fill the void and tried L’Origan again. This is cheap chic by the way.  You can ruin yourself on niche releases and still never enjoy a minute of your day.  L’Origan though is beginning to be forgotten by the perfume world, brilliant innovative fragrance that it was, and you can buy a bottle on line for silly prices that is unless you insist on old Lalique stoppers.

Gold L' OriganThe current issue of L’Origan is rather washed out although it will give you an idea of the original.  What was the original? Some people consider L’Origan to be the first floral oriental and the precurser not simply of Apres L’Ondee and L’Heure Bleue, but also of Loulou and Boucheron.  Edmound Roudnitska who was an admirer of Coty’s  suggested that there were six floral bases to L’Origan including Iralia and Dianthinine.  Roudnitska considered LOrigan a complex intersection of violet, jasmine, orange blossom and rose over an  amalgamation of carnation (or dianthinine) and hay.  This note, foin in French, had been the basis for a whole group of perfumes in the 19th century similar to fougeres, but in the twentieth Coty shrank foin down to the background of his flowery oriental, with a vanillic ambery base. Hay gave a harvested fruit, mulled quality to his masterpiece rather like an oaked Chardonnay.

The result was a tremendous hit which was to influence French perfume for a century.  As late as 1977 Roudnitska spotted the scaffolding of L’Origan underneath Opium.  Opium was ” L’Origan without the flowers,” he thought.

Dried Oregano from

Dried Oregano from

Wearing L’Origan now you have to jettison your preconceptions.  The scent may remind you of your grandmother, but as one wise perfume saleswoman once said to me, old perfume was worn by your old grandmother when both were young.  I do smell a kinship to Opium though even more to things like Boucheron, and the perfume is sweet but the sweetness is cut with spice and even in my old edt there is strength to L’Origan.  If you wear it next to L’Heure Bleue (which I am doing right now also in vintage edt) the Guerlain is noticeably drier than the Coty and much more restrained.  The iris note in L’Heure Bleue is probably orris and the rose is a better quality one, nonetheless L’Origan is compelling.  Old L’Origan manages that neat trick of smelling a little like a lot of things: carnations, amber (principally) but also roses, faintly violets and there is a tonality that reminds me of fermented fruit.

You can tell that the powerful atmospheric L’Origan is going to turn up again and again, and it does in Bal a Versailles, in Tabu where the carnation is married to dirty patchouli in order to give us the whore’s perfume of its brief, and most identifiably in Oscar de la Renta, or Poison where the sweetness of L’Origan almost hums in the air like bees.

Late summer is the season for this Coty certainly.  Nothing could be more perfect for the warm air or the nights which begin to chill.  Your grandmother wore this one for a reason. L’Origan is unforgettable in its way and like Chypre,  the starting point for a whole slew of other classic French perfumes.  This year you could wear Opium with the flowers, as for me, I admire L’Origan but if pressed I’d wear L’Heure Bleue. It turns out I prefer my atmospheres blue.

Have you ever tried a Coty?

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4 thoughts on “The Golden L’Origan

  1. What a lovely post, thank you. I love L’Origan! Where can I learn more about the whole group of 19th century hay based perfumes? I like your picture of oregano, and it reminds me of my confusion about the name of the perfume. I first thought it referred to a musical organ. Somewhere I read something about an earlier Coty titled L’Origan d’Ambre, or something like that, which I thought sounded like it fit an image of varnished wood like you might see in an instrument. But you’re the second person I’ve seen mentioning oregano. Do you by any chance smell oregano in the perfume?

    1. Sadly i don’t smell oregano in the perfume, but wish I did.
      Read about the hay class of perfumes in a lecture written by the perfumer Jean Carles and you can track down his talks and charts at the Perfumer’s Apprentice and elsewhere online. Basenotes may have some.

      What I don’t know is if the perfumes so produced (he named three groups: hay, fougere and clover) were largely based on tonka bean and later coumarin.

      To find those scents I’d look for old perfumes like L. T. Piver’s particularly Le Trefle Incarnat or more easily Hudnut’s Yankee Clover which would give you the clover note and early fougeres respectively, but for hay hm… The modern stuff may smell different so I’d suggest hunting down some of the Coty Sweet Earth series from the seventies including three grasses: gingergrass, clover and hay. Among contemporary perfumes I think Bois Blond of Parfumerie Generale hits the note and Corsica Furiosa of Parfums d’Empire may as well though i have not smelled that.

      L’Origan d’Ambre is very interesting. Never heard of it though that proves nothing since there may be no complete list of all Coty’s introductions and this might be a later flanker introduced to increase L’Origan sales by Coty Int. I’m still trying to track down his L’Or which was supposed to be a tobacco perfume. No luck yet 🙁

  2. I have never tried L’Origan though it is one of those iconic perfumes I feel I should do. What especially caught my eye was the little frosted glass purse size containers in your photo, for I have a near identical one to the one on the right that had Mme Rochas in. I tipped it out because it had gone off, but couldn’t bear to throw out the ‘bottle’.

    1. They are nice containers aren’t they? I don’t blame you for keeping the bottle. I keep all mine but soak them for 24 hours in rubbing alcohol to remove the last perfume tenant. Usually that gets them clear, but if anything is left another 24 hours does the trick and then I fill them with whatever came in a fugly bottle 😉

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