It’s such a perennial it seems that everyone has worn Jicky at one time or another including Mick Jagger and Jaqueline Kennedy Onnasis and Colette and Proust, well that was according to Colette, but it seems quite likely doesn’t it? What else was Proust going to wear? Fougere Royale? I don’t think so.
Of course by now everyone has read the stories about Jicky. The one about vanillin and the mixture of a slightly impure grade to get the offbeat, faintly smudged vanilla of the scent. The admiring comments of Ernest Beaux (creator of No5) about Jacques Guerlain’s use of vanilla, and the melancholy tale about Aimee Guerlain’s lost English love referred to as “Jicky” although that may equally well have been Jacques Guerlain’s nickname.
What may be less commonly known is the murky link between Francois Coty and Jicky, because not all Jicky’s admirers were wearers some were imitators. The story there is that when Francois Coty first began to take an interest in scent he went the rounds in Paris smelling whatever he could in the late 1890′s and his opinion was that not much out there had any lasting value as fragrance with two exceptions: L.T. Piver’s Le Trefle Incarnat (PInk Clover) and Guerlain’s Jicky.
Le Trefle Incarnat was an early fougere like Jicky and created by Pierre Armingeat and his son in law Jacques Rouche, a very cultured man whose later career had him directing the Paris Opera no less. The scent was made possible by the discovery of amyl salicylate by Georges Darzens which gave it an uncharacteristic zing for the period. The result was a bestseller which went on being so right through the 1920′s.
Jicky of course already existed, but Francois Coty musing on the qualities of the perfume, thought that they could be improved upon. Here the narratives become somewhat difficult to follow but some say Francois Coty had worked briefly on the line at Guerlain and there gained his knowledge of their perfumes which he later put to good use. Others that he simply analyzed Jicky as closely as was then possible. Either way he came up with his own version Emeraude in 1921.
It is quite a gap in time from 1889 to 1921 and all sorts of things had intervened including a world war, but Coty got his thumping allusive hit. Emeraude was a smash, just about as popular as his 1904 introduction L’Origan. In fact it was so successful that even Mme Jacques Guerlain wore it.
What I wonder is why? What was it that Coty thought he could improve? Jicky then as now is a marvelous perfume, fresh and flowery but simultaneously maline and animalic. Jicky has an inborn sass which has never been equaled. What therefore did Coty think he could improve?
I suspect the answer lies in gender or the perception thereof. Jicky is an ambivalent scent and its early users were on both sides of the sexual aisle, a time when most women still wore light floral fragrances. Or to use another image, Jicky walked happily on both sides of the street barefoot, skin dosed with civet at a time when ladies kept primly to the sidewalks handkerchiefs judiciously dosed with cologne.
Did Coty think that Jicky needed to wear a dress and shoes? If he did he was proven right and a brief examination of the notes of Jicky and Emeraude tell the tale. Afterall the gender confounding narratives of Proust and Colette about the Belle Epoque were already out there and there was some pretext for wondering just who had been wearing
the corsets? There may have room to engineer a sleek femininity into the advertising copy of the new fragrance.
I don’t want to suggest that Coty and his firm were strangers to the unisex perfume, Chypre must have taught them that plenty of scents play just as well on masculine skins as female ones, but here, in the general area of the fougere/oriental there must have seemed room to push the formula in a distinctly estrogenic direction.
If you look at those formulas as of 1990 or so what you find is that Jicky is dominated at first by lemon with lesser notes of mandarin, bergamot and rosewood, the heart being mostly jasmine and patchouli with a chorus of rose, orris and vetiver behind it and the base is primarily vanilla (no surprises there) with civet, benzoin, incense, leather, amber, and tonka bean bringing up Jicky’s rear.
What happens with Emeraude? Everything is softer. There is bergamot and lemon forward in the open backed by lemongrass and orange. The middle stage of the composition relies on rosewood then puts rose, jasmine, and ylang ylang behind the wood and finally vanilla and ambrein with opoponax, benzoin, sandalwood and patchouli in the drydown. This is altogether a less controversial structure, ideal for becoming what it did in fact become, a silky oriental formulated to swathe feminine skin in soft chemically simulated warmth.
The stage was set for the next exchange in this perfume conversation and that was to be on the Guerlain side and to involve a great deal of vanilla…
So have you had an encounter with Jicky or do you prefer the descendants?