Flapper Winds

Cicada Bottle for Cigalia of Roger et Gallet 1911

Cicada Bottle for Cigalia of Roger et Gallet 1911

Once upon a time I knew that Tabac Blond was the first tobacco scent ever introduced to perfumery.  This turns out to be a canard. In fact it was the third.  The first was a perfume called either Cigalia or else Les Cigales by the old firm of Roger et Gallet, with a remarkably beautiful bottle done by who else but Lalique.  Here it is.  Lovely no?

You do end up finding out all sorts of odd things as time goes on, but the story of the first tobacco perfumes does not end with Cigalia.  In fact there was also a Coty perfume.  You knew there had to be one?  It seems that whenever anyone had any kind of new material or base or idea in the perfume world of the early twentieth century there was Francois Coty already set to market his version of whatever it happened to be.  As far as I can discover Coty introduced his tobacco perfume in 1912 inside a Baccarat bottle topped with a crystal cut stopper.  According to Edmond Roundnitska L’Or was in the air a lot in

Baccarat Bottle similar to the L'Or design and missing the small gold oval label

Baccarat Bottle similar to the L’Or design and missing the small gold oval label

the twenties and was a beautiful golden tobacco note which met with considerable success if not as much as Chypre or L’Origan. He admired Coty’s work, was often impressed with Coty’s innovations, but  made no mention of Cigalia which can only have been a year older than L’Or.* Had the tobacco vogue slowed?  Not a bit of it,  the note had merely evolved. In 1919 Tabac Blond came out with its modernist, some would even say Fauvist, take on the bright young things who had survived the First World War as well as  Spanish Influenza and were now sticking cigarettes into  holders, while skewering convention  in Parisian cafes.

Tabac Blond has been extensively described, but one aspect remains little remarked upon and that is its uncompromising leather and smoke start.  If you’ve never smelled the vintage, you can actually be put off by the blast of smoke TB spews at you and it takes  several minutes for you to realize that this flapper/disturbingly handsome young man is wearing an expensive orange blossom cologne, that their opinions are interesting, and that just maybe you will stay at this cocktail party after all.

Things hadn’t heated all the way up to twenties temperatures yet in 1919, and Habanita, that

Smoking, let's hope it's good tobacco...

Smoking, let’s hope it’s good tobacco…

most fiercely powdered flapper hadn’t shimmied into her step ins yet.  Habanita (1921) **was erotic but also very much of its era.  You have to admire the dry fluffy vanilla notes that coat your skin like swans down, but the fluff is neither edible nor innocent.  There is an aura of the sexual about Habanita, though maybe it’s only the post tryst plume of tobacco smoke exhaled by couples, punctuated by a little pillow talk.

In other words the tobacco perfume had become  as sophisticated as Duke Ellington’s Lady.  It had gone from the simple dried leaf note, to the daring smoking conversationalist, to the boulevardier in the boudoir.  Where was the glorification of tobacco itself? Where was the tobacco that, like love, made men go from shore to shore?

Habanita frombaptismbyfragrance.com

Habanita frombaptismbyfragrance.com

L’Or is naturally long gone, so long gone that these days I’d consider myself in luck if I could still smell that at the Osmotheque.  But the tobacco note, the floating smoky remains of the huge party that was the twenties was not yet entirely dissipated.

The narcotic perfume of Habanita was supposed to run along your cigarette from a dropper (one of female smokers’ early refinements of puffology) and thereby increase the decadent thrill of the experience of smoking in the first place. Not everyone in the twenties enjoyed such glamorous smoke, my Dad’s big thrill came from smoking corn silk or tobacco ends in the backyard as a small boy.  How’s that for Americana? Oddly  though it’s my Dad’s experience I want to recreate rather than the Parisian one circa 1923.

From Virginiaplaces.org

From Virginiaplaces.org

What had happened to the tobacco field perfume?  The drying sheds fragrance,  the scent of a drowsy summer afternoon in the South? Even a production like Lubin’s Black Jade, which barely alludes to tobacco, is enough to make me nostalgic. You can still smell the tobacco as it was first introduced into perfumes, or very nearly. The answer is not A*men Pure Havana. Tobacco  extract is quite expensive and therefore seldom appears in today’s perfumes.

I suppose that I should specify my dislike of smelling like smoke, as in Bel Antonio or Jasmin et Cigarette, or overly sweet as in Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille or worse yet Ambre Narguile.  Both make me feel as if I have stepped in a kind of dire caramel with a tobacco inflection to it courtesy IFF.  No I’m looking for the genuine smell of pipe tobacco and a little outdoors, maybe even a tobacco flower or two.  I love Nicotiana in bloom. So, long story short I’ve finally found and bought a little bit of Cigalia.  I hope it is pipe tobacco because so far… no cigar.

 

 

 

 

* My information comes from a French biography, Coty.

**My dates come from, Commercial Perfume Bottles.

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8 thoughts on “Flapper Winds

  1. Heh, no cigar. You kill me. :)

    Now, I do like the TF – but I have to be in the mood for its sticky-bun schweetness. Havana Vanille I like, too, but to be perfectly honest, more for its gorgeous “clear” unpowdery vanilla drydown.

    Habanita nearly killlllled me – that powder bomb stuff, gah. Chergui smells like old people’s houses to me. I liked the top parts of Fumerie Turque, but where the heart turns to base it starts smelling like animal butt covered with honey, and just NOTHANKS.

    You know how much I love old Cotys – how awesome that Francois was ahead of the curve most of the time!

    I do love SSS Tabac Aurea, oh so much. Mmm, pipe tobacco… I used to horrify my mother by picking up the pouches at the drugstore to sniff them. (And now, of course, they’re behind the counter where you can’t touch them at all.)

    • Tabac Aurea, yeah I knew there was one that had gotten away from me, also the very obscure Fleurs de Cherignan which people on Basenotes call wonderful but also say is rarer than hens’ teeth, don’t suppose you’ve ever run across that in your sampling adventures? How I wish there were a little L’Or to try…

      I’m hoping that Cigalia is going to smell like those old tobacco pouches you mentioned. My Dad always had those for his pipe and I’d really enjoy the scent, however this was one of those see it and pounce moments on Ebay. Will have to report back

  2. I love tobacco as a note and have several. The Tom Ford, Chergui, Tabac Aurea, One of my favorites is Costamer Tabbca. This smells of the drying sheds you mention. Sweetish, warm and organic in the sense it smells of the field. I remember this smell from traveling in the South. Beautiful. Another one I enjoy is Frapin’s Speakeasy. For me more a rum drink in a Havana bar than a Gin and tonic in New York.

    • Interesting that you mention Speakeasy because I had been thinking of that scent the other day.

      I love rum as a hair mask (my favorite is 1 egg to I Tbsp rum to 2 tsps plain witch hazel leave on till dry and then wash. You get great hair plus it smells terrific!) I noticed Speakeasy because it is tobacco, rum and also Marc Antoine Corticchiato. The only part that wobbles me is the cumin which can smell good and sweaty on me. I hope you have better luck with that part of it!

      • Yes, M-AC does love his cumin. He and his line are one of my favorites. But some of them leave me smelling like I’ve been eating curry and/or not bathing for days. I avoid those. Sometimes I think climate plays as much a part as body chemistry in what is brought out in scent. His perfumes (along with Tauer) smell so differently up here in the PNW of the states vs when I’m in Arizona. The dryness seems to bring out the incense, resins and booze. The cumin not so much.

        • Yes and Fougere Bengale we’re looking at you! That really smells like the local Indian restaurant on me.

          The climate connection is quite a fascinating one. I’ve lived NE in the US and in Europe where I got to understand powdery perfumes because everything was so DAMP. Arizona must be the reverse of that…

  3. Whoo, gorgeous bottles! I so agree about Jasmin et Cigarette being a big fat fail in the tobacco scent department. I am very picky with tobacco scents, and am not sure I even really like Tabac Blond. And certainly not Habanita, which is a bit like car ashtrays on me. But Cigalia sounds worth a punt, for the name alone. Strong overtones of those chirping creatures in Provence…

    • Got my bottle of Cigalia three days ago and have been wearing it non stop.

      The formula is not an original one, but because of its age was perhaps the model for several popular masculines. This little tobacco and aldehydes fresh floral (mine is edp 70′s maybe) has been around for a while, but on me Cigalia is soapy aldehydes for ten minutes, then a floral with maybe a smidge of rose and jasmine, and then tobacco (unsmoked tobacco) finally birch tar.

      Cigalia avoids being cliche because it’s almost masculine but not quite- too many flowers and aldehydes. Reminds me of Bois des Isles with tobacco instead of sandalwood, or Baghari with no orange, an aldehydic floral basically. Very discreet, gentle and easy peasy to live with. Fewer claws out than that adorable little kitten of yours.

      Hope Truffle is adapting well btw :-)

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