En Avion : What Airplanes Smell Like

An early advert for En Avion

An early advert for En Avion

Air travel used to be sort of glamorous. No really, before you fall over laughing, it truly was. Clean airplanes, cocktails, pretty stewardesses in un-stained uniforms. I barely remember this, my younger sister doesn’t remember anything of the sort, and no one conceived after 1975 can even imagine it.

All we can recall now is how awful our last flight was and how we swore that next time no matter what it cost, we were definitely going to bid on a seat in business class. Yeah, right.

In the 1930’s things were not only glamorous they were dangerous.  That was still the era of long distance solo flights by those impossibly thin entities Lindbergh and  Earhart.  A large number of people swear by Vol de Nuit as evocative of this adventurous airbourne history, but I just don’t think that smells anything like airplanes. Lovely perfume, nothing to do with airplanes even though it’s named after the St. Exupery novel.  En Avion though, the Caron perfume from 1932 actually does.

En Avion is one of those cult perfumes like Killian’s Back to Black, or Guerlain’s Apres L’Ondee, never the house best seller, always just a little bit of a minority taste.  I

Isabelle Adjani in a photo from the 70's

Isabelle Adjani in a photo from the 70’s

remember hearing some long time ago that En Avion was the favorite of Isabelle Adjani, the French actress who portrayed so many lead roles so well.  A romantic perfume for a romantic actress?  Maybe, but like Adjani, En Avion is quirky.

There is just this very odd thing about En Avion, the stuff smells like old leather and gasoline.  Not all the way through, don’t leave your seats yet, or start pulling your carry ons down on top of your fellow travelers’ heads.  Please be advised that En Avion only smells like that  for the first ten minutes at most. Back when Tania Sanchez was reviewing  the Carons for Perfumes:The Guide she recalled En Avion’s “wild, airy sweetness” over a base which she described as dry as wood smoke.  Well, um, uh… yeah, there is some sweetness to En Avion but it is really a leather perfume and the beginning has always smelled like leather and gasoline.  Poetry and air travel are queasy partners.

When you read reviews (and this includes reviews of vintage En Avion with all the weird references intact) you get several reviewers posting the equivalent of, “How awful!”  They had to scrub to get that horrible smell of gasoline off their skins ASAP.

This shot taken on a transatlantic flight by the Hub

This shot taken on a transatlantic flight by the Hub

I know they waited about fifteen minutes on average to reach this conclusion.  En Avion you see, “Takes Off”, and when it does, then you get the airy sweet accord that Tania was rhapsodizing about.

If you were to distill modern airplane travel in bottles what would you get? Accord de chemical toilet, avec sweat, urine, etc. ( This depends on who you flew. My personal vote is for Ryanair with the hot sandwiches no one ever buys, the scratch and win games no one plays, and the air stewards who look like they want to bellow, “Will the lot of yez sit down and shut up!” They don’t actually, but if the airline cuts any more costs they will.)  Now there’s an airline with a smell. But I digress, eventually En Avion is a beautiful perfume but not immediately.  Sort of like flying, it’s pretty awful until you look out the window and  “There’s Sicily!” you shriek, because there it is, right in the middle of all this exceedingly blue sea .  Exactly.

The above is what we smelled on our last flight, and yes those are toes- but not ours.

What was your best (or worst) airplane smell, bottled or not?


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10 thoughts on “En Avion : What Airplanes Smell Like

  1. How funny, I never thought of gasoline, and certainly never felt the urge to scrub. On the contrary I love En Avion, and it has been top of my to buy list for ages. Since I sniffed it really. And only the difficulty in obtaining it has kept me from buying it.
    I very much enjoyed your time-travel review.

  2. You are one of the lucky ones re En Avion.

    When I smelled the version of 2005 or so the gasoline was non-existent and it wasn’t until I got hold of my current thirty five year old bottle that I smelled that gasoline note. Until then I could not for the life of me figure out what the gals on Makeupalley were going on about-well then finally the penny dropped. 🙂

  3. Ahhh, En Avion…I’ve been looking for this one for a long, long time too, and I’ve concluded that a vintage bottle is never going to find me. I’ve never smelled it. So I gather that the current parfum is an acceptable version? How would you compare current En Avion parfum to current Tabac Blond parfum? (In other words, do I need both?) And I don’t really need the gasoline note (which I do find in vintage Shalimar and Knize Ten). You can keep the toes, too!

    1. The comparison question is a good one. In fact the current versions of those perfumes have converged. TB is sweeter, and EA is flatter. Do you need both? I’d say no. Current EA is a bit uninteresting so I would go with TB.

      Just to muddy the waters I’d also say that if you love the Caron style and can find a decant of old EA it’s a lovely perfume and worth a try.

      Les Senteurs still sells Carons in EDP but I cannot vouch for those never having tried the EDPs. Luckyscent had a few parfums in the US, and sometimes things surface on Ebay. An original bottle( 2″ high) of En Avion sold the other day for $332.00. Ouch!

      I do wish you luck though, check estate sales and antique stores which often do not know what they have, make sure there is a box!

      1. Thank you! I’ll certainly keep looking for that vintage bottle, which will have to be one of those fortuitous estate sale finds because the Ebay prices for vintage En Avion are very high indeed. But, gosh, the vintage En Avion flacon is gorgeous! I do have recent TB parfum, and I love it. If the current forms are indeed close, perhaps I’ll restrain myself and stick with the TB.

  4. I had a boxed sample of this and recently gave it to Lisa Jones (Wordbird) as I figured she would love it more. Though I did appreciate it as a strikingly singular scent. The gasoline note doesn’t spring to mind now I think of it, but my recall is fuzzy.

    Worst airplane smell? A toss up between sweat and vomit, probably.

    1. Yes i know that smell and unfortunately it does seem to surface on long distance flights.
      En Avion is one of those you love it or not things and I bet of its time slightly. Hope Lisa liked it !

  5. I have En Avion from about 16 years ago. There was a Caron split on MUA, and I bought 30 ml of extrait for $75 CDN.

    Pause for a moment.

    I also have 50 ml of Poivre, and a bottle of Coup de Fouet.

    Pause again.

    I miss those days. Caron does not ship to Canada, so I had to arrange things with some really lovely and understanding US perfume lovers. Diane from Caron had sent me a package of samples-she is an amazing person, too. The package she sent me had beautiful printed material, showing old bottles, and giving descriptions of scents. The samples she sent me were perfume, and they were huge-Faranesiana, En Avion, Poivre, Coup de Fouet, Tabac Blond, and Narcisse Blond. I will never ever forget her kindness, and the handwritten note she sent me, with her distinctive flourished signature.

    Back to the topic at hand! En Avion has to me, a note of fuel-not gasoline. I work with petroleum for a living. En Avion smells like tarmac, and heat, and leather, and orange blossom, and super oxygenated air, and fuel. All facets of a flight back in the 30’s. It’s very beautiful, and I love it so much. It was never a fragrance that seemed to receive much love or attention, so what a treat to read your elegant review, and read the comments from your readers.

    This made me pull out my samples and resin! It’s hot here, and I am wearing a tiny bit of Narcisse Noir. I would love to sample this in parfum.

    Have a good day, and thank you for reviewing one of my favourites,

    1. Thank you so much for giving me the right word for the beginning of En Avion. YES. It is fuel.

      Back when I had first encountered it I knew there was something in the beginning that smelled very distinctive and wasn’t sure what to call that. Gasoline was the closest thing to it that I could recognize-but yes- it’s really much more like what you smell on an airstrip when they are refueling.

      Actually i think what Daltroff did there is brilliant. He does give you an airplane journey in a bottle and there is nothing else like EA. When they reformulated EA they took the “ugly” parts out but En Avion was earthbound/airbourne. What a ride!

      And yes I recall the lovely Diane Haska. Don’t know if she still works for Caron but she was always helpfulness itself and the samples were wonderful. How I miss old Narcisse Blanc.

      And yes, we wondered about that foot too!

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