If you read last week’s post you know about the first part of my essay on the Caron perfume house. I was making the point that Caron,or more precisely their founder/perfumer Ernest Daltroff, created highly distinctive perfumes. Along with Francois Coty who also used psychological marketing, Daltroff seems to have composed perfumes for different personality types, some of them quite extreme.
Take for instance Nuit de Noel (1922), Caron itself calls this fragrance an oriental though the formula is on the line between chypres and orientals, and describes it as “woody, flowery (mainly jasmine) spices (sic) and moss.” This was the controversial writer Ayn Rand’s favorite perfume and remains a grave, almost stately scent that suits anyone who loves luxury. The absence of any cologne or bergamot top-notes makes the the scent rich, yet not at all animalic since the base is 25% sandalwood, the rest mousse de saxe. This may be the origin of the comments about Caron’s relative “propriety” since unlike most of its competitors, Nuit did not feature civet or musk. The scent is dignified and lavish but not in the least sexual. Nuit de Noel is a perfume for judges, executives, even Prime Ministers ( Theresa May take note). There is nothing silly about the contents of the little black bottle.
On the other hand Daltroff could also create something for the frivolous, and did with Bellodgia five years later (1927). If Nuit de Noel is a Minuette, then Bellodgia is a Charleston. However the syncopation of Bellodgia is not straightforward. The company described the perfume as containing “Over one hundred ingredients. Predominant carnation note, brush of violet, sandalwood and civet.” This leaves out the lily of the valley and the roses, but you see how this character of Daltroff’s most closely resembled the fashionable Parisienne. The inspiration was a trip to Italy he took with his lover Felicie Vanpouille who was herself, not coincidentally Parisienne and very chic.The cheerful elegance of Bellodgia has been a constant of French perfumery ever since then, and resurfaced in a number of compositions, most notably L’Air du Temps.
Then again Daltroff could create for the sultry individual. His great success from 1911 was Narcisse Noir and the company called Narcisse “…the scent of narcissus, slightly world weary” and the notes : orange blossom, narcissus, sandalwood, musk and amber. Narcisse Noir is unabashedly sexy, although quite frankly the sexiness is free floating, not tethered to either gender. Old bottles could suit young men just as well as young women and the tropical allure of Narcisse Noir is ageless.
In 1923 Daltroff created a milder version for the US market exclusively called Narcisse Blanc, the company wrote of that fragrance, “The predominating note is orange blossom, recalling Narcisse Noir but less oriental and more flowery.” I wore that and loved it until the fragrance disappeared. As light and innocent as Narcisse Noir was dark and sexy, the orange blossom and and narcissus evaporated on a beautiful dry down of iris that I still remember as one of the most lovely ends to a perfume I’ve ever smelled. Oh well. Those two were innocence and experience holding hands.
The man from Caron understood romantics as well, and composed En Avion in 1930. The Caron notes say it is, ” a spicy composition, with ambreine on a floral and musky base.” One of my readers who worked in the oil business and knew the perfume well, claimed that the beginning smelled like airplane fuel. I have to agree with her. The opening of En Avion is truly weird with that fuel component and leather seat note as well, but after a while the perfume becomes “airbourne” and the airiness is imitated well by the materials. It’s a vapor trail for dreamers and travelers.
Then there is the great Tabac Blond of 1919. TB was considered the first leather perfume for many decades and once again, like Bellodgia, it’s complicated. Company notes are, “Fragrance on a woody base, with vanilla, musk, where the suave note of leather mixes, with that of iris, ylang ylang, mousse and oppoponax and carnation”. That does not really
convey the urbane complexity of Tabac Blond which is perfectly suited to men or women and perfectly at home with wherever on the spectrum of masculinity to femininity a personality may lie. Anyone who wears Tabac Blond is themselves first, and gender identified second. The company tried to sell it as a perfume for outdoors-women, but admitted it was for …”women in search of something new and original.”
Daltroff also created a perfume for the lady and that was Fleurs de Rocaille (1933). The company called this a “flowery classic” and it was Daltroff’s recreation in scent of Monet’s “Waterlilies” series of paintings. The indistinct flowers of the Impressionist master, the wateriness, the reflections seeming to multiply the blooms on the water’s surface, all this ripples across the composition.
“A bouquet of carnations, lilac, lily of the valley, jasmine and rose,” said Caron, and considered it…”completely feminine, it is a fragrance of aristocratic daintiness.” We might not care about aristocratic qualities these days, but this is a scent that anyone’s mother could wear. Fleurs de Rocaille is in impeccable taste and though there is something at first starchy the starch melts into a warm friendly fragrance that is crowded with springtime scents.
Fleurs was not the last perfume that Daltroff created with the very feminine in mind. In 1924 he was responsible for another fragrance that was entirely youthful and girlish, namely Acaciosa. This, like Narcisse Blanc, is no longer in production but was one of the best regarded floral compositions in French perfumery. Acaciosa was entirely floral, “principle notes, ” Caron stated, ” orange blossom, jasmine, and rose with an ambery, animalic base.” The introduction to this largely jasmine perfume
is pineapple though, and not pineapple of the holographic modern sort, but a candied pineapple, very sweet and at first difficult to place. The effect is high pitched, fresh, and sassy. Like Caron’s later release Montaigne, Acaciosa can be worn in the daytime or at night. The scent is versatile and has an unforgettable sillage. If there is a resemblance to any other Caron perfume that perfume is Royal Bain de Champagne which is similarly extroverted.
The morning sunniness and the slightly tropic quality of the flowers make Acaciosa one of the few Carons that go along well with summertime and hotter temperatures. These days what might have struck the denizens of the twenties as girlish just seems like a good white flowered perfume. Acaciosa still is something to pack for a vacation.
All of these characters escaped bottles like so many genies in the atmosphere of the early twentieth century. Previously there had only been good women and bad, then all of a sudden, women became people.
Do you have a particular Caron character?