Characters in Bottles: The Carons

Ayn Rand as postage stamp

Ayn Rand as postage stamp

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.

Bellodgia the flapper's perfume

Bellodgia the flapper’s perfume

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.

Poster for Black Narcissus

Poster for Black Narcissus

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.

Aviatrix in early thirties via

Aviatrix in early thirties via

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

Smoking Flapper

Smoking Flapper

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.

Distinctive ladylike image for a ladylike fragrance

Distinctive ladylike image for a ladylike fragrance

“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

Flapper haircut circa mid twenties, A perfect wearer of Acaciosa.

Flapper haircut circa mid twenties, A perfect wearer of Acaciosa.

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?


Be Sociable, Share!

16 thoughts on “Characters in Bottles: The Carons

  1. I love all of these characterizations, Blacknall A. I wear vintage Nuit de Noel, Bellodgia, Fleurs de Rocaille and not-very-vintage Tabac Blond. All of them create a distinct mood and feeling, just as you say, and I enjoy them all. Vintage Fleurs de Rocaille opens like a perfume fit only for Maria Von Trapp in her convent days, but it blooms and becomes a fresher version of Joy. A good workday perfume for me. Tabac Blond satisfies my need to imagine myself a lioness on certain days. I might quibble and say that Bellodgia feels more serious to me than it seems to you (but certainly not as contemplative as NdN)l. I get a lot of somber oakmoss along with the cloves, but, heck, it’s fun to differ.

    I had a 1980’s Narcisse Noir EDT that seemed so light and girlish and character-less that I swapped it. I would like to see what this perfume is really about in the vintage parfum one day. A sample of fairly current Acaciosa was too sweetly floral for me, as was Montaigne. And En Avion is on my want list, as you already know. Start your engines!

    1. I like the Maria Von Trapp description of Fleurs de Rocaille-very true. Also Tabac Blond being for times when you “need to imagine yourself a lioness”. Yup. We’ve all had those.

      I hope you find some En Avion one of these days. Think it’s currently out of production but Caron sometimes brings things back in small LE’s. Also it does turn up on Ebay, as does Narcisse Noir, a vintage bottle of which just sold for $ 62.00 which is pretty fair. 🙂

    1. You might like Acaciosa which is very white flowered, or you might have liked With Pleasure which was such a soft green rose. I’m trying to think what it is like among niche things because that’s the only way to rediscover the notes now. Hmm…

      Well a bit like Un Coeur en Mai or else if you crossed the DSH perfumes Celadon with her Rose Vert you might get something similar.

      Anyway glad to see you and hope the Le Temps d’un Fete is on tap for Spring 🙂

  2. You have piqued my interest to retry Fleurs de Rocaille, about whose quota of ‘s’s I am always confused. I am sure I have a sample somewhere. I’d like to think I can toggle between ladylike and cocotte. 😉

    1. Of course you could toggle (which is a great verb btw) and yes those plurals do get awfully confusing. The “Fleurs” is the classic aldehyde, the “Fleur” is the modern floral oriental, and Miss Rocaille they say is very bright, dry and GREEN. (I haven’t tried that one) Bet your toggling choice is the best one.

  3. I must go and read the first now…
    Also, you reminded me that I wanted to compare my entirely modern en Avion sample (which I love) with a bottle which I take it is at least a decade old, and mainly smells like a heavy carnation which bewildered me.
    I also love your point about NdN being a cross over between chypre and oriental. This is possibly my preferred (non-) genre, thinking here especially of the wildly different, yet of the same category, Vol de Nuit.

    1. And now you’ve made me think (not for the first time) that I really REALLY must go back and try Vol de Nuit in some different vintages.

      I agree with you about the allure of chypre/orientals and although I esteem Nuit de Noel I think I might find Vol de Nuit more wearable. it has always struck me as one of the most intriguing Guerlains bar Djedi 🙂

      1. Vol de Nuit was the perfume that really ignited my interest in hunting down vintage Guerlains. However, then I discovered Jicky…

        I have always been curious about getting into Caron perfumes though. What is a good one to start with? Are there any fragrances in their modern collection worth trying?

        1. Hi Brooke,
          If you liked Vol de Nuit, and Jicky even better, then I would try something like Infini from the 70’s. It’s a greenish-woody floral.

          You might also enjoy Pour un Homme, which despite the name, is a very good choice for lavender and vanilla and those are major parts of Jicky. Good hunting 🙂

  4. What a fantastic bit of writing, on a cold old February day. Thank you for talking about the Carons. I have a question for you, and for the perfume community. If a house says it has not reformulated its scents, but we wearers think it has been, how do we know what is right? Some of the perfume critics had a lot to say about Carons, and reformulations. I think bloggers have a huge influence, and I wondered if this somehow damages a brand.

    I have a few Carons, and a few treasured vials of perfume. Have you tried Alpo’s? Bone dry grapefruit chypre. Lasts for days. Unbelievable. I had the good fortune to try Farnesina, which is their mimosa scent. People who love Fleur de Caissie should try this. It’s mimosa, and then almost almond like sweetness. It’s beautiful.

    When I first tried Tabac Blond I had to wash it off-the smell of tobacco was not pleasant. But I could not stop smelling the spot. And you know how it it-you go from I can’t stand it, to I can’t stop smelling it, to I want a huge bottle of this. It’s beautiful

    Narcisse Blanc is a spring scent for me. That beautiful Narcissus scent.

    I have only tried Narcisse Noir in the EDT, and I’m not sure it’s the best concentration for that scent. It’s like a photo of someone…better than nothing, but leaves you wanting to spend time with the real person.

    En Avion and Poivre are still favourites of mine. In hindsight I wish I bought more when I had the chance, but I was trying to practice restraint. But I chose two I love. The En Avion still has that …oilyness, that fuel smell, hot tarmac, orange blossom, and air. I have never met anyone who wears it. My mom would sometimes put a drop on, so I could enjoy it on someone else. I may be out of my mind but I always associate these scents with cleanliness. I still have a bottle of Coup de Fouet, too, which is the EDT of Poivre. Very beautiful.

    And Bellodgia-its the sunniest, happiest fragrance I can think of.

    These scents are really really hard to get in Canada. Caron will not ship to Canada-they have had bad experiences in the past. That is my only complaint with this wonderful perfume house.

    Thank you for such a wonderful thread, and sorry for the stream of consciousness rambling 🙂

  5. I wish more people were as familiar with the Carons as you appear to be. You seem to know most of the line very well and are lucky. Hold onto them. Prices on Ebay are sky high for vintage formulations of old Carons, they are sometimes wickedly difficult to replace. I’ve tried!

    About reformulations, they are a reality in the perfume world sometimes because of the unavailability of the original ingredients. The Carons were composed using “bases” mini-perfumes made by oil suppliers. Modern versions have to try to recreate those when they are gone. So I’m afraid that the Carons were not immune from this problem and many were reformulated. Bois de Jasmin some years ago went through the line and evaluated it for quality. Her assessment was pretty fair minded and careful.

    As for Caron’s reputation, I don’t think Sanchez and Turin’s Guide did it any good. But doubt that reviews really affect perfume much. If people love something they wear it whether or not critics applaud.

    Lastly no Carons in Canada? Not even Quebec? Could you order from Paris?

  6. Yes, of course, your explanation of the bases makes sense to me.

    It was Bois de Jasmin that introduced me to the world of Caron. It is possible, sometimes, if you’re lucky, to find a bottle or two in private perfume stores. I bought my Bellodgia in Saint John, New Brunswick. But there was never a proper Caron distributor in Canada.

    What do you think of Parfum Sacre? I bought a bottle and I find it a bit difficult to wear. It wears me. I should like it-roses, spices, and myrrhe. But I don’t think it suits me.

  7. My wife and I visited that great little Caron boutique in NYC (I think it’s moved now), which provided me with an introduction to Pour un Homme, Third Man and Yatagan… All of them were wonderful, and, though I am not a big collector, I have all three now. It was a little absurd to be walking around the city with a dabe of each of the first two on alternate wrists… That’s a lot of personality! My son has a very big personality himself and wears a vintage bottle of YSL Opium for Women I found for him at a thrift store (What was it Roja Dove said about big personalities and orientals?) His girlfriend wears Pour un Homme; being progressive, millennial types they enjoy the gender-bending and each wear their respective scent quite well. Thanks for a great article.

    1. It’s nice to hear that people are still wearing and enjoying those Carons. They did make some really superlative masculines. Pour un Homme is wonderful no matter who wears it and I hope a new generation of people discover PuH, though the restrictions on lavender are making that a bit difficult right now and it is the headnote!

      Have you ever tried Tabac Blond by the way? If not you may enjoy that too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *