Coty’s Chypre

Chypre in an early bottle

Chypre in an early bottle

This is a marvel of a perfume.  If you are new to the world of scent and just trying to get a grip on what the difference between an oriental and a chypre is, Francois Coty’s name is one to know.  He was  born a Corsican and his original name was actually Spoturno, but he abandoned that in favor of his mother’s maiden name Coti, which he subsequently gallicized to Coty. France’s first billionaire, and the first man to use floral extracts in his perfumes (these were stronger and pure-er than the old floral distillates).  The result was several stunningly original perfumes and in 1917, Chypre,  the fore runner of all modern chypres, and a true feat of perfumery, combining extremes of lightness and darkness, freshness and muskiness, scrubbed cleanliness and grubby sexiness in one unified whole. Continue reading

Nasty from the Nice

Faraday's Depiction of the Great Stink of London

 Depiction of the Great Stink of London

Bad perfume may be one of the evils we were put on this earth to rise above- as Queen Victoria was  rumored to have remarked about nature. At least it is to my mind.  Victoria had a larger task than the one I have set myself, which is simply not to inhale anything for long which is hateful.  When it comes to new perfumes I give everything a fair trial-but here’s the salient point-not on skin.

My method involves a brandy snifter and some saturated paper or cotton. I leave the sample in the snifter for hours and check on its progress and note the changes, but I do not put anything on my skin anymore that has not gone through a good eight hour stretch in the snifter. Continue reading

Perfume in the Bloodstream

L'Aimant advertising

L’Aimant advertising

This is an illusion.  You can’t really ever have perfume flowing along your veins but there is a quality certain perfumes share which makes them a great deal easier to adopt and to wear, and that is this phenomenon of “melting” into the skin.

So many perfumes have passed through my hands, and so few have stayed with me over time that I have developed a sense of those perfumes which might actually make a home with me based on a very simple criterion: surface or subcutaneous?  If I don’t feel that I’ve absorbed a perfume and am now radiating it, then I seldom get to the point of finishing a bottle. Continue reading

Count Alfred D’Orsay and the Elusiveness of…..

The one difficulty in Brideshead Revisited (okay, there are a lot of difficulties in Brideshead Revisited, but I’m only interested in one of them) is the question Sebastian Flyte’s charm.

We are assured that he has it, repeatedly, but  somehow it never quite gets off the page.   Now Waugh is some kind of writerly genius, and Sebastian is based on the real thing, but in this exercise the author is coming up against a writing challenge even harder than describing sex without sounding absurd.  Charm, like certain jokes, is evanescent.

As with Sebastian, so with Alfred.  That he had charm and by the bucket-load is widely attested, and his CV ticks all the boxes for any romance writer’s dashing leading man.  His father, a general for Bonaparte,* was considered the best looking man in the army and a dab hand at warfare.  While the general  was off expanding and defending the empire, Alfred was raised by his maternal grandmother, another good looking and elegant wit,  Anne Franchi, aka Madame Craufurd, mistress of Duke of Wurtemberg among others.  (Of her it is written “there is considerable mystery about this good lady’s career”. But I digress.) Continue reading

Strange Invisible Perfume

“From the barge
A strange invisible perfume hits the sense
Of the adjacent wharfs.”

“Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were love sick with them”

The quote is Shakespeare. of course,  from Anthony and Cleopatra, she whom age could not wither nor whose infinite variety could custom stale, and if the winds were love sick, they were as nothing compared to the boyfriends, Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony.  Especially Marc Anthony, who gave up an empire for the woman. Continue reading

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

The churchmen knew their business when they brought scent into the worship of God.  Elemental stuff, you see.  Like Proust’s madeleine.  The origin of the word perfume relates to it. Per fumen – through smoke.   Some words are so ingrained in the vocabulary that one forgets that they have origins, and the origins of scented smoke are old indeed.

Early on, flavored smoke was a specific for ridding a place of other-worldy undesirables. Case in point:

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Smounds! Gadzooks!

The history of science has from time to time turned up  a number of – to us – strange lines of inquiry that run the gamut from crackpot to fraud.   The academy tends to keep out the former better than the latter, but there have been times….

Consider the case of George Washington Septimus Piesse, Ph.D, F.C.S.  (1820-1886),  author of the Art of Perfumery, The Laboratory, Young Farmer’s Science, and most particularly for Chymical Natural and Physical Magic intended for the instruction and entertainment of juveniles during the holiday vacation.  (This admirable book includes instructions on how to make not only fireworks for wholesome home entertainment,  but also laughing gas.  Try doing that today and see how far you get. We really do live in a prissy kind of age.) Continue reading

Mithridates, He Died Old

“Come, my Friends,
Let’s meet these Romans, and my Rebel Son;
Let’s kill till we are weary, then lie down
And rest forever.”

“Mithridates King of Pontus”  by Nathaniel Lee (1653 – 6 May 1692)*

Mithridates (134 BC – 63 BC) was the great eastern enemy of Rome in the days before Caesar Augustus.  Depending on your political inclinations, he was either the bold standard bearer of an oppressed minority defending his many loyal subject against a brutal Empire,  or just another swell-headed killer on the make. Continue reading

Strange Brew

If it is true, as Mike Myers suggests, that most Scottish cuisine is based on a dare, what are we to make of the foundations of perfumery?

We are, after all, talking some pretty rank stuff – extrusions from the anal glands of feral animals,  digestive aids of over-sized ocean dwelling mammals.  Not the sort of thing the average person is likely to be on the lookout for when trying to attract the opposite sex.   Whatever possessed early man to have a go at some of this stuff?  Cruel jokes are all I can figure.  Imagine for a moment the local bad lads in a seaside town  in medieval times having some sport with the village idiot and suggesting he go roll in some of that nice musk deer corpse on the edge of town, or cover himself in some washed up ambergris.*

Joke was on them a few days later when the village idiot had a girl on each arm and several trailing behind asking if he would prefer cider, mead, or me?

Who’s stinky now?

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Not Tonight, The King Has a Headache

As noted in a previous post,  it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.

Case in point, Louis XIV, the Sun King, one of the great over-indulgers of history.  This is the same man who built Versailles, and more extravagant than that, it is hard to be.  Between the painters and performers and the cakes and the wine and the women and the wars, he made time to confer with his perfumer Martial over new and exotic scents, and lots of them.  Not only was he noted as the most brilliant monarch of his age, but also as the sweetest smelling.

Then, one day late in the seventeenth century,  he just gave it up.  Went cold turkey.  Could no longer abide the stuff.  Said anything but orange blossoms gave him headaches. What the king would not, the court could not.  Women of quality fell into vapors at the mere sight of flowers and men declared (possibly truthfully) that they had hated perfume all along.

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