Originals

something you don't come across every day. Dailymail.UK.com

something you don’t come across every day. Dailymail.UK.com

You know it’s a funny thing, most of us, plus the media, plus critics, even academics, like to say that we admire originality.  That is to say that we do, very much, so long as we can see how that originality sold in the 18-49 demographic last year? Also, was that gross or net? We love originality- just so long as someone else has done it first.

This means that you will almost never smell an original perfume.  They’re too risky to sell.  Supposing the public doesn’t like them?  The same goes for any number of new products, but trust me on this one, if you’ve smelled thousands of perfumes you know original ones are extremely rare. Continue reading

Dorian Gray’s Perfume

Dorian as physical perfection on a summer day.

Dorian as physical perfection on a summer day.

Some writers set the scene of a novel with visuals, others like to give us a sense of how their characters feel, as in the ghost’s cold little hand at the beginning of Wuthering Heights, but Oscar Wilde decides at the very beginning of The Portrait of Dorian Gray to tell us how things smelled.

“The studio was  filled with the rich odor of roses,” the novel begins,” and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate scent of the pink flowering thorn.” It’s a very odd way to begin a novel.  Possibly Wilde felt that if you know how a place smells you know automatically how it looks and that a long description is  therefore unnecessary.

Instead Wilde continues his olfactory description. Lord Henry Wotten is lying on “Persian saddlebags” which implies a smell of old wool, and is smoking cigarettes, so a nicotine haze blurs this atmosphere. Through the  open door come more flower fragrances, laburnum  in bloom, and the flowering woodbine, which are just other names for gold chain trees and honeysuckle. Continue reading

Down to Earth

The edge of our pond

The edge of our pond

There is a definite shift in the season here.  Connecticut has those four clearly demarcated seasons and this one is the transitional, the rainy, the mucky, the still cold but the light is brighter, the sap is running one, we have a name for it: mud season.

This should be a little more shoe and less wellington boot, but the fact is that I have spent the last several weeks cutting brambles out of the garden.  This is not a pleasant job and generally has me battling something very long and spiny which then manages to work thorns into jeans, shirts, scalps, wrists and fingers no matter how plasticated and tough the gardening gloves.  I really do find this season irritating from a purely epidermal point of view. Continue reading

Variations on a Musk Theme: Sylvaine Delacourte

Mme. Delacourte

Mme. Delacourte

Reviewing is something I  seldom do.  I suspect perfumes are critic proof in the first place, and in the second, supposing the reviewer is simply wrong?

Here  though, I was intrigued.  If you paid attention to Guerlain in the oughts, you knew about the career of Sylavaine Delacourte their skilled artistic director.  Now here was an individual who had learned (few people do) the highly inflected language of  Guerlain perfumes. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Characteristic Carons

Distinctive ladylike image for a ladylike fragrance

Distinctive ladylike image for a ladylike fragrance

Caron has been a constant in my blogging world and my closet for so many years now that I can’t remember when I first wore a Caron. The house is no longer a fashionable one and although some perfume critics used once upon a time to revere the company, Caron has garnered bad reviews, and released ho hum fragrances in the past decade which in turn garnered more bad reviews.

This is a little unfair.  Even Guerlain is not what it was these days, with its plethora of releases, and its onetime art director starting a perfume company of her own.* That is not even to to mention the last living Guerlain perfumer initiating his own line*. Continue reading

Amber Tapestry

Gold lace from pinterest.com

Gold lace from pinterest.com

Who does not love amber?  It’s such a popular note that almost every brand at one point or another has featured one.  Very often though they become clicheed.  Your nose tells you, it has smelled this sort of thing a fair few  times before. Amber is one of those notes which wrap people up warmly in the winter but seem to disappear in summer. Could amber be made a bit lighter?  Could  you see a little light  behind its windows? Or must amber live inside darkly shuttered orientals?  Far too often this seems to be the preferred treatment of the note. Continue reading

Change Your Mind-Change Your Scent?

An old bottle of Le parfum ideal from an Etsy listing

An old bottle of Le parfum ideal from an Etsy listing

Gaps fascinate me, such as the gap between what people say and do and in this case, what perfume people think they wear and what they actually do.  It’s often quite a big gap and this subject is related to last week’s point about brands and our identification with them.

So in the spirit of, “Not minding the gap.” I wonder what it is that my readers and I actually pull and put on most days.  Currently for me it is vintage Le Parfum Ideal bought for the dizzying sum of fifteen dollars  for a half ounce of edt.  It’s quite close to being perfect. Warm and just half way between Chanel No 5 and Coty Chypre- if that makes any sense- with a slightly nutty, slightly green presence.  It’s elegant but adaptable, and comfortable to wear anywhere and incidentally was the  long term favorite of Anita Loos.  There’s Anita in costume as a single digit dolly toting starlet  from the twenties, when she was in her thirties and writing Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Continue reading

A Very Dark Rose Indeed

A Boldini study

A Boldini study

The other week I bought a bottle of La Rose Jacqueminot without having tested the perfume.  Since it was composed about 1904, I was not certain what kind of perfume I would end up with, this is a Coty after all, and he invented two of the standard scent families of the twentieth century.

La Rose Jacqueminot is unusual.  In broad outline it is a rose chypre, but like many of the earliest of those, the formula straddles the line between chypres and orientals.  Continue reading

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. Continue reading