Category Archives: People

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

Antique Oleanders

Oleanders in bloom

Oleanders in bloom

One final thought on the smells of Italy, and that concerns the scent of oleanders.  Oleanders do well in dry heat. They sprout into huge sprawling bushes all over Rome and because of their size, often grow near the ruins, especially around the Palatine and Santa Maria in Cosmedin, or wave in the desiccated wind off the autostradas.  The reason is space. Conditions in Rome are too cramped for oleanders and their expansive growth habits.

Their perfume, though, is one of the most recognizable ones of the city.  It’s heady, and  heavy, there’s a sweetness underwritten with toxicity. The toxicity is fair comment, because in fact oleanders are quite poisonous.  Somehow it’s fitting that oleanders with their narcotic scent of almonds (similar some say to arsenic) should drift about the Palatine.  The Roman emperors and their wives knew a thing or two about poison.

The smell, however, was very familiar to me.  As in nearer in time to me than my last stay in Rome.  This was a scent I had been on intimate terms with, and since perfumes are rather like old lovers, apt to bring up inconvenient memories at inopportune moments, this was one I had to re-visit. Continue reading

Parisian Atmospheres

Dalloyao Paris from tripadviser.uk

Dalloyao Paris from tripadviser.uk

So I did very little perfume shopping in Paris!  What!  Really?

Well yes.  For starters I was with my daughter and at fifteen you tend not to care about perfume, and Guerlain, and so forth. You care about food.  One aspect of French culture my daughter understood at once: eating.  French bread, and gallettes, and quiches and eclairs, and butter and cheese, and chocolate croissants for breakfast and no one saying, ” Shouldn’t you really be downing a power fruit frappe with seaweed and kale?” the way they often do in the States. (There’s a term for this in France “rabat joie”)  Plus the beefsteaks with Bearnaise sauce.  Oh, and did I mention the frites?

We therefore spent a good deal of time eating. What can I say?  French food is good. You should have some! Continue reading

Versailles, Chinese Tourists, and the Short Goodbye

XXIst Century Versailles from the palace website

XXIst Century Versailles from the palace website

Ah, Versailles! All the French kings from Louis the XIII th onward seem to have loved it.  Louis had a little hunting lodge there and his son decided to enlarge the hunting lodge until they got… Versailles.

It would be nice to think of the process as organic, similar to that of expanding flowers in water, but the evolution was actually long drawn out, involving casts of thousands. Very impressive are the results: a huge, golden palace radiating avenues like rays of the sun, and these days radiating half mile long lines of Chinese tourists waiting patiently to visit  this monument to the glory of France, and in the mean time trailing selfie sticks while posing in front.

As a piece of absurdity on a very grand scale, you can hardly improve upon the palace, and since these days the gilding has been re-done, the blinding bling is enough to attract a good deal of out of town custom.  But what do I know?  This time out, I never even went inside.  My whole reason for visiting Versailles was to donate two rare old bottles of perfume to the Osmotheque Continue reading

The Emperor’s New Scent

It was Mrs. Bonaparte, aka Josephine, who turned the general on to scent.  Left to his own devices, Napoleon might have preferred the smell of gunpowder in the morning, but he was besotted by Josephine and perfume was – civilizing.

It is something of a stretch to say that he brought perfume back into fashion.  Those who survived the Terror needed some cheering up, and if that meant champagne and perfume,  so be it.  He certainly did nothing to stop it, as a more dour sort of dictator might have done.  The coast was officially clear, the old royal perfume house of Houbigant returned to Paris, and the good times began to roll once more.

Continue reading