The Battle of The Bottle

Le Parfum Ideal Bottle

Le Parfum Ideal Bottle

We have all had similar experiences if we buy old perfume, namely stuck stoppers.  In this particular case the stopper was stuck tight in a bottle of Houbigant’s Le Parfum Ideal. The bottle was quite small and from my reference books on perfume flagons, I was convinced that the scent probably dated from 1925-1930 or thereabouts.

All of that was fine I had the bottle, I had the box, and the bottle was pristine with threads still tied and sealed in wax as a matter of a fact, which suggested an early 20th century date to me.  BUT there was no way of getting Ideal open. 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

The Smells of Winter

Rocco guards our front door.  This is him in winter "furs".

Rocco guards our front door. This is him in winter “furs”.

One of the reasons that I enjoy living in Connecticut is the four seasons.  There are precisely four and none of them is rushed or hurried past ( perhaps Spring comes too quickly or slowly for my taste) but otherwise there are four, and there are smells that go with each one.

Perhaps I should explain my recent musings on winter scents. Yesterday I spent five hours in the car driving home through the remains of winter storm Helena and that was an experience. Continue reading

Quelques Fleurs: Eternal Feminine

quelques-fThis is a Christmas post which means a little off beat.   I tried to think of a perfume for which I have always had affection and of which I have a very long memory. Quelques Fleurs was it.

Houbigant which is the creator of QF has a lengthy history.  Arguably Houbigant is the oldest of the great French perfume companies having been founded in 1775 which makes it one year older than the United States. Francois Houbigant’s shop, A la Corbeille des Fleurs, was patronized by both Marie Antoinette and Madame du Barry, the familiar “basket of flowers” was the recognized sign not simply of the shop, but of the house, and has remained as a company symbol.  You can see it on such late Houbigant perfume labels as Apercu from 2002. 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

Upmarket/Downmarket Perfume

"What do you smell?" Sherlock and friend from The Telegraph

“What do you smell?”
Sherlock and friend from The Telegraph

This issue used to strike me as very important long ago.Choice of brand was crucial.  Or so I thought at seventeen. Now this matters far less to me.  I smell all sorts of things and know that many releases are merely rehashes of earlier perfumes, and so  wear whatever strikes me as genuinely interesting pretty much wherever it came from.  But I am naive on this point because the truth is that brands and branding matter a lot.  During the Great Depression of the 1930’s the fatal error among perfume companies was to move downmarket.  You might think that this is counter-intuitive, but in fact it was vitally important.  If your image was exclusive you stood a good chance of surviving the economic wreck, if by contrast you decided to sell your scents in cheap retail outlets like discounters or drugstores, your chances of market share loss were pretty good.  It was Saks Fifth Avenue or bust for perfume companies then. Continue reading

Cologne Wars

An old Bottle of Cologne water

An old Bottle of Cologne water

This does not refer to episode 9000 in the Star Wars epic. It is actually a scent epic, involving a courtroom battle over the trade mark “Farina” during the 19th century. The court decision may or may not have put an end to a couple of centuries of squabbling over who produced the original formula.  You see Eau de Cologne was big business.  Two firms had emerged as giants in the sparkly citric cologne trade, one was Roger et Gallet and the other was Muehlens whose product had come to epitomize cologne around the world.

Anyway why was cologne so special you are asking yourselves?  The formula is very old and there are about as many variations on it as there are on lasagna.  The recipe for “Hungary Water” which is a version of cologne, was supposed to be a beauty secret of the Queen of Hungary, and goes back some say to the 14th century.  However  Napoleon (see our post on The Emperor’s New Scent) really made Eau de Cologne fashionable for men because of his addiction to  the tangy stuff.  Some of his veterans noticed the preparation in and around Cologne in Germany where the fragrance was already being produced by Johann Maria Farina.  The firm of Muehlens also made cologne, and soon, so did Roger et Gallet in France.  Perhaps none of this would have mattered but the markets  for cologne were expanding worldwide and everyone wanted to be known as the originator of the true formula. Continue reading