All in the Execution Afterall?

L'Heure Bleue Advert

L’Heure Bleue Advert

As I was going through the usual blizzard of new releases this season, something struck me: no one perfects perfume anymore.  I know perfectly well that there are art directors at Amouage and Guerlain and Chanel and so on, but because the business model of perfumes has become the model of planned obselescense, with buyers most interested in the novelties (little suspecting that the novelties are often oldelties) you get a paradox, an ocean of novelty, mostly already passe. Continue reading

Mr and Mrs Satan

Sciaparelli's Mr Stan at her front door

Sciaparelli’s Mr Satan at her front door

The story goes that the designer Schiaparelli had two Venetian carved figures on either side of her front door in Paris in the thirties.  They were human scale but carved out of wood and had cloven hooves, so some wag on his way in to a Schiaparelli party dubbed them Mr and Mrs Satan.

Schiaparelli had a distinctive taste, but when it comes to red hot and devilish fun, I can understand it.  My own fondness is for any kind of red hot scent.  I really will go out of my way for peppers, or cinnamon, or carnation (provided it’s good and spicy) and cloves, so it can’t be any surprise that one of my long term loves in the perfume world is Caron’s Poivre.  Continue reading

Spritzing with the Enemy

Audrey Volk  The Mother profiled in Shocked

Audrey Volk
The Mother profiled in Shocked

You may be familiar with Hal Vaughan’s book, Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War.  The book came out in 2012 and caused some flutter as mention of Coco’s wartime activities inevitably does.  The fact of Coco’s affair with Von Dincklage, and her attempt to emphasize her larger amount of “Aryan” blood to oust the Wertheimers from Parfums Chanel is all pretty easy to discover.  However, having a spouse who writes non-fiction history makes you sensitive to primary material, plus I have always wondered if we know some of Coco’s war activities, how much did people know during the forties? Continue reading

Over to Spring

snowdropsHow many people who wear perfume are seasonal I wonder?  Many aren’t, the folk who wear perfume as a fashion accessory or who have favorite notes that they always wear.  If you adore vanilla, or if amber is your personal vice, it’s difficult to exile the essence for six months just because of a little planetary activity.  You know what you like and what you like accompanies you all the time-in one formula-or another.

This strikes me as being efficient and polished and disciplined. Selectivity makes so much sense on every level, including the budgetary one, and wouldn’t you know?  I just can’t. No matter how much I talk myself down, there are always about six to ten scents in my wardrobe every year, and I change them as soon as the seasons change.  I can’t help myself. Continue reading

Twelve Smells of Christmas – Day Seven: The Christmas Flower

Is certainly not poinsettia, which isn’t a flower anyway, only a set of colored bracts around a stunted central flower head.  The only bloom with a scent that you can easily find in December is the carnation.  It tends to crowd plastic buckets in supermarkets (along with pink and blue dyed chrysanthemums) and is the Christmas floral of choice.  It’s pretty inexpensive too, so that what with the affordability and the ubiquity, the carnation bouquet has become the discount bouquet.

Who knows if tastes in perfume reflect the availability of flowers or their rarity?  In my lifetime, the carnation has never been considered elegant.  Therefore, it has fallen out of the perfumers’ lexicon. Or, to put it another way, carnation has become archaic.   Almost any other flower is more common: lilies, roses, mimosas, jasmines even tuberoses and gardenias are more frequently reproduced in perfume (perhaps because of the banning of eugenol often used to recreate the scent of carnations).  Continue reading

What Rebecca Wore

One December about a decade ago I heard an increasingly annoyed exchange between an old gentleman and one of the SA s at a branch of Douglas perfumes.  The subject was Caron’s Bellodgia.  She said here’s the bottle and he said no, not the eau de toilette, I want the perfume!

The SA could be excused for thinking him a bit eccentric.  He was clearly at least in his seventies and no doubt he was getting picayune about something that didn’t matter.  The fuss, the codgery, the annoyance all had to do with the fact that he wanted to buy his wife a bottle of Bellodgia for Christmas.  It was her favorite and he wanted the right kind, and they were a perfume shop, so why didn’t they have it? And if they didn’t have it, why didn’t they order it?  Honestly, did he have to tell them their business?

Even I thought he was being too particular. Continue reading

The Carnivorous Carnation

You may not think of carnation as being an aggressive kind of a flower.  I don’t certainly, but the fact is that Caron, the Parisian perfume house founded in 1904, seems to have meditated on the many ways to make carnation grow sharp long claws and an attitude to go with them.

One way was to make the carnation incredibly chic and competent.  Those – like me – who could not aspire to the heights of chic could at least get their chores done in style, and so carnation (or its chemical doppelganger eugenol) was made to keep company with a lot of sequentially charming florals, and voila! Bellodgia.

Another stratagem for toughening up carnation, seems to  have been a transformation into a floral oriental.  That is what happened with 1954’s Coup de Fouet, which translates literally as “Whip Crack” or, as the charming Caron SA in New York more loosely put it: Crack of the Whip. (My own even looser translation is When the Whip Comes Down. We all have our little preferences.) Continue reading

The Carnation Factotum

Sometimes floral notes are out of step with the times.  It’s not that they have two left feet and can’t dance to contemporary tempos.  It’s our fault, because we keep changing the beat.  Right now we like to drink all night with rose alcohols, or alcoholic roses down at the club, and we figure these barfly buds are better company than old teetotal carnation.

Besides, carnations are cheap dates.  In Europe you can bring home an armload of them for not much money.  A few bucks will get you a nice bouquet in New York from your local corner grocer.  They’re just not – recherché.

Their smell has not been emphasized by modern breeders, and they are not grown by modern gardeners, although actually they have one of the most individual and charming scents in flowerdom, and they come in every shade except blue and all have this nose teasing effervescence we call spiciness.

Continue reading

(Rose 13) – Roses, Take a Bow!

Since there have been a dozen rose posts, this might a good time to take a breather,  go back, and re-cap.

For all the complaining that perfume consumers do about the industry these days, one thing is inescapably true: there’s more variety.  Once upon a distant time, Perfumer’s Workshop produced Tea Rose and Houbigant sold A Rose is a Rose.

That was about it in 1976.  Now you have entire lines devoted to the flower in all its variations.  Les Parfums de Rosine is one such house, and besides its twenty or so perfumes, there’s a slew of mainstream releases popular with the public such as Stella, or Valentino’s Rockin’ Rose.

Continue reading

(Rose 8) – Parisian Roses: Voulez Vous Couchez Avec Moi?

Parisian fashion loves to impose structure and absurdity on beauty in about equal parts.  Don’t ask me why.

Oh well, go ahead. Ask me why.

Maybe it’s the French love of logic that requires the structure, and possibly the fondness they have for the offbeat that imposes the absurdity, cf Frenchie Bulldogs, the whole concept of the Jolie Laide, and Jerry Lewis.

The cumulative effect is at once mannered and a little strange, and so it is with that most Parisian of florals, the rose bouquet.  To be French the bouquets must be extravagant in their rosiness, but to be chic, they must impose just a little peculiarity on their inhalers.  Continue reading