John Singer Sargent Promenade during the uncrowded fin de Siecle
Believe it or not this happened once before. You may think that nothing like the multiplication of perfume niche companies has ever been seen in the history of scent sales but back in the early twentieth century something very like this happened.
Frankly I’ve long since lost count of the number of new niche fragrance houses that have debuted in the last three years or so. Some of them will survive of course, and many will not, but back in the teens and twenties the world of perfume was similarly flooded. Continue reading →
Besides, of course, that famous pencil skirt she flipped up ever so slightly in order to hitch hike more efficiently in It Happened One Night. I’ve always read that in perfume it was Vol de Nuit or some such impeccably elegant oriental, but it seems that later in life Claudette liked lilies of the valley.
She’s one of those actresses who really did understand all about clothes, too. I can’t help but respect her for her hands on attitude towards fashion. Claudette knew a thing or two about construction, and she did not hesitate to take an entire suit apart and lay it out, in order to correct something in the fit. She was knowledgeable enough to do this, and improve the look in the process. Imagine someone saying this to Selena Gomez now? It would be, like, majorly not happening!is my guess. Continue reading →
Having recently written about myrrh, I’ve had it somewhat on the brain. Myrrh is one of those notes that you think you know or think you like, except, I find, when it’s actually under your nose and then you remember: “Oh yes, there’s that note.”
I’m not sure if all myrrh worth discussing is bitter, but the two myrrh notes that I know best are. They are inside two veteran perfumes, Coty’s L’Aimant and Jean Patou’s Caline. It was Meg of Parfumieren who first introduced me to L’Aimant. It’s an aldehydic floral that is, to my way of thinking, much easier to wear than No 5.
I know, that’s an outrageous statement, but in my experience the old Cotys are almost flawlessly wearable. There’s no insistence on being avant garde, or opinionated. The Cotys are simply lovely on skin. But to return to my point about myrrh, about ½ way through the evaporation of L’Aimant, you get the note. Continue reading →
What is that odor wafting from the butler, the dignified Mr. Treadcarpet as he paces noiselessly over the hall runner on his way to open the front door? It is discreet, for butlers cannot drench themselves in scent. Mr. Treadcarpet leaves that sort of vulgarity to the inaptly named gentlemen’s gentlemen. Mr. Treadcarpet allows himself a single drop of Coty’s Chypre on his pocket handkerchief, and he quite enjoys a bar of their soap as well in the bath, but beyond this he will not venture. That way lies the dissolution of those firm traditional values of which Mr. Treadcarpet, and butlers generally, are the domestic guardians. Continue reading →
Patou’s 1000 came out in 1972, which was when my family lived in Rome. Back then, Roman real estate was relatively cheap, and we were right in the heart of old Rome in a penthouse apartment of the sort that I suppose few people could afford now. Anyway, there were little perfume and makeup shops around every few corners, and one of them was on my route home from school.
Not being of an age yet to wear perfume, or make up, for that matter, I still was compelled to go and stick my nose into bottles out of curiosity, and would stop by. That proprietress must have been fond of the young, and pretty indulgent. Most shopkeepers would have tossed me and my tatty book bag out the door. Instead, if she was not too busy, she would tell me about what was in the bottles, and let me smell things on a finger (no paper strips then). This was how I first met the Balmains, Balenciagas, and Cotys of the era.
Parfums Caron date back to the year 1904, making it therefore a decisively newer house than Guerlain (1828). Ernest Daltroff, the young entrepreneur who had founded the business was looking for a perfume that would put him on the map.
He’d had some success with a release called Chantecler (1906), but Daltroff knew that a modest boost was not what a fledgling business needed. It needed a blockbuster.
Not every perfume released in 1912 was actively influenced by Coty’s decade dominating hits. Houbigant, which had left off the last century with an unprecedented perfume (Fougere Royale,1882) was due for another world beater.
Their business had begun in 1775. Jean Francois Houbigant had opened a boutique called A la Corbeille de Fleurs on the rue Saint Honore. Wigs were the fashion of the day (see The Powdering Gown), and for reasons that pass modern understanding, people insisted on powdering them – maybe it put off lice? Whatever the reason, Houbigant supplied the powder.
There are watershed years in practically every field, and in perfumery, 1912 was the year of grace. It is one hundred years since Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue, Houbigant’s Quelques Fleurs, and Caron’s Narcisse Noir were introduced, amazingly, all three are with us up to the present day. They are all classics and are all, in their various ways, ground breaking.
It’s hard to conceive of a time when fragrances weren’t launched with the outsized caution and undersized budgets of our own era, and yet those pre-war years were the time of Francois Coty’s rise, and his competitors were responding to the market dominating successes of La Rose Jacqueminot (1904) and L’Origan (1905), especially the latter. On the strength of these blockbusters, Coty built a factory complex outside of Paris capable of producing thousands of bottles a day, and he was in the process of conquering overseas markets as well.
It was 1917 and François Coty invented something new – a perfume that was floral, but also woody, light but also dark, sexy but also restrained, and, like Jicky, a fragrance that could be worn by women or by men.
Naturally it was a hit. Coty – or Spoturno, to use the name he was born under - was a natural perfume impresario. Like P.T. Barnum then, like Simon Cowell nowadays, he had an instinct for what attracts the public’s attention and – the real trick – holds it.
He’d done this before, with Le Rose Jacqueminot in 1904 and L’Origan in 1905, but Chypre, the 1917 perfume, was something new, what the French call Le chef du ligne, the head of the line. Every other chypre fragrance ever produced looks back to that initial release (now discontinued) during World War One.