The Oriental in All of Us

Once in an idle interval, I remember toting up all the perfumes worn by every member of my extended family according to scent families. An idiotic little game of parallelisms and no doubt OCD as all get out, but bear with me.

What I discovered was that of about a dozen of us, only one of us wore Orientals, and that was my Mom with…drum roll… Tabu.

Even Chypres were better represented (by me), but of Orientals there were, well, only that one .

Why was that? Now that there are more of us, and several of us are a good deal younger than the original test sample, I find the exact same thing.  The ladies in my family wear fruity florals, and aldehydic florals and the odd citrus perfume but now, only one Oriental, namely Poivre, worn by me. No one else wears them at all.  Continue reading

What Becomes a Legend? What Does a Legend Become?

I have been reading about Wallis Warfield Simpson, aka the Duchess of Windsor.  She has become the strangest mosaic of pariah and icon that I can think of.  The resulting likeness, assembled over decades, resembles a Chuck Close portrait with an unsettling chiaroscuro; enigmatic, despite being composed of photographs, documentary evidence after all.

Less plausible as a queen than Camilla Parker Bowles (does anyone think of the one time Mrs. Parker Bowles as Mrs. Windsor, by-the-by?) and the transferee of enormous sums from the Brit royal family to herself (in one three weeks period,  jewels totalling 110,000  pre-war British pounds ) and the occupier of a position on the International Best Dressed list.

By any estimate, one of the most successful gold diggers in history. Continue reading

Scent of a Woman

The movie with Al Pacino was based on a 1974 Italian film (Profumo di Donna) with Vittorio Gassman in the role of the blind army officer who could tell exactly what every woman in a ten foot radius of him was wearing. Smelling women was all that was left for a man no longer able to pursue them, except through the ghostly passage of their sillages.

It’s an irresistibly romantic idea, but also an increasingly difficult one  to believe in an over-scented world.  Now you have to disentangle how people smell, separate their scent from how their deodorant, face cream, sun block, shampoo, conditioner, lipstick and fabric softener, and the whole thing is just confusing as heck.  Unless they’ve sprayed on something with reckless abandon, it can be hard to tell what they’re wearing. Continue reading

Can Grownups Wear Candy?

Sounds like a Project Runway challenge, no?   The gourmand scent category has been so successful of recent years that it has branched out into all sorts of unexpected directions.  Those with more sophisticated tastes may deplore it, but then, the perfume conventions of previous decades were just as hard to understand later, e.g. the 70’s musks and the 90’s non-perfume perfumes.

At least candy cannot be confused with BO as in the former case, and you can tell that someone has made an effort to wear perfume in the first place, something you can’t tell in the latter one. Continue reading

The 1912 Overture Part II

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.

He also sold hair pomade, and floral essences, which gets us back on familiar territory.  The making of him was the patronage of Madame du Barry, the equivalent of a thirty-dollar Good-time Girl, whom the aging king Louis XV had installed as maitresse en titre. Continue reading