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

Daffodils on the Wind

Daffodils in full bloom

Daffodils in full bloom

February is about to turn into March, it makes me think that I should clean out all my wardrobes, take the coats to the dry cleaners, wash the sweaters, and clean out the perfume closet because one day soon incense will make me recoil.  Does everyone wear perfume seasonally?  I always have, partially because everywhere I have lived there have been sequential seasons, and it was difficult to ignore their cold and heat, and wear the same thing.  You could stock a rudimentary scent wardrobe by selecting one scent for summer and one for winter, but even that strained the Spring and Fall dichotomy.  Unsettled weather, weather that changes from day to day, is hard to plan for and hard to choose for, your old favorites are too stuffy and warm or too evanescent and light.   What can you wear in between perfume seasons? Continue reading

Bad Luck Perfume ?

Black cat superstition in action

Black cat superstition in action

Irrationality is at the core of humanity, just like a pit in an avocado. Superstition is part and parcel of this and while I like to think of myself as not being superstitious nevertheless I am.

Case in point being the “unlucky perfume”, there are some I give a wide berth to because something bad occurred every time I wore them.  Ridiculous right?  But true.

I have never been able to wear Narcisse Noir and the reason isn’t even something that happened to me but that I happened to read Black Narcissus.  Unlucky just to read about a nun going off a parapet you know.  Besides there’s the whole superstitious aura surrounding nuns there.  Then a screening of Sunset Boulevard finished me off entirely.  Narcisse Noir scared me and when I actually smelled it, that perfume spooked me.  I just don’t wear NN  as a precaution. Continue reading

The Feel Good Factor

calesthenics Next spring I will have been at this for three years but have never discussed what is to me, the decisive reason for either wearing and keeping a perfume or letting it go: how it makes me feel.

Just to define a term or two here, I mean does the perfume make you feel healthy? Does it promote a sense of well being? Does it induce that feeling of being at home and happy in your own skin?  Or does it, alternatively, give you an uneasy sense that you may have sprayed on something too synthetic, something just the faintest bit nauseating?  Continue reading

Sorcery in the Air

Black smoke trailing from some botched potion class at Hogwarts, that’s the reference point.  Just what does it smell like?  I would submit a combination of squid ink and licorice with a little dried dragon’s blood thrown in for good measure, but there really isn’t anything like that on the market these days, although back in the day some people said that YSL’s M7 smelled sort of like it.

There are some fragrances that I personally find awful.  Other people sometimes love them, and with perfectly good reason, they smell good on them, or remind them of something wonderful but they’re the fragrances that give me the fantods,  as Huckleberry Finn would say.

They are: Continue reading

National Floral?

Is there such a thing?  In considering all things Italian in the scented world, I tend to bump over and over again into the orange blossom.  Italians love their orange blossom scents.  Anyone who was raised in or near places where oranges are grown tends to love the smell.  Italians are no different.

There is hardly a perfume house in Italy that does not offer an orange blossom scent, usually called a Zagara*.  Santa Maria Novella does, and so do I Profumi di Firenze and the whole notion of the Aqua di Parma’s is predicated upon the orange flower and back in the day when I had a complete set of the Borsari perfumes and of the (French) Rances , they had their Zagaras too. Continue reading

Some Like it Hot

Then there is the perfume in which the whole spicy carnation floweriness I have been writing about sinks in a morass of heavier, hotter materials like a bouquet in a lava flow.  The one time floral composition becomes an oriental and a heated one at that.  This is what happens in Caron’s Poivre from 1954.  The perfume belongs to that group of Caron compositions done after the death of the house’s founder Ernest Daltroff in 1940.  Daltroff’s companion and business partner Felicie Vanpouille was still in charge at Caron and she employed the perfumer Michel Morsetti as in- house talent( he had been Daltroff’s assistant.)

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The 1912 Overture Part III

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.

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The 1912 Overture part I

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.

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