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
Nuit de Noel in old advertising
Woody perfumes are not so popular with women. Don’t ask me why. I am one of the out-lying oddities who like wood. I wear vetiver and leather and chypres and all sorts of dark, dry things in winter. You might think from the description that I was kindling some kind of aromatic fire, but it’s simply personal taste.
There is a small, repeat small, group of perfumes that lie right on the line between orientals and chypres. I’m not discussing ambery orientals here. Those are resin-y or incense heavy perfumes. The ones I’m writing about today don’t belong to that tribe. They may contain some amber in the dry off, but they are not really amber perfumes. Continue reading
XXIst Century Versailles from the palace website
Ah, Versailles! All the French kings from Louis the XIII th onward seem to have loved it. Louis had a little hunting lodge there and his son decided to enlarge the hunting lodge until they got… Versailles.
It would be nice to think of the process as organic, similar to that of expanding flowers in water, but the evolution was actually long drawn out, involving casts of thousands. Very impressive are the results: a huge, golden palace radiating avenues like rays of the sun, and these days radiating half mile long lines of Chinese tourists waiting patiently to visit this monument to the glory of France, and in the mean time trailing selfie sticks while posing in front.
As a piece of absurdity on a very grand scale, you can hardly improve upon the palace, and since these days the gilding has been re-done, the blinding bling is enough to attract a good deal of out of town custom. But what do I know? This time out, I never even went inside. My whole reason for visiting Versailles was to donate two rare old bottles of perfume to the Osmotheque Continue reading
James Abbott Macneil
There are a lot of scents out there these days which strike me as only one part of a perfume. Alaia which I have been smelling round me on scent strips (from Saks) is certainly one of them. I’m kind of amused that many bloggers think that it’s a wonderful modern perfume. Alaia’s the coda to a modern perfume. There’s no heart, and no beginning, you could call this linear but there isn’t enough of a high note to pull you in. It’s a base.
Alaia smells totally synthetic and there is something dark and tarry that I remember from the days when I was toying with Kate Walsh’s Boyfriend (remember that? No?) and from Estee Lauder’s Sensuous Noir, although that had more of a presence than Alaia. Continue reading
Vogue Cover from the 20s
Chanels are challenging perfumes for me. Not many people share my prejudice, Chanel is one of the top selling brands in the world, but if I had to choose a Chanel I would take their cologne and Bois des Iles. It’s not as though a whole lot of thought would have to go into this selection. You are either one of those people who love No5 or you aren’t, you have to be a lady to wear No19, by which I mean a woman who knows how to say no gracefully. (If you can never say no I suspect No19 will not suit you)
Bois des Iles is far more easy going though. Being one of those people who in Henry James’ phrase try to take things easy rather than hard, I appreciate this quality. Continue reading
Of course, it was obvious all along, but I never saw it. Call it one of those annoying instances when your subconscious mind realized something from the get-go but chose not to share it with your waking consciousness. Very irritating, very sneaky, very left brain of it, but then, as it is the left brain, very typical as well.
The apercu in this case is that the great classic Chanel Bois des Iles is of course, a do-over of Caron’s Nuit de Noel.
Oh yeah! Right? You always knew that. We always knew it, but critical opinion had a way of making us think that the two things were poles apart and probably at opposite ends of the good taste spectrum – well, not so much. Continue reading
Roses in frost
It’s one of the very first things that I do every December: change perfume. Christmas is one of the best times for perfume, there are so many smells on the air anyhow that perfume only raises the resonance of the season a little.
That however is the easy part, the hard part is deciding what you feel is worthy of wearing for a month or so. That’s not so simple. I suppose I could do the sensible thing and simply wait for Spring to change my perfume, but I like to have something that is Christmasy on my wrist, and so get into this difficulty right on schedule every December 1st. Continue reading
Pure White Linen
The lives of perfumers have changed so much in the past twenty years. They used to be invisible entities, people who engineered liquids in bottles so that we would all be enchanted, and their work was ascribed to designers, “Bigdeal Designer, for his new perfume…” In fact Big had licensing agreements. Nowadays it’s much more civilized. We recognize that perfumes are worked out like watery equations by perfumers.
Maybe it’s naive to pay too much attention to the work of perfumers simply because they are themselves at the mercy of briefs and of the clients who present said briefs, but now and again, the fumes clear and you can see an individual at work who is clearly highly talented. Continue reading
Every year fall rolls around and every year I lose step with everyone else in the perfume world. It seems as though the majority of people like to check their cool weather wardrobes and plan ahead happily for the ambers, orientals, gourmands, and woody scents they will shortly be dabbing and spritzing. There is a rush to find the Bois des Isles, the Ambre Sultans and for the bolder sexier sorts, their animalics and leathers. You get a sense of busy bustle as folks find their old friends again, and then there’s always a flood of new releases hoping to gain a little traction in the scent market before the holidays. In short, there is a lot to choose from, probably more than at any other time of the year. Continue reading
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