Blowing Smoke: Opium

Opium in the original release

Opium in the original release

When Opium came out in the late seventies it was the adjunct of Yves Saint Laurent’s  Chinese couture collection.  Useless to ponder what effect all those coolie hats and quilted  gold lame jackets might have had on ingredient selection, the perfume was then owned by Squib/ Beechnut, the formula a matter of corporate calculation.  Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge no longer owned the YSL perfumes.  Instead they received a five percent royalty and the right to veto products inexpressive of the Saint Laurent aesthetic.

There was one change though, according to a source Chandler Burr quoted in  The Perfect Scent, Opium represented the first time a fine fragrance oil was made very cheaply.  You can draw the same conclusion from Edmond Roudnitska who described Opium as “L’Origan without the flowers”.  Stripped down, mostly basenotes by 1977 the return to the soft floral oriental was not surprising. The YSL backer Richard Salomon of Charles of the Ritz  had  risen through the ranks at Coty before he founded his business and  when more YSL perfumes were required after the perfume arm was sold, the American  productions were revamped versions of earlier Coty successes starting with Opium. Continue reading

The Golden L’Origan

L'aimant and L'Origan from an Ebay listing

L’aimant and L’Origan from an Ebay listing

When the afternoon light turns amber that’s the end of summer.  It’s a phenomenon that you see in many different parts of the world. The light is a clear bluish color in Spring, has a strong un-tinted intensity in summer but in autumn, light slants and steeps in the atmosphere like tea.  There’s probably a perfectly rational explanation for this but so  far I’ve never heard one.

Fall is brewing. The foliage is already beginning to turn ever so slightly in my town, and soon the whole place will be covered with the annual oranges, tobacco browns, saffrons and scarlets everyone loves. Except me that is, because for me, Autumn is a busy season clipboard clutching, the time interrupted by meetings, and oh yes I have to change perfume. Continue reading

Wearing Vintage

Opium advert

Opium advert

A disclaimer here, I’ve always worn vintage clothes.  I did stop after the age of forty, but in my twenties I never wore anything more recent than the fifties-why?  Contemporary stuff was much less chic. So my take on old perfume tends to follow the same pattern, if it works why not wear it? Perfumes are not antiques, you can use them.  The question is where and how?  Some old perfumes have become cliches and everyone knows what you are wearing or thinks that they do- which can be worse Continue reading

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

Working Definition of Beauty: Deneuve and Beautiful

deneuveMy brother as a boy once irritated me very much  by passing unkind judgements on the looks of all (or very nearly all) the females we knew .  In exasperation, I asked just who he did actually find attractive.

“Well,” he said after some long internal deliberation, “I guess Catherine Deneuve is sorta good looking.”

He was not the only one to think so.  Back in the day, around the late seventies, Chanel itself had hit a low point in No5 profits.  Their eventual salvation came with the hiring of Catherine Deneuve as the face of No 5. Her selection boosted sales immediately, and if you think these choices are slam dunks, just consider the recent debacle of hiring Brad Pitt as the face.  You can go wrong no matter how beautiful your model is, if the aforesaid model does not connect in some way with the aspirations of your audience.  All the women in the world wanted to look like Deneuve in 1978, but in 2011 not many of them wanted to look like the Pittster, and there were presumably not enough male buyers of No5 to make up the deficit. Continue reading

Poppies

PoppiesThey don’t have any scent. At least no discernible one, but every spring, I always look out into whichever poor excuse I currently have for a garden and plan to sprinkle a few poppies into the soil.

My favorites are opium poppies.  This is not because I have any entrepreneurial ambitions. Nothing doing, it’s merely that I like to grow them and they are so wonderfully showy.

I used to grow them in large numbers in Vermont.  I grew so many that I used to wonder if the local police would get snippy, but I suppose that one little garden in Vermont does not an Opium Lord make, and it seemed unlikely that the state troopers could tell poppies from peonies anyway. So I grew my poppies with abandon, enough to delight a wicked witch or befuddle an itinerant lion. Continue reading

Nothing Gold Can Stay

When Sublime first came out I was stuck in smell Limbo in Central Vermont and really couldn’t smell much perfume.  This was a shame because 1993 was a very good year for perfume. Besides Sublime, we saw the release of Femininite du Bois as well (anyway in the States).  I had to be traveling if I was going to  catch a whiff of these two masterpieces.

Sublime was Jean Kerleo’s great signature scent for contemporary women. It was definitely complex but adaptable enough to wear every day, and you did not tire of the scent easily.  But Sublime was elusive.

I mean that Sublime was the sort of perfume that has about it something hard to define, something that you think you’ve almost categorized in your mind, and therefore also in your memory, only to find the next time you smell it, that you were quite wrong.  The sense of the perfume eludes you.  This makes for a fascinating experience and one you tend to come back for time and time again because you can’t believe (oh well, okay, I mean, I can’t believe) that something as simple as a perfume has slipped my powers of recall for the fifth or sixth time in a row. Continue reading

The Specialists

Ever notice that some perfume firms simply are better at certain kinds of fragrance?  I’m thinking of the fact that if you want a wonderful oriental, Guerlain still is pretty hard to beat (Shalimar, L’Heure Bleue), or that gourmand scents are the strong point of Parfumerie Generale (Aomassai, Cadjmere), or that even though Dior makes periodic sorties into enemy held territories, like the oriental, they are usually only partially successful, e.g. Dioressence, or that… but I expect by now you’ve got  the picture.

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Rangtang’s Bet

Back in the day, and I mean a long time back in the day, about 1919 or so, my paternal grandmother decided to use her birthday money to purchase some stock.

Now I know that to most readers, this seems like such a length of family memory to carry around that you’d trip over it, but by way of explanation, I should mention that I’m a southerner, and we tend to remember everything any of our relatives ever did, or said, or are said to have done, or said, and that is enough to turn anybody into Pat Conroy.

Anyway, to return to this particular birthday -  sometime short of 1920, Rangtang decided she wanted to do was to buy stock in a little soft drink company called Coca Cola.

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