Scent for the Skin You’re In

Renoir Nude

Renoir Nude

Changing perfumes a lot is the bane of the fume obsessed.  We all do it.  If you are in the business of reviewing on a regular basis you’re more or less required to change perfumes in order to write about the next one, and after a while all this can get dizzying.

What’s my smell you ask yourself, and you may even miss the old days when your signature smell was No19 or Chant d’Aromes or Stella, or whatever it may happen to have been.  Sometimes you want to bridge that gap between the old perfume and a new one and make that transition without all the usual rejection problems you get with unfamiliar scent. Continue reading

An Explosion of Brands

 John Singer Sargent  Promenade during the uncrowded fin de Siecle

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

Ballgowns or Jeans?

“Some of the most beautiful perfumes are like a ball gown, but sometimes you just want to wear a comfortable pair of jeans.”

Christopher Brosius

Dandelion Clocks by Pippalou

Dandelion Clocks by Pippalou

At this time of year, the ball gown analogy, though apt, breaks down to “the most comfortable pair of jeans”. Today was too lax and lazy for anything formal at all. I had been planning to wear my Guerlain LE Plus Que Jamais, but that was simply too grand. I had to roll around in Krigler’s Juicy Jasmine instead, the equivalent of a pop tune, rather than wear the complicated Miles Davis jazz piece that Plus Que Jamais is, or to continue the original comparison, shrug on a slightly slubby maxi, instead of a cocktail dress.

Does summer call for this sort of fragrance? I think so. In fact I can’t make myself wear anything that requires complication or thought. I just want comfort.

To this end I’ve compiled my brief list of End of Summer Perfumes, suitable for hammocks, barbecues, and porches. Their common denominator is the low number of easiness.  These are perfumes that almost anyone can wear and enjoy whether a newbie, a collector, or a perfumista with a perfume population explosion.  Continue reading

Dark Velvet Bouquets

Cat0In The Great Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan is always looking for the longest day of the year, and then missing it, but in my case, it’s the shortest day of the year I look for and generally miss.  All cases of seasonal blues aside, this is the time of year loved by firelight and candlelight aficionados, that includes me, and my close associate the cat, who never saw a warm surface she wouldn’t nestle onto.

To go with all this man made illumination I enjoy cozy perfumes with something like a gourmand note.  Please notice this isn’t a gourmand.  That’s a different matter, and while I like gourmands, I don’t own any. Continue reading

The Zaftig Floral

Florals come in all shapes and sizes.  Some are fusspots, some are exercises in carnality – tuberose comes to mind – and some are simply comfortable.

Of all these varieties, I find the comfortable ones, the ones with curves and a tendency to sit down on the job quite a lot the most pleasing.  They are seldom completely synthetic, since formulae that are molecularly sparse just don’t conjure up the requisite Mae West or Lillian Russell curvature. You need some big juicy naturals there to fill out a bottle.  The zaftig perfume is bodacious.

She’s also built for comfort and not for speed, so the formula is never simple or sleek, and the zaftig is seldom a soliflore perfume.  In fact I can’t think of a one that is based on a single flower.  They need to be big generous bouquets, the sort that fill your arms and start falling all over the carpet.  What actually fits this criteria? 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

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.

Continue reading