Flapper Perfume

The 1920s was an influential decade for perfume, though striking changes in fashion began in the years immediately after World War I. The dust was settling in Europe after the war which had laid waste not only to infrastructure but also political alliances and the young male population, and everybody was tired of wartime bleakness and deprivation. There was a feeling that the old ways were gone and done with, and young women in particular were ready for a change. Gone were old-fashioned morals as well as those complicated hats, hairdos, and long dresses over rigid wasp-waist corsets.

The modern young lady was wearing tube dresses with little underpinning and tank-style bodices and short skirts, as well as dramatic makeup. She was drinking, not tiny ladylike glasses of sherry but potent cocktails in jazz clubs. She was cutting her hair and smoking! in public, yet! She could vote (as of 1918 in the UK for women over 30, and as of 1920 in the US). She could drive. She could — gasp! — possess her own checkbook.

And she wasn’t wearing her mother’s perfume, either.

She wasn’t wearing a soliflore  — lavender toilet water, or a simple floral like Coty’s Jasmin de Corse. She wasn’t wearing a simple floral bouquet like Houbigant Quelques Fleurs, or a soft floral oriental like Guerlain L’Heure Bleue. No, she was wearing a decadent, sensual oriental, a sharp and bold chypre, a sparkling aldehydic floral, or a gender-bending leather or tobacco scent. New directions in scent abounded, and aren’t we glad?

Here are some fragrances that graced many flappers’ wrists and décolletages, and which are still in production today (albeit in changed form). Try one, or a handful of these, and smell history.

Guerlain Mitsouko (1919, fruity chypre) This more elegant take on the chypre is such a classic among perfumistas that it is hard to imagine it being daring, but it is. It has the bold chypre tripod structure of bergamot-oakmoss-labdanum, rounded with peach undecalactone, and it smells not only formidable but also kind of, well, ripe. I’m guessing that those flappers who danced the night through smelled a bit like this on their way home at dawn.

Millot Crêpe de Chine (1925, aldehydic chypre) Crepe de Chine was a mashup of the bold three-part chypre structure and the modern-at-the-time aldehydic floral. It is bold, but in a well-groomed, exquisite-tailoring kind of way. Where Chypre was a little, well, tribal, Crepe de Chine is much more civilized. This is for the flapper who only drinks her cocktails out of proper glasses, rather than resorting to a hip flask.

Guerlain Shalimar (1921, oriental, came into wide release in 1925) It was once said that there were three things a respectable woman did not do: smoke in public, dance the tango, or wear Shalimar. With its almost chiaroscuro contrasts of bright bergamot-lemon top and dark smoky, leathery, vanilla-balsamic base, it is striking… and sexy. Louise Brooks wore Shalimar; ’nuff said.

Corday Toujours Moi (1920, spicy oriental) This one is a kitchen-sinky oriental similar to Tabu (1932) with some green notes, and it is extremely bold. It wafts. It is a Liberated Woman scent very far from, say, the very-Victorian Berdoues Violette. It goes perfectly with its name, “Always Me,” and the attitude “Look, I have my own checkbook! and these great T-strap shoes!”

Caron Tabac Blond (1919, tobacco/leather) There is no tobacco listed in the notes, by the way, but the effect is at least somewhat tobacco-like. This scent seems to me to be an androgynous, “let’s steal all the things that smell like a gentlemen’s club,” appropriation of notes that had been regarded as traditionally masculine, softened by traditionally-feminine florals.

Molinard Habanita (1921, leather oriental) This scent began its life as an additive for cigarettes — you were supposed to dip the glass rod into the oil and stroke it along the length of your cigarette, so that while you smoked, the fragrance filled the air. Leaving aside the reason this was A Thing (you didn’t want Mumsy dear to know you were smoking? I mean, presumably she also knew about the hip flask and the lace step-ins, so you weren’t fooling anybody), Habanita probably smelled good with the tobacco smoke. Here’s Robin’s description at Now Smell This, because it’s pretty perfect: “If you can imagine dousing yourself in baby powder, donning an old leather jacket and then smoking a cigar in a closed room with a single rose in a vase 10 feet away, you’ll get the general idea.”

Chanel No. 5 (1925, aldehydic floral) Perfumer Ernest Beaux’ attempt to recreate an Arctic snow field and Coco Chanel’s affinity for the smell of starched linen combined with No. 5’s enormous overdose of aldehydes, the aromachemical that is in smell form big Hollywood klieg lights. (Maybe.) And Chanel’s famous dictum that a woman should not smell of flowers, but like a woman, played into its abstract presentation, too. (Maybe. There are a number of contradictory stories about its genesis.) No. 5 feels like a smooth marble sculpture to me. In its day it was utterly modern, and to its credit, its florals are still lovely.

Lanvin My Sin/Mon Peché (1924, aldehydic floral) Like No. 5, My Sin is an aldehydic floral, but it is dark and carnal in a way that No. 5 has never been and will never be. It’s a complicated perfume: along with the aldehydes and florals are some deep woods and an animalic base just shy of “Are there mating buffaloes somewhere on the premises?” I suspect that it got worn more often by women grabbing a little vicarious sinful pleasure than by women who were actually sinning while wearing it, but there you are. Brilliant marketing. And that cat! Love it.

Chanel Cuir de Russie (1924, leather) Again with the gender-bending for 1920s gals. Leather was previously known as a masculine note, and this leather-for-ladies boasts the enormous and expensive Chanel powdery iris as well as florals and aldehydes. Fans speak of its “good purse” leather, or its “expensive car” leather, both things that flappers seemed to enjoy.

Weil Zibeline (1928, aldehydic floral chypre-oriental) “Zibeline” means “sable” in French, and this fragrance was intended for scenting furs. As you might guess, Zibeline is heavy and rich, and yet dry and aromatic. It smells very much not of this century, but it is a luxurious scent in the best sort of way. One imagines fancy cars and diamonds and satin gowns, and that ne plus ultra sable, for a fancy party.

By 1929, with the stock market crash around the corner, the general prosperity which had allowed so many young women to taste freedom and decadence was about to disappear, and the day of the flapper was drawing toward a sudden twilight.

What the flappers left behind were some glorious abstract perfumes. Like much of the Art Deco of the period, the fragrances are bold yet graceful, natural yet influenced by humans. Chanel No. 5’s beautiful florals are buttressed on either side by the highly-artificial aldehydes and the pillowy strength of (nitro) musks. Shalimar’s combination of lively bergamot and smoky-sexy vanillin makes it round and memorable, unlike anything smelled in nature — but if you smell it on a person, even now, fifty-‘leven reformulations after its release, it has affinity for skin and does not scream I AM SYNTHETIC! the way many modern fragrances do.

There were, of course, several other classic fragrances released during the 1920s which are still favorites today, but I have not included everything here. Caron’s Nuit de Noel (1924), Bellodgia (1925), and Narcisse Noir (1925), for example, were hugely popular and remain extant, but they are not what I think of as bold and daring “flapper perfumes.” Nor are Chanel’s lovely woody Bois des Îles (1925) and satin-smooth Lanvin Arpège (1926). Coty L’Aimant (1927) is likewise a bit too prim, Emeraude (1920) too soft.  Jean Patou’s Chaldée (1927), as a perfume recreation of French suntan oil (we can blame Coco Chanel for popularizing the tan!), seems to go with the flapper propensity for displaying bare skin, but it was not as widely worn as the others. Bourjois Evening in Paris (1928) is a gentle floral composition. Patou Joy, released in 1929, in my mind belongs to the Depression era.

Mia on the left, Carey on the right.

Do you have a favorite flapper perfume? Do you love Art Deco and low waistlines? Does Daisy Buchanan make your heart sing? (And did you prefer Mia Farrow or Carey Mulligan?) Do share!

If you’d like to read more about how the social phenomenon of the flapper arose, check out this post at We Heart Vintage.

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Perfume Review: Coty Chypre in vintage parfum. I mean, the furniture was moving.

It’s entirely possible that more has been written about this one perfume than any other. Chypre, first released by Coty in 1917, was one of the first widely-produced commercial versions of an accord – the classic bergamot-oakmoss-labdanum – that, according to some people, had long been in use in the Mediterranean. Some of the things perfume writers have said about it: Chypre defined a genre. Chypre was brutal and Fauvist and outlined in broad strokes the formula that would undergird dozens of better, more sophisticated perfumes. Chypre was “big-boned and bad-tempered” [Luca Turin] and uncomfortable, bony and angular. Chypre was not as striking or as classic as the great fragrances that would follow in its footsteps. Chypre opened up great swaths of territory to be explored. Chypre laid down the structure for jewels of the genre such as Mitsouko, Miss Dior, Jolie Madame, Cristalle, Femme, Aromatics Elixir, Bandit, Diorella, Givenchy III, Chanel Pour Monsieur, Estee Lauder Knowing, Amouage Jubilation 25, Acqua di Parma Profumo… It’s difficult to read any serious perfume writer’s work and not come across a discussion of Coty Chypre, which is only surprising when you consider that very, very few people who are interested in perfume have ever smelled it.

Continue reading Perfume Review: Coty Chypre in vintage parfum. I mean, the furniture was moving.

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We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together: Guerlain Mitsouko, a sort-of Perfume Review

Let’s get this straight, right up front: I have tried. I mean, she’s the Empress. Ruler of all she surveys, epitome of style and grace and the Art of Perfume, often-cited as “the best fragrance ever.” Oh, the shame I have felt at failing to adore her! It’s me, isn’t it? It must be my fault. I have given the Empress plenty of skin time, plenty of chances to make her case with me, multiple trials in varying weathers, various concentrations and ages. All in all, I have worn Mitsouko in five different versions now, probably up over twenty trials now…

And… FAIL. Failfailfail. Only one of these concentrations has worked for me, and even that one was not love, so I hereby put the Empress back on her pedestal, bow low, and step away. Y’all go ahead and worship, I’ll not stop you. I’ve seen the greatness now, but not the love.

I tried modern Eau de Toilette first, early in my Fumehead Forays, back in 2009. I liked the ambery basenotes, but that was all: Mitsouko was shrill and musty, dusty and unpleasant, good bone structure in a really ugly dress. I swapped my decant.

Then at some point I realized that I typically do very badly with classic Guerlains in EdT formulation. They often seem harsh, sharp, un-blended. Stabby, even. Shalimar EdT? Hideous lemon-patchouli-dirty ashtray-powder bomb. L’Heure Bleue EdT? Hell’s Medicine Cabinet. Yuck. I made peace with Shalimar in PdT, a beautiful lamplight glow in a rainy evening with woodsmoke in the air. L’Heure Bleue in parfum smelled full and complete in a way that the EdT does not, all deliciously-medicinal pastry.

(I did love my small decant of Apres L’Ondee from the minute I bought it, though. And Chamade, which I first tried in vintage parfum de toilette, has been lovely in every version I’ve tried. But those are strongly floral; make of that what you will.)

So then I sampled Mitsouko EdP, and it was, well, not as awful. Again, I really liked that nice ambery thing in the base, but the rest of it seemed so… just wrong. Just wrong. Ditto for the sample of vintage EdT a kind friend sent me. People wear this on purpose? Gah.

Mitsy parfum (from a sample labeled “vintage” at Surrender to Chance) was peach and mustiness. Musty musty musty. HORRible. Beyond horrible. I mentioned the fact that I was Officially Giving Up on Mitsouko on a Facebook perfume group, and a longtime fan of it suggested that the oakmoss has gone off in this parfum. Someone who’s only recently come around to liking Mitsy swears that a vintage Eau de Cologne version is the only one she can possibly do; “no screaming,” she said, and “the peach is in the background.” Someone else recommended the EdC too, but the only way I know of to get it is to buy a whooooole bottle of it on eBay, and I just don’t think it’s going to work for me, so there I’d be, with a whoooooole 100ml bottle of Mitsouko EdC that I’d have to get rid of somehow…

And then, I went trolling eBay, Just in Case, and bought this beyond-cute micro-mini parfum of Mitsouko in this very-cute li’l box, just to try. The famous Louise says it’s generally a good iteration, from the early-to-mid-1990s, and she owns two of them. (You don’t know Louise? She’s good friends with March of Perfume Posse, the instigator of a whole slew of PP posts labeled “Blame Louise,” and the wearer of all kinds of things that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot dabber vial top, like Angel, but also of Datura Noir, which I like, and she’s BFFs with Mitsy. Also, she teaches middle school, which just leaves me gasping in awe.)

I could wear this. There’s no Mean Girl in this bottle. Everything is there: the bergamot, the milky peach, the jasmine. The labdanum and iris. The oakmoss. Well, let’s be honest here: the oooooooakmosssssss. This thing is All About the Oakmoss. Which, okay, if you are an Oakmoss Ho, I can see how Mitsy would be the ne plus ultra of fragrances for you. And clearly it is for a lot of people.

Also, it is symphonic in a way that makes me finally get why people swoon over it. I geddit now, okay? I geddit. Everything works together and swirls in the same direction and has this distinctive personality, and yes, it is autumnal, and rich and nostalgic and tapestried and masterpiece-y.

Yet I remain a Mitsouko Philistine.

It still does not speak to me in the way that its predecessor Coty Chypre does.

I’m still not absolutely convinced that there isn’t some sort of mental placebo effect going on when I test old Cotys versus classic Guerlains (particularly the old Guerlains that seem based on their Coty counterparts – like Shalimar and Emeraude, L’Heure Bleue and L’Origan), because the Guerlains are very good. Is it that all the old amazing Cotys are gone, either discontinued or crippled through ever-cheapened reformulations, and I’m such a sucker for The Love That Can Never Be? Or is it that I’m annoyed with everybody’s saying that Jacques Guerlain improved all of Francois Coty’s ham-handed creations, that Coty was after the shopgirls’ trade while Guerlain, more artful, pursued the deeper purses and discerning noses of sophisticated women?

Could be any or all of those. Or, I think again as I resmell my sample of gen-u-wine vintage Coty Chypre parfum from the vial, it’s simpler and more personal: M. Coty knew what would clutch at my heart, and he bottled it.

I don’t think it’s going to happen, Mitsy and me. I just don’t. I’m just going to let her go. I just heard this song on the radio last night, Taylor Swift in a semi-humorous vein, singing, “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” and it seemed so appropriate I had to laugh. Mitsy and me? Never getting back together. I’m never trying her again.  I mean, like, EVER.

Because, finally, I appreciate her. But we don’t love each other. And I am, finally, okay with that.

(Meanwhile, Coty Chypre? All those tiny parfum bottles of you languishing in Great-Aunt Mary’s girdle drawer in the highboy or Cousin Mildred’s attic? I know you’re out there somewhere. Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad. I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me maybe…)

NB: My gen-u-wine sample of vintage Coty Chypre parfum came from Surrender to Chance, where it is ridiculously expensive but still cheaper than airfare to Paris to visit the Osmotheque. Just so you know. And the stuff is pristine, too: the bergamot’s a little faded, but there isn’t any nailpolishy weird topnote as I’ve come to expect from really-vintage perfume. Review coming soon.

BTW, I have no idea why some text is dark here and some is lighter gray.  I wrote this all in one piece on my laptop.  I keep trying to fix it, but so far no dice.

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Valentine’s Day 2012: A Dozen Roses, Bottled

The classic – some would say cliché – gift to a woman on Valentine’s Day is, of course, a heart-shaped box of chocolates, a dozen red roses, and jewelry. (My teenage daughter’s boyfriend brought her a card and six red roses yesterday; she gave him a handmade card and some candy. All together now: awwww, how sweet!) I don’t like chocolate in perfume, and the idea of jeweled perfumes will have to wait for another day, so here’s a look at some rose perfumes that I love. (Also, it’s an excuse to post beautiful pictures of roses.)

I do indeed love, love fragrances in which rose plays a major part, from light and girlish ones all the way through to dark Gothic ones. So many fragrances contain at least a little bit of rose – even if you can’t smell it on its own, it’s there, making everything smell round and full. I’ll admit up front that it is very, very difficult to find a rose fragrance that smells just like a freshly-cut dewy rose, because in order to obtain rose essence, the rose petals have to be treated in some way – from steam distillation to enfleurage (which involves pressing fresh petals in fat), to the modern scientific method called distillation moléculaire – and you always get “cooked” rose, not fresh. I figure if I want fresh roses, I’ll go to the florist.

For rose perfumes, I have a stash! Some of my favorites, starting from the light and girlish end:

Continue reading Valentine’s Day 2012: A Dozen Roses, Bottled

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An AldeHo Dishes: Lady Stetson, a Thumbnail Review

In my teens and twenties, I’d have told you that I didn’t like aldehydes. I may have been affected by my mother’s use of Chanel No. 5, and by my disavowal of anything that Smells Like My Mother. Aldehydes are very much out of fashion these days, with only the occasional niche fragrance firm making use of them, and then only rarely.

But now I love them. There’s just something about aldehydes that say “proper perfume” to me, and I enjoy that little clean fizzy sparkle they can give to a scent, as well as the powdery cast they leave behind. I call myself an AldeHo these days; I’m always interested in trying new ones.

Earlier in the life of this blog, I reviewed several other aldehydic fragrances, including THE QUEEN ALDEHYDE, Chanel No. 5, as well as some others in that fragrance category. Click for reviews of Chanel No. 5, No. 5 Eau Premiere, Mariella Burani, Serge Lutens La Myrrhe, Guerlain Vega, Lanvin Arpege, Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds, Ferre by Ferre, Frederic Malle Iris Poudre, Lancome Climat, and Coty L’Aimant (vintage). I’m proposing the occasional review of an aldehydic fragrance in this “AldeHo Dishes” series, on an irregular basis. Some of these reviews will be quick ones, and I’ll call them “thumbnail” reviews. Some will be more in-depth reviews. It will depend on how much time I’ve had with each fragrance, and how much I have to say about them.

Today’s quick fragrance review concerns the decidedly downmarket Coty Lady Stetson, praised by Tania Sanchez in Perfumes: The Guide, particularly in comparison to the far-pricier Chanel No. 22:

Lady Stetson sets out on an airy, slightly powdery peach. As time goes on… The Lady seems simply to relax. It’s a well-balanced structure of just enough amber, just enough floral, just enough peach, just enough soapy citrus to pull up a smile each time it comes to your attention. This fragrance smells great without showing off, and truth to tell, I prefer it to the Chanel. Now, if only the bottle weren’t so hideous.

I’m not a huge fan of Chanel No. 22 either (more on No. 22 to come), but my take on Lady Stetson is a little different.  And the bottle doesn’t bother me, either.  Coty is not a company where you pay for the packaging.

LS does start off with those sweet, powdery aldehydes – not enough to burn your nose, but they’re definitely present – as well as a lactonic peach note. I can’t pick out the florals, but they seem both classical in structure and mostly-synthetic in nature to me: rose and jasmine, perhaps, but not the real expensive stuff. As LS develops and the aldehydes go away, I get more and more peach, amber, and musk. The musk is rather pleasant – the “skin” version rather than the “laundry” version – but I find the amber and peach far too sweet for my taste. I suspect that my skin often renders amber notes too sweet, and not everyone has that problem.

Overall, my complaint with Lady Stetson is that it smells nice, but cheap. I can’t pick out any natural floral notes, and I find it inoffensive but boring. It has a “PTA Volunteer Mom” sort of vibe to it. Although Lady Stetson was launched in 1986, the year I graduated from high school, it smells like the PTA Moms of my own youth: dull, safe, stodgy, but comforting and pleasant.   It smells nothing like the “declaration of independence” this ad touts:

Notes according to Fragrantica: aldehydes, peach, tangerine, rose, ylang-ylang, carnation, jasmine, sandalwood, amber, and oakmoss.  I don’t smell any citrus, and I definitely don’t get any oakmoss out of it at all.  Read Angela’s review at Now Smell This for yet another take on Lady Stetson. 

Rating: ***  Lady Stetson has a couple of undeniable assets: it smells decent, it’s easily available, and it’s pretty inexpensive. I sprayed from a tester at my local Wal-Mart. A 30ml bottle will run you $16.50 there, a huuuuge bargain… if you like it.

Images are from Fragrantica.

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Perfume Reviews: Coty Chypre (reissued) edt and DSH Chypre oil

Coty Chypre, first released in 1917, was a stunningly successful fragrance that immediately began to influence perfumery, and is still influencing it. While it wasn’t the first chypre fragrance released (there were at least two others on the market, released circa 1909), it was the one that caught everyone’s attention. Countless words have been written about the impact of Chypre, and so I won’t belabor the point but will point you toward some excellent articles on the subject. Briefly, it is based on an accord of bergamot, oakmoss, and labdanum, along with florals and woody notes such as patchouli and sandalwood, and all chypre-type fragrances have these components.

For more on the impact, history, and structure of Chypre, read this post by Victoria at Bois de Jasmin.  Also, Elena at Perfume Shrine has a whole series discussing the chypre genre which is well worth reading, as well as a review of Coty Chypre written by Denise of Grain de Musc.

Coty stopped producing Chypre sometime in the 1960s, so far as I can tell, and then reissued it in 1986, along with two other older fragrances, La Rose Jacqueminot and Les Muses, as eau de toilette. I have two samples of Coty Chypre, both of the 1980s reissue but from different sources. They are quite similar. Both are dabber samples, so I haven’t been able to experience Chypre sprayed.

The Coty starts out with that indefinably “old-lady” vibe, which for me evokes my great-aunt’s dressing table. Aunt Leacy was the wife of a dairy farmer/minister, the sister of my grandmother Sarah Lou, and it’s hard for me to imagine a relative’s house, other than my grandmother Nell’s, more welcoming and enjoyable for a kid. I loved visiting her. There is a definite face-powder note to the Coty scent – not surprising perhaps when you realize that for years Coty scented their loose face powder with Chypre – and there is a dry dustiness to even the topnotes, which have probably lost their citrusy power by now.

From the beginning, I smell that powdery oakmoss and the ghost of something vaguely citrus (which we all know was once bergamot). Under that is a very blended, classical heart of rose and jasmine, and I’d swear there’s just a hint of cool, satiny iris in the mix too. Occasionally I get a waft of a sweet floral note that could be ylang-ylang, but not every time I wear it. On skin, Coty Chypre stays in this rose-jasmine-moss mode for about two hours before getting even more comfortable, with that powdered moss gradually becoming less powdery and more alive. The labdanum is well-mannered, which isn’t always the case, and it mostly serves to warm up the moss to create a lovely gentle smell that stays close to the skin.

It lasts about three hours on me, quite light, but, as always with fragrances that aren’t fresh from the perfumer, age and storage could have affected its strength and longevity adversely. Having read Luca Turin’s assessment of Coty Chypre, I was surprised to find it an extremely wearable scent, relaxed and quietly confident. Here’s what he has to say, from the review of Guerlain Mitsouko (which I freely admit right now that I do not like without knowing why):

[Mitsouko is] an improvement on Francois Coty’s Chypre, released… two years earlier. Chypre… is brilliant, but it does have a big-boned, bad-tempered Joan Crawford feel to it, and was a fragrance in whose company you could never entirely rest your weight.

I still have not smelled the original formula of Coty Chypre, which is said to have been bold, modern, and surprising. But I do like the reissued Coty Chypre. It is cool and smooth and self-possessed, and I enjoy wearing it. What it reminds me most of is a sample of vintage Miss Dior parfum (thanks, Tamara!), which smells to me both of face powder and of intimacy, of dressing up and of the smell of skin at a near distance.

Read more reviews of Coty Chypre at The Non-Blonde, Yesterday’s Perfume, Olfactarama, Suzanne’s Perfume Journal (Eiderdown Press), and Perfume Fountain(Know of any other reviews?  Share, please!)

However, given my surprise at enjoying the reissued Coty, I have to mention that Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ recreation of Coty Chypre simply stunned me. It is elemental, a natural force that buffets me with emotion.

Caveat: before you go rushing off to the DSH Perfumes website to order it, I have to give you the sad news that it is discontinued. I’m so sorry to even bring it up, but it’s so amazing that I simply can’t not write about it.

I have DSH Chypre in oil format and of course have only dabbed it. But that’s fine in this case. I often feel that oils are not a good format for me, because what I gain in longevity I give up in sillage, and my preference really depends on what kind of fragrance it is. Florals in oil format are frequently too quiet and wear too close to the skin for me (and you might remember I’m not a fan of big sillage!). But Dawn’s Chypre in oil is just about perfect: it has body, it has depth, and just a bit of waft.

The notes, so far as I managed to jot them down before Chypre disappeared from the DSH website (and I make no promises that these are correct or complete), are thus: bergamot, rose, jasmine, oakmoss, labdanum, patchouli, musk.

The DSH Chypre is, presumably, based on an older formula of Coty Chypre, since it bears very little relation to the 80s reissue I’ve smelled. And it is indeed bold, uncompromising, and starkly contrasted, a good counterpart to the strange Cubist and Fauvist art of the early 20th century. DSH’s version starts out with a strongly aromatic, resiny bergamot, under which I can immediately smell the labdanum like a sustained bass note. After a few moments, I begin to smell rose and jasmine as well as the bitter citrus and labdanum. This phase continues for some time, and if I sniff carefully I seem to pick up hints of a creamy, ripe floral note that reminds me of ylang-ylang, as well as a small bit of powdery cool iris. This is definitely not a powdery scent, however, keeping it miles away from the reissued Coty, even after the oakmoss note sort of sliiiiides stealthily into the picture. There is a bitter, earthy, yet lively character to DSH Chypre, and I would never in a million years call this thing “pretty.”

Yet it’s compelling. It’s one of those scents that grabs me by the base of the spine and yanks, saying to me, “You know you’re human, right? You know you’re a creature and you won’t live forever, right? Well, while you’re still around, get going. Live a little. No, I’ll rephrase that: live a lot.”

After several hours all I can smell is that soft, ambery labdanum, with perhaps a bit of musk, and it is almost edibly delicious. This is the only stage that my family seems to enjoy. Gaze said, “Vanilla? Amber? Almost something you could eat. Nice.” Before it gets to this stage, noses wrinkle and children leave the room. I think my family’s unevolved. Or maybe I am, given the brute power of DSH Chypre. Not that it’s beastly or animalic in any way that I can tell – I rather like civet, in small doses, and I tend to be pretty sensitive to some musks smelling dirty – it’s just… raw and untamed and lacking in parlor manners.

Which is just fine with me.  I’ve been wearing this thing all summer, intoxicated by its elemental appeal.

Top image of reissued Coty Chypre from Eiderdown Press.  Lower image of vintage Coty Chypre from Perfume Fountain.  Image of labdanum resin from Labdanum-shop.

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Fragrance Throwdown: Coty L’Origan vs. Guerlain L’Heure Bleue

I smelled L’Heure Bleue first, not long after I’d smelled the ethereally beautiful Apres L’Ondee, and not long after I’d rediscovered lovely older versions of Coty Emeraude.  I’d run across a mention of it in a book, and just had to find out what the heroine’s perfume smelled like.  I didn’t know, at the time, any of its history.

I hated it.  I called it “Hell’s Medicine Cabinet.”  Mind you, I tend to like medicinal smells – witness my love of clove and mint, and my utter-swoon immediate love of Serge Lutens’ famously medicinal La Myrrhe, and my toe-curling happiness when I crack open the tin of Porter’s Liniment Salve.  But I thought L’Heure Bleue’s combination of anise, bergamot and coriander was jarring and unpleasant.

It was only later, when a swap friend sent me a sample of L’Heure Bleue that was a much darker color than the sample I’d tried before, that I realized I’d sniffed the Eau de Toilette.  The penny dropped: I frequently have difficulty appreciating EdT concentrations of classic Guerlains.  Not always, of course: the aforementioned Apres L’Ondee comes to mind, and so does Chamade, also Vega – but Mitsouko and Shalimar EdTs are complete disasters for me.

It turned out to be parfum my friend had sent me, and it was a totally different beast: soft, plush, rich, warm, strange, aloof yet friendly, like a stray cat who has deigned to have its chin scratched by a stranger.  It was an eye-opening experience.  “So this is what they’re talking about,” I pondered.  “Not the EdT.”  I went straight to ebay and looked for a bottle of parfum – and found one.  Modern, 1 ounce, slightly-used, missing its paper label, being sold for cheap by a woman who needed cash, post-divorce.  The impression I got was that her ex-husband had given it to her, and now she couldn’t get it out of the house fast enough!

Understandable: L’Heure Bleue is nothing if not memorable, immediately identifiable at the faintest whiff of sillage.  It’s not the kind of fragrance that one could wear casually; as a signature scent, it is both quirky and comforting, melancholy and romantic.   Its name, The Blue Hour, refers to twilight, with more connotations of romance and melancholy.

Even in parfum, the opening is a bit bumpy.  It’s aromatic and medicinal in a way that I remember from visiting hospitals as a kid in the 1970s, and still not very pleasant.  However, in the parfum, the coriander seems to drop out quickly, leaving anise and clove singing a close harmony.  The clove note becomes more floral and carnationlike in just a few moments, and then there’s that orange blossom.  I am not a huge orange blossom fan, as it often has a “milled soap” angle for me.  There is a hint of that in L’HB, but then the rose and heliotrope pop up, and it veers sweet and woody and almost almond-pastry-like.  I do notice that in hot weather, the anise note seems to be prominent throughout the development, and I like that a lot.  In winter, it’s very much Floral Bearclaw, with  lots of orange blossom and almond, and I find it less interesting in the winter.

L’Heure Bleue is the kind of fragrance that, if you loved it, could haunt your memory all your life.  Sadly, I do not love it.  I admire it.

My bottle of L’Origan came from eBay, in a little satin-lined leatherette case.  The packaging seems to be that used by Coty in the 1940s through (possibly) the early 1960s, so I’m not sure how old this bottle is.  The cap is a bit tarnished, and the liquid is definitely darker and more orange than pictured here (probably due to the aging of the jasmine and/or the orange blossom).  But the box, and the rubber (plastic?) stopper under the cap, seem to have protected the fragrance fairly well.

Of course, it is vintage, and although in fairly good shape, it is not very long-lasting (two and a half to three hours, compared to L’Heure Bleue’s five hours on my skin).  There is a slight mustiness in the topnotes, as well, and the woody parts of the base seem very dry, with cedar dominating the sandalwood.  I smell a sharp clove note, as well as some rose and jasmine with the orange blossom.  But where I sniff L’Heure Bleue’s drydown and think, “Eh, almond pastry,” I keep bringing my L’Origan-wearing wrist to my nose.  There is a soft benzoin-tonka-vanilla angle, the same sort of thing I love so much in Mariella Burani, but the woods tend to dominate it, and perhaps I’m picking up on a bit of incense as well.

As others more knowledgeable than I am have pointed out (see Denyse’s review at Grain de Musc here, or Octavian’s at 1000 Fragrances here), Jacques Guerlain seemed to take each one of Francois Coty’s groundbreaking scents and develop the ideas further: adding the rich peach note of Persicol to the structure of Chypre and creating Mitsouko, or adding a brighter citrus note, a more sharply delineated jasmine, and that genius hint of tar to the Emeraude structure to create Shalimar.   Clearly, L’Heure Bleue admits kinship to the older L’Origan, one of the first “soft,” Oriental Florals.  What’s the difference in notes and development?

I’m still not sure.  In fact, LHB seems less descended from L’O than tangentially related.  The anise and heliotrope notes hark back to Guerlain’s own Apres l’Ondee, while much of the structure – orange blossom, eugenol (clove) and ambery vanilla – seems to dovetail with that of L’O.  L’Origan, though, has what seems to me to be a darker cast; it’s less melancholy, more mysterious.  There seems to be more clove in L’O, more aromatic and herbal details, and it seems rather drier to me,  just to mention a few differences.    Halfway through the development, L’O has gone  right to the edge of a mossy kind of bitterness that makes me wonder if there’s vetiver in there, whereas L’HB  has veered toward vanilla and heliotrope.

As Denyse of Grain de Musc points out, the Coty fragrances have a tendency toward crudity, where their Guerlain counterparts are smooth and seamless.  And yet, and yet… I love (vintage) Emeraude with all my heart, while finding Shalimar a little over-the-top.  And L’Heure Bleue has very little emotional impact on me at all, while L’Origan stirs me.  Maybe it’s just me – or perhaps it’s that my L’Origan is vintage and my L’Heure Bleue is not.  The first time I opened that little bottle of L’Origan, I was bowled over by its sheer beauty.  L’HB never did that to me, not even in parfum. L’HB was a stray cat, L’O was a Siberian tiger lounging in the sun: powerful, beautiful, and potentially dangerous.

Notes for each fragrance from Fragrantica.

L’Origan: Bergamot, orange, coriander, pepper, peach, nutmeg, clove, carnation, violet, jasmine, orange blossom, ylang-ylang, rose, benzoin, incense, cedar, musk, sandalwood, vanilla, coumarin (tonka bean), civet.  Fragrantica reviews here.   See also Victoria’s review at Bois de Jasmin, and this lovely one at Memory and Desire.

L’Heure Bleue: Anise, coriander, neroli, bergamot, lemon, carnation, orchid, jasmine, violet, clove, orange blossom, rose, heliotrope, iris, sandalwood, musk, benzoin, vanilla, vetiver, tonka bean.  Fragrantica reviews here.  See also:  Kevin’s review at Now Smell This, Donna’s review of the parfum at Perfume-Smellin’ Things, and The Non-Blonde’s review, as well as this one at For the Love of Perfume.

Photo of wrestlers from Wikimedia Commons.  L’Origan ad from ebay seller adlibrary.  Other photos mine.  (Since my L’HB bottle had lost its sticker before it came to me, I added one.  It’s too big, and probably the wrong color – so sue me! At least you can tell what it is now, in case you’re not familiar with the inverted  heart stopper.)

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Perfume Review: vintage Coty L’Aimant parfum de toilette

If the only Coty fragrances you’re familiar with are the celebuscents currently available, plus the old standby drugstore fare like Exclamation! and Vanilla Fields, you might be surprised to lay a nostril on an old Coty perfume. Where the newer scents actually smell cheap, with simple formulas and obviously synthetic ingredients, the older versions tend to smell much richer and more complete; they are worked-out ideas that evoke a mood and clearly make use of natural materials.

I have a bottle of L’Origan parfum that appears to be 1950s-era in excellent preservation, a small bottle of 1970s Imprevu, and samples of vintage Coty Paris and Les Muses. I also remember smelling a set of three Coty fragrances in cologne strength at Big Lots, a clearance-type retailer which I’m sure in retrospect was flogging perfumes in discontinued packaging or formulas, in the mid-1980s. There was Muguet des Bois, which I loved and begged my mother to buy me (she said no, I had Chloe and Cachet and I didn’t need anything else), and Les Muses, which I liked as well. The other bottle in the set was Chypre, which I didn’t like at all – which is not surprising for a fourteen-year-old, but how I wish now that I’d bought it then!

L’Aimant – which means both “Loving Her” and “The Magnet” en francais – was released in 1927, and it’s very much the product of its time, as an aldehydic floral. Notes for L’Aimant (cribbed from at least three different sources) include aldehydes, bergamot, neroli, plum, apricot, strawberry, violet, rose, ylang, jasmine, iris, oakmoss, sandalwood, vetiver, vanilla, although I don’t smell all of those notes. My bottle is parfum de toilette, mid-to-late 1970s, in the standard Coty flacon with the gold crown top. It’s the same formulation and bottle as my favorite of the various vintage Emeraudes I own.  Edit: The image up top is very similar to the bottle I bought.

For convenience, I decanted some into a small spray bottle, but I find that I actually prefer to dab L’Aimant. I should have made this point on my Emeraude review, but failed to do so – both of these fragrances become more noticeably powdery when sprayed from a decant bottle. I’m not a big fan of powder, and I find them smoother and less “old-fashioned” when dabbed. This might be a function of the aldehydes, but I’m betting it’s from the vanilla-sandalwood combination; it’s a slightly-musty sort of smell that I associate with scented talc powder and my great-aunt Leacy. My bottle of L’Aimant, which I bought on ebay for a song, may have been kept in less-than-optimal conditions, because my experience with it is that although it’s plenty potent for the time that it lasts, it doesn’t last more than three hours – sometimes four if I “spray until wet.”   Edit: Image at right here seems to be from the 1950s or 1960s.  It is eau de toilette.  I have not tried L’Aimant in this packaging, but I do have an Emeraude edt from this era, and it is very faint.  Of course, it may have suffered age damage; it’s hard to tell from just looking at vintage bottles.

L’Aimant has one of those Waft Vs. Up-close differences that intrigue me very much. Cuir de Lancome does this as well: in the air it smells very different than it does sniffed close to the arm I’ve put it on. At first it smells of aldehydes and vanilla, no matter where I’m smelling it. But the aldehydes burn off rather quickly – in five to ten minutes perhaps, and although it’s definitely aldehydic, it’s much, much gentler than No. 5’s Alde-Overdose opening. If I hoover my arm where I’ve sprayed L’Aimant, I can distinguish separate notes: there’s the rose and violet, there’s the jasmine and iris, there’s the oakmoss. There’s a kinship to YSL Paris in the heart that I notice when I sniff closely, and the base is very classical, with oakmoss and sandalwood.

However, sniffed in the air as I move my arms about, L’Aimant smells like nothing so much as my mother’s peach pie: hot, tangy baked peaches and a hint of pastry dough, plus melting vanilla ice cream. It smells sweet and rather delicious, in the manner of L’Heure Bleue, which in turn was emulating Coty’s own L’Origan (more on that relationship soon, I hope): not entirely gourmand, but both floral and edible at the same time.

I do keep wondering whether there is some unlisted combination of notes in this fragrance that adds up to “amber” – there’s a definite sweetness to it that isn’t entirely attributable to vanilla on its own. In this fashion, it’s closely related to Emeraude, which is a vanillic amber, and also to L’Origan, which has a similar oakmoss-sandalwood-vanilla base. All three, as a matter of fact, clearly share some DNA identifying them as COTY. 

L’Aimant, like my darling Emeraude, is currently in production, but as a mere wraith of its former self. Emeraude is a shadow: thin, facelifted, and chemical, and so is the present version of L’Aimant. Avoid both of them, please.  At left is a picture of the current bottle Coty is using for L’Aimant.

If I could wish for anything from Coty, it would be Daphne Bugey’s reconstructions of classic Coty fragrances that Luca Turin is always banging on about in Perfumes: The Guide. Other than Emeraude, I don’t even know which ones they are. (La Rose Jacqueminot? Chypre?) Even in pricey retro crystal bottles with the Art Deco Coty lettering, and at Lutensian cost levels, I’d probably buy them. Many other vintage perfume fans would probably buy them, too. Please, Coty? Please? I’m beggin’ here. You think if we start a letter-writing campaign and point out to Coty that they stand to make a mint selling L’Aimant L’Original and Emeraude L’Original, they’ll come through? It couldn’t hurt. Here’s a link to Coty’s customer service department.

I’m off to write a begging letter to Coty… and to call my mother and ask her to bake me a pie when the fresh peaches show up this summer. Mmmmm…

Some other reviews of L’Aimant: Fragrance Bouquet, Anita at Perfume Posse, Scentzilla (brief, with a focus on old perfume in general).

Image of vintage L’Aimant parfum de toilette is from eurofinegifts at ebay.  Image of vintage eau de toilette is from millieg2 at ebay, and image of modern packaging is from annsgold at ebay.

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Perfume Review: Vintage Coty Emeraude

It’s difficult for me to write a review of a fragrance that is special to me. Emeraude was the first perfume I ever loved. I still love it. I’m a little worried that the magic could wear off and it could become ordinary for me. But this is a lovely thing, and if I had my way, everyone would smell it – everyone.

I first encountered Emeraude at the drugstore sometime around 1984, and instantly thought it the most beautiful perfume I’d ever smelled. Soft and aromatic and floral at the same time, it was so well-blended that I could never have told you what was in it. At the time, I was about halfway through my bottle of original Chloe, that big flirty white floral bomb, and I was only really familiar with my Chloe, my mom’s No. 5, my grandmother’s Avon Cotillion – which I thought was hideous – and Opium, my personal scent nightmare. Emeraude was like nothing else in my world.

And (in the smug, naive manner of teenagers everywhere), I loved the ads for it, too: “I love only one man. I wear only one fragrance – Emeraude.” 

This was the bottle of Emeraude that I owned – eau de cologne in a lime green color, in a slightly-curved rectangular bottle with a white top.  My mother disliked it, finding it “too mature” for a teenage girl.  But a boyfriend gave me a small half-ounce bottle, and I kept it on my dresser and wore it and loved it until it went bad from a couple of years’ worth of light and heat damage.  And then the next time I went to smell it at the drugstore, some time in the early 90’s, it smelled different to me.  It smelled like itself – sort of – but sharper and thinner.  It didn’t make me sigh with pleasure, so I thought that my tastes must have changed.  I just put it back on the shelf and gave it no further thought.

Until I read a mini-review of the vintage on the Posse (link at bottom of page), in which March described Emeraude as soft and rich.  Yes, I said to myself.  Yes, ebay.  Yes, I’ll go look.  I bid on a half-ounce bottle of parfum de toilette that looks 70’s-era to me.  It smelled even better than I’d remembered.  I went on an extended Emeraude quest last summer, eventually hunting down and dragging home six bottles.  (Um, yeah, you read that correctly: six bottles.  Two teeny bottles of parfum, one half-ounce bottle of 1950’s edt, two half-ounce bottles of pdt, and one stunning FOUR-ounce bottle of pdt.  I told you, I love this stuff.)

I will make the observation that unlike many vintage fragrances, vintage orientals tend to survive the years largely intact, although sometimes they can go faint.  All of the pdt bottles I own smell fabulous, which the two parfums, which are in pretty, decorative bottles and presumably spent some time on display on dressers, are actually less strong, and less long-lasting, than the pdt bottles.

Since you knew this was coming anyway, I’ll give you the usual caveats regarding vintage bottles, particularly those on ebay: YOUR BOTTLE MAY VARY.  You never know the conditions under which a particular bottle was stored – was it kept in Aunt Sadie’s bedroom closet, in a box up on the shelf, away from light, until she bought her assisted-living condo and downsized her possessions? Or did it spend twenty years sitting out on Aunt Louise’s windowsill because “it was so pretty”?  Has it been sitting in the window of the thrift shop, catching the light, until an ebay seller snapped it up and listed it for sale at a 400% markup?  You just don’t know. 

Ahem.  So on to the important stuff: how’s it smell? 

When I first put it on (all my vintage bottles are splash-type,  not spray), I dab one drop on each wrist and one at the base of my throat.  Then I attempt to dissect what I’m smelling, which is a little like trying to diagram Shakespeare’s poetry in that it’s not only difficult, but rather pointless when it comes to describing Emeraude’s appeal.  What is immediately apparent is the citrus.  There’s a huge ton of bergamot, intense but somehow creamy, possibly because of all the vanilla in the base. This is the big-sillage phase, and it only lasts about 20 minutes before quieting and settling down onto skin.   

The heart of the fragrance gradually comes into play, and it consists of rich florals that are so well-blended it’s difficult to pick out any specific note except jasmine.  This blend seems very classical, and under the citrus vanilla, it reminds me of quite a number of familiar fragrances – No. 5’s rose-jasmine-ylang center comes to mind, and so does Alahine’s. The heart phase, which seems to stay always underneath the citrus-vanilla veil that characterizes Emeraude to me, lasts about an hour, maybe an hour and a half.

Eventually it slides into its beautiful base. Emeraude is, particularly in its drydown, extremely soft. There is an element of powder from the benzoin, and the smooth sweet blend of vanilla and sandalwood.  I can’t pick out opoponax or (thank goodness, because a lot of orientals are ruined for me by this) patchouli.  The whole base is satin-smooth like scented talc, but is also mysteriously creamy, plush, and sweet and seems to melt into my skin and stay.  And stay, and stay… I typically get about eight to ten hours out of those three drops of Emeraude, which is excellent staying power for me. 

Here are the notes for Emeraude:  Lemon, bergamot, orange, tarragon, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, Brazilian rosewood, vanilla, sandalwood, benzoin, patchouli, opoponax, and amber.   

What Emeraude feels like: velvet the color of soft moss, like “Miss Ellen’s portieres” at Tara, the ones Scarlett made a dress out of.  It feels like a heavy, weighty formal gown made of heavy cream satin, with green ribbon trim.  It feels soft and plushy and bosomy, womanly and quietly sexy, but not flirty or coy or predatory.  It feels comfortable.  For all that heavy, smooth weight, it is surprisingly wearable in the summer because its sillage seems to stay rather close to the skin, once the big bergamot blast has settled.  It’s one of my favorites, and I’d probably take it to the desert island (heat or no) if I were ever forced there.

A word on concentrations and formulations:  Emeraude has throughout its life been released as parfum, eau de cologne, eau de toilette, and parfum de toilette.  While the vintage edc and edt smell nice, they tend to be rather faint.  The two small bottles of parfum that I own are also quite ethereally light, possibly due to light damage.  My favorite concentration is the pdt – I haven’t been disappointed with any of the samples I’ve smelled of it – it is rich and lasting, without overwhelming anyone.  The pdt was last produced, as far as I can tell, in the late 1970s/ very early 1980s.  I recommend the 1960s-1970s pdt in the gold crown-topped bottle (see image #5).  However, I have not sampled proper vintage parfum that smells as it should, so if you can find that, it might be the way to go.  Edit: Forgot to mention color.  The oldest stuff has usually lost its green tint and turned a light amber color, like weakish iced tea (okay, fine, I’m a Southerner, I just assume everybody knows what that looks like, and if you don’t, I’m sorry).  See image #3 above.  The PdT is usually a soft mossy-green color, like really good virgin olive oil.  See image #5 again.  Anything the color of neon sour-apple candy?  To be avoided, in my opinion.   The 80’s EdC was not hideous, so if the only thing you can find on ebay is in the rectangular-ish bottle with the wide white top, check the color.  If it’s peridot green (image #6) as opposed to Green Apple Jolly Rancher green (image #2), it might be okay.  The bottle has not changed since then, but the color has grown more garish

Emeraude was reformulated sometime in the 1980s, and has been retooled since then.  There may be reformulations I’m unaware of, which is not unusual for such an old fragrance.  I’ll be honest with you: leave the current version on the drugstore shelf.  It’s thin and sharp, stiletto-y, nothing like its former bosomy, creamy self.  Luca Turin says of Emeraude that it was the second oriental fragrance (the first, he says, was created for the original Parfums de Rosine company, and its formula has been lost) and “arguably best,” but that it has been ruined.  I concur. 

A large number of people comment on (vintage) Emeraude that it’s “just like Shalimar, only softer.”  I’d disagree, at least in part.  Certainly I see why people make the observation, because Shalimar and Emeraude share some DNA: a bright citrus top, a classical floral heart, a rich, powdery-creamy vanilla base.  There’s no question in my mind that Shalimar is a further exploration of the structure of Emeraude.  The differences, as I notice them?  Shalimar’s citrus is more tart, a bit more lemony.  Instead of Emeraude’s soft rose-jasmine heart, I smell mostly jasmine, full and luxurious in Shalimar.  And the base contains noticeable patchouli as well as the famous vanilla – once the “impure” De Laure vanilla, now recreated with a bit of birch tar –  that Guerlain uses to such startling effect .  I’ll venture to say that perhaps Shalimar is the better perfume.  It is more adventurous, more contrasted, more surprising and complex.  That touch of tar in the base – that’s genius.  It’s shocking.  It’s art in a way that Emeraude is not.

And yet, I do not love Shalimar.  I find it difficult to wear, unless the weather is just right; it seems to be perfect in the fall, when there is a hint of woodsmoke in the air and the promise of rain.  I find it impossible to wear in any concentration lower than parfum de toilette.  But Emeraude is forgiving and soft, plush as kitten’s fur and friendly as my favorite sweater.  Perhaps it’s telling that I’d a thousand times rather have Shalimar Light than the original – all the difficult parts of Shalimar were planed away, and the whole thing sanded down to a finish with a texture like suede.  If you love Shalimar, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were to find Emeraude unchallenging and perhaps a bit dull.  

Francois Coty’s insistence on keeping his perfumes available at a low price made it possible for a lot of women to own Emeraude.  Which is lucky for us, because a fair number of those Emeraude bottles, packed away in someone’s underwear drawer still in the boxes, are popping up on ebay and in thrift stores all the time.  Also luckily, Emeraude seems to age well. 

Reminder: if you are interested in entering the drawing for a sample of vintage Emeraude PdT, please leave a comment on this post, before midnight (Eastern Daylight Savings Time) on Sunday, May 23, 2010. 

I could not find a full review of vintage Emeraude on any of the perfume blogs I frequent.  There’s a brief one from March and a separate brief one from Musette at Perfume Posse; another brief mention of it in this review of L’Origan at Grain de Musc (Warning: the accompanying illustration, an art nude by Kees van Dongen, may not be suitable for the workplace), and a mention of it in this review of Parfumerie Generale Felanilla at 1000Fragrances.  Also, here’s a very brief mention among other Coty scents in this post at Perfume-Smellin’ Things.  And here is a short history at Perfume ProjectsEdit:  I had forgotten this lovely review at Yesterday’s Perfume and overlooked it when I went hunting for blog reviews.  (So sorry, Barbara!)

Images from top to bottom, all via ebay:  1945 ad from omar; 1980s Emeraude EdC from millersproducts; pre-1960s Emeraude from stubbinaeros; pre-1950s Emeraude from pickapaper; Emeraude PdT from jockeycreek; 1985 ad from xantha. 

Luca Turin quote from p. 65 of the original Perfumes: The Guide.

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Tuberose Series 13: Sand & Sable

 

Image of Sand & Sable from fragrantica.com

Another Cheap Thrill/Blast from the Past! I’ve got quite a history with Sand & Sable. It’s not a long history – I didn’t own a bottle until recently – but a history nonetheless. (I’ve told this story before, so if you’ve read it, skip down a couple of paragraphs.) Two or three good high school friends of mine wore it, and I’d smell it on them and sigh with pleasure. I had a perfectly good bottle of original Chloe, and a boyfriend of mine had given me a tiny bottle of Emeraude cologne, which I loved, so I had no excuse to buy any more perfume. But about the time that my Chloe began to give out, I had some birthday money, so I hopped down to the drugstore and picked up a little bottle of Sand & Sable cologne. I spritzed lightly with the tester, paid for my bottle, and took it home, happy. 

My mother made me take it back, insisting that it was “too old for me.” I was seventeen, mind you. I honestly don’t think it was the putative maturity of the scent that bothered her so much as the scent itself, because Mom hates gardenias, and I imagine she was thinking how much she’d hate smelling that perfume repeatedly. Then, too, White Floral has frequently signified Bombshell, which would have been an image she’d have wanted to prevent her little girl from adopting. (Mom claims that she doesn’t remember this incident, twenty-five years later. Well, she also admits that her memory isn’t what it used to be.) 

Perfume Review: Coty Sand and Sable 

Date released: 1981 

Perfumer: None listed 

Sample provenance: my own half-ounce bottle of cologne, purchased for the princely sum of $5 in 2005. 

Sub-category: Loud dressed-up party tuberose composition. 

Notes: green notes, peach, tuberose, gardenia, jasmine, rose. 

This thing is technically supposedly a gardenia, but in actuality, it’s a mix of natural and synthetic tuberose (mostly synthetic) with a few dollops of synthetic miscellaneous florals, and maybe a hint of coconut. There are no top notes and no basenotes to speak of; it’s pretty linear.  

Here’s Tania Sanchez of P:TG on Sand and Sable: 

*** Peachy lilac… If you like Carolina Herrera, you’ll like Sand and Sable. This floral is a lot cheaper, however, starting with a Fracas-like tuberose but diminishing fast to a bare lilac. Stays likable a long time, but in a pushy way. We all have friends like that. 

The first time I read that, several months ago, I thought, “Lilac? What lilac? And what peach? It just smells like tuberose to me.” Then I went back to smell S&S again… and darned if she isn’t right. There is a peachy sort of cast to it (for the record, I don’t smell peach on Bookworm when she wears it – it smells less chemical on her), and eventually the tuberose wears thin and you identify that air-freshener-like lilac and the beachy smell of suntan lotion. Then it’s gone. S&S doesn’t hold on to that swoony gardenia-tuberose focus very long, and these days it doesn’t come anywhere near smelling as good to me as it used to, but I admit to having a sneaking fondness for it. 

The other thing about S&S is that, like many of those 80’s tuberose things, it’s pretty loud. Okay, it’s really loud. I hardly ever do the spray-and-walk-through trick, since it’s such a waste of scent, but I do it for S&S. Light applications seem to keep it more pleasant. And it was so cheap, I don’t mind using it as a room spray (um, best in the summer when tropical-flowers-and-suntan-lotion doesn’t seem odd).  

For such a cheap fragrance, it’s not bad. I’m not sayin’ it’s comparable to Beyond Love in terms of quality. I’m not sayin’ it’s Fracas. But if you only have five bucks, you could do a lot worse. And honestly, I’d rather wear Sand & Sable than, for example, L’Artisan Tubereuse, which might be made of better stuff but which I found lacking in the “fun” department. 

Quality: D+ Really cheap materials. 

Grab-scale score: 4. 

Short description: Cheap and cheerful tuberose. 

Cost: $ 

Earns compliments: Surprisingly, yes. 

Scent presence: Big. Loud. Would probably be better dabbed. Moderate to big sillage. Lasts 6-8 hours. 

Review report: Scentzilla!, Perfume Posse, Chicken Freak’s Obsessions, Now Smell This (brief mention), Perfume-Smellin’ Things (brief mention) 

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Vintage perfumes

Confession: I troll ebay. Unlike some of my favorite swap-partners, I haven’t become buddies with the lovely Naz at Canada’s The Perfume Shoppe, I haven’t maxed out the credit cards at luckyscent.com, I haven’t asked relatives making a trip to Paris to bring me Serge Lutens bell jars from the non-export line, and I don’t have the Washington, DC Chanel boutique’s phone number on speed dial… (you know who you are!) No, me, I’m an ebay shark… I have a constant search going for “Vintage perfume,” and – not to toot my own horn – have snagged some real, rare bargains over the summer.

I like used bottles. I don’t mind if someone has opened the bottle and used the juice inside; I don’t care if the seller picked up a battered bottle at a thrift store or estate sale, or made a lucky discovery of Aunt Sadie’s Stash of Vintage and Discontinued Perfumes. I don’t care, particularly, if a scent is no longer in production and cannot ever be replaced with a backup bottle. I find that vintage perfumes have a presence. They open doors into a magic past, in which I can be that Film Noir Dame, or that Perfect Lady in Chanel, or that red-lipsticked Femme Fatale, or even my younger self…

Some of them I love. For example, I might sell my soul for some vintage, perfectly-kept, Emeraude parfum. In fact, if I had to downsize my perfume collection to one scent (the thought hurts my head!), it would be vintage Emeraude. And I have two bottles of vintage Chanel No. 5 parfum, one more beautiful than the other, that make it easy to see why it’s sold so well over the years: this stuff is stunning. And I have a teeny-tiny bottle of Jolie Madame parfum that is so gorgeous that it nearly brought tears to my eyes.

Some of the vintage scents are interesting, but not really to my taste. Balenciaga Le Dix was much like Chanel No. 19 in feel, if not in actual smell – cool and businesslike, but lacking the boot-stomping oomph that makes me love No. 19. Patou Adieu Sagesse was pretty for an hour, with a fresh carnation that made me smile, followed by a fast fadeout. Lucien LeLong Indiscret was a richly peach-citrus floral that felt like Real Perfume – and then it degenerated into a Youth Dew mess (as you can guess, I’m not a fan of the big resiny orientals; more on that tomorrow.) Coty L’Origan parfum was, yes, a near twin of Guerlain L’Heure Bleue, but without the angel’s wings that lifts L’HB into the air. Vintage Arpege is so rich that wearing it feels like eating way too much dinner.

And some of these vintage scents are just awful! I cannot always tell whether the scent has suffered from age or problematic storage, or whether my tastes are sufficiently modern that I find these scents unattractive. Or, of course, whether I Just Don’t Like Them, which happens with even well-received modern niche scents like L’Artisan Passage d’Enfer (Pine-Sol shaving cream!) or Iris Pallida (sweaty old man wearing faded cologne). Lanvin Via was a big ol’ chunk of galbanum that never eased into the promised florals; so was Estee Lauder Private Collection parfum. Caron Infini confirmed for me that I must really dislike lactones.

Then, too, I’ve gone through the looking glass, searching for perfumes from my own scented past. Sometimes I think to myself, Wonder what the original Chloe, or Aspen for Women, would smell like to me now? or Sure wish I could remember what the original Victoria by Victoria’s Secret smelled like, and I really wish I’d had the money to buy some way back when. Or, Boy, I really loved Emeraude and Tatiana back in the day; I’d love to wear them again. And then off I go to ebay, fishing in somebody else’s closet for a piece of my past. These are the difficult ones to open and smell again. Am I the same person? Clearly not. My nose knows somewhat better than it used to know, and I’m older/presumably wiser/different.

WINNERS IN THE RECAPTURING-MY-PAST CATEGORY:

My 70’s-era Coty Emeraude Parfum de Toilette is, unquestionably, Queen of the Drugstore Perfumes. It smells better than I remember, and I love it more than I ever did as a teenager in the 80’s.

I had some Diane Von Furstenburg Tatiana eau de toilette in the late 80’s – which I remember as being the scent that my mother, the White Floral Hater and wearer of No. 5, thought was the worst thing ever; that 70’s bottle of parfum is beautifully spicy tuberose, and brought back memories of college.

I also own an early-90’s bottle of Victoria’s Secret Victoria – fairly easy to find on ebay, and usually cheap, because Victoria’s Secret’s marketing department was dumb enough not to put any sort of identifying label on that pretty glass laydown bottle, making it difficult to identify by people who don’t remember what it looked like. Luckily (for me!), the bottle is distinctive by shape and by the deep periwinkle-blue cap. Anyway, the top notes have suffered greatly, and it doesn’t seem to be just my own bottle – I have two other friends with bottles of this truly lovely chypre floral, and they both say the top notes are frightening, with various hints of Hairspray, Pool Chlorine, and Maple Syrup! However, patience is rewarded – ladies* used to smell like this airy concoction. Official notes are impossible to find (trust me, I’ve searched), but I can definitely discern rose, violet, a hint of muguet, a wisp of tuberose, and possibly peony, followed by a lovely drydown of what seems to be sandalwood, vetiver, gentle oakmoss, and a cool, dry amber.
* We won’t even discuss the enormous changes in Victoria’s Secret’s inventory and attitude since I first became aware of the brand, mid-1980’s, except to say that the idea of “pretty lingerie for women who want to feel feminine” seems to have been usurped by the idea of “garish undies for teenagers who want to show off said undies.” Enough said.

My most recent vintage find? Balenciaga’s Michelle. Created in 1979 and discontinued some time in the 90’s, it was sold in parfum and in EdT. A review should be posted tomorrow – because testing it caused a seismic shift in my attitude toward perfume.
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