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: Escada Margaretha Ley

Here I am again with a totally useless review of a discontinued fragrance. I apologize in advance.

marg leyLike I said, this one’s gone.  There is some confusion in my mind as to whether Margaretha Ley (the founder of the Escada brand, now deceased) and Escada Escada (original) are the same fragrance. Some sources say yes, some say they’re slightly different. The packaging was slightly different as well, and judging from the notes list on Fragrantica, they’re pretty close in smell.

In any case, this is a powerhouse. Fragrances based on tuberose or jasmine often are, which you probably know, and if you’re sensitive to Big White Florals, you’ve certainly been bludgeoned by someone’s Fracas or Dior Poison or (common in my area) Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds.

(HEY. White Diamonds in parfum, dabbed delicately, is really lovely. But I’ve smelled it overapplied, too, and it can be quite nausea-inducing – and I really like BWFs.)

What’s immediately apparent with one half-spritz of Margaretha Ley is jasmine. And coconut. And ylang-ylang. You’ve got all the creamy aspects of BWFs – I swear there’s some tuberose in here too – as well as lactonic milky  stuff like coconut and peach. There is also some noticeable vanilla and spicy notes – clove, I think.  Hyacinth is in the notes, but I am not picking up on the metallic aspect of hyacinth, more just the spicy floral part. The entire thing is quite sweet, though not on the level of, for example, the gorgeously rich Prada Candy.

The only other scent this really reminds me of is the old Diane von Furstenberg Tatiana. Don’t bother trying it now, it is a chemical mess, but back in the day, when I was in college*, it was really lovely. The spicy notes were more prominent in Tatiana, and I think it was based on gardenia rather than jasmine, but there was a level of congruence there, with the spicy-creamy white flowers.  It is a tropical beach of a fragrance, though not fruity at all. I think of trade routes from the Indies and tropical flowers and drinks made with coconut milk…

If this is your thing, hunt up some Margaretha Ley, or some Tatiana, via ebay. The parfum minis for Tatiana are still available at a reasonable price, though the Escada is not priced reasonably. You might get lucky and find a partially-used one for cheap, as I did via a fellow perfumista.

Then, kick back on your autumn porch and dream of Tahiti.

Notes for Margaretha Ley (released 1990, composed by Michel Almairac, discontinued): Lime, hyacinth, coconut, peach, iris, jasmine, orange blossom, ylang, cloves, musk, sandalwood, vanilla.

Notes for DvF Tatiana (released 1975, still in production but no longer pleasant IMO): Lime, hyacinth, orange blossom, jasmine, narcissus, gardenia, tuberose, rose, musk, sandalwood, amber.

* If I have not told you the story about my Tatiana stash, I ought to.  You remember when my mom, who haaaaaates fresh gardenias and BWF fragrances, made me take my newly-purchased bottle of Sand & Sable back to the drugstore, claiming it was “too old for me”? (I was 18.) Well, my first year of college, I bought a mini bottle of Tatiana at the drugstore and, as I had been taught, applied it delicately from the little splash edt bottle. I took it home with me for Spring Break… and over the course of four days, it disappeared.

Disappeared.  My sister swore she hadn’t seen it. My grandmother (who liked it) said she hadn’t seen it. My mother… well, let’s just say I have my suspicions to this day.  (Still love you, Mom. But maybe I ought to charge you for this replacement mini I bought on ebay.)

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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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Perfume Reviews: Oscar de la Renta and Esprit d'Oscar

I did not remember smelling the original Oscar de la Renta way back in the 80s, when it was relatively new, but it did smell sort of familiar when I managed to get hold of a used miniature bottle for a few dollars on ebay. It smelled like a tuberose-rich white floral on one of those kitchen-sink bases that you used to get in your average department-store floral – less mossy than Chloe, less civet-dirty than Ysatis, but a rich floral-woody-oriental all the same. It is actually a contemporary of Chloe’s, being released just two years later, and the two run fairly congruently along the lines of their notes lists. (I have a strong preference for Chloe as being cleaner and more ladylike, but you might attribute that preference to the fact that I wore Chloe for more than a decade.)

Oscar was composed by Jean-Louis Sieuzac, who also authored some of the most famous fragrances of the 70s and 80s: Dune, Fahrenheit, Bel Ami, Opium. Its notes list:  (Top) orange blossom, basil, coriander, galbanum, peach, gardenia, (Heart) ylang-ylang, jasmine, tuberose, rose, rosemary, cyclamen, lavender, orchid, (Base) opoponax, carnation, patchouli, sandalwood, vetiver, amber.

Oscar also has a distinctively “ashtray” note that I’ve found in only a few other fragrances: Cristalle edt and Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds. Presumably this ashtray note pops up other places (Etat Libre d’Orange’s Jasmin et Cigarette, perhaps? I haven’t smelled it), but I don’t know what causes it, and I don’t tend to find it in fragrances that list a tobacco note. In any case, Tania Sanchez mentions it in her review in P:TG as well.

The current version of… Oscar… is complicated but flat, zipping from a tobacco-tinged tuberose top note to a nondescript woody oriental that reminds me of the way my clothes used to smell the morning after a big night out – clinging remnants of perfume and stale cigarette smoke. Ysatis was a better, plusher version of this kind of thing, although I hear that Oscar was a big, impressive tuberose once. It isn’t now.”

I haven’t smelled the modern iteration of Oscar, and I can only go on the (slightly-age-damaged) bottle of vintage parfum I have on hand. The first whiff is of nail polish remover – fairly common in older perfumes, and nothing serious to worry about. It seems to be related to the breakdown of aldehydes, and is usually out of the way in ten to fifteen minutes. I don’t smell any herbs or galbanum when I put on this Oscar, or perhaps they’re buried under the heavy florals. Vintage Oscar is indeed a big, impressive white-floral composition, on that complicated base that I mentioned earlier. What comes through most in the base is woods and amber, sweet and insistent. Along with the tuberose, there is a pile of orange blossom and jasmine. There is also quite a bit of heliotrope, and the combination makes me think fleetingly of L’Heure Bleue, though it’s less seamless than L’HB, and the ashtray cast dirties the whole thing up.

Oscar seems rather bad-tempered to me, with a Bette Davis “Jezebel” don’t-tell-me-what-to-do attitude. Again, it might be that my vintage parfum is to blame here, but the odd thing about this haughty fragrance is that it seems right that it’s haughty. It’s not quite the thin, couture-clad woman smoking a cigarette in a holder and walking an ocelot on a jeweled leash sort of Erte-illustration haughtiness that you get from your big rose chypres, but it’s a sort of “I pay my pool boy more in a week than you’ll earn this year, sweetie” condescending haughtiness that doesn’t feel very much like me: a plush limo, a lady-that-lunches. It is fairly dated, in a way that probably would bring up the dreaded “old lady” appellation, and I’m guessing that your average man would feel uncomfortable wearing it.

The parfum does last well, about six hours, but without the big sillage I expected. I’ll bet the EdP is a sillage bomb, though. I bought my partially-used mini bottle on eBay for about $4, but new bottles range from $30 for a 30ml bottle of EdT at online discounters, to $85 for a 100ml bottle of EdT or $104 for a quart-ounce of parfum  in a department store. It’s easily available, and there are also miniatures and body products (lotion, etc.) associated.

See other reviews of Oscar de la Renta perfume at Basenotes and Fragrantica

From blog comments and reviews, I’d heard that Esprit d’Oscar was an updated, easy-listening version of the original white floral beast, and that it was very pleasant. I was happy to run across a sample in a swap (thanks, AnnS!) and even happier to find that Esprit is so attractive and wearable. It was composed by the team of Frank Voelkl and Ann Gottlieb, and released this year (2011).  The notes list for Esprit d’Oscar includes bergamot, lemon, citron, jasmine, orange blossom, tuberose, musk, heliotrope, tonka bean, and vetiver.

Esprit begins with some lovely citrus notes, under which I smell a lot of white florals. It does away with the ashtray note and a good bit of the ballast of Oscar, and opts to highlight orange blossom over tuberose. Both are clearly present, but it’s a clean, pretty orange blossom that is in focus here. In fact, what with the orange blossom and heliotrope, Esprit smells, for a time, even more like L’Heure Bleue than the original Oscar does. The other big change, aside from the general lightening of the formula, is the use of a creamy, face-powder smoothness that reminds me a little bit of Love, Chloe and Dior New Look 1947. I really like this sort of thing, particularly in conjunction with the white floral blend in Esprit d’Oscar, and I’m not surprised that several perfume bloggers have found Esprit congenial.

Of course, it’s a truism that if there’s orange blossom in a particular fragrance, it tends to smell of soap to me. I truly think that there is something about the interaction of orange blossom and my skin that creates the illusion of soap. Every time I wear something heavy on the OB, I’ll ask family members, individually, what they think, and invariably I’ll get the answer, “That smells like soap.” Sometimes the response is positive, as it is with Esprit d’Oscar: my husband, when asked, said, “That’s nice and clean. Very pleasant. Honestly, it smells like you just showered with one of those fancy soaps.”

Thing is, I don’t actually use fancy soaps. I always buy shower gel of some kind or other, because our water is very hard (calcium carbonate) and soap leaves impossible-to-eradicate scum in the showers. The shower gels always lack that creamy sort of smell that I think of as being classic soap.

The longer Esprit is on, the more musk I smell. It’s a clean sort of musk, but of the variety I call “skin,” as opposed to “laundry.” A quick drugstore reference, if I’m not making sense to you here: “skin” musk is Jovan Musk for Women, or, duh, Parfums de Coeur Skin Musk. These are warm, gentle perfumes that smell like clean skin, and since Jovan Musk was one of my mother’s everyday fragrances when I was a kid, skin-musk scents tend to strike me as being warm, clean, and comforting. “Laundry” musk is easily smellable in Jovan White Musk, which smells like harsh industrial soap to me, that nasty chemical stuff they use in hospital laundries. I happen to like musk, as long as it doesn’t encroach on what I call “goaty” musk. (Ever smell a goat up close? Do yourself a favor, and don’t. I like goats, but the smell is fairly beastly. Maybe I just like the idea of goats. Ahem. We’re leaving the goat pen behind. No dallying with Muscs Koublai Khan or Smell Bent Commando, now. Press onward.)

The overall effect of Esprit d’Oscar is pretty and clean and perfumey, but at the same time, it seems vastly more unisex than Oscar. It’s very easy to wear, and I doubt you’d offend anyone if you were drenched in the stuff, so it might make a great gift, and I think it’s a perfect office, or “wallpaper” scent, the kind that hangs around like a veil and smells pleasant without drawing notice to itself. The clean angle and the skin musk take it out of that dated, heavy-floral realm that Oscar is now situated in.

Esprit d’Oscar is an eau de parfum and lasts pretty well on my skin, probably due to the musk. I usually get about four to five hours, dabbed moderately. It might last even longer sprayed, but I have a dabber sample (now mostly used and enjoyed). It’s available at certain department stores from $78 for a 50ml bottle, and $98 for a 100ml one. I don’t yet see any body products or miniatures in production, but if it sells well, as it should, those will probably be produced.

See other reviews of Esprit d’Oscar here: Angela at Now Smell ThisBrian at I Smell Therefore I Am, Marina at Perfume-Smellin’ Things.  (As always, if you know of other reviews, please share!) 

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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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Vintage Venture Perfume Review: Balmain Jolie Madame

I’m hoping that this will be the first of many reviews of vintage fragrances, since I’ve collected so many miniature vintage scents (no, you really don’t want to  know how many!), and they’re so different from everything else currently available, even niche fragrances.  Look for a post soon on “falling down the vintage rabbit hole.”

Jolie Madame, composed by the acclaimed Germaine Cellier, she of Vent Vert and Bandit and Fracas, was released by the couture house of Pierre Balmain in 1953.  It is a classic, and thus squarely in my testing sights.  I’d read numerous reviews on Basenotes and Fragrantica and perfume blogs, and Tania Sanchez’ review in Perfumes: The Guide had further piqued my interest.  A sample sat on my Perfumed Court wishlist for several months, while I debated with myself.  I’d already tested Chanel Cuir de Russie and found it just too hideous for words, but then my darling  Seven-League Boots vintage No. 19 had discernible leather in its base, and I loved that… should I test Jolie Madame, or not bother?  I considered.  I waffled.  I temporized.

I considered the notes again, and waffled once more.  I couldn’t make sense of them.  Artemisia? Castoreum?  With gardenia?  Weird.  Freaky.  And everybody said, It’s got violets.  They’re not listed in the official notes, but they’re there.  Well… violets, you say?  And leather?  I don’t knooow, I said, doubtfully.

Notes for Jolie Madame, from Fragrantica:  Top notes are artemisia, coriander, gardenia, neroli and bergamot; middle notes are tuberose, narcissus, orris root, jasmine and rose; base notes are leather, patchouli, musk, coconut, civet, oakmoss and vetiver. 

But after reading Angela’s lovely review of Jolie Madame on Now Smell This, I rushed right over to eBay to troll for a small bottle.  The only one I could find was  a micromini bottle, clearly old and only half-full.  It was the same price as a sample of vintage extrait at TPC, so I bought it.  When it arrived, the bottle was about an inch tall, and the juice inside was a dark yellow-amber, the color of good iced tea – maybe a milliliter and a half in there, I surmised.  It looked oily.  I unscrewed the metal cap and carefully eased off the plastic stopper inside, oh so sloooowly… dang!  One drop fell from the stopper onto my good white shirt.  Hope it doesn’t stain! I thought.  And then I took a good sniff.

Oh, my.

My mouth fell open, and I kept breathing it in.  Oh.  Oh, my.  I’d never smelled anything like this before: a bitter, crushed-stems herbal green, and sweet fresh flowers, and somewhere in the background the intoxicating smell of my first leather briefcase.  Oh, my.  It smelled like mossy green and bright brown and orchid purple, startling and lovely, both eerie and entirely natural.  It was like the face in that Jolie Madame ad: all angular bones, soft lips, and haunting deep eyes.  That one drop carried me six hours on a cloud of wonder.  It was stunning.  I only had a tiny, tiny bit.  I wanted more

So I went immediately back to ebay and set up one of those automatic searches for “vintage jolie madame,” and monitored it vigilantly for six months, eventually scoring two more partially-used, quarter-ounce bottles of extrait, a full eighth-ounce bottle in a set of ten different classic scents in parfum, and a larger bottle of (possibly) 1990’s-era EdT.    My extrait bottles look like the ones in the picture above: plain rectangular glass with an incised B on the round brown cap, with the label rakishly set on the corner.  The packaging is a clever twist on a simple structure – even though the bottles are plain and the labels just white lettering on brown paper, the diagonal application is like a proper hat set at a flirty angle.  It bats its eyelashes and says, “I am stylish.  I am tway, tway Fwansh. You know you want me.”   Well… yes.  Yes, I do. 

Each one of the bottles of extrait smells different.  The tiny one smells the most heavenly to me, because its florals are so fresh and green next to the leather that, as Angela puts it, it’s as if you broke into a florist’s shop and shoved all the blooms you could grab into your nice leather handbag.  Yes, that’s it exactlyflowers and stems and the softly pungent smell of good suede.  One bottle smells mostly of leather and sharp herbal greens, with an overlay of jasmine.  Another bottle smells of gardenia, violets, and leather briefcase, with a bit of citrus (bergamot?)  in the top which is not apparent in my other bottles.  The small bottle from the collection is lovely but a little bit schizophrenic, with lots of green herbs followed by violets, and then an astringent, vetiverlike leather.  You get Bitter, then Sweeeet, then Bitter again.  It’s utterly fascinating, a sandwich cookie of Freakishly exaggerated and Pretty in the middle

The various bottles of extrait all last varying lengths of time on skin, from about three hours to six.  I think this variation must be a function of age – that tiny bottle seems the most concentrated, probably due to evaporation.  Sillage is very gentle.

My EdT bottle looks like this.  (Apparently it had belonged to an elderly woman who’d gone into a nursing home, and her niece was selling some of her aunt’s china knickknacks, purses and bottles of perfume, so I don’t actually know how old it is. I just know it’s not the current packaging.)  I admit to tossing the goofy white bow, because it made cap removal and replacement fiddly, and also because it just looks dumb.  This is a hideous bottle, I think – all the charm of the classic Balmain packaging is gone.  Round shoulders, gilded-plastic cap, plain gray paper label; the appearance adds up to Insipid and Boring.  Hmph.  It’s all the more ridiculous because the fragrance inside the EdT bottle is sharply tailored, no-nonsense, Invisible Armor and don’t you forget I’m in charge! in a way that the extrait is not.  Weird the extrait may be, with its stark contrasts between green herbs, gardenia and violet, and leather, but it isn’t as aggressive as the EdT.  I wear the EdT on days when I need extra backbone.  To be honest, I’d contradict the P:TG reviews – Jolie Madame in EdT is the heartless one, not Chanel No. 19.  The EdT lasts about four hours on me (on the long side of my average experience with most EdTs), and throws a little more sillage than the extrait.  In fact, it’s a little more sillage than I usually like, but when I’m wearing the EdT, I don’t feel like being nicey-nice and polite, so that’s all to the good.

(I stay away from The CEO on those days, too – he really dislikes the EdT of Jolie Madame.  He doesn’t care much for the extrait, either, but it is softer and wears closer to the skin.  Sometimes I’ll layer a dab of some sweet violet thing like Soivohle Violets & Rainwater or Goutal La Violetta next to the extrait,  just to tone down the bitterness, and he doesn’t seem to mind that combination.)

I’d never have guessed how much I would love the old Jolie Madame (“pretty lady” in French, which seems a bit inadequate to describe how it really smells).  Love leather? Me?  But I do.  I treasure my little bottles of extrait, only wearing it when I can devote some time to enjoying the experience.  It is really beautiful. 

I have not smelled the modern version, which I understand is somewhat thinner and brighter but not entirely ruined by reformulation.  If you’ve smelled what they’re currently putting out in that very-elegant rectangular bottle as well as the vintage, please share.  (Oh, and if you’re concerned about my favorite white shirt – it survived.  The stain came out, but the shirt carried a faint whiff of Jolie Madame for weeks.)

Besides the Now Smell This review mentioned above, here are some other reviews of Jolie Madame:  Bois de JasminMarch at Perfume Posse,  Grain de Musc (brief mention), Olfactarama (brief mention), Sweet DivaPerfume Shrine, Yesterday’s Perfume.

Top Image: Jolie Madame from Parfum de Pub, via NST.  Second Image: Colors Perfumes and Tastes of the Wood by Giancarlo Mella at flickr.com.  Third Image: Jolie Madame from salenetone at ebay.

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Perfume Review: Magie Noire (vintage)

 

All Hallows’ Eve approaches. I’ve been waiting to review this perfume for months, and so I suppose I’ve had months to think about it but had not yet written a post before today. I first heard of Magie Noire last spring, from a commenter on one of the perfume blogs. I no longer remember which one. In any case, the comment was something like, “Magie Noire is the most sensual potion I’ve ever smelled, I’m so sad they’ve reformulated it.” I didn’t know much about what to expect from a list of notes at the time, and I thought it would be a good idea to find a home for vintage Magie Noire, so I trolled ebay for it. What luck! A mini bottle of vintage edt for something like $12 including shipping. The seller had several on hand, having inherited her parents’ pharmacy. She was attempting to clear the back room of old fragrances they had bought in the 80’s and stored.

I bought it. On the day it was delivered, the weather here was warm and characteristic of early spring. Daffodils were out; I was wearing a spring green blouse. I came home from work and found my package in the mailbox. The box was ugly – black, with russet, orange and gold curving stripes and zodiacal symbols on it. I rolled my eyes (those crazy mystical types! The things they’ll buy!) and opened it, expecting the tones of the spicy floral oriental of Fragrantica.com’s listing. The top was a bit tight, so I had to work it loose, getting a drop on my fingers in the process.

This is what went through my head: What the heck? This is NOT an Oriental! I jerked my hand away from my nose. What the heck IS thi – wait a second, I want to smell that again. I did smell it again. And again and again. I sat at the computer desk in the basement for what seemed like hours, just sniffing. I didn’t have to bring my hand to my nose; the sillage was tremendous.

I was immediately transported to an evening from my first year at college, when I was walking back to my dorm after a choral dress rehearsal that had gone late. It was not raining, but it had rained earlier in the day, so that the dead leaves, oak and maple, felt like just-made papier mache’ under my feet. A huge harvest moon sailed overhead, shining pale orange as clouds scudded behind it. The wind blew in swirls. I remember being stunned by beauty. I didn’t stop at my dorm; I kept walking in this windy November night: through the little cemetery, through the Dell, up Observatory Hill. It grew chilly. I walked back to my dorm. I barely slept, for the moonlight and the drama and the silence, for the romance and the longing.

Coming back from the past on that spring afternoon, I realized that the weather had changed. It had been sunny and pleasant, but while I was dreaming the clouds had come in and covered the sun. It had begun to rain. I had the eerie feeling that Magie Noire had effected the change all on its own.

Notes for MN: Created by Gerard Goupy, released by Lancome in 1978. I keep seeing it classified on perfume forums like fragrantica and basenotes as a floral oriental. This is crazy talk (at least for the vintage version). It is clearly a woody chypre with floral elements, and a Big, Honkin’, I Mean Business Chypre to boot. A man could wear this, if he had enough confidence and a very, very light hand on the applicator.
Top: Blackcurrant buds, galbanum, raspberry, hyacinth, bergamot.
Heart: honey, tuberose, orris root, jasmine, ylang, lily of the valley, cedar, narcissus, Bulgarian rose.
Base: spices, sandalwood, amber, patchouli, musk, civet, oakmoss, vetiver.

Some fragrances are far, far more than the sum of their notes. This is one of those fragrances. I could not tease out individual notes at all the first few times I wore it. I still cannot identify more than a few: the cassis buds stand out as always. Narcissus has become a favorite, and after falling in love with PdN Le Temps d’une Fete, I can pick it out now. There is a ton of oakmoss and vetiver in this, too. And although it’s not listed, I seem to smell something quite herbal, like coriander, in the top notes. Everything else is a blur, even tuberose and rose, two more favorites of mine. I freely admit that my bottle may not have been stored properly. In fact, I can’t imagine that it was kept properly in a warehouse in California for 25+ years. It doesn’t matter to me whether it smells the way it did when it was created, because it smells amazing.

I cannot wear Magie Noire frequently – I have only worn it a handful of times, and only in very small doses. For one thing, it seems to call for cool weather, and particularly weather in which one might wear a sweater and boots. For another, the sillage is so enormous that it seems wrong to subject other people to it. Lastly, Magie Noire hijacks my thought processes. If I wear it, I can think of nothing else, but am lost in the sensuality, the elemental earthy quality of it. It makes me think of people who worshiped the Earth and its powers, its changing seasons, in centuries past and – who knows? Even now. I am not comfortable in it, but when I wear it I do not want comfort. I am like Bilbo Baggins, unceremoniously yanked from his cozy burrow and set on a quest for treasure.

Magie Noire turns. It turns like the turning of the seasons – it cartwheels, rotates, opens doors ponderous on their hinges. The wind blows in with a blast when the door is opened into November forest, floor damp and spongy with leaf mould, glowing rose at the heart like shafts of sunlight through treetops. It is the death of many leaves and the life of trees, the heart of the earth beating under a blanket of dead leaves and moss. It is warm under the blanket, when the night air is chilly. There now, don’t cry at the loss of the summer: we will make our own. It will be fecund and humid with exhalations from our mouths, and this will be our own summer. It is a kind of magic, do you see?

One of the songs we’d been rehearsing that November night was a piece by Samuel Barber, with text by James Stephens: The Coolin (The Fair Haired One). Here is the poem, and following it is a link to a beautiful rendition I found on youtube.

Come with me, under my coat,
And we will drink our fill
Of the milk of the white goat,
Or wine if it be thy will.
 
Reincarnations: The Coolin (Barber/Stephens), about 3:45 minutes long.

And we will talk, until
Talk is a trouble, too,
Out on the side of the hill;
And nothing is left to do,

But an eye to look into an eye;
And a hand in a hand to slip;
And a sigh to answer a sigh;
And a lip to find out a lip!

What if the night be black!
Or the air on the mountain chill!
Where the goat lies down in her track,
And all but the fern is still!

Stay with me, under my coat!
And we will drink our fill
Of the milk of the white goat,
Out on the side of the hill!

I have no info on the top image, having found it on a free image site – but I can’t remember where or when.  If you know, please tell me and I’ll credit it properly.  Bottom image is my own bottle of Magie Noire, bought off ebay.

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My Mother Wore Chanel No. 5

I came to the investigation of perfume with emotional baggage (don’t we all?): Chanel No. 5 is the scent of my mother. I cannot smell it without thinking of her – the person who is my mother, and my mother who is a person, by which I suppose I mean both the individual and the role.

Sometime in my teens, it began to feel odd to me to call my mother “Mama,” since all my friends said “Mom” instead. So I changed. But in my early childhood, “Mama” she was, and Mama wore Chanel No. 5 eau de cologne. She’d grown up in a very frugal household, and my father was also quite a frugal person, and like many others of her generation, perfume was only for special occasions, and if she was wearing pantyhose, the perfume would follow. I remember watching her get ready for some social event – a concert, probably, or perhaps a Christmas dinner for my dad’s office – and as soon as she’d gotten dressed and put on her shoes, it was time for perfume. She’d dab some from the bottle onto the base of her neck, her wrists, and behind each ear. I always asked to sniff the bottle, and I always recoiled from the bright-lights and bug spray smell that came from it. It was hard for me to understand that that nasty smell would turn into a floral, intensely powdery, very feminine scent on Mama’s skin.

Eventually that bottle of No. 5 ran dry. It was replaced, briefly and unsatisfyingly, by Anais Anais, and then later by Coty L’Effleur, and still later by Elizabeth Arden’s 5th Avenue, all of which are strongly floral and containing at least some element of bathtime, either soap and/or powder.

As a young woman looking for a scent to call mine, I automatically crossed No. 5 off my list. I’d pick up a bottle in a department store from time to time, sniff, and think, “Nope, too powdery and cold. And anyway, that’s Mom’s perfume.” As recently as last year, I was still thinking, “Oh, I can’t wear No. 5. It’s too powdery. It smells like my mother.” And that was my mindset: Chanel No. 5 is a classic, an icon, a lovely scent that resembles the cold marble perfection of a Michelangelo statue, giving off Don’t Touch Me vibes. Uh-uh, not for me, not this girl, no way no how.

And then… dum dum DUM… the ebay auction. I was looking for a bottle of parfum to give Mom, since the miniature bottle of Eau Premiere I had found for her was perfectly pleasant, but somehow not as nice on Mom as it was on me (more on that in a few days.) Then, too, the perfume blogs were full of outrage over the IFRA restrictions on fragrance ingredients like jasmine and oakmoss (both of which are components of No. 5), and how awful it was that many classics were going to be reformulated, if they hadn’t been already, and how it might be time to go hunt up vintage bottles of this and that on ebay…

So I bit. I started watching auctions for “vintage No. 5 parfum.” Bid on a few and lost. Bid on a few and got horrified at the prices. Read many many blog comments saying, “Watch out for fake Chanel perfume on ebay!” and “Beware of ebay sellers filling an old parfum bottle with new cologne!” Checked on the price of a new bottle (eek! $155 for half an ounce). Bid on an old, opened-and-slightly-used 1-ounce bottle of parfum… watched over the auction like a mother hen her chicks… and it was mine, for $33 including shipping.

The bottle arrived. I opened it, deeply suspicious – how could it be such a pale color, when we know that jasmine scents tend to go orange with age, and the box was clearly so 1950’s? – and was surprised not to be knocked over by the aldehydes. They were there, but quite muted. “Cologne,” I sighed out loud. “Cheaters.” Ah, well – it was recognizably No. 5, and even if it was cologne, it was worth something, right? I smeared two healthy dabs onto my wrists and went to eat lunch, musing that aldehydes are weird molecules, smelling as they do of soap, candle wax, and glacier ice.

Half an hour later, I became aware that I was moving in a cloud of gorgeousness, and my mouth dropped open. This wasn’t cologne, this was No. 5 parfum, the Grand Dame of Classic Perfumery. This was No. 5 as I had never smelled it: intensely floral, seamlessly blended, with a sort of golden glow that made me think of angels. I wandered about the house kicking myself because I could have been smelling like this, instead of all those drugstore fragrances, all my life! Still later, as the florals began to subside into a base dominated by real sandalwood and a glowing musk, I was astonished at the way the scent seemed dry and cool, yet at the same time rich and smooth. This was a drydown in the grand old-fashioned style, seemingly composed of nearly every base note in the perfumer’s lexicon. Amazing. Amazingly beautiful. Women should indeed smell like this, I thought.

I have now worn No. 5 extrait de parfum from five different bottles, four vintage and one modern (thanks to Daisy and Belle de Sud, my swapper friends), and every one of these bottles is different, although clearly recognizable as No. 5. I’m sure that most of the differences can be attributable to age and storage conditions, but it’s so strange that the scents are now so divergent from each other. One has loads of aldehydes and a musky drydown; one has wonky topnotes that smell a bit of floor polish and a heart that seems heavy on rose; one is mostly jasmine, iris, and sandalwood, very powdery; one is the bottle I just described – glorious – and one is a modern bottle, which seems to be all there, in the proper proportions, and is crisply edged as a brand-new hundred-dollar bill.

What I like best about No. 5 is its versatility. It seems weightless and ageless; it is unaffected by weather or by events of the day. It could be worn as easily to a fried-chicken picnic as to a symphony concert, and as easily in winter as in summer. Then, too, it seems to smell of money and class: both expensive and beautiful. I even like the fact that it’s fairly ubiquitous among a certain age group, and nearly everyone has smelled it enough to identify it, therefore making it an ideal mask of sorts. If I feel the need to hide my vulnerable, emotional self behind a competent costume, No. 5 is perfect for that. I’m not saying it’s absolutely perfection, mind you, or even that it is the pinnacle of the perfumer’s art. But for what it is – cool, elegantly lovely, and aloof – it is wonderful.

And I’m struck again by the fact that my mother, who’s always preferred tailored to frilly, classic to trendy, plain to fancy, has great taste in scent. I still can’t smell No. 5, in whatever incarnation, without thinking of her. I always smile. For early scent memories, for hugs and kisses, for peanut butter and apple sandwiches, for not killing me outright after I walked nonchalantly across the top bar of the swingset, for homemade dresses and baths and haircuts, for teaching me manners and for the millions of things you’ve done for me… many thanks, Mom. I love you.

Listed notes for No. 5:
Top: aldehydes, bergamot, lemon, neroli, ylang-ylang
Heart: jasmine, rose, lily of the valley, iris
Base: vetiver, sandalwood, vanilla, amber, patchouli, oakmoss, musk


No.5 was composed in 1921 by Ernest Beaux, the fifth of nine options created for Coco Chanel to choose from.  It may be an apocryphal story, but M. Beaux commented that he was inspired by the smell of snow.  (Indeed, having been close to an actual glacier in New Zealand, I can understand the reference.) 

Images, from top to bottom: Chanel No. 5 parfum, from chanel.com
1973 Catherine Deneuve photo Chanel No. 5 pefume ad #2 by 237 at ebay
1959 Elegant Woman Chanel No. 5 perfume ad, from magicelectron at ebay
Mom at my sister’s wedding in 2002

For Christmas, Mom will be getting part of my favorite vintage bottle – I can’t bear to give it up entirely! – and perhaps a bottle of her own. (Sssh, don’t tell her.)

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Perfume Review: Balenciaga Michelle, Or, I Begin to Understand Loud Perfume

Today’s review: Michelle by Balenciaga. Created in 1979 and discontinued some time in the 90’s, so far as I can tell, this oomphy floral carries some of the weight of 80’s-era perfumery, when everything was BIG and LOUD. Remember Opium? Poison? Obsession? YSL Paris? Giorgio Beverly Hills? If you don’t, you probably weren’t born yet. (Although I admit that I never smelled Paris until a few months ago, or at least I don’t remember smelling it before. It must simply not have been popular where I live.)

This is, by and large, a Tuberose Fragrance – not exactly the straight-down-the-gullet tuberose overdose that Fracas does so gloriously, or the richly sweet Estee Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia version, but the tuberose does dominate it, and it is rather effusive in the classic tuberose manner.

Here is where I confess a thing or three:
1) I love tuberose. I used to wear tiny dabs of the original Chloe; I never minded the clouds of Giorgio Beverly Hills that ballooned through the halls of my high school; I used to swoon with jealousy whenever a friend of mine, who wore Sand and Sable, walked by; I adored the original tuberose-and-spice Tatiana perfume; after years of scrimping on perfume and using one bottle at a time of drugstore fragrance, it was Bath and Body Works’ Velvet Tuberose that propelled me headlong into Perfume Love.

2) My mother despises tuberose. I bought a small bottle of Sand and Sable once, after a judicious spritz from the drugstore tester, and my mother made me take it back, claiming that I wasn’t old enough for it (I was 17) and that she didn’t want it in the house anyway. Mom – and by the way, we get along very well! – is queen of powdery florals. She wore No. 5 eau de cologne, Anais Anais, and Coty’s soap-and-baby-powdery L’Effleur.

3) I despise huge, resiny orientals like Opium and Tabu and Youth Dew. Gah. If I were ever to be tortured by SPECTRE or some other nefarious crime ring, there’d be no need for the Chinese water torture or sticking bamboo needles under my fingernails: put me in a small room with a person doused in Opium, and I’ll be begging for release within minutes. Just shoot me now, please! And since those huge, resiny orientals all seem to be Big, Loud Perfumes, with monster sillage, it follows that I hate loud perfumes. I honestly thought that Poison, although not resiny, was one of the worst things I have ever smelled.

It has always seemed crude and socially irresponsible to me that some people seem to bathe in their scent, radiating their favorite smell around them the way Pigpen, in the Peanuts comic strips, raised a cloud of dust everywhere he went. Sure, wear what you want – it’s a free country! – but I resent having someone else’s scent forcibly shoved up my nostrils. Particularly when that scent is as noxious to me as one of the Big, Loud Ones. And doesn’t it seem to happen that the people who are drawn to those SMELL ME! scents are usually the same ones who overapply? I mean, I’ve never smelled someone who seemed to have bathed in, say, Borsari Violetta di Parma, a scent so quiet on me that it utterly disappeared within five minutes.

(I apologize right now to you if you are one of those people who wear Youth Dew or Opium or Coco, or their ilk, in tiny amounts designed to keep the sillage within a two-foot radius of your person. There aren’t a large number of you delicate Poison-appliers.)

Opium is the reason I feel this way, obviously, and just as obviously, there’s a story: It is 1980. I am twelve years old, and I have been saving my piggy-bank money to go see the summer’s blockbuster movie, The Empire Strikes Back. I’ll be in the company of some friends, and Kelley’s mom will drop us off at the Tanglewood Mall Theater and then pick us up afterward. I’m so excited. I’ve only got enough cash for the movie, but Kelley and Beth get buttered popcorn and sodas. As we’re standing there choosing seats in the nearly-full theater, and Kelley’s offering me a sip of her Dr. Pepper out of the “spare straw,” we get a faint whiff of perfume. It disappears. We sit down; the theater is filling up rapidly. Just before the movie starts, an older woman with husband in tow sits down next to me, in the last unclaimed seats. She has bathed in Opium. It rolls off her in waves. My stomach turns over. I trade seats with Beth, but I can still smell Opium Lady, in nauseating detail. Halfway through the movie, I have a pounding headache and a roiling stomach; I have to spend most of the rest of the time sitting on the lobby carpet, breathing deeply and trying not to cry over missing the movie.

You see? Do you SEE why I hate loud perfume?

Sorry for shouting. Loud perfume gets me exercised… which brings me back to Michelle. Yes, my rant notwithstanding, this is actually a perfume review.

I bought a small bottle, for less than $7!!! on ebay, of vintage parfum spray recently. (Parfum spray! Drastically luxuriant!) I had liked both Rumba and Le Dix from the house of Balenciaga, and for seven bucks, I thought it would be worth trying Michelle. Then I read a review (see the bottom of this post) of Michelle that mentioned its “ginormous heart of tuberose and rose,” and I was hitting the “Bid now” button faster than you can say, “Ginormous tuberose.”

I wasn’t too worried about the “bug spray accord” Michelle is reputed to have in its top notes. I’ve tested enough vintage perfume by now to ignore the first five minutes, which frequently contains less-than-pleasant “bug-spray”-like notes, which I had assumed to be stale aldehydes. In any case, the aldehydes are gone quickly, and there is a hint of watery, tropical coconut-and-flowers that says “Hawaii” to me. And then we’re down into the heart of Michelle, which is a glorious tuberose-and-carnation party. There seem to be other florals swirling around the walls at this party – the rose is lovely, the ylang and orchid creamy – but the tuberose and carnation are doing the samba in the middle of the room, with the music turned up LOUD. I mean, LOUD. I applied the perfume about twenty minutes before getting into my minivan to drive the kids to school, and the whole vehicle smelled of it by the time I dropped them off, fifteen minutes after leaving home. I radiated tuberose for hours! If Michelle reminds me of any other perfume, it is Diane Von Furstenberg’s rich tuberose-and-spice Tatiana, which I wore in my late teens. However, Michelle seems more complex and has a lovely drydown of some depth, which Tatiana lacks. The base has an interesting twirl of moss, vanilla, and sandalwood, but compared to the three hours’ worth of tuberose, it is very quiet. The tuberose seems to persist through the drydown, trailing loveliness whenever I move.

And here is my revelation: People wear loud perfume because they love it, and they don’t care what anybody else thinks. (If you’re thinking, Well, DUH!, I wonder how many people you’ve smothered in your past.) I just did not give a flip that some people hate tuberose, because I was swooning in its voluptuous embrace, and it was beautiful. Sometimes you just have to make yourself happy. But I’ll play nice, and not wear Michelle to the theater.

Notes for Balenciaga Michelle (from Perfume Shrine):
Top: Aldehydes, gardenia, green notes, coconut, peach
Heart: Carnation, tuberose, iris, orchid, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose
Base: Sandalwood, oakmoss, musk, benzoin, vanilla, vetiver

Helg at Perfume Shrine has a much more rational review of Michelle here: http://perfumeshrine.blogspot.com/2009/09/balenciaga-michelle-fragrance-review.html. Thanks to her for pushing me into buying this unsniffed.

photos from flickr, some rights reserved
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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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