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.


Perfume Review: Guerlain Vega

Vega, named for that bright star in the constellation Lyra , was composed by Jacques Guerlain and released in 1936.  It was reorchestrated by Jean-Paul Guerlain and rereleased in 2006.  It is an aldehydic floral with notes of rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, iris, and sandalwood.  I’ll go ahead and say what you’re already thinking: Yes, you’re right.  It is indeed Chanel’s iconic No. 5, done up Guerlain style.

Okay, okay, it isn’t exactly No. 5.  The aldehydes have much less of that brilliant glare of sunshine-on-snow than No. 5’s do; the jasmine is sweeter and more prominent than No.5’s, and the ylang more buttery.  Iris is not the cool, chic Chanel style here, it’s more of the satin ribbon tying the bouquet together, and to be honest I don’t smell a lot of sandalwood in Vega.  The sandalwood is present, but to my nose is utterly eclipsed by that dirty-sweet Guerlinade that I like so much in L’Heure Bleue parfum: woody vanilla, with musk, amber, and tonka, as well as whatever-it-is in Guerlinade that reminds me of cat fur.   The opening is a little soapy, particularly near the skin, but the waft in the air has a juicy, peachy sweetness to it that I like very much.  It’s a happy sort of smell for me – it smells like perfume and it smells like flowers, and after awhile it smells like vanilla.  Gaze gave this one two thumbs up:  “Smells like Nana,” he said.  “Except, you know, it’s sort of fruity.”  The floral blend (rose-jasmine-ylang) is so beautiful that it’s been used in hundreds and hundreds of fragrances, which is why this trio of floral notes is a true classic. 

So, basically… um… fine, I’ll say it again.  Vega is No. 5, Guerlain style.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Vega is a lot like No. 5 with her hair down, lounging on the mussed bed and considering a cigarette; No. 5 sitting on the deck in the sunshine with a lemonade, with her top button undone, laughing and dabbing sweat away from her temples and cleavage; No. 5 at home after she’s wrestled her four kids into bed and read stories and given kisses and fed the dog and collapsed on the couch to have her feet rubbed by her adoring husband.  No high heels, no uncomfortable couture party dress with underwear armor, no diamonds: Vega is beautiful and relaxed and really, really friendly.

Mind you, I think No. 5 is absolutely wonderful, and one of the things I like best about it is that it can be appropriate for all kinds of situations, from fried-chicken picnics to the opera (um, applied discreetly, of course. Dabbed from the parfum bottle is best).  Vega is similarly versatile.  And to me, No. 5 is the comforting, welcome smell of my mother.  Yet for years I found it too cold and a bit harsh, like those TV studio lights that can wash out facial tones.  It’s only within the last year that I’ve begun to appreciate its  bouquet-on-a-marble-stand perfection, and learned that I truly love its sandalwood-iris-musk base.  Had I smelled Vega first, I’d have fallen for it immediately.  Most of the things that people tend to find challenging about No. 5 have been softened in Vega, and I’d bet if No. 5 is hard for you to deal with you might do better with Vega.

Now for the bad news: Vega is hard to find.  Really, really hard to find.  Right now on ebay there are two 4.2 oz tester bottles, being sold at $400 a pop, and one bee bottle of the same size (125ml) for $350.  The Guerlain website lists it in a 60ml bottle in the “exclusive fragrances” line.  I managed to jump in on a bottle split, and I have a 5ml decant that is rapidly disappearing.  That’s the other part of the bad news: Vega is EdT concentration, and it’s got standard EdT lasting power – about three hours on me.  I have recently begun following the “spray until wet” technique for lightweight scents and getting better staying power from them, but I cannot do this with Vega.  Spray Until Wet leads to aldehyde headaches, even though Vega’s aldehydes are fairly gentle for an aldehydic floral.  Therefore, I’m stuck with reapplying every three hours if I want to keep smelling Vega, which I do.

Oddly, nobody seems to be talking about this one in recent days.  Fragrantica doesn’t even list it.  Nobody mentions, “Oh, I’m wearing Vega today,” at the lazy weekend polls at Now Smell This.  Or maybe it isn’t so odd: Vega isn’t new, it’s pricey, it was released four years ago, it’s a boutique exclusive and hard to find.  Also, lovers of aldehydic florals have plenty else to wear: No. 5,  No. 22, Liu, Chamade, Caron Nocturnes, Divine L’Ame Soeur, White Linen and Pure White Linen, L’Interdit, Le Dix, Arpege, My Sin, Climat, L’Aimant, Calandre, Rive Gauche, Je Reviens, Madame Rochas…  the list is long.  I’m finding that with few exceptions (the Lauders, of course, and the sugary disaster of No. 22 on me), I really love aldehydic florals.  You’ll be seeing more reviews of these sparkly gems here as time goes on.   

Other reviews: Bois de Jasmin, Patty at Perfume Posse, Marina at Perfume-Smellin’ Things, Victoria’s Own.  Brief but telling description of Vega in Angela’s post at Now Smell This.

Top image of the Vega bottle is from the blog Victoria’s Own.  (Isn’t that gorgeous? The bottle is really beautiful.)  The vintage Vega ad is from Perfume-Smellin’ Things.  It doesn’t really get across the soft, approachable smiling nature of Vega, but the rays of light fit very well.


Perfume Review: Rochas Tocadilly


I ran across the mention of this one back when I was doing that post on lilac scents, and since I couldn’t find a sample anywhere, I went ahead and sprang for a small 1 oz bottle at an online discounter.  Helg at Perfume Shrine loves this thing – here’s her review – and mentions it in comments to a post on wisteria notes by Octavian at 1000 Fragrances.  At the time I bought Tocadilly, my neighbor’s lilac and wisteria bushes were merrily blooming, and I was stopping my car in her driveway every day,  just to have a good sniff (thanks, Debbie!).

Despite the dire warnings of March at Perfume Posse, who calls herself a victim of that Perfume Shrine review, I yanked Tocadilly out of that garish box and sprayed it on.  Lavishly.  Which is not like me, but I had been terribly disappointed by the utter evanescence of En Passant the previous week, and I was determined to actually smell a lilac perfume before the lilac blooms fell.

Tocadilly, with notes of cucumber, lilac, coconut, hyacinth, jasmine and sandalwood, is actually very pleasant.  It is only like En Passant for a very brief moment in the opening, when I smell that watery-cucumbery note over the lilac, and then Tocadilly’s other components settle in.  Where En Passant is transparent and light as air, Tocadilly is clean but more opaque, like the frosted glass of its bottle.  The fragrance is quite congruent with the colors used in the packaging – lavender, blue and green, and although I still hate the cap as much as I hate it on That Slut Tocade, the colors are just right and the bottle feels wonderful in my hand.  There isn’t much relation to Tocade, by the way, other than a tiny tiny hint of Tocade’s smoky vanilla way down in the base of Tocadilly, and a similar light-hearted, “just for fun,” attitude.

If I hoover my wrist, I can detect a pretty lilac note that – miraculously! – does not make me think of air freshener, and a quiet jasmine.  There is also something else vaguely floral which I can only assume is the wisteria note (glycine).  The effect is of very muted, light florals with an aqueous cast.  Helg mentions pear in her review, but I don’t smell that note which I love so much in Goutal’s Petite Cherie.  I don’t smell Calone in there either, but I tend to like Calone in small quantities anyway, having missed the Calone Overdose Years in Perfumedom.  If you are sensitive to watery notes, you’ll probably want to give Tocadilly a miss.  I suspect this watery cast is what many perfumistas, being tired of the plethora of marine fragrances, dislike about it.  There’s also a faintly spicy flavor to the florals here, an almost clovey-anisey angle that I smell in live lilac and hyacinth blossoms.

In the base, and wafting up through the misty florals, is a milky, powdery musk.  I don’t smell the kind of oily sweet coconut I associate with suntan oil and pina coladas, but I am sure the coconut note is providing this smooth milky quality.  There’s also a light woody vanilla note; if there’s real sandalwood in there, I’ll eat my straw hat, but whatever synthetic sandalwood Tocadilly uses, it’s gentle and soft.  Most notable to me about the base is the quality of the musk.  It isn’t listed in the notes, but trust me, it’s there, and it seems to be the same kind of musk that I like so much in Gres Cabaret: cushiony and comfortable while managing never to make me think of detergent.  I have a special dislike for the flat harshness of “laundry musk,” which ruined Ineke’s lilac fragrance After My Own Heart for me, but Tocadilly’s musk I find very pleasant.

The general effect of Tocadilly is of a garden full of lilac and wisteria blooms, just after a rain, when the air is full of moisture and the wafting odors of the blossoms.  I like it very much.  It’s refreshing and gentle, and I have enjoyed wearing it to work several times this spring.  An informal poll indicates that my family, friends and coworkers find it attractive, with no one disliking it.  The descriptions ranged from “flowery” to “clean and fresh.”  Taz said “not bad,” an accolade from him, and Gaze said it was “not very exciting, but nice anyway.”  (I have high hopes for that boy’s tastes.) 

Lasting power is fairly good for an eau de toilette, probably due to that pillowy musk.  I get about four to five hours’ worth of ride, with the gentle type of sillage I like best.  Tocadilly’s getting hard to find, but it was well worth the $19 I paid for my small bottle.  I’ll be wearing it frequently.

Top image of Tocadilly via fragrantica.  Lower image is lilacs-clouds from JeremyOK at flickr.


Perfume Review: Dior J’Adore L’Absolu

I almost never notice perfume ads, except for the ones posted on perfume blogs, specifically the “new launch for Perfume X” and “I hate this ad” posts.  Probably that’s because A) I don’t watch a lot of TV,  B)I don’t subscribe to any fashion magazines, and C) I live nowhere near a large city where I might see a billboard, or an in-store ad.  If I’m shopping for something other than food, I’m probably at Lowe’s, or Dick’s Sporting Goods, not Macy’s, and that’s a semi-sad commentary on the shopping excitement of a mother of three.

Okay, so I do watch some TV.  But it’s likely to be either the Discovery Channel or the Food Network, neither of which is big on fragrance advertising.  And having said that, I have to admit that even I saw that TV spot for J’Adore.  You know the one: starring the lovely Charlize Theron in a slightly-suggestive, upscale striptease.  It’s been around for several years, apparently, but I hadn’t seen it until, oh,  Christmas 2008, and I really only noticed because The CEO and I were watching some movie on TV.  Usually he flips around during commercials (does that behavior come standard with a Y chromosome??), but he stopped dead and said, in reverent tones, “Look!  Is that Charlize Theron?”

“Looks like it,” I said.  “And she’s taking off her clothes,” I pointed out, helpfully, knowing that he’s a fan.

“Yes, she is,” he replied, smiling, and didn’t change the channel until the sultry voice-over of “J’Adore… Dior” had finished.

I admit, a little shamefacedly, to not hating that ad.  I should be offended as heck by the Perfume = Sex framework, which generally bugs me.  The not-so-subliminal message is, of course, that J’Adore makes beautiful women take their clothes off.  But I watched Charlize stalk through this gorgeous house in her Manolos and gold beaded evening gown and jewelry, flinging it all off with what looks like relief after the stress of an awards gala, saying things like, “Gold is cold, diamonds are dead… Don’t pretend, feel what’s real.”   And I thought, “Hmm.  If it smells real, I might like that.”

I’d be willing to bet that a lot of women get J’Adore as a romantic gift from their boyfriends and husbands who bought into the “this perfume gets hot women naked” angle, and possibly because of its romantic name: “I adore you” in French.  Also, the bottle is rather attractive, which is always a plus for men buying Valentine’s Day and anniversary gifts.  J’Adore was composed by Calice Becker (who has composed a number of scents that I really like) and released in 1999 as a fruity floral, with accents of plum, jasmine, and orchid. 

So I went into Macy’s one day, right at the very beginning of my interest in perfume, and trawled the fragrance section, picking up various bottles and sniffing them.  I was so new to the experience that I didn’t even know what a mouillette (scent strip) was for.  I hated Deseo and Pink Sugar, was repelled for the hundredth time by the sharpness of Shalimar edt, and really enjoyed MJ Daisy.  A tester of J’Adore beckoned, and I sprayed a little in the air and sniffed.

I did not like it.  It smelled metallic and chemical to me — and I’ll remind you that at that point in my sniffage, I was used to drugstore fragrances and body splashes from Bath and Body Works, and therefore well-acquainted with synthetic aromachemicals.  J’Adore smelled to me like it was an honest but failed attempt to produce something that smelled like fresh flowers and warm skin.  I was annoyed at the fake smell of the “feel what’s real” perfume, and crossed it very firmly off my list. 

But after reading a review of L’Absolu in Perfumes: The Guide, I thought, “You know, it could have been good with more naturals; I’ll hunt up a sample.”  And when one came my way in a sample swap, I expected something better from it.

Notes for J’Adore L’Absolu: mandarin, champaca, ivy, jasmine, orchid, rose, ylang, tuberose, plum, amaranth wood, blackberry musk.

L’Absolu, a limited edition that can now be found at some online discounters, is indeed far nicer than the original.  There’s lots of good jasmine and rose in here, with some creamy ylang-ylang and a tuberose that I didn’t notice in the original version.  Everything is blended and pretty; the drydown is coherent and pleasant, and seems like it might actually contain some of that bright-smelling Australian sandalwood oil rather than a generic “woods” note.  It’s attractive start to finish, and I think this is the way the standard version of J’Adore should have smelled: worthy of its Dior heritage.

And at the same time, I can’t help but think that I should have been wearing something like it when I was sixteen, instead of the enormous, flirty, white-flowers-and-the-kitchen-sink Chloe that I actually did wear.  J’Adore L’Absolu is perfectly pretty, a nice background scent, and a fragrance that I would find entirely appropriate on my fourteen-year-old daughter.  It feels a little too young, and perhaps too naive, for me to wear. 

I notice that I’m having this reaction toward lovely, happy florals lately — anything that would have captured my heart when I was twenty and which smells like the olfactory equivalent of a cloudless summer day just depresses me now.  Which, of course, says a lot more about me than it does about the fragrance in question.  J’Adore L’Absolu, Van Cleef & Arpels First Premier Bouquet, Teo Cabanel Julia, Keiko Mecheri Mogador… beautiful, well-done, interesting, summery florals all.  And they all made me feel like I had an elephant sitting on my chest.

I don’t know why.  Green florals often have a youthful, fresh-faced quality, and that genre is one of my favorites.  I never seem to feel old and tired when I wear them — not even the tender, young Vacances or Crown Bouquet makes me feel my age. 

And it’s not that I mind straight-up florals.  I think the difference is that the ones I mentioned above seem romantic to me: hopeful, wide-eyed, starry, hearts-n-flowers romantic.  Girlish I can wear.  Simple I can do.  Romantic?  Makes me feel like an idiot.  The CEO and I are coming up on eighteen years of marriage.   I don’t want to imply that it stinks, because it doesn’t.  But romance seems very silly to me at the moment.

Here’s the only blog review I could find for J’Adore L’absolu:  Patty at Perfume Posse.  There’s also a brief description of the original at Bois de Jasmin, and a thorough, thoughtful review of the original at Perfume Shrine.

Top image is from Fragrantica.  Second image is courtesy of Perfume Shrine. Lower image is Flowers store from EmilyBi at flickr.