These three precious floral perfumes were recently induced into my collection, all in vintage, all from junk shops; all, in some ways, too good for this world. Completely of another time. Too old fashioned; too trembling; too sweetly delicate and pure. And while from very different eras, all have similar composition, note lists and structure : in essence, soft flowers, like hand held bouquets from a garden, over gentler, antique musks, and sandalwood, amber and civet (in infinitesimal, well-calibrated proportions) to round off the edges. The space age chemicality of a Byredo Tulipe; or a red Kenzo Flower, are aeons away from this meadow, where we walk along in a flowing white dress, even a carefully tendered hat perhaps, pleasantly rueful in our reflections.
These flowers (all smell of cyclamen, of iris, jasmine, lily, lilac (especially lilac); of magnolia, mimosa, hyacinth, and lily of the valley), are like a perfumer’s imaginary note-painting of real flower essences, like pressed flowers kept in a well-loved album, not invented ones (a Byredo flower, even if you don’t water it, will never, never die): watercoloured ephemerals that will fade like a kiss, but with their soulfulness, remain quite indelible.
Fleurs de Rocaille I have always found quite unbearably poignant. Aside the posy of abovementioned flowers in the heart, which make me think of the English fields in winter as you climb over stone walls and look bleakly at the sky, there is a sharper, more heartrending note in the first notes, here, of violet, gardenia, bergamot and palisander, contrasting orchestrally (and very cleverly) with the pronounced musk note of the base. This perfume implores you not to leave her, to take her into your arms, but you might just find her feverish melancholy too much to take and cruelly, and knowingly, abandon her anyway. Beautifully conceived with perfect balance and harmony, sweet, pure and longing, the clinging vulnerability of Fleurs De Rocaille can sometimes, for me, make this perfume too much to take.
What Nina Ricci now is, and what Nina Ricci once was, is a thing to grieve for. Where Chanel, Guerlain, and to a lesser extent, Caron, have striven for some form of continuity, of lineage in their perfumed histories and of respecting the successes and masterpieces of the past while still attempting to renew their ideas with their latest creations and reach out to younger wearers (succeeding well in the first two cases, failing in the latter), Ricci, once the creator of delicate, feminine florals, is now the progenitor of such monstrosities as that nauseating, red plastic Nina, a scent that could make a poor boy gag on its unwholesome, tacky artificiality, while also having the audacity to usurp a far finer creation from the eighties -Nina
(I987) an aldehydic, frosted glass paen to feminitity that I can vividly remember my mother wearing one beautiful summer day to the races – they had been invited to go to Ascott or one of those dressed up fanfares down by an English river, and she was wearing Nina. So fantastically ‘demure’ and eighties and well-crafted, it spun crystalline light beams of pleasure in the atmosphere around it, intermingling with summertime shards of light from the bedroom window; complex, vivacious, like Van Cleef & Arpel’s First, an event; a moment.
But then all of the Nina Riccis were like that. Although I am somewhat tired of it now, L’Air Du Temps (I948), with its exquisitely spiced anglelic carnations and its diaphanous, spectral majesty, is a well-deserved classic, as is Capricci
(I960), a fine and spritely, vernal bouquet that is a Monaco princess encaptured in a bottle, just lovely, otherwordly, quite brilliant. I have never smelled Coeur Joie (I946), but Fleurs De Fleurs (I974) continues the skip through the fairytale, aquarelle meadow, as does Farouche (I973), if in a somewhat more moodily shadowed, even dourish, manner.
Fille D’Eve (I952), like her namesake, is far more knowing in the matters of the flesh in comparison with some of these other Nina Ricci perfumes, more womanly; rapacious; unblushing, showing us that the house, with its fine and high quality roster of perfumes, was not just limited to paintbrush virginality.
Yet Eau De Fleurs, the perfume in question here, is definitely a return to the more familiar and recogizable style of Riccian muted gossamer and romance. It is delightful. Yes, it is dated, if you want to think that way: it smells of the garden parties of years past still flickering softly in the photographs of your mind’s eye’s retina, of lost summers; of the brush of a female relative’s body as she pushes her way past you to serve up some vol au vents, or quiche, or fruit salad, of the laughter of a childhood family gathering: there is a corporality in the musked gentleness of the base notes, pressed against the cotton clad warmness of the flesh in this perfume that makes it approachable and easy to love. Powdery, discreet, yes, but compared to Fleurs De Rocaille, for example, quietly optimistic and self-confident.
I was really delighted to get my hands on a vintage parfum of Quelque Fleurs, my first ever Houbigant perfume, for just five dollars last week in Isezakicho the other week. A beautiful, medallion shaped glass bottle with crenellated indentations and a classic Houbigant label in the middle, the find was, quite simply, a perfume lover’s dream. I knew, of course, that the perfume had gone down the Je Reviens route of degradation and drug store cheaphood before being reinstated, like Je Reviens ‘Couture’, as Quelque Fleurs L’Original. Well this is l’original, ma chérie, and smelling it, you can understand how it could have been commandeered and become the signature scent of burlesque performer Dita Von Teese. An orchid and tuberose-heliotrope, and more fulgent, glistening rose at the heart of this perfume give some vigor on the red-velveted tight rope, blurring the lines muskily, and somewhat tantalizingly, between the traditional demure and the erotic.
For this creature, you hold out more hope. While still, like the others I am writing about here, confined to the dustbin of perfumed history – too fey, passé; too lady-like, now, and hyper-feminized, Houbigant Quelque Fleurs, as originally intended, feels perhaps independent and self-willing enough; eager enough, strong enough, centered; rose-hearted and beautiful, to survive.