FAME by CORDAY (1946)


Each morning when I wake up I reach for a scent ( I am surrounded by perfume, our bedroom a museum ), just to start the day, to line it with smell, to dip it in my reality. This morning, I was for some reason drawn towards Fame by Corday, an obscure and rare perfume I found at a second hand store in Kamakura and which I haven’t spent much time with, but which this morning, a hot and steamy affair with the cicadas outside in new chorus, and the plants on the balcony suddenly splurging in growth, suits the deliciously humid heat of summer mood perfectly.

This thing is gorgeous. And it’s nice for once to experience a vintage perfume that is not fixated on elegance, motherhood, tenderness, wistfulness, vulnerability, girlishness or societal righteousness, nor, on the other end of the scale, on glowering, femme fatale tropes of the Barbara Stanwyck school of cigar-toting double indemnity. Usually, much of the old scent is centred around these good girl modes of smelling, of being either the future wife, or the devilishly irresistible, but dark and a touch self-hating, fur-draped bit on the side.

Fame, however, is far more independent, existing more for beauty just for beauty’s sake, more self sufficient and independent to the point of foolhardiness: this woman (thinks that) she just doesn’t need anyone else  – except, perhaps, for her audience. The perfume, golden yellow with tropical pollen,  is a rich, solar, velvet-moth jasmine, cushion motes leaning beneath its corona of captured white flower essences;  civet and tobacco flower, benzoin and Peru balsam;  nods, perhaps, also, to the exquisite Vol De Nuit by Guerlain in its jonquil and irisian purrings, and also the lovely Bourjois Soir De Paris with its almost medicinal, antiseptic glow. Like gardenias in the dead heat of a summer’s night, lurking in the shadows of bushes but breathing steadily, the flowers in this perfume are bodied, stamened, and three dimensional – not compromised nor prettified à la Ricci; entombed in glacial splendour à la Chanel; nor even luxed and powdered into fulminations of gloriously beautiful parfum, à la Guerlain.

Rather, all here is as free as the waters of a beach: liberated, touched by soleil: a flower perfume, long gone but captured in my bottle and alive, and heady, a scent that this morning I am finding to be quite delightful, even inspirational.


Filed under Flowers

15 responses to “FAME by CORDAY (1946)

  1. What a lovely review! Your writing is sheer poetry!

  2. Grayspoole

    Hello Neil-

    I had to pop in to tell you how much I enjoyed this post. No one ever seems to discuss the old Corday perfumes except, perhaps, Toujours Moi. (I think that Tabu-like oriental was meant for the “dark and a touch self-hating, fur-draped bit”…) And I agree with you that there is something cartoonish about 1950’s perfume marketing, whipsawing between good girl/bad girl gender stereotypes…mantraps, brides, mistresses, Mrs. Exeter, tigresses, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

    But Fame is just a beautiful perfume, as you say. Jasmine to die for, gardenia, and a stemmy green lily of the valley (or is it hydroxycitronellal…whatever). To me, Fame is Diorissimo with much more passion and flesh on its bones, or Joy without the roses. I wish I knew more about the otherworldly jasmine that one finds in vintage perfumes such as Fame and Joy…how did they DO it? where did they GET it?

    Have you tried Possession? It has the same gorgeous jasmine, but it is less green, spicier, and more richly floral.. I haven’t played the game of wearing Fame and Possession side-by-side, but now that I have thought of it, I just might. (Good armor for a tough day at work, I think: blast ‘em with Fame from one arm and then hit’em with Possession on the other.)

    Enjoy a beautifully scented weekend!

    • Wow. How alluring Possession sounds: I adore that name. And how does a person get his hands on these vanished treasures? I only bought it on a whim, I passed on it the first time would you believe (even though it was only ten dollars) because I was trying to be frugal. And then I read on Perfumed Court that it was a civet bomb Arpege type of thing but this morning it was nothing of the sort. As you say, a jasmine to die for, totally luminous. Possession sounds equally fascinating!

  3. Woke up from a fragrance dream this morning – in it, I’d found some rare vintage scent from a house I’d never heard of, and I was moved to rapture – and the feeling you’ve expressed mirrored – enhanced – my own sleeping/just awake bliss. You describe it perfectly. How DO you do it, young man?!

  4. bella ciao

    I loved reading that! I have a sample of ressucitated Fame that Oriza Legrand put together last year so I have been wondering how it would compare to the vintage edition. The “new” one to my nose is mostly powdery, lovely and a bit mummsy. No sign of emancipation, more like the good girl putting on her mother’s fur coat and apricot coloured lipstick. No civet or indolic jasmine to my nose to trouble the 1950ies suburban idyll.

    • Really? That doesn’t chime with the redolent, sun-pooled jasmine that I (and Grayspoole – see the comments above) are so captivated by. I really like Oriza Legrand, actually, and am thinking about getting that ridiculous Jardins D’Armide that I reviewed recently (now that really IS powdery!). I am very intrigued to see what they have done with Fame but what you describe doesn’t sound very similar.

  5. Oh what a glorious way to wake up in the morning, fragranced with a treasure. I have always been terribly curious about the Corday scents, I only have Toujours Moi, which I love and Kai Sang which was very unique. This one sounds like the perfect white flower bouquet for a steamy, hot, summer’s day.
    I have always been eager to try more from this line, but I have so much at the moment that adding to it would be criminal. I am so thrilled that you wrote such a luscious review, now I am able to get a feel for this scent and not add to my collection. Hopefully you will stumble across Possession, on your fragrance hunts, one of these days.

    • You never know……Tell me more about Toujours Moi and Kai Sang. Intrigued.

      • Toujours Moi is a fabulous oriental scent. It is warm, mysterious and has a hint of floral to it that keeps it from becoming to heavy and dense. Kai Sang is also an oriental, but in the exotic and sumptuous vein. I have the Toujours Moi still, but sadly the Kai Sang was just a small bottle that I used with abandon, so it is long gone now. I still hunt eBay for Kai Sang, sadly only one seller has it as part of a set and the set costs $273. Needless to say, I will not be purchasing it.

      • Nice to have experienced these scents though and to store them as part of the mental fragrance library. Once smelled, never forgotten.

  6. HEAVEN!!
    except, perhaps, for her audience.
    Made me laugh out loud. You are brilliant and I am stealing your gem for use in my act.
    Portia xx

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