Tag Archives: 1940s scents

Some roses for winter.

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Nitobe Inazo, author of the classic (if highly supercilious) tome on Japan, Bushido, may consider the Japanese quite superior with their love for the evanescent fleetingness of the cherry blossom flower, a sweet but sorrowful bloom that symbolizes the ‘stoic’ samurai warriors’  desire to sacrifice their lives at the drop of a hat; while the gaijin, or westerner, ‘selfishly’ favours the rose that clings, with every last drop of its life, to the putrifying, stinking stem even when dead ….but I’m sorry, the rose is one of my very favourite flowers, and I imagine that I also will be clinging at my last; thorny and desperate, rather than plunging a sword into my gut and ripping out my innards, all for the sake of appearances and some dull and pointless idea of ‘honour’ (the code of the samurai is much more nuanced and spiritual than this, I realize, but you get my drift: I have never quite forgiven Nitobe for the disdain he shows the non-Japanese in that book, and the rose is an emblem I therefore adhere to even more passionately as a result.)

 

 

 

 

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Anyway, the rose is a tricky one.

 

 

Rose oil, or its synthetic reconstitution, is a component of the vast majority of perfumes, and there are  wildly different interpretations of this flower, meaning that although you may think you hate the rose if you have been brought up on granny talcs, or else Stella, and Paul Smith, and all those uptight, irritating contemporary roses, there still might be a perfume out there that might sway you if you deign to explore the rosaceous galaxy further.

 

Though none in my opinion has ever truly captured the exquisite beauty of a living, breathing flower (surely one of the most enthralling scents in the universe), a few come close, or take the theme to newer, unexpected places.

 

 

Rose is also, my view, a floral that is perfect for winter, not clashing with that touch of patchouli oil that is still hanging on to your jacket, remaining poised and stoic……an aroma of both piercing sorrow and hope; with a dignity, poeticism, and romantic attachment that make it far superior in my (not even remotely) humble view, to the puny, and nothingy, frou -frou cherry blossom.

 

 

ROSE ABSOLUE/ ANNICK GOUTAL (1984)

Supremely expensive for an eau de toilette, Rose Absolue is a diaphanous, sense-delighting spray of real rose oils, with several of the most prized species in perfumery. The crisp, exuberant top notes are truly delightful, and come very close to smelling like a garden of roses on a summer morning. The middle and base notes lose something as the essential oils evaporate (making it a costly habit to maintain), but for a delicious rose spritz, this cannot be beaten.

 

 

NAHEMA / GUERLAIN  (1979)

The top note of the Nahéma vintage extrait is breathtaking: perhaps the most ravishingly gorgeous and complete rose absolute in perfume; a scent to make your heart swell, your diaphragm tremble. Whether you will fall for Nahéma or not though, (and it has its very faithful adherents), will depend on your liking roses romantic, full on, and sweet. Nahéma folds this stunning rose note in peach, hyacinth, aldehydes; ylang, vanilla and musk, and is deliriously rich, romantic – very Guerlain. If it is right for you, you will smell resplendent. If not, overdone.

 

 

ROSE/ CARON (1949)

If the roses in Goutal’s Rose Absolue are freshly picked, and the scent their breath, Caron’s is their blood; the enshrinement of a beauteous Bulgarian absolute (more regal, melancholy than Moroccan rose – the more ‘classic’ rose note) over a gentle bed of vanilla and musk. The extrait is beautiful; potent, emotive; a scent to be cherished. Almost painfully pure and beautiful.

For a similar, but somewhat chicer rose, try the other Caron rose perfume, Or et Noir: for sexual mystery, the house’s woody, musky incense rose, Parfum Sacré.

 

 

FLEURS DE BULGARIE / CREED (1880/1980)

A centenary reformation of an aristocratic, very strange scent from Creed, this peculiar, haunting rose perfume evokes another time and place, leagues away from brash current trends. It is at once tender, reserved, unabashedly tasteful, yet with an undeniable whiff of madness: generations of interbreeding among the loopy upper classes. A dry, high pitched, almost saline bunch of Bulgarian roses over an insinuating natural ambergris: the smell of stately homes, the fragile, yellowing pages of old books.

 

A difficult, but rather brilliant perfume, to be placed on a dresser by a window over the lawns, on which to do ‘one’s toilette.’

Beyond, the reedy river, in which perhaps to drown…

 

 

 

SA MAJESTE LA ROSE / SERGE LUTENS (2000)

 

A scornful rose. Dark swishes of crimson rose fragrance: grand, extravagant, a perfume of strength and beauty, but with ironic, opaque bitterness. Serge Luten’s rose is not romantic: his perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, was presumably ordered to do away with such nonsense. Instead there is a stark regality here, just as the name suggests (a tart note of geranium, lychee and guaic wood sees to that), but also an elaborate heart of white roses, vanilla and honeyed Moroccan rose.  It is an effective, gorgeous perfume that will leave you feeling splendidly detached.

 

 

 

CE SOIR OU JAMAIS / ANNICK GOUTAL (1999)

 

Perhaps the most vulnerable of rose perfumes, Ce Soir Ou Jamais (‘Tonight Or Never’) is a rich, breathy Turkish rose, unfolding in a tearful desperate embrace. It is natural, supremely feminine, and one of the most romantic perfumes you could ever wear.

 

 

ROSE OPULENTE/ MAITRE PARFUMEUR ET GANTIER

 

As it says, opulent, gorgeous, red-silk Bulgarian roses, for high camp and rose adorers. Quite beautiful, with leafy green top notes gracing a subtly spiced, ambergris rose.

 

 

ROSE EN NOIR/ MILLER HARRIS (2006)

Exclusive to Barney’s New York stores, this is a mildly repugnant, dark  animalic rose with woody musk facets and top notes of jammy rhubarb.

Interesting, like someone unravelling at the seams.

 

 

 

ROSE DE NUIT / SERGE LUTENS (1994)

Paris. Had I had any money left by the time I got to the Lutens boutique at the Palais Royal (having already ‘done’ Caron, Guerlain, and Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier), this is what I would have bought from the astonishing selection of perfumes curated by the mysterious ladies hovering behind them. On myself I like darker, more menacing rose perfumes, preferably underscored by patchouli, and this really did the trick for me. Rich, effusive, and very outgoing, with a touch of jasmine, apricot, beeswax, and chypre. A rose for nighttime and adventure, to be worn with leather.

 

 

SOIR DE LUNE  / SISLEY (2006)

A gorgeous, dark, honey-drenched rose enveloped by rich notes of chypre, mimosa, and powerful patchouli, Soire De Lune is almost tailor-made to my personal olfactory tastes. It is diffusive, warm, sexy and of high quality; not dissimilar to the company’s fantastic Eau Du Soir, but in my opinion even better. A rounded, accomplished scent with presence, and a new alternative to such night time illuminaries as Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum and Voleur De Roses. I doubt I will ever be without a bottle of this.

 

 

VOLEUR DE ROSES   L’ARTISAN PARFUMEUR (1993)

The rose thief is a dark figure dressed in black, moving with stealth through the undergrowth, night soil underfoot; rose bushes standing erect and waiting in the moonlight, sensing they are about to be picked. A sensous, woody patchouli is entwined with a deep, rich rose and an unusual note of black plum, resulting in a very gourmand, intriguing scent worthy of its wonderful name.

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Filed under Flowers, Rose

SIX TUBEROSES

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It is cold, it is icy, and like many perfume lovers, I cannot only limit myself to the cosy and the spicy in winter: I find myself dreaming of summer, fast forwarding in my mind to that moment in May here (can’t wait) when everything goes ballistically pink and green; an explosion of lush life after the cherry blossom petals get blown and washed away from the trees by the last ferocious squalls of Spring and everything heats up; jungle like; humid, moist and fragrant. Sometimes I just want to branch out, rip myself out of the January mindset and let hot flowers bloom; I find myself dousing my skin in the ylangs and noix de coco that make up a sizeable part of my daily collection; the tuberoses, gardenias, the vanilla and the frangipani. I can’t just remain dormant and docile and huddled and feasting on gingerbread.

So today, though the subject has been done to death by every perfumista under the sun, let’s revel in the alabastrine lust of these floral beauties, let their noxious transulence asphyxiate us with their lone, sensuous purpose…..

 

THE TUBEROSE.

 

 

 

EAU DE TUBEREUSE by LE JARDIN RETROUVE

 

The tuberose is no rose. It is a voluptuary: a night-blooming flower from India and Mexico with white, fleshy petals and a sweet, unavoidably carnal aroma of hot skin and stamens. Victorian girls were forbidden to adorn themselves with tuberose toilet waters for fear they would swoon with certain discomforting thoughts (so difficult to avoid with a scent of such delirious candour), and the classic tuberoses,  such as this gorgeous creation by French house Le Jardin Retrouvé ( a perfume I found at the flea market) up the ante of this luscious facet to glorious effect. I am very partial to the billowy soft insinuations of perfumes like the dreamy original Chloë by Karl Lagerfeld, and Tubéreuse is of the same template, only stronger, more lush, more medicinal, more…..tuberose.

 

 

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CARNAL FLOWER / EDITIONS DE PARFUMS FREDERIC MALLE (2005)

 

A friend of mine, Yuta, lives down the hill from me in Kamakura with his wife Mikako. She has the most beautiful skin I’ve ever seen: as translucently smooth as white porcelain. One Sunday in spring they came round to the house, and naturally, like all dinner party guests, they had to be found a perfume from the collection. This is usually fairly easy, as I have an idea what people will like and what will suit them. But Mikako wasn’t having any of it. My instincts towards grey-blue iris scents were rebuffed, as were all perfumes over five years old.

Determined, I kept thinking. And then, as I was looking into the living room, my eyes rested on the amaryllis flower that had just bloomed: giant, translucent pale-pink on a milky green-white stem.

‘I think I have found it’, I said.

‘What does it smell like?’ she replied.

‘Like that’, I said, pointing to the plant.

 

Carnal Flower is very original. Its creators wanted to make a classic perfume that actually resembled the living tuberose but which would be the antithesis to the standard, butter-saturated model set up by Fracas. The project was two years in the making while perfumer Dominique Ropion perfected the formula: a green, petal-centred perfume with florist-fresh top notes – the least sweet of the genre. It is a very unusual fragrance, like watching a plant growing in a sealed-off white laboratory. Crushed stems and eucalyptus leaves begin the scent, over light floral essences (jasmine, ylang), cradling the highest percentage of natural tuberose absolute used in any perfume (hence its rather extravagant price.) On me it smells wrong, but on Mikako, with her cool white skin, incredible. The coconut-milk/white musk finish, the tuberose stems, the green leaves, turned her quite simply into a cold, living flower.

 

 

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FRACAS / ROBERT PIGUET (1948)

 

Mention tuberose and most perfume lovers immediately think of Fracas, the benchmark to which all others of the type must match. A dense and potent woody floral with blasts of the most flamboyant white flowers, this is a perfume for women who like to make an entrance.

The bottle in my own collection was given to me by a friend, who in turn was given it by the late Isabella Blow, doyenne of fashion and extravagant headwear, muse of Philip Treacy, and stolid socialite of the art and fashion world. She wore so much Fracas, and carried so many little bottles about with her, that she could just hand out the perfume like sweets. Wherever Isabella Blow went, so did Fracas; to the extent that for her friends, the smell was her (isn’t that what we all secretly want from a scent?). At her funeral in September 2007, the air was ‘redolent with the scent of Fracas’, according to the Guardian, Alexander Mcqueen having decided to scent the air with her presence.

Though Ms Blow’s signature, Fracas is the preferred scent of many a diva and always has been. It is gorgeous, headstrong and sexy, which is perhaps why it is also loved by Madonna. In the Reinvention Tour documentary ‘I’m going to tell you a secret’, the singer is seen backstage, flustered and sweaty, liberally spraying her Rococo pink corset with what she refers to as her ‘Italian whore’s bath’. A huge bottle of Fracas stands in pride of place in front of her dressing room mirror.

 

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TUBEREUSE / CARON (2003)

While some tuberose perfumes verge on sickly sweet (Versace Blonde I am talking to you….) Caron judiciously allows the full sensual bloom of this flower to open without letting it cloy, tempering the florality with a delicious, creamy base; just a hint of truffle-like darkness. The result is a supremely wearable tuberose; delicate, beguiling, with an underlying texture of cool, white leather, and one I would wholeheartedly recommend for the true tuberose lover who wants to keep it close. Possibly my favourite.

 

TUBEREUSE CRIMINELLE / SERGE LUTENS (1998)

 

Until Carnal Flower came along, it was this cult creation by Serge Lutens and his wildly talented perfumer Christopher Sheldrake that had taken the crown of ‘most original tuberose’, principally due to a medicinal note of wintergreen that braced the florid top note with a shocking sensation of gasoline, rubber and Vicks Vapour rub. This highly unconventional (‘criminal’) beginning you either endure patiently because you love the beautifully petalled, fresh tuberose flowers that await beneath, or it is the principle reason you are obsessed with the perfume. I personally love it in all its perverse, ugly-beautiful glory, but understandably there are many who don’t.

 

 

 

 

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MICHAEL KORS / MICHAEL KORS (2000)

Sharpness of metal: a glinting blade slices clean through ripe, lustrous tuberose flowers to a backdrop of blue lagoon. The sky is brilliant. A fresh, watery accord of flowers cuts the air, leaving a sensuous trail in its wake. A vivid, widescreen floral: notes of fresh tuberose, ‘dewy freesia’, and ‘white wings peony’, with an interesting twist of tamarind for piquancy. It is this more androgynous note, contrasting with the sweet wetness of the tuberose, that gives the perfume its character.

A future flower is on the screen, sharp focus: near enough, almost, to make you wince. A new tuberose: shot; cut; frozen in time. And there the image stays, on pause; for this perfume is unchanging. What you see is what you get with Michael Kors. It is modern, sexy, but not up too close: I prefer the outer limits of its aura, meant to draw you up in as it tingles the air. Though not devoid of tenderness, there is perhaps too much harshness, as though the tuberose were revealing truer, chillier colours.

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Filed under Flowers, Perfume Reviews, Tuberose

HEAT ME UP WITH CINNAMON : Ambre Narguilé by Hermès (2004) + Vanille Cannelle by E. Coudray (1935) + Rousse by Serge Lutens (2007) + Incensi by Lorenzo Villoresi (1997) + Ambre Cannelle by Creed (1945) + Noir Epices by Editions de Parfum (2000) + Cinnamon sherbet by Comme des Garcons (2003) +..

 

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It is  absolutely freezing here in Kamakura today. Grey, icy, miserable, with the possibility of sleet or cold rains tumbling down this afternoon as I have to head out into the sticks to do my evening classes.

 

Ugh. While the temperatures this week, hovering just above or below zero, might seem positively balmy to some of you reading this, especially those suffering under the current deep freeze in North America, the particular problem here is the heating systems, or lack thereof. With a country as hot and humid as Japan is for much of the year, the traditional houses here are not insulated at all, and there is no central heating as Europeans know it, with the hellish result that any heat generated by the detested ‘air conditioners’, those nasty machines that make you sweat yet always seem to have a top layer of cold wind circulating to make you shiver unpleasantly at the same time, or the throat-drying, and dangerous, kerosene heaters we are compelled to use in our house to keep warm, seems to immediately dissipate the minute you switch them off, disappearing like a bastard through the draughty cracks in the doors and windows. I HATE it, and am really yearning for the stolid, stable heat of English hot water radiators, for the suburban living rooms where it is so warm you can just lounge about in a t-shirt and not even think about being cold, or else for spring to just hurry up and arrive.

 

January, a time of overwork, tons of pre-exam classes, and basic lack of physical well-being, is thus usually somewhat miserable for me, an overextended period of gloom and grey, with no possibility of any warm sunshine for at least another three or four months, and of nothing but neurotically obsessing about how many layers to wear the whole time (the misery of a sweat soaked t-shirt beneath those hot layers, as you deliberate between the dilemma of keeping on the wet t-shirt and hoping it will dry, or having to head into a public convenience and contort yourself into ludicrous positions as you renegotiate your clothing).

 

HELL!!

 

 

Moaning aside, though, to generate some warmth right now, both physical and psychological, one of my pleasing and simple comforts is herb tea, especially just before bed. I have experimented with many kinds of tisanes over the years (lemongrass, chamomile, lavender, lemon balm) and know now which ones have the strongest physiological effects on me personally. Whereas in the morning I need hot, steaming coffee and lots of it, at night my tea of choice is rooibos, a South African plant that is incredibly soothing and sends me to sleep even when I am overtired and agitated. This winter I have been experimenting quite a lot with my night brew,  adding different combinations of spices for an added boost, in particular ginger, my vanilla pods from the Javan plantation, nutmeg, and cinnamon, and it has really struck me recently quite how carnal, almost animalic in fact, cinnamon can be, particularly when combined with natural vanilla pods. Where spices like cardamom and nutmeg have a fresh, bracing quality; ginger Chinese verve and fire, and cloves an almost uptight, dark elegance in comparison to cinnamon, my night teas, especially if left brewing for a long time, sometimes take on the slightly naughty aspect of the filthiest orientals: a trace of civet; a very human, bodily aspect that can be almost disconcerting but also deeply mollifying, in a childlike way, when the cold air is surrounding you, and your senses concentrate instead solely on this mothering,  sensual taste. The thick, body-hugging glug of mulled wine that has been steeped in cinnamon sticks;  cinnamon hots; the smell of cinnamon-sprinkled buns and cakes drifting out from a city bakery as you walk along that dark path with hands tucked in coat pockets as if the world couldn’t really be as bad as you thought ( your senses perking up without your even noticing and you find you have plumped for that Starbucks hot cinnamon roll and latte instinctively,  realizing to your horror that you have just consumed 800 calories in one indolent go). Oh well: cinnamon is a palliative: a remedy. Though it is not my favourite spice (that would be clove, or cardamon, or even perhaps saffron), I do think that there is nothing more balancing and heart-repairing in the world of spice. It is the great balancer.

The effect of cinnamon in perfumery is similar to its culinary use –  surely the most trustworthy and unthreatening of the spices; easy, familiar, emotionally warm, and although it does not usually feature as the main theme of many fragrances – probably because it is seen as precisely too foody –  blended, usually, with orange, mandarin, balsams, exotic florals and other spices for the oriental cargo effect (Cinnabar, Opium); or with animalic ambers and vanilla (Obsession, Obsession Men, Cuir Mauresque) – all of which feature a prominent note of the spice that lends their blends a touch of  patisserie snugness and repose, the perfumes we are looking at today are more overtly cinnamonic: tailor-made, surely, for these darker months of winter…….

 

 

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Sunday: 6pm. It has been raining; dark, freezing cold.

 

You have just done something really bad – been shouted at and belted: and after bawling out your eyes in your bedroom upstairs, and are lying prostrate, aimless, and self-pitying, on top of the bed covers; the taste of hot, angry tears still swirling in your head.

Then – suddenly, after who knows how long, the warm, delicious smell of your mother’s baking apple pie finds its way up the reproachful bannisters, and, gradually, life is again alright.

Warm apples, slow-burning cinnamon; mouth-watering aromas of rich buttered pastry; the lilting promises of melting vanilla ice cream.

 

This is Ambre Narguilé: an exalting perfume that seems to provoke obsessive reactions in some people (an olfactory method of regression therapy? ‘Remember the pain. But also remember the good times….’), a scent that is truly designed for cuddling up.

 

An hour after spraying it on, after the sweet shock of the apple strudel opening, Ambre Narguilé is an edible and addictive patisserie classic; gorgeously moreish and emotive with a vivid cinnamon underlay. To get to this point, though, you do have to go through stages of ambery, sugary bulimia; and to be honest, I’m not always sure I am going to make it each time as for me it is just that little bit too sweet. Still, I seem to have got through most of my bottle in one way or another, and I do feel that this scent has really stood the test of time. It is is worth seeking out if you are having a crap week; it is freezing with rain; and you need a sweet, sensory escape.

 

The perfection of the perfume’s  ending, as it hugs to your skin in the softest, dessert-like caress, is the sheerest wintry succour.

 

 

 

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Discontinued, so probably hard to find now, but I once had the pleasure of using the E Coudray Vanille Cannelle bath oil on a cold winter’s night when staying at a friend’s house, and with the ambery vanilla-orange thickness tumbling from the lip of the bottle I just melted into the steaming hot water in total bliss. That bottle, of the very old Parisian type, standing beside to me on the side of the bath like an old friend, just added to the sensation of romance and escape: a perfectly judged dose of cinnamon, and sweetly clinging vanilla, in the manner of the best, most delicious, French cakes.

 

 

 

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Rousse (‘the red head’), one of Serge Luten’s less talked about orientals, is a very different, but equally appealing, scent possessed of red-raw spices that jump out and devour you; the fiery taste (and 3D texture) of real cinnamon sticks and cloves in an ambered, woody, and resinous Lutensian setting. It is direct, pungent, and somewhat simple-minded (in the manner of Louve, Lutens’ cherry-almond), but if you like to wear your spice on your sleeve, as I most certainly do, this rough, flushed, russet perfume is perfect: a chic cinnamon bomb to take on the night.

 

 

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A serious cinnamon. As you’d expect from Mr Lorenzo, Incensi is a languorously layered, complicated scent with a certain integrity, the incense of the name not prominent until the drydown where the main feature in this curious blend is more a ginger-bolstered cinnamon emerging from a blast of strange greenness (elemi, leaf notes, galbanum) than the more liturgical scent you might be expecting: the preferred, cooler incensed notes of antiquity lying calm and serious beneath like a cellar  (frankincense, benzoin, myrrh, styrax), while the note of cinnamon –  unsweetened, potent,  and vaguely ecclesiastical, remains curiously prominent throughout.

 

A cinnamon scent, perhaps, for Pope Francis.

 

 

 

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If you are male and have always secretly wished you had worn Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium – that brilliant and unforgettable classic for women from the 70’s –balsamic, spicy and orange-laden – but were just too embarrassed to buy a ‘women’s’ perfume, for whatever reason, then here’s your chance. Ambre Cannelle is apparently a part of Creed’s men’s range; and admittedly there are fewer flowers;  its physiognomy has more sinew, it’s formula perhaps more refinement, but this scent was obviously the inspiration (along with Estée Lauder’s Youth Dew) for the whole swooning-Jerry Hall-Roxy-Music-addict phenomenon that was Opium – just thirty years before. It is quite a nice scent, actually, with a sexed, ambergris/ musk base that clings to the cinnamon-amber-flecked accord with air of tightened, bodily mystique.

 

It IS somewhat old fashioned, though; check it out for yourself first before committing (in a floor length fur coat).

 

 

 

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A very well respected and original cinnamon spice that many cite as their favourite from the Frederic Malle line, for the tightly woven structure; the dense, spiced treatment of orange and geranium over arid, woody finish, and I can certainly see the Noir Epices’ fan club members’ point, but on this occasion, I am afraid, I must beg to differ.

 

While I can certainly see the appeal of this perfume’s  fat-free structure (no musk: no fluffiness: no soft, vanillic contours), its stark angularity,  like Campari and orange, which I like in theory for its bitter sunset red but in reality can’t drink, the vile bitterness of this perfume’s orange makes me shudder. I find it quite unendurable on my own skin, though I have to say that I was astonished to find that the perfume I was complimenting on my friend Justin one night at karaoke – warm, sensual, compelling and sexy – was in fact Noir Epices.

 

Yet another argument for the fact that some perfumes really do smell utterly distinctive on different people.

 

 

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Of the three jaunty little perfumes in the Comme Des Garcons sherbet series, to me, Cinnamon is possibly the least successful. The Rhubarb is surely a delight: the Mint the greenest, mintiest thing you’ve ever smelled, but the cinnamon, with its contrasting (jarring?) notes of hot and cold, is less loveable.

 

 

On the other hand, the freshness of the scent and its resemblance to more spicy, ozonic scents like Issey Miyake Pour Homme make it the most commercial of the three, and rather an original take on the note of cinnamon. Like all the sherbets, it is quite fun.

 

 

 

 

 

Other cinnamons:

VANILLE CANELLE/ COMPTOIR SUD PACIFIQUE Just what you’d expect from Comptoir– a warm, sexpot aroma of cinnamon in a sweet, ready to wear (for evening) setting.

CINNAMON SPICE/ BODY SHOP Serviceable perfume oil that does the trick in a mumsy, down-at-the-shops kind of way.

CINNAMON BUN / DEMETER &

CINNAMON TOAST/ DEMETER  Olfactory holograms for cinnaphiles with bulimic appetites.

 

 

Do let me know if there are any other good cinnamon perfumes you can recommend that I am not aware of: I imagine there must be quite a few good ones out there that I haven’t mentioned and I am really in the mood for this smell and taste.

 

 

 

Let’s cinnamon!

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Filed under Cinnamon, Perfume Reviews, Spice

In our melancholy twilight: LE DIX by BALENCIAGA (1947)

 

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I have had two full vintage bottles of Balenciaga’s classic Le Dix, both of which I gave to people I knew would cherish and wear it more than I ever could (there is still one small, perfect bottle of the eau de toilette upstairs somewhere for reference, but I myself am simply not built for this pallor….)

 

 

 

I adore smelling it on a woman so much more – on alabaster skin; a wrist concealed beneath a coat…..

 

 

 

 

 

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In vintage parfum especially, Le Dix is timeless and beautiful; an almost mournful scent of chalk-white powder, musk; and a cool, dust-laden quality like an old French library in November.

 

 

 

 

Haunting, sad violets (pale, thoughtful; quietly rapturous) are sorrowfully captured in the fading dusk, as light filters through thick, stained glass…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Such rarified feminine wistfulness was not destined to last in this world of ours, and one can see why Balenciaga would choose to freshen up and ‘purify’ Le Dix for the modern audience. In any case, the current version is quite captivating, a stunning violet aldehyde with sparkling citrus top notes that you should try if you like others of its type (as a cooler, more contemplative Nº5)…

 

 

 

The reformulation of Le Dix has a certain sparkling uplift, vivacious, elegant and great for the evening and grand events. But for pure poetry, the vintage  – so fine, so knowing and wildly introverted – is inescapable.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Floral Aldehydes, Flowers, Perfume Reviews, Powder, Violet

THE SPIRIT OF PARIS: FOUR PERFUMES BY CARON / French Can Can (1936): Montaigne (1986): Farnésiana (1947): Tabac Blond (1919)

 

 

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What could be more French than Caron?

 

 

The creator of a string of inimitable perfumes from the 1910s onwards (Poivre, Narcisse Noir, Fleurs de Rocaille, Nuit de Noël….) may not exactly be a household name – at least not in England, and the friends that I know – yet in scent circles, and among the mad perfumistas searching for old extraits of these bygone classics at jumble sales, flea markets and stubborn old perfumeries – the house is truly up there in the stratospheric heights (equalled or surpassed only by Chanel or Guerlain). The perfumes of Caron, around for almost a century and still available, in various stages of degraded formulae, at their gloriously old-world boutiques in Paris and in concessions in quality perfumeries worldwide (such as the perfumery floor at Fortumn and Masons which nobody seems to know about or go to) exist on a fuller sphere of consciousness to most others. To me they are drier; darker, mossier, more bodied. Secret entities, historical undercurrents bind these creations, together with a leathered smoothness not often found elsewhere. Never wholly ‘clean’, yet laden with the finest components and a certain fox-eyed virtuosic precision ( less fuzzy, powdery and splayed than the greatest works of Guerlain), the perfumes will undoubtedly be seen by the fust-loathing pinky floss dunderheads as being ‘too old’, but who cares. So are Manet and Picasso.

 

One of the lesser known perfumes from this formerly illustrious Parisian stable is French Can Can, a derivative of En Avion that was made especially for the American Market for a bit of imported ooh la la: a strange, naughty, and now rather anachronistic perfume that treads the line, brilliantly I think, between coquettish and coarse,  without ever descending to banality. Can Can is of very similar construction to the classic En Avion (a cool, spicy, violet leather) but overlaid with more garish, extravagant bloom: rose, jasmine and orange blossom kicking out from the layers of tulle that support the flowers. Behind faded, musty curtains lies a decadent heart of lilac, patchouli, iris, and musc ambré.

 

Thinking of a candidate for this perfume (who wears tiers of fluffy petticoats that I know?) I hit upon my friend Laurie, who is never afraid to dress up in extravagant numbers – I can even see her actually doing the can can, to be truthful – and with the slogan ‘dancers: powder, dusty lace’ I presented her with the scent. She came back to me later (after I had sprayed her bag with the stuff)….

 

 

‘No: graying crinoline’.

 

 

If the girl of the above story has a past, and love for sale, then the owner of this fine establishment might be wearing Montaigne. Where Can Can maintains a certain faux-demure grace throughout its development, Montaigne, on first impression, is suggestive; lewd even: a voluptuous figure forever telling dirty jokes. Many of the early Caron scents have a similar base accord: that murky, dark, dry signature with which Ernst Daltroff marked his classics. But Caron had to enter the modern world to survive, and Montaigne embarked on new climes. The result of this caterpulting into the eighties was a glowing, ambered potage of sandalwood, orange blossom, vanilla; very contrasting top notes –  a layer of glinting fruits and herbs: mandarin, bitter orange, coriander, blackcurrant….all is voluptuous, sueded, medicinal, mysterious. You keep sniffing to find out more (what was the perfumer thinking of?)

 

Montaigne, then, one of Caron’s most ‘up front and sassy’ perfumes, is well worth exploring for its complexity,warmth and glamour, but also for a certain impenetrability. There isn’t really anything else like it on the market. Hermetically mesmerizing, even, and a perfume I have become strangely obsessed with.

 

Though obviously a Caron, the vanilla-mimosa themed Farnésiana couldn’t be more different. This obscure scent is a sweet, emotive, maternal refuge from all harshness and vulgarity (because she does sometimes needs a day off); a sugared, unusual perfume to nuzzle, cradle; regress with, even. The blend gets its name from the latin name for mimosa (Acasiosa Farnesiana), the flower at the heart of  this scent. But place just a drop of this elixir on your skin and the heart-rending, powdery mimosa note smiles only briefly before being subsumed in a very edible, gourmand note of almonds and the roundest, gentlest vanilla. Not unlike a slice of the finest cherry bakewell in fact.

This is not a ‘foodie’ though, it is far too eccentric: somehow Farnésiana is not in the least seductive – you are not supposed to be ‘nibbled on’ by another. It is rather a lovely, melancholic escape from all that; the self as confection – a perfume to wear when alone.

 

 

 

” ……The troubling sensuality of a woman in a dinner jacket…..’

……negligently to take those ivory and mother-of-pearl cigarette holders to their lips, and swathe their femininity in a typically masculine veil, became the height of Parisian elegance……..To mark this dawn of female liberation, in 1919 Caron dared to dedicate the deliberately provocative Tabac Blond to these beautiful androgynes.’

 

(Caron website)

 

 

Here we have then the official story of Caron’s legendary Tabac Blond,  Dietrich’s most favoured perfume. If ever there were a ‘holy grail’ of perfumes, it might be this: people are mad for it, obsessed. It is one of the world’s cult perfumes, deliberately aimed at a small contingent in society, ‘scandalous’ at the time of its launch (just six years after Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring) into the fey little lamp-lit worlds of lilacs and violets, of powder and of  rose. A unique creation that has kept its reputation to this day (strictly in its vintage versions, mind), Tabac Blond is a resinous, deep, heart-locking perfume that unfolds in space and time. Flowers – carnation, linden, ylang, and iris (giving the perfume, as critic Jan Moran says, ‘a powdery floral heart meant to transcend a smoky environment’) feature in the scent, but only subtlely. They are hidden, masked for the most part, by a stunning note of undried blond tobacco, animalic leather, and tobacco leaf, made drier still with a sun-powdered note of cedarwood and vetiver. This exquisite whole is suspended in a liquid gold of tenuous, refined amber that only takes on its full character in the perfume’s conclusion, later, much later, at night.

 

Chandler Burr says of Tabac Blond that there is something ‘dykey and angular’ about  this perfume;  Luca Turin, that it is for those of a melancholy bent, who like Autumn, old manuscripts; libraries; Egypt.

 

Whatever the image it conjures, this is certainly a beautiful perfume; absurdly refined on the right skin, conferring on the wearer an air of restrained, rich elegance…………… pure Caron.

 

 

 

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Lips and hips : FEMME by Rochas (1944)

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Yesterday I wrote about the wonderful experience that is the Shinagawa flea market in Tokyo, and I forgot to mention one of the scents that I once found there….

And I was thinking. Are these vintage classics that I am so excited to find in their original incarnations mere museum pieces; dusty relics that smell so dated they become laughable?

Or can classic perfumes still be sexy? Can they appeal in the modern age?

It would seem so. One Sunday, a few years ago, our dinner guests, Penny and Terry, sampled the myriad delights of the perfume cabinet and its latest acquisitions. And despite all the goods on offer, the perfume that got the unanimous wow was, to my total amazement, an old, pre-formulation edition of that timeless classic, Femme. Neither of these two is old-fashioned in their tastes (Terri goes for fresh, modern tuberose and wears it well, Penny more the Indian amber and khus), yet somehow this smooth, voluptuous peach of a scent had them inhaling and inhaling  (at this point, possibly from elbows, knees and ankles, so much skin space had been covered in scent – this was one of my last pitches).

 

 

How could such an old classic garner such a response?

Because, quite simply, they don’t make them like this any more. Femme was a splendid scent, as rounded and full-bodied as it is possible to be without ever becoming obvious.

 

 

The perfume clearly has powers of seduction (my friends were up in arms over its sexual magnetism), personified as well in the muse for the perfume, Mae West. Marcel Rochas, head of the house, did a clever thing when he modeled the curves of the original bottle on the hips of his most famous client (the Chantilly black lace of the corset the couturier created for her forms the main design on the box.) At the time of the perfume’s release Ms West was the box office and theatre’s greatest star. West was hilarious, the queen of steamy one liners, and the world  needed cheering.

 

 

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It was nearing the end of the second world war and amid the ruins of Paris, or so legend has it, the great perfumer Edmond Roudnitska was determined to create something happy to banish the ghosts of grey. He had happened upon a perfumery material in one of the laboratory vats, a gourmand ‘apricot-brioche’ molecule that would be the starting point for the perfume that later became the ravishing Femme.

 

 

 

There are two other famous scents to which Femme can be directly compared, its blood relatives: Mitsouko (1918), and Pour Monsieur (1953). All belong to the fruity chypre category. In fact, wear all three and after ninety minutes you will barely be able to distinguish them.

 

Where Mitsouko  (a beautiful, serious creation ) is not conventionally sexed – though its dark spice has intrigue – spiked, undercurrents of piquant green, spices and earth make it forever cerebral, removed. Femme takes the same olfactory template of warm mosses, flowers, spices and fruit, but if Mitsouko is a cool dark wood, then Femme is an orchard of peaches ripening in the sun. It is this full peach note, undercut with plum, fused brilliantly with velvety flowers and warm woody notes of cedar, sandalwood and civet that makes it that much the sunnier of the two: moss suffused with light, a tantalizing scent like a second skin.

 

 

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Funnily enough, the scent isn’t in the least bit redolent of Mae West (Rochas had had it made originally for his demure wife Helène, the legendary Madame Rochas, before Mae become the perfume’s face and derriere):  Roudnitska’s formula was so flawless you can’t even see the seams, never mind rip open the bodice. There is nothing throaty about this scent. It is perfect.

 

 

And yet in 1989 Rochas scandalously commissioned another perfumer to reorchestrate the classic – against the wishes of its creator, and thus vulgarized a work of art. The new version, though capturing the fundamental feel of the original, is brassier, louder – probably more like the inimitable Ms West, who once quipped on stage: ‘I feel like a million tonight. But one at a time.’

 

 

 

 

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KEEP YOUR FLOWERS: :::::::::::THE ORIGINAL MISS DIOR by CHRISTIAN DIOR (1947)

 

 

 

 

“My dream is to save them from nature.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So, apparently, said Monsieur Dior.

 

 

And his first scent, the marvellous Miss Dior, was the highly abstract, crisp and green aldehydic chypre that was the sensation of its day, a refreshing post-war antidote to the idea of woman as flower. In its original form, this was a lush, complex, and very poised blend that managed to be womanly without even a hint of sweetness, like a sharply-tailored tweed suit. The keen-edged aroma that you experience as you first apply the perfume comes from a vivid, racy blend of green galbanum; clary sage; bergamot and fresh gardenia petals, on a spiced, and unfloral, heart of rose, jasmine, muguet, carnation and orris, and it is one of those dastardly well constructed scents that brilliantly radiate out these ingredients so you experience each soloist in turn – yet never out of step with the whole ensemble. Dark, musky depths of mosses, patchouli and woods finish the scent with a lingering suggestiveness and a touch of leather, and it is this quality, the combination of a masculine accord with the crisp fresh florals of the top, that gives Miss Dior its unique allure.

 

 

 

A touch kinky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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