Friday, February 29
Talking perfume, Rue de la Paix is exactly what good taste was supposed to be in that time. Harmony, a bit of everything, not too much flowers, not too much amber, not too sweet. If you compare Rue de la Paix with L'Heure Bleue or Shalimar - those are different worlds and an example of how tastes changed. It is also different from Jicky with its strong character by what I would call "élégance retenue".
Rue de la Paix was a perfume quite popular in the Belle Époque era and it's not the floral bouquet, neither the old-fashioned violet we associate with that era, neither hyper sensual décolté perfume. It's all that in an elegant and well mannered style. It reflects a typical Parisian attitude " ne pas en avoir l'air". Its opulence is showed in a natural way as it would be natural to mix flowers and amber and have a rather light perfume (!).
Rue de la Paix is a very sweet jasmin-rose perfume with an important ambery note (type Ambre 83). The drydown is powdery-musky-sandalwood with that typical skin smell (peachy) that can be found in No5. If today we have a certain perception of what clean skin would smell, I think of that when smelling that drydown of 1908. What was the sexy feminine smell of that era, what soap evoked the white feminine beauty of Belle Époque? That's an exercise of imagination but Rue de la Paix captured that mood, that beautiful trail.
The perfume opens with bergamot and orange but soon goes in a rich heart composed mainly by rose and jasmin absolutes and their typical smell brings opulence to the perfume. On the drydown we can smell the powdery orris and the musk (natural plus nitromusks). There is also an important lilac base in the perfume that gives freshness to the floral absolutes surrounded by a very delicate carnation base.
The young lady enters the society. It's the magical Paris of 1900's. She comes from England and had for sure a very "teutonic" education about what taste should be and how in her tailored Redfern suits she should avoid any froufrou. But when she enters Rue de la Paix everything will change! Men offer her compliments and champagne (the bright citrus top notes). Her white long neck is adorned in Cartier jewellery that will shine as rose and jasmin absolute shine in every perfume with their opulence. She wears chinchilla fur (the amber) over her white dentelle dress with a genuine touch (the lilac). At the end of the day through fashion she will become Parisian and the musky-powdery-peachy trail evoke the naked skin where one lover left another Cartier diamond necklace and a rose.
"Come to Paris and you will become a woman" - That would be the message of Rue de la Paix. The perfume is about taste and seduction about the magic that a Guerlain perfume would operate on each woman.
(that's not marketing, it's how I perceive this perfume - I found no official info about it).
"Examinez cette façon d'avancer le pied en moulant la robe avec une si décevante précision qu'elle excite chez le passant une admiration mêlée de désir, mais comprimée par un profond respect".
This Balzac quote about a Parisian woman is the exact description of Rue de la Paix.
photos: Guerlain from Les Modes 1909, the fashion is from Getty archive
Thursday, February 28
Quand vient l'été is a perfume that could be resuscitated, a perfect vintage floral other than rose-jasmin-violet variations and different from the usual Guerlain range. A true Belle Epoque perfume!
Top fresh spicy note with citrus notes (and neroli), rosewood, clove, wintergreen
Middle floral bouquet of ylang and carnation with notes of lilac, hyacinth, jasmine absolute, rose oil
Drydown sweet and musky with: heliotrope, vanilla, balsams, orris, amber, musk
Salycilates are unusual and highly versatile ingredients. You can build with them a hyacinth, a carnation, a Madonna lily, a clover, an old orchid, a fougère - Canoe type …a cocoa note and so on. They bring breath and "make space" in a perfume.
A small error: it's not stearyl acetate but styrallyl acetate - the gardenia note from Crêpe de Chine (and Ma Griffe, and so on)! :) See a picture of its chirality on Leffingwell.
In the picture there is a bottle of the old/disparu russian fragrance - Coffret Noir.
Scented Salamander talks about this article (and its errors) and also about Houbigant Idéal - the famous perfume of 1900's.
Friday, February 22
I prepare now a review of pre WWII Lanvin perfumes with a focus on their classics but also with some facts about the perfumes from the 1920's era (before Arpège).
Sunday, February 17
Right after Boy Capel's death it is said she was visited by a person (hindu) carrying a message for her but also an important secret. As al Chanel's stories it can be true or it can be a pure invention. If it was true, was something related to numbers, and their mysticism? Hard to know, but it could make a good story for a movie.
First, Chanel was born on 19 august 1883. Here we have some "numbers":)
1+9+8+1+8+8+3 = 38
By this easy calculation we see that 2 was Chanel's personal number.
Day + Month = 19+8=27
Day - Month = 19-8=11
Those simple numbers, obtained from her birthday we will see them again in her life, the most important moments:
1+8+8+3 = 20 (1920 - Dimitri & creation of perfume company)
1+9+8+1+8+8+3 = 38 (she was 38 in 1921 when she offered perfume as a gift to her clients)
19+20 = 39 (1939 - the fashion house is closed)
27 + 27 = 54 (1954 - reopens the fashion house, second Chanel era)
But let's go to the perfumes. Besides No5 (which in a number theory could be related to alchemy and quintessence) we have other numbers: 2, 11, 14, 20, 21, 27, 55, 7.
No 2 = Coco's personal number
No 11 = It can be a lot of things. 19-8 (day-month), or 3+8 (she was 38 in 1921), or 22 divided by 2, and also Dimitri was 11 years younger.
No 22 = 11 * 2 or simply 2 2 (twice the personal number as twice C, the logo)
No 55 = 11 * 5 or simply 5 5
No 7 = 2 + 5
No 14 = 2 * 7
No 27= it can be the personal perfume 22 + number 5 or day + month (19 + 8) or that Dimitri had 27 years in 1921
No 20 = 1+8+8+3 (and of course the year when all started)
No 21 = 19 + 2
It would be interesting to know Coco's bank accounts in that year. I wouldn't b surprised to find something within them. Maybe their sum was 5?
We can do a lot of speculations around those numbers and it can be very funny as it was for Coco when she choose them. It was quite new to have number perfumes and I think a lot of people were shocked at that time. Were they supposed to carry a message with them (a secret message or code), or just to puzzle the clients?
In any case it would be a challenge to Chanel to release a perfume coffret with the 11 fragrances and the final answer - No 5, as it was in the early 20's. At least, I think that all the women (and men) in the world that made it number one in sales deserve more than the eternal Marylin Monroe story. And I mean by more - a piece of truth and history! I heard that a book on Ernest Beaux is to pe printed in France. Can't wait to read it (and check it).
Friday, February 15
Wednesday, February 13
The first perfume of Madame Grès was created around 1946, was called Muse and was floral woody. The name is a reference to her inspiration (the seven muses in Greek mythology). The history of this perfume is unclear - Coty had also a perfume called Muse in 1946 (an incredible good&modern perfume with fruity notes) and it is possible they were the same (Coty produced fragrances for other fashion designers).
The second perfume was A de Grès (around 1947), a reference to Alix, the previous name of her fashion house. Inspired rather by India, it was a very strong, animalic and sensual perfume like an Indian attar. Notes: musk, sandalwood, castoreum, rose, narcissus. It was the opposite of young & fresh l'Air du Temps or Vent Vert being a perfume like a love potion, deep, heavy and mysterious. It had quite a success for a very short period of time but Grès perfume business was not in a good health, so it stopped.
10 years later, Madame Grès starts again the perfume adventure. The young Guy Robert will compose for her Chouda, a perfume that will be produced only few months. It's based again on an Indian theme, an exotic flower (like the tuberose) with a strong green hyacinth note. With the creation of Cabochard (inspired by Bandit) she will became an established name in the perfume business.
A de Grès is a rather unknown perfume today (but with a very nice trail) that would deserve a better appreciation.
Thursday, February 7
I saw a White Rose bottle in a vintage shop in Paris, yesterday, with still some perfume inside.
Ode (1955) is a strange combination between Arpège and Joy but lighter and à la Guerlain. The top notes are aldehydic and reminds me of Arpège but the main theme of the perfume is the accord between rose and jasmin absolute. A very delicate powdery note is created with orris, sandalwood (little) and musk. The combination between jasmin absolute and musky notes brings to Ode that creamy-feminine touch typical in some French perfumes of the era.
Ambre (1890) is said to be the first perfume of Jacques Guerlain. It is a very delicate and refined perfume based on the smell of ambergris tincture. It is not a sweet perfume (the ambre 83 type) but dry and deep. It has incense rezinoid, woody notes, labdanum, some balsamic notes (benjoin), orris. It is profound and dusty as the church wood or the very old books. A simple perfume that evokes a ray of light in an abandoned sanctuary.
Thank you Галина Анни for this wonderful rediscovery of rare Guerlain perfumes!
Note: Ambre (*), White Rose (*)
Wednesday, February 6
Looking back at Chanel collections from 1918 to 1930 (in Vogue and Femina) the historical difference is huge. Chanel used lace, embroidery (a lot), flowers, all kind of decorative inspirations (medieval, China, Russia, Japan, etc) and mostly, it was quite coloured. Reading the descriptions of models in Vogue I am amazed by some colours: bright pink, vivid green, yellow, celestial blue, gold… everything that the black&white magazine was not able to capture.
By its name and design No5 was quite a revolution in that period. But Chanel produced also other perfumes, today rare than anything.
Rose, Chypre, Ambre, Jasmin were perfumes produced in the 20's. They can be seen in a ARTE documentary about Chanel (at 26.20'). It seems that Ernest Beaux brought the entire collection of Rallet perfumes and bottled them under the Chanel name! (just a theory, I've never smelled those Rallet).
The Chanel fashion in the 20's was amazing. All her models are very simple while other designers did very complicated fashions but she was not above fashion. As we would say today, she did all the "trends" but her way (I saw even a Louis XV inspired jacket!).
Rose was a very simple fragrance with a lot of rose oil (Rose distillation Selim) and a spicy note.
Chypre was similar with Coty's perfume but with more oakmoss and not as subtle.
Ambre was based on natural amber note and it was not very sweet as the opoponax bases (like Guerlain would do an amber).
Jasmin was not very jasmin (like Coty's) but rather musky with an ambrette note.
In our image of Chanel (and No5) as the ultimate abstract smell, those perfumes seem quite a exception. She already had a small garden (rose, jasmin, magnolia, gardenia) that contradicts what se said later. But all who studied Chanel know that telling the truth (about her past) was not her quality. Reinvention and the recreation of the past seem core values of the Chanel brand. But a commercial brand is not a history class nor a trial and so … the truth is something very relative. :) If by any chance you came across to those perfumes (bottles) keep them with the greatest care because they have a big historical value in front of a brand that always rewrites history in the most beautiful way.
The classic magnolia (in that era) was based on a ylang-lily of the valley with rosy notes and something very sharp on top (like lemon), a contrast between the warm-heavy base and the very fresh top (or tuberose-orange flower-rose with lemon). The top had also sharp green notes (like in gardenias or hyacinths). Magnolia Chanel is all that, in the heavy tone (almost fruity) plus the woody drydown. If Bois des Iles was the smell of an exotic wood, Magnolia was (I guess) the exotic floral note of that imaginary island (where champaca flowers grew).
Note: Magnolia (*)
Tuesday, February 5
They were all created around 1930 (maybe earlier but not after for sure). Chanel created in 1929 a very fresh spring collection with dresses in red/blue/beige in jersey (a sport style with stripes and geometric pattern) as depicted in a Vogue review from that year.
In the same year Jean Patou launched Le Sien, the "unisex" perfume (chypre) that was inspired also by the sport spirit. Chanel and Patou promoted in those years a day fashion inspired by sports, with geometric patterns and young look. Maybe Chanel wanted to answer Patou's sport perfume (Le Sien = Her's) with her famous colours - red, blue and beige - used in jersey's sport dresses. But those perfumes are also an echo of the French Flag (bleu, blanc, rouge). While Jean Patou (her biggest competitor in the 20's) employed American mannequins and insisted on the American beauty, Chanel wanted to insist on frenchness and impose her style as the French look. In the mid 30's she was also depicted as the French national symbol Marianne, by the illustrator Iribe and also in the last collection before WWII she featured dresses in the colours of the national flag!
In 1930 Chanel was invited to go to Hollywood (by Sam G Mayer) to dress the American actresses. Was she thinking to dress the American stars in the pure French style and give them a symbol of France and Chanel (her 3 perfumes)?
Bleu, Beige, Rouge, the colour of her jersey suits but also an echo to French flag could be seen as a symbol of her famous No5. They all seem variations on No5 (but not No22 !), like flankers would be today, with some notes accentuated. In the same period Jean Patou launched also his famous cocktail bar with the 3 perfumes to be mixed. Were Bleu, Beige, Rouge 3 perfumes to recreate the Chanel spirit in a modern layering concept?
Chanel Rouge Has a very strong rosy note (with geranium) and a powerful vetiver Java with all kind of (methyl)ionones floating around. It lacks the sweet coumarine note but has an ambery touch (like in Ophris Base Givaudan). I do not remember any lily of the valley note. (!)
Chanel Bleu Is an extremely aldehydic variation with a strong violet (+cassie) - lily of the valley touch (almost cyclamen) and a cedar-sandalwood background. It's not very ylang as No5 and shares some resemblances with Soir de Paris (the violet on top and the sandalwood).
Chanel Beige Has a jasmin-orris-ambery side more present than in No5, and it made me think of a combination between Arpège and Vol de Nuit. It's very warm and soft and from all 3 it was the most interesting, though the top notes were very damaged.
Sycomore is a woody perfume with a distinct tobacco-violet note and all the other elements (few) are built to enhance this idea.
The tobacco is not the honey-sweet note of Tabac Blond, but rather the dusty-cigar (almost masculine) note that can be smelled in the natural extract of the leaves.
The violet is a here mainly a woody note that we could call violet wood, that has all the elements that would enhance the woodyness of the synthetic molecules adding either a mossy touch either an exotic (sandalwood) preciousness. Ionones/Methyl ionones/Irones have many facets like floral, woody, orris, fruity, etc. But Sycomore is a precious wood with a floral garland.
The flowers that float around this imaginary wood are the classic Chanel bouquet rose-jasmin-ylang. Like in other vintage Chanel it seems that everything is diluted in jasmin extrait, an impressive amount I would say, but you are not aware. The jasmin is here to calm all the roughness of woods.
On the drydown you have all the animalic notes that gives a human touch to the wood. To my surprise, I was not able at that time to detect any aldehyde. Maybe there is none.
Top - very light (almost inexistent): bergamot, neroli
Heart - floral: ylang-rose-jasmin-honeysuckle
Bottom - woody tobacco: cedar, violet (+methyl ionones), tobacco, sandalwood, musk
Very curious to smell the new one! Any idea when it will come in shops? (I have no PR connections).
Monday, February 4
The main facets of L'Heure bleue are: orange flower (with methyl anthranilate), violet-orris, spicy, sweet & balsamic (heliotrope), woody (sandalwood) + some characteristic aspect (aromatic, rose, musky). It is a very complex perfume that has almost all the shades of the rainbow, from citrus to animalic. It's hard to summarize such a beauty but this helps to understand other creations of Jacques Guerlain from the same period.
Fol Arome (1912) and Pois de senteur (1917) are like different reflections of the same idea - Heure Bleue. They are based (I guess) on the same formula where Jacques Guerlain emphasized certain aspects. When you have a complex formula (but not long!) in front of you the common way to study it is to extract different ideas (accords) and see how they work: the flowers, the woods, the sweets, etc. I think that's the way Guerlain explored his great (but quite short) formula of l'Heure Bleue.
Pois de senteur was launched in 1917 but I suppose that it was only because of the war that it appeared so late. In Pois de Senteur he explored the floral honey note of HB.
The sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus) in perfumery is a sweet delicate floral perfume with orange flower and a green hyacinth note, plus a honey-rose note on a light balsamic base. All these note are already present in HB (but with a different proportion). Pois de senteur by Guerlain has a strong honey note, realized with the base Miel Blanc de Laire (already present in traces in HB, and in many Caron perfumes). This honey note is put on a spicy orange flower like a light Origan (Coty). The ionones (iralia) are in an important dosage but they don't show up. Compared to HB, the sandal wood and the sweet notes (heliotrope, vanilla, etc) are reduced a lot and the honey accent is here an entire theme. Imagine you have HB formula: you modify it to be floral (and not so sweet), you cast the honey and voilà - Pois de senteur. Despite my very simplistic approach, the perfume is complex and worked like an embroidery. The subtle aldehyde in HB (C12) is now in Pois de senteur C10, for the orange aspect (I hope I identified well).
Top - citrusy (bergamot, orange), very little aldehyde, green hyacinth accent
Heart - floral sweet: orange flower, violet-orris (ionones, iralia, orris), honey notes (+ rose), light spicy
Drydown - powdery sweet woody : vanilla, sandalwood, balsamic notes+resines
Fol Arome is the enchanting heliotrope note from HB. As the name indicates, that's the smell to drive you crazy and to bring back all the childhood memories. It's not far from Proust's madeleine (almond+vanilla) and it's exactly the time when the action of A la recherche du temps perdu takes place. Fol Arome is the powder of Belle Epoque as Chanel 22 is the powder of the Jazz Age.
The first impression when you smell Fol Arome is "wow, is it l'Heure bleue?" but then you start to feel the difference and see that this perfume is only a chapter of HB. It has not the dark side (the night) brought by the sandalwood (+other woody notes) and the deep animalic notes. The main idea is the heliotrope smell - the ultimate gourmand idea in that time. In HB you have 3 important synthetic sweet notes that draw the accord. Here the note is Heliotropine Amorphe (de Laire). That's a product made out of heliotropine and vanillin with a very ugly colour but a divine smell. If we could hug a little chérubin, héliotropine amorphe is how their skin would smell. In the HB story, Fol Arome is the smell of little angels that play in the sun after they have stolen Proust's madeleine! The perfume lacks the anis note of HB, the amount of orris notes and the traces of smoky notes that give a light leathery-animalic touch in HB. I think that what Lolita Lempicka is today (with the childhood references, not the smell itself) Fol Arome could have been in those years - a reference to marzipan.
Top - citrusy - aromatic: bergamot, neroli, tarragon, thyme
Heart - floral: violet, orris, orange flower, rose
Drydown - powdery sweet: vanilla, heliotrop, benjoin & tolu, musk
There are another 2 perfumes from the same period that I'm curious to know how they were: Pour Troubler and Vague Souvenir.
Kadine (1911) is the spicy (clove, eugenol, isoeugenol) twist of HB idea, more floral, lighter and less sweet, somewhere at half way between Après l'Ondée and HB. An incredible perfume that I simply adore!
Through this 4 perfumes (Kadine, l'Heure Bleue, Fol Arome, Pois de Senteur) we learn a great lesson of perfumery: with a simple formula, similar ingredients Jacques Guerlain created not 4 flankers of the same perfume (as today) but 4 delightful fragrances that share the same idea being all 4 original and unique!
Thank you Галина Анни for this wonderful rediscovery of long forgotten Guerlain jewels !
photo: Hola Palomita, ebay
Sunday, February 3
Saturday, February 2
Chanel presented recently their prefall collection called Paris Londres, inspired by the influence of British style in Coco's fashion (in the 20's) but also inspired by Amy Winehouse, the modern Brigitte Bardot as Lagerfeld said. The recent ready to wear fashion fair organized in Paris (Prêt-à-Porter) for fall 2008 had as a main theme Music and London. British designers were invited to present their collections and French brands will do the same during the London fashion week. Music is at the heart of young European fashion and their idols come from UK. In meanswear the Pitti Uomo trade show and recently the fashion weeks showed 2 major trends amond other: tailoring and tartans.
In fragrance that British trend is evoked by 2 major recent creations. Serge Lutens comes with Five O' Clock Au Gingembre (and Scented Salamander realised a wonderful interview with the great master), a new twist on ginger and a rare perfume. Paul Smith comes with a spectacular Rose, an english rose with a rare freshness and impeccable taste. A known eglish fragrance historian brought back to life some historical /archaeological smells. Is British Museum entering fragrance universe? Back in victorian era archaeology was almost a cultural mark for UK.
Procter & Gamble did an intensive market research 2 years ago and identified some aspects (clichés) that would define Englishness today like The Gentleman, Rock Aristocracy, Urban Rustication, New Royal Blood, Anglomania. The fragrance industry already worked out the britpop / rock'n roll attitude, so well expressed by the latest fashion campaign of Burberry. The Black XS her (Paco Rabanne) and Rock'n Rose (Valentino) are the most obvious examples. But UK is more than punk/rock/fashion scene, clichés that work for a younger audience. England's history (portrayed by the recent movie on Elizabeth I or the Tudor TV series) as a trend is either tudor or victorian and some fashion designers used that idea (Chanel). It's the garden era, when noblemen used to distill their plants and make "toilet waters" out of them. Even Prada's fairy prints could be traced back to prerafaelite art movement (children book illustration) or Alice in Wonderland. Other brands started to explore more subtle ideas of what Englishness could be today related to the notions of tailoring and natural (beyond the overused eco trend - like in Stella McCartney bio cosmetic line). In 2008 everything will be "tailored" or "sur mesure". GQ, Esquire, and many luxury magazines started the year with numbers devoted to this very british concept. Today, even natural raw materials are tailored and Jean Claude Ellena has his own bergamot/orange/rose that LMR in Grasse produces by molecular distillation for him. His latest perfume Brin de reglisse (lavender + licorice) is it more Paris side or London side of the Channel (the fragrant river of paradise, naturaly)?
What could Englishness be in perfume? Of course some clichés: rose, garden smells, lavender, cookies, gingerbread, bergamot tea, tea & milk, exotic Indian spices (cumin, curry, ginger, etc). But Englishness is also comfortable luxury, humour, precious with a twist. Simple, refined, exquisite taste.
Englishness is also Ormonde Jayne perfume range that nobody speaks that much today, that are exquisite but do not do buzz like other recent launched niche brands.
How do you perceive Englishness in terms of smell? You can try .... Serge Lutens Five O'Clock Au Gingembre