Sometime in the late-1920s, Bourjois executives sat in an office building in Manhattan and plotted how to conquer the American market. Bourjois was mostly known for its lipsticks and powders, but it had had some success in France with Mon Parfum in 1923. Bourjois was owned then, as it is now, by the Wertheimer family, which also owned Chanel.
In my mind's eye, it was a warm day, and the rumble of traffic competed with fans whirring in the corner of the office. The visiting French executives bemoaned the bottle of chilled white wine they would have had at lunch had it not been Prohibition. "Coty has a stranglehold on lipstick in this country. Let's try a fragrance," one of them said. "We can get Chanel's perfumer to do something for us, but nothing as upscale as No. 5. We want something friendlier, something that will appeal to the businessman's wife in Iowa, or even to Margaret."
Margaret was the stenographer. She looked up when she heard her name but continued taking notes. What the heck, let's give her a bob and a lilac drop-waist cotton dress. She didn't like to say it, but she had a large bottle of Shalimar Eau de Cologne at home.
"We'll call it 'Evening in Paris'. Do you think Wertheimer will go for that?" the man who suggested the name was thinking that an evening in Paris would be perfect right about then — a cool breeze off the Seine, maybe Margaret on his arm. Little did he know that Margaret called him "Old Baldie" behind his back.
And so the deal was done. In 1927-28 or in 1929, depending on whether you are reading Basenotes or Richard Stamelman's book Perfume, perfumer Ernest Beaux created a sparkling floral perfume for Bourjois called Evening in Paris. It was first released in the United States, where it was instantly popular, then later marketed in France as Soir de Paris. It was packaged in cobalt blue and silver, the Wertheimer family's racing colors. To link the scent more firmly to Paris, Bourjois created an ad campaign featuring lovers by the Arc de Triomphe, replica Eiffel Towers with a spot at the bottom to hold an Evening in Paris bottle, pictures of the Paris skyline at night, and more. Evening in Paris grew so closely associated with France that American tourists brought home bottles of it from Paris — even though it originated in the United States.
Vintage Evening in Paris Eau de Toilette is a bright, feminine floral smelling of violets, rose, carnation, and a pinch of powder, sort of like an expensive lipstick or a particularly nice guest soap. It dries down slightly sweet with a pinch of clove and fades quickly. It is light and easy to like, and if it is an evening in Paris, then it's an evening somewhere safe with cheerful music, easy parking, and no hard words to pronounce on the menu. The notes include violets and bergamot in the opening; heart notes of tilleul, clover, lilac, rose, and jasmine; and a base of vetiver and styrax.
In 1969, Bourjois discontinued Evening in Paris. In 1991, Bourjois again commissioned the Chanel house perfumer, this time Jacques Polge with Francois Demachy, to redesign it for the modern market. Polge and Demachy created an Eau de Parfum with top notes of apricot, bergamot oil, green notes, peach, and violet; a heart of Damascene rose, heliotrope, jasmine, lily of the valley, orris, and ylang ylang; and a base of amber, cedar, musk, sandalwood, and vanilla. Bourjois rechristened it Soir de Paris and packaged it in a squat, half-moon bottle in cobalt blue with a silver label and cap.
Although I smell the kinship between the vintage and the new Evening in Paris, the new version smacks of the 1990s. It opens with a shampoo-like apple scent, then morphs into a violet, rose, and apricot combo that smells to me a lot like Lancôme Trésor without the vetiver, or like Lagerfeld Sun, Moon, Stars, or a little like an Yves Saint Laurent Paris flanker. It dries down to a synthetic musky woods, and I don't get much amber or vanilla. While the vintage Evening in Paris is amber colored, the new is clear. The new version also lasts about twice as long as the vintage Eau de Toilette.
The new Soir de Paris hasn't taken the world by storm the way the old Evening in Paris did. I don't know if Paris has lost its glamour or if the fustiness of the old version's image has lingered or if the fragrance just doesn't smell as appealing as other perfumes on the market. Personally I think they should have taken a page from Evening in Paris and packaged it in a miniature Eiffel Tower.
Note: image via Parfum de Pub.