Sometimes I think we’re missing out these days by choosing the easy life. Years ago, women wore heels that demanded skill to walk in and treatment for bunions, but they looked great. The time and expense to alter a dress and the discomfort of a girdle were a small price paid for a skirt that swished easily around hips and settled gracefully as a woman sat. Corsages for travel, gloves in the city, real breakfasts, and knowing how to dance all cost time and effort, but they also brought an extra richness and discipline to daily life. Now we settle for sweat suits, crocs, and dancing like we’re having seizures in step aerobics class. For the most part, we’ve also given up lush and difficult perfumes. While I’ll take a pass on girdles, I’d happily trade this whole year’s fragrance launches for a demanding perfume like Lanvin My Sin.
Fittingly, a mysterious Russian called “Madame Zed” created My Sin in 1924. Rather than being her actual last name, “Zed” might even stand for name starting with “Z”, making her even more mysterious. I couldn’t find any information about Madame Zed, except that she was also the nose behind a number of other perfumes for Lanvin. My Sin was one of the last. I picture her as a glamorous Russian emigré with milky skin sitting on a leopard skin thrown over the divan in her Right Bank apartment.
The wonderful Bois de Jasmin My Sin review lists My Sin’s top notes as aldehydes, bergamot, lemon, clary sage, neroli; its heart notes as ylang-ylang, jasmine, rose, clove, orris, lily of the valley, jonquil, lilac; and its base as vanilla, vetiver, musk, woods, tolu, styrax, and civet.
The first few times I wore My Sin, I couldn’t smell past its forceful duet of aldehydes and civet. It smelled like I imagined Norma Desmond‘s closet would smell: black and topaz velvet not worn for years, all stored behind heavy wooden doors barely rubbed with lemon oil. Or maybe I should compare it to a Flemish painting darkened with soot in an elaborately carved frame. I loved the vintage feeling of My Sin, how otherworldly it smelled to me, and how intriguing. But I didn’t love it. I didn’t really get it.
Not long ago I took out my bottle of My Sin extrait and tried it again. This time it was as if someone took a soft cloth to the Flemish painting, and a glowing narcissus appeared. Or as if a woman opened the windows in Norma Desmond’s dressing room, filled vases with spring flowers, then slipped one of the topaz velvet wraps around her shoulders. Yes, the inky civet was still there, but it came alive with a spicy, floral warmth. The perfume suddenly took shape and texture and opened up to me.
The Eau de Toilette formulation of My Sin, called My Sin Eau de Lanvin, is even brighter, both in aldehydes and in its floral heart, than the extrait. To me the Eau de Toilette smells a little sweeter from sandalwood and more raw from cedar, too. My Sin bath oil is a softened version of the extrait and wears nearly as long. Even in Eau de Toilette, My Sin is still firmly a fragrance for late night secrets, assignations in Berlin, or — more likely for me — the movie Double Indemnity on a drizzly evening at home. Madame Zed, whoever you are, thank you.
Lanvin My Sin was discontinued in 1988, but can still be found at estate sales and online. Irma Shorell’s Long Lost Perfume purchased the name “My Sin” and sells a version of it. If you’ve smelled the Long Lost Perfume version, I’d love to know how it compares to the original.