Admirable perfumes

In my early days these were Bayley’s Ess. Bouquet, Lubin’s Chypre, Piver’s Le Trèfle Incarnat, Roger & Gallet’s Vera Violetta. The greatest perfumer of his time, Mr Parquet, created Le Parfum Idéal, Fougère Royale and Cœur de Jeannette, all admirable perfumes, and later Mr Bienaimé composed Quelques Fleurs with its new note of lilac that proved a considerable success for the house of Houbigant.

— Perfumer Ernest Beaux on a few of the perfumes that left an impression on him. From Perfumers on Perfume : Ernest Beaux on Fragrance Masterpieces at Bois de Jasmin; it is the first in a projected series of translated articles from the archives at the Osmothèque perfume museum in Versailles.

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Parfums Raffy

The magnificent Bois des Iles

What is not in doubt, however, is the talent and taste of Ernest Beaux, nor his temperament which allowed no one the privilege of telling him what to do. His best composition was not No. 5, which has always been cleverly promoted, but rather the magnificent Bois des Iles of which Chanel has never taken full advantage.

— Perfumer Edmond Roudnitska, in the foreword to Michael Edwards' Perfume Legends. I have owned this book for years but somehow never read the opening.

Chanel Cuir de Russie ~ fragrance review

Chanel Cuir de RussieChanel Cuir de RussieChanel Cuir de Russie

In Perfume: Joy, Obsession, Scandal, Sin, Richard Stamelman quotes from a 1936 Chanel publicity text about Chanel Cuir de Russie:

…I easily imagine this perfume floating in the wake of a tall, slender brunette, whose moves are confident, who voice is accustomed to giving orders, and who fingers are slightly darkened by tobacco. She is one of those women who always wears a suit, even at midnight at the Savoy; one of those women captivating to watch at the casino in Monaco, who after having lost a sum of money, takes bills and a money order from a love letter hidden in her fine leather handbag, where they have taken on a pungent, slightly wild odor, and with great calm throws them on the green baize of the gaming table.1

Wowee! Who could resist a fragrance like that? (Let’s hope the copy writer went on to a career as a novelist.) But by dint of perspective or reformulation, today’s Cuir de Russie is still beautiful, but not the butch aristocrat of yesteryear. Instead, it’s as if the Cuir de Russie of 70 years ago earned an advanced degree and spent time on the therapist’s couch. She’s still elegant and self-possessed, but she’s not getting written up in the gossip columns…

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Bourjois Evening in Paris / Soir de Paris ~ vintage and new

Bourjois Soir de Paris perfume

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…

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