Saturday, May 30, 2009

Lost Perfumes: FAUN by Ravel

Could this be the start of a 'Lost Perfumes' series? Faun is one of the first perfumes I added to my vintage perfume collection but it's been around for so long that I'd sort of forgotten and neglected it. If you saw my post from last week, you may recall I posted a photo of the bottle. It resembles a 1945-1950 era Chanel bottle- spare and squared in shape with a plain black cap. In the hand, it somehow feels cheaper than Chanel's version. The label is slightly off, both in the cut and lettering... Perhaps the packaging had something to do with why I wasn't really drawn to try what was inside, at least initially. But recently I decided to take a closer look at this unknown mid-20th century creation.
A little preliminary research lead me to discover that the details about Ravel and it's perfumes have mostly been obscured by the passage of time. Even though Ravel is a relatively modern perfume house that existed in the late 1940's and 1950's, if you know vintage perfumes at all, then you'll know that 50 or 60 years is a long time in perfume years. Smaller 'independent' perfume houses tend to pop up and fall away rather quickly. And it's not just the smaller houses- it seems that most perfumes fade from our collective memories with lightening-like speed.

In fact one wonders about the fate of the multitude of modern releases, and the niche companies that seem to pop up overnight. We know that the perfumes of today will likely face a similar fate since very, very few perfumes really stand the test of time. There are many reasons for this poor longevity, from weak business models to inconsistent raw materials and supply problems to simple bad luck. But mostly I think it is because perfume is like art. Very often, once you've created something, the animus leaves you. Or perhaps there are too many poorly conceived start-ups, without support for talent to grow or the vision to allow it to florish.

At first perfume may seem like an easy and cheap thing to produce. With a modest upfront investment in chemicals and creator, there is big profit potential. But it is deceptively simple. Fine things, truly fine things that is, tend to take time; original creations are not so easy to produce as uninspired knock-offs. So ultimately many of the 'new' things we see are not really so special and there is an almost constant turn-over of even the so-called successful 'hit' perfumes.

But even for it's time, Ravel was one of the smaller perfume houses based in New York. Like many, it touted a French connection, listing Paris as a second site as well but with practically no advertising history and no presence in famous reference works or collections (that I know of, yet...), there is little else to say about it. It seems Ravel was one of many start-ups that florished in the glow of post WWII optimisim but it lasted less than a decade. The perfumes of Ravel include: Adagio, Pagan, and Pagoda (a little metal bottle of this perfume recently surfaced on the web; if it's not been plucked up yet, you may still be able to find it, and if you do, please let me know what you find); all three of these were from 1945. Faun came out in 1946, followed by the trio of L'Amour En Rose, My Fair Lady and Moments De Passion which were released in 1955 and the final known release, No. 9, came out in 1956. Pagan and Faun caught my eye right away as the most originally named and the most desirable of Ravel's perfumes to collect... but I can only discuss Faun, since it's the only one I've experienced.

And what of the perfume in question, this Faun? As I've said, the name itself is intriguing. The image of the Faun is that of a half human, half deer that is usually but not always male. Looking at iconic images of the Faun, it seems clear there is an implied sensuality and rustic animalic quality is suggested by use of the Faun image. At its opening, Faun is bursting forth with juicy bergamot and smells at first like a typical hersperidic cologne. Very soon the citrus is joined by aldehydes which lift and intensify the composition, taking it more towards a typical perfume. Early on in the scent, I sense a slight turn toward cool green and slightly powdery chypre notes- there is a restrained plum-prune, mossy, mushroomy accord that typifies Chypres of this same period for me. Yet, smelled side by side, I see the accord is very hushed in Faun.

Soon the perfume turns again, the fresher citrus elements at the forefront bolstered by a rooty, effervescent middle in which orris and the rich, smooth, softness of fur notes shine. Fur notes in perfume have almost mythical status today. We do not see these notes often in the most modern compositions yet at one time fur was perhaps one of the most celebrated of notes for feminine perfumes, famously referred to in the poetry imagery of Baudelaire.

Fur, like musk smells heavily of animal but Ravel's Faun does not turn on us, nor bare its teeth, thanks to a generous helping of dry patchouli that anchors the composition perfectly. The patchouli plays up the tingle of salicyclates and prevents the perfume from going too far toward mossy green shadings of a proper chypre perfume. Along with the patchouli and fur, the base of the perfume reveals itself to be a proper, very classic and somewhat salty and stout leather.

Amazingly free of overt florals, Faun lives up to its androgynous promise. The citrus, aldehyde and patchouli/leather/fur combination is one that still feels wearable even in this admittedly dated creation. On the whole, I've become impressed with Faun, or more so with it's type- a genre busting scent that plays with male-female, cologne-perfume duality; it is one of the few vintages that I might enjoy wearing but that might also appeal to someone with more strictly modern tastes.

The Vintage Perfume Vault, where the scent of yesterday's vogue lives.

photo/art credits:

Nijinsky Faun:

Faun Seducing Girl:

Faun with Horns:

Faun Girl: by christine griffin

Faun with Maiden & Red Flowers:

Faun & Flora:

1 comment:

Melissa said...

I'm glad to see you're back! I really enjoy your articles. Hope your summer is nice & relaxed & full of nice smells!!