Saturday, February 27, 2010

Shocking de Schiaparelli

Perfume: Shocking
de Schiaparelli
Perfumer: Jean Carles
Years of release: 1937- current
Rarity: 6/10 (for pristine, sealed parfum/extrait)

(all images of Elsa Schiaparelli and her dresses in this post are from:

Today I'm wearing Elsa Schiaparelli's 1937 masterpiece, Shocking! Schiaparelli is best known for her avant-guard clothing designs and hats, however she considered herself an artist. Salvador Dali was a close friend who collaborated with her. Below you see one of her more well-known concept pieces- the Lobster Dress. I have a personal, although admittedly tenuous, connection with the Lobster gown because it was worn by my great grandmother's second cousin, Wallis Simpson.

    (above: the Lobster Dress)                                (above: Wallis Simpson in the Lobster Dress)

Schiaparelli is credited with being the first to display her work on cat-walks and setting her shows to music- the mother of the modern fashion show, literally! She also created hats, accessories and a number of perfumes, the best known of which is Shocking.  Although it is technically still in production, I have the vintage pure perfume (extrait) version, which is extinct. It comes in the familiar dressmaker's figural bottle and has a frosted crystal stopper with a long slender frosted glass dauber. Shocking has been housed in any variations of the dress maker bottle over the years. The basic design has remained with slight differences in fabrication and manufacture. As I have collected and sampled the contents of a number of these bottles, I've found that the contents inside the bottles have also changed, despite being composed around the same notes. As the juice gets lighter in color, the scent changes more radically. I prefer the oldest formulation- probably anything from the 1940s-1950s would be good, as long as it is the extrait. You can see the juice is the color of cola or coffee- look for this same color if you're seeking to sample Shocking and want to try it at its best. I took the photo below from EBay this evening because it is identical to the version I am wearing and a better example of the bottle I own; mine is open, has a few less flowers and lacks the paper label.  
(image from Ebay seller jtpmtc)

Shocking has top notes of bargamot, aldehydes, and tarragon; middle notes of honey rose and narcissus and a base of clove, civet and chypre accord. It is gorgeous and I imagine it was shocking at the time it was released- even though the women and men of 1937 were accomstomed to smelling many wonderful vivacious scents by luminaries such as Chanel, Coty, F. Millot and many others. I especially appreciate the tarragon in the open of Shocking that gives the opening a sweet-piquant touch of herbal green, and is a nice counter point for the lush, heady blend of rose and narcissus (also named jonquil or daffodil, a full bodied, almost narcotic, almost buttery floral, that blends beautifully with all citrus and green notes).

(Schiaparelli's Shocking Pink Gown, bygonefashion)

All of these elements are rounded by the honey- and in this perfume extrait is my favorite version of a honey note ever rendered. It is heavy and sweet, identifiable as honey but with actual musky-oily scent of the bees working in the hive, their fat vibrating bodies caked and powdered with pollen. The anchor as the perfume dries down is a bewitching blend of my old favorite, a cool and powdery proper chypre accord of oakmoss, labdanum and patchouli set apart by a counter point of frankly (shockingly) carnal civet. Yet this touch of the risque is done with restraint, or perhaps with tongue firmly planted in cheek, for here the tiger has been couched with the lamb- the antiseptic, refining presence of clove, a regal spice that subdues any rough edge of the animal scent. The clove softens and smooths all of the elements, melding pleasingly with the chypre. The dry down is prolonged and produces strong sillage with a leathery powdery patchouli finish. In some way, it recalls Youth Dew in the extreme dry down.
In retrospect, Shocking is one of the great 20th century perfumes... a strongly individual perfume, with some elements of the great classic Chypre, and with oriental embellishments and is capable of being worn with great style even today.

(another of Elsa's timeless gowns in Shocking Pink and Black, circa 1930s)

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

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Curious Case of Jean-Charles Brosseau's Ombre Bleue....

(image: thebardot.files.wordpress)

Rarity: 3/10
Cost Range: $60-$270
Perfume Name: Ombre Bleue
Perfumer: Jean Charles Brosseau
Year of release: 1987, discontinued
The above is just my opinion.

It's raining. Again. Nevermind that the almond trees are in full bloom and a week ago people were wearing shorts and pulling huge dandelions from their lawns... Summer seemed to be just around the corner. The warm, nay balmy, weather inspired me to turn to a perfume that I've been pursuing for a while, and for a few of the past and fleeting mild days, I took my chances and wore it once again. But perhaps I jinxed things by reaching for it too early- the skies have gone back to a blacker shade of gray, and I've had to put the bottle back on the shelf for the time being. The scent just doesn't live and breathe for me in the cold, wet waiting of this neo-spring in what is technically still winter... although I await the next warm spell with great anticipation.

Do you remember Jean-Charles Brosseau? If you do, chances are you know that he is the name behind the now famous perfume, Ombre Rose. OR was released in 1981 although it was originally developed or 'discovered' several years earlier (in the late 1970s) as an exciting new perfume base. But in the end, it was of such quality that it seemed to form itself into a delicious and complete perfume, a perfection of powdery-woody rose, and the incomparable Ombre Rose was born. In that first blush of its original release, it was very exclusive and expensive, a limited distribution fragrance with restrained advertising. I was in high school at the time so it was somewhat unattainable to me and at the same time, an object of great desire.
                                                                (images: JC
Now availability of Ombre Rose has soared and after a steady stream of candy colored and named flankers (not to mention, a certain coarseness of some of the later presentations), most of the Jean Charles Brosseau family of scents are packaged and priced comparable to drugstore, rather than higher-end department store, releases. The pure perfume and vintage presentations however remain in higher demand.  I have read online in more than one place that Ombre Rose was originally a Caron creation... But not according to JC Brosseau's website which claims it as a creation of his own. OR is classified as a floral - aldehyde and for me, it is quintessentially gorgeous.  It's notes are: aldehydes, peach, rosewood, geranium, lily of the valley, ylang-ylang, rose, orris, sandalwood, cedarwood, vetiver, vanilla, honey, iris, musk, cinnamon, tonka bean, heliotrope. I could easily go on about it. To continue my backtrack just a little longer, one of the first things that drew me to Ombre Rose was the gorgeous bottle. It's lacy imprinted art deco design and unusual octagonal shape has undeniable eye-appeal and speaks of an earlier age... because it is a rather direct copy of a well-known vintage Mury Le Narcisse Bleu perfume bottle. 

(image: aedarsch.cgi.ebay)

(image: flickr, Mury 1946)

(image of JC Brosseau Fleurs D'Ombre Bleue: cortezan)

(image of the original Ombre Bleue: cgi.ebay)
Fast forward 20 years. I am combing through a little local thrift store when I notice a small square shouldered bottle with a pretty, impressed, vaguely art deco floral pattern just like the one above. It was a mini identical to the one shown directly above.  It bore no trace of markings and any thoughts of Ombre Rose were far removed from me then.  I set the little bottle on my bureau and proceeded to live my life. Then one day, I thoughtlessly dabbed a little of the perfume from the bottle onto my shoulders before setting out to walk my dogs one warm summer day. I'm sure you can guess what happened next... when a most wonderful and exotic, lush odor began to tickle my nose. What was it? I searched around a little only to discover it was me. Or more exactly, the little area on my sun warmed shoulders where the scent had been applied. I was enchanted. A combination of warm and sharp- white flowers among which I can pick out lily of the valley, Tiare and jasmine, mimosa (?), orange blossom and leaves, smooth woods all polished and folded into the purest sweet bee's wax. I rushed home and examined the bottle again hoping to find some marking, anything to give me a hint at the magical contents of the bottle. I noted the impressed pattern in the glass again. It reminded me of something I'd seen before and I knew it would be the key to my finding the identity of the mystery perfume. It was more-or-less a trial and error process, searching my books and references for that same floral patterned glass bottle.  I looked, I quit. I looked and  gave up again. Then, I happened across an old black spray canister of Ombre Rose cologne- it bore a gold printed pattern that strongly resembled the little bottle and suddenly a light clicked on in my head... The pattern was a neat fit to that on my little glass one and it was then I realized they had to be related. The Ombre Rose connection was correct and without too much trouble I found the exact match to my bottle, in what turned out to be a photograph of JC Brosseau's original Ombre Bleue (1987) perfume. Only problem was by the time I'd found it, it had been discontinued. The prices for the few remaining bottles to be found had soared to what was, back then, way out of my price range for something that had been quite affordable and was only relatively recently deceased. So I treasured my little stash of parfum to the last and continued to open the empty bottle just to inhale deeply of its traces until the little plastic stopper finally pulled apart and wedged part of itself into the neck of the little bottle. This was actually one of my earliest perfume lemming experiences. Life went on of course, but I always kept an eye out for the chance to capture another sample of OB. And a few months ago, it happened. A nice, nearly full bottle of OB appeared on EBay; in the end, it was destined for me since no one even entered a competing bid.

(image of vintage bathing suit 28 at 3.bp.blogspot)
What was it about Ombre Bleue that captured my senses so completely? The notes reveal not so much in the way of novel components. In fact it was familiarity that allowed this particular scent to worm its way into my subconscious and then, my heart.  Here is a quote and the notes from Jan Moran: "Ombre Bleue is rich and vibrant, a scent comprised of florals, woods, and amber. Honeysuckle, peach, and plum impart freshness, while rose and jasmine form the classic floral heart. Amber--smooth and sensual--is blended with woods of sandalwood and vetiver. The result is decidedly feminine, expansive and vivacious. " I've found several other sources with slightly different notes. Confusion abounds because very soon after releasing Ombre Bleue, JC Brosseau released possibly the same perfume, in a reformulated version and in a "new" bottle- instead of the square shouldered version, it was reissued (in the reformulated version) in the same octagonal bottle as is used for Ombre Rose, only the juice is blue. It is still in production, called Fleurs D'Ombre Bleue Perfume for Women, with the following fragrance notes: rose, jasmine, vanilla, plum, orange tree, lily of the valley, mimosa, tiare flowers and bees wax. It is funny that if you look on line for reviews of this perfume, or any perfume called Ombre Bleu, you will find one of two things. The reviews either praise the perfume highly as a scent of singular character and quality- or they pan it totally as worthless- watery, weak and thin, and nothing like what they expected from reading earlier reviews and word of mouth. Do I need to tell you that the poor reviews are coming from folks who ran across the reformulated FDOB, based on the great nearly cultish following that the original OB established. What was it about OB that people loved? Well, simply put- it is the scent of summer. But it transcends just any garden variety tropical floral because it mimics the scent of another cult (now well known, if currently out of fashion) classic, Bain de Soleil. Yes, the famous orange tanning gel that, if you are of a certain age, you surely recall...
(image: from pacocamino, originally photobucket)

According to beauty mythology Coco Chanel is credited as the first figure to make the tan fashionable back in 1920.  Jumping five years later, a certain Monsieur Antonine of Paris developed a dark tanning product which was predictably called "Bain de Soleil Antoine de Paris" in 1925. The orange paste continued to sell throughout Europe until the 1940's when Lanvin, a New York based fragrance company, introduced it to the United States as [Antoine's] Bain de Soleil. It became sought after here as well, loved for its color, texture and a radiant, exotic scent before a major magazine advertising campaigne made it even more popular. I don't know, but would not be surprised to learn that Lanvin was responsible for adding this touch of fragrance to the oil, which I'm sure was a large part of its lasting success. The smell of Bain de Soleil shimmered and indeed radiated warmth and good feelings so it really isn't a surprise that Brosseau's Ombre Bleue, designed to recall the scent of early French tanning oils strikes such a pleasing chord. I'm only surprised that the original version of Ombre Bleue disappeared so quickly and has now become so rare. I now have the edp formula and even that is a paler version of the pure parfum, which is truly excellent and not to be missed if at all possible, especially for lovers of tropical 'suntan oil' themed scents. Ombre Bleue manages to evoke the sun and exotic beach locations while avoiding totally the stereotypical, dreaded coconut or marine cliches.

(image of a tanned Coco, img.thesun.co_archives)

(image of a vintage 1960s JC Brosseau hat: bigyellowtaxivintage at
By the way, Jean Charles Brosseau began his career as a fashion designer of women's hats in the 1960s or slightly earlier. He created his own label at age 25 and immediately his clients included the most illustrious haute couture creators in France.  If you want to search for an even rarer Brosseau perfume than Ombre Bleue, in 1978, Jean-Charles created his first fragrance, cleverly called “BrossEau” that was sold in his shop at the Place des Victoires. I've never even glimpsed it, though it's probably a 7 (or higher!) of 10 on my self-created rareness scale. Do let me know if you've sighted or smelled it!

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

Friday, February 12, 2010

What Vintage Perfume are you planning on Wearing this Valentine's Day?

This Valentine's day (and today, at work), I'm going to be wearing Tocade by Rochas. Designed by Rochas in 1994. Of course it hasn't been discontinued though it may have been reformulated. But nevermind that, it is available if you look around. I love all forms, older as well as a newer reformulation. From comes this list of notes: Tocade perfume is a refined, oriental, scent. Its fragrant nature explores essences of bergamot, geranium, iris, jasmine, and rosewood. Blended with notes of amber, musk, and vanilla. Most people characterize this scent as a rose vanilla, period. But for a fan of sweet vanilla rose orientals, of which there are many, it stands out.  For Tocade adds the herbal fresh sharp notes of geranium and bright bergamot and brings in a sweet ethereal iris, grounding the whole in a rosewood infused (that is, not too sticky sweet) vanilla. And with the right skin chemistry, I can tell you that not only men but children and dogs (and maybe cats?) find it an irresistable choice. 
The Vintage Perfume Vault, where the scent of yesterday's vogue lives.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

F. Millot Bois Precieux Precious Wood Perfume

Millot Parfums was established in 1836 by Felix Millot. An early success of theirs was a scented product called La Pomade a la Graisse D'Ours (Bear's Fat Pomade). Millot went on to mature into a well-respected perfume house, garnering many exhibition medals and a lengthy portfolio of unique and original perfume compositions beginning in 1900 and ending in the late 1950's. The company was sold to Revillon perfumes in 1963. Throughout the 1920's Felix's grandson Jean Desprez ran the house quite successfully. Under his auspices Millot gained a reputation for avant-garde productions, supported in part by his liberal use of humor in their advertising campaigns (from Nigel Groom's New Perfume Handbook)


(image via cgi.ebay)
Among the earliest references for the perfumes of Millot's is 1912's Les Lauriers d'Aigle (The Laurels of the Eagles). Fougere, Giroflee Simple, Jaspiz-Jaspiz, Le Bon Oeillet, L'insolent, Muguet d'Argent, , Roi de Trefle are just a few of the many undated but early Millot releases which caught my eye. There are probably three times more that I'm too lazy to type out... And as we know from the exampl s of other early 20th century French houses, probably there are additional, rare and as yet unlisted creations by F.Millot yet to come back into light. (Perfumes of F. Millot via perfumeintelligence).

(image: hprints)
Verabella 1935; Regard 1939; Insolent 1947 - which looks to be an early example targeted exclusively to the newly created 'youth market'; Revelry 1948; Joyeuse Nuit 1948; Revelry Joyeuse Nuit (an early flanker or typo?); Chere Madame 1949; Tananga 1951; Impertinence 1953; and Ganteline 1959, are some of the rare dated Millot releases that we scarcely see examples of today in bottle or advertising.
(image: hprints)
Crepe de Chine, a classic floral chypre (in the style of the mid 20th century) created by Jean Desprez in 1925 remains the star of all F. Millot offerings. Much later Jean Desprez went on to create the fabulous oriental perfume Bal a Versailles (1962). Crepe de Chine was released at the 1925 Paris Exposition Des Arts Décoratifs along with a number of other iconic 20th century perfumes which all debuted together. Among the perfumes featured there was Jean Patou's famous 'Love Story Trilogy' which includes one of my favorite vintage jasmine themed perfumes, Amour Amour. And there was also a little something from Guerlain, called Shalimar, which was introduced there on that very same day as well. You may recall I also wrote about Godet, who won a gold medal for one of their perfume entries at the same exhibit, which famously opened in Paris on June 6 of 1925.
(image: hprints)
According to Jean Kerleo, Crepe de Chine was the very first perfume reproduced for the Osmotheque in France. Crêpe de Chine has top notes of bergamot, lemon, neroli, and orange; a heart of jasmine, rose, lilac, ylang ylang, and carnation; and a base of oak moss, vetiver, benzoin, labdanum, patchouli, musk, and leather- (via Edwin Morris's book). Perfume Intelligence lists it as having top notes of bergamot, lemon, neroli and orange with heart notes of jasmine, rose and clove-pink on base notes of oak moss, vetiver, labdanum, patchouli and musk.


                                                                 (image: cgi ebay)
Bois Precieux is an undated release as far as I can find. It first appears in F. Millot history in advertisements along the side of Crepe de Chine beginning in 1939, along with Recital (1939) and Altitude (1938) among others. I obtained the 1/4 ounce sealed parfum version complete in a pink ribbed paper box stamped with F. Millot's logo, a cartouche of a framed, stylized gold long stemmed rose with four leaves. The bottle itself is fairly plain, stepped sided with a round smoked glass stopper without the daubber that was included on the larger sized presentation. It seems certain the example I have is 1930-1940 vintage. I decided to cut the cord on this small beauty after holding on to it for a while- some unknown hesitation made me think perhaps I wanted to sell it unopened. But ultimately I decided to keep Bois Precieux.
(image: eurofinegifts_eay)
For one thing, I find myself swept along with the recent vogue for woody scents. Estee Lauder's Sensuous Woods is one of the most recent examples of a mainstream release with a big advertising push that capitalizes on the trend of wood based scents. Perfumes from the woods family are usually typified as soft, warm and aromatic. Woods used in perfumery are diverse but traditionally includes sandalwood, cedar wood , black and white spruce, guaiacwood, and fir. Galbanum is related, being the resin derived from the ferula plant (a large umbellifer), frankincense is a resin from the Boswellia species of shrubby trees and myrrh derives from the tree Commiphora myrrha. The resinous materials derived from wood were traditionally meant to be burned as incense. Donna Karan's Essence Wenge, Guerlain's Vol de Nuit, L Artisan Parfumeur D'Zing and Keiko Mecheri's Oliban are a few outstanding classic and modern examples of the genre.
F. Millot's vintage version is decidedly rarer but not completely impossible to possess. I became enamoured of the idea of Bois Precieux because of the growing scarcity of precious woods, primarily Sandalwood, used in fine perfumery. Sandalwood is a parasitic tree; it obtains nutrients from several other plant species and takes thirty years or so to mature enough to be harvested for use. Due to its limited supply, the price of sandalwood has been going up about 25% each year for the past several years (Source: Eden Botanicals). It has become so rare that it is routinely poached, leading to the decimation of much of the dwindling wild crops. Compounding the issue is its presence as an IFA banned substance. That and the recent development of several artificial substitutes, means that fragrances made with real sandalwood aren't being produced anymore. So there is a very good chance that sandalwood based scents will have become extinct within my lifetime. It is also said that sandalwood is unparalleled as a fixative and that it improves substantially with age, so I felt a vintage perfume based on wood essences had a very good chance of surviving in good condition and I hoped it would be a well justified addition to my collection.

And what did I find once I decided to break the seal? First I am struck that it is a gracious perfume, truly belle epoque in style. Rich, warm, golden, satiny smooth, a scent akin to the mildest mellowest of musks with a powdery lingering and intense sillage. Serene and sophistocated, it envelops the wearer. EDIT: Sometimes I find when opening a perfume for the first time it requires some time ot breathe and 'open up'. With BP, on subsequent wearings I became aware of vetive rand rose notes I hadn't noticed at the very first sampling. And underneath, it rests on a smidge of it an intimate quality which serves as counterpoint to the  powdery facets and makes it easier to wear by vintage standards. Overall, I'm finding it is a lovely charactere and well worth the effort to obtain. (Robette Absinthe poster:

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

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Carven Variations Perfume - Soo Good

                                                                (image: thechicpetite)
Today I have the distinct pleasure of wearing the vintage version of Carven Variations perfume. To backtrack a bit- Carven is an amazing house.  Established in 1945 by the petite (but with a Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen sized fashion mojo) Madame Carven. Carven began as Carmen de Tomasso, the wife of Swiss industrialist Réné Grog.  She was a pioneer in choosing to cater to a niche market, apparently not the mainstream approach of fashion houses in the 1940s. For Madame believed the petite woman deserved her own haute couture. And it's been successful too; the house remains in the same address even today at n¡6, Rond Point des Champs Elysees in Paris. Carven grew and diversified the business throughout the 1980s and 90s.
(image: thevintagefashionguild)
 Carven's fashions appeal to the smaller boned Asian women and in fact the name brand continues a pioneer role as it is goes aggressively into a new upscale market in China. Right now in Colette you can see an example of Carven's current accessories: clever "When the Cat's Away" print flats, scarf and tee. Carven has always had a love affair with all things green and white. She cuts quite a charming picture (if she is alive, as I hope at this time, she is now 101 years old). But what of her fragrances? The first and best known is the iconic Ma Griffe (1945).

(image: mes.parfums)
Vetiver was released as a masculine scent not long after- it has been in production (in many different formulations and packages) continuously. But Variations has it's own story. First released by the house in 1950, it was relaunched in 1957 and then again in 2001 although I believe Variations has again been discontinued. My bottle appears to be pure perfume and I'm guessing it is pre-relaunch from 1950s, it is the one with gold rings at the neck.
(image: mine)
The other versions I show are photos of the newer vintage and more contemporary versions.
It goes without saying that the formula has been adjusted if not outright reinvented with each repackaging. As much as I relish the abstract beauty of the original creation, I realize it will not be everyone's cup of tea.... Granted I read quite a bit into Variations because of my familiarity with the better known Ma Griffe, but the notes for Variations that I found sound quite edited, given what I smell...
 (images: quirkyfinds)
Reported notes are top: Indian Carnation, Labdanum; heart: Hyacinth, vetiver; base: sandalwood, amber. Sounds interesting, right? Well, it struck me a little different than what you might imagine. I got galbanum, aldehyde, green pineapple, sharp jasmine / LOV notes. Variations is a deep dark green floral, with a divinely biting soapy vibe. The wild jungle side contrasts the more hushed, musky undertones as only the boldest French creations of the time could. Spicy touches initially play hide and seek among deep green shadows, but become quite prominent as the creation morphs into a robust and creamy full bodied carnation soap all wrapped up in sandalwood. Variations begins to pick up a raspy tone which over time blossoms into a harsh herbal note, recalling nothing more to me than vintage Bandit parfum. I think the hyacinth combines with other things in funny ways and lends quite a bit of the soap and pairs with vetiver.. There is also an acetone note (very clean and well executed imo), that gives the whole composition an odd synthetic vaporish trail I smell well into dry down. The base has an animalic undertone that is only half revealed from within the forested depths, whereas the sap and soap tend to run freely, forming a bitter yet tonic thread that glistens throughout the composition. Overall,  it is quite femme and quite fatal; a potion for a dream in green leather.  
The Vintage Perfume Vault, where the scent of yesterday's vogue lives.