Monday, June 29, 2009

CIRO Perfumes: New Horizons

Today's feature comes from one of the classic yet lesser known perfume lines, Parfums Ciro; they featured unusual combinations, superior substances and memorable presentations. In their time, Ciro perfumes were considered a cut above the drugstore variety scents they competed against. Somewhat avaunt guard, what we might label 'niche' today; yet in a crowded field, their offerings were consistently well-received. In 1955, fragrances by Parfums Ciro were the focal point of Jay Thorpe's grand fashion pagent at the Palza Hotel. The show featured a trio of Jay Thorpe Originals, designer dresses inspired by and named after three of Ciro's most popular perfumes: Danger, Reflections and Surrender. The 'Ciro Blackamoor' wandered through the crowd, dressed in oriental finery, carrying perfumes on a silken pillow. The show provided a spectacular showcase for the perfumes and the promotional savvy of the man behind Parfums Ciro.

Ciro was the creation of one J.S. Wiedhopf. As a young man, Wiedhopf worked for the Alfred H. Smith Company, who were the only stateside importers of Djerkiss perfume. After he learned the business and perhaps sensing there were more lucrative opportunities, Wiedhopf struck out on his own. In 1921 he started his own business, Guy T Gibson Inc. There he began to import the exclusive Parisian brand Parfums Caron, which he sold to American customers in his New York retail shop. Soon Wiedhopf began offering perfumes under his own label, although the scents were actually being manufactured and bottled by Gamilla in France. In 1936, Wiedhopf renamed Guy T Gibson as Parfums Ciro. As the company prospered, Wiedkopf was able to reinvest in his product. He spared no expense enhancing Ciro perfumes by securing the best packaging and bottle designers of the time, notably Baccarat. The advertising images for Ciro were no exception to the overall quality that came to embody the brand.

Under Wiedhopf's creative direction Ciro continued to flourish throughout the war years and into the 1950s. During this time, Wiedhopf also worked to establish himself as an expert in the area of perfumes. He helped found the institution known as the Fragrance Foundation and in 1949 he was elected as it's first president. He also positioned himself as a key representative of the perfume industry by serving on the advisory committee of the War Production Board during World War II. Wiedhopf was also a pioneer in the area of research. He worked with chemists to develop new fragrance formats such as long lasting powder perfumes and conducted early market research to analyze consumer habits. Despite his pioneering efforts and many successes, he retired in 1955 and went to work as the president of Roure-Dupont Chemical, where he remained until 1963.

Ciro changed hands and in 1957 Ciro's new president, Donald L. Bryant, announced that the company was moving back to France. After the move overseas, there were fewer new releases and in 1961 Ciro released the last of their perfumes. The catalog of Parfums Ciro (1923 - 1961) includes: Ambre de Jadis and Doux Jasmin, Bouquet Antique, Maskee, Mirelevres, and Le Chypre du Nil, were all released in the early 1920s. L'Heure Romantique (1930) was followed by the super-successful scent Surrender, released in 1932.

Then another hit, Reflexions in 1933 followed by Camelia de Maroc in 1936. Danger, very popular at the time, a sweet but not-too-sweet oriental, and Trois Notes de Ciro were both released in 1938, New Horizons was released in 1941. After a ten year break came Acclaim in 1951, followed by One On The House in 1952. 'Esscent' was created by Ciro in the 1950s as a near-perfume strength cologne-like product, I believe it's water-based but with the strength of a good edt/edp. Described as a "new catagory of fragrance" Ciro's top sellers- Danger, New Horizons, Reflections and Surrender were all offered in the Esscent formulation. Ciro released the uber-spicy Richochet which was similar to EL's Youth Dew in 1955. Batiste and Bouffante were released in 1957, followed by Little Danger in 1958, Oh La La in 1959 and finally in 1961, Panorama and Tete a Tete.

Chevalier de la Nuit (Knight of the Night) deserves special mention because of it's stunning and highly prized presentation with a figural bottle depicting a knight in shining armor. The bottle came in various color combinations with an extravagant stopper including a feather-topped headdress.

But before you buy one of these, beware! Copies of the bottle have been forged and are being sold as originals for hundreds of dollars. I'm not sure whether you can see enough of the details from the photos on your monitors but there are a number of subtle differences between the genuine examples and the dupe.

In 1941 New Horizons was released with the tag line: "The perfume that carries you on and on..." New Horizons was a feminine release. The bottle design used iconic imagery: an eagle shaped stopper, and the sweeping, curved line of the bottle suggested a horizon.

The presentation seemed to say the woman who wears the perfume is free to explore new heights and view new horizons. I am lucky to have procured both a sealed parfum and a larger sealed bottle of the 'esscent' version of New Horizons.

I opened the parfum first and wore it several times before exploring the Esscent. When I finally tried the esscent, I recognized the fragrance immediately but it does not fully live up to the perfume version. It isn't a surprise, for those of us who've learned that very often, there are striking differences between the various formulations of most perfumes. I happen to prefer the parfum in this case but the esscent is extremely adequate, especially when atomized. New Horizons is best represented by its tag line- indeed, it carries you on and on... lifting and bolstering you as you float along an endless air-stream of flowers, flowers, and more flowers.

This bottle shows another unique bottle style of New Horizons- with the puffy, fluffy pink clouds, of a floral explosion, I think it fits the perfume better than the eagle bottle. The perfume has the soaring quality of Caron's Bellodgia... although it's not a soliflore, but rather a mixed floral with a very sweet and fresh quality. The freshness isn't represented by anything clean or marine, it's comes via a touch of pure aldehydes, just enough to clarify and amplify the composition, lifting the honeyed and deliciously polleny flowers into the air. Turkish Rose, jasmine, lily of the valley, carnation, violet and iris rush to greet the nose. There is a hint of dark green crushed leaves, but just barely, among the petals. The dancing parade of flowers circles on and on, finally ebbing into a doughy, creamy, soapy floral base- nothing heavy, just a sweet floral vapor trail that clings for a surprisingly long time. The suggestion of flight and the eagle image lead me to expect New Horizons to be more masculine, perhaps with some leather in it, similar to Caron's flight-themed En Avion. But this is a full-on, flower-power scent. If the name meant anything at all, perhaps it was to encourage the woman who would wear it, to soar high, to rise above, and to look always and only toward the new horizon, with the anticipation and promise of lush abundance to come.

New Horizons is a perfume I'll dab on and forget about, then smell later on, and wonder what on earth smells so good. If you're interested in the scent, try to find a smaller sealed parfum, like I did. It seems to keep rather well. The fascinating history behind this brand, the trailblazing practices of its founder, along with the beauty and quality of the products, makes Ciro perfumes memorable. The entire line is a treat to visit in retrospect, everything should be considered desirable. Luckily, there are still a number of Ciro perfumes available on the second hand and collector market, so if you are looking to build a good vintage collection of American fragrances especially, you can still find many excellent examples, in a range of price points. Highly Recommended.

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

Monday, June 15, 2009

Voodoo, the perfume: Revisited

To be honest, I tend to wear modern fragrances more often than vintage. But since I don't care too much for decants, if I'm buying something contemporary it's going to be full bottle purchase. That being the case, I try to only buy things that I think are really special. More and more now, I want to limit myself to perfumes that have a certain level of quality and a beautiful presentation that I believe is going to stand out even years from now.

(Mine says Patchouli on the side.) But I'm not wealthy so when I buy something like this, I'm expecting it will keep well enough that I'm going to be able to use it for years and then pass along whatever I don't use up to my niece. Perfume isn't cake, after all. Provided that it is genuinely a fine and well-crafted product, why shouldn't a perfume remain relatively stable for a [really, really] long time? Perfumes are more similar to honey or wine than other, more perishable cosmetics and food stuffs. I have a number of 50 to 70 year old fragrances that seem to be holding up quite well although I do notice the best ones tend to be those that were more costly, originally. But if the perfumes of today are going to be made of disposable ingredients without quality carriers so they begin to deteriorate even after only a year or two then perfume collecting as we know it is all but a thing of the past.

Despite these mildly torturous thoughts and my supposedly high standards in perfumery, I remain a complete and total sucker for (almost) anything vintage! Even though I say I'm only going to buy things that I like, or that smell good on me (or at least, to me), all too often I give in and end up lugging home another box full of half-offs and embarrassingly grimy containers of cloudy oil residues and worse... and I've done it too many times to count! But I swear to you that from now on, no matter what I say, that I'm not going to buy even one more miniature bottles-- don't even ask. I mean, you have to draw the line somewhere and if I don't draw it at this point, you might as well look forward to seeing me on an upcoming episode of Obsessed!

And I still have scores of scents I've barely touched just sitting in the vault waiting for me. But despite my overstock piles, I'm suffering from an odd sort of ennui this summer. I've noticed just lately that it's become much harder to find new stuff, vintage-wise, to buy. This hasn't really ever been a problem before so I'm wondering if the recent down-turn has trickled down into the very farthest corners of even our second hand economy already? I don't know exactly what the cause is but hopefully it's only a matter of time before things start to turn up again. So I've been thinking lately about the slightly mundane things, like the scents that I actually wear in my everyday life but usually take for granted...

And since things are slow around here I've come up a little perfume game and of course there will be a prize for the winner. The photograph above contains an important clue as to the identity of a certain 'mystery perfume' that I've been wearing quite often lately. I won't say more about it than that, so this is going to be challenging enough that I may never have to make good on the prize I'm offering. So Good Luck! The first person who guesses the mystery scent correctly will receive a set of samples of some of the vintage scents I've reviewed here, the most prized of which will be a 1 ml sample of another favorite that I've been wearing again, lately- Dana's super rare-and-deserves-to-be-legendary vintage VuDu (Voodoo) parfum. There's only one caveat: I will post the identity of the mystery perfume in one week's time. At that point, the contest will expire, winner or no.

Now you might recall I did an earlier review of Vudu here on TVPV and I have to confess, I'm really loving this perfume. That it stacks up to anything modern, given it's age and our general changing tastes in perfume styles, I think is quiet amazing. On wearing Vudu again, there is an incense-y quality that I didn't focus on so much before, which positively hums next to the turgid, vulcanized tuberose that forms the heart of Vudu. I still consider this to be one of my most 'cherry' perfumes but it's an accent, really. The top notes seem more ordinary to me now as well- just some nice candied citrus paired with a cooling kiss of menthol from those narcotic whites, rather than the more adventurous herbs (basil, thyme??) I'd smelt so keenly before. I still get that odd human hair note, or is it more musty-mildewy now? The chypre base, a mossy, slightly powdery-resinous delight, still forms a perfect cradle, tenderly cupping and swirling all of those other scent notes into a coherent composition. Sometimes I write about a perfume like this one hoping to jar someone's memory or perhaps draw a few more examples of the fragrance out of the woodwork. And some times it even works out. But as for Voodoo, no. Apparently it has dropped away into a sad oblivion of nearly total extinction. Why? Was it just another fruity chypre in the end, and all too ordinary? Or maybe something closer to the opposite is closer to the truth... perhaps it was too extraordinary, too different? In fact, it seems that Voodoo was the most expensive of Dana's offerings stateside at the time of its USA release and if by chance it was brought back today I believe it would receive rave reviews.

CONTEST NOTE: Because I'd like someone to possibly win this contest: please read comments for an important clue, to which I'll add the initials C.J.

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

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Charles Blair Perfume

You can't read the text here, but it's my own photo of a copy of an old 1965 advertisement from the Vista, California newspaper. That's not too far from where I sit now, come to think of it. Since you don't have the eyes of an eagle, here is a close up of some of the ad below-
Charles Blair Parfum, or Charles Blair Perfume, as we would say here, is the obscure vintage scent pictured between the Lanvin and the Chanel. Being a largely unknown scent, it would not necessarily be worth mentioning here were not for its unique quality. Made available in America for the first time in 1962, it was said to be an older French perfume formula, an exotic blend of woodsy and mossy notes as well as Eastern Indian sandalwood. Supposedly rediscovered by American tourists in Europe twenty years later, it was first made in 1934 or 1935. According to this ad, Charles Blair was priced on par with Lanvin and Chanel perfumes, making it a little more costly than Faberge, Coty, D'Orsay and Corday, while Dana's Tabu was even cheaper- the true bargin of the bunch, it sold for only $1.50. And below you see the humble, even ugly, little miniature bottle that introduced me to how this creation of Charles Blair smells:

Fortunately, the contents are superior to the packaging. The label of yellowed cream with gray over the top, shows the ravages of time. So much so is it aged that I question whether this is the 1962 version, or possibly the rumoured earlier 1930s one... In fact, in one small photo I found, the 1965 bottle of Charles Blair perfume featured a black and red label, while this little bottle has this possibly older style. I can't say for sure if this is the older or newer version of Charles Blair Parfum.

But either way, the scent in this little bottle has completely captivated me. Soft and creamy on the one hand, cool and mentholated on the other, and beneath, there is a warm bread note, yeasty but sweet, as if a fresh loaf had been drizzled with honey and dipped in stewed stone-fruits. It is unusual to my nose, yet as familiar as the face of an old friend. Immediately I associated this perfume with the classic scent of:

Yes, Charles Blair reminds me of that classic face cleansing cream, Noxema. And whether you look back with nostalgia on Rebecca Gayheart, or if you perhaps share my particular memory of a young and lovely young brunette Meredith Baxter, there's no forgetting the smell of the slightly hard, then unexpectedly melty white goop that said it washed away the dirt and grime while preserving the face's natural oils, leaving your complexion tingling and scented with something suggesting a muscle balm. I'm not sure why this scent feels so comforting but it does. I often find bread-y notes extremely appealing in perfumes and there is no exception here. The mentholated aura comes from salicyclates, I feel fairly certain. But as to which flowers carry such a strong dose of them, I'm not sure- tuberose is often named but I want to volunteer Heliotrope... as the menthol smells somewhat of black cherry cough drops as well. But at least I know what I'm smelling rests on a base of rich sandalwood.

However, the dry down is not like that of any sandalwood I might smell today; it has none of the tangy citrusy oud notes of Super Iso E that are so popular and loud, and used so often in depicting wood notes in perfumes of today.. . instead the wood here is a soft balsamic caress that cradles the minty mellow and sweet liquor hidden inside of Charles Blair. It reminds me of another, much more famous wood perfume, one that is often said to have a delectable gingerbread note... Of course I am referring to Chanel's classic woody feminine Bois Des Iles, another sandalwood scent that veers towards gourmand, which Charles Blair is well in keeping with. If you are lucky enough to spot a bottle of Charles Blair and you like exotic wood scents, give it a try; I think you will be well pleased.

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