Thursday, December 24, 2009

Red & Green for Christmas: Guerlain Fleur de Feu & Mitsouko

'Tis the season for all things red and green, and this Christmas my fancy is taken with this pair of color-correct Guerlains- Mitsouko (originally ~1919 and which mostly needs no introduction) and the less well known Fleur de Feu (1948, give or take). I love the magenta-pink jot of color on the Fleur de Feu (Fire Flower) bottle and the emerald-teal dot on the Mitsouko bottle. Both the bottles contain eau de cologne, which, as you might guess, is light. With Guerlain sometimes I don't mind the EDC concentration- when the scents are strong and assertive, the lighter sillage and lack of staying power isn't that much of a problem. And since I like to switch scents throughout the day I actually like the lighter formulations. Mitsouko is an especially good candidate for the eau de cologne treatment and the flavor remains true to the other Mitsouko examples I've known. Mitsouko, if you haven't smelt it yet, is a leathery chypre sandwich of dry peach opening and a sweet peach dry down, with mossy-forest, smoke and incense laden facets \layered in between. It has real depth, a tough and tender scent that is something to be appreciated as it develops over time. Needless to say, a big love... It represents the quiet, eventide part of my Christmas journey, filling the contemplative stillness and anticipation of a celebration to come..

As for it's sister scent,  Fleur de Feu (Fire Flower) is a lesser known Guerlain. It was released soon after WWII ended and not too many years later, it was discontinued. Many other
Guerlains are better known and more commonly discussed, so much that I've been scarcely aware of it's existance. Fleur de Feu somehow lacked the enduring charm that many of the other classic Guerlain perfumes seem to have had in plenty. I cannot even be certain that my example is well enough preserved to be a true representation of the oroginal scent particularly without a second source to compare it to. But from what I can smell, it isn't what I'd expect from something called Fleur de Feu because it is such a very soft type of scent. Perhaps I have anosmia to some key component? Although I was finally able to smell it distinctly, I had to decant the cologne and spray the entire inside of my shearing hat before I was able to catch and examine this perfume up close! It has some warmth but if I were to assign a color to this scent, it would be a rather pale yellow. I smell the iris and an almost lemony rose, along with touches of ylang and jasmine.It makes me think of  Chanel No. 5, more than any other Guerlain perfumes I know.  My cold is still bothering me a little, so I plan to resniffing but so far I can't get any carnation. It has a certain Maquillage quality almost as if its guerlainade was created with aldehydes rather than vanilla. I wonder how well it sold in the 1950s? Despite being so light, it still smells good enough to make someone crave an extra helping of hugs. I plan on wearing it, and the Mitsouko, plenty in the upcoming year and the big EDC bottles means I can splash them on with abandon.

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

Thanks to and for the old Guerlain ads!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Œillets, Rouge et Blanc: Vintage Carnation Perfume Roundup for Winter Solstice

It's nearly Christmas day, and I'm just ending a terrible two week cold that robbed me of my olfactory senses for the last week and a half... hence the posts bereft of much content in terms of out right perfume reviews. So today in order to celebrate the joy of the approaching Christmas and reflect on this time to give thanks for all and renew wishes for peace on this Earth, I pulled a clutch of my vintage carnation scents from the vault today to review in round up. Their rich warmth is an especially welcome sensation after the routine of constant sneezing and nose blowing of the past few days. The photo above is admittedly rough but it serves as a reference for the line up.

First from the left is a small vial of vintage Avon Crimson Carnation. It is an 1/8 oz bottle, made in USA of what I believe is perfume. Very sweet, lilac, honey and orange scented carnation with a plumy rose heart and neat little civet-musky- honey bottom- no powder here! This is a mightly spicy little hot-sauce number of a carnation- too bad it seems to be pretty little known or discussed. I wonder with that name if it didn't go with a lipstick shade? Next in line is a nearly identical bottle but the 1/4 oz size, is the carnation made by La-Tausca, the Genesee Trading company brand of drug-store variety perfumes. It came in the smart gold box pictured behind it. This is a pale tinny scent with nail polish remover notes and a little peppery stale floral and a harsh musky base. Without any comparison, it reads as 'vintage carnation' but nothing special, but standing next to better scents, it really suffers. The third bottle from the left is a funky chunky nearly square presentation I love, the top a large gold cube, the bottle, a shorter glass cube that looks purple thanks to the color of the juice inside it. By Chambly Creations of Chicago, Illinois it is Sweden Carnation, in what is labeled skin parfum. It is 1/2 oz size. It smells like a drier herbal tinged composition, the carnation is rosy and slightly bruised. It also feels watery and smells a little soapy, the spice increases as it dries.

Next and to the front is a little gold embellished bottle of Nina Ricci perfume, it is not for sure to mke that this is the better known L'Air du Temps- it is a little old. This is a sharp-sweet white carnation with strong lily of the valley notes and a perfumey, emotion heightening sense to it, if that makes sense. Next is Prince Matchebelli Potpourri, a syrupy oily carnation scent (it is bath oil, after all)  that is heavy on the rose and lemony facets- geramium?, with a fatter quality, less spice, not firey but nearly grape-figgy sweetness. It dries down spicier with rum notes. You can find this one on line occasionally for not too much $, the bottle is precious with little stars embossed all over and it would make for a yummy bath!

Slightly in fron of the round Potpourri bottle is a small vial of Caron Poivre- this may not be technically discontinued, but I'm not sure, it could be as well. Nevertheless it is certainly spice and it is here among my carnations- now this one comes across almost medicinal at first. It has a true tiger balm note that some people say smells like bandaides, it's almost rubbery and mentholated. Tearing on under those fumes is more spice, pepper, cloves and burnt tobacco with soft honey traces. A proper perfume with enough presence that a man could easily wear it. Behind and to the right of this is another Caron creation- the incomparable Bellodgia- a 1960 era purse parfum of 1/4 oz. Here the true honeysuckle tinged sweetness of carnaations drunk on narcissus and still perfectly pink in their cinnamon teaberry spice. This is indeed the queen of the carnations, with a tart bum of a base.  Finally last in line across the front, Floris Malmaison. Here is another type of red carnation, with an animal nearly bo type note, not too strong with a dry bay leaf tinged carnation, it dries down with a strong note of finely milled french soap in perfect counterbalance to the animal scent that lasts in equal measure, a very mature & sophisticated carnation.

In the back of my photo are lined with some additional perfume favorites of mine that all owe quite a bit of their nature to a pursausive note of carnation: Left to right far rear: M de Molinard- a foresty pine, moss and carnation concoction, very white. Next, Givenchy Indecence parfum mini- this vanilla sandalwood overdosed floral is buttery cinnamon nearly narcotic confection of ylang and carnation bliss. A step down to the right you can't see my little carnation-leather by Robert Piguet, Bandit- the original bad boy of carnation scents, in a ~5ml parfum vial, with strong green-weedy notes that grows surprisingly agreeable as roasted notes of leather and coffee emerge. Lastly, Zadig parfum 1/2 oz by Emilio Pucci. This perfume is a creamy symphony while alluding  to a creamy sumptuous carnation with caramel tones has notes of ylang jasmine and musk. And finally not pictured, but closing my round-up of carnations for Christmas nonetheless is Estee Lauder's Spellbound parfum, with notes of stewed fruits, pimentos, fire smoke and civet, it takes carnation into the dark, edible realm.

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

Friday, December 18, 2009

TOVA OLD Original Perfume. What Happened?

Tova, for those of you who don't pay any attention to QVC or MUA, is the wife of Ernest Borgnine. He's the actor who won a best oscar for playing "Marty" in the early 1950s. But, back to Tova, she has this line of among other things, perfumes, on QVC. She's been selling her special Tova Original or Tova Signature, there for the past 15 years or so. I originally came across what's known as the "old formula" for Tova Signature perfume. I was immediately struck by a sort of hybridized musk-sandalwood with a light bergamot and possibly jasmine opening. The entire thing struck me as weightless, like a certain type of musk (the kind that plays hide and seek with you all day) with a cool citrusy opening. It felt like sort of an extreme abbreviation and a sugarless abstraction of Shalimar. Then the change came. First came an almost cheesier bottle, sort of a budget Narcisco Rodriguez style but clear with pink stripes. Then the smell- a cheap, harsh, wacked-out detergent, chemical bug spray. Now I've come to realize, the change (away from macrocyclic musks?) to a newer musk and probably less sandalwood are to blame. The proportions are all off now, even if nothing else has changed, it threw everything off about this fragrance. But the thing is, it "cooks" over time and actually improves, coming closer (but never really reaching) the greatness of the former version. But now there are many flankers and even single note variations (among them, sandalwood and jasmine, natch.) And I don't know that any of them really capture any of that old Tova magic. I usually do not trash fragrances here. But today I cam across a perfume-related product of Tova's and I'm so dissapointed in the lack of quality that I had to blog about it.. I'm speaking of her perfume powder pendant. It sounded so promising, but after opening the package, what was I thinking? Powder perfume? Sure, maybe... A pendant- possibly, especially if the production quality of the item is high. But unfortunately here it isn't and nothing came together. The pendant materials, espcially the silk cord and it's hideously ugly closure, look and feel cheap; also the powder cartridges are small and not very scented. Unlike Tova, who is herself a beautiful woman, the pendant does not live up to the former glory of Tova Original 3 ingredient Signature perfume.  It's a bittersweet moment here in the vault since in this case, things have changed, but not for the better.

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

Shopping Tips for Vintage Perfume; giving the gift of fragrance.

Besides a lovely string of pearls (and in today's economy, these may no longer be affordable for most of us), are few gifts that could be more sentimental than the gift of a beloved bottle of scent. Unfortunately in today's world, perfumes tend to have a short life on the shelf and an even shorter promotional life. By the time you realize you've got a hankering to give a special someone a particular scent, it may not still be available at your local mall, and chances are, if it is, it has been reformulated and no longer smells like the original version of your memories. What to do? Well my advice is to buy vintage fragrance, of course!

But as much as I applaud and celebrate vintage scents, I'll admit they aren't always easy to find! You can't just pick up the phone and order them brought to your room on a silver platter, and there are some pitfalls to avoid when it comes to getting your hands on the good stuff. So in this season of givining, let's review some of the basics of buying vintage, hard to find and discontinued scents; hopefully a few of you will add your own tips in the posting comments sections below.

First of all- where to buy... I recommend if you're just hunting around for treasure, without a specific fragrance in mind, that you tour your local resources first. Your best local resource is likely to be your cities second hand and thrift stores. Now if you really, really want to find something, but you're not even sure what you want to find, just go look... and be prepared to go often. Make it a part of your regular routine, stop by a couple of times a week, on the way to or from work for example and chances are you'll benefit from frequent visits to your targeted stores. I don't visit all the thrift stores in my town- I won't have time! But I've picked one or two that are located well for me and those are the shops I frequent. If you're lucky, you'll also find antique shops or malls located locally. My next favorite venue? Antique fairs and flea markets. These can be more difficult to locate and many only operate on a given weekend or during a peak season, so check your local area, or google for fairs near you. These are well worth an occasional trip, and I've always profited from the first visit. If you live close to the outlet or even within a days drive, lost luggage outlets are a source of many surprising treasures. Again, google will lead you there!

Next in line for me are local garage and estate sales. Check your local newpaper classifieds every weekend if you choose to venture out for this particular brand of bargin hunt and consider investing in a Garmin or TomTom. As fun as this form of treasure hunt can be, these are no longer a super source for me - mostly because they require a LOT of leg work and valuable weekend time that I don't really have so I personally don't look there as much as I used to, but you might be surprised at what you'll find if you have the time and energy. I have had great luck at those venues, however.

Now if you ar eseeking something a little more current, but no longer in stock at your local Nordstroms, what you need is a quick visist to the outlet stores such as Marshall's, TJMax, Ross or your area's version of those stores. These places can't be beat when it comes to a great place to find recently discontinued and sold out perfumes and scented products at steep discounts. I am surprised every time I stop in, but again, smart shoppers go frequently to find the really desirable items (and we aren't the only ones out there looking, competition can be stiff and I get the feeling more than a few of the finds from theses sources end up online with high mark-ups.) But why not do your own leg-work and be someone's scented Santa this year!

Now, if you are looking for a specific vintage perfume, such as pre-IFRA, oakmoss enriched Mitsouku, then you really have to use your online resources. I've listed some of the best, most reliable sites I've patronized at the top of this blog but that's just a handfull of the sites that are out there. I'm also soliciting you for additions as I'd like to increase the list, in case you're charitable enough to share and name names.

Then there are the giants, EBay and Craigslist. Scary as it can be, Ebay is still the safest and dare I say it, the best. I've heard nightmares about Craigslist; NEVER agree to meet anyone in person and be careful in every contact you make - I've never consumated a deal for perfume there but I've looked around a bit. One problem I have with Craigslist is that many folks list perfumes without photos, which makes it hard to judge if you're even interested. But I think it may be getting better. Of course, keep all activies limited to buying by mail and at least you'll stay in control of your personal safety. But as far as buyer protection, I think Ebay still beats CL. But especially on Ebay keep an eye on the seller's location- sadly, it seems that some exotic and far away places are more prone to internet graft on Ebay than others... Pay attention to seller feedback too of course, and look at the seller's other items and completed listings FIRST not after making that bid. Also, ask questions before buying anything.

Now I am by no means an Ebay expert, so ask around as you can probably find someone you know personally who is... but I've recently learned that there are some fine points to the rules to selling and buying there. For example it is NOT good form to ask anybody to sell you anything privately. I love perfume people and I always tend to think we're special, so my bias is to protect us- for example, thinking about ways to save the seller money in Ebay fees. But really, I guess EBay when you think about it, Ebay needs to make their money too. So I know now, after making a suggestion that someone invoice me for something  as yet unlisted, directly through paypal, that this technically violates one of Ebay's many policies. And from other experiences, I can tell you that Ebay is like a sleeping giant. You don't want to wake the giant. Again, I can see why profit wise, but be careful and learn from me, don't let your mania and love for a purchase make you do or say anthing rash, or step over any bounds.

Now I do suggest establishing and exchanging email information with any friendly sellers you meet who seem like "real" perfume people, because Ebay isn't likely to be there for us forever. There is legal movement on the EBay front regarding preventing people from selling perfumes there. Some people even think Ebay may pull the rug out on the vintage and all second hand fragrance trading in the near future, as they did with people selling decants and samples a few years back.  If you look for samples on Ebay today, you'll see quite a few sample listings have crept back onto the site, however that could change at a moment's notice. It would be sad if EBay does pull it's plug on used perfumes,as it really is the greatest resource we have...

Despite, or perhaps precisely because it's status as the world's best market place for vintage perfumes, I also see a great number of spurious ads for rare older fragrances on Ebay. Reports of fakery and fraudulent versions of bottles, refilled with who knows what, abounds there. Often those questionable listings neglect or misspell the name of the perfume or maker, and if you look often enough, you can develop a sixth sense for the "bad" listings. I recently found a seller using the term "group" in their seller name (something like eocgroup93, for example) listing "rare perfume" with photographs of fabuluos, hard to find scents but not mentioning the name of the house (Dior, Chanel, Hermes etc) in the title of the ad or giving any text with the ad; it looked very fishy to me and so I avoid those types of deals. Also watch out for sellers from other countries, since many will not allow liquids to be shipped across international borders. I had one experience with a seller sending me an empty the perfume bottle (that had been advertised with perfume in it!), after failing to mention in his ad that he always drains the bottles before sending them!!!! So from now on, I look for sellers within the US only. Also, insure your packages in case the package is damaged in shipping.

With those caveats aside, I've gotten many great deals on many genuine, just-as-advertised super fantastic perfumes on Ebay. Personally I can accept the few bum deals I've come across as the cost of doing business in such an anonymous, impersonal market place. I try to be prudent and careful, and so far my experiences with buying vintage perfumes on Ebay has been worthwhile overall. Now I'm asking as many of you that care to, please add your experiences in the comments below so as many as possible can benefit. I'm a firm believer in doing unto others, and I certainly want to pass along to you what has so richly enhanced my experiences seeking vintage fragance treasures. Whichever way you go, good luck and happy hunting!

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jean D'Albret CASAQUE Perfume

I'm wearing Jean D"Albret's classic Casaque today. There isn't any good reason for choosing it except possibly I'm still vibing on blue notes, thinking about last week's Candlelight perfume. Casaque doesn't have any lilac in it per se but there's hyacinth and typically it's blue. I suspect hyacinth is closely related to narcissus, or jonquil, and it usually reminds me of pure sunshine. It's not exactly a lemony warm sunshine feeling but rather a radiant flower full-to-brimming over with nectar feeling that seduces everything it touches. Used in perfume, it creates a lush, full bodied scent bursting and juicy. Besides the hyacinth, I can pick out the lily of the valley, jasmine, ylang-ylang and rose. It's a non-foody, non-fruity, non-vanilla, nectar fest. When I check the official notes of Casaque, mimosa and citrus, lemon  and bergamot are also listed. Of course they are there in the composition, lending a sour-sweet (nearly urinous, but not quite) honey embellishment to the green floral. This perfume opens in a rush, all the notes hitting you quickly and swirling about before the lemon honey thins things out a bit. Some people report this scent is soapy- I know there's supposed to be some carnation in it , but I don't see it as having a clean or creamy flavor. In fact it can go a little animalish with me, that honey thing growing more intense as the floral sugar rush dies down. The lily of the valley is a pure delight here. It is delicate and almost high-pitched but just delectible, trending towards Serge Lutens' Un Lys, in that by turns the lily smells more like a true lily flower, or tiger lily and less like LOV. The dry-down retains a bit of the floral brightness and honey sour, but it is very mild, anchored by a soft sandalwood and musk. The scent is surprisingly light for all the richness I decribe and actually it is the type of thing a young girl could wear in the spring or summer. The perfume is purer, sweeter smelling, more LOV, like good, old school formulation Diorissimo parfum, just very very nice. The EDC is really good, too, with maybe a little plumy underbody and a lighter, fresher form, but otherwise very true to the perfume.  I understand Irma Shorell has the license for Casaque but I've never smelt her version.   The Vintage Perfume Vault, where the scent of yesterday's vogue lives.

Note: I have a bad habit of posting vintage perfume ads for you to view for free and in context of a perfume discussion. I apologize for providing freebies to you but I love free information and I hate the ruthless elimination of free information from the 'net. It'll be the death of the darn thing, when everything gets covered up with a fee per view banner! I for one am not in favor, I'm more of a pirate than a prince (or princess) , I guess. So these are some of the last perfme advertising images you'll see from the vintage ads. The bottle is my photo.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Colonial Dames, the First California Perfume Company?

I am enchanted by a new find this week, a wonderful vintage Lilac perfume with the evocative name Candle Light made by Colonial Dames. Marietta Bosworth Willats, an American stage actress, established the company in San Francisco in 1886.  Her picture, as well as some additional historical insights and photographs, is still featured on the official Colonial Dames website ( Colonial Dames was one of the first companies of its kind, particularly on the West Coast to offer its clients high quality skin care, toiletry products. In fact, the California Perfume Company- now Avon- is often touted as the first American perfume and tioletry company. It was also established in 1886 although contrary to it's name, on the East coast. However on the west coast  which was considerably less civilized at that time, Colonial Dames quickly became a favorite of Californian women. Actresses like Marietta and other modern-minded gals especially flocked to Colonial Dames seeking to enhance their natural charms. By the 1920s the company relocated closer to the heart of California's burgeoning film industry- Los Angeles. There Colonial Dames became an early favorite among professional make-up men and prop handlers, flourishing through the 1930s and 40s. In fact the company is still in existance although their current product line appears to consist solely of vitamin E oil and creams.

This photohgraph from the 1936 Three Stooges film short "Slippery Silks" provides us a glimpse of Colonial Dames products and among the jars, several perfume bottles. Reportedly the company produced a few perfumes after World War II, including Bachelor Button and Tra-La (1946), French Quarter (1956) and Cloud 7 (1961). Note that my own bottle has a foil/paper label, is made of very thin glass and has a panelled hand-blown mold construction. It has a tiny cut glass stopper as well. Considering its style and construction I estimate my Colonial Dames perfume bottle is from the 1930s. I was delighted to find the scent of the perfume seems to be well preserved!

At the very first whiff, I detected a strong animal, indolic note, and worried about the wearability of the perfume. But it was only a trace of fish, from the really sticky residue that had accumulated at the neck of the container. As soon as I dabbed some of fresher juice from inside the container onto my skin, I detected a much sweeter scent. At first, I had an impression of a jasmine, almost jonquil like scent, a spicy floral with a fruity, almost frambois quality. The perfume has a piercing intensity, animalic-turpentine touches and something harsher and woody, possibly vetiver, in the base. Yet the overall effect is sweet and floral and thoroughly wearable. As it wears, an ambery "play-doh" base with mild bready undertones emerges. I can detect a small amount of what may be fir balsam in the dry down as well. I asked my husband to give it a sniff in its full-on sweet phase- he's my 'control subject', and he said it smelled of fresh cut pine wood shavings and a spicy, incensy flowers.  He also gave it a thumbs up for wearability. Lilac is a classic flower that many of our grandmothers used in their own home brewed perfume concoctions and it has been largely ignored in fine modern perfumery. Aside from being lovely to look at, it is one of those flowers blessed with a complex nature and creates a soliflor that can smell like a fully developed composition. Candlelight is a lovely, rich and complex lilac. For as much as I can smell, the quality of the juice is apparent. For me, this is an important find because it speaks to the early history and high quality of commerical perfumery in California. I would say this humble creation rivals a period Caron in quality, which it reminds me of very much in terms of scent character.
The Vintage Perfume Vault, where the scent of yesterday's vogue lives.

Note: photographs of Miss Bosworth and the Three Stooges were borrowed from the Colonial Dames webiste, although the Three Stooges footage is available elsewhere. The shot of Candlelight Perfume bottle is my husband's.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Original Ungaro Perfume

You're looking at one of my new perfume cabinets which figures into my Ungaro story.
The original Ungaro perfume came out in 1977. I'm not sure when it was discontinued but occasionally you can still find it from the usual on-line suspect (E***). The bottles are gem-like, deep sapphire blue glass with an elegant pattern, topped by brilliant emerald green glass stopper (for the EDP, like mine above). The EDP is dressed up with a ruby pink ribbon at its neck, the EDT has a green plastic cap and a gold metal band instead. Save the plastic cover over the neck of the glass stopper, the presentation is quite opulent. Suggestive of gemstones and finely hung fabrics, it is as rich as the scent it houses. Released in 1977, Ungaro is very much in the style of 1980s powerhouse scents- and like Ungaro's fashions of the same period, it was a few years ahead of its time. Also like his fashions, this first scent was a melange of all good things, marrying complex layers of ingredients like precious florals, spices and woods.

The scent opens with aldehydes, rose, coriander, orange blossom, jasmine, neroli, bergamot and lemon, followed by middle notes of iris, turkish rose and lily-of-the-valley. The composition rests on a base of sandalwood, tonka bean, amber, patchouli, musk, vanilla, cedar and cardamom. An oriental fragrance, the notes promise something decadent and festive and Ungaro does not disappoint. Indeed, it is a sumptuous treat for those who like their poisons thick and sweet. In fact before I checked the dates, I thought Ungaro Women might have been a nod to Doir's iconic Poison. But considering the Ungaro preceded Dior's creation by over 20 years, perhaps it was the other way around. And although my initial perception was that the two scents were nearly identical, in smelling them side by side, I found that Poison actually does have a rather bitter heart, and so it is quite well named; Ungaro on the other hand is pure confectionery bliss. The spiciness is tamped down (no patchouli here!) and tightly wrapped up in a rosy Turkish delight, powdered with Iris sugar crystals, swimming in a bowl of vanilla-flecked musk cream. Maybe the bowl is made of wood, because it is classified as a woody oriental. But it's really a gourmand's scent, a fantasy of floralized nougat.

Ungaro is very sweet and it's longevity is stunning as well. The bottle you see in the top photo toppled over and an ounce or so of the EDP soaked into our new home's carpet right under the new perfum cabinet, so the whole area is embued with it. The rose, vanilla, musk and sandalwood have lasted longest and I keep catching whiffs of it as I walk by.

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