Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year 2010-2011!

To you Queens of Vintage! To you Model's Own! To you Art Deco! To you I can't get enough of rose perfumes...! To you The Non-Blonde! To you I Smell Therefore I Am! To you El Perfume: Un Poema Errante!  To you The Emporer's Old Clothes! To you Perfume Shrine! To you Yesterday's Perfume! To you Tauer's Perfumes! To you Olfactoria's Travels! To you Perfume Smellin' Things! To you Muse in Wooden Shoes! To you All I am a red-head! To you Cleopatra's Boudoir! To you Sorcery of Scent! To you Bonkers About Perfume!  To you Katie Puckrik Smells! To you One Thousand Scents! To you Pink Manhattan!  To you 1000fragrances! To you Voyages of Scent-Perfumes of Yesteryear! To you Olfactorialist! To you My Perfume Life! To you Mossy Loomings! To you Ed Shepp's Scent Spectacular! To you Vintage Venus and Vintage Powder Room! To you Il Mondo di Odore!

I took a shot of perfume for each of you!  Thanks for making 2010 so entertaining and thanks to anyone I forgot. It's been great! See you all in 2011. Enjoy the New Year celebrations and be safe, y'all!

PS: Tonight after some defumigating, I'll slip into vintage No 5 to ring in the New Year... Just a traditionalist at heart, I suppose!

 1907, the first time the ball was raised in Times Square.

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

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Questions about ancient Guerlain: New Mown Hay & Vetiver

I'd wanted to photograph the rare Guerlain New Mown Hay label and blow it up for you all to see. But thanks to a poor packing job, now it's just a smeary mess of silvery black paint. At least one bottle arrived intact. Ironically the seller didn't take any special precautions at all with the Vetiver bottle; hence it's the one that didn't leak.

These bottles are much older than 1959, which is supposedly the first year Guerlain released their Vetiver scent. Guerlain has been around a long time so maybe there are some lesser known scents floating around. But are these two bottles examples of these rare old Guerlains, or are they just a couple of old fakes? Mostly they're a curiosity to me for the juice inside. Since they didn't cost too much, I don't really care a whole lot about the provenance. But I am curious, of course! The bottles do look very similar to other old Guerlain bottles like this one:

 Rita, a rare 1900 Guerlain first blogged by Octavian at 1000fragrances.

The Guerlain bottles holding Vetiver and New Mown Hay are shown below as they were when the seller photographed them. It's hard to tell but they are squatty and compact at only 4" tall. Also the bottles are short-necked and clearly made of molded glass, not polished crystal like the 1930s Kadine bottle shown sitting between them.

Are these perfumes genuine Guerlain?? New Mown Hay is often referred to as a singular note but in the 19th and early 20th century New Mown Hay scents were a genre unto themselves. Based on a stereotypical formula almost every perfumer offered their own version of new mown hay. Similar to soliflore scents are built around the idea of a single flower, although like those the formula likely contains a long list of ingredients. Today we see many such single note scents: Egyptian musk, fig, and thousands of others. See Demeter, Marc Jacobs and Jo Malone for examples of modern examples marketed as single notes or around the idea of scent layering.

Somehow I don't think Guerlain would have had a similar strategy of bottling single notes for their clients 100 years ago. Did they send bottles of individual notes to dispensaries where pharmacist/perfumers made different Guerlain perfumes by mixing primary essences? More likely both of these were sold commercially as perfumes but perhaps early examples composed by Pierre Francois Pascal Guerlain when the scents were custom made to order. Grace of Cleopatra's Boudoir reports that Guerlain did have a version of New Mown Hay but as far as I can tell no one has a date for NMHay. This bottle may well be an example of it.

Of scent, these are simple compositions and not nearly as complex as the women who would have worn them...
image: Sarah Bernhardt

image: shorpy archives, anonymous 1900 portrait, semi-risque

Guerlain's New Mown Hay smells almost exactly like almond paste to me. Mildly nutty and very sweet, it wears down to a light and powdery vanilla. It lasts about 4 hours on my skin, maybe a bit longer. Coumarin is the main note associated with new mown hay scent. It is the principle scent component found in sweet grass and sweet clover. Coumarou literally means tonka bean in French. Tonka bean is also loaded with coumarin which gives it that sweet vanilla-like odor.

Guerlain's ancient Vetiver is dryly smokey with oak-to-cedar wood and whiskey notes. It's sometimes hard to remember that vetiver is a grass- here it smells like the best, most aromatic juniper berries and wood, lightly charred and as smooth as velvet.

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

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Carven Vert et Blanc Perfume

Carven Dress 1960

Madame Carven circa 1970 sitting atop a factice Ma Griffe perfume box. They say she is a very small lady, but really! I think she must be a very good sport.

Vert et Blanc came to me wrapped in traditional green and white, an old 1960s import from Japan. The juice was not perfect, some had evaporated due to a deteriorated stopper. Despite that I can still smell the jasmine, ylang-ylang, and something like tuberose or is it just the rubber? Vert et Blanc is sharp green and floral. Yet the bottom radiates a unique warmth thanks to a spectacular helping of ambergris, while the top remains impossibly crisp and chic.

Above is Madame Carven's first dress; note her signature green and white stripe. Madame Carven, aka Carmen de Tomasso, began her career in fashion in 1941. Soon she got into perfumes and scored a huge hit with Ma Griffe, composed by Jean Carles. Vert et Blanc, or Green and White, was created for the 1958 Universal Exhibition in Brussels- the first world's fair following WWII.

Above, Carmen De Tommaso in 1951 wearing one of her own designs. Below Carven is 101 years old yet something about her remains child-like. 

Vert et Blanc was typical of Carven's approach to perfumes which she felt were often too heavy and intense for most women. She advised women to buy perfumes that were bright and uplifting instead of wearing something selected by a man who bought it because it smelled good on "the blonde selling perfume in the store." Her attitude was as refreshing as her Vert et Blanc. Classified with Miss Dior, Vivara, Givenchy III and Revlon's great resious green Intimate but Vert et Blanc fits better alongside perfumes like Bandit and Jolie Madame, imo. Certainly it has nothing in common with any powdery, aldehydic or soft perfume.

Classic Perfumes from the House of Carven:
Ma Griffe 1948 (floral chypre aldehyde)
Robe d'un Soir 1948 (aromatic fougere)
Chasse Gardée 1950 (floral amber-spice)
Vert et Blanc 1958 (green chypre)
Eau Vive 1966 (fruity floral citrus)

Modern Releases:
Madame 1980
Guirlandes 1982
Carven Homme 1990
Variations 2001

Musings on Vert et Blanc:

The green is for galbanum. Native to the Mediterranean, Galbanum is related to fennel. A scrubby little shrub with clusters of tiny yellow flowers, the plant has hollow stalks that exude a milky white green substance when cut. Once dried the fragrant resin is used as a fixative for perfumes or burned in incense. Used in perfumes since antiquity, galbanum is one of the four ingredients in holy incense along with stacte, onycha, and frankincense. Its bitter odor is said to represent the bitterness of sin in the world.

Green but not grassy, leafy, or mossy, galbanum is unique and complex. Almost a complete perfume on its own, the notes weave a trail from bright and sharp to deep and meditative: green apples, green bamboo, bitter parsley, evergreen, resins, spices, woods, balsam and musk. It's one of the perfumer's favorite greens because it has the power to create vibrant, saturated green perfumes. Carven must have loved it. Chanel 19, Must de Cartier, Vent Vert, Bandit and Cabochard all rely on galbanum for a lush lash of green.

The white is for ambergris. Ambergris is aged whale puke; sperm whale puke, specifically. Ambergris is made up of a bunch of fatty cholesterol-like compounds including something called ambrein. Ambrein comes from squid and cuttlefish originally; the ancient Romans reputedly used dried cuttlefish as a base for their musky scented fragrances. Sperm whales love their squid and cuttlefish but have trouble digesting the sharp beak bits tucked inside the mouths of cuttlefish and squid. Below, a handful of the squid/cuttlefish beaks:

The sperm whale secretes a sticky black material that binds up all the beaks; then they puke the whole sticky, smelly black mass up. Whale-puke turns waxy and lightens in color as it is pounded against the ocean water and bleached by the sun. The resultant foamy gray-green goop eventually turns to a whitish gray. Once it's aged it has a pleasantly sweet, earthy and salty diffusive odor. Ambergris has been known since antiquity as a fixative par excellence. It is used for precious perfumes since it has the effect of making other fragrances last much longer than they would otherwise. Aged and weathered ambergris is said to be able to retain its odor for centuries.

Above image: aged "beach combed" ambergris available at, currently $25 /gram. Ambergris has been used to flavor dried fruit, tobacco, wine, hot chocolate and even chewed as lozenges. In the Middle East, it is/was used a medicine. In other parts of the world eggs are still fried in fat flavored with ambergris. Ambergris is traditionally used for perfumery in the form of a tincture: 3% solids dissolved in 95% alcohol. The key characteristics of the odor are seaweed-like (I say: salty-inky), woody (sandalwood) and moss with a sweet buttery undertone of radiant appeal and great tenacity. 

People don't like ambergris because of it's association with whale hunting. Today, it is typically collected after the whale expels it but I have seen it being pulled from a slaughtered whales as well. I wouldn't wear a vintage fur, but somehow I justify it for the vintage ambergris. There really isn't anything like it; my apologies to all offended fans of ambroxan. But it's the tension between the combination of green and white that makes Vert et Blanc sparkle and light up so. Not like Ma Griffe nor any of the others it resembles, it's a shame Vert et Blanc went away.
The Vintage Perfume Vault, where the scent of yesterday's vogue lives.
detail of John Singer Sargent painting
hand with cuttlefish beaks from links
netstrider Ambergris pathfinder
pictures of perfumes, Madame Carven from
hprints for the first photo, black and white dress
Carven 1951 at elssey

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fur and Violets

fur and violets image: vetivresse

Some things smell really good and seem to go together naturally; so how could I've forgotten to include mention of the violets in Weil's Noir Parfum?! In keeping with the black theme and extending the analogy, violets are inexorably linked with mourning according to tradition as well. Accordingly Jacqueline Fraysse did not forget to weave a nosegay full of them into her Noir composition. Personal biases against examining death too much during this time of year aside, I wanted to rectify this omission for the reader trying to sort out the smell of Noir in their mind based on my earlier review. Violet and leather is a well known theme for the vintage perfume buff a la Madame Joile, Bandit and the Cuir de Russie leathers by Vonna, and Chanel. But I smell much more going on in Noir. The violets slip away early on for me and even the leather gives way to fur... but still, I apologize for leaving this aspect out of the original story!

image: shopcurious

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

Monday, December 27, 2010

Back to Black Part II: Noir Perfume by Weil

Noir, or if you prefer it in English, Black. What did this name mean to Jacqueline Fraysse and why did she choose it for this perfume?

Today, the term 'noir' conjures up images of 1940s film stars striking fierce poses, trapped in dire situations. Prior to that however it was most likely connected to ideas about the color black, as in fashion. But from the 1800s, even much earlier and through to the 1920s, black was something of a rarity in women's clothing.

 1880 mourning outfit

Black was reserved as a color to be worn for mourning, exclusively. There were strict protocols concerning the mores of mourning fashion; plain cotton or wool, solid black for the first year and a day, with only solid black accessories allowed. Women were rarely seen in public wearing this full mourning black. For the next period lasting nine months, black satin was permitted. In the last three months of mourning women graduated to somber dark tones usually shades of deep purple sometimes with purple or lavender jewelry.
 1884 Madame X, John Singer Sargent

In 1884 John Singer Sargent set out to change all of that when he showed his doomed painting Madame X. He hoped the supposedly anonymous picture would launch his portrait career but instead it tanked. The painting failed partly because everyone recognized the subject: Virginie Amélie Gautreau. Born in Louisiana in 1850 Gautreau was as well known for her rumored infidelities as for her great beauty. But it was her appearance, the fit of her dress, and especially the color- a stark column of black velvet against an expanse of glaring white skin- that was most widely and hotly criticized.

But somehow in the eye of history it didn't matter. The tide had turned towards black. It's elegance, economy and flattery to the female form, particularly in photographs and on film, was undeniable. Then in 1926 American Vogue ran a picture of Coco Chanel's newest creation, the little black dress and hailed it "Chanel's Ford".  Her claim to the LBD was not undisputed; Nettie Rosenstein is championed by some as its true innovator but through the eyes of history Coco clearly won this one.

Wallace Simpson was an early, well known proponent of wearing black for the sake of fashion alone. She is quoted as saying of the LBD: "when it's [right], there's nothing else to wear..." In 1937, Noir continued to exist primarily as a color choice of fashion's avant garde.

The Elsa Schiaparelli black wool hat, fitted bolero and dress above was designed for an elite clientele, circa 1937 from the Conde Naste Photo Archive.

A decade later in this 1947 fashion shot Richard Avedon showed us the daring drama of a cocktail dress in black. Fifteen years later the mod club kids in London took to wearing it  usually with jolts of white and Andy Warhol filled the Silver Factory with his beautiful people dressed in black.

Finally movie stars like Audrey Herburn and teen model Twiggy made noir over into something gamine, impossibly young and fresh. And that was how black became cool.

In 2011 it's easy to forget the difficult journey noir traveled to become our uniform and our comfort zone.

This year Santa brought me a sealed bottle of Weil's Noir Perfume for Christmas. He couldn't have known at the time how well he did. I couldn't either because once Noir landed in my hand I was crushed to discover the stopper was firmly wedged into the neck of the perfume bottle.  Like a true perfumer fiend, I quickly went to my bookmarked favorites and opened Dimitri's post about unsticking stuck stoppers. I re-read it before clearing a workspace for myself. I assembled my tools- a plastic pipette, some vegetable oil, a clean cloth. I applied the oil just so and waited the required time before carefully placing the wrapped bottle into the [frost free] freezer, waited some more and in 30 minutes or so with the bottle thoroughly chilled, proceeded to carefully made my first attempt at opening it. And: nothing. Again, all steps were repeated. And again: nothing. I paced a bit; I thought about whacking it like a mole. I even had sort of a mini tantrum and debated boxing it off to someone else, like Dimitri- not that he knows me or anything about the perfume but, maybe someone else could work some magic on it and get it open. Someone should enjoy it, right? Ah, the things we go through for our perfume fix!

I enlarged the above photo so you can see the little tiny hole in the bottom. Yes we had to drill into it. Now I won't pretend it was an easy-peasy process. It was actually kind of a major pain what with balancing the bottle and drilling over a bowl in case the bottle shatters way under the pressure of drilling, constantly lubricating the bit with oil and stopping to  check progress every minute or so. It took some patient work to get through the glass, and near the end I just tapped through with a pin-thin metal file. Extracting the perfume from such a small hole was a whole other challenge- save yourself the heart-ache and just go get a syringe equipped with a needle before you start.

I finally decanted the perfume into a pretty little Coty bottle but probably lost at least a ml or two trying to empty the bottle without the syringe! On the whole it was a trying process; and in the end I really hate not having Noir in it's correct container. But the alternative of not experiencing Noir wasn't happening- not on Christmas! And after getting into it, there was a rich reward; a soul-satisfying scent the likes of which I've not experienced since discovering Chanel's own Cuir de Russie (1924).

Noir is a perfectly executed tender-yet-seductive floral leather.

Like a great little black dress Noir goes on easy, at first. Orange blossom, bergamot and mandarin combine sweetly while Rose, jasmine and iris hum and thrum along. A thin green ribbon of vetiver laces up the leather, amber and styrax notes... Admittedly these notes are cribbed from Chanel's CdR yet it is also what I visualize upon smellng Noir. There is a sweetness in Noir that is lacking in Chanel's masterpiece but it is restrained. There is also a distinctly milky peach skin like effect that plays against the darker notes like a view of white skin against a rich black gown.

As I worked to clean up the tools and traces of perfume debauchery, the space around me was filled with an exquisitely delicate cloud of leather. Soft, suede like, the leather is more of a fur scent, exactly like the smell of a fine sable paintbrush complete with the snap-sharp odor of lacquer/glue that clings to new brushes; I find it quite addictive.

Through a veil of iris and balsams comes a clear impression of make up; the vision of a woman seated at her vanity. She dips a marabou puff into her Caron powder scented with the finest Rose de Mai. In the ashtray, incense papers smolder while Nina Simone plays in the background. She dabs on Weil's Noir parfum and anticipates her plans for the evening. Noir ends with the strong, raw musk of an intimate encounter; only traces of flowers, leather and powder remain all hidden under the spice that keeps it just wearable in public.

Brassai Le Corset Noir 1934

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

natalie portman as the black swan at
coco chanel in black at viaconanso.blogspot
1880s mourning outfit at millionthingstosay.tumblr
double indemnity at metaphilm
John Singer Sargant's 1884 Madame X at
Duchess of Windsor - lost reference
Mods at HouseofKhan.blogspot
Andy Warhol at
Audrey Hepburn at thelittleblackdressforless.wordpress
twiggy at simplychic.blogspot
Victoria Beckham at HarryPottering
barbara stanwyck from
lady at vanity at
Brassai Le Corset Noir at blogaboutablogabout.blogspot

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Noir Part I

Many thanks to Katie of Scentzilla and through her, Jill Martin Clements (aka rockinruby throughout Ebay/Internet circles) among others for many of the details and specifics of Weil Parfum history.

Weil Fur Ad 1920

Weil Fur Ad 1920

Weil Fur Ad 1925
Weil Fur Ad 1932

Furriers by trade, perfumers by destiny. Since 1920 Alfred, Jacques and Marcel Weil enjoyed great success as designers practicing in the trade of fur at Les Fourrures Weil. Then in 1927 a wealthy client requested a perfume designed especially to sweeten fur without damaging it and Parfums Weil was born. The brothers hired talented nose Claude Fraysse to create the first Weil parfums. Fraysse had trained at Firmenich; he was considered to be the very top nose at Yardley, which was one of the largest commercial perfume houses at the time. Fraysse was famous not only for his own work as a perfumer but because his talent overflowed into his family tree. Three of his children went on to become perfumers of note, as did at least one of his grandchildren.

Above, Jacqueline's brother Andre Fraysse (1902-1976) in the late 1920s. He became Lanvin's in-house perfumer in 1927.

Early Weil Perfume Print Ad 1928

With the help of his daughter perfumer Jacqueline Fraysse, Claude created the first trio of perfumes offered by Weil in 1927/1928, the so-called fur perfumes: Hermine- a sweet tropical floral scent, Chinchilla Royal- a jasmine/rose blend and Zebeline- a grand floral chypre with deep vetiver/oak notes.

1936 Weil Perfume Ad for Zibeline
1938 portrait of Weil's fur design 'Hermine'

Jacqueline Fraysse must have been a fascinating person. She worked in a male dominated field at a time when most young women stayed home, or if they were adventurous, needy or otherwise inclined, worked in other people's homes. She came of age in the electrifying, emancipating atmosphere of 1920s Paris and New York- the Jazz Age. Yet she lived and worked under the watchful eyes of her perfumer father and brothers. Judging from the quality and success of the perfumes, she flourished even throughout the difficult years of depression and war that followed. In 1934 her first solo perfume- a fruity-floral-woody scent with an exotic Asian/Polynesian theme- was christened: Bamboo.

 1936 Weil Perfume Ad for Cassandra

She followed up with Cassandra, a perfume "anise like... a hint of stryax, fruits and florals" (notes from Perfumed Court), released in 1936. Billed as a spicy feminine perfume light enough for day but bewitching enough for night; the story says that it took Jacqueline two years to perfect the formula. Noir was her third independent release debuting in 1937.

Weil Perfume Ad for Noir 1937

 1939 Weil Fur Ad

It's hard to get a feel for Noir before smelling it because there's hardly anything to go from. Unlike her other perfumes, there isn't anything like a list of notes or even as much as an advertising tag line for Noir.

I believe there are published sources with notes for many of Weil's perfumes (that I haven't got....) but if Noir is there, no one is telling. Yet searching for notes lists of Weil's perfumes on the Internet yields some information. 

Secret de Venus 1933: A woody oriental chypre edp with top notes of lemon, cassis, peach, bergamot and grapefruit, heart notes of jasmine, gardenia and freesia on base notes of cedar, sandalwood and vanilla. Claude, Herbert, Andre or Jacqueline may have composed this one alone or together or with help from each other- I do not know yet I can't help but feel it must be Claude and or Jacqueline. Advertising copy for SdV at the time claimed: "It's the divine perfume oil to be smoothed on after bath or shower and grows more intense the longer you wear it." I cringe at some of the sky-high prices asked for many vintage perfumes but Weil's SdV scent in the SdV oil is worth its price.

Weil Perfume Ad 1942
Weil Perfume Ad 1945
Antilope 1945: A floral-woody aldehyde chypre parfum with notes of tangerine, neroli, galbanum, acacia farnesiana, narcissus, hyacinth, ylang-ylang, May rose, lily of the valley, oak moss, civet, sandalwood and musk. Composed by Hubert Fraysse, in at least one of its versions, it is of a lighter style than the earlier Weil perfumes.  Notes for both of the above perfumes are quoted from Cleopatra's Boudoir and Perfume Intelligence. And so the story of Jacqueline Fraysse, one of the rare early 20th century female perfumers of note, fades away into the mist. 

But after all, Noir is a Weil perfume and Weil has a fascinating story as well.

Marcel Weil died from pneumonia in 1933. In 1940 the Weil family fled the war, closed up their Paris shop and moved to Bordeaux for a short time. The surviving brothers then came to the United States where they bought out their US distributorship and used the space to open their first perfumery/shop. Located on Fifth Avenue in the heart of Manhattan, they manufactured two of their perfumes- Cassandra and Zebeline- right there on sight. Jacques even created a new exclusively American Weil perfume in 1941 dubbed Cobra.

Once they came to America, the Weil's developed the Secret of Venus- a unique bath and body oil formula. Around the same time, they created a new perfume called Secret of Venus. To further mystify us, they created versions of all of their scents in the Secret of Venus oil formulation. So you might see a Weil Noir Perfume, and then a Weil Noir Secret de Venus Perfume oil. According to Katie, the SdV oil formulas smell differently than their pure perfume counterparts. She believes they contain ambergris and says they smell warmer, are longer lasting and better then the perfume versions. Having only smelled Secret de Venus in the bath and body oil form, I can't compare them but I agree with her enthusiasm for this intoxicating scent.

Secret de Venus line up: Scentzilla
Weil Perfume Ad 1950
Weil Fur Ad 1957
Weil Fur Ad 1960
Weil discontinued Noir in 1969. As I began work with it, I wondered about the only scrap of information I had about the perfume- it's name... Stay tuned for Noir Part II.

Weil Perfume Ad 1977

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

1925 Weil Furs ad at MsBlueSky Flickr photo stream
All other Weil Print ads, hprints
Andre Fraysse from
Weil Secret de Venus bottles from Scentzilla