Friday, June 18, 2010

White Shoulders: an American Beauty...

WHITE SHOULDERS was launched by the design house of Evyan sometime in 1940s (dates vary from 1943 to 1949!). Very early on the Evyan company was apparently called by another name, albeit briefly- Hartnell. And so some of the older most original White Shoulders presentations are bottled under a Hartnell label. But soon enough the company was called Lady Evyan (and later, just Evyan) = Evelyn Diane Westall, the wife of company owner Dr Walter Langer. Evyan boasted at the time that White Shoulders (and their other perfumes) were prime examples of fine American perfumery. Everything, so it was told, was strictly produced in USA. So White Shoulders was meant to be the perfume to show that Americans could compete with the best of what was being produced in Europe (and specifically, in France). Now this was happening during the years of American involvement in WWII, feelings of patriotism were running high. Americans of the day wanted (and needed) to spend their luxury dollars at home. Indeed it is worth noting that prices for White Shoulders were initially set rather high- beginning around $3 at a time when many "fine" perfumes of that day offered products priced beginning at around $1.

Over time White Shoulders has remained very popular; it's seen in both vintage and new formulations in thirft shops, antiques markets, modern drugstores and of course everywhere on-line. Although the perfume has changed hands from Hartnell/Evyan to Elizabeth Arden, the packaging- peach and lace, and later with a lovely feminine sillhouette- has remained and is familar to most American women. And there isn't any mistake about why its become and stayed so successful- White Shoulders is an iconic fragrance. Actually it is probably the iconic American fragrance. Classified as a Floral Aldehyde, it is: beautiful, sweet, sexy, powdery, radiant, maternal, refined, approachable, fresh, gracious and warm but at it's core- very "night"...

Top- Neroli, Tuberose, Aldehydes

Middle- Gardenia, Jasmine, Orris, LOTV, Rose, Lilac

Base- Sandalwood, Amber, Musk, Oakmoss, Civet, Benzion

I've owned cologne and perfume versions of White Shoulders from the Evyan years and have found them all to be very good. I can't attest to the Elizabeth Arden version at all.  For this review, I'm referring to the earliest Hartnell pure perfume version from my own collection. The original presentation of White Shoulders was packaged in round peach satin and cream lace powder style boxes. The bottles were square, decorated with vertically cut pinstripes alternating with plain glass stripes and topped by a stout round stopper. Ihe bottle I own was still tied up with it's orignal peach satin bow and cord, wrapped in onion skin and as I peeled away, I was surprised to find a thick layer of beeswax under the onion skin. I've occasionally seen collectors reseal bottles with beeswax, but I didn't realize it was used by the bottlers, too. I think now that I've probably come across some beeswax remnants before in opened older bottles, and not really known what the gunk was...However, in this case, it was easy to remove it cleanly and it seems to have prevented virtually any losses of the juice.

White Shoulders features a "joyful" opening - the nicely green and cool LOVT becomes positively juicy thanks to jammy banana notes (a delightful jasmine effect) that teases and whetts the pallet. The fresh smelling Neroli + rubbery, yummy Tuberose come together early and play especially well with the aldehydes, the whole creating a shimmering, nearly giddy opening.

At its heart, lilac and jasmine (supported by the rose) give White Shoulders a lush radiance. A very sweet Gardenia accord pronounces itself again and again throughout the mid-stages of wearing... that accord really underscores and characterizes this perfume for me. White Shoulders is very much what a classic Southern Belle would've worn (I picture Bette Davis wearing this while playing Jezebel- even though that movie dates 1938 and the perfume wasn't released until at the earliest 1943). A nearly narcotic floral, saved from overdose by refreshing and cooling green facets that contrast well with the seductive animal tendencies and spicy heart; it would've suited Julie Marston to a tee.

The ending for the pure perfume is very, very rich. The base certainly gives the impression of a shoulder covered in a fine white powder of dry incense (orris, sandalwood, benzoin). But that lightness is perfectly set against darker shadows of musk, civet and oakmoss. The effect of the white flowers makes this a perfect perfume for wearing on warm summer nights. It sparkles and excites early on but in the end you'll find you're pleasantly subdued by the dry down....

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

images :
White Shoulders movie poster -
White Shoulders ad w/ Lilys-
pair of color ads- vintageadbrowser
pair of B&W ads devocanada and 237 (EBay sellers)
Bette Davis poster
Bette Davis still from


La Bonne Vivante said...

Lovely post. I have always loved the name of this perfume. White Shoulders is such a creative, telegraphic way of conjuring such pleasant images of evening dress or states of deshabille. Thanks for the history as well. I love your in-depth coverage!

Yours, LBV

shirley said...

Have put some 1920s LT PIVER perfume cards on my Ebay auction site which might interest you. PLease feel free to copy the pics if you want to.
My Ebay username: simply-chateau
Best wishes,
Shirley (from a scorching hot Normandy, France.

Angela Cox said...

I just got a small heart shaped bottle ( with the Evyan name on ) from a vintage seller I bought My Sin from. It rang bells but only because of your post.I am getting gardenia at the moment but as the bottle is guite a good size I shall try it again .

Amelia said...

LBV- Thank you for your comment. I hope you've been able to try this scent, or you will if you ever see it now. It is pretty great if you can find a good sample.

Amelia said...

Angela- I've seen those cute little bottles and recall the contents smelled terrific. I hope your Gardenia is as lovely.

Unknown said...

I've been wearing White Shoulders exclusively since 1978 when I received it as a gift. It is elegent, sexy, and subtle. I have allgeries to perfumes and this is the only one that I can wear and not smell it on myself or get a headache from. I get compliments on the fragrance all the time. I also use the powder and still have the pink lace container. The history of it is interesting. Thank you for the information.

Amelia said...

Valerie: Thanks for stopping by. How lucky that you have such a stunning perfume to wear; I never tire of its timeless beauty.

Unknown said...

I found a unopen box it states it is 8 1/2 ounces. Original box. Also a smaller one 2 3/4 ounces also unused. Any value?

Amelia said...

Really! NO ONE should buy anything directly from an unknown online seller like yourself- it is VERY risky. If you want to sell something go to Ebay or some other legitimate online auction house and get registered like everyone else!

OK, now that that's out of the way....

White Shoulders is still a fairly common perfume. There are lots of great vintage examples for sale on Ebay right now. I always price check there first which would be my suggestion to you.

But luckily for those of us who buy and wear it, the prices for White Shoulders really are very reasonable- you can usually find it very inexpensively, and sometimes much cheaper than the stuff you buy at the drugstore!

Unknown said...

I am having a friend (2die4s)who is a Power Seller on ebay sell the bottles. I also have Vintage bottles Quadrille and D'orsay she will be listing as well. Thanks, Dave