Thursday, September 30, 2010

Vintage Cordon Vert eau de coty : How Coty did Cologne

Coty's Cordon Vert became famous to me because it is included in Guy Robert's Les Sens Du Parfum as one of the top must try scents of modern perfumery. One of only five Coty "must try" fragrances, Roberts places it alongside Chypre, Ambre Antique, Emeraude, L'Origan; Coty's Cordon series included Rouge and Vert. I believe both were both created in 1905, despite the oft given year 1909 (a bit of misinformation found in many reliable sources). I get the 1905 date directly from the label of a bottle of Cordon Vert in my collection- which plainly states "creation 1905" at the top of the label. I have seen images of Cordon Rouge with the same label style as my Vert bottle and those appear to share the date on the label but never seeing it up close I wonder if perhaps the Rouge date is marked 1909, whereas the Vert is certainly 1905. Not that those few years matter to you, dear reader, but the vintage nose around here obsesses about these things...

 I'm less clear exactly when Cordon Noir was created- was it in the early 1900s or much closer to 1939 as several sources claim? And if the latter date is correct, then were Cordon Vert and Rouge re-released or promoted along side of the newer Noir? I think they must have been. I recall hearing these scents spoken of as a trio; also I have seen versions of all three with identical bottle/label design- which makes them look very much like a trio.

But it isn't so simple since I find evidence of Cordon Vert and Rouge 'eau de coty' both in print advertisement and/or actual bottles, dating through 1900s to the late 1930s. But it's tougher to find much about Cordon Noir- except for the fact that I missed an auction for a bottle of it this week- you can see the photo of the Cordon Noir by looking it up under completed listings on I just can't make a direct link to the image or grab the image to show you here. But the item number is 300470570038, just in case you too wanna check it out.

Never-minding Cordon Rouge and Noir, I embarked on this journey because I wanted to smell Cordon Vert. I can report to you that it is a perfectly handsome cologne loaded with juicy but not sweet mandarin, touches of woody-green petitgrain and a whisper of patchouli. It is quite bracing and refreshingly lovely of course. I learned from Mimifroufrou at the Perfume Shrine that Eau Fraîche (EF) was commissioned for Dior in 1955 and that it was modeled around no one other than Coty’s Cordon Vert (CV) eau de cologne.

I haven't even ever smelt vintage EF, only vintage Eau Savage (ES). I hope the ES is close enough since that's what I used for the side-by-side comparison. Overall the CV stands up to ES very nicely, indeed. On skin the ES seems lighter for a good while. In fact it burns a little at first because its citrus opening is packed with bright lemon - lime notes. Meanwhile, the Vert has an almost momentary dusty note before the orange begins to bloom and come on really strong. At that point the orange nearly overwhelms, to the point of having turpentine-like overtones. Pouring both into clean cotton handkerchiefs and inhaling repeatedly, I eventually found more depth and polish in the Savage although they are strikingly similar. The lighter brighter citrus of ES paired with herbaceous and grassy notes (Vetiver perhaps) adds a distinctive (and masculine) edge to Savage. The Cordon Vert is more linear, smelling over time of a very true Mandarin citrus- bright and yes nearly harsh but fruitier due to the orange and with just a kiss of jasmine and the barest underpinnings of wood and earth. There may be a bit of lavender in there as well. It avoids being overtly floral, sweet or spicy.

My bottle is probably circa 1930s or possibly 1940s - the label boasts the concentration is 10% oils, made exclusively of essences of fruits from Sicily and flowers from France. The cap is emerald green plastic and besides the embossed Made in France on the bottom, there is an additional black ink stamp on the bottom repeating "Made In France"- making me think it may have been imported to USA post WWI (Bottle labeled  SDA NY 1345.

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

Cordon Rouge ad: cgi.ebay
Cordon Vert bottle:
Dior Savage ad

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Vintage Nose: Scent and How We Smell It.

Sometimes it's necessary to step back and think about how we smell as much as it is about what we smell. Many have attempted to devise a comprehensive theory of scent without resounding success; the most popular current theory is built around the so-called" lock and key" model. In this scenario, the shape of a molecule determines the characteristic of its scent. According to this system, there are seven primary smells: camphor, musk, floral, peppermint, ether, pungent and putrid.

Of course, other theories have been championed over the years. Being a vintage spirit and feeling closer to the perfume creations of the past than any of the current parade, I chose to look backwards for inspiration and to understand how it is that we know what we smell, to the time when the beautiful archetypes of modern perfumery were emerging from the ether of their creator's minds...

It's been nearly one hundred years since L'Origan /L'Heure Bleue , Chypre/Mitsouko, Tabac Blond / No. 5 were called forth from the foundations of modern perfumery. Is it any mistake that Hans Henning's great work titled Der Geruch (The Odor)- was published at this same intellectually inventive and revolutionary time?
Coty Emeraude released in 1921
Henning's system for classifying scent is as intriguing today as it was then and quite possibly, as advanced.

Henning was among the first generation of German experimental psychologists to follow Wilhelm Wundt (1830-1920, widely regarded as the father of experimental psychology). Henning brought a scientist's training and background in chemistry to bear on his work in the area of human perception and olfactory experience. At the time his work was regarded as daring and very critical of the then-current-and- accepted theory of smell, essentially derived from the work of Linnaeus-Zwaardemaker.

For your clarification: The Linnaeus-Zwaardemaker system divided scents into the following nine categories: ethereal (beeswax), fragrant ( flowers), aromatic (camphor spice), ambrosiac (amber/musk), alliaceous (onion/garlic), empyreumatic (coffee/smoke), hiccine (sour milk or spoiled food), foul (decomposing), nauseous (rotten eggs, feces). Aside from a preponderance of unpleasant categories (almost half), and some notable contradictory examples, the Linnaeus-Zwaardemaker harkens to the currently favored classification of seven primary smells- so it seems little has changed.
Of extreme interest here, especially pertaining to those of us who enjoy reading and writing reviews of various perfumes based on our smelling of them is Henning's finding that....reliable judgments... can be obtained only from observers who do not know the nature of scents with which they are dealing.... This requirement on anonymity in judging smells lies in the difference between the object's true odor and it's "object smell". The "object smell" refers to what happens when the true odor of a scent is influenced by what we see and know (and think!) about the supposed source of the odor. Our perception of scent is richly informed, to say the very least, and completely over-ridden to say the most, by our cognitive processes, through the device of associative supplementing.

                                                Ian Cooper's Dream Journey
Not to fret, we do the same thing with most other sensory processes - fill in the missing bits with internal ones largely manufactured based on our past experiences, memories, and expectations. Turns out, it's easier for us than constantly processing all the incoming information that is really coming in. In the case of vision, we modify colors, lines and shapes , even invert the whole thing once the picture is formed- to form a unified visual experience of our world. Even though our eyes dart back and forth and shift focus constantly, we perceive a continuous, uninterrupted field of vision.

But it is to say that there is real value to reviewing scents "blind" and to descriptions given in the absence of a list of notes or a bit of press copy.

According to our reviewer, Henning's work makes four important points about scent and smell.

Firstly he presented a new shape or schema to represent the interrelatedness of smells- in his vision, the arrangement forms.... a tridimensional manifold, with groupings of odors represented along a prism with equilateral triangular faces and the rectangular faces squared. It might be hard to imagine so here is a picture:

Anyone else thinking: Dark Side of the Moon?

Anyway, at each of the six angles stand his six (not nine or seven) characteristic smells. Along the triangle faces, floral mirrors spicy, fruity with resinous and putrid with burning/smoky smells. Violet is considered the most typical floral scent, lemon the most typical of the fruity group, sulphuretted hydrogen of the putrid, nutmeg of the spicy, frankincense of the resinous and tar of the burning groups of scents.

There are transitional smells as well, leading from each class to another. The classes which stand opposite each other on the square faces of the prism are regarded as connected to each other through transitional scent characteristics.

Examples of these transitions: between flowery and fruity is geranium and sandalwood; between flowery and putrid is decaying flowers; between fruity and putrid, various stages of decaying fruit; between flowery and spicy, thyme and vanilla; between fruity and resinous (includes woods) various piney odors... Between putrid and burning / smoky, come the ammoniacal/animal odors; between flowery and resinous are fragrant gums (labdanum); between fruity and spicy, the mints (and anise), between putrid and spicy is garlic; between putrid and resinous comes fish scales (and I imagine, leather would fit here too), and between burning and all other classes, the odors obtained by burning or smoking items of those classes.

BTW: I find this system much more evocative of my experiences with scents and smells but what about you?

According again to our reviewer, the smells at the angles of the prism are related in a like way as colors are but the smells occurring along any edge or diagonal are more like tonal variations. There is also some description given in Hennings work to the dispersal of scent groups along the plane faces and the existance of scents within interior of the shape- and discussion about where mixtures exist, that really complicates the discussion and goes well beyond my aim to be somewhat relevant and entertaining.

I do admire very much that all of this classification was experimentally derived by Henning in his lab. He asked scores of subjects to categorize scents under a variety of conditions and built his system from his impressions of their responses. I also admire that he resisted or rejected the use of frank statistical analysis, knowing as most clinical scientists (and artists) do, that his trained impressions of the raw data were of primary import.

Secondly Henning's work strongly refutes the widely accepted notion of a compensation or cancellation effect in scent. Rather he found waxing and waning in the ability to perceive scent to be due more to physical effects of successive smelling of individual components in complex mixtures. The primary elements emerge in the recipient's awareness as they coalesce and separate, due to localized shortages and abundances of molecules and admixtures produced as the scent volitalizes. Or at the other end of the casual spectrum, he speculates it is due to one's shifting attentions. Our book reviewer has an even more plausible suggestion. See below...

Thirdly, Henning refutes scent exhaustion. It is noted to be more likely a simple case of sensory adaptation due to diminishing attention to persistent stimuli. One of the more convincing cited evidences against scent exhaustion is the fact that strong noxious smells cannot be exhausted, as much as might be wished. Further we now know that nasal mucosa and epithelium are renewed and repaired in an ongoing process and unlikely to be damaged or rended exhausted. Scent molecules are broken down almost as soon as they have been absorbed and assimilated. Non-poisonous scents alone do not appear to damage or impact the functioning of the sensory organ anymore than viewing colors, movement etc does not damage or exhaust the eyes (strong sunlight is damaging via another mechanism). Sensory adaptation is well documented with other senses and may have both peripherally and centrally mediated mechanisms in regards to scent perception.

Lastly Henning's work draws parallels between scent and perception of color and taste - all can be organized according to his basic prismatic structure. For example, besides the traditional sweet - salty - bitter - sour categories of taste, he identifies the following transitional tastes: between sweet and sour, bicarbonate of soda; between salt and sweet, alkaline; between salt and bitter, potassium bromide; between sour and sweet, acetate of lead, between sour and bitter, potassium sulphate and between sweet and bitter, acetone. The phenomena of taste mixture is said by Henning to be very similar to the concept of smell mixtures.

Of all of this, the thing that really sticks with me is the equilateral triangular prism and the categorization of Henning's scents, which strikes me as elevated. And if I was a perfumer, I would think it should be quite inspirational. And so I dream of a lemon-violet, nutmeg frankincense haze embellished with just a touch of smoke and the merest hint of decay... Perhaps a new Shalimar waiting to be born?

The Vintage Perfume Vault, where the scent of yesterday's vogue lives.
Note: this article is based on my reading of a book review of Der Geruch by Hanz Henning, Leipzig Barth, 1916. The book was reviewed by E. A. McC. Gambel of Wellesley College for volume 32 of the American Journal of Psychology. I have only read her review and excerpts of the original.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Vintage perfume shopping this weekend?

Then look what's for sale on Ebay now...  Coty's Chypre perfume.  Too bad the top of the box is missing but it's such a pretty presentation what with that fancy colored glass carved stopper.... Just in case you were thinking about treating yourself this weekend!

hprints - Coty 1942 ad
Ebay seller oneguy44 - vintage Coty Chypre perfume

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

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The heartbreak of Laurent Le Guernec's lost Made by Blog perfume mods...

Perfumers James Krivda (Mane), Sophie Labbe (IFF),
Laurent le Guernec (IFF) and Christophe Laudamiel.

Warning: Extreme Perfume Geekery to follow...

I'm feeling a little blue today. You see I've finally used up the last few drops of one of my favorite lost perfumes. And it doesn't even have a proper name. The scent was another concept scent involving a group of perfume artists who saw the Internet, and more specifically the perfume blogosphere, as potentially fertile ground for the collaborative design of a perfume. The complete back story of the people involved and their connections is somewhat lost on me. But from what I know, two prominent early perfume bloggers were given an opportunity to work with two young and talented, up-and-coming (or already established, really) perfumers.

I got swept up into the Made by Blog project somewhat accidentally and before long I began to receive a series of mods from two different perfumers. Of course you know by the title of this post that the perfumer who stole my heart was Laurent Le Guernec. It was one set of his mods (K and L, I think) that pretty literally knocked my socks off.  The 'fume was rich with notes of olibanum, musk, labdanum, balsam, geranium, coriander and thyme. It struck me as tart and taut by turns, leathery and then fluffy like a powdery meringue. A carnival of a scent and a love song winding its way through the heart of Shalimar. I was at once smitten and vexed. I'd committed a cardinal perfume sin by falling in love with someone else's baby. If it'd been for me the project would've halted right there. But it wasn't and I really had no choice but to sod off and try to forget about the whole thing.

So I did forget about it, mostly. Time heals most wounds after all. I'd used most of the mods up early on. I remember it was funny- I used "I" first, then "J" and I think "K" really was my favorite, it completely transfixed me. For most of the last three years, I've been nursing tinsy drops out of that darling little mod, doling out just a smidge here and a smidge there. Let me tell you, it's aged beautifully- the last few molecules were packed with so much incensey-woody goodness as to suffuse several mls of a bland cologne I poured into the plastic atomizer. It's been a winner right up to the very end. I'm wearing several spritzes of that same cologne right now and wondering at the power of the original essence, which I can still sense clearly but already miss immensely...

Care to share about any of your doomed perfume affairs?

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

Perfumes James Krivda (Mane), Sophie Labbe (IFF), Laurent le Guernec (IFF) and Christophe Laudamiel from Base Notes
Blue Circus by Marc Chagall from

Friday, September 10, 2010

Double o' One: Coty (001Coty) Cologne


2001; Limited to an edition of 5000 bottles.

Top Notes : Almond Blossom, Marigold.

Middle Notes : Fresh 'Electrostatic' Accord, Tuscan Magnolia.

Base Notes : Tonka, Warm woods, Licorice and praline.

Coty brought in Jim Krivda from Fragrance Resources to create the scent of 001 in 2001. Looking to the internet for inspiration, Coty talked about "fusing the human with the virtual" for this concept fragrance. At the time Coty said they planned to release a whole series of these limited edition art scents that were to "test the boundaries of what consumers expect from the idea of a bottle of perfume". But nine years later 001 has been discontinued with no follow ups and the concept seems nearly forgotten.

Although we now hear newer rumors... it seems that Coty likes to do their homework and after looking a little further into the whole internet-and-perfume-thing, they discovered that items from their earliest catalogs still generate more excitement than the flood of new, niche and high concept scents coming on the market.

For now we'll have to wait to see whether there will be a 002Coty... or perhaps a new La Rose Jacqueminot, A'suma, or even a new Coty Chypre may appear first (or instead)?

Even so there will never be another real Coty Chypre, anymore than the sterile yellow juice within those gold and green soft shouldered bottles is...
Excuse my grouchiness, but I know the real stuff- the fine 1920-1930s version, a dark nectar the color of stiffly brewed tea. How sublime it really is... .I think I was reading on one of the big review sites- MUA or Base Notes, and was surprised by some of the lackluster opinions for Coty's Chypre. I wonder if those who regard it as a ho-hum underachiver have only smelt those 80-90s reissues? But if you've good imagination or you've smelled other any good quality vintage chypres then you've an idea of what I'm saying.

But I digress... Back to our 001 story...

From Rick Kinsel of Coty's concept and design team "We wanted to revisit the fundamentals of perfumery as an art form. We were thinking integrity rather than commerce" So at least here we can expect to believe they spared no expense and were able to use the same or better quality ingredients than are in many of the contemporary luxury or niche creations. Coty even created a new "fresh electrostatic accord" specially for 001.

According to Wired: "Krivda and his team put a piece of polyester in a dryer and extracted the smell emitting from the static electricity caused by the interaction of the fabric and the heat. By using a tiny syringe-like device to gather the odor, they then inserted the scent into a machine that breaks it into its molecular components. Krivda combined the "digital" elements with the scents of almond, marigold, magnolia, licorice and praline to complete the fragrance. Krivda also conducted the same procedure on the odor emitted from a freshly opened box of computer hardware."

Coty is a venerable house and I'm somewhat obsessed with perfume history (ya think?). Plus I personally love those notes so I plunged and bought a bottle of 001 recently, unsniffed. Marigold piques me, it can be sharp and strange... I sort of love/hate it but I can't wait to see what I'll think when I smell it incorporated into 001, especially with something electrostatic-y (solar-ish, or more like hot wires??) mixed in there. But the almond blossom-magnolia-praline sold me and I kinda dig ironing smells too so it could be a win-win, right?
In any case, I love the bottle. Inspired by an early 1900s Coty bottle, Coty collaborated with Pochet, a renown perfume bottle maker, to reinterpret the original design. The result is the sleek 001Coty bottle which slips into a soft pale rubber casing. According to Base Notes, the bottle was "the first limited edition ever to receive the endorsement of the International Perfume Bottle Association". Grant says it also won a FIFI in 2002 for Men's Fragrance Star of the Year Non-Store Venues.

I'll be back with a review soon!

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

Robot Girl by 3D Keaton

Helmetropolis from I, Sexy Robot
Google pics


Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Art of Mixing Old Perfumes with New Fashion

Renee Perle by Henri Lartigue

 There's nothing worse than taking an uber-cool trend too far and ending up as a caricature.  That's why when it comes to wearing vintage, you're smart to follow Coco Chanel's own best advice and make sure to remove one vintage item before going out, something the effortlessly chic Renee Perle always knew.

As much as I love vintage perfumes, I just can't see pairing them up with vintage clothing- way too matchy-matchy. If you're going to wear beautiful vintage clothes, set them off with a stunning new perfume. Anything by Andy Tauer, Frédéric Malle or Francis Kurkdjian would do nicely.

But what of the converse? What sort of costume does one don in order to compliment the finest vintage perfumes?

Freeing myself for a moment from the boring constraints of reality- I've been dreaming of epic fashion fair, something appropriate for my current perfume fixations- something suited to my moody iris-rose, leathery tinted dreams. Something to wear with vintage Shocking, No 22, Cuir de Russie and the fervently persued Iris Gris.

Creative Lab
I would turn the idea of a signature perfume on its head and pull from far and near exotic scents to go with the clothes of a single signature designer. And just for today, it would have to be designer Iris Van Herpen. I love her ideas about fashion, and how she thinks about wearing clothing literally like a perfume. A quote from her speaking about her 2009 collection had her musing, "if we will always be wearing clothes/fabrics, or would it be possible in future to wear other substances like smoke?" Like smoke indeed- these clothes have a perfect sillage.

If it's Hip, It's Here...
The Vintage Perfume Vault, where the scent of yesterday's vogue lives.