Sunday, January 30, 2011

Oleg Cassini Perfume for Women

Oleg Cassini lived 1913- 2006. A Russian immigrant famous for dressing Jacqueline Kennedy throughout her Camelot years, Cassini went on to make a fortune licensing his name for everything from sunglasses to housewares. He was married to movie star Gene Tierney, among others.  After his divorce and subsequent remarriages Oleg needed to grow his business and as early as 1978 he lent his name to this pair of Jovan perfumes:

 vintage ad browser

These first Cassini fragrances released in 1978 were early examples of "designer fragrances" in what has now become a ubiquitous category. In 1990, Oleg came back to fragrances to release his first independent scent named Cassini by Oleg Cassini for Women. Often simply called Cassini, the current version of this perfume is classified as a sharp, woody, mossy fragrance.  I haven't smelled the newest reformulations. I am reviewing the original, shown below.


Cassini for Women opens with orange blossom/rose but in an everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach it is chock full of flowers, spices, fruits and other goodies as well: mandarin orange, bergamot, coriander, freesia, osmanthus, orris, orange blossom, gardenia, carnation, tuberose, chrysanthemum, jasmine, ylang-ylang, bulgarian rose; leather, amber, patchouli, musk, coconut, civet, oakmoss, vetiver and incense.

These ingredients create their own story in a parade of notes: green apples and ivy, soap and nail polish, roses and gardenias, sweet champagne. Thanks to plenty of patchouli, musk and vetiver it doesn't turn completely foody on me but it is sweet. It smells most distinctly of strawberry incense and bubble gum making it an off beat choice, and a humorous favorite of mine.
After a single spritz of the original eau de parfum I continue to catch small puffs of it throughout the day or even better, evening.

Above, a young Oleg with Gene Tierney and below...

Oleg Cassini circa 1980s from sportinglife.

No matter what, Oleg knew a thing or two about how beautiful women should smell!

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

Saturday, January 29, 2011

SOTD: Christian Dior DUNE Pure Perfume

Unlike many of the scents that litter the floors and shelves of the 'vault, I can actually remember when Dune was released in 1991. At the time it seemed 'out of left field' for Dior- far from Poison and the decadent, increasingly dark images of fashion in the late 1980s. 

Looking back Dior was right on time. In fashion, the 1990s ushered in a new era embodied by the ideals of enlightenment and sleek minimalism; a quest for serenity. Dior was not the innovator in this new trend but an imitator, following on the heels of a relative new comer Calvin Klein.

Klein entered the fragrance arena with his super smash oriental fragrance Obsession in 1985; he followed up with the center of his fragrance empire, Eternity in 1988. Both of Klein's scents sold so well that his next scent was subject a huge advertising campaign- 1991's Escape. Escape was a supposedly "new" type of scent for women at the time featuring marine elements. But it wasn't kept such a secret and by the time advertising for Escape hit the streets in magazines and even on television, Christian Dior was right on his heels with his own scent which featured hints of marine notes and beachy grasses. It hit the shelves that same year in 1991.

Scent-wise Dune and Escape are not very similar. Escape is the more marine of the two, a sweet rose that somehow has the harsh feel of salt water crashing onto the sandy shore.

Dune is much richer, more complex; it's a proper French perfume. It manages to feel sandy and sunny, breezy and beachy but without harsh synthetic edges. People fault Dune for it's strength and sillage. I can see why; the edt can ruin a perfectly nice day. But I was lucky enough to find the pure perfume. Dabbed rather sprayed on, it is completely different experience. The parfum sings with peony, aldehyde and woody notes lifted by lily, ylang-ylang and drenched in sandalwood, moss, vanilla and amber. You might not think of Dune as a good choice for January days but I'm in California after all and the radiant warmth close to the skin is quite lovely antidote for the cold, actually.

Jean-Louis Sieuzac composed Dune with top notes of bergamot, mandarin, palisander, aldehyde, peony and broom; heart notes of jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang, lily, wallflower and lichen; base notes of vanilla, patchouli, benzoin, sandalwood, amber, oakmoss, and musk.
It hasn't been discontinued but rather heavily reformulated.

I would only buy DUNE in older and pure perfume form.
The Vintage Perfume Vault, where the scent of yesterday's vogue lives.

photographs from smellyblog, google images, perfume shrine.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Vintage Perfume Indiscret by Lucien Lelong

 I love the the exoticism, glamor, mystery and drama portrayed in this 1937 shot of Loretta Young wearing a Lucien Lelong gown, photographed by Horst.

Here is Lelong's La Dame En Noir look. The black velvet and satin was just right for chic women at the height of WWII in 1945 but the sensual body hugging lines brooked no concessions to elegance, regardless of war shortages and fabric rationing.

Lucien Lelong, shown above in 1932, is my vintage crush of the week. I've been rocking his vintage 'Parfum Indiscrete' for the past few days with no sign of tiring of it yet.

Along with the more famous designers of the 20th century including luminaries Chanel, Dior, Schiaparelli  and Givenchy, Lucien Lelong was a central character at the heart of Paris fashion throughout the influential 1920s - 1940s. Balmain, Dior, and Givenchy all apprenticed with him. Lelong's fashions were photographed by avant-gardes Horst, Beaton, Hoyningen Huene, Man Ray, and Lee Miller. Never a designer in the strict sense, Lelong employed talented designers to create his visions. Yet his fashion sense was unerring; Lucien Lelong designs always bore distinctive craftsmanship, quality and style.

Lelong was a pioneer because he created many wonderful accessories specifically developed to compliment and "go with" his designs. Lelong began to produce perfumes in a large commercial scale in 1924 employing 1200 workers. He also designed many of the bottles used to house his perfumes. Although he did not personally author his perfumes, his perfumer Jean Carles never let him down. From 1924 through the 1950 and even beyond, Lucien Lelong scents were artfully conceived, thoughtfully composed and considered to be some of the most desirable of their time.

There are so many interesting twists and turns to the life of this dashing public figure yet his core is mysterious. Although he was initially tried as a traitor as a result of secret meetings with the Nazis during WWII, he was ultimately credited with saving the lives of some 12,000 French fashion industry workers and their families... Forced to close his design house in 1948 for health reasons, Lelong continued to personally produce perfumes into the 1950s. He died from a heart attach in 1958 at 69 years of age.

Now that you have a primer on LL, let's get back to the good thing, the juice! Indiscret was first released as Parfum Indiscret in 1936. Over time it emerged from the many varied scents Lucien LeLong released throughout the years as the star of the line. But Indiscret confuses some because of it's variants (and reformulations).  The scent of vintage Indiscret cologne, edt and lotion I've tried, all ranging from 1950s to 1980s, is to varying degrees green, sweet and warm. Not too heavy, approachable yet sophisticated, this fruity floral with a kick of spice dries down to a nice powdery wood and resin finish. Quite compelling!

The note list follows: (from Perfume Intelligence)
"A crisp green parfum with top notes of mandarin, neroli, tiger orchid, bergamot, white peach blossom, galbanum and orange flower, heart notes of jasmine, cypress, basil, clove, violet, ylang-ylang, tuberose, rose geranium and iris on base notes of oak moss, vetiver, patchouli, Guaiac wood, white musk and amber." Re-released in 1997.

Lucien Lelong design 1947

The vintage perfume version of the scent, called "Perfume Indiscret" and circa 1940s, is what I'm sniffing. Mine comes in the cute gyroscope presentation bottle. Perhaps the top notes are somewhat dampened over time, but it smells so beautiful and modern that I rather think it's in prime condition. The vintage parfum appears to be a more restrained interpretation of 'fruity floral'. The composition makes up for less in the way of fruit with lusciously defined arpeggios of flowers, more voluminous spices, and amplified oakmoss, resins and wood. The perfume opens with perfectly balanced citrus notes of bergamot and mandarin orange against a green resinous galbanum. The strong rich heart opens with notes of tuberose (the camphorous type I love), orange flower (the rich type I love) and ylang-ylang (the smooth type I love). Jasmine, iris, rose, geranium and I swear there is a lovely carnation or clove, rose in support. The base smells of labdanum/incense, lavish oakmoss, a touch of civet, grounded in sandalwood, tobacco. When you smell this perfume you do not think of the greens or fruits. Instead it is rich and smooth, a complex perfume with most prominent beautiful tuberose and ylang-ylang notes, against orange blossom and carnation, all standing out over a resinous, smoky, spicy sandalwood base. Glorious and complex. Although not a proper floral leather like En Avion*, there is similarity between the two scents. Those who love this rare Caron vintage may find the vintage parfum/perfume version of Indiscret worth a try.

*En Avion was released by Caron in 1929. It features notes of orange tree blossom, neroli, jasmine, rose, clove, carnation, opoponax and precious woods.

The house of Lucien Lelong has an active online site where you can read more history of Lucien Lelong and buy modern interpretations of Indiscret and many of their other classic perfumes of yore.

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

perfume ads hprints and various ebay sellers
fashion shots google images

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Halston Night Perfume

Image from yellsoftlydotcom
This is my favorite photograph of Elizabeth Taylor. It was taken by Richard Avedon in 1964 when Liz was in her prime. Perhaps this Liz could have worn Halston Night and owned it completely. But of course she no longer existed by the time Halston Night perfume was released in 1980. I don't even want to think about the 1980s Liz wearing Halston Night.

image: FashionsMostWanted

I don't want to think about the 1980 Halston designing it, either. This 1979 photo of Halston and Liz riding to a party shows why; not an enticing image, is it? In fact, my husband nearly derailed this review and indeed put it off for a week by pronouncing Halston Night an 'old lady perfume'. Despite that bucket of cold water, I'll have to defer to my own better judgment in this case. Halston Nights is bombastic, maybe even shocking, but it is certainly not made for an old lady!

 image: Fashion's Most Wanted

Above, Halston with a huge bottle of his eponymous perfume released in 1975. Legend has it that Halston fought to maintain control over every aspect of his original fragrance, which was complicated since Halston had sold the licensing rights to his name two years earlier in 1973. He bucked Max Factor, the controlling company he was paired with; they wanted to put the scent in a square shouldered Chanel style bottle and call it 'Halston Nights'. He insisted on using the now famous 'bean' bottle designed by his friend Elsa Peretti and called the scent simply Halston. Of course it went on to become a mega-hit now known as Halston Classic. According to some it is the number two selling fragrance of all time, right behind Chanel No 5. His second (technically, his third) women's fragrance was called 'Halston Night'.
 image: perfumenews.blogspot
image: perfumeintelligence

As popular as Halston Classic was and as aggressively as the name was being marketed, one wonders how it is that his HALSTON NIGHT perfume languished? What's the back story; was it released to appease the deal with Max Factor? Print ads indicate it was exclusive to Harrods, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. Limiting its distribution to three luxury UK department stores would've made it difficult for the American audience to access, much less appreciate the scent.  This might explain it's lack of success and extreme rarity today. Halston was certainly not a neophyte having released several successful men's scents in the meantime but Halston Night faltered and never caught on. 
One view of the Halston Night Eau de Toilette Bottle.

The name certainly seems to fit the scent well but no one tells any stories about the creation of this perfume or its origins. The Halston Night bottles are a far cry from Max Factor's desired, straight laced Chanel mock-up. Below you see the cologne bottle from several interesting angles.

Um, are you thinking what I'm thinking? Photographs don't really tell the whole story as the feel of the bottle in the hand and the look in person is even more highly evocative than you'd imagine. The design is oddly hermaphroditic and fetishist but who designed it? Indeed Halston Night seems somewhat out of line with Halston's emerging 70s-80s brand image as America's proletariat designer. His clothing flew off ready-made racks in JCPenney's but was there a rebellious streak hidden behind the dark glasses and easy laissez-faire grin?

 image: boheme extreme

Who wore Halston Night; was it Liza, Liz or Bianca Jagger? Perhaps they all did. But if so, it seems not too many others joined them. If one thing about the perfume stands out now, it's the total lack of attention it enjoyed. Was Halston giving us the finger and no one even noticed?

To comprehend the mystery of Halston Night perfume I had to go back in time to find the virile Halston, that man who was filled with purpose and in charge of his own destiny, the man who would've thought to create this monolithic beast of a perfume and put it on a woman. Don't get me wrong. I like, maybe even love Halston Night but unraveling the how and why of this scent takes time. And moving back in time we see how our little boy lost, Roy Frowick Halston, got his start in fashion and fragrance.

 image from Halston: An American Original

Like so many other famous designers Halston started life as a hat maker. Above, we see the young and pretty milliner Halston styling an actress at Bergdorf Goodman Department Store in New York circa 1965. Today there is no equivalent entry point for young designers; instead of doing hats, I guess they do reality TV...

But by the early 1970s Halston had gone from hats to designing gowns and then sportswear, scarves, glasses, and perfume carving for himself a niche among the rich and famous of New York's Jet Set society along the way.


Above, designer Halston parties with Bianca Jagger, Jack Haley Jr, Liza, Michael and others at Studio 54 in 1975. Along with entree into this privileged crowd came drugs, sex and rock-and-roll-- and instability. Plagued by reckless lifestyle choices, poor health and bad luck followed. Halston began to age rapidly.

image from HALSTON, 2001(Courtesy of Phaidon Press)

Above, Halston with David Geffen, Mark Gero, Yves Saint Laurent, Steve Rubell, Nan Kempner and Fernando Sanchez at Studio 54 in 1978. And below we see an increasingly fragile Halston with a burgeoning Liz at her birthday bash in 1988.

Of all his muses, Halston was actually closest to Liza Minelli. Perhaps he created Halston Nights for her:

Liz, looking waif like yet ravishing in a Little Red Riding Hood inspired Halston number in a polaroid shot taken by Andy Warhol in 1977. Equal parts diva and gamine with a maniacal, nearly male energy; I can almost smell Halston Nights wafting off of her now...
Halston Night is classified as a sweet floral by Nigel Groom. The big generic perfume oil houses that offer "Halston Night Type" perfume oil blends describe it as a spicy, elegant and classy Woody Chypre. According to those sources, Halston Night has top notes of bergamot and lemon; middle notes of patchouli, rose, jasmine, and sweet carnation; base note of amber, oakmoss, and moss.

 image: Metamorphosis of Narcissus 1937 Salvador Dali 

Halston Night features a famously hefty dose of narcissus oil as well. HN wears like a typical 1980s chypre, heavy on the amber and moss, without much in the way of oakmoss. It reminds me of Krystal and Cher's Uninhibited; its strength is intense and the feel is definitely evening and nearly psychedelic. When I smell Halston Nights the effect is initially euphoric. There is a something uplifting, almost bubbly in the mix of bergamot, lemon, narcissus and sweet honeyed carnation. The patchouli is hushed, merely enriching, as are the rose and jasmine, humming along filling everything else out. The moss gives Halston Nights a nice sultry green counterpoint lending a dark feel while staying well in the background of the amber. Halston Night was made in edt, parfum and finally cologne versions.

Halston Scentography from

1974 Halston (W)
1974 Halston for men
1975 Halston Classic (W)
1976 Halston Z-14 (M)
1976 Halston I-12 (M)
1980 Halston Night (W)
1983 Halston 101 (M)
1987 Halston Limited (M)
1988 Halston Couture (W)
1992 Nautica (M)
1993 Catalyst (W)
1994 Catalyst (M)
1995 Profumo di Montecatini (W)
1998 Z (for men)
1998 Sheer (W)
2000 That's Amore (W)
2000 That's Amore (M)
2001 Unbound (M)
2010 Halston Amber (W)
2010 Halston Amber (M)

image: perfumenews.blogspot
The Vintage Perfume Vault, where the scent of yesterday's vogue lives.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Vintage Perfume Materials: Vetiver; Guerlain Vetiver ancien

image: Indianvintage.blogspot

Soothing, meditative, cold/warm vetiver is a complex material rich in history and interest. Records of its trade exist from the 1500s. Vetiver is hardy and grows well in many places where introduced. It has been used for perfumery, woven goods and as a medicine since those times and likely well before. In 1809 the first chemical analysis of vetiver oil was accomplished in France using extracts of roots imported from the Indian Ocean island of Reunion. In 1843, a American vetiver perfume called Kus Kus was first produced in New Orleans, Louisiana. The vetiver used for it was almost certainly locally grown from an earlier-recorded 1803 purchase of vetiver plants from the perfume-loving French. All of this lore is according to American vetiver expert Mark Dafforn.
Wild child of the 1920s and inventor of the modern bra Caresse Crosby with her whippet hound, Narcisse Noir.
 Photo taken in 1924.
image: theesotericcuriosa.blogspot

We see vetiver in many of the early great classic 20th century women's perfumes including Caron's 1911 Narcisse Noir. Since the 1920s we've seen a cavalcade of notable vetiver based perfumes including Corday's Toujours Moi and Chanels' own No 5, both released 1921.
Roots of the vetiver plant after only 6 months cultivation show why it is so important to soil retention and useful for land conservation/cultivation.

Vetiver is one of those rare natural materials that forms a whole perfume all by itself. Some of its evocatively named chemical constituents give clues as to its varied complex nature: clovene, amorphine, aromadendrine, junipene, and vetivone. The scent of vetiver is described chemically as ranging from sweetly roseate to saffron spicy, from peppery woody to balsamic. Vetiver is of such an important material to perfumery, that along with rose and cedar it is classed as "indispensable". In fact industry experts say that vetiver is a key component in about 40% of all perfumes produced today. It's been around for a long, long time, too; the use of it's oil in perfumery predates that of rose.

A Nepalese laborer cutting vetiver grass at a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery near Kathmandu
Vetiver harvester...

Traditionally vetiver is considered as India's great contribution to perfumery. Highly viscous, slow to evaporate and with a distinct, pleasant odor there are few substances of equal utility or import. Haitian or Reunion vetiver is prized above all others for it's superior scent quality and it's sweet roseate note. Indian or Khus-Khus vetiver is renown for its balsamic woody notes. Like sandalwood, the world-wide supply of vetiver is precious and precarious. Indonesian and Chinese vetiver have begun to come into use in modern perfumery although these sources are not nearly as prized as Indian or Haitian.  As long as satisfactory synthetic substitutes are lacking, we will remain dependent on the naturally distilled oil. Haiti has long been the most important world wide source of high quality vetiver oil for perfumery. The recent earthquake there will likely have a devastating impact on supplies for many years to come.

Benjamins Khus-Khus triple extract perfume, circa 1930s
image: Worthpoints

You will find vetiver is "frequently used in western type of fragrances having chypre, fougere, rose, violet and amber aldehyde base,... oriental fragrances and floral compounds, after-shave lotions, air freshners and bathing purposes, as well as flavoring syrups, ice cream, cosmetic and food preservation. Khus essence is used in cool drinks, for reducing pungency of chewing tobacco preparations, providing a sweet note to other masticatories and incense sticks." (Lavania, 2003).

 This is an up-close view of Guerlain's Vetiver acien label from my own photo.

Winter is the perfect time to wear vetiver so I'm back to give Guerlain's enigmatic Vetiver ancien a proper review. I've added the term ancien to differentiate this perfume from Guerlain's modern Vetiver fragrances, the first of which was released as a mens fragrance circa 1956. But could it be a modern throw-back, something Guerlain released to commemorate some earlier time? As I mentioned in another post, the label is stamped water based paint or hand painted; it smears like crazy if it gets wet and the silvery paint lifts off easily so it sure seems old to me. 

The bottle I already described in a previous post but the juice of vetiver deserves mention here. It is a rich golden orange, amber color and not 100% clear. A fine sediment settles and swirls up like a thin trail of smoke when the liquid is agitated. As far as its scent, the perfume opens with a strong odor of wood, Eucalyptus and pine, followed by hints of sweet, rich malty grain. Notes of wet brown leaves and pepper emerge, partly aromatic, partly moldering earth. Somewhere later lighter strains of citrusy green grass and green apples appear but these recede quickly once the whisper of burning leaves introduces itself and grows into a strong clear incense note. This is a nuzzley incense- it recalls cedar and sandalwood. Well rounded with the sweetness of dry wood and later a rooter saltier driftwood; the incense stage smolders on for several hours.

I suspect this Guerlain Vetiver could be as early as 1840s also; but certainly no later than 1890s, else-wise we'd probably have some other reports of an early Guerlain vetiver in existence and I've found none... Guerlain must have been proud to offer their own version of this exotic and prized perfume to French women, considering that the French-creole ladies in America may have been wearing their own version since 1843!

What I'd be wearing in winter with Guerlain's Vetiver... if I only could! Image from Model's Own blog.

And now I have the extreme pleasure of wearing this anomaly of a vintage perfume in my own lovely winter world- amazing.

But it really only matters if other people know about it, too.

Sadly I only have enough of this Guerlain vetiver to parse out three or four 1 mls samples. Please let me know in comments of you'd like to be considered- but this isn't a contest or give-away since preference will be given to bloggers and serious Guerlain fanatics, and those who read and/or blog/post about perfumes regularly, and because I want to see more reviews and opinions about this... Like I said, leave a comment, or email me at I'll close the offer as soon as 3 or 4 of you speak up for what's available.

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

vetiver references:
HEDGE VETIVER: A GENETIC AND INTELLECTUAL HERITAGE Mark R. Dafforn, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC, USA
U. C. Lavania Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, Lucknow – 226 015, India