Saturday, March 5, 2011

Caron's Tabac Blond


~drinking smoke~

Tobacco is a dirty weed. I like it.
It satisfies no normal need. I like it.
It makes you thin, it makes you lean,
It takes the hair right off your bean.
It's the worst darn stuff I've ever seen.
I like it.

~ Graham Lee Hemminger, Penn State Froth, Tobacco ~

"It was done defiantly, late at night, and behind closed doors..."

Ernest Daltroff (1870 1941)- a Russian Jew, along with his partner Felicia Wanpouille (1874-1967), came to France in 1902 to open Parfums Caron. 

 image: Samuel Clemens smoking circa 190X

Smoking by this time had already become a well entrenched social ritual although the privilege was reserved exclusively for men. By accounts, nearly all men smoked at least a little, at one time or another, during much of the first half of the 20th century. No doubt Ernest himself enjoyed more than a few cigars, puffing away late into the night.  

  Anton Giulio Bragaglia (Italian, 1890-1960), The Smoker – The Match – The Cigarette, 1911

By 1903, Daltroff brought the House of Caron to New York City. From both sides of the Atlantic, Parfums Caron became a well established house, creating such notable perfumes as Chantecler in 1906, Black Narcissus in 1911 and  L'Infini in 1912. As WWI broke out in 1914, Caron fell silent. 


At home, Americans bucked up to support the war efforts but our shores remained largely unaffected, leaving plenty of room for romanticism and escapism to grow. While the fighting raged across Europe suffragettes picketed the white house and we encountered a new form of music, Jazz.  As our taste for entertainment grew, outlets for America's burgeoning nightlife sprang up everywhere. In New York, the Bijou theater and countless cabarets and fancy supper clubs opened. Almost everyone began to smoke- even if not in public; at least, not yet...  

1903 Women Smoking in Secret

In the very same years that Daltroff established Parfums Caron, a little girl child- a toddler in Berlin, Germany, was just learning to walk and talk. As Ernest and his constant companion, Felicia,  hunkered down and grew their fledgling company throughout the lean war years, this same little girl was sheltered away from the pressures of war and society. From 1907 to 1917, she grew up ensconced at the finest girl's schools in Germany. She studied music and the arts, besides all of the prerequisites expected of a fine young lady of the time. She left as young woman, entering into a brave new world with dreams of stardom in her eyes. One year later, in 1919 our girl was looking for a way to make herself into a famous young actress. That same year, Ernest Daltroff releases the singular Tabac Blond.  

Tabac Blond is classified as a floral leather. For some it mimics to perfection the illusion of the scent of pale yellow-gold, cured tobacco leaves drying out in smoking barns and of the toppings used to flavor it.  I am one of those people.

Tragoedie der Liebe 1923

And the little girl in our story is none other than Marlene Dietrich.  Later she would come to symbolize the very image of a glamorous woman- and in those later photos, she is almost always seen smoking. Of course she would wear Tabac Blond; Daltroff 's gift would fit her perfectly. An ode to the newly emancipated woman of the 20th century, Tabac Blond was tailored exactly to flatter the newly fashionable practice of women smoking.

 Women, smoking at the beach 1920s
Tabac Blond is in all its simplicity a leather perfume for women. But in reality it is much more than that. For starters, its timing was flawless- it came at the exact moment in history when women were breaking free; long held conventions were falling away. After having won on the right to vote, women began to demand to live independently and in their own way, without automatically being branded as wanton and immoral. Short cropped hair, dropped bustles and corsets and the new fad of women boldly smoking in public were only the outer manifestations of the inner freedom many women felt. 

Cigarettes. We know people love 'em and we know the tobacco companies did everything they could to help us love them even more. American tobacco companies figured out as early as 1890s that they could enhance their product by rolling it into easily smoked logs or sticks. They also devised flavoring recipes to make their cigarettes as palatable and distinctive as possible.

So what is it in cigarettes that gives them their flavor? Well, a partial- and I stress partial, list follows: 
Acetanisole- from castoreum, the glandular secretion of the beaver. It has a "sweet smell and tastes like cherry and vanilla...used in nuts, spices, boiled sweets and of course, cigarettes."
Acetoin- the agent responsible for the flavor of butter, naturally occurring in many foods.
Acetophenone- almond, cherry, honeysuckle, jasmine and strawberry- used for flavoring primarily gum.

After going through the first few items on the 500 plus list of ingredients (just the ones that Big Tobacco will admit to having added to their cigarettes) for the past 120 some years, I pulled out some that most of us would readily recognize for their common usage in perfumes:
ambergris, amyris oil, anise, angelica, apple, apricot, basil, balsam peru, bay leaf, benzoin, black currant, bitter almond oil, caraway oil, carob, carrot oil, cedar, chocolate, cinnamon, clary, cloves, coconut, costus root oil, davana oil, farnesol, fennel, fenugreek resin, galbanum, genet, ginger, guaiac wood oil, honey, immortelle absolute, jasmine oil, lavender oil, lemon oil, lime oil, linaloo, linden flowers, mace, manderine oil, maple, mimosa absolute, myrrh, neroli bigarde, nutmeg, oakmoss absolute, opoponax oil, orange blossom water, orris concrete oil, patchouli, petitgrain absolute, pine oil, pimenta leaf oil, pineapple juice, plum juice, prune, raisin juice, rose oil, rosemary oil, rum, sage oil, sandalwood oil, tagetes oil, thyme oil, tolu balsam, vanillin, vetiver oil, wild cherry bark extract

And what's in Tabac Blond?

Top notes: leather, carnation, and linden
Heart notes: iris, vetiver, ylang ylang, and lime-tree leaf
Base: cedar, patchouli, vanilla, amber, and musk

There are quite a few notes in common between Tabac Blond and the actual flavorings added to cigarettes. The perfume seems almost an enhancement of the traditional cigarette sauces. 

No wonder it goes down so well. At first, the sillage is surprisingly gentle. The perfume smells powdery and sweet- similar to a tobacco flower oil but not as thick or smotheringly sweet. The leather scent is a favorite kind of mine, smoky tart/fat and raw... I call it 'cowboy style' leather- like the thick soft yellow tanned leather of 'Make a Wallet' kits, and those great 1970's tooled leather purses. 

But I love this type of leather so much that whatever of it there is in Tabac Blond is supple and light for my preferences. The tobacco is cured, not smoked and so maybe it comes across a little heady, like the buzz after you take your first puff off of a cigarette. The carnation, patchouli, musk and lime play games with my mind- now I smell gum. The patchouli/amber/musk swirl around and around like so many vapor trails.

Suzanne's sample, the one that is still disappeared, had an appealing green twist winding through it, I'm sure the lime-leaves... but as for the remaining sample I have, the gorgeous green lime tree leaf accents are lost. 

Tabac Blond really was a perfume way ahead of its time, too beautiful to serve as a functional perfume reserved merely for smokers, it was obviously conceived in love and meant to be worn and cherished, forever...

My gorgeous sample of Tabac Blond came from Suzanne of Suzanne's Perfume Journal. My older ones (salvaged from the deepest depths of the vault, came from one of the original EBay decanters before they were banned...

The Caron boutiques and dealers of Caron urn fragrances still carry the newest versions of Tabac Blond which many people admire. If you desire the 'real deal' vintage, you can try for partial or rarely full bottles of Tabac Blond at Ebay auctions; but get your purses and credit cards warmed up, first. Suzanne has lovely packaged spray decants of Tabac Blond in it's current urn version, and several other on line decanters, including Perfumed Court offer the vintage version, as well.

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

images of Marlene Dietrich are all from my own hard drive collection, culled from various google searches


Anonymous said...

I too love Tabac Blond, and over the time I have collected quite some "versions" of EdP and Extrait. All are beautiful ! Some are more haunting, others fresher - all have in common that this scent makes me want more more m o r e of this perfume....Thank you for putting it all together into this beautifully illustrated post !

Amelia said...

Martina: It is somewhat addictive, isn't it? Sadly, the Caron perfumes that I love the most seem to stay away from me- and so I don't usually give Caron's perfumes much attention here. Hopefully more will find their way...
Thanks for stopping by!

Suzanne said...

Amelia, this is an **absolutely stunning** homage you have written to Caron Tabac Blond. The photos, the history, the interesting info on what the tobacco companies put in cigarettes is just fabulous!!!

Now, I hope this doesn't break your heart, but the sample of Caron Tabac Blond extrait I sent you is NOT vintage: it's the current version of the urn perfume, and I purchased mine from the Caron boutique in NYC. I happen to love it, and since I've never tried the vintage version, I'll probably choose to remain blissfully ignorant about it, since I don't want to have my heart (and wallet) broken into smithereens.

For the vintage version, The Perfumed Court is definitely the source, as you mentioned. My decants are of the extrait in its current formulation.

Amelia said...

Oh, thank you for the kind words Suzanne! I have rectified the info on what's vintage, what's not...Hugs!