Classics & Vintages: 119 posts

Vintage treasures, iconic perfumes

The Secret of Scent or Adventures in Provence

If you were to pick the ultimate scent destination, it would have to be Provence. This region in the south of France has been the cradle of the modern perfume industry since the end of the 18th century, but even before that it was known for its aromatics–lavender, mimosa, rosemary, genet, and other perfumed plants. Although today Provence’s days as the center of rose and jasmine cultivation are long gone, it’s still a place for a fragrance lover when the air is perfumed with the salty-green scent of lavender and garrigue, a distinctly Provencal medley of herbs.

provence-herbs

In October, when I arrived in Luberon, the first thing I smelled was the fallen leaves and briny breeze. The mistral, a cold northwesterly wind, denuded the tall plantain trees, but it cleared the sky of clouds and it looked so blue that even the air felt turquoise. I arrived at the hotel Moulin de Vernègues, the venue for The Secret of Scent.

The Secret of Scent is a three-day course by Science & Vacation, a company that specializes in events combining sensory explorations–vacation, in other words–with an educational angle. I was to lecture for three days about the history and art of perfumery, while Luca Turin had a similar task, but with a focus on the science. To be honest, I was a little bit nervous.  While I give perfumery courses on a regular basis, my audience is usually industry folk–marketing, sales people and perfumers. While they’re not necessarily experts on all of the subjects I cover, I at least know the rough outlines of their knowledge. The Secret of Scent was open to everyone, and I wasn’t sure what our participants would be interested to learn.

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10 Fall Perfumes With a Retro Accent

Retro, vintage, old-fashioned. These terms, with various nuances, suggest fragrances that smell of another time. Elisa explores some of her favorite perfume examples.  What’s dated to one person is a retro classic to another.

What smells old-fashioned or,  more positively, “classic” or “retro” to any given nose is bound to change over time. In the near future, I suspect, the berry-and-peony fruity-florals and fruitchoulis that were ubiquitous in the late ‘90s and aughts will smell nostalgically old-fashioned to some, dated to others. Hillary Clinton reportedly wears Angel, and I recently heard a young YouTube star describe Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle as her most “mature” smelling perfume!

gingko

The perfumes I’ve been reaching for most this fall aren’t the all-time classics – the Shalimars, the Mitsoukos, the Chanel No. 5’s. But these scents, mostly born in the ‘70s and ‘80s, remind me of the grande dames of my youth, who weren’t in the least intimidated by unforgivingly sharp green chypres, loud and complicated florals, or deeply powdery orientals, all with massive sillage. To me, these are the new retro classics.

Chanel Coco 

When I first encountered Coco on a perfume counter many years ago, I found it confusing. What exactly was this mess, which couldn’t decide whether to be sweet or not? But now it smells complex and incredibly luxurious, especially in the parfum – all spicy, rosy florals and amber with a dry, animalic leather note cutting through. I’ve come to think of Coco as the quintessential, night-at-the-opera floriental.

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Postcard from Ukraine : Sepia

One of my favorite museums in Kyiv is a collection of Ukrainian folk art founded by the sculptor Ivan Honchar. It contains masterpieces of embroidery, painting, wood carving and iconography gathered from different regions of Ukraine. One of my favorite expositions features photography, mostly shots taken by itinerant photographers who set up an early 20th century version of a pop-up shop complete with painted decorations. Sitters rarely look comfortable in these photographs, standing stiff and tense in their finery, but you can still glean their personalities and little quirks.

ivan honchar museum

Ivan Honchar Museum is located on Ivana Mazepy 29, Kyiv. Photography by Bois de Jasmin

The Art of Fortunate Proportions

“The art of fortunate proportions” is how Edmond Roudnitska described perfumery. The idea is simple–all elements in the right dosages and in the right balance, but as is often the case, the simplicity is the most elusive attribute of all. Whenever I revisit his fragrances, I’m moved time and again by their grace and harmony. In Perfumes: The art of balance and proportion, my new FT column, I describe Roudnitska’s art, the elegance of Guerlain and the feisty brilliance of Germaine Cellier.

art of balance

When I speak of balance in perfumery, I mean both the aesthetics and technique. Consider Guerlain’s Chamade, one of the most perfectly balanced fragrances. From the bright-green top notes to the rose and hyacinth heart and velvety, woody notes, the perfume unfolds like a silk scroll. Similarly modulated is Dior’s Diorissimo, one of Roudnitska’s masterpieces and the subject of many articles in this column. To continue reading, please click here.

Image via FT HTSI

Beautiful Prose

Halfway through my graduate studies, I remember experiencing an intense craving for beautiful prose. I was training as a political scientist, and the texts on politics and economics, written by academics for other academics in a dry style favoring passive construction, began to make me listless. Respite arrived in the form of George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language,” which remains one of my favorite pieces of writing–clear, concise, powerful.

books

Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, or reader. When I think of the books that left the biggest impression on me, they are written in a crystalline clear style, poetic but without unnecessary embellishments. Beautiful prose to me is a harmony between substance and style.

I don’t intend to compile a comprehensive list, merely a snapshot of my favorites today, but if I were to create an anthology of beautiful writing, Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1945) would be one of the star contenders. Set before the Second World War, it is the story of one man’s infatuation with the aristocratic family and their world. There is passion, loss, betrayal and reflections on faith and religion. Waugh’s most introspective novel and also his most masterful, it combines beautiful writing with sharp observations on upper class society and its decline.

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