Classics & Vintages: 134 posts

Vintage treasures, iconic perfumes

Guerlain Eau de Fleurs de Cedrat : Perfume Review

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It’s easy to get overtaken by the flood of newness and to forget about the trusted old favorites. The other day I found a neglected bottle of Eau de Fleurs de Cédrat in one of my fragrance drawers and put it on more as a reflex than because of any desire to wear it. It had been a while since I had tried it, but smelling its zesty lemon top notes reminded me what a gem it is and how refreshing it feels on a hot day.

If Eau de Fleurs de Cédrat were a color, it would be pop-art yellow. The initial impression is of grated lemon zest and lots of it. The bitterness of bergamot and lime add an additional twist, but it doesn’t happen until a few minutes into the development. Also, despite the “citron flowers” promised by the name, the composition is not particularly floral. It’s as classical of a cologne as you can find.

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The World in a Haiku

Silent the old town
the scent of flowers
floating
And evening bell
-Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694), translated by Jane Reichhold

Haiku condenses. Haiku magnifies. If haiku speaks of a flower, it doesn’t compare the poet to a flower or the world to a flower. It says, the world is a flower. The world is in the flower petal. The details are refined by the poet’s imagination, who pours the whole experience into seventeen syllables. Haiku is the essence.

Discontented
Violets have dyed
The hills also
-Shiba Sonome (17th century), translated by Earl Miner and Hiroko Odagiri.

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Leather Scents with a Soft Focus

Although classical leather notes in perfumery are dark and dramatic like Robert Piguet Bandit and Grès Cabochard, this theme offers many variations, including the soft and creamy ones. In my recent FT column, Leather Scents with a Soft Focus, I describe different ways in which leather can be interpreted. I also talk about my idiosyncratic behavior at the vintage shops.

Unconventional is the leather collection of Serge Lutens. The line has a number of fragrances with leather accents, whether Sarrasins, with its interplay of leather, jasmine and musk or Fumerie Turque, which weaves leather into tobacco leaves and rose petals. Cuir Mauresque, however, makes this tanned note the star player. It is buttery and rich, oscillating between the darkness of amber and the spicy bite of clove. What makes its leather tender and luminous is the clever addition of orange blossom and mandarin. Inspired by the old tradition of perfuming gloves with fragrant pomades, Cuir Mauresque conjures up vintage handbags and well-worn armchairs in old libraries. To continue reading, please click here.

Where do you fall on the leather spectrum, dark or light?

Image via FT

Paul Poiret : The King of Fashion, the Sultan of Perfume

Sometimes I imagine how our views on fashion would have been different if Paul Poiret, rather than Coco Chanel, presided as the arbiter of style in the post-WWII era. The two designers were among the most influential in the beginning of the 20th century, but their approaches to couture were completely different. Chanel’s famous dictum was “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.” Poiret, on the other hand, loved fantasy and opulence, introducing elaborate gowns, harem pants and lampshade tunics. He was inspired by the Arabian Night Tales, Persian paintings, Greek art, and the Japanese kimono. He also loved perfume and was the first designer to launch a fragrance collection.

Poiret was born in 1879, the son of a cloth merchant in Paris’s working-class neighborhood of Les Halles. As he wrote in his 1931 autobiography, The King of Fashion, even as a child, he had been fascinated by shapes and colors, and he collected unwanted silk scraps to make dresses for his sister’s doll, turning her into “a smart Parisienne one moment or a Chinese empress the next.” After successfully selling his etudes to the couturière Madeleine Chéruit, Poiret continued his career in fashion by working with prominent designers of the era like Jacques Doucet and the House of Worth. It was just a matter of time before he opened his own boutique.

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A Classical Experiment : How to Learn to Smell Better

In my September 2018 newsletter, I shared an experiment with three perfume classics. While re-reading the Odyssey (see my fall reading list), I was inspired to turn to another favorite book, Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. I lingered over the scene when the sultry red-haired witch enticed women with the promise of “Guerlain, Chanel No. 5, Mitsouko, Narcisse Noir, evening gowns, cocktail dresses...”  Why not revisit them, I thought?

I decided to devote a few days to each perfume, wearing it every day and studying it closely. I also applied the three perfumes on blotters and kept them within reach to smell as often as I remembered, noting down the changes in scent and its intensity. In my newsletter, I proposed that you also do the experiment with these perfumes, but on reflection, you can repeat it with any fragrance you like. I recommend classics, because they are usually complex and they have elements that you’ll find in modern fragrances. It’s like reading The Odyssey to understand the famous tropes of Western literature.

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