Classics & Vintages: 148 posts

Vintage treasures, iconic perfumes

The Scent of Empire Chanel No 5 and Red Moscow by Karl Schlogel

The Scent of Empire: Chanel No 5 and Red Moscow by Karl Schlögel

The first time my grandmother was introduced to my future grandfather, he was performing a duet with his brother. Identical twins and devastatingly handsome, the duo sang their most popular number about a girl holding a bottle of “Tejé.” This French-sounding perfume intrigued me, but despite searching for Tejé in Google and various perfumery databases, I couldn’t find any trace of it. It was not until I read Karl Schlögel’s book The Scent of Empire: Chanel No 5 and Red Moscow did I realize that that it wasn’t Tejé, but rather TeZhe. It certainly was not French. TeZhe stood for the State Trust of Fat and Bone Processing Industry, which included perfume manufacturing. It was the LVMH of the USSR, if you will, and it was under its auspices that the most famous Soviet perfume, Red Moscow, was born. Schlögel’s book is about the world of Red Moscow and its intriguing connection to Chanel No 5.

Brocard Moscow vintage poster

Schlögel’s story alternates between Moscow and Paris, Red Moscow and No 5 and the personalities that surrounded them. Red Moscow was created in 1925 by Auguste Michel, who like the creator of No 5, Ernest Beaux, was a French perfumer working in Moscow. Michel was born in Grasse and joined Rallet in Moscow in 1908, where he and Beaux were students of Alexandre Lemercier. Beaux and Michel had been influenced by the work on aldehydes done by the perfumer Robert Bienaimé at Houbigant. Beaux remained with Rallet, while Michel moved to work for Brocard, another French perfume house in Moscow.

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Fascinating Perfumery: How Violets and Ionones Made History

It’s not an understatement to say that without the humble violet we wouldn’t have perfumery as we know it today. At the end of the 19th century when the fashion for violet perfumes was all the rage, several German chemists set out to isolate the aroma-material that gives this flower its delicate and yet persistent scent. Until then violet essence was distilled from the flowers of Viola odorata, a process that required more than 33,000 kg of flowers to obtain a kilogram of violet oil. The search for Veilchenduft, the scent of violet, led to the discovery and isolation of ionones, a class of materials that are sweet and powdery.

In today’s film, I describe how this violet-scented revolution happened and compare different types of ionones. The term ionone is derived from the Greek word “iona,” which means violet, and “ketone” referring to its chemical structure. Several isomeric ionones occur naturally in flowers like rose and violet as well as in different fruit and berries. Fine grades of Japanese green tea are rich in ionones as is milk–if a cow eats ionone-rich alfalfa, ionones will then be found in its milk.

I mention several violet gold standards such as

Coty L’Origan

Guerlain L’Heure Bleue

Chanel No 19

Chanel Coco

Rochas Femme

Yves Saint Laurent Paris

Lancôme Trésor

This episode focuses more on the classics, and in the next film I will discuss modern fragrances featuring ionones. Ionones: Sweet and Powdery includes even more perfumes and information on these fascinating materials.

Of course, I would love to hear about your favorite violets, vintage or modern. 

Roger & Gallet Bois d’Orange : Perfume Review

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When I was preparing the bitter orange series and researching fragrances that showcase neroli and bitter orange, Roger & Gallet’s Bois d’Orange ended up at the top of my list. I also realized that although I had written plenty about this excellent cologne, I haven’t published a proper perfume review. This is an omission, because Bois d’Orange deserves more attention.

Bois d’Orange blends orange blossom and citrus notes with herbs and the result is a dry martini of a fragrance. This genre of cologne is the most uplifting and rejuvenating on a warm day–or whenever you need a pick-up. It’s easy to wear, easy to enjoy–and at 20 euros for a bottle, easy on the wallet.

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How Artist Serge Lutens Revolutionized Perfumery

In his marvellous essay Why Read the Classics? Italo Calvino offers 14 definitions of what makes a classic piece of literature. Reflecting on his list, I thought how easily its ideas could also be applied to perfumery. The same notions of the inexhaustible sense of discovery, timelessness, and “imprints on our imagination” also define a classic scent, be it Guerlain Shalimar or Chanel No 5. It was Calvino’s 13th point, however, that struck a chord. “A classic is a work which relegates the noise of the present to a background hum, which at the same time the classics cannot exist without,” he says. They’re rooted in the present even as they transcend it.

Inspired by Calvino, I decided to draw up a personal list of perfume classics, creations that reflect their moment and yet have timeless relevance. The first I selected was Serge Lutens’ Féminité du Bois, a fragrance conceived by the artist and photographer for Japanese brand Shiseido in 1992. Lutens wanted a perfume based on the Atlas cedarwood, and he sought to convey the softness of the ingredient that beguiled him ever since he came to Morocco in the 1960s. Initially when Lutens talked to the perfumers about his idea, he encountered a lack of comprehension. Cedarwood was traditionally treated as a sharp, masculine note and few fragrance professionals understood how to reinterpret it in a different guise.

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Why Violet Perfumes Retain Their Timeless Appeal

Swan down puffs, lace camisoles, ivory fans, tulle skirts, satin shoes… If these words evoke an appealing vision for you, then you’re the right candidate for a Victorian violet perfume. While the 19th century under the reign of Queen Victoria is often described as conventional and stuffy, the favorite aromas of the period might likewise be seen as uninspiring. Nothing could be further from truth. Despite its reputation for being overly dainty and demure, violet has a complex aroma with a fascinating history–and it retains its timeless appeal.

The Victorian era was a period of great changes in society, and the simple example of a violet cologne is a good illustration for the dynamics of the time. Violet waters became popular long before Victoria was crowned a queen, and they were highly sought after for their sweet scent with nuances of raspberry and rose.  At first, fragrances based on this flower were derived from Parma violets via the painstaking process of collecting tiny blossoms and extracting their essence.  It made violet a costly and luxurious perfume available only to the select few.

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