bulgakov: 2 posts

Three Classics and One Great Novel

The first time I encountered a perfume that beguiled me was on the pages of a book. The sultry red-haired witch in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita enticed women with the promise of “Guerlain, Chanel No. 5, Mitsouko, Narcisse Noir, evening gowns, cocktail dresses...” It would be some years before I smelled these perfumes, but their names left a “baffling but seductive” imprint, just as suggested by the novel.

It is no accident that Bulgakov selected Chanel No 5, Guerlain Mitsouko and Caron Narcisse Noir. Those were the fragrances worn by his wife, Elena Bulgakova, the muse for Margarita in the novel. Elena Bulgakova’s granddaughter from her first marriage used to be part of my family. She often mentioned how much her grandmother loved fragrance, especially the three perfumes mentioned in the novel. Chanel No 5 evoked elegance for her. Mitsouko conveyed sophistication. And Caron was pure magic in its opulent glamour.

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Chanel, Caron and Guerlain in Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita

“The first time I encountered a perfume that beguiled me was in the pages of a book. The sultry red-haired witch in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita enticed women with the promise of “Guerlain, Chanel No 5, Mitsouko, Narcisse Noir, evening gowns, cocktail dresses…” It would be some years before I smelled these perfumes, yet their names left a “baffling but seductive” imprint, just as the novel suggested.”

In my recent FT column, Revisiting Three Perfume Classics, I write about the three legendary perfumes that left their “baffling but seductive” trace in literature and history. They are Chanel No 5, Guerlain Mitsouko and Caron Narcisse Noir. Bulgakov started writing his novel in 1928 and worked on it until his death in 1940. The reason he selected these three perfumes as the lure for the black magic show was because they embodied glamour.

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