iconic perfumes: 26 posts

Michael Edwards’s Perfume Legends II

I’ve been waiting for Michael Edwards’s Perfume Legends II in the same way that Star Wars fans anticipate the new sequels. First published in 1996, Perfume Legends told stories behind more than 40 iconic fragrances. Edwards explained the inspiration behind the concept and the bottle and also left room for perfumers’ voices. Why did Edmond Roudnitska add an opulent plum note to Rochas Femme? How did Jacques Polge create the baroque effect of Chanel Coco? I read and re-read the book so much that my copy fell apart.

Edwards, however, wouldn’t rush the sequel. Respected in the industry for his Fragrances of the World database that assiduously tracks every new launch, he brought the same meticulousness to the Perfume Legends project. He decided to update the list, and so he spent several years researching information and interviewing perfumers, creative directors and designers. The industry can be frustratingly secretive, especially when it comes to explaining the perfume formula, but Edwards has never been daunted by such obstacles. The book reveals it all.

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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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The Fragrance of Old Things

Walking around the old châteaux in the Loire Valley, I kept cataloging the scents–damp stone, varnished wood, fading lilies, old tapestries. In the Château de Saché where Balzac used to stay for prolonged periods of time, the damask upholstery of the chairs heated by the morning sun gave off a waffle like sweetness, while the green cabinet in the Château de Chenonceau, out of which Catherine de Medici ruled France for 30 years, had a salty whiff of driftwood. Though the former residents of these places are now ghosts–just names in history books, monuments, symbols, it seems through these scents that they linger still, in the shadows.

Old things, things touched by many hands, things bearing marks of time, always drew me. It seemed that they might have their own spirits. Years later when I had the chance to spend time in Japan, I realized that this idea was less fanciful than it seemed, and the whole system of Shinto beliefs is based on the idea that everything possesses a spirit. A place. A tree. A stone. A writing pen.

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“10 Fragrances Every Woman Should Own” : Red Magazine

Red Magazine’s November issue includes my love letter to Guerlain Chamade in its feature, “10 Fragrances Every Woman Should Own.” I was thinking more along the lines of a great perfume everyone should try, and Chamade made the cut for a number of reasons: it has a distinctive personality, an original form, and it is beyond the trends and whims of fashion. There are many excellent and unexpected selections in the article. For instance, Tania Sanchez makes an impassioned call for Lush’s Gorilla Perfume Breath of God. Michael Donovan writes about Caldey Island Lavender Water, and Sali Hughes makes a great case for considering Chanel No 5.

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I also describe why I love Serge Lutens’s Féminité du Bois in Red’s online feature, Best Perfumes for Women.

If you were to suggest fragrances for others to try, what would you include?

Guerlain Habit Rouge and Its Family : Perfume Review

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Jean-Paul Guerlain, the last perfumer for the house carrying the family name, once memorably said that one could be a Shalimar woman or a L’Heure Bleue woman, but not both. Of course, he made the statement in his usual provocative manner, but the idea was that the two perfumes had such different characters that you loved either one or the other. I had all the makings of a L’Heure Bleue woman, having fallen for its older sister Après l’Ondée, but then I met Habit Rouge. One encounter was all it took for me not only to be captivated by its velvety orange blossom doused in incense and bergamot, but also to understand the allure of Shalimar.

Habit-Rouge-Guerlain

That Habit Rouge is marketed to men should make no difference to women. In 1965, when Habit Rouge was created by Guerlain, the collection had many splendid feminine perfumes like Jicky, Shalimar, L’Heure Bleue, and Mitsouko, but the offerings for men were considerably less outstanding. The exception was Vétiver, which Jean-Paul Guerlain created a few years earlier. His solution to draw gentlemen to the perfume counter was to take the basic outline of Shalimar and its famous accord of citrus and sweet oriental notes and give it a dandy appeal with leather and green orange blossom. The result was a less sweet, less curvy and less ripe version of Shalimar, but with all the elegance and panache of its great ancestor.

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Latest Comments

  • Iuliana in Ormonde Jayne Orris Noir Perfume Giveaway: My favourite winter book is Peter Hoeg’s « Smilla’s Sense of Snow » and the perfume that springs to mind when thinking of Smilla and the book’s atmosphere is luminous, sparkling, intense… December 14, 2019 at 7:18pm

  • AfonsoC in Ormonde Jayne Orris Noir Perfume Giveaway: Such a lovely giveaway – thank you! 1. My favorite winter reading may be unexpected. I’ve always loved Tintin comic books and I’m constantly reaching for them over and over… December 14, 2019 at 5:41pm

  • Mai in Ormonde Jayne Orris Noir Perfume Giveaway: Hah, cool! I’m also a fan of Poirot, and of iris-centered fragrances 🙂 . I find Hiris very serene and refined. You made a great choice of signature scent! December 14, 2019 at 5:24pm

  • Klaas in Ormonde Jayne Orris Noir Perfume Giveaway: Hello Rainboweyes, what a luxurious giveaway! You are so kind….but you are right, such quality fragrances should be worn and not sit in a drawer somewhere. I don’t usually re-read… December 14, 2019 at 5:10pm

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