The subject of perfume is a difficult one to write about because it’s very personal, like religion. A scent can transport one to the Garden of Eden, but send another hurtling down into the depths of Hades. The reality is that each person’s skin reacts differently to a perfume. I must point out, however, that nearly everyone is in agreement with regard to Giorgio Beverly Hills, a particularly vile fragrance launched in the 1980s which to this day is universally despised.
Scent is also memory, or at least, it triggers memory better than anything else. One whiff of Diorissimo, a fragrance created for the house of Dior by Edmond Roudnitska, one of the greatest “noses” of the 20th century, and I remember my mother when I was growing up in Manila: her elegant clothes, her style. Diorissimo had been my mom’s favorite perfume and I, too, wore it. It transports me back to another time and another world when we were younger and perhaps happier.
Unfortunately, Dior changed the formulation of Diorissimo. Bois de Jasmin, a wonderful perfume blog, says:
[T]he fragrance has been reformulated to comply with the regulations of International Fragrance Association (IFRA) as well as to replace animalic materials, with the result being a version that strikes me as somewhat strident. The parfum is better, but it also contains the same screechy synthetic woody note in the base that ruins the appeal of Diorissimo for me.
Diorissimo is now unbearably harsh. When Dior changed it, I felt as if the company had violently shattered my memories and done a great injustice to my past. Strange how we cling to perfumes the way we hold on to our memories. Even my mother agrees that the house of Dior has destroyed Diorissimo, all in the name of progress and the mandates of the IFRA.
So I am left with six perfumes that I love:
- L’Heure Bleue by Jacques Guerlain: created in 1912, it evokes the “blue hour”, that sliver of time between sunset and nightfall.
- Angeliques Sous La Pluie: created by Jean-Claude Ellena for Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle in 2003. Ellena is the perfumer for Hermès.
- Le Parfum de Therese: created by the legendary Edmond Roudnitska in the 1950s exclusively for his wife, Thérèse. She allowed it to be commercialized by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle after Roudnitska’s death in 1996.
- Coco: created by Jacques Polge for the house of Chanel in 1984.
- Grand d’Amour: created by Isabelle Doyen and Annick Goutal in 1996.
- Givrine: created by Evelyne Boulanger for Coudray in 1950.
I love Guerlain’s old perfumes, the ones created before the Second World War, decades before the company was acquired by LVMH, the luxury goods conglomerate, and turned into just another brand in the portfolio of a publicly traded company.
Guerlain was founded in 1828. It created beautiful, mysterious fragrances such as Apres L’Ondee (1906), Mitsouko (1919), Shalimar (1925), L’Heure Bleue (1912) and many others. Guerlain also created Vol de Nuit in 1933 as a tribute to Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the French aviator and writer (of among other things, Le Petit Prince). The old perfumes are intriguing; they give the wearer an air of mystery, surely something every woman would like to have. L’Heure Bleue is my favorite perfume of all time because it smells so out of this century. When I wear L’Heure Bleue, I walk into another dimension in time when women wore silk and pearls, men donned hats and people were not Twittering their lives away.
Today, however, fragrances are put together based upon what the marketing department of a fashion house believes to be the “mood of the moment”. They hire outside marketing consultants to divine what women want, then they bring in a perfumer to put together a passable scent. Worse, celebrities have gotten into the fragrance game. Britney Spears and David Beckham have licensed their names to giant chemical conglomerates (no sense calling them perfume houses anymore) in the hopes that every woman and every man would want the aura of celebrity out of a perfume bottle. The result has been a massive increase in the number of fragrances launched every year, most of which are awful.
I will write more about the perfumes listed above in separate posts. Note: I am told that Guerlain (under LVMH) was forced to reformulate some of the older perfumes to comply with regulations (no doubt the IFRA again). Mitsouko does not smell like it used to (my grandmother is turning in her grave). Nevertheless, L’Heure Bleue remains enchanting. Wouldn’t you rather wear a perfume that evokes mystery rather than the Powerpoint presentations of someone’s marketing survey?
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