Scenting Sargent – matching portraits to perfumes

The opening of Tate Britain’s Sargent and Fashion exhibition is more than an opportunity to view some of the most famous portraits in the world: it’s an invitation to spend time with people who began as acquaintances – faces you recognised, who played a perhaps minor moment in your life – and leave having made several roomfuls of dear friends.

There are so many connections between other art-forms and fragrance – music and literature being the most usually cited – but pairing portraiture and perfume was an emotional connection impossible to resist. It’s because (as those of us obsessed with fragrance readily understand, and which anyone can feel deep inside when a certain smell triggers an emotional response within them;) a scent can communicate with such aching, soul-baring intimacy; telling complete strangers things about ourselves that we’d never otherwise overtly express.

Partly, the intimacy one feels in Sargent and Fashion comes from seeing the paintings up close and in person. The way these people (mostly women, in this exhibition) meet your eye, often challengingly, or sometimes deliberately evading your gaze. Intimacy, too, in the way he painted them – mostly these people were very close friends within Sargent’s social circle, and this fact absolutely leaps off each canvas in the vivacious vibrancy and liveliness with which they’re depicted. There’s tenderness at times, and humour, too. A vulnerability or a twinkle in the eye that can only be achieved through decades of a deep bond between painter and sitter.

 

John Singer Sargent in his studio (Madame X in the background)

 

We, as visitors, get to feel truly included in this partnership while viewing the exhibition. And the shortcut to our deeper understanding of the people behind the paint is partly thanks to the clothing and accessories displayed alongside the portraits. Many of them are the very outfits the sitters were wearing while he painted them, and we learn from the exhibition notes and signs beside the displays, that not only did Sargent keep costumes and props in his studio, but that on numerous occasions Sargent designed many of the outfits himself – in collaboration with esteemed couture fashion houses such as Worth. It wasn’t a case of ‘come as you are’ when turning up to Sargent’s studio to be painted. It was far more ‘let’s show these people who you REALLY are.’ As the introduction to the exhibition guide states:

 

‘Sargent and his sitters thought carefully about the clothes that he would paint them in, the messages their choices would send, and how well particular outfits would translate to paint. The rapport between fashion and painting was well understood at this time: as one French critic noted, ‘there is now a class who dress after pictures, and when they buy a gown ask ‘will it paint?’’’

 

At this point I have to allow myself a rant. Not about the exhibition – which I adored, and which I shall think about for many years to come – but about some of the reviews by art critics I’ve read since attending the Press View. In their opinion, the extraordinary artefacts detracted from the portraits and were entirely unconnected to our understanding of Sargent or the sitters. They describe the clothes and accessories, variously, as ‘old rags’ and ‘glittery baubles’, or ‘belonging in Miss Havisham’s attic’. And the undercurrent of these reviews very strongly comes across as ‘these are women’s fripperies, therefore utterly bereft of meaning or importance.’

To arrive at this conclusion is – quite apart from being disgustingly misogynistic, and in the same patronising lineage as literary critics dismissing Jane Austen’s work as historic ‘chick lit’ because it dares to document the lives of women – to miss the point of the exhibition entirely. The clue was in the name, after all: Sargent and Fashion. The clothing was even capitalised in the title to help them.

Women have always been especially judged on what clothes they wear, and in this exhibition the point is made – again and again, if you care to comprehend – that the sitters and Sargent liked to subvert this power play in the colour and cut of the clothing, in the positioning of their bodies. They were judged for these choices contemporarily, too – several of the portraits causing shocking scandals and what we’d now understand as ‘being cancelled’. Most notably with the famous (and swoon-worthy) portrait of Madam X, for which, as this brilliant Varsity article on the infamous portrait explains:

‘Sargent initially depicted Gautreau in a tightly silhouetted black gown, with chained straps doing very little to conceal her pearlescent shoulders and décolletage. In fact, originally, Sargent chose to drape one strap down Gautreau’s arm; this inadvertently caused further outrage. To spectators past, it was a brazen attempt to barely veil Gautreau’s body, suggesting that if one strap can breezily slip, so can the rest.’

The clothing has nothing to do with the portraits? No importance? Tell that to Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, who was lacerated by public opinion to the point where, as the Varsity article recounts:

‘Even Gautreau – a woman fiercely aware of her beauty, and inclined to weaponise it for advancement by becoming the archetypal ‘Parisienne’ – felt that it was best to anonymise her painted figure: thus Madame X was born.’

 

 

 

 

These spectacularly cloistered critics failed to appreciate the importance Sargent himself placed on the clothing – let’s reiterate the fact he DESIGNED many of the outfits himself, or carefully positioned the clothing and angles we can view them from; choosing to deliberately drape and conceal, or otherwise starkly reveal his sitters. And little wonder they missed (or elected not to place value on) the many examples of how important these clothes were – they spent very little time actually looking at the portraits or the clothes, or the numerous signs next to them explaining the significance. Instead, they gathered in tiny, tutting cabals during the exhibition, loudly discussing which other exhibitions or parties they had, or had not, been invited to.

#notallmen, but sadly, the ones I saw doing this all were. Ironically, I overheard them discussing what outifits they were going to wear to various fashion event parties that evening. But these were their clothes – men’s clothes – so presumably were of significance to them.

I shan’t link to their excoriating yet ultimately vacuous reviews because it lends them more credence than they’re due. And I needn’t couch my words, because they’ll never bother reading something so frivolous as an article matching PERFUME to portraits. Fragrance, I feel pretty confident in assuming, is something they would similarly sneer at as being bereft of cultural and emotional value, so equally pointless in examining. Those of us who feel otherwise are lucky in having our lives enriched by art in more ways than they could ever comprehend.

Let’s allow them to tut away to their heart’s content, and instead go and see the exhibition, and then imagine if we knew what fragrances the people in these portraits had also chosen to wear! Or what scent they might select, were they around now. Such consideration adds further layers which might reveal depths even Sargent never got to know. Which perhaps they never even truly realised about themselves.

Fragrance can do that. The right scent, worn at the right time, can disclose intimate secrets or conceal us in a cloak of intrigue. A perfume can be a worn as a kind of emotional X-Ray, or played with like choosing a costume from a dressing-up box.

 

 

The women in these portraits, we learn (and FEEL by smiling along with them), were not passive, wilting muses – they were accomplished artists, poets, academics, and philosophers in their own right. And they were in partnership with Sargent, with the fashion designers, and with us as we look at them and feel something that goes beyond the gaze to a complicit understanding. Just as wearing a particular fragrance can announce to the world who we are inside, or dictate how we want others to feel about us – transcending words and going straight to the soul.

When we take time to select a scent based on our emotional response to it – or gather whole wardrobes and toolboxes of them – we go beyond passive consumers to being in a relationship with the perfumer, the packaging designers, the experts and consultants that recommended them, and the people who then smell that fragrance as we waft past.

In pairing perfumes with Sargent’s portraits, then, I hope it helps you feel an even closer companionship to the people portrayed in them, and a have deeper understanding of the mood each scent can similarly evoke. And I urge you to try this for yourselves next time you’re in a museum or art gallery – or meeting friends in your own social circle. Wonder how you’d scent them, and then reflect on what this tells you about them, about the fragrance, and even what this reveals about our own levels of perception and interpretation.

Having gained a greater closeness to Sargent the man (not just the painter), and to the people (not only the portraits) during this exquisitely soul-enriching, emotional conversation of an exhibition, I feel he’d have approved. Indeed, he’d likely have had fragrances specially commissioned, worked on exacting briefs for the perfumers, and suggested precise tweaks to the perfumes’ formulae – the better to reflect the people behind the layers of paint, and further shaping our understanding of them.

Without such bespoke examples, what follows are the perfumes I felt ‘matched’ the personality of five portraits that particularly spoke to me. Indeed, there were so many other fragrance pairings inspired in my mind (and still bubbling away) by seeing this exhibition, that I’ll need to do a Part Two to stop them invading my every thought. But for now, what I really want to know is – which portraits would you decide to match, having got to know them at the exhibition; how would you scent them, and why would you pick that to evoke their character, the clothing, and the mood of the portrait itself…?

Sargent and Fashion is at Tate Britain until 7 July 2024. [Free for Tate members, and worth every penny if you’re not]

 

 

 

John Singer Sargent Lady Agnew of Lochnaw 

Outwardly the very picture of femininity, in both the sitter and the scent there’s a strong backbone that runs through the centre. Gertrude is surrounded by a froth of delicate, transparent material, but she sits on a hard-backed chair and meets us with a direct and judging stare. In Apres L’Ondee a spring garden of rain-soaked blossoms feels encircled by a high fence. The violet in it is cool, almost frosted, but has survived the storm. You may admire the garden, but the casual passer-by will not be invited inside.

Guerlain Apres L’Ondee £108 for 75ml eau de parfum guerlain.com

 

 

 

John Singer Sargent Ena Wertheimer 

Sargent and Ena were great friends, their rapport and her amusement vibrating through this unconventional portrait, and the stance apparently all Ena’s doing. She came to his studio, grabbed a broom and began fencing with it. Her heavy opera coat becomes a Cavalier’s uniform (or a witch’s cloak, given the subtext of the broomstick). In Moonlight Patchouli, inky black velvet is suddenly spotlit, bathed in a phosphorescent glow, dusted with iris – a focus on warm skin dominating the darkness.

Van Cleef & Arpels Moonlight Patchouli £145 for 75ml eau de parfum harrods.com

 

 

 

John Singer Sargent Mrs Hugh Hammersley (Mary Frances Grant) 

A fashionable hostess of salons, Mary looks so happy to see you, but would like you to understand she has a lot to do. The extraordinary depth of colour and texture in her gown are discussed in this Metropolitan Museum of Art feature, but her vivacity and poised opulence are obvious. I tried not to use this scent in this piece, but it had to be hers. The striking depths of rose, raspberry and patchouli are hugely impactful, filled with beauty, power, and a presence that lasts long after you’ve left a room.

Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady from £60 for 10ml eau de parfum fredericmalle.co.uk

 

 

 

John Singer Sargent Dr. Pozzi at Home

A blaze of passionate red, this man might appear a dandy, but he’s incredibly intelligent. He may look casually attired, but the drape of his dressing gown and the meticulous pleats of the white linen shirt dramatically contrast the swathe of scarlet. Habit Rouge is devilishly handsome and knows it. Dynamically woody, a hint of animalic magnetism balanced by almost soapy neroli and jasmine; rendered irresistible by the creamy warmth of spiced vanilla and moody patchouli in the base.

[P.S. I also attempted not to use Guerlain twice in my matches, but the body craves what it needs, and Pozzi’s needed this.]

Guerlain Habit Rouge £81 for 50ml eau de parfum guerlain.com

 

 

 

John Singer Sargent Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) 

The largest space in the exhibition is given over to Sargent’s most famous portrait, room for captivated crowds to gather and gaze, elongating their bodies and arching upwards, echoing her position, desperate for her to turn and look back. Virginie adored this painting, as did Sargent, but her life was scandalised by it. In Santal Majuscule, we’re invited to worship the sandalwood, acres of creaminess suggesting an expanse of bare skin. A pared back elegance which nonetheless skewers with longing.

Serges Lutens Santal Majuscule £135 for 50ml eau de parfum sergeslutens.co.uk

 

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Perfume Bottles Auction 2023: The world’s most fabulous flaçons… could be yours!

Set your alarms right now, because on Friday April 28, starting at 4pm Eastern Time in America, the 35th annual Perfume Bottles Auction will conduct its live online auction – with bidders around the world logging in to try their luck at owning some of the world’s most exceptional perfume bottles.

Here, we take a sneak peek at the fabulous catalogue ahead of the sale, to show you some of our favourites, and we’ll be catching up with how the sale went in the next issue of The Scented Letter magazine, so stay tuned…

Since 1979, organiser and founder of The Perfume Bottles Auction, Ken Leach, has been working ‘to create public and corporate awareness of the artistry to be found in vintage perfume presentation.’ His antique shop’s show-stopping merchandise ‘has served as a source of inspiration for glass companies, package designers, and celebrity perfumers, before ultimately entering the collections of perfume bottle enthusiasts around the globe.’

With unparalleled access to private collections and never before seen pieces, the yearly auction garners huge excitement in the fragrance world. Some truly rare and exquisite items will doubtless only be in the reach of serious collectors, but other pieces can be obtainable prices – it all depends how many other people are lusting after the same bottle, of course!

Each year, we look forward to our friends at the Perfume Bottles Auction  their catalogue with us (which is a feast for the eyes in itself, as well as encompassing a huge amount of important history behind the bottles and fragrances); and we swear each year’s collection is even better than the last!

So, what does the 2023 Perfume Bottles Auction stash have in store for us? Let’s take a look at just some of our personal highlights…

 

This ‘Extraordinary 1934 Parfums de Burmann Pleine Lune sur le Nil (Full Moon on the Nile) black crystal Egyptian Revival perfume bottle’, was presented ‘in conjunction with the launching of the newly established Burmann perfume company and shop on the Champs Elysees. However, both the perfume and the bottle proved to be too expensive to produce, and this ambitious project was not pursued.’ Estimated to achieve $30,000$40,000, and being so rare; no wonder it’s the catalogue’s cover-star.

 

 

This dazzling piece is a 1946 Salvador Dali design, produced by Baccarat (no 798) for Elsa Schiaparelli Le Roy Soleil (The Sun King), and ‘The Duchess of Windsor having been one of the first to receive one, wrote to Schiaparelli: “It is really the most beautiful bottle ever made, and the Roy Soleil is a very lasting and sweet gentleman. I cannot tell you how I appreciate your giving me such a handsome present which has displaced the Duke’s photograph on the coiffeuse!” Schiaparelli wrote in her autobiography that it was “…too expensive and too sophisticated for the general public, but…not destined to die.”‘ (Estimate $10,000$12,000)

 

 

We’ve seen photos of this extraordinary bottle circulating online previously, those versions often in less than pristine condition, while this piece is immaculate and has so much for information to go with it. It’s a ‘1925 De Marcy L’Orange trompe l’oeil presentation, simulates a halved orange, glazed ceramic bowl holding eight orange segments in a metal frame, blown glass perfume bottles in perfect condition.’ Which of the fragrances would you have loved to smell first? Each segment held one Chypre, Ambre, Rose, Héliotrope, Jasmin, Muguet, Mimosa and Violette. (Personally, we’d have been at the Chypre and Ambre.) Estimate $800$1,000, it’s sure to prove a-peeling [sorry!]

 

 

We’re loving the side-eye this cheeky minx is serving in the ‘1925 Favoly’s La Poupee Parisienne presentation for Chypre hand painted blown glass perfume bottle, metallic thread bow.’ Estimated $200$400, she could be coming home to party with your perfume collection if you’re lucky. (And obvs she was a Chypre gal – with that expression, what else?)

 

 

This French ‘1920s Hetra for Elesbe Le Papillon Embaume butterfly‘ bottle was made for a  presentation of Oeillet (Carnation) scent. Completely darling, and we don’t know if we’d rather display it or run around giddily playing with while whooping with joy [don’t worry Perfume Bottles Auction pals, we wouldn’t really play with it. Much.] Estimated $600$800, enthusiasts should get their nets at the ready.

 

 

The work on this ‘Sea Weeds’ model bottle is quite breathtaking, and it’s a ‘1925 Andre Jollivet design, produced by La Verrerie de la Nesle Normandeuse for Volnay Yapana clear glass perfume bottle, deeply molded front and reverse, blue patina, inner stopper, silvered metal cap, embossed label on side. Some of the bottles truly are art pieces in their own right, and this one certainly belongs in that category. $2,000$4,000

 

 

Well now, this is irresistible, isn’t it? A ‘1944 Elizabeth Arden music box presentation for On dit (They say) clear/ frost glass bottle and cover, with inner stopper, sealed with perfume, as two ladies, their heads touching, one whispering a secret to the other…’ And what is the gossip, we wonder?! With panels of the box showing various high society social scenes, where no doubt the cause of the chin-wagging occurred, this is a delightful, whimsical piece we could stare at for hours.

 

There are SO many more we love, but to show them all would be to basically reproduce the entire catalogue, so why not go and have a browse (and gasp) for yourself? If something particularly takes your fancy, you can register for the 2023 Perfume Bottles Auction online: the instructions for bidding are all there, and if you have questions you can ask those via their website, too. Now then, which one(s) would you most like to own…?

[Our feature image for this article is the ‘1924 Julien Viard design, manufactured by Depinoix Glassworks for Bonwit Teller & Co, Paris Venez avec Moi (Come with Me). Estimated $4,000$6,000. Utterly beguiling, non?]

 

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Perfumes for Goodwood Revival – vintage fragrances still just as fab today!

When you think of ‘vintage fragrances’, what do you imagine? If it’s anything musty, dusty and a little bit fusty or, god forbid, that completely hideous (and totally sexist / ageist) phrase ‘old woman-like’ you can banish such sinful thoughts from your mind immediately. What we now think of as classics were once, in their day, utterly shocking – the punk rock of perfumes, totally overthrowing olfactory conventions. Given time (something not all fragrances, sadly, are granted today); these scents became part of our perfumed surroundings, something we all became somewhat familiar with. If we’ve not worn them personally we know people who have, or we recognise the bottles and names at the very least.

There are so many vintage fragrances still around today and going just as strong, that with the annual Goodwood Revival vintage festival about to get into full swing, we felt it was the perfect time to reflect on some of these incredible perfumes, and urge you to seek them out to try on your own skin – all of these launched first in the 1920s and are still (fabulously) appropriate to wear in 2022. Think you know vintage? Think again…

 

 

Chanel No.5 – launched 1921
Coco Chanel wanted to launch a scent for the new, modern woman she embodied. She loved the scent of soap and freshly-scrubbed skin; Chanel’s mother was a laundrywoman and market stall-holder, though when she died, the young Gabrielle was sent to live with Cistercian nuns at Aubazine. When it came to creating her signature scent, though, freshness was all-important. While holidaying with her lover, Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich, she heard tell of a Grasse-based perfumer called Ernest Beaux, who’d been the perfumer darling of the Russian royal family. Over several months, he produced a series of 10 samples to show to ‘Mademoiselle’. They were numbered one to five, and 20 to 24. She picked No. 5 – and yes, the rest is history.

Why it’s still wearable:
After that infamous Champagne-like aldehydic rush, notes of jasmine, rose, vanilla and sandalwood calm the froth, but it still smells incredibly ‘abstract’ with no dominant note the wearer can really make out. It’s timeless, clean but sexy in a so-French way. Perhaps this will be the year you succumb to its charms?

From £65 for 35ml eau de parfum chanel.com

 

 

Molinard Habanita – launched 1921
Molinard say that Habanita was the first women’s fragrance to strongly feature vetiver as an ingredient – something hitherto reserved for men, commenting that ‘Habanita’s innovative style was eagerly embraced by the garçonnes – France’s flappers – and soon became Molinard’s runaway success and an icon in the history of French perfume.’ Originaly conceived as a scent for cigarettes – inserted via glass rods or to sprinkle from a sachet – women had begun sprinkling themselves with it instead, and Molinard eventually released it as a personal fragrance.

Why it’s still wearable:
Honeyed tobacco notes and the aforementioned vetiver along with a supremely supple leather manage to distinctly butch up the orange blossom and fruits of the opening, with a floral heart that further ruffles the feathers of gender stereotypes – jasmine and heliotrope saucily winking atop a softly powdered amber base. Truly delightful and thrillingly illicit, it’s a crime not to have tried this at least once in your life, no matter your gender.

£85 for 75ml eau de parfum bloomperfume.co.uk

 

 

Lanvin Arpège – launched 1924
Jeanne Lanvin was a contemporary of Chanel’s, and – like her – began as a milliner and seamstress, founding her own millinery fashion house at Rue du Marché Saint-Honoré. Lanvin’s daughter was her inspiration for the fragrance Arpège.It was conceived for the 30th birthday of her daughter Marie-Blanche, and took its musical reference name from a comment Marie-Blanche made on being shown the first sample, created by perfumers André Fraysse and Paul Vacher: ‘It smells like an arpeggio would’. The spherical black-and-gold bottle was a nod to their love, too, with its silhouette of a mother dressing her daughter (designed by Paul Iribe) is still so recognisable – and covetable – today.

Why it’s still wearable:
A melody of florals – rose, iris, lily, lily of the valley, jasmine, ylang ylang , camellia and geranium – the lasting impression is of being wrapped in warm, white, fluffy towels, a veritable hug in a bottle. As blogger The Candy Perfume Boy observes: The truth is that Arpège has aged rather well and its supple aldehydic floral tones feel strikingly genderless today, making for a throwback floral that would feel perfectly comfortable on any perfume lover (male or female) who may be looking for something with a bit of a vintage edge.’

£27.60 for 100ml eau de parfum allbeauty.com

 

 

Guerlain Shalimar  – first launched 1921, re-launched 1925
The Champs-Élysées-based perfume house had continued their tradition of launching rich, sumptous fragrances with this now legendary perfume from Jacques Guerlain, complete with lashings of the newly-popular synthetic vanillin. (It prompted Ernest Beaux himself to comment: ‘When I do vanilla, I get crème Anglaise; when Guerlain does it, he gets Shalimar!’) Said to be inspired by the Shalimar Gardens in Srinagar, part of which was laid out by the lovesick Emperor Shah Jehan, in 1619, for the delight of his wife Mumtaz Mahal (meaning ‘Jewel of the Palace’). When she died in childbirth, three years after Shah Jehan took the throne, he build the Taj Mahal in her honour, in Agra. Re-launched in 1925 at the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts, it harkened to a growing passion for romanticised exoticism in fashion, home decor and fragrance.

Why it’s still wearable:
Oodles of uplifting lemon and bergamot are swirled with night-blooming flowers of heliotrope and jasmine and iris over other famously velvety base notes, including patchouli, benzoin, ambergris, tonka bean, incense, vetiver, sandalwood and musk. Jacques passed that love on to his great-grandson Jean-Paul Guerlain, who’s said:  ‘He taught me how to love vanilla, as it adds something wonderfully erotic to a perfume. It turned Shalimar into an evening gown with an outrageously plunging neckline.’ To wear it, at any time, is to add some serious va-va-voom to your presence.

£87 for 50ml eau de parfum selfridges.com

 

 

Coty L’aimant – launched 1927
First created by Master Perfumer François Coty in 1927, apparently inspired by the love of his life, Coty L’Aimant (meaning ‘magnet’ in French) has remained popular through the decades for its distinctive, timeless and delicate fragrance combining rose, orchid and golden jasmin softly embraced with sandalwood and vanilla. Fragrance Blogger Sam from I Scent You a Day describes L’aimant as ‘peachy and soapy, with the neroli providing a hint of heady white flowers,’ with ‘a creamy and warm finish and a flourish of powder puff.’

Why it’s still wearable:
It definitely smells delightfully retro, but somehow those aldehydes just keep on fizzing through the ages and refuse to become fusty. As Sam comments, ‘What never ceases to amaze me is that a long lasting perfume of this calibre can still be had for a song,’ while lamenting that ‘It’s a perfume that I would love to smell more people wearing.’ And for that price, you cannot go wrong. Let’s say it’s not quite you… simply spray all your writing paper (or the boudoir curtains) with it – fabulous, dah-ling!

Coty L’aimant £9.99 for 50ml parfum de toilette boots.com

At the time of writing, half the world seems to be on fire or flooding, and the political climate remains turbulent, so it’s hardly surprising increasing numbers of fragrance lovers are turning toward retro smells with misty eyes. But they don’t all have to be whimsical museum pieces, as these definitely wearable scents certainly prove. We’d love to see more men exploring what used to be considered ‘female’ fragrances, too – fragrant ingredients do not have a gender, and these should be worn by bright young (or older) things again, as we head toward 2023, stockings rolled down or otherwise…

Written by Suzy Nightingale

The unintentional hilarity of vintage fragrance ads

Given the current state of the world, we thought we’d cheer ourselves up with a look back at some of the most hilarious vintage fragrance ads of yore.

Now that we’re firmly in the 20s, we’re feeling distinctly nostalgic for all things vintage anyway – but it’s easy to forget how drastically advertising styles change over the years. What once was ultra cool can turn to cringe in the blink of an eye. YouTube is the gift that keeps on giving, as far as viewing vintage adverts is concerned, and there’s a whole host of fragrance ads that range from the unintentionally hilarious to the downright dodgy. We’ve rounded up some more of our favourites to keep you smiling for the rest of the week…

There’s a distinctly Monty Python-esque feeling to this advert from 1969. At any moment, one expects a character to ask, ‘Alright, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?’ To which, according to this advert, we can now add: Bacchus Cologne. He’s not the messiah, he’s a very smelly boy!

Lasers, leotards, smoke machines… could this be the dawn of the 1980s by any chance? This couldn’t be more thrillingly of its it time (1981 to be precise)  if it tried, and we even have SCIENCE (along with some nifty robotic dance moves, which I’m pretty sure we’ll all be breaking out down the club this weekend) to back up their claims of ‘pheremones’ in every bottle of Jovan Andron, that are ‘guaranteed to attract.’ Attract what, we’re not quite sure. Stifled laughter?

We can imagine the storyboard the advertising team created before filming this advert for Hawk Cologne in 1981, showing a ‘man who reaches higher’ – embodying all the freedom and graceful power of a bird of prey as he effortlessly conquers the rock he’s climbing. Unfortunately, the images somehow don’t match the voiceover, because what we see is a rather gormless chap with a bowl haircut looking for all the world like he’d need nanny’s instructions to climb the stairs to bed. Ah well, it probably looked good on paper.

This woman is not on the verge of a complete breakdown, she’s just ‘a little bit Kiku.’ That’s all. It’s 1969 and she’s fine, okay? She’s just changing her mood every two seconds and wearing a salad bowl on her head. She’s NEVER BEEN BETTER, thank you. In fact, aren’t all women, ‘a little bit Kiku?’ Well perhaps, but in public we try to hide it. Now take that off your head, Sandra, and come with us. We’ve all been rather concerned about you…

It’s not merely the yellowish hue that makes this 1976 advert look like a cheese dream: we think the people behind this campaign had been at the last of the Camenbert. In an unfathomably long sequence, we see Charles Bronson gawping weirdly at a piano player, then burst through the doors of his own appartment and begin stripping as though he’s joined the Chippendales, all while smoking a pipe. The name of the fragrance? Mandom. Of course it is. Pass the Brie.

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Celebrating 100 years of Shalimar (and why we still love it)

It’s really quite incredible to think that Shalimar is 100 years old – having been first launched in 1921 – and that Guerlain‘s most romantic fragrance is still worn and adored to this day. If you’re already a fan of the fragrance you’ll know how special it is, but if you’ve never tried it… oh, you’re in for in a treat!

 

Jacques Guerlain – Guerlain Perfumer 1890-1955

‘A good perfume is one whose scent corresponds to an initial dream.’

 

 

The History: The most prolific of the Guerlain perfumers, Jacques’ rein lasted for an astonishing 65 years. He took over from his uncle Aimé in 1890 and was responsible for creating the ultimate signature of Guerlain, the ‘Guerlianade’: an accord which blends vanilla, bergamot, balsams, tonka bean, iris, rose and jasmine, and has been at the heart of (almost) every fragrance since the early 1920s. His most celebrated creations include L’Heure Bleu, Mitsouko and of course, the astonishing Shalimar, launched in 1921, which remains one of the bestselling fragrances in the world.

 

 

 

The flacon for Shalimar is almost as fascinating as the fragrance inside. Sometimes described as the ‘bat’ bottle (we hadn’t until now quite realised it resembled outstretched wings!), it is also said to resemble a basin that could be admired in the Mughal gardens in India, and was designed by another talented Guerlain, Raymond, with a dark blue stopper chosen to evoke Indian starry nights. The bottle won first prize at the Exhibition of Decorative Arts and Modern Industry in 1925.

 

 

Why perfumers love Shalimar: When we interview perfumers, we often ask which classic fragrance they wish they’d created or most admire. One of the most frequent answers? Shalimar, of course. Carlos Benaïm told us, ‘My grandmother used to wear Shalimar. It is magnificent, absolutely wonderful, with that mossiness – not just oakmoss, but the other mosses which we’re restricted from using so much these days…’ And Alberto Morillas – another nose often cited as one of the most talented perfumers working today – explained, ‘If you ask me what is the greatest fragrance ever created, I’d say Guerlain Shalimar. Some might imagine it’s old-fashioned but it’s also very modern. There are all sorts of contrasts inside it – but it works so well.’

 

Guerlain Shalimar £83 for 50ml eau de parfum selfridges.com

Why we love wearing Shalimar: Imagine a silky pair of 1920s pyjamas worn as daywear (or with heels, to a cocktail party) as uplifting lemon and bergamot swirl with honeyed, night-blooming flowers of heliotrope and jasmine. Beautifully rounded by powdery iris and cocooned in a comforting, vanilla-plumped base of patchouli, benzoin, ambergris, tonka bean, incense, vetiver, sandalwood and musk. To wear Shalimar is still the ultimate gesture of olfactive romance.

Quite simply, it’s a masterpiece that’s effortlessly glam. And it’s one of those perfumes that people will still be wearing and talking about in another 100 years, we reckon.

Many Happy Returns, Shalimar!

By Suzy Nightingale

 

Retro fragrance ads – moustaches, pot plants & lasers: oh my!

Retro fragrance ads have a certain nostaligic charm – we might remember them from our childhood – or occasionally downright hilarious (let’s just say that some age better than others…)

While some houses or perfumes slip through the mists of time and become names we forget altogether or perhaps spot at vintage fairs, others remain firm favourites and become scents that stood the test of time. Here’s a list of some of our favourites you can sit back and chuckle at if you will, or be propelled back into vivid scent memories via the magic of perfume’s ability to whisk us through time and space.

Prepare yourselves for moustaches, pot plants & lasers: oh my!

 

#moustachegoals for miles as our hero is seen splashing on Blue Statos Cologne one minute, and hurling himself into a hang-glider the next. We hope he waxed that ‘tache or he could give himself whiplash. And who’d have thought it? It turns out hang-gliding is the perfect sport to take up if you want to make eye-contact with female drivers – not something we’d have thought Health & Safety regs would approve of, but still. She can get a whiff of his Cologne even as he whisks through the air above her car (like a fragrant falcon), and they immediately decide to live together in a glorified wooden shack. We love happy endings.

 

Spying someone gorgeous at a party, trying to subtly flirt across a crowded room, has always been a situation fraught with danger. But it’s all going so well for this woman – she’s chic, fun and poised with dignity – until she applies Tigress, quick-changes into a catsuit, spends several minutes fighting her way through the potted plants and breathes on her ‘prey’ in a quite unpleasant and off-putting manner. And this is why we should all have that friend who says, ‘Yes, Susan. There is such a thing as “too many cocktails” and you’ve had them. I’m calling us a taxi.’

 

Shopping for men while picking up their vegetables for the week, two women perform an improptu musical outside a greengrocer’s, discussing what, exactly, constitutes ‘something about an Aqua Velva man.’ I’m not sure we ever quite get to the bottom of it, only that they must be ‘manly’ and ‘last all day’. With packaging that at first glance might be mistaken for men’s hair dye – or a devastatingly attractive fake Moustache In a Box – we can only guess how ‘fresh’ and/or ‘provocative’ the duo of fragrances actually smelled. Or perhaps it’s of secondary importance to the freshness of the veg?

 

On what looks to be the set of a 1960s Hammer Horror film, and wearing a nightdress that only adds to the impression, we are given life advice by a really quite terrifying woman who declares in a breathy, faintly sinister way, that her men must wear ‘English Leather, or nothing at all.’ We’d be straight on the phone to the police, to be honest, advising them to check under her patio for those who refused either option…

 

Lasers, leotards, smoke machines… could this be the dawn of the 1980s by any chance? This couldn’t be more thrillingly of its it time (1981 to be precise) if it tried, and we even have SCIENCE (along with some nifty robotic dance moves, which I’m pretty sure we’ll all be breaking out down the club this weekend) to back up their claims of ‘pheremones’ in every bottle of Jovan Andron, that are ‘guaranteed to attract.’ Attract what, we’re not quite sure. Stifled laughter?

In the mood for more retro fragrance vibes? Take a look at our feature in which we invited author Maggie Alderson to browse through the adverts of more recent years and see how men’s fragrance advertising has changed

By Suzy Nightingale

Vintage perfume posters (to purchase & swoon over…)

Vintage perfume posters are currently making us consider papering entire rooms with them, and these are particularly swoon-worthy versions…

In these uncertain times, sales of classic fragrances are, appparently soaring.

And no wonder. We’re crying out for a bit of soothing scented nostalgia to wallow in, and so although actual vintage versions of these fragrances would set you back a pretty penny (well-preserved bottles and rare examples can go for anything from a couple of hundred quid to several hundred thousand!) it’s rather tempting to purchase several of these gorgeous advertising poster prints, non?

 

Ahoy! Recognise the shape of the bottle this sailor’s snuggling up to in the Schiaparelli Perfumes1945 ‘Shocking Sailor’ image by artist Marcel Vertès?

 

The HP Prints website we came across has THOUSANDS to choose from when you type ‘perfume’ as a key-word search (which we spend most of the day doing online, tbh…)

But where to begin?!

 

Bourjois 1944 Mais Oui, Leonard. ‘Frankly flirtatious’? We’ll take the largest bottle you have, thank you.

 

Well, we’ve picked some favourites for you – each of which can be purchased as a print (if in stock) or, for a fee, downloaded as a high quality image file to use as you please, sans the watermarks of course.

 

Guerlain (Perfumes) 1959 J. Charnotet, Mitsouko. Would v much like a cutting from this tree, please.

 

We’re thinking ahead to (shhh!) Christmas, and birthday presents, or perhaps just to send to fragrance-loving friends we can’t meet up with right now. As well as, you know, papering every wall we can find…

 

Nina Ricci (Perfumes) 1971 L’Air du Temps (Version B). Such a classic – and a first scent love for so many.

 

Le Galion (Perfumes) 1959 Lily of the Valley, Lovers, Maurel. Stunning, and slightly sinister fairytale-esque: we approve.

 

Elizabeth Arden (Perfumes) 1941 It’s You. (We wish it was – say yes to that dress!)

 

By Suzy Nightingale

Givaudan create 1950s fragrance for new Makeup Museum

We’re delighted to see so many museums re-opening, and now anxiously await the launch of the new Makeup Museum in New York – a place we want to visit even more now we know that Givaudan have created a special 1950’s-inspired fragrance to scent the space…

Having signed up as an official sponsor, Givaudan were comissioned to make a fragrance to set the scene for the Makeup Museum’s debut exhibition, entitled ‘Pink Jungle: 1950s Makeup in America.’

Emily Bond, head of Fine Fragrance North America at Givaudan, explains the reason they’re making this a multi-sensory space is because, ‘Perfume has always been an integral part of beauty. It is important to showcase fragrance in this exhibit.’

‘We want people to know the story behind a fragrance,’ Bond continues, something that digs deeper than just a pretty bottle and shows ‘Who created it, how it’s developed, and how techniques have evolved over the years.’

It was Givaudan Perfumer Caroline Sabas who was tasked with creating the perfume, and she’s made an exclusive 1950s-inspired fragrance, suitably named ‘Pink Jungle’, which will be used to scent the exhibition space.

 

But what will the perfume smell like, we wonder? Well both Givaudan and The Makeup Museum aren’t revealing the notes as yet, so as not to spoil the scented surprise, but you can head to our fragrance history page for the 1950s to read about the types of fragrances popular then, which may well provide us with some clues.

Our next question is: will we be able to buy the fragrance to fully live our glamorous 1950s boudoir dreams? We’re certainly crossing our fingers and praying to the perfume gods!

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Perfume Bottles Auction 2020: WOW! We love these (and you can now bid online to win!)

From Mae West’s signature scent stored in a cigarette packet, bejewelled bottles from the 1800’s to novelty perfumed powder puffs chaped like 1920’s flapper girls… the Perfume Bottles Auction will delight and tempt every fragrance fiend…

The annual Perfume Bottles Auction really is a date in the diary of serious scent collectors – with the most stunning examples of artistic and rare fragrance flaçons you wever will see (outside of a museum, anyway).

Since 1979, organiser and founder of The Perfume Bottles Auction, Ken Leach, has been working ‘to create public and corporate awareness of the artistry to be found in vintage perfume presentation.’ His antique shop’s show-stopping merchandise ‘has served as a source of inspiration for glass companies, package designers, and celebrity perfumers, before ultimately entering the collections of perfume bottle enthusiasts around the globe.’

This year, because of the on-going global pandemic, it has presented something of a challenge to the organisers, but happily the entire catalogue is now online for you to view (and gasp outloud at!) with the auction to take place via live stream on Sat, Jul 11, 2020 8:00 PM BST.

What’s more, in response to the global crisis, the LiveAuctioneers website is dontaing to COVID causes such as Meals on Wheels COVID Response Fund and global relief efforts, with over $50,000 already donated.

Here’s just some of what we’d be bidding on (and would be gracing the dressing table of our dreams…) in this year’s incredible collection of lots…

 

How completely wonderful is this novelty ‘cigarette packet’ style packaging for what was Mae West’s signature scent? Made in 1933, the box is covered in iconic quotes from the bombshell movie star, and the lot includes five ad cards and a counter display. A case of ‘come up and smell me sometime…?’
Estimated price: $2,000-3,000

 

In 1937, Pinaud trademarked the name ‘Scarlett’, releasing the ‘Flirt’ perfume in 1939, with a matching Clark Gable ‘Bittersweet’ scent when the film premiered that year. The bottles were available with a choice of scents, including Apple Blossom, Maghnolia and Honeysuckle, and came with an autographed photo.
Estimated price: $1,000-$2,000

 

Lalique were instrumental in revolutionising perfume bottle design and production, and we love their contemporary fragrances (and the way they incorporate their heritage into bottle production today), but this 1929 bottle for Lucien Lelong in frosted glass with enamelled swags and silvered metal case is just exquisite!
Estimated price: $7,000-8,000

 

Our co-founder, Jo Fairley, loves Schiaparelli Shocking perfume so much she wore it on her wedding day – and did you know the pink for the box was designed by Schiaparelli herself, and gave name to what we still call ‘shocking pink’ to this day? Dating from the 1930s, the auction includes 3 figural soaps, a 1938 ‘Shock in the Box’ perfume, a Salvador Dali-designed face powder and scented boy lotion bottle. Truly, our heart’s desire!
Estimated prices from $200-600 per item

 

Fragranced dusting powders were all the rage once, and we don’t think we’ve ever seen a more fabulous version than this 1920’s Goebel glazed porcelain powder dish. Imagine being a movie starlet or ballet dancer and reaching for this to dust away shine with puffs of perfumed powder – it’s enough to make us swoon with delight!
Estimated price: $600-$800

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Retro romance: perfume ads to raise a smile

If you’ve had it with all the mawkishness that can accompany V-day, we feel ya, and present instead a plethora of retro fragragrance adverts that instead of promising you a bevy of admirers and a hot dating tips, will at least make you chuckle…

Big hair don’t care? She certainly doesn’t when wearing Tigress! Watch in amazement as this ‘do gets bigger with every passing second of this advert from 1969, and do be sure to shuffle up to someone you want to catch the eye of in this manner. It will definitely get their attention.

Couples in perfume commercials just can’t keep still, can they? Perhaps this pair from 1967 ate some dodgy oysters, and are living up to the name of the scent as they madly dash through airports and dodge traffic on mopeds to prove how On the Wind they are? We hope they made it in time.

We women like nothing better than hanging around in windows while spraying ourselves with perfume, and here’s another 1969 gem that proves it’s a worthwhile occupation. How else to catch the eye of some random dude and then make him run up and down endless flights of stairs that’d make M.C. Escher dizzy? It’s how we stay Elusive, innit?

What to do when you’re Young ‘N Free? Well this 1970 advert ticks a lot of perfume tropes. Bingo cards at the ready, fragrance fans, as you spot a couple running in slow-motion, horse riding, laughing while peddling bicycles, twirling while holding hands, and running through fields in a while dress. Hang on a minute. Is that a WHEAT field? Could the young Theresa have been caught on camera…?

Ever wondered what advice Tinkerbell from Peter Pan would give you for meeting boys at parties? This 1967 ad for the excitingly named Body Mist Deodorant (shall we workshop this, marketing team?) reveals all. Breathlessly cheerful, Tink tells us her top tips while spraying cartoon snowflakes and stars from the bottle. Don’t drink the punch she’s been sipping.

By Suzy Nightingale