New Releases vs Obscurity – A post in which I write a bit about niche and about rummaging through history courtesy of an unknown vintage perfume.

Sylvaine Delacourte* writes a piece on her blog about the state of ‘niche’ perfumery. Her thoughts are not new, in fact this is what many have been talking about for some time; the amount of new releases by niche, or exclusive brands, the number of new niche brands, and the difficulty at keeping up with them. What surprised me were her numbers 1 in 4 new releases is a niche perfume.

She says;”What is the future of all these niche brands? Some brands will grow with the support of powerful investors and become part of the conventional circuit, others will disappear? Either because they lack interest, or because they will not find any investors?DSC02510 New brands will be born?” (sorry for the translation.) She says that out of 1330 new releases 331 are niche. I don’t know where this number is from, but releases for 2014 says 2400 new fragrances. Let’s say 2500 to count in the last month of the year too, that would make 625 niche releases. I agree that this is a big enough number to question the word ‘Niche’.

I’m going to make a jump here, and come back to my own point later.

Recently I saw a good-looking Baccarat bottle, sealed but without etiquette, on an online auction site. It reminded me of something…a minute flickering through my minds inner picture album and I remembered what it was; Guerlilas, a long gone Guerlain vintage. With a bit of internet rummage I managed to establish that three perfumes were filled in this particular Baccarat bottle; Guerlilas, Guerlarose (also Guerlain) and a long forgotten fragrance Bal des Fleurs by Gueldy** all from 1930 perhaps 1929. For a very low bid, I thought it would be worth playing the vintage-roulette.

I was only partly lucky, the perfume is great and in amazing condition, but since it’s neither Guerlilas nor Guerlarose, I have no idea of whether what I smell is actually the third perfume mentioned; Bal des Fleurs or something else refilled and re-sealed… ( edit 2016, I’ve established that this is indeed BdF)gueldy_004

What was lucky was that I actually adore the perfume inside, it sits nicely somewhere between Arpège (1927) and Vega (1931), with its champagne bubbling aldehydes and soft but discreet abstract floral bouquet. I did search for notes and old adverts, but no luck. I shall do my best to describe it. This floral aldehyde is remarkably strong lived and strong-willed. The sparkle is bold, cheerful and happy, like if no 5 was a woman, slightly tipsy at a 1920s dance hall. In time as in execution, it sits somewhere between flapper and ‘The Depression’-it’s cheerful but not foolhardy.

It goes soapy in the nice old-fashioned way, which is more soap than clean, and in the abstraction of flowers, I believe I smell the sweetness of orange blossom and some jasmine. Even if there’s no obvious rose scent, I’m certain that it’s there. There’s a nectarish presence between the flowers and the sparkle, and as the fragrance reaches the dry down some 10-12 hours later, I detect just the tiniest lady-like bit of civet, and I suspect various balsams and/ or resins to make this lady get home safely on her high heels.

As much as Bal des Fleurs is no epochal fragrance, it is definitely as good as and better than some of the Floral Aldehydes which survived. I’ll wear it now and again as a happy fragrance, and though this Gueldy might not have survived the test of time, a small time capsule did, and can live on my skin every now and again.gueldy 001kopi3

 

Back to the thoughts I had receiving this forgotten fragrance and todays niche.

If we go back a little under 100 years, and look at new releases in for example the year 1920, my pretty rough guestimate***is that 600+ fragrances would have been released that year. Taking things like todays wider distribution into account, I might just say that history is simply repeating itself. Were they called ‘niche’ perfumes and ‘mainstream’- most certainly not, but surely there was a difference between what one bought at the pharmacy, and what one would buy at Rue de la Paix.

Not many of the perfumes from 1920 are known to us today. I didn’t expect they would be, and perhaps more interestingly, of the brands not many are still around. But a few stuck out; Molinard, Coty and…Guerlain.

They survived (without intermission) along with a few others in a supersaturated market. I can’t help but thinking of Mme. Delacourte’s own words, did they survive because they were the interesting ones or the ones with the biggest investors? Or something else entirely????????????????????????????????

 

 

 

*Sylvaine Delacourte is fragrance creative director of Guerlain and writes her blog in French Esprit de Parfum

** Thank you Grace Hummel at Cleopatra’s various boudoirs and listings

*** This is based on the fact that even the best database only had 225 releases listed, but cross referencing the various brands on this database with other lists, such as Cleopatra’s, gave that most brands present in the list with only 1 fragrance, had infact released between 6-9 fragrances that year. So the 600+ should be a very conservative guess. Also, compare this to the releases in the 1970s between 50-70 and 1980s 80-150 releases I assume that here the databases are correct as they basically agree.

 

Disclaimer; if anyone should at all doubt it, I LOVE GUERLAIN PERFUMES- and I had hoped the bottle would house vintage Guerlilas, so this is merely my thoughts upon reading the post by Mme. Delacourte which coincided with the arrival of “Bal de Fleurs”(?). And I am happy that history did not erase some of my favourite Guerlain perfumes, Vol de Nuit, L’Heure Bleue etc…

and as nearly always, naivistic pics by me.

 

Soul of a Rose- a Promo for San Francisco Rose April Aromatics

 

 

I don’t promote new fragrances, but the circumstances demand that I make an exception.

San Francisco Rose, a perfume with a heart of natural rose absolutes, reminds me of the stunning Berlioz song ‘La Spectre de la Rose’, that I would recommend as a soundtrack for reading.

 

I cannot imagine what it must be like being told that I was terminally ill, and would have only a very limited time left of my life. I’m not sure that anyone can understand what a person who gets such a verdict feels like. When Tama Blough, managing editor at CaFleureBon, where I used to write myself, got diagnosed, the wonderful women Tanja of April Aromatics and editor in chief at CFB  Michelyn Camen, decided to do a perfume for Tama, to raise funds to help her financially through the journey.

Unfortunately, I can’t actually make this a real review, since Tanja tweaked the formula a bit since I got my sample, but I will tell you a tiny bit of what I smell anyway. And be warned, this is not totally unbiased, and I do think that anyone who loves roses, and like them adult and with charisma, and who feels that 111€ (less than usual for Tanja’s perfumes, because it will only be sold through her website,) will not present a big hole in their budget, I will highly recommend to buy this 100% natural, limited edition perfume.

This is a rose perfume, with two wonderful roses, Bulgarian and Turkish, as its heart and soul. Even if I am not usually a rose person, and most roses do not sit well with me, these are special and truly beautiful. There is no feeling of cute candy floss or the sourdough that my weird rose-rejecting skin can get, just a deep red splendid rose. Underneath there is an exquisite murmur of patchouli and oud to keep it sober and intelligent. Yes, rose-oud is a somewhat popular combination these days, but this is a rose fragrance, neither oud nor patch is overpowering but just there, so even if I can have my troubles with hippy patch, here it’s no such thing here, just brainy and plain gorgeous. Tonka bean and sandalwood gives the dry-down a touch of earthy sweetness, while orris and hibiscus seeds just tie everything into one beautiful rounded composition. Tanja has since added a tiny bit of incense, which I can only imagine would make this composition even more beautiful and longer lasting, although as always I have no problems with the lasting power of April Aromatic’s perfumes, which will never give less than 6 hours. San Francisco Rose has a beautiful sillage, unlike most 100% naturals, a proper trail, which I am sure will have many people asking about and complimenting your fragrance.san_francisco_rose_le_002

I just want to end this little ‘promo’ by saying, that even if I can’t imagine what Tama or anyone else in a similar situation is going through, knowing that there was a perfumer out there who was willing to give her time to create a fragrance for me, would mean a lot to me. This is our hobby, many perfumers I’m sure are nice, but few regard our love of perfume as anything special. In fact perfumers are rather quick to say that ‘we’ don’t make up much of their retail. However, I believe that nothing would give me comfort as knowing that I had friends out there not only who made a special perfume for me, but also unknown ‘friends’ who after I was gone would spray San Francisco Rose. And perhaps that every time a little cloud of roses would leave the bottle, there would be something of me lasting a bit longer in this world.

A 100% of the profits will go to Tama, and this is a limited edition. So if you love your roses adult and incredibly beautiful; buy now.

 

Homage to Serge- Nuit Noire Mona di Orio

 

With the re-release of Mona di Orio’s first perfumes, I thought it relevant to revisit Nuit Noire composed in 2006.

Mona di Orio created Nuit Noire as a dedication to the aesthetics and work of Serge Lutens, an oriental, broody and daring fragrance, which- like a few of Lutens’ own perfumes- is brutally polarising.

A true zesty ginger and cinnamon opens Nuit Noire, but soon the spices are shadowed by a dark rubbery tuberose. The tuberose is not long lived, but brace yourself, the entrance is that of a right diva with huge self-esteem and criminal intend (-a small indecent wink at Tubereuse Criminelle?).article-2237003-162ACF38000005DC-323_964x567 Just as you think that this Dame will not exit quietly, the onset of splatchouli and a drop of all-souls- incense do manage to calm her down, and perhaps she blows a kiss in the direction of Serge Noire on her way out.

After the Diva has been led discreetly out the backdoor, the dirtiness of the opening transitions from floral to animalic, until you realise you’ve hit the camel fair, and the whole composition is closer to a ‘Muscs Koublaï Khän for her’. For her, due to a little floral soapiness, as if washing off the day out in the North African desert.

Where you would expect dirtier, it actually gets gentler, cleaner and even sweeter. It’s neither the sweetness of Lutens’ Turkish delights alias Rahät Loukoum nor the dried fruits of Arabie et al, but like the soft downy Santal Blanc. And just as you think you know the end of this particular African night, your fluffy pillow of sandalwood gets scattered with indolic orange blossoms as a last sigh before finally going to sleep on a silk blanket of powdery musk of the most exquisite quality.

Maison-photographie-Association-Save-cinemas-in-Morocco_690_326

It has been a long time since I tried a fragrance with so much going on, and yet remarkably it isn’t a crowded room of people shouting to be heard, but a story-teller weaving together her mesmerising stories at night time in the Moroccan desert. Nuit Noire is a Monaesque Homage to the Lutensian Oeuvre, and one of the few contemporary perfumes currently on the market which actually deserve to wear their black name and their dark hearts on the sleeve

 

 

There are plenty of reviews for Nuit Noire Mona di Orio out there, here are what the non blonde and Suzanne’s Perfume Journal think.  Disclaimer: Suzanne also was the lovely woman, who send me the sample, and I felt the need to say that tuberose, in its rubbery version, to me is the fragrant equivalent of nails on black board, so very unfortunately for me the tuberose opening will probably always be a bit too hard to handle.

Photo credits: Feature from ‘WildMorocco.com’, Pushkar Camel Fair AC, and Moroccan Storyteller from maison de la photographie, Marrakesh

Classic Beauty- Le Coque d’Or Guerlain

The name of the Guerlain perfume Le Coque d’Or (the golden shell) is a pun on Le Coq d’Or a Rimsky-Korsakov opera-ballet from 1907, based on a poem by Pushkin. The Rimsky-Korsakov Golden Cockerel was first an opera with ballet, until Diaghilev, manager for Les Ballets Russes had the idea to let Fokine choreograph a ballet to which the singers would sing from the side, not act. I assume it was in this version that Jacques Guerlain would have seen Le Coq d’Or and have been inspired to create a fragrance on a theme.

Anna Volkova in Le Coq d'Or

Anna Volkova in Le Coq d’Or

An astrologer starts the tale, it is a magical satire dressed up as a fairy tale opera, and a not only golden but also wise cockerel is the title hero. The story is about a dim- Czar, about a queen of another kingdom who outsmarts the Czar, and the cockerel who was a gift from the astrologer to the Czar, who helps outsmart them all.

This year Guerlain chooses to re-release Le Coque d’Or, but not for mere mortals; it retails at the astronomical price of 17K €! Only for Czars and Queens indeed.

Mouillettes- re-created vintage Guerlains

Mouillettes- re-created vintage Guerlains

I wouldn’t even be writing about this if it wasn’t for the blogger ‘Monsieur Guerlain’ who to my luck is not only Danish, but offered to come along with his box of re-created vintage Guerlains to give me my own special guided tour through the lot. He was even incredibly generous to share some precious drops of the ones I had proclaimed to be favourites while sniffing for me to investigate further.

It is this version, and not the 17K one that I am writing about, since apparently that one has been tweaked a bit to comply to IFRA standards. *

pushkin1937

Pushkin

If you like old books, and have always been fascinated by libraries and antiquarians, you’ll instantly recognise the smell of old bound leather books which opens Le Coque d’Or. Perhaps the old astrologer comes in with Pushkin’s old book to read the poem. The mix of leather, old paper and maybe even the glue and ink, when in fact I think it’s this incredible bergamot (which can no longer be used), aldehydes, dusty orris and a beautiful oak moss which give off this impression. Like the astrologer and his golden cockerel, the iris and moss is there with us from beginning to the end, and takes us through the tale of Le Coque d’Or at a smooth and calm speed.

When the page turns, the fragrance goes more fiery, pepper and especially carnation notes are very recognisable, and it goes from this short flammable outburst to a calm floral beauty, covered in a matte powdery veil. The jasmine is noticeable and given a hint of civet, but between jasmine and carnation I get an impression of a chrysanthemum wreath, with its sombre and introvert aroma.

Alls well that ends …with a light dust of vanilla, some gritty musk, resins and yes that even softer orris and moss at the end. I love how the fragrance has that dry powdery feel and still manages to be so alive on the skin.It’s an incredibly harmonious composition, with an overall matte finish in mauve and moss. A classic and flawless piece from a master.coque dor 002

Let’s hope for a fairy tale ending; do you remember when the ‘Precieux Nectar’ was first released in some golden fountain at an unobtainable price, and later re-released in a bee-bottle as a part of les Parisienne? I hope for this event to happen again in the case of Le Coque d’Or. Is it not after all the cockerel and the astrologer who have the last say in the story?

 

* Not a single one of the tested fragrances gave me anything remotely close to a rash.

The reissue of Le Coque d’Or coinsides with the release of the Un Soir à l’Opéra makeup collection  for Christmas 2014 which has a Russian opera and ballet theme. The powder is housed in a bottle similar to the original perfume bottle.