Sortilège (Long Lost Perfume)

This review is a bit of a cheat, as I possess only a non-vintage dupe of Le Galion's Sortilège and not a sample of the 1937 Paul Vacher original, which I have never encountered. (Gaia The Non-Blonde has, and how alluring she makes it sound!) I know nothing of the similarity (or lack thereof) between the old and the new, and therefore I cannot guess at the evolutionary transitions that have taken place between years and between owners. Compounding the problem is the possibility that even Le Galion may have been in the business of duplication, as Donna of PST suggests in her review of Sortilège. In those days, I'm sure everyone wanted in on the aldehydic floral racket, and the difference between inspiration and impersonation is slim at best. Are L'Aimant and Arpège guilty of identity theft? I don't know for sure... but I think maybe Chanel No. 5 secretly knows how to throw its voice.

Sortilège is one of a string of discontinued fragrance formulae which Long Lost Perfumes (the fragrance division of Irma Shorell cosmetics) has legally obtained with the objective of producing note-faithful reproductions-- "freshly-blended from an authentic original formulation and newly bottled and boxed" (their words). I've heard and read fairly decent reviews of their other work, and I do like their Sortilège, such as it is.

It kicks off with a big-ass blast of bergamot and aldehydes, like the first ray of morning sun that penetrates the bedroom curtains to slap you awake. I ask my husband, who dependably delivers monosyllabic assessments of every perfume I wear ("Nice." "Clean." "Eep!") what he thinks of it. "Sharp," he promptly utters. Is that good or bad? I question the man further. "It smells appropriate for work. Very professional. Straightforward," he says.

Sharp as in 'razor-', then. (Chanel No. 5 in tailored business formal?)

This initial spate of seriousness does not last. A tide of sweet vanilla-balsam powder soon rises up and overtakes the bergamot, and from this point straight through to its disappearance from my skin (two hours tops), it's cake. And we like cake, don't we, Mister?

LLP's Sortilège definitely straddles the boundary between old-school pretty and new-era smart. I agree with my better half-- it's an ideal everyday spritz for the office, where conscientious sobriety holds sway over romance and elegant allure. As for the true Le Galion vintage, it doesn't exactly go for a song over at The Perfumed Court.

But I wouldn't turn my nose up at it.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, peach lactone, aldehydes, orange blossom, lily-of-the-valley, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose, violet, lilac, iris, musk, oakmoss, sandalwood, vetiver, tonka, vanilla, opopanax, styrax, "balsamic ambers"

Crêpe de Chine Vintage Cologne Glacée (Millot)

Designed by Jean Desprez for the house founded by his great-grandfather Félix Millot nine decades earlier, Crêpe de Chine (1925) benefits from a name more evocative of feminine delicacy than an earlier Millot bestseller, Pommade à la Graisse d'Ours-- "Bear's Grease Pomade".  It also profits from a far more refined recipe. According to Perfumery: Its Manufacture and Use (Campbell Morfit, 1847), pommade à la graisse d'ours auxfeuilles de noyer (pg. 81) consists of bruised fresh walnut leaves and flowers steeped in six pounds of melted bear's grease ("the fat of the common bear... so frequently found in the western states") which is then scented with thyme and bergamot and employed "for the preservation of the hair". The final product, declares Morfit, should ideally possess a green tint.

(So does my complexion, when I think of all that bear fat.)

Without a doubt, green is also the color of Crêpe de Chine, which could just as well have been called Crêpe de Chêne for all the rich oakmoss glimpsed behind its veil of aldehydes. Like a body-skimming garment of whisper-sheer silk, Crêpe de Chine surrounds the wearer with a shimmer of living green in hues graduating from palest chartreuse to deep tourmaline.
One of the earliest of the modern chypre perfumes, first marketed in 1925... The top note is bergamot, with traces of lemon, orange, neroli, and fruity fragrance in support. The middle note is floral, including jasmine and rose, but given a spicy tang by clove-pink. The base note is mostly oak moss and vetiver, modified by benzoin, labdanum, patchouli and musk.

--Nigel Groom, The New Perfume Handbook, pg. 212.
I obtained my vintage bottle of Crêpe de Chine Cologne Glacée at New Jersey's naughtiest secondhand store, the Antique Emporium, where you can just as readily buy Tijuana Bibles and Gil Elvgren pinups as Bakelite bangles and Fiestaware. Tucked inside Crêpe de Chine's box, I found a little paper insert emblazoned with a most fetching spokeslady, nude as a bee and wagging a coy finger at me from behind an artfully draped curtain. "Hold flacon about ten inches from place where fragrance is wanted", she advised. Oh, my! I made sure to follow her helpful suggestions right down to adopting her charmant wardrobe for the exercise. (Did I enjoy my Crêpe de Chine? O mais oui!)

After the aldehydes dispersed, a fetching lemon-drop note greeted my nose, providing a tart contrast to the lush mosses, sun-warmed herbs, and smooth resins that followed. This touch of sharpness is not only welcome, but necessary, as the remainder of Crêpe de Chine is a softcore blur. I recall thinking quite clearly that I'd never before met an oakmoss so plush that I wanted to roll around on it, as if on deep-pile shag carpeting. I also reveled in the expansive quality of the benzoin that pads out the fragrance's heart and drydown; it projects the satisfaction of a pretty woman's smile as she sits at her dressing table in a corona of scented talcum powder.

Never once in its progression did Crêpe de Chine jar me out of my reverie.  Even when it is dry (no bear fat here!) it's only in the sense of being 'wry' or 'witty'-- not 'unsentimental'.  And if at times the sum of its parts seems too much like a choir composed entirely of altos and contraltos -- no higher and no lower -- at least the harmonies Crêpe de Chine produces are pleasingly soft and beautifully blended.  It's the kind of easy listening that soothes the soul without ever descending into the banality of Muzak.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, lemon, orange, neroli, jasmine, lilac, rose, ylang-ylang, carnation, vetiver, oakmoss, patchouli, benzoin, labdanum, leather, musk

L'Interdit Vintage Eau de Toilette (Givenchy)

I admit I did it all on impulse. En route to a tea-and-crafting party at a girlfriend's house, I'd stopped at the thrift store with no objective but a swift, friendly chat with the owner. Before I knew what hit me, I found myself back in the car, driving dazed with a paper bag propped up on the passenger seat beside me.

I left the package in the car for several leisurely hours, during which I sampled homemade cookies, sipped gunpowder tea and made Victorian velvet-ribbon ornaments with half a dozen other ladies. Yet a feeling of fear and uncertainty lingered. I paid ten whole dollars for it -- an entire day's thrift-expedition budget -- and I didn't even smell it first to see if it was any good! Am I mad? What is WRONG with me?

By the time I left my friend's house, I'd begun to feel downright superstitious about my "passenger". I felt sure that if I opened the bag, damning evidence of my foolhardy extravagance would pop out like a jeering jack-in-the-box. Luckily, L'Interdit proved far too well-bred and ladylike to mock me. When I finally worked up the nerve to take a peek, there it lay in the bottom of the bag, as sweet and innocent as a kindergartener. If it had eyelashes, it no doubt would have batted them. Afraid of little old ME? it seemed to coo.

Shucks, I replied, blushing and scratching my neck. No, ma'am, I reckon not.

The story behind the naming of L'Interdit, though charming, is apocryphal. Hubert Givenchy himself dispelled the rumor that Audrey Hepburn withheld her permission to have her "personal" perfume sold on the market. Still, it's fun to envision her squawking "Je vous l’interdit!" in the same shrewish tone she used in Funny Face: "I rather feel like EXPRESSING myself... and I could CERTAINLY use a RELEASE!" (I also like to think she broke into a nutty interpretive dance just to show Givenchy how serious she was.*) Luckily for us, in real life and in legend, he paid her no mind at all.

Neither did I, I must confess.

I don't dislike Audrey Hepburn (who could, after watching her bust those tres fou dance moves?) but I also haven't given her much of my attention. You can call me 'disinterested', so long as you understand that my indifference is of a neutral, benevolent nature. Miss Hepburn seemed like a nice person who never stooped to the usual Hollywood self-parody; I doubt the avenging angel of hubris ever rang her doorbell. Consequently, she has been spared the living purgatory of appearing alongside Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Humphrey Bogart in hideous jokey art prints aping Edward Hopper's The Nighthawks-- a great mercy for both cinema and art lovers.

Hepburn's perfume (whether or not it really was "hers", a bespoke creation wrested commercially from her hands, as per the legend) captures exactly her milky-pure appeal. It is a lovely, genteel scent with an ever-so-slightly-cocked eyebrow that saves it from virginal primness. Mine is the EdT version of the vintage original, long since replaced by not one but two remixes (ably analyzed here and here). I adore its pale, opalescent shimmer, the graceful manner in which it wrestles its disparate elements (acidic fruit! rooty iris! piquant spices!) into a homogenized (even if dilute) whole. Most of all, I love the buttery-milky sandalwood in its base-- the mellowest and kindest imaginable, pure heaven for turbulent times.

It was this very quality that made my friend Nan fall deeply in love with L'Interdit. I've refilled her decant sprayer almost as many times as I've refilled my own, and she has found that a few sprays of this precious elixir completely restores balance, serenity, and wellbeing. But I notice that Nan never calls L'Interdit by its proper name. She simply refers to the perfume as "Audrey Hepburn"-- and doesn't that pay the best tribute, both to the perfume and its muse?

*I also like to think she danced it to Justin Timberlake's "LoveStoned" as seen here. Totally freaking perfect.

Scent Elements: NowSmellThis lists galbanum, pepper, clove, strawberry, aldehydes, rose, jasmine, jonquil, violet, sandalwood, amber, musk, benzoin, iris, patchouli, vetiver, frankincense and tonka bean; Fragrantica substitutes narcissus for jonquil (a hairline distinction in nomenclature, as narcissus absolute is derived from Narcissus jonquilla) and adds mandarin, bergamot, peach, ylang-ylang, and muguet.

Paris Vintage Parfum de Toilette (Coty)

When I first spied it on the thrift store shelf, it had obviously never been opened. The cap was factory-tight; the tiny circular foil seal beneath, undisturbed; the bottle, full to the brim. No longer. At this moment, thanks to a combination of using and sharing, I'm down to slightly less than half of what I started with.
Non, rien de rien
Non, je ne regrette rien
C'est payé, balayé, oublié
Je me fous du passé!
How I thank the stars, the fortuitous heavenly bodies that govern a life, for putting Paris in my path. Normally, I am driven to write about a perfume all the sooner when it touches me this deeply, but Paris? It left me dumbstruck for a full year, prostrate on the pavement (which of course is glassy with cold spring rain).

So often I find that what I think I want from a perfume (warmth, reassurance, easy equations) is utterly overturned by a Fosca of a fragrance-- quaint, unearthly, and cold-blooded, yet supremely compelling. Paris is such a perfume. From its opening (chilly, pale-green heliotropin) through its heart (carnations and grey smoke) to its drydown (dry and brittle leather), it masters me through its refusal to speak one syllable more than necessary. Its reticence slays and enslaves me-- and the level of perfume remaining in the bottle proves it.

"Chosen by women of gay vivacity, of sparkling joy in life", reads a 1924 magazine advertisement for Coty Paris. So strange: I suspect the exact opposite. If L'Heure Bleue ever caused a woman to cry, Paris catches her at the moment when her bitter weeping has simply run its course. If she had any tears left to cry, she would, but -- as that great American expatriate and Parisian resident Edith Wharton expressed through the mouthpiece of Madame Olenska -- the Gorgon has a certain way of drying them up. What's left is wisdom, obduracy, maturity, even a measure of peace-- but no sentiment. No: to one who has looked into the Gorgon's eyes, passion and drama and conversation are wastes of needed energy.

Bundle up, my dears. Spring, though within sight, is still a long way off.

Deep thanks to the ever-marvelous Octavian Coifan and Gaia at The Non-Blonde for their posts on this long-discontinued fragrance, as information and reviews on Coty Paris are otherwise extremely difficult to come by. Introduced in 1922 and extinct as of 1968, it is a fragrance which extends the lexicon of L'Heure Bleue and Après L'Ondée into new and sobering stratospheres, where the rain clouds conceal a rumble of warning thunder.

Scent Elements: Lilac, hyacinth, heliotrope, carnation, Bulgarian rose, ylang-ylang, musk, civet, vanilla, aldehydes.