Back to the future!

Certain perfumes of the golden Fifties and Sixties exemplify the use of "effect" synthetics to convey a sense of top-speed, sound-barrier-breaking futurism. However, to a sensitive nose, the "future" can seem like an awfully scary place-- even when it's already fifty years old.

Observation over the long term has led me to the insight that my husband does not care for fresh aldehydes. Whenever I test-spray a vintage perfume and hear him yelp, I know two things: a) this fragrance is packing some blunt-force chemicals, and b) I will never be able to apply it in his presence. It's a shame, really, because he otherwise loves vintage nostalgia from the Mad Men era. If I swanned around looking like Joan Holloway on a daily basis, he'd be a happy man indeed. I'd just have to be extraordinarily careful about which scent I selected to accessorize my ensemble du jour.

When that boss chick Joan Elaine scored a retrofabulous coffret of vintage Max Factor fragrances earlier this summer, she generously sent me samples of Golden Woods (1951), Primitif (1956), and Hypnotique (1958). All three fragrances pack quite an aldehydic kick, of course-- but once they calm down on skin, they reveal their talents at expressing everything from fresh-scrubbed cleanliness to gauzy soft-focus sensuality. This, Hubby likes-- so all I need to remember is to wait ten minutes after application before requesting permission to enter his airspace.

Golden Woods
As its name suggests, Golden Woods is a softly radiant scent composed of powdery resins and sweet balsams layered in pretty, autumnal drifts. From this, I gather that its crisp, cold aldehydic intro is meant to stand in for a cobalt October sky-- a very nice detail. So seldom do aldehydes get paired with incense in perfume that it's easiest to imagine the combination resulting from a laboratory mishap-- something akin to those old Reese's "hey-you-got-your-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter" imbroglios. Just as in those commercials, everything ends on a tasty note of satisfaction, all honey and amber. A minor detraction: that hint of soap in the drydown, which spoils the afternoon-stroll fantasy by planting a hygiene reminder in the middle of the footpath. Still, a negligible fault in an otherwise lovely fragrance.

Scent Elements: A bit of a mystery, as few published lists of notes can be found. I detect labdanum, benzoin, vanilla, honey, small measures of sandalwood and cedar, and a hint of clove-- your regulation spice Oriental, but with a splash of superchilled aldehydes riding up top.

In its first thirty seconds, Primitif smells retroactively futuristic, like a chrome-plated spaceship with Cadillac fins speeding toward the year 2000, or one-piece play outfit in aqua-tone Lurex, which is what we'll all be wearing next summer... on Mars. Once the whizzing atoms settle, however, Primitif transforms sensibly into a plum-and-woods chypre, simple and wearable. Its "primitive" aspect springs from a nice, slinky animalic base, which balances out the chemistry-set top notes and lends the overall fragrance a bebop-jazz physicality. So put on your black beret and ballet flats and wear this one to the next campus free-verse hootenanny. You dig?

Scent Elements: Again, lost to the mists of time. Surely there's the usual oakmoss-patchouli-vetiver action going on; perhaps some sandalwood and a touch of fruity damasceone for body; civet and musk for oomph, plus a rocket-booster's worth of aldehydes for the wannabe astronaut in every hipster.

This easily contains the most aldehydes of the lot-- so much so that it's hard to discover what lies beyond them. I keep sniffing deeply in the hopes that I'll detect a hint of something else (flowers? leather? oakmoss?) but every time I think I'm close to a breakthrough, a piercing cold pain between my eyes stops me in my tracks. I've read that snow samples gathered at high altitude points north of the Arctic circle have been found to contain aldehydes. After encountering Hypnotique, I believe I better understand why. I half admire it for being so unyielding in its insistent broadcast of one solitary note-- and when August heat comes back around, it will be no match for this frosty beauty.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes and more aldehydes, and some powdered sugar, and then some aldehydes.