We Three Queens: A Vintage Gift in Triplicate from Bouquet Lenthéric.

I have before me a Bouquet Lenthéric "Three Silent Messengers" gift set found at one of my usual antique haunts. If the advertisement at left may be admitted as evidence, it dates back to 1937. Its hatbox-style presentation case is decorated with a panorama of happy, Jantzen-clad vacationers frolicking amid seashells, palm fronds, and lemon-yellow grosgrain ribbons. Inside: three nearly-full two-ounce flacons of Miracle (1924), À Bientôt (1930), and Tweed (1933).

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Lenthéric sold a dizzying selection of such trios priced at $1.95 ($32 today; far less than I paid for it). With evocative names such as "Exposition", "Bal Masque", "Crème Bouquet" and "Le Triangle de Fleurs", the Three Silent Messengers/Three Musketeers coffrets provided a handy introduction to the Lenthéric fragrance library: Tweed, Miracle, À Bientôt, Shanghai, Cabaña, Confetti, Repartée, Muguet, Gardenia, Red Lilac, Carnation, Jasmin, or Violette pour femme; Tanbark, Onyx, or High Hat pour homme.

Three classic perfumes in one gorgeous package, available for a pittance? Count me in!

Like Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass, Bourjois Evening in Paris, or Evyan White Shoulders, Tweed is one of those fragrances every modern perfumista knows about but few actually wear. Our grandmothers speak of it fondly, but then, they're ninety. With so few active adherents to its cause, Tweed has fallen to the status of profumum non grata in Perfumeland. I find that very sad, because it's the venerable ancestress of Imprévu, Azurée, and many other light "handbag leathers" we adore.

A peal of neroli starts Tweed off on a heavenly note, but you have to be quick to catch it-- it's as fleeting as the dawn, a gift meant only for the wearer at the moment of application. Henceforth, Tweed quickly settles into a powdery, carnation-tinged suede with a suggestion of somber woods. It doesn't produce much sillage-- but then, a sportswoman on a countryside ramble won't necessarily wish to throw off much scent. As its name implies, Tweed is uniquely designed to complement rather than vanquish the wilderness and can be worn without fear of offending the local flora and fauna (or polluting their airspace).

À Bientôt ("Until Next Time") leaves no doubt that there will be a next time, if only because the impression it makes is so compelling that one wants to renew the acquaintance again-- and soon. The citrus note with which it commences is bright and bell-toned, bergamot and lime with a soupçon of airy lavender blended in. But just as you think you've got a regulation herbal cologne on your hands (or rather, wrists) À Bientôt lets out a throaty growl of civet that even a jaded perfumista might find exciting. The drydown is a standard soft Oriental accord of vanillic resins, but it's that sybaritic civet that lingers, both on skin and in memory. If you like it -- and I mean really, REALLY like it -- you'll want to try Miracle, which is À Bientôt turned up to eleven. A bit much for me, but evidently not for its previous owner, judging from the fact that it's the only one of these Three Silent Messengers that appears to have gotten some play.

Lenthéric today is a sad-looking affair, hawking fragrances with names like Junkie and Hoity Toity in what look like hygiene product spray cans, like the French version of AXE. Grim, yes? Bien sûr! When you have a concrete example in front of you of what used to be, it makes you wish that this little hatbox doubled as a fully-operational time machine. But since that's silly, you can always spritz and dream.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, bergamot, neroli, rose, violet, jasmine, carnation, iris, lilac, magnolia, sandalwood, civet, benzoin, leather (Tweed); bergamot, lavender, benzoin, opopanax, styrax, civet, sandalwood (À Bientôt); bergamot, iris, lavender, cedar, eucalyptus, civet (Miracle)