IDENTIKIT ~ A FRAGRANCE TO DIE FOR! CHANEL No. 19 Parfum

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“It takes one day to die, another to be born…” Elizabeth Taylor reportedly said those words to her director Griffi when she came on the set the day after she left Richard Burton for their first divorce. So with that mindset she went to work on one of her most unusual, daring and controversial films. From the moment “The Diver’s Seat” begins you know you are in a strange place. In Europe the movie was called “Idendikit” so, with two names tagged to it thus making it schizophrenic from the first it easily falls into the realm of the ambiguous art film genre of the late 60’s and early 70’s. It’s star, Elizabeth Taylor, appears here in one of her most remote and dangerous roles. She plays Lise a woman who is consumed by insanity and the desire to find the ultimate lover, the be all and end all of boyfriends you might say.

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As the film opens you are presented with a shattered view of a woman on the edge of something terrible. The camera moves in a disjointed way, past naked mannequins heads covered in tin foil. Is this Lise’s view of others or is it a reflection of her inner life? Or possibly her future.  Upon being told to take a holiday from work after causing a scene in the office the film opens with her preparations to take flight to Rome. The film jump cuts from past to present as the police in Rome try to reconstruct the mystery of her holiday in terrorist gripped Rome. Even Rome comes off as off kilter. This is not the Rome of Audrey Hepburn or Marcello Mastroianni but a city one hardly recognizes from the lack of typical filming locations one associates with “Made In Rome!” movies.

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(Lise meets Andy Warhol at Fiumicino International Airport)

Director Giuseppe Patroni Griffi succeeds in presenting a inimitably Italian cinema verite film of the Muriel Spark novel. This is a unique film and very much of it’s day. Its non-linear, experimental, almost documentary style will be hard to get into for any one not used to movies of this sort. But it is well worth the effort. So strange and challenging a film it is that it left the opening night audience at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival in stunned silence.

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(with Ian Bannan)

The cast is well chosen and gives some oddly memorable performances. Ian Bannan as the macrobiotic sex-nut who tires to pick up Lise on the plane to Rome seems almost as mad as she is. It is a wickedly off kilter wild-eyed performance. The charming and always wonderful Mona Washbourne is sweetly touching as the woman who befriends the mad Lise and in doing so leads her to meet the man of her dreams.

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(with Mona Washborne)

But the glue that holds it all together is provided by Miss Taylor who tops off her short list of insane characters from Susanna Drake (Raintree County) to Catherine Holly (Suddenly Last Summer) with this daring and shocking portrait of Lise. She opens up as an actress that at the time would have been unthinkable to most of her contemporaries from the old M.G.M. days. That’s one of the wonderful things about her film career. She came from an era in old Hollywood where she was trained and groomed to be glossy and perfect. But as times changed so did she and in doing so became much more than an MGM glamour girl, she became an actress with guts. In “The Driver’s Seat” she shows her chops as an actress and her willingness to accept challenges in her roles and in Lise she found a great one. One stunning image of her is when in her loud madwoman dress and raccoon painted eyes she challenges the airport security to frisk her. In that scene she seems totally there, totally gone, and totally in control as an actress.

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***

Even the sweetest perfume has a hint of madness in it. That darkness must exist in a perfume or it has no chance of being complex or perhaps even a classic in time.

Perfume played a huge part in the theater which was Elizabeth Taylor’s life. A life lived before us all which unfolded in a flurry of purple and glittering diamonds in the center of the strobbing glare of paparazzi press for the last half of the twentieth Century. She was famous for wearing Bal a Versailles when she conquered not only Rome in 1962 but but also the denunciation of her by Pope John XXIII. Later in the 1980’s she created Elizabeth Taylor’s Passion and thus launched “Celebrity” Perfumes in to a realm yet untested.  Her perfume “White Diamonds” is still to this day one of the top sellers on the market.

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(Elizabeth Taylor and Andy Warhol
at the 1974 screening of Identikit ~ The Driver’s Seat at Cannes)

It is interesting to ponder what perfume Elizabeth Taylor’s character Lise might have worn in the film “The Driver’s Seat”? Symbolism and nonverbal signals are an important aspect of her character, from her wardrobe, the way she applies her makeup and even the book she carries with her on her travels. Every visual aspect is covered in her quest. So, there must be a fragrance she employed to attract that which she seeks and in the end finds in the darkest part of the Borghese Gardens in the heart of Rome in the dead of night.

This fragrance must be green and full of life and promise and yet carry a dark heart and of the period, the early 1970’s.  For Lise it would be Chanel No. 19 Eau de Parfum (1970).  The last perfume made during Mademoiselle Chanel’s life, named for the date of her birth and a personal favorite of hers.

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It is known and loved as a superlative Green fragrance. It is in fact onion like in its layers upon layers of facets. Like enfiladed rooms opening one upon another leading to an unknown end. In fact, it is the marriage between the fresh crisp smell of grass and the opposing heavy indolic white flowers all wrapped up in a fine supple leather which only hints at its complex schizoid nature.  It is like slipping on a fine pair of white kid gloves be they for horseback riding in a French wood in spring or driving gloves for that mad getaway drive along the Amalfi coast in winter.  Both rides are just on the edge of losing control.

Then the darkness comes. It comes from the interior of that leather where deep under its folds you find nestled a dark dirty vetiver and a deadly serious oak moss. And deeper still below that there is the deeply sensual and frankly fleshy sex of Iris or perhaps full blown oris butter. Slipper smooth and intoxicatingly drenched over a softly sweet and green narcissus. The rose that lies in there near the heart is bleeding and barely alive encased in a coffin of sandalwood. And upon this coffin, is placed a wreath of lily of the valley and ylang-ylang. There under all that green rebirth in its beginning is the solemn promise that it will die.

No. 19  is in fact like Lise very beautiful and hides a complicated inner world of Belle vie et mort inéluctable. As Lise moved ever closer to her rendezvous in the dark gardens of her soul in the center of the eternal city she must have smelled the clean green of the grass and the bereavement in the decaying flowers where she lay down.

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One of the most wonderful aspects of No.19 is that anyone, man or woman can wear it. and at any age. It is timeless, ageless, classic and yet very modern.

CALL ME IRRESPONSIBLE ~ CHANEL LES EXCLUSIFS NO. 22

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Red and white automobile lights glittered in the rain choked gutters, like discarded diamonds and rubies being swept into the parched sewers of the city.  Long into the morning the three globed very elegant Parisian streetlamps along Market Street shown in a warm glow of amber which added a ribbon of gold to the rubies and diamonds in the street. The rain danced in sheets across the wide road snatching dead sycamore leaves from the nearly barren trees to bring them down to earth.  The first rains of January were the best rains of the year. So all of San Francisco agreed and no one loved the gray skies and perpetual twilight of a rainstorm more than Matt Simmons.

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(Market Street ~ Artist  Hsin-Yao Tseng)

Wrapped in a long black Dior overcoat, with a white Pashmina scarf artfully arranged around his neck he made the dash across market at Stockton just as the yellow light turned red causing an Uber driver to swerve out of his path. The diver having just missed him peeled off toward “Twitterville” up at 10th in a shower of curses. Blithely unaware as the soundtrack of “Two For The Road” blasted through his earbuds he turned on to Eddy street. Diamond like raindrops sputtered from the ends of his Louis Vuitton Giboulées Umbrella. He felt filled with love for his city and radiated a joy for life that was infectious to almost everyone. This delight in life made him seem twenty years younger than fifty nine.

Seated at his favorite table in the warm cozy wood paneled old San Francisco glamour that was John’s Grill he ordered his usual, a Vesper martini.  He smilingly told Tommy  to make it three Vespers and that he would wait for his friends to arrive before ordering lunch.   Marie and Holly would be joining him for a fun run through the Union Square department stores on a perfume hunt. They usually met up about once a month to catch up, have lunch and go shopping. It was something to do on a Sunday.

maltese140.JPG The sign announcing John's Grill seen from the second story of the restaurant. The falcon statue was stolen nearby. A replica of the famous Maltese falcon used in the 1941 Humphrey Bogart film has been stolen from John's Grill restaurant in downtown San Francisco. {Brant Ward/San Francisco Chronicle}2/12/07

Tommy set the Vesper before him just as Matt noticed that there was beautiful piano music drifting down from the second floor.

“Live music in the afternoon Tommy? I thought that was only in the evenings. That wonderful Jazz I can’t get enough of.”

“We are trying it out on the weekends. You like it?”

“Lovely.”

Tommy vanished to the bar. As Matt sipped his cocktail he recognized the song. “Call Me Irresponsible” by‎ Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn. Matt began to hum along.

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(Artist~ Seth Couture)

Just as the martini glass reached his lower lip for a second sip everything seemed to slow down around him. The glass wavered in his hand. He looked down at the swirl of lemon peel. His hand was shaking.

Had it really been only four years? Were there days now when he forgot to think of him? It was true, he didn’t think of him the first thing upon waking anymore. Matt set the martini on the white table cloth, took out his wallet and opened it. Richard’s movie star smile beamed up at him through worn and brittle plastic.   Eyes as blue as the skies over Paris and that noble nose that gave his face gravity as well as beauty.  Everything was still now only the rain outside and the piano playing.  He could hear Richard singing to him over the phone from Manhattan his broad baritone just as he used to on Sunday mornings.  His voice would come cross the Catskills and zoom effortlessly over the Great Plains. It soared over the Rockies, dipped low into the deserts of Nevada and finally climbed the over the steep shear eastern Sierra’s caressing a high note so effortlessly only to slip sweetly, softly into Matt’s waiting ear in San Francisco.

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“Call me irresponsible, call me unreliable
Throw in undependable too.”

Matt recalled the dream they shared of Richard moving to San Francisco, the promise to marry and build a mature life together. The dream that never came true

“Do my foolish alibis bore you?
Well, I’m not too clever; I just adore you.”

Richard’s last three voice mails still lived Matt’s on phone, the last one from the hospital where he died so suddenly and unexpectedly.

“Call me unpredictable, tell me I’m impractical
Rainbows I’m inclined to pursue.”

Richard’s photo glowed more beautifully than the golden streetlights on Market and it was more precious than any diamonds and rubies that were ensconced behind the rain spattered windows of Bvlgari and Cartier.

“Call me irresponsible; yes, I’m unreliable
But it’s undeniably true: I’m irresponsibly mad for you.”

Holly’s voice broke the spell. The lights brightened and the world sped up again. Marie was just behind her with a big smile.

“Sorry we are late. What a storm! It is coming down like the end of the world out there. How are you darling man?”

Matt slowly and gently closed his wallet and placed it in his coat pocket over his heart.

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 ( Hsin-Yao Tseng)

***

It is a perfume of lost love and rainy afternoons. Of missed trains to warmer climates and of melancholy cocktails in the twilight when everything turns lavender in the last moments of the day. It is a beauty that rivals its creators most famous creation. No.5.  Rumor has it that it was in the lineup for Coco Chanel to try when she chose No.5 to be her first perfume launch. If that is true it is no surprise for Chanel No.22 crated by Ernest Beaux released only a year after No.5, in 1922 is a more somber, romantic and even wistfully sad cousin to No.5.

Where No.5 is stunningly glamourous and breathtaking, No.22 is of a less obvious beauty. It has mystery a, blue dreamy sad mystery.

It opens with a gorgeous Aldehyde note that is less of a blast than you get in No.5. It is more like a breeze coming up from a damp garden after a rainstorm. In this breeze are carried the lovely floral note of Lily of the Valley and a fresh sharp Neroli. It is a dewy sun dappled and perfect opening to the beauty that is to follow.

Ylang ylang dominates the middle where it shimmers in all its golden glory supported by the famous Chanel jasmine, a subtle rich rose is denuded of its thorns and then there is the tuberose. This is not your grandmother’s screechy tuberose. Now that may surprise you being that this fragrance is from 1922 but in its reissue of 2007 by Jacques Polge it is a stubble touch of the tuberose that comes to lay close to the heart of the fragrance.

The bitter note that gives No.22 is melancholy is in the dry down where a crunchy dry vetiver marries with a creamy vanilla note. This is for me where the dance of the rising vetiver and the dying flower notes make this such a stunning fragrance. Sorrowfully dreamy and beautiful in its somewhat dramatic case of the blues, it likes feeling slightly tragic for after all it has lived in the shadows of No. 5 all these years.  Like that old Frank Sinatra song, No. 22 is “Glad To Be Unhappy.”

The longevity of No. 22 is very long, lasting on my skin a good 12 to 14 hours. The projection is not overpowering but at about a foot to eighteen inches. It is noticeable in tight quarters for sure but on the street it has a subtle grace about it. It is balsamic, aldehydic and powdery but not overtly so. It is a powdery scent for the faint of heart who shy away from the powder perfumes in general.  And as with almost all of the Les Exclusifs line No.22 works well on a man or a woman. If that man or woman is in the mood to be blue and sophisticated with an air of mystery about them.

CHANEL LES EXCLUSIFS NO. 22 ~ FIVE STARS *****

NO 22

THE BEYOND ~ Au Delà by Bruno Fazzolari Editions

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Glinting in the winter morning light, freshly varnished and perfectly manicured nails drummed on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. They were exactly the same shade of Vreeland red as the magazine with a laughing Kate Hudson on the cover. She was unaware of this little serendipity of color as she looked out over her vast living room to the snow dusted terrace that hung twenty eight floors above 5th avenue.

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New Years Eve morning. L’Ascension by Olivier Massiaen was playing on the radio.  She sighed, and flipped open Harper’s Bazaar. A beautiful girl with a perfume bottle, The page turned. “Kate Hudson gets festive in this season’s hottest styles. Welcome to Holiday Glamour……”  And indeed the actress looked very festive and hot and stylish and all the rest. Turned page. Chanel models in Chanel, Page on to Dior bags followed by Louis Vuitton.  A blond having too much fun being a blond in Michael Kors. The smile that made Julia Roberts a mega star smiled over her shoulder from the page for Lancôme. Still a pretty woman.  Austere Armani, proud Prada, Gucci Gucci Gucci. Any other day it would have been fun, like it always was.  Magazine meandering usually ended up in a trip down 5th to Bergdorf, then Barneys and always Bulgari for a bauble. She tossed the magazine aside and sank back into the silk over stuffed pillows of her now back in style Michael Taylor sofa.

Another Sigh. The sun shifted and a beam bounced off the ice on the terrace banister, glance a crystal on the chandelier and hit the facets of her pale violet diamond Deco inspired engagement ring. All twelve of the flawless carats caught fire. She lazily wiggled her ring finger and watched Tiffany & Co. dance within the stone. She pushed against the pillows, rose up from the sofa and tightened the sash on her Stefano Pilati silk robe.

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The deep pile of the Nepalese rug caressed her toes as she sauntered to the terrace doors to look out to the West over Manhattan. She had hours to get ready before dinner at the Waldorf Astoria. Hours to think. The trees in the park encrusted from the ice storm the night before looked like a Swarovski forest from Doctor Zhivago. Beautiful and cold, it looked as if there were wolves down there howling at the silver plated sky. Only last month she had been warm in San Pancho under the November sun on the Nayarit coast of Mexico. She met Jane and Earl Miller and fell in love with them when she went to stay at their little hotel. Getting to know them as she lounged by the pool at Roberto’s Bungalows was when it began, slow and steady and building over Thanksgiving and into December. The realization that she wanted what they had. She couldn’t put her finger on just what made their marriage seem authentic and real. But she knew now that she would not find that kind of love staring at her across the well appointed table at the Waldorf on New Years Eve.

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Late in the afternoon as she applied the finishing touches to her make-up she felt terrible for what she was about to do.  She knew he would not understand, she understood that he thought he loved her. She realized nether he or she had any idea what love was really about. Finished dressing by five-thirty she called for her car, put the engagement ring into its box and into her purse. There was only one thing more to do. She looked at the array of perfumes on her vanity. She picked up the small unassuming bottle of Au Delà and applied it to her wrist and neck. The old world yet modern beauty of the perfume enfolded her, comforted her, and promised of life to live beyond tonight. It whispered very softly just behind her ear “…the beyond.” She smiled for the first time, just a tiny hint of a smile really. After Auld Lang Sine she would be free to find out who she really was.

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(Bienvenidos paraíso, Roberto’s Bungalows) 

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Au Delà by perfumer and artist Bruno Fazzolari is something very special. I first smelled it along with the other perfumes of his initial launch into the perfume world last March at San Francisco Artisan Fragrance Salon. You can read about that event in my post, “Meeting The Magicians ~ SF Artisan Perfume Salon 2013”.

Au Delà immediately struck me as a fabulous perfume that recalled the great days of the house of Dior in the early 50’s. It is so reminiscent of such beauties as the old original Miss Dior. Not the silly girl she has become today in her reformulations but the beautiful confident woman she was at the dawn of post war glamour. I have to give credit to Hilary Randal who was the one to pinpoint for me what I was smelling in that bottle of Au Delà that day back in March.

Bruno has in his collection all of which was released in 2013, Lampblack, Jimmy, Five, Monserrat,  It’s Better Not To Worry Abut It and Au Delà. Each are exquisite and should be explored by any and every perfume lover, but for me Au Delà is the masterpiece of the line. It is the goddess in a bottle, the essence of French chic created by and artist who grew up in both in France and the United States.

This perfume was inspired by one of the major French composers of the 20th Century, Olivier Massiaen. And in this inspiration there is music, glorious music. To equate this fragrance to the inspiration just listen to L’Ascension by Massiaen and you have the tones and notes of this perfume.

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(Au Delà is right for any woman with the slightest chic)

It opens with a simple clear, glowing note of coriander. This note is almost immediately obliterated by an unfolding song from a beautiful jasmine that is wreathed with Neroli and orange blossoms. This plays its melody with increasing sensuality as it is aroused by the arrival of the base notes of Amber, Oakmoss and something magical created by Bruno known as Immanence. Immanence is a fantasy note that is as ephemeral as a dream and as real as fairy dust. It is the God note that encompasses everything and exists in all creation. It is there in the base of the perfume and gives it wings, shimmering wings on which to fly.

NYC Man(Au Delà is perfect for a man with great personal style)

This Chypre is indolic, intoxicating and inspiring. It loves to live on the skin of both men and women and in so doing finds the essence of male or female sensuality in the meeting of perfume to flesh. Since its release Au Delia has won both the Gold Medal for Top Artisan Perfumer at the International Artisan Fragrance Awards and the Gold Medal at the San Francisco Artisan Fragrance Salon.

I found this award winning perfume to be sublime with a respectable sillage and good longevity. You can find it at Bruno’s Webpage and at Tigerlily in San Francisco. Tigerlily is the first brick and mortar store to carry Bruno Fazzolari Editions. For a debut perfumer Au Delà is exceptional and I look forward to watching Bruno Fazzolari’s journey as an up an coming perfumer.

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Au Delà by Bruno Fazzolari Editions  Five Gold Stars *****

BRUNO FAZZOLARI WEBSITE: http://brunofazzolari.com/

TIGERLILY: Love & Luxe

(Tigerlily pop-up)

1169 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA94110

Hours: 12 – 6 Wed, Thurs
11 – 7 Fri, Sat
12 – 5 Sun

415 648 7781
info@loveandluxesf.com

ROBERTO’S BUNGALOWS: http://robertosbungalows.com/

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Listen to L’Ascension by Olivier Massiaen

MADEMOISELLE VALENTINE ~ Grand Cuir by Parfums Rétro

PARFUMS RETRO

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There simply was no need for gloves in December in Palm Springs. She found the long forgotten gloves in the back of her closet; in the long orange box with the black coach logo . They were buried behind the rows of Chanel shoes that were too high to wear anymore. She hadn’t worn the gloves since, how long ago was it? Fifty years, the last winter of haute couture when it was still about the chic elegant lines of Hubert de Givenchy, and everyone wanted to look like Audrey Hepburn in ‘Charade”. She had just turned 21 that December.

She opened the box and sifted past the ancient tissue paper that held the faint and faded memory of a forgotten perfume. The mink lined black leather gloves were as supple as if they had just come from 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. She slipped them on over her once beautiful hands. They were so lovely and warm. Only then did she notice that there was something else in the box, a man’s lavender silk tie. She closed her eyes.

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Valentine Bayard scampered recklessly against the traffic light in front of the new 1963 Citroën which nearly hit her. She and had no idea just how beautiful she looked in her leopard coat with the black mink trim and matching hat. But it was the new black kid gloves that gave the look just the right touch of elegant chic that seemed to blossom overnight in young French women of her age.

She waited in front of the Cinéma Gaumont for her friend Danielle to arrive. Unaware of the admiring looks she got from the men who passed she looked up at the marquee at the huge poster for “The Leopard” and thought how impossibly beautiful Alan Delon was. At five minutes to show time Valentine realized that Danielle had stood her up. She hated to go to the movies by herself so she turned on her Chanel heels and strolled up the Champs-Élysées with no particular destination in mind. She quite simply loved to walk under the Christmas lights that festooned the bare trees along the Avenue. It was her favorite pastime each December.

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Heads turned as she passed and not just men’s heads. Little boys too. “Mama, look! It is Anita Ekberg!” A little boy shouted as he tugged on his mother’s hand. It was lovely to be compared to the actress who had made such a hit in “La Dolce Vita”. Valentine blushed and touched her lips with her be-gloved hand and blew the boy a kiss.

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She crossed the avenue to look in the window at number 68 and had not the faintest clue that she was now being trailed by two smitten young men. The glass was steamy and made it hard to see the perfume bottles on display. She could smell the mingled aromas of rose, lavender and clary sage wafting past her each time someone opened the doors to the shop. By the time she crossed the avenue back to the other side and reached Fouquet’s there were four young men in her wake and one on a bicycle. She left them bereft on the sidewalk as she went in for a café au lait and cinnamon pastry.

She could smell fresh tarragon from the kitchen and the tangy pine smell from the Christmas tree as the waiter lead her to a single table in the center of Fouquet’s. On the rosewood table was a vase with red geraniums chosen that morning to match the awnings outside. After she placed her order she removed her gloves and took out her compact to check her make-up. She smiled when she caught a little girl in the mirror watching her with admiring eyes.

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After Fouquet’s she went into a little shop just off the Champs-Élysées that smelled of old oakmoss, birch and the patchouli and sandalwood eau de cologne that the old proprietor wore. He helped her pick out a beautiful lavender silk tie.

“Is this to be a gift?” the old man asked.

“Yes it is!” She smiled sweetly into his warm brown eyes. “For the man I love more than anyone in the world.”

She waited while he gift wrapped it in violet leaf scented Christmas paper.

Back on the street she looked at her watch. The film would be letting out soon and he would be waiting there for her and Danielle to come out. She rushed back up  rue Arsène-Houssaye and then along the Champs-Élysées gathering another small entourage of beautiful men who followed like enamored guardian angels.

He was waiting, tall, handsome as ever in his brown wool overcoat and Fedora.

“Papa!” She called.

The wind caught the corner of his cashmere scarf as he turned and it fluttered up over his shoulder like a beautiful multi-color flag. His luminous smile was crooked beneath his clipped mustache. She ran to him and gave him a hug.

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“I bought you a present Papa.”

“What is it?”

“You have to wait until tomorrow to find out.”

Monsieur Bayard winked at his daughter. “As if that would be possible? “

The sky was turning an inkblot indigo and the lights around them were winking on. “I am going to take my beautiful daughter to dinner. Where would you like to go?”

“Let’s be tourists and go to Maxim’s. I love Maxim’s at Christmas.” She took hold of his sturdy strong arm and looked up into his smiling face. “Let’s make a memory Papa. A beautiful memory to keep for every Christmas to come.”

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(Maxim’s at Christmas)

****

Grand Cuir by Parfums Rétro is a dramatically stunning perfume that recalls the lost last age of elegance. Created to be worn by both men and women, it is very classically French in its olfactory signature. Grand Cuir is purely rich and evocative of Pairs. It recalls an age of beautiful women who dress in chic elegant style at every hour of the day, who, for every occasion, had a perfume to match each mood, atmosphere and destination. Be that a shopping excursion, a romantic interlude or an evening alone at home reading “Bonjour Tristesse”. Yes it recalls all these things about women but when a man wears Grand Cuir it takes on the memories of women whom he has loved.  The perfume’s tag line reads “A leather with soul.”  This is true, it has soul, but it is not the soul of cool like in the late 60’s. It has the soul of chic from the earlier and too brief period between 1960 and 1964. It is complex, interesting, a bit demanding of your attention and utterly devastating. It is a brand new perfume created in 2013 that shows you can be modern and yet reflect elegance from the past.

The perfume opens with a little naughty slightly skanky labdanum which gives it its initial Gallic flavor. There is birch tar, clary sage and a resinous pine needles that keep it from wandering into Place Pigale nasty mademoiselle territory.  It is perfectly controlled, bright and pops with an aldehydic shimmer without being to loud.

None of this lush French opening is lost as the heart notes come into play. There seems to be a note from every arrondissement of Pairs here and it works the perfume to perfection. Green from the geranium, violet leaf and a pinch of tarragon start to waft up from the Marais then from the Left Bank we get orange blossoms and cinnamon. Montmartre chimes in with lavender and finally a beautiful rose from the gardens of les Bois de Boulogne.

In the base it is all about warmth, sensuality and a masculine edged of expensive leather. The dry down is packet to baroque levels with leather, patchouli, sandalwood and rosewood. The musk and moss notes support and finish off the perfume at about eight hours.

There was only one thing that did not impress me about Grand Cuir and that would be the bottle. Such an elegant rich and expensive creation should be if at all possible presented in an equally stunning flacon. What we are given is a generic “perfume” bottle that is used by every new perfumer around. But I am being picky here. For really what is most important is what the juice does on the skin. And what Grand Cuir does to the skin is something wonderful. It creates a world of sophistication and beauty from which memories can be made.

Joyeux Noël à tous mes lecteurs!

62300

Grand Cuir by Parfums Rétro Five Gold Stars *****

You can purchase Grand Cuir at LuckyScent

http://www.luckyscent.com/shop/detail.asp?itemid=62300

or if you are in Los Angeles visit their brick and mortar store Scent Bar

7405 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles CA 90036

323 782 8300

(Screen captures of Anita Ekberg and Michael Caine from “Woman Times 7” directed by Vittorio De Sica) 

UNTITLED AND M.A.D. QUESTIONS FOR CHANDLER BURR ~ A Series of Interviews

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“My intention with The Untitled Series is to give 100 people a month the same opportunity I had at the Times, the experience of perfume unprotected / constrained by marketing and unassisted by the sense of sight. ” Chandler Burr

(Photo Matthew Furman)

Imagine my surprise to discover only two weeks ago that Chandler Burr, author of “A Separate Creation”, “The Emperor of Scent”, “The Perfect Scent” and “You Or Someone Like You” was on Facebook. Not a group page or a fan page but just there, accessible  and smiling.  I then noticed that some of my fragrance friends were friends with him as well. There it was, the “+1 Add Friend” button right in front of me. Why not click that button I thought?

The next day I received a notice that Chandler Burr had accepted my “friendship’ request, so it was only proper to send a thank you note. And that connection leads us to this series of interviews with the former perfume critic for the New York Times, Former Curator of, the Department of Olfactory Art at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City.  Author, lecturer and organizer of the incredible Scent Dinners and the man who couldn’t get Matt Lauer to loosen up and smell the roses admit he liked a perfume on the Today show.

Over the next few weeks Mr. Burr will be interviewed by a select group of perfume bloggers each with very different and exciting points of view. (You will be able to follow them from here with links as they happen.) The two main topics we will be discussing are as follows.

The recent Museum of Art And Design exhibition created by Chandler Burr, “The Art of Scent 1889 – 2012”  and the wonderful Catalog and the essays from the exhibition.  And the incredible “Untitled Series” at Open Sky.  On this series a perfume is presented blind each month to be tested with out the participants knowing anything about it. Then at the end of the month the perfume is revealed with the opportunity to be purchased if the participants so desire.  At the end of this interview there are links to the M.A.D. catalog and the Untitled Series. (The catalog with samples of each perfume are for sale. The link is at the end of the interview)

It gives me great pleasure to present to you my interview with Chandler Burr, a man of great charm, wit, talent, and generosity. A man with a magnificent nose.

Lanier Smith:   Let’s talk about a few of the perfumes and artist featured in the Catalog you’re your recent “The Art of Scent 1889 – 2012” exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design.  Actually less about the perfumes but about the questions that arise in my mind from the wonderful essays you wrote in the catalog. “Jicky” and genitals. As I understand it, at the time that “Jicky” was created in 1889 there were no gender assignments to perfume. Just as there is no gender assignment to the Eiffel Tower created the very same year. When did that change and why?

 Aimé Guerlain

Aimé Guerlain (1834–1910)

“ The genius of Jicky is that it could never have existed
in nature. Guerlain had created both a new work of art
and a new art form.” Candler Burr

Chandler Burr: It changed mid-20th century for a very specific reason: the industry needed to sell perfume to heterosexual American men, and given that for some reason straight American men instantly equate scent with femininity—which Italian and French men don’t, at all—perfume marketers had to use gendering to give them psychoemotional permission to wear scent. So they put “homme” or “for him” or whatever on the bottles, and the guys calmed the hell down.

Francis Fabron

Francis Fabron (1913–2005)

“L’Interdit
is extraordinary for its strange beauty,
which ignores time. It is a work that
smells as if it were made tomorrow.” Chandler Burr

Lanier Smith: The legend says and the ads would lead us to believe that “L’Interdit” was created by Hubert de Givenchy for Audrey Hepburn. Now thanks to you turning the spotlight on the true artists of the medium of scent we know it was created by Francis Fabron. How important is the actual smell of a perfume to the fashion house—Givenchy for instance—compared to the advertising? Where does most of the money go in the creation of a perfume?

Chandler Burr: I get this question all the time, and the answer is a little frustrating because it’s easy to respond that—somewhat infuriatingly—most of the money goes into the packaging and marketing. And on a bottle by bottle basis, that’s true; in general the majority of the money per bottle goes into the bottle + cap + cardboard liner + cardboard box + the marketing images on the box, in billboards, on the designer’s website and vimeo and the Condé Nast Entertainment network + the film in which a model or actor walks moodily through a Greek ruin/ Versailles hallway/ high-production value film set.

But it’s not that simple. It’s been a surprise to me to be told the actual prices of several of the juices we take for granted, frequently perfumes I didn’t think of as particularly expensive (they are). And the willingness of a patron to give the artist a serious amount of money to work with per kilo makes it somewhat irrelevant that, per bottle, the packaging costs more. (Add the complexity of the different concentrations, which hugely changes the price.) Multiply 100ml of expensive oil-in-alcohol-solution, and you can get to a vertiginous investment very fast.

When Jerry Vittoria brought the Firmenich perfumers and evaluators on a tour of the Dept of Olfactory Art at MAD we had a fascinating debate about whether or not they, the perfumers themselves, cared about the bottle. Again, surprisingly to me—I just assume everyone in the industry shares my “who the hell cares about the wrapping, let’s just smell the juice” opinion—Harry Fremont said he absolutely wanted his perfumes in their bottles with their images. At which Ilias (I think it was) said he absolutely would prefer everything in a lab bottle, which I agreed with of course, at which other perfumers argued that the visuals were inherent to the experience, and I said my usual thing about “You don’t wear the bottle or the girl, you wear the juice” (startled at having to make this argument to perfumers) and so on.

By the way my understanding is that de Givenchy told Hepburn he was naming the perfume “Audrey Hepburn,” to which she replied, “Je vous l’interdit!” (I forbid you from doing it), so he called it l’Interdit. Who knows if it’s true; it certainly makes a nice story. And it’s an insanely killer perfume. Imminently wearable today. One of the all-time greats. I wear it.

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Magazine add for l’interdit by Givenchy

Lanier Smith:   With the emergence of the American School with “Aromatic Elixir” by Bernard Chant it seems that opens the way to many other American design houses to take off as they did in the 1970’s and 80’s. Yet isn’t it true that the first American perfume to rock the French establishment was Estee Lauder’s “Youth Dew”? Was that a fluke or a forerunner to the emergence of the United States as a power in the world of perfume?

Bernard Chant

Bernard Chant (1927–1987)

“Aromatics Elixir transcended the somber
formality of classical French style and
gave way to a work capable of conveying
multiple narratives simultaneously.
Here was a French story, but the story
was told, for the first time, in English.” Chandler Burr

Chandler Burr: My understanding is that, yes, Youth Dew was the first American perfume. Commissioned by perhaps the greatest of American scent patrons, Estée Lauder, created by an American artist, Josephine Catapano. It was a forerunner, but as I pointed out the Art of Scent exhibition, when artists import styles from other cultures, they often work in the school then-dominant—or, even more conservatively, a previous, hallowed school. In this case it was the classical late 19th-century French school. Youth Dew reassured clients that, even though it was Made In America, it was thoroughly French, in the way that Lexus first put out cars that if anything out-Mercedesed Mercedes. Made In Japan but as good as Made In Germany. Once established, Lexus came into its own, as did American patrons and scent artists.

Lanier Smith:   I never got “Angel” by Olivier Cresp and thought it too sweet for my nose. But in the context of Surrealism it makes perfect sense and I can appreciate its maladjusted juxtaposition of notes with a fresh nose. Now it is fun. Placing perfume in the world of art is extraordinary and to some it seems a stretch.  Why is it important for the world to understand that a bottle of “Angel” is just as valid and important as the “Christ of Saint John on the Cross” by Salvador Dali?

 Olivier Cresp

Olivier Cresp (b. 1955)

“Cresp’s use of ethyl maltol, which he
transformed from subtle ornament to
fundamental structural material,
pushed olfactory art to new extremes
and placed shocking artificiality in
full view. This was the progenitor of an
olfactory Pop Art movement that arrived
in the mid-1990s and continues today.” Chandler Burr

Chandler Burr: I’m glad it made sense for you when seen as Surrealist art. That one seemed overwhelmingly obvious to me—as does Industrialism for Drakkar Noir, which is in fact a better example of Industrialist art than virtually any other you could name in any medium—but I was concerned about some of them. Calder’s work that broke sculptures up into pieces and made them move in space around each other, dividing and re-coalescing into the same-but-different works, seemed quite like Cresp’s approach in Light Blue. So I called Calice Becker, somewhat apprehensively, started to explain my aesthetic reasoning, and at the words “Alexander Calder” she said, “Perfect.” I was relieved.

Lanier Smith: The tastes of the masses seem to be at a watered down level of safe sugar and laundry fresh. Geared more toward the teen-aged audience than more sophisticated noses.  For a very long time perfume has been moving away it seems from the classic feel of perfumes like “Chanel No.5”, “Shalimar” and the like. But with “Prada Amber” by Carlos Benaim, Max Gavarry and Clement Gavarry in the “Art of Scent” exhibition you herald the arrival of Neo-Romanticism. Do you believe that the truly great perfumes of the future will only come from “niche” designers or can a Dior or Chanel still be viable to as important creative perfume houses?

Carlos Max Clement Prada Amber

Carlos Benaïm (b. 1944),
Max Gavarry (b. 1937), and
Clément Gavarry (b. 1977)

“Prada Amber, however, is a unique
contemporary work in that it draws
directly and principally from the 19th century
school. In lesser hands, it could
easily have fallen into a mere pastiche.” Chandler Burr

Chandler Burr: I admit it’s extremely rough for the big houses to take risks, perhaps the largest risk being—again—putting a serious amount of money into the work. I can make lofty statements like, “In the long run if they don’t make beautiful, which means somewhat costly, works, they’ll find [mass] clients dropping away [mostly just by buying less mediocre perfume, not due to trading up to expensive niche]” but there are, of course, so many exceptions to that that who knows if it’s true. For a good suit, you drop coin. See under: Tom Ford—I don’t even go in the store at the moment, maybe in a few years. For shirts, shorts, flip flops, I love Old Navy. There are some awesome perfume flip flop equivalents, and there’s nothing wrong with wearing them. But they’re not going to last. I’m thinking about the top 30, and some are Old Navy’s, but others are (metaphorically) Tom Fords.

Beyond Paradise and Sensual were both very expensive juices and innovative perfumes. Neither made it; my personal opinion: Beyond Paradise is excellent. Flower Bomb, Coco Mademoiselle—a work of pure loveliness—Angel, Pleasures, all of these are innovative and costly, all are commercial brands, and all are killing it. So who the hell knows.

Lanier Smith:   Now I have a few questions about the exciting Untitled Series on Open Sky. Did this idea come from your Scent Dinners? If not how did you come up with the concept that is so exciting. A whole month of smelling a perfume without Brad Pitt or Natalie Portman whispering in your ear how much you should love it.

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Chandler Burr: The idea for the Untitled Series didn’t come from the Scent Dinners. It came directly from the way my assistant and I smelled things at the NY Times. I had great assistants. The point of my Scent Notes column was that it was exclusively juice, juice, juice, so we had a very specific approach. Every week my assistant would arrive before I did, unpack the new scents that had arrived that week, and I’d come in half an hour later, drop my backpack, and sit down. He or she would, wordlessly, hand me an unmarked white blotter, and we’d smell. You weren’t allowed to change expression at all. When we felt like it, one of us would start reacting, and the conversation would go from there.

The scents we agreed were good we’d then put on skin—the canvas on which perfume is designed to be experienced—again without looking at the packaging. I tried not to look at the packaging until after I wrote the column.

My intention with The Untitled Series is to give 100 people a month the same opportunity I had at the Times, the experience of perfume unprotected / constrained by marketing and unassisted by the sense of sight. To be honest it’s insanely difficult to arrange each episode, and the Series never would have happened if it hadn’t been for Miuccia Prada. I asked her, and she personally agreed to let me take Infusion d’Iris out and put it in a little lab bottle. She anchored the whole thing.

Smelling perfumes this way is a physically different experience. Your reaction is deeply different. It just is. And that shouldn’t be surprising at all, and I have a very specific example. Think of someone lending you a painting. It could be an original, authentic Tatsuro Kiuchi, whose work I love.

 Tatsuro Kiuchi

It could be a Cy Twombly, whose work I loathe and look down on and which sells for zillions.

 Cy Twombly

It could be a Velázquez, who I think is stupendous.

 Las Meninas

It could be a real Alex Katz, whose work I disliked until Ecco, who published my novel, put two of his paintings together to create my jacket cover, and after 24 hours I loved it.

 You Or Someone Like You

Or it could be a canvas by some kid at NYU art school that you bought for $200. Not a fake. Just not a work recognized as having any aesthetic significance or brilliance. I would never be an asshole and put a crappy juice in an Untitled in order to run some sort of Emperor’s New Clothes experiment, the less important reason being that the people buying the Untitleds are a self-selected group who in about three seconds would be saying, “Yo, Burr, this is garbage.” This really isn’t a game, and so the more important reason is that the Series exists to present masterpieces. Of all kinds. The Untitled you order may indeed be a Goya or a Katz—a Ropion, a Buzantian, the new Vasnier, where the artist’s name is a brand like Goya’s, a name that would immediately make you give the work respect (and market value) even before you’ve smelled it, but as an Untitled you get to smell works without any “startist” (terrible word, but you get the idea) baggage crowding you.

The lab bottle the UPS guy delivers to you may also be a work by a total unknown, some artist you’ve never heard of who has no cachet at all but who I think has produced something extraordinary. Or you could be getting what I consider an underrated masterpiece. That’s one of the explicit purposes of the Series, rediscovering these things. That’s why I did S01E02. Mugler Cologne will, I believe, be recognized by art history as one of the greatest works of olfactory art ever created. And we have another wildly underrated great by a famous artist coming this fall. You’ll get it somewhere in S02E01 to E04.

As for S01E10, it’s by an autodidact artist and is brand new on the market. And I’m going to include one in spring 2014 that is a twist on that—not that exactly but sort of that. And it’s not, at all, just about the juice. As several people who are playing have noted, the cost is the ticket price to an experience that doesn’t exist anywhere else: the experience of blindness in an ongoing exhibition of works in an art form that really is only perfectly experienced by the blind

Lanier Smith:   Will you be popping in an old classic to see how that plays with the audience? Perhaps “L’Aimant” by Coty just to see how many people think it is “No.5”? Well that might not be fair but will there be some classics in the Untitled Series?

Yes.

Lanier Smtih:   I think we neglect our noses and since I became involved in my passion for perfume I have noticed that my sense of smell is much more acute. The format for Untitled Series is very much like a college course in fragrance with a lecture, class participation and experimentation and interaction. Don’t you think there should be a class or two in universities on how to use your nose? How would you go about teaching a class in fragrance? Art History, Science, Economics?

Chandler Burr:  My whole goddamn life for the past seven years has been building the case for every art historian, art history and fine arts department, museum curator, and gallerist to treat scent the way they would paint. Teaching a class in olfactory art should be no more, or less, difficult than teaching a class in music—or music theory or color theory; that’s the equivalent of teaching a class in scent materials and their interactions and qualities versus teaching a class in the works made with them. It’s going to come in the future. Just as photography came and settled in. And when it’s established people will wonder why it ever didn’t exist.

Lanier Smith:   Is there a chance “The Art of Scent” exhibition may hit the road and visit other cities around the world?

Chandler Burr: We’re actively working on traveling “The Art of Scent.” I’m writing a new introduction to the show, I’ve designed another section, which is an Entry, to go along with the Gallery section and the Salon section and to set up the conceptual basis for the show more clearly than the Museum of Arts and Design version. It will in fact be very different and much better experience.

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Lanier Smith:   My favorite perfume moment in the movies is from “Butterfield-8”. That delicious Metro Color infused opening scene when Elizabeth Taylor in her skin tight Helen Rose slip sits down at Dina Merrill’s dressing table and passes judgment over a few bottles of perfume. Then finding one she likes, “Tabac Blond”  I am told, slathers herself with sensuous abandon then coolly steals Miss Merrill’s mink coat.  Do you have a favorite perfume moment in film?

Chandler Burr: I actually don’t. In fact I’m thinking about it and—I haven’t seen “Scent of a Woman,” which would have given me one—I don’t think I can name a single moment in any movie that uses scent. I take that back. In “Duplicity” Julia Roberts lands at the airport and drives around for 20 minutes to make sure she isn’t being tailed before she parks at the house where Clive Owen is waiting for her. He grabs her at the front door, leans in to kiss her, murmurs, “You smell terrific,” and she rolls her eyes, pushes him off and says, “I *smell like a rental car.” Which is a very precise and very powerful line. The estimable Tony Gilroy wrote it.

10juli600

Julia Roberts passes a perfume counter in “Duplicity” (2009)

Tony-Gilroy-267539-1-402Writer Dirctory, Tony Gilroy

M.A.D. Catalog (which you can purchase) : http://thestore.madmuseum.org/products/the-art-of-scent-1889-2012

Untitled Series on Open Sky: http://www.opensky.com/member/chandlerburr?content=loves

Chandler Burr’s Website: http://www.chandlerburr.com/

Interview Participants in order of appearance:

The Perfumed Dandy:  http://theperfumeddandy.com/

Australian Perfume Junkies: http://australianperfumejunkies.com/

Smelly Thoughts:  http://smellythoughts.wordpress.com/

Another Perfume Blog: http://anotherperfumeblog.com/

EauMG:  http://www.eaumg.net/

What Men Should Smell Like:  http://whatmenshouldsmelllike.com/

The Scented Hound: http://thescentedhound.wordpress.com/

The Fragrant Man: http://thefragrantman.com/

Photos of the olfactory artists and selected excerpts are from the Museum of Art and Design catalog “The Art Of Scent ~ 1989 – 2012”

NO.5 ~ Chanel No.5

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1920***

Martine Belfort, nearly asleep as she soaked in her tub, barely opened one eye at the offensive jangling urgency of the contraption on her vanity. Why she ever had installed a telephone in her bathroom escaped her for the moment.

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“Juju hold it up to my ear.”

The maid did as she was told.

“Allo? Allo Martine are you there?”  It was Cecile Duvall her dearest source of gossip and most distrusted friend.

“Cecile? Are you back in Paris already?  I thought you were in Cannes?”

“I am ma chère but I simply had to call you at once. The most amazing thing happened tonight at dinner.”

Martine closed her eyes and sank to her chin in the tub and nodded to Juju to turn on the hot tap to warm her up.

“Oh do tell, who is your infatuation this time, a duke or some American millionaire?”

“It is Coco Chanel!”

Martine shot up in the tub both eyes wide open. “You are having an affair with Chanel?”

“No no! Silly pet, I have news about her.”

“Oh I never liked that woman! What happened? Did she stay out in the sun too long and burned to a crisp?  Is she dead?”

“No, nothing like that my goodness what an imagination you have Martine. She was dining in the same restaurant as I tonight and I kept noticing a commotion at her table. People going over and bumping about and hovering over her, well, there seemed such a lot of excitement. Soon the entire restaurant was abuzz.”

“A buzz about what Cecile, get to the point.”

“Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer and I went over and said hello. You know to sniff around and see what on earth could be so fascinating.  Coco gave me a cool smile. She knows we are friends you and I and well, she was very cool but cordial. I kissed her cheek and then it happened.”

Mon dieu! What? What happened?”

“She must have spilled a whole bottle of perfume on the table cloth, and herself as well.”

“Common as dirt, that woman?”

“No Martine you don’t understand, she smelled amazing, and unlike anything I have ever smelled. It was so, so… SEXY! I was about to ask her what it was when the Grand Duchess Zina Vladimirovich and a few other Russian ladies interrupted me to ask her the exact same question.”

Martine looked over at her vanity packed with Patou, Guerlain Caron and Coty.

“Coco said it was just something she found in Grasse and that she couldn’t remember exactly where. Then she asked us did we like it? Did we think she should try and get more? Then suddenly it all clicked in my head. She is launching a perfume. It was a set up. She had perfumed the table like a trap. And my dear it worked, we all fell into it. I simply have to have it. Nothing else smells like it. Nothing!”

“Don’t be ridiculous Cecile, I doubt very much that Mademoiselle Chanel would dare to go up against all those big men and there giant perfume houses. And if she does she will be ruined.” She nearly snorted, “I for one would never wear it.


1921***

Martine Belfort had only one bottle of perfume on her vanity. Chanel No.5. All the smart women of Paris agreed that nothing other than No.5 would do.

1920s_Flapper_Girl_No_1_by_BJMoon

1920 FLAPPER BY B.J.MOON

 1945***

Sergeant Beau Henson stood for a very long time on the sidewalk at East Mountain Street looking up at the handsome Spanish revival house where she lived. This beautiful peaceful street in Glendale California was a million miles away from the horrors of Remagen and the battle where he lost his best buddy Jack Markgraf.  A soft breeze ruffled his hair and reminded him to put his cap back on. He was in full uniform and befitted his duty to his friend.

Marjorie Markgraf answered the door she was wearing a sundress and her hair was the color of corn silk. She looked much younger than twenty six.  She invited him in as if she had known him for years. They had Iced Tea and talked for a long time about Jack, and what he was like before the war. Marjorie asked Beau about his life and if he was married. She was sitting on the chair he knew had been Jacks favorite. In war you learn everything about your buddies’ lives back home down to who they first kissed, their favorite radio show to the name of their dog. Finally Marjorie asked how it happened and if Beau was with him. He told her the best lie he could. That Jack didn’t suffer. Then he told her a bit of the truth, that he was with him when he died.

“When we were in Pairs in 44’ there was just one thing he had to do. He had to get this for you.”

He took a little travel worn package out of his pocket and handed it to her.

“Jack said you always talked about going to Paris together someday and buying a bottle. We stood together in the rain all day in a line of G.I.s on the Rue Cambon so he could buy it and bring it home as a surprise. I saved it for you….”

Marjorie carefully opened the package; it was the first time she cried since the day the letter came from the Army telling her Jack would not come home.

She never opened the bottle but kept it next to Jack’s photograph on her vanity.

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1962***

It was there on her dresser, all alone and forgotten. There in that naked bedroom with no paintings on the walls, just an unmade bed, some shoe boxes and purses stacked by the door and a phone off the hook on the carpet by the bed.

Some happier years before back on Doheny Drive she said it was all she slept in and there were those photographs to prove it. She wrapped sensuously in sheets with the bottle on the nightstand each adding heat to the legend of the other.

Now she was cold and wrapped in a blanked in the back of an ambulance. The bottle of Chanel No.5 sitting on her dresser would be tossed out or possibly snatched as souvenir buy some policeman and taken home to his wife. In any case it was there, on the dresser when she died.

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2013***

“Chanel No.5… I don’t get it.”  Jackie Belfort said to her girlfriend as she reached for the tester of Coco Mademoiselle at the Macy’s perfume counter inspected it and then handed it to her friend Tiffany Markgraf.

“It smells ‘Old Lady’” she said. “I just don’t see what the big deal is. So what if Marilyn Monroe wore it.”

“I know” said Tiffany, “It smells soapy, just like Palmolive! Ewww!”  She put down the bottle of Coco Mademoiselle and picked up a bottle of No.5.

Jackie grabbed the No.5 from Tiffany and fingered the beveled edge. “It is a pretty bottle…..My great Grandmother wore it all the time. She said she even bought the first bottle when it came out. She said she was best friends with Coco Chanel. Can you imagine?”

“No kidding? How funny, my granny had a bottle next to a picture of my grandpa. But she never wore it. I can understand why. Not even Brad Pitt could get me to wear it.”  She spritzed a generous spray onto the Chanel tester paper.  “Ugh… Old Lady is right.”

“Oh My God, Tiffany have you smelled Miss Dior Cherie? Yummy!”   She snapped her bubble gum.

“Oh My God! It is so sweet and fruity!  I just love sweet and fruity, don’t you? And it has POPCORN too! Have you tried that new Jessica Simpson perfume?”

Oh My God, No! Let’s go to Saphora and find it!

As soon as they were gone the woman behind the counter who wasn’t much older than Jackie and Tiffany turned to the woman next to her.

“Barbarians.”

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*****************

The old lady is a survivor and for good reason. She is a classic for the ages and one that is often misunderstood by those who have no sense of history or what real perfume means and smells like. It may even be that she is for some an acquired taste like avocados or escargot. In other words some people have to grow up to grow into it. By that I don’t mean that it has anything to do with how old you are, on the contrary there are those who love this perfume from a very early age. I think it has to do more with where your nose is in its journey thought the worlds of Perfume.

What ever the case may be for you and Chanel No.5, love it or hate it, the perfume is something to be admired for its place in the history of perfume, for the woman who commissioned its creation and for the man Ernest Beaux who created it.

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 Of course it is all about the Aldehydes in the opening. This is the popping of the cork of the Dom Perignon of Aldehydes. It is fizzing white and glorious as it catapults the cork of Neroli, ylang ylang, lemon and bergamot across the room to ricochet off the walls and unleash the legendary florals at its heart.

In the heart notes the three floral sisters of Iris, lily of the valley, and rose are the frame for the most famous jasmine in the world. The star of the show, the Grasse jasmine picked at dawn just for Chanel.  A luxurious and earthy orris root brings a dark and sexy touch to the center notes in No.5, This is pure adult glamour that speaks in soft full tones of elegance and pure sophisticated style and grace.  The dry down is a creative and brilliant blending of Oakmoss, sandalwood, amber rich and glowing in the late stages. Also a very Parisian bit of sexy skank comes to play in the form of Civet. I always love a bit of animalic frolic in my florals. It keeps it real for me. Real in the sense of the classic French perfumes of the past and that a little naughty makes a good time even better. There is a touch of patchouli, musk, vanilla and vetiver down here too but the major factor is how the Civet plays with the Oakmoss, amber and the fading glory of the florals. It is really spectacular and I can see when I compare it from opening to fade-out to other perfumes that survive in some form from before 1921 how revolutionary and special Chanel No.5 was and still is.

The women, the “Old Ladies” if you will, who first wore it, were the most exciting and free generation of women in two thousand years. They sent their beau’s off to die in the trenches of the Great War. Those in America of the 48 states and in Great Britain won the vote.  With the help of Chanel they cut their hair and threw away the corsets, rolled down their stockings and raised their skirts to scandalous heights. They smoked and drank with the men, danced shocking dances like the Black Bottom, the Shimmy Shake and the Tango. They went to work and left the home in ways and numbers they never had before. They kept their families together and going forward thought the Great Depression and then sent their husbands and sons to die in World War II. They were the foundation of womanhood for the 20th Century and the mothers of feminism. Those were the women who first wore Chanel No.5 and made it a legend.

There are women I know who tell me that Chanel No.5 is the only perfume they can wear. And when you come to know and understand the complexity and brilliance of No.5 it is easy to understand that statement. It is also a perfume I grew up smelling on the women in my family. When I smell it today I don’t see the old women they have become but the beautiful young women they were and always will be in my heart.

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 CHANEL NO.5 FIVE PLATINUM STARS *****

THE COMEBACK ~ Beige Les Exclusifs de Chanel

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Reflected in the prism of the descending mirrors like a painting by Marcel Duchamp, Mademoiselle Coco Chanel sat on the stairs in a beige boucle box suit with black trim.  She narrowed her eyes dropped her head slightly to peer from under the brim of her hat to the bottom of the steps. She could just see the shoes and shins of the first three people seated in the first row. Hundreds more were out of sight beyond the curve of the staircase awaiting this; her return into the world of fashion.

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“Why did I return? One night at dinner Christian Dior said a woman could never be a couturier.”  Ah yes, that quip to some American reporter was now being repeated all across Paris as the entire city and in fact the world waited to see if she still had it in her to be modern and innovative. In fact, if she was still No.1.

She could smell the freesias at the top of the stairs where the models were assembled waiting to walk down upon her command. There was also a hint of frangipani and hawthorn flowers which permeated the air like a golden honey and took her for a fleeting moment back to Chateau de Royallieu and Boy Capel. Her new line, even the beige suit she wore was really the result of, a refection of his style. If it hadn’t been for Boy: She stopped herself. It was time.

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She looked up to the models. They were ready. No time left for nerves now, time to be courageous. She nodded to the first one, Marie and watched as the young woman passed her in the navy suit that would in only a few moments signify her signature look for the rest of her life and beyond. She could let herself smile just a little now as the model in black dress passed by, then the white, and then the beige, her favorite color these days.

She would prove Dior wrong, on this February day in 1954. She would show the world that she, Gabriel “Coco” Chanel was back to stay, indeed that she, a woman was a great couturier.

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Beige is the new Black. It is what Bill Blass’ Basic Black wishes it could be. From Les Exclusifs collection by Chanel the very chic and smart Beige makes its entrance with the smooth glide of a legendary fashion model from the 1950’s. Suzy Parker is who I see as the perfect woman in Beige.

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COCO AND SUZY PARKER

Jacques Polge took the idea of one of Chanel’s favorite colors (the others being black, white and navy) and turned it into a beauty of a perfume. This is what honey should smell like when done right. Not heavy or sticky and sickening but smooth and mellow with just touch of queen bee to add a bit of a sting. There is freesia here that is bright and a bit spicy adding the perfect complement to the wild honey. These two notes introduce the premier model of the show which is one of my favorite scents from years ago, frangipani. This wonderful flower also known in Hawaii as Plumeria, the most popular flower for the Hawaiian lei is invigorated with a sultry tropical beauty that gives this perfume sensuality and fullness.  Underneath the feminine curves of the honey, freesia, and frangipani is a straight forward masculine hawthorn. It really ties the four notes together and presents them with a seriously chic sophistication. Yes just four notes in Beige, simple yet elegant.

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This is a perfume that stands up beautifully throughout the day. Impressive longevity but never in your face, no, this is a perfume that is great without having to be flashy or loud. It is self-contained, confident that it will always be the right choice for a woman of any age who possesses perfect taste and impeccable style.  The best part is that Beige goes with everything.

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BEIGE LES EXCLUSIFS DE CHANEL FIVE GOLD STARS *****

HERE IN THE LAST SCENE OF  “COCO AVANT CHANEL” (2009) YOU CAN SEE A RETROSPECTIVE FASHION SHOW OF CHANEL’S DESIGNS.

MOVIE MEMORY ~ Back Street 1961

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(PUSH THE RED AND WHITE BUTTON AN PLAY ME-FILM SCORE BY FRANK SKINNER)

Susan Hayward and Lana Turner battled it out on the screen in the early 1960’s for the heavy weight crown of tear stained mink queen of the movies. What was left for an actress over 40 in 1961 but the highly glamorous gloss of a Ross Hunter picture or the grand gargoyle glamour of something like “Baby Jane”? Not much. To be a female movie star of a certain age at that time in Hollywood and to some extent even today meant only one thing, you’re Over The Hill baby. Both actresses had done their best work during the preceding two decades. It was Lana of the tawdry emotions versus hard Hayward of the rat-a-tat Brooklyn delivery always punctuated with a Garlandesque gesture. With films like “Ada”, “Stolen Hours” and “Where Love Has Gone”, Hayward wins the crown.

Hayward Back Street

“Back Street” is the jewel in this crown. The essential Hayward tearjerker with all the required elements, an impossibly beautiful mannequin of a leading man for her and the audience to project their dreams upon. A truly wicked wife for him to make it almost impossible to denounce Hayward for coming between them, and two throwaway children to soften the tragic end of the film in one final surge of violins and Kleenex. All of this played out in the glamour capitals of New York, Rome and Paris provided by Universal’s backlot (and a few lovely locations in Monterey County doubling for the Italian coast). Add to the mix the highly sophisticated costumes of the early 60’s and sets of stunning beauty, all strung together to one of the most lyrically beautiful scores ever written for this genre. The result is the glossiest most improbably romantic film of her career that can be taken today in one of two ways, high camp comedy or lush romance. It all depends upon your point of view.

 
In support of Miss Hayward there is Virginia Grey as her older (and I mean much older!) sister Janenee. She provides throughout the picture the image Rae “All small letters, very chic” Smith, carries of what an ideal marriage and family means. She hits all the right notes as the loving sister who pushes Rae out of her small mid-western life in Lincoln Nebraska and into the world of high fashion in New York.

 
Reginald Gardner is the perfect picture of the perfunctorily gay designer Dalian who helps her to make her name and sends her off to Europe, or at least around the corner to the “Rome” set. His is just an extension of the Franklin Pangborne harmless gay man of the early years of movie history. Elegant sophisticate always ready with a bon mot and a hanky. He is alarmingly memorable in the role.

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John Gavin, more beautiful than Rock Hudson and with a better body, is Paul Saxon, the spineless Ken Doll upon which Rae drapes all her dreams as if he were a mannequin to dress for each love scene. But with such a man around she and the audience need nothing more than what appears. He is the perfect vessel to dream about, create a personality for, and waste a good twenty years loving while passing up the opportunities presented for a real life.

About a quarter of the way into the film and the fun arrives in the cool resplendent form of Vera Miles as Liz (perhaps the screenwriter chose that name to make a subliminal connection with the then scandalous Elizabeth Taylor) Saxon, wife to Paul. She is given all the attributes of a monster, alcoholic, unfaithful and a lousy mother. (Sounds like the tabloid “Liz” we all know and love.) She is perfectly designed to make us love Rae and her sad little back street affair. For there was just no other way to get around the taboo of infidelity in those days but to have a Liz on hand. Her confrontation with Rae is supremely bitchy and utterly wonderful.

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As the beautiful Rae Susan Hayward plays one of her few completely sympathetic characters in her long and lustrous career. She approaches Rae as if this was a chance to win a second Oscar and in fact in the scene where she calls late one night from Rome back home on Thanksgiving she is magnificent. Her beautiful bourbon flavored voice is used to accentuate her loveliness in every scene. Her trademark gestures are at a minimum and only called into play when they are most needed. She carries the improbable picture on her perfect shoulders and gives a fine and detailed performance that is perfection in the soapy atmosphere of Europe. A few of the many highlights is the scene where she finds out that Paul is married, the phone call from the hospital and the race to the airport in Lincoln early on in the film. She is stunningly dressed in gowns by Jean Louis that are smart and very contemporary to what the ladies are wearing on the red carpet today. David Webs beautiful jewelery complements her and adds a feel of true richness to the picture. As I mentioned earlier the score by Frank Skinner is perfection and punctuates the drama in so many ways that are essential in this movie.

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The direction by stalwart David Miller is right on target. He should know how to do it, after all he did the same for Joan Crawford in “The Story of Esther Costello” and “Sudden Fear”, as well as Doris Day in “Midnight Lace” and Lana Turner in “Diane”. This all was helmed by the master of the genre, Producer Ross Hunter who defined the genre with such hits as “Imitation of Life”, “Portrait in Black”, and “Madam X”.

 
“Back Street” remains to this day the shinning beacon of the last gasp of the woman’s picture where women were smart, strong, self-made in a mans world and all the while ever glamorous in tear stained mink.

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What perfume would Rae Smith wear? Je Reviens by Worth was an elegant floral aldehyde created in 1932 by Maurice Blanchet. The notes are Top notes are aldehydes, orange blossom, jasmine, ylang-ylang, bergamot and lemon; middle notes are narcissus, lilac, orris root, hiacynth, cloves, ylang-ylang and rose; base notes are sandalwood, tonka bean, amber, musk, violet, oakmoss, vetiver and incense. Je Reviens means I return and for rae and Paul they always returned to eachother.

Paul Saxon would wear Chanel Pour Monsieur. Just about the best men’s fragrance from the 1950’s I have a feeling Paul would stick to this perfume and that Rae adored it on him. The notes are Created by nose Henri Robert  in 1955 the top notes are, verbena: lemon, verbena, neroli and orange. Mid notes of cardamom, coriander, basil and ginger, and base notes of oak moss and cedar.

For the wicked Liz Saxon there is only one perfume. Estée Lauder’s Youth Dew. Created by nose Josephine Catapano in 1953 this Spicy Oriental could comfort a bad hangover. The Top notes are aldehydes,  orange, spices, peach, bergamot, narcissus and lavender; middle notes are cinnamon, cassia, orchid, jasmine, cloves, ylang-ylang, rose, lily-of-the-valley and spicy notes; base notes are tolu balsam, peru balsam, amber, patchouli, musk, vanilla, oakmoss, vetiver and incense.

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BIRTHDAYS AND CHANEL

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My friend Armin sent me this lovely Chanel No.5 for my birthday today. Thank you Armin, and Vickie Lester (for dedicating her blog to me today) Today was the best birthday I have had in years. I spent it with my friends at work whom I truly treasure.  Oh yes, and I wore Chanel Antaeus today.  Antaeus was created by the great Jacques Polge for Chanel in 1981. Notes are lemon, lime, coriander, myrtle, clary sage, and bergamot. The heart is composed of thyme, basil, rose and jasmine, while the base of patchouli, castoreum, labdanum, and oak moss.  Full review to come soon.

BIRTHDAYS WITH THE ONES YOU LOVE ~ FIVE PLATINUM STARS *****

MY FAVORITE BLEU JEANS ~ Bleu de Chanel

This is what I call my Chanel for Bleu Jeans fragrance and I will tell you why.  There have been quite a few reviews around Fragrance town decrying Bleu de Chanel as being  disappointing. Not up to the standards of pervious Chanel scents. So this is my  experience with the fragrance.

While shopping a month or so back for a  new Chanel I picked up Egoiste Platinum and while I was looking at the various Chanels for men to expand my  horizons and add to my one and only Pour Monsieur the salesperson asked if she  could spay some Bleu on a card for me. I said sure, why not? I could take in  maybe one more sniff before my nose closed up shop. Well, that one little sniff  blew my Bleu socks off! I almost bought it on the spot but had already set my  shopping limit for the month. So I filed my Bleu card away for a future  purchase.

Last Saturday it was so incredibly beautiful here in San  Francisco and on a gorgeous day lots of San Franciscan naturally hightail it for  our magnificent shopping district around Union Square. I was moved by sun and  blue skies to visit our Chanel Boutique. I dressed for the occasion since I am  old fashioned and think one should never leave the house on a shopping  expedition looking less than smashing. Black Jeans, black cashmere turtle neck,  black spit shined loafers, chunky steel bracelet, a not so chunky yet stylish  gunmetal watch and a pair of Ray Ban Wayfarers. One quick check in the mirror  and I set off for my adventure.

(CHANEL MEN’S WEAR)

I was in and out of Chanel so fast that  the door on Maiden Lane didn’t have a chance to close. Then I popped over to  have a light lunch at the Sir Francis Drake and following that headed home to  un-box my little treasure. I really got a kick out of the bottle, a kind of film  noir blue black moderne take on the No.5 bottle design with a really nifty cap  that is magnetized so that it clicks back on in the same position with the  locked double C’s always facing front perfectly. A nice touch don’t you think? I  sprayed my wrist and sniffed…. Hum? Then I sprayed my collar bone. “That’s odd,  it’s kind of….hum?” I thought. And a final spritz behind my ears.

(BRAD KROENIG AND HIS SON HUDSON)

It was  not at all what it had seemed in the store the month before. What had happened? Where was that oh my god sensation? It was nice, it was interesting, and it was  perfectly fine. But something was missing. As the day wore on I discovered it  has some wonderful aspects about it. I love how the incense, ginger and peeper  all work together and it lasted on me a reasonable 5 to 6 hours. Yet still I was  vaguely disappointed. During the week at work it drew rave reviews. And that  puzzled me. THEY loved it; they wanted to know What it was that made it so  unique and exciting. Why did they find it so wonderful and I found it to be just …fine? To me it wasn’t the magic Chanel we all dream of, what we hope to find in  each new Chanel offering. It was just dare I say it, a work-a-day  Chanel.

(ANNA WINTUR SMILES!)

Then it hit me. It smelled just the same as it had in the store;  the only thing that had changed was me. I had been obsessing over that smell for  over a month, and in that time I had turned that sense memory of Bleu into  something it could not live up to. No perfume could. I had let the aura and  history of “Chanel” out Chanel the Chanel! It was fine and I liked it just fine,  and that is fine. Not every Chanel or any other perfume house can hit it out of  the park each time. But what Chanel did with Bleu de Chanel was make a good  everyday perfume. Something nice to throw on when you feel like being casual and  elegant around your frayed edges, like a pair of comfortable blue jeans. They  fit well and you know exactly what to expect from them, and they are classics in  their own way. So that is why I call my Bleu de Chanel my Chanel for blue jeans.

(MOVIE STAR GILBERT ROLAND 1929 AND MY BOTTLE OF BLEU)

Four Gold Stars. ****

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