MADEMOISELLE VALENTINE ~ Grand Cuir by Parfums Rétro



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.

 paris winter 1963

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.

 paris winter 1963 2

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.

 paris winter 1963 5

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.

 paris winter 1963 4

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.

IZnDO(Photograph by SCOTT SCHUMAN ~ The Sartorialist)

“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.”


(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!


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

You can purchase Grand Cuir at LuckyScent

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) 


Zorro should have shown up on our front porch on Christmas Eve, or at the very least Ramona and Alejandro. A Mexican Christmas was very unique to our Irish American family. The night before Christmas we had enchiladas and chili rellenos for dinner. Then we would go out in the back yard and knock the heck out of a piñata. Mom would wind down the evening by reading “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to me and my cousins and we would sip on spicy Mexican hot chocolate, munch on Pan de Polvo (Mexican cookies)  and beg to stay up just a little bit longer. My mother who was born in Carthage Missouri was so taken with the Latin culture and history of Los Angeles that she decided our Christmas Eve would always have an early California theme to honor the Spanish founders of the state and the traditions of that lost romantic time.

(Mexican Christmas Piñata)

Around nine p.m. my very glamorous Aunt Betty (whom I was sure was a movie star in the daytime when she wasn’t being a nurse at night.) would put my cousins and I to bed with a hug and a special word for each of us. And for the next two hours Uncle Bud would be sent in every fifteen minutes to tell us to shut up and go to sleep.

Come Christmas morning at the pre crack of dawn the Mexican Christmas flew out the window as we three boys slid down the banister right into a traditional Christmas. A big hubbub around the Christmas tree as presents were ripped open to reveal ether that thing you wanted more than life itself, or a pair of socks. After the madness subsided and our fathers were set to assembling this or putting the batteries into that, Mom and Aunt Betty and Granny would get breakfast ready.

(Uncle Bud and Aunt Betty, Exposition Park Los Angeles 1948)

All of this was part of our family tradition. Yet there was one tradition each year that stood out to me later in life as something unique and very special. There was Uncle Bud who was married to Aunt Betty, and then there was Uncle Buddy who was Mom and Aunt Betty’s brother. He was not married, a little intimidating and very mysterious to me. He always showed up just after breakfast and while we kids were playing with new toys he would sit Mom, Aunt Betty and Granny down in the living room. Amidst the knee deep mess of Christmas paper and tattered ribbons he would do the most amazing thing every year which went unnoticed by me until the Christmas of 1961.

I looked up from my Spartacus Gladiator game to see my mother’s face. She was glowing and looking more beautiful than I have ever noticed before. Everything seems to shift to soft focus. Uncle Buddy was handing her a small white box with a black ribbon around it. Then he handed one to Aunt Betty, she was glowing too! And then the last box to Granny who was near angelic in her shimmering smile and just a hint of a tear in her eye. Very deliberately, simultaneously and slowly they each opened the presents. The lights from the Christmas tree glittered and refracted off the small glass bottles that were gently pulled from the white boxes. They were filled with a golden liquid and at the sight of them the women, my Mother, my Aunt and my Grandmother would exclaim. “Oh Buddy you shouldn’t have.”

But he did do it, and he did it every year.  He gave the three women he loved more than anyone else for his entire life the one thing they adored; a small precious bottle of Chanel No.5. Eau de Toilette.

    They dabbed a little behind each ear and the room was infused with the most wonderful smell. They hugged Uncle Buddy and thanked him for giving them the one thing they really wanted. And so they were set for the coming year. Each bottle was placed on a vanity and held the prized spot there. They were nurtured and used sparingly and made to last exactly 364 days.

I leaned that day in 1961 the power, allure and magic of perfume and how it could change everything. And that is why when ever I smell Chanel No.5 it smells just like Christmas to me.

Oh yes I forgot to tell you, after dinner on Christmas day we would have a good old fashioned table raising séance. We were a family of many unusual Christmas traditions.

(Chanel No5 ad circa 1961)

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