Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A brief guide to vintage perfumes: up to 1940


 This is the first of three posts on scents that were formulated decades ago and that are still available. This is by no means an exhaustive list of vintage scents still in production, however is should give you plenty to explore if you’re looking for a scent to accompany your look.

All fragrances have been tweaked over the years, but I have tried to mention when anything on this list has been completely or controversially reworked. In almost all cases, my advice would be to buy vintage if you find it, after sniffing to check it hasn’t ‘turned’.

Don’t neglect classic flower scents like rose, violet and lavender, especially if your style is early 20th century. A bottle of one of these from Bronnley or Yardley can be really inexpensive and is a classic ‘nice girl’ scent.

Muelhens 4711 (1792)
The original eau de cologne, and great if you’re on a budget. This was popular for decades, so if you’ve got an eclectic wardrobe and only want one scent, this will go with everything and offend no-one.

Guerlain Jicky (1889)

Goldsmith Phul-Nana (1891)
Really gorgeous floral, slightly sherberty on the nose to start with.

Guerlain Apres L’Ondee (1906)

Caron Narcisse Noir (1911)
Gorgeous, cold and often said to be disturbing, using orange blossom to convey the scent of narcissus. I own the EdT, and did think the descriptions were a little unfair, but then I realised it’s always the one I reach for when I’m going to a funeral. Gloria Swanson sprayed it all over the set of Sunset Boulevard because she felt it would unsettle people.
EDIT 2/3/16: This fragrance has been discontinued in some strengths, but I've seen the parfum still for sale.

Guerlain L’Heure Bleu (1912)
Wistful melancholy in a bottle, anise and violet at dusk. Worn by Diaghilev’s dancers. Retro-goths and pale, fading artists’ models, give it a go. You will notice from my photos that this and Mitsouko have the same bottle; it is said that one smells of the time before the Great War and the other of the Jazz Age afterwards.
EDIT: This has been heavily reformulated - in Guerlain's Champs-Elysees boutique they have sniffer jars for you to experience the original version, and the difference between the original and current versions of L'Heure Bleu is shocking.

Acqua di Parma Colonia (1916)
The one in the yellow box. Unisex; Audrey Hepburn and David Niven were among its fans.

Caron N’aimez Que Moi (1917)
Created during World War 1, 'Love No-one But Me' – soldiers would give it to their sweethearts.

Guerlain Mitsouko (1919)
Elegant, aloof, difficult. Frequently heralded as the greatest perfume of all time, and it is the one perfume I really couldn’t bear to be without, although if you’re buying/trying the current version, the parfum is said to be the closest to the vintage in scent. The Eau de Toilette is not especially good.
Some people find it easier to appreciate than to like. Worn by Diaghilev and Jean Harlow, whose husband famously doused himself in it before committing suicide. Catherine Deneuve drops a large bottle of this in Belle du Jour.

Caron Tabac Blonde (1919)
A tobacco-laden garconne, the girl you don’t take home to mother – unless you want to risk her running away with Mama! One for Blue Angels, ladies’ ladies and other femmes fatales…

Chanel No 5 (1921)

If it’s good enough for Marilyn, the ultimate aldehyde is good enough for anyone. Chic, ladylike and luxurious.
Chanel No 22 (1922)

Caron Nuit de Noel (1922)
Still available, but only in parfum.

Guerlain Shalimar (1925)
The current version always starts off a little nastily on my skin, but later becomes a pleasingly dirty, vanilla-laden scent, balanced with bergamot to prevent it being too sweet.

Molinard Habanita (1921)
Tobacco and flowers combine along with a warm scent somehow redolent of skin without being unpleasant. When I was in Les Senteurs once, the assistant said they sell absolutely loads to men buying for their lady friends. Very sexy, and the Lalique bottle is so pretty.

Isabey Gardenia (1925)

Isabey Fleur Nocturne (1925; originally called Bleu de Chine)

Chanel Cuir de Russie (1924)

Jean Patou Adieu Sagesse (1925)
A modern version of this has been released; I've yet to see reports on how it compares to the original.

Jean Patou Amour Amour (1925)
A modern version of this has been released under the name of Deux Amours; I've yet to see reports on how it compares to the original.

Jean Patou Que-Sais Je? (1925)
A modern version of this has been released; I've yet to see reports on how it compares to the original. I really like the original, which struck me as an unusual chypre with a hazelnut note.

Chanel Bois des Iles (1926)

Caron Fleurs de Rocaille (1933; not to be confused with Fleur de Rocaille, which is from 1993)

Coty L’Aimant (1927)
A 1920s scent that you can find in the cheapies section in Boots!

Lanvin Arpege (1927)
A lovely, ladylike aldehyde, my burlesque teacher fell in love with it because she said it smelled so clean.

Caron Bellodgia (1927)
Spicy carnation fragrance.
EDIT 26/1/13: This fragrance has been discontinued.

Jean Patou Chaldee (1927)
Long discontinued, Patou released a perfume called Chaldee as part of its Heritage collection in 2014, though I've yet to see any review comparing it to the original so can't comment on how authentic it's said to be.

Caron En Avion (1929)
Possibly an acquired taste – you may have worked out from my notes that I like challenging scents. There’s a whiff of metal in here as well as powder, as befits a fragrance inspired by air travel in the age of glamorous aviatrices.

Jean Patou Joy (1930)
Billed at its launch as ‘The most expensive perfume in the world’, a bold and possibly tasteless claim during the Depression, but justified by the amount of high-quality rose and jasmine it contains. Tasteful and rich.

Worth Je Reviens (1932)
Got debased over the decades, but was hauled upmarket again in the 2000s as Je Reviens Couture, which (I believe) you can get in Harrods.

Creed Angelique Encens (1933)
Made for Marlene Dietrich.

Guerlain Sous le Vent (1933)
Invented for Josephine Baker. Reworked a bit, but by all accounts still beautiful.

Guerlain Vol de Nuit (1933)
Like Caron En Avion, a tribute to the daring aviatrix.

Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass (1934)

Caron French Can Can (1936)
Made with the American market in mind, this is a constant flouncing of flowers, like the petticoats of can can dancers. And just a little bit naughty underneath. EDIT 2/3/16 I believe this is now discontinued, as it doesn't appear on Caron's website, but bottles can still be found at retailers.

Jean Patou Vacances (1936)
A modern version of this has been released; I've yet to see reports on how it compares to the original.

Schiaparelli Shocking (1937)
I once read perfume guru Roja Dove describe this as smelling like ladies’ underwear. Now, I have no idea how he came by the information to make the comparison, but it is definitely what perfume fans call ‘skanky’. (For what it’s worth, I love dirty perfumes.)
Vivienne Westwood wanted a modern version of Shocking when she released Boudoir, another ladybits-redolent scent.

Jean Patou Colony (1938)
A modern version of this has been released; I've yet to see reports on how it compares to the original. I love the original, it's a deep and oakmossy pineapple chypre.

All photos were taken by my husband, and are images of part of my personal collection.

2 comments :

  1. What FANTASTIC post! A wealth of comprehensive knowledge! Who knew that Coty L’Aimant was so old! No me - thats for sure :)

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  2. LandGirl, this is probably going to be my most comprehensive post as it's my era. The 1960s-80s will probably be weakest.

    I have 20-odd bottles on the go at the moment, from all eras. :D

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