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March 03, 2011

Fragrances That Influenced Perfume History : 100 Great Perfumes Series 2 / 10

Jasmine

Series 1 :: Series 2 :: Series 3 :: Series 4 :: Series 5 :: Series 6 :: Series 7 :: Series 8 :: Series 9 :: Series 10

I am continuing my 100 Fragrances That Influenced Perfume History Series with a look at the next 10 great trendsetting perfumes. In this series I would also like to focus on the creators. In some cases, I want to highlight perfumers who were fascinating and flamboyant; in others, I wish to pay homage to those who not only influenced perfume trends with their work, but also broke set stereotypes, mentored a new generation of stellar perfumers or introduced new ways to think about fragrance creation. In many ways, their fragrances were also a fascinating reflection of their personalities and their predilections.

The list is in a chronological order. M indicates a fragrance intended for the masculine market.

11. Joy (Jean Patou, perfumer Henri Alméras, 1930)

Sometimes more than the perfumes themselves, it is the perfumers who are fascinating. This is definitely the case with Henri Alméras, the creator of Joy, who by all accounts was quite a character: very creative, brilliant and dashingly handsome to top it all off! Another great perfumer, Guy Robert, tells that one day he went into Alméras’ lab and found him in some distress. He showed Robert a new perfume he had made which was quite interesting. “I made a perfume to impress a beautiful blonde, and now she is gone, but I do not know how to recreate it. I did not take any notes!” exclaimed Alméras.

While Joy is not likely to be that fragrance, it certainly speaks of Alméras’ joie de vivre and his panache. Its strong accents of the best rose and jasmine oils, its exhilarating character and a bold signature make Joy live up to its name to the fullest extent. While Joy may not be an ingenious composition from a technical standpoint (Edmond Roudnitska was famously quite dismissive of it), it was an important historical launch and it firmly established the link between fragrance and fashion which had been forged by Paul Poiret and Coco Chanel. Created just as the financial markets were crashing in the wake of the Great Depression, it was Jean Patou’s gift to his American clients who could not afford his expensive gowns and sportswear. Today, this line of thought is continued by every luxury brand that launches a fragrance line. Echoes of Joy can be found in Caron Fleurs de Rocaille (1934), Evyan White Shoulders (1945) and Nina Ricci Capricci (1961). More modern fragrances that explored the lush classical floral bouquet genre of Joy include Bulgari Pour Femme, Givenchy L’Interdit (new 2002 version) and many fragrances from Les Parfums de Rosine line, such as Rosa Flamenca and Rose de Feu. The parfum is still excellent, with its beautiful rose and jasmine from Grasse, while the more modern Eau de Toilette with its rich green jasmine notes has a more delicate loveliness.

12. Pour Un Homme (Caron, perfumer Ernest Daltroff, 1930) M

The beautiful aspect of Pour Un Homme de Caron is its strong accord of lavender and vanilla. While they may seem like such disparate notes—one is aromatic and cool, another is creamy and warm, putting them together creates a perfectly balanced accord. Vanilla brings out the natural almond sweetness of lavender, while lavender in turn gives the warm, gourmand note a lift. The striking effect of this contrast is similar to what Guerlain Shalimar accomplishes with its accord of bergamot and vanilla. Yet, Ernest Daltroff ingeniously avoided any allusions to either Guerlain Shalimar or Jicky. Pour Un Homme stands on its own. Of all the Caron fragrances, it is one of the most timeless, not at all out of date with the current trend exploring floral notes in masculine fragrance. Pour Un Homme uses lavender absolute rather than the more common lavender oil because of its richer, sweet floral character. While it does not have a vibrant family of fragrance offspring, the idea that it explored still finds much currency. Even the strong vanilla notes in rich aromatic fougeres like Yves Saint Kouros, Hermès Equipage, Dior Jules and Serge Lutens Encens et Lavande suggest to me the contrasted effect in Pour Un Homme. Niche fragrances like Christian Dior Eau Noire or Nicolaï Pour Homme are among the more direct descendants of Pour Un Homme. It is still available in an excellent form.

13. Old Spice (Shulton, perfumer Albert Hauck, 1938) M

What can be more ubiquitous than Old Spice? Often, it is assumed that Old Spice smells cheap because it is quite inexpensive, but in several blind fragrance tests I have seen, it is often picked out by women and described as luxurious. Old Spice has the distinction of being the first spicy oriental fragrance for men, predating Guerlain Habit Rouge by almost 30 years. The first Old Spice product was actually a feminine fragrance called Early American Old Spice, while Old Spice for men was introduced a year later in 1938. It is built on a strong accord of spicy notes and woods, with the bright citrusy-basil top giving the fragrance lift and sparkle. The effect is similar to what would be explored decades later in Yves Saint Laurent Opium. Old Spice’s masculine offspring includes fragrances like Hermès Equipage, Balenciaga Ho Hang, Yves Saint Laurent Opium Pour Homme, and Chanel Égoïste. Among modern fragrances, a similar juxtaposition of accords has been explored by Thierry Mugler A*Men and Yves Saint Laurent M7. Le Labo Vanille 44 and Cartier L’Heure Mystérieuse are the modern niche heirs to the lush oriental softness of Old Spice. The formula of Old Spice has been updated a number of times; it is still a good fragrance, but consists mostly of the aromatic and citrusy notes with the oriental and spicy accords having been significantly attenuated.

14. Femme (Rochas, perfumer Edmond Roudnitska, 1944)

"Let me tell you, I created Femme in 1943 in Paris during the worst days of the war in a building that had a rubbish dump on one side and paint factory on the other," said Edmond Roudnitska about one of his most decadent and alluring fragrances. Femme is quite ravishing, a voluptuous combination of a sweet plum note set against an intricate accord of amber, oakmoss and patchouli. In order to create a bridge between the different elements of the composition, Roudnitska used methyl ionone, an aroma-material that has facets of violet and dark woods. Although Mitsouko was the first true fruity chypre, Femme took the idea further, and its reflection can be found in Carven Miss Carven, Nina Ricci Deci Delà, and Christian Dior Dolce Vita. Sophia Grojsman says that she was inspired by both Mitsouko and Femme when she created her sparkling peachy chypre, Yves Saint Laurent Champagne/Yvresse. Today I find the idea of Femme in Serge Lutens Chypre Rouge, Tom Ford Japon Noir and Chanel 31 Rue Cambon. Femme was completely reorchestrated in 1989. It is lighter and more gourmand than the classical version, with a cumin note lending it a seductive warmth. It is a beautiful fragrance, but it just cannot be compared to Roudnitska’s original creation.

15. Vent Vert (Balmain, perfumer Germaine Cellier, 1945)

"Only a few people have the supersense of smell necessary to become a Nose—for reasons known only to Noses themselves, no woman has ever had it,” writes Donald William Dresden in his 1947 article for the New York Times, The Twenty "Noses" of France. While Mr. Dresden is wrong on several counts (not the least of which is the fact that a woman’s sense of smell is generally sharper), his article presents the very common, stereotypical attitude of his time. One of the first celebrated female perfumers, Germaine Cellier, certainly faced plenty of resistance within the male-dominated and also quite conservative industry of her time. She worked at Roure Bertrand Dupont (now Givaudan), and she was known for her short fragrance formulas exploring dramatic contrasts. She had plenty of conflicts with Roure’s chief perfumer Jean Carles, but she was so brilliant that Roure set her up with her own lab to keep her and Carles separate. Her fragrance for Balmain Vent Vert is one of the greatest trendsetters in the green floral genre. Cellier used intensely green notes and a startling 8% of galbanum to lend Balmain Vent Vert a fierce verdancy that made it seem like a gust of spring wind. Vent Vert inspired fragrances like Chanel No 19, Estée Lauder Aliage, and Grès Cabotine. Hermès Un Jardin en Méditerranée, Chanel Bel Respiro and Diptyque Eau de Lierre are among the modern green fragrances occupying the same realm as Vent Vert. The current Vent Vert does not have the intense verdancy of the original (you can read about different versions and how to find the vintage one in my review.)

16. Ma Griffe (Carven, perfumer Jean Carles, 1946)

When I hear of fragrances marketed towards the younger market today, I immediately assume that they will be safe and commercially sound ventures. However, with Ma Griffe, the first fragrance marketed toward younger women, the house of Carven decided to launch a memorable, original composition. They were attracted to a submission by Jean Carles that contrasted an intense freshness with a warm oriental-woody backdrop. Carles created a beautiful structure in a classical fragrance pyramid: the verdancy of gardenia in the top notes, the softness of the pastel tinted rose and jasmine in the heart and the voluptuous richness of the base. Ma Griffe used an overdose of styrallyl acetate, an aroma-material naturally found in gardenia that smells like fresh gardenia buds and crisp rhubarb. Jean-Paul Guerlain paid a compliment to Ma Griffe by saying that he wish he were its creator. Smelling Guerlain’s Chant d’Arômes, one can see that he indeed paid homage to Ma Griffe. Moreover, Ma Griffe placed styrallyl acetate in the perfumer’s palette, demonstrating the versatility of this great material which was not used until Carles started to experiment with it. Among modern fragrances, Parfums de Nicolaï Weekend à Deauville, Tom Ford Italian Cypress and Eau d'Italie Sienne L’Hiver have a similar character of contrasted green freshness and balsamic warmth. The current Ma Griffe is differently accented due to limitations on the use of oakmoss, but overall, it is quite a good fragrance. The vintage Ma Griffe in a splash bottle is still possible to find.

Jean Carles deserves special mention because his contributions to perfumery extend beyond his beautiful and innovative fragrances. Ever a researcher and a thinker, Carles devised a method for perfumery training that is still used to train perfumers today. The Carles Method, which relies on learning materials in a contrasted series, allows for excellent odor memorization before a student is ready to try creating fragrance accords. Through his careful empirical work, Carles devised a pyramid style of fragrance construction, where each stage—top, middle and base—had a very different character, yet with the final result having a beautiful harmony. Sometimes Carles is called the Beethoven of perfumery, because just like Beethoven lost his hearing towards the end of his life, so was Carles robbed of his sense of smell by a protracted illness. Nevertheless, he continued to create relying both on his memory and his incredibly profound understanding of the relationship between different materials. Both Ma Griffe and Miss Dior were created when Carles was almost anosmic.

17. Miss Dior (Christian Dior, perfumers Jean Carles and Paul Vacher, 1947)

Although Germaine Cellier and Jean Carles had a contentious relationship, Carles was sufficiently impressed with Cellier’s bold compositions to use Vent Vert’s emphasis on galbanum in Miss Dior. The main structure of Miss Dior is derived from the famous Chypre de Coty, which Carles admired and admitted to wearing. Yet, Miss Dior is even more than that. The spicy accord of coriander and pepper is contrasted with opulent floral notes with the emphasis on tuberose. The drydown, with its richness of patchouli and ambers, provides a beautiful warm backdrop. Experiencing this fragrance is like admiring a perfectly cut diamond where each facet has a striking brilliance. Miss Dior has such an intricate harmony that it is still a benchmark reference for a great chypre. It has inspired many fragrances, but above all, its influence is felt in Revlon Intimate, Givenchy III, Lancôme Magie Noire, and Balmain de Balmain. Contemporary chypres like Tom Ford Arabian Wood, Balenciaga Paris, and The Different Company Bois d’Iris likewise explore a similar fresh green effect contrasted with the warm notes. Writing about Miss Dior saddens me because it is one of the worst victims of modern reformulations. It is now a dry woody chypre, with an incongruously rough aldehydic note.

18. L'Air du Temps (Nina Ricci, perfumer Francis Fabron, 1948)

Ask many older perfumers what fragrance they find beautiful and L’Air du Temps is very likely to be the answer. It has the most exquisite balance of accords, which cascade from the spicy bergamot and rosewood top note through the soft heart of jasmine and rose absolute and on to the elegant backdrop of iris, sandalwood and musk. The accents of spicy carnation, dark wintergreen and vetiver add beautiful embellishments to the main structure. L’Air du Temps has an exhilarating quality: bright, luminous, yet irresistibly seductive. One can study this fragrance for hours, if not days, because it is built in a classical multifaceted style with many surprising twists of the plot. The spicy floral bouquet of Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps has inspired many great fragrances such as Givenchy Le De, Guy Laroche Fidji, Revlon Norell and Revlon Charlie. Green floral benzyl salicylate is an important ingredient in L’Air du Temps which gives its floral structure a polished, luminous quality. However, since the use of this material has been restricted, L’Air du Temps is no longer the same. Add to this the overall plunge in the quality of the composition, and you find a hollow replica of a great perfume legend. Although its olfactory profile is not quite the same, Cacharel Anaïs Anaïs conveys the same spirit as L’Air du Temps once did—a disarming combination of innocence and sensuality.

19. Youth Dew (Estée Lauder, perfumer Josephine Catapano, 1952)

Everyone has heard of Youth Dew, the first great American perfume, but its creator Josephine Catapano by and large remains unknown. Yet, she was the first American female perfumer and she mentored another woman who would change the face of American perfumery, Sophia Grojsman. Catapano was from a family of Italian immigrants; she is invariable described as kind, selfless and humble. Her work with Estée Lauder led to the introduction of Youth Dew, a fragrance that also altered the buying patterns among women. Until then, it was not common for a woman to purchase her own perfume, but Youth Dew which launched as a bath oil, changed this habit. The fragrance itself is a bold, rich oriental composition that relies on the combination of oriental balsamic notes (styrax, peru, tolu balsam and benzoin), patchouli and animalic materials to create a seductive aura. The sheer floral notes of lily of the valley, rose and jasmine give Youth Dew a softer quality, while the accord of chamomile and geranium lends an aromatic facet. While Youth Dew is not particularly nuanced or refined, it has a tremendous presence and a strong character. It inspired a whole genre of dark, baroque orientals fragrances, which includes Jean Desprez Bal à Versailles, Christian Dior Dioressence and Chanel Coco. In reference to the famous dark oriental Yves Saint Laurent Opium, Estée Lauder said that it is “Youth Dew with a tassel.” Today I smell the heavy, spicy richness of Youth Dew in Donna Karan Black Cashmere, Yves Saint Laurent Nu and Fendi Theorema. Youth Dew itself is available in a wonderful form, and while  some elements of the composition have been altered to be IFRA-compliant, it is still an excellent fragrance that preserves the striking character of the original.

20. Silvestre (Victor or G. Visconti di Modrone, 1946) M discontinued

In the realm of aromatic fougère fragrances, there are many different categories: marine, fresh, spicy and ambery. The early masculine fougères mainly occupied the ambery realm, with Houbigant Fougère Royal and Rochas Moustache setting the trend. On the fresh side of spectrum, there were the lavender dominated compositions like Yardley English Lavender, Mennen Skin Bracer and Caron Pour Un Homme. Silvestre, named after the genus of Pinus Silvestris (the common Christmas tree), created a new fashion in fresh woody fougères. The fragrances in this category place a strong accent on the aromatic component, which is accented with a variety of herbal and citrusy notes as well as the rich woody accord. Silvestre, with its polished pine wood impression, is crisp, bright and effervescent. Victor was taken over by another company and Silvestre has been discontinued. However, it deeply influenced masculine trends, and many famous classical woody fragrances for men like Vidal Pino Silvestre, Puig Agua Brava, and Rochas Monsieur Rochas share the same bloodline as Silvestre. Lorenzo Villoresi Uomo and Victor Acqua di Selva bear the most likeness to the original Silvestre.

Coming next: the ethereal world of Edmond Roudnitska. I will also discuss another victim of its own success. Anyone cares to guess what it is? (a hint: a famous alcoholic beverage bears the same name.)

Series 1 :: Series 2 :: Series 3 :: Series 4 :: Series 5 :: Series 6 :: Series 7 :: Series 8 :: Series 9 :: Series 10

Photography: jasmine from Grasse, France © Bois de Jasmin. With each Series I also try to highlight an important perfumery raw material.

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