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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Beautiful Ghosts: Smelling Blotters from the Osmotheque

Friends are the best. Friends-in-perfume are the best of all. You read Judith's article about her fabulous smelling expedition to Paris yesterday; in it, she mentions the visit to the Osmothèque, which was the excursion I envied the most. To be able to touch or rather inhale perfume history, to smell "disappeared" fragrances has been a dream of mine for a long time. Imagine my amazement and joy when a couple of days ago I received from a marvelous perfume friend two dozen blotters from the Osmothèque, carefully signed with the names of the perfumes the (surprisingly strong!) traces of which they were bearing.

Fath Iris Gris was there and Rosine Le Fruit Défendue and Coty Ambre Antique...I spread the blotters on a table, the aromas fusing into a powerful, poignant blend ...the house was unusually quiet and ... trust me, I am most decidedly not a believer in the supernatural... but I had a strange sensation of the long-gone perfumers standing behind me. To put it in saner terms, I felt myself in the presence of greatness.

I own samples of a couple of the scents, but could never bring myself to review them. How can I possibly do justice to Chypre de Coty? Millot Crêpe de Chine? I am hesitant to smell deeply, let alone analyze Lanvin Scandal in fear of breaking my leather-loving heart. (I live in fear of Lanvin deciding to reissue Scandal. Rumeur, a lovely fragrance when taken on its own merit, had nothing whatsoever to do with the deep and bold original scent. The thought of a politically-corrected Scandal is too unbearable. Lancôme is about to release the new Cuir, and I am apprehensive, to put it mildly.)

The blotter with Chypre de Coty (1917) in one hand, the sample vial in the other, I inhaled. Dark, honeyed, slightly bitter rose accord was slowly transforming into subtly-indolic jasmine, the base (and the aroma of the blotter) had subtle earthiness and elegant animalic-ness. I liked the other legendary chypre, Crêpe de Chine (1925), perhaps even more, as it was spicier, more aromatic, and had an earthier, darker base. (By the way, in Classification des Parfums et Terminologie, Société Française des Parfumeurs attributes the creation of Crêpe de Chine to none other than Jean Desprez, he who gave us Bal a Versailles). The luxurious and dirty leather of Scandal (1933) was nothing short of divine...or perhaps it is more fitting to say that it was diabolically gorgeous. The top notes of the scent from my sample smelled sweet and musky and a little obscene in an indescribable and very alluring way. The orrisy heart was languid and slightly powdery. Testifying of the strength and long-lasting nature of the fragrance, the blotter smelled amazingly strong, as if freshly sprayed- of tarry, dry, almost a little incensey, pitch-black leather in the base of the composition.

While the samples gave the illusion of reality to the three perfumes described above, the others were truly the ghosts. And what heartbreakingly beautiful ghosts they were...Fath Iris Gris (1947), the scent I longed to smell the most, was ...ah! unbelievably beautiful. Imagine a more "substantial", less "ethereal", warmer and somewhat woodier Iris Silver Mist with an almost fruity note added...and that would give you a very vague idea of the heavenly aroma of the blotter...

Coty Ambre Antique (1905) left on the blotter a tantalizing trace of slightly fruity, milky amberiness. The honeyed, dark-red roses of La Rose Jacqueminot (1904) made me understand like never before why, after Coty intentionally broke the bottle of this fragrance in Grands Magasins du Louvre, the world has gone crazy about his perfumes.

Rosine Le Fruit Défendu (1914) was true to its name, exactly as I would imagine a mythical forbidden fruit to smell like: an indolent, creamy, sinfully sweet aroma of nectarous, over-ripe fruits (apples? plums? maybe even bananas?) enriched further by a buttery floral accord (ylang-ylang? tuberose?) with an almost coconutty undertone. The fragrance evoked an aroma of fruits and flowers so ripe, they are starting to decay, reminding us of Thanatos, which is forever inseparable from Eros. Le Fruit Défendu was perhaps the most unusual and intriguing of the Ghosts and, along with Iris Gris, the one that I would have most loved to own and wear. A girl can dream!

Image sources: the top image is mine, the rest are from


Blogger Erin said...

What a fabulous, whimsical bottle that Rosine is! Do I detect the inspiration for the Lempicka apple? An informative, evocative post...

11:38 PM EDT  
Blogger tmp00 said...

oh my- where do we sign up for the Society to Protect and Re-introduce Stunning Scents (SoPReSS)?

12:51 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

aren't these classics beautiful? Ah...I have to go and sniff my chypre.

2:03 AM EDT  
Blogger carmencanada said...

So now Marina, you know you have to come to Paris to smell your scent-sister's private Osmothèque... Except for Iris Gris and Le Fruit Défendu, I own all of the ones you've stated. As for my collection of vintage dresses, I very, very seldom reach for them: partly a psychological block because they're so rare. Partly because they have a style that doesn't mesh with everyday life (too complex and saturated). Or maybe, as you say, because the flacons contain ghosts. They could dissolve if I call on them too often.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if the Osmothèque released special editions? Of course, the copyright problem, not to mention the ingredients, would be very tricky if not unsolvable. But to smell these fresh and to be able to dab with (respectful) abandon, ah...

4:22 AM EDT  
Blogger Octavian Coifan said...

Le Fruit Defendu is indeed a gorgeous fragrance. Since last october, beeing at Isipca, I had the chance to smell almost every day treasures from the Osmotheque.
Le Fruit Defendu description you made tells exactly it's key ingredients: a lot of vanilin and ethyl vanilin, Aldehyde C14 (peach) and C18 (coconut), isoamyl acetate (banana), a sweet apple accord and one key note - isobutyl phenylacetate (a honey note).

Chypre (the original) has a lot of jasmin inside, not only the absolute but also "jasmin lavage" (kind of "solution" of jasmin). The oakmoss inside is not the absolute used today (or in later chypre) but the tincture !

6:21 AM EDT  
Blogger chayaruchama said...

What a priceless gift !
Lucky Marinochka ...
I can just visualise you, so ecstatic in your sniffing...

[I would like to have been a happy ghost at your table; then, we could 'visit' Denyse for a sampling !]

6:23 AM EDT  
Blogger elle said...

I'm typing through my tears. SOB!!! I want to be haunted by these fragrance ghosts - have them waft around me, wake me up at night, follow me through the day. Iris Gris and Le Fruit Defendue in particular are breaking my heart. I'm willing to suspend disbelief and try to call them forth in a fragrance seance.

6:33 AM EDT  
Blogger lilybp said...

Yay! It is so wonderful to read your brilliant descriptions of these! Like D., I have vintage bottles of many of them (except for FD and IG), but, again like her, I hestitate to wear them (well, OK, I wear Scandal more than I probably should--but this is relatively easy to get). And I was so glad to finally be able to smell the heartbreakingly lovely Fath and the striking Rosine. Thanks so much to Octavian for the ingredients in Rose Defendu--sounds as if you were pretty much spot on! Isn't it amazing? I don't think I have ever smelled anything like it!

6:35 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

*weeps, gnashes teeth, falls on floor, pulls out clumps of hair, gnashes teeth some more*

I need to visit Paris - and Denyse!

6:36 AM EDT  
Blogger lilybp said...

Le Fruit Defendu, not Rose (though Rosine), dammit!! More coffee!!

6:36 AM EDT  
Blogger rosarita said...

M, thanks for your very evocative post! Crepe de Chine was my grandmother's scent. She was a standout in the tiny rural (and very conservative)community in which she lived - always a black cashmere coat w/fox collar in winter; never leaving the house without her beads, rings and Tangee lipstick, trailing a waft of Crepe de Chine. Your descriptions are, as always, marvelous.

6:54 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you, thank you for figuring out what it was that was nagging me about the bottle :-) Definitely, Lempicka, right there!

8:42 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

SoPReSS - love the name. I hereby elect you as the President of the Society. I will be the Treasurer. Membership fee is to be decided...:-)

8:44 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

You should! You are not 8that* far from there :-)

8:44 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

OK then, I am buying the ticket as we speak. The bottles were tempting enough, but when you mentioned dresses. I warn you though, I will "beg, borrow, and steal" :-))

8:45 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Dear Octavian,
Thank you for your comment! How wonderful that you have smelled most of them!
Peach! Definitely peach! Is there something like tuberose or ylang there too?

8:47 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

I think we must visit D. Vintage dresses!!

8:47 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

They broke my heart for sure. Especially Le Fruits Defendue. This is definitely the case of "it will never happen". There is just no way on earth I'd find myself in a possession of a bottle of this. :-(

8:49 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

I can't think of anything quite like it, not the notes-wise. Sort of "spirit" wise, maybe Rosine were trying to go in the similar direction with their Coupe d'Or? Nah, not quite. Patou Forever? Nah...

8:51 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

There, there! I have one word of consolation for you that, unfortunately doesn't apply to my sad case...Eurostar!! Hop on and all the treasures of Osmotheque are at your feet.

8:54 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

I always, always think of it as Rosine Rose Defendue. :-) We are so used to the fact that Rosine equals roses now. Smelling this perfume makes one realize that their focus now is way too narrow.

8:56 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Your grandmother was so very elegant! I love the image of her in the cashmere coat, wafting the refined sillage of Crepe!

8:58 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

M, I am so jealous. I am lucky enough to have a sample of only one of these, Chypre de Coty, and I know that if you do not feel you can review it, then I certainly dare not! I want to smell that Fath and the Rosine most of all...

I second Tom...let's organize!

11:03 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

I am star-struck by some great classics to an extent that I am afraid to write about them :-)
Yes, let's organize! :-)

11:40 AM EDT  
Blogger NowSmellThis said...

Gosh, why doesn't Rosine bring back some of the scents in their archive??? And now I want a bottle of Iris Gris more than anything else...thanks for the great reports!

1:32 PM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

I don't know what Rosine people are thinking. And they even got rid of a few non-rose scents they created, which, I thought were lovely. Oh well.
There is no doubt in my mind that you would have loved Iris Gris. *sigh*

2:35 PM EDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

Fath Iris Gris sounds like Dior Homme !

4:51 PM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Does it? It didn't strike me as very similar to it though (what I could smell on a blotter).

5:05 PM EDT  
Blogger carmencanada said...

Marina, you know you and Mr C are welcome here anytime! And, yes, the vintage dress collection is not to be sniffed at... though falling on hard times I had to sell some of the ones I never wore (that warrants a few sniffs).
And Leo, really, you have no excuse not to wade through the Channel and come to Paris, nostrils aquiver...

6:42 PM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

That definitely deserves many sniffs :-( I can imagine how hard it is to part with beautiful things like that.

LOL Nostrils acquiver!! :-))

6:54 PM EDT  
Blogger chayaruchama said...

Oh, Denyse...
Couldn't I just steal a peek ?
A sniff ?
Even as a ghost, to pay homage?
Sniff, sniff.
[Buries head in her pws]

6:49 AM EDT  
Blogger carmencanada said...

Chaya, of course you're more than welcome too!

11:57 AM EDT  
Blogger Octavian Coifan said...

the tuberose note came from C18 aldehyde - coconut because a tuberose (the simplest) is mainly orange flower (aurantiol) + coconut (C18) + some methyl salycilate.
Ylang - I am not sure about that but it's a common floral note.

12:57 PM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you very much for the info!

1:05 PM EDT  
Blogger Shelley said...

I'll be linking to this page to illustrate my post about Kerry Greenwood's character, Phryne Fisher (hope you don't mind). Are you familiar with these detective stories set in the 1920's? You might enjoy them as they seem to include bits about what bath fragrances or perfumes she wears.

Perfume is far to often overlooked (by me included) as a source of real pleasure.

11:32 AM EDT  

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