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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

My New York State of Mind. Perfume Review: Norell

By Beth Gehring (Please welcome Perfume-Smellin' Things' new contributor, Beth. Look for her articles on Tuesdays.)

Since 2001, I can never greet the morning of September the 11th without a deep nostalgia for the New York of my past, strolling hand in hand with my very glamorous mother in the middle of the 60’s, while we hunted the city for gorgeous jewelry as well as beautiful pieces of silver and china to line the shelves showcases of our store. To an impressionable 10 year old , New York women were impossibly elegant and fashionable creatures and I dreamt of the day that I could become one of them, strolling down Park Avenue with a handsome husband on my arm, my own briefcase and the world at my command.

Moving further ahead in time , the style of New York designer Norman Norell and the classic fragrance that still bears his name were completely essential to the image of myself as a young , sophisticated working woman. Because of Norell, I bought a tuxedo, had it tailored and wore it with gobs of pearls and black patent stiletto heels. His designs were cool and elegant, basic black, winter white and strong clear reds, and the beginnings of what we would today call “New York Style”. Actually when I think back on it, Norman Norell WAS the absolute essence of New York style. He wasn’t high wattage; his clothes were absolute perfection to wear. He spared no expense or detail with anything that bore his name. Norell was my favorite fragrance then, cool, green and patrician with absolutely no shortage of glamour or blue blood sophistication. I couldn’t afford his clothes then but I painstakingly copied the style, doused myself with the perfume and felt fabulous!

Norell is still utterly captivating to me but in its newest incarnation no longer seems as feminine as I remember. It’s strange, because all of the components for a romantic fragrance are there in the initial breath of rose, jasmine, ylang –ylang, carnation and clove, but the forest of vetiver, oak moss and myrrh in the base make it a bit too strong for intimacy. Norell IS sexy and warm, but distinctly tough in the way that women were trying to be when I came of age.

Norell is not a fragrance that wears well with pastels, ruffles and lace, but it is a stylish perfume that weds beautifully with the old fashioned attitudes of tapestry, bridle leather and polished oak. It is the scent of old money, Wall Street, Carnegie Hall, and an early morning walk down Fifth Avenue. It doesn’t want to go to Starbucks for coffee; it wants to dine at the Park Lane (pre Leona Helmsley!). It becomes exquisitely sultry after midnight when worn in the company of a fabulous man, aged bourbon and a contraband Cuban. It is for me the elusive and glamorous scent of the old New York that I love. It is still the scent that I wear when I need to charm and disarm at the same time, the sensual weapon I love to wield playfully in a roomful of difficult men! Norell’s sexy, warm masculinity becomes a heady blend of seduction and contradiction when worn by almost any woman and although perhaps some might find it a bit dated, for me it remains completely relevant , undeniably classic and the definite scent of a very glamorous (and sadly bygone) era.

Norell can still (thank goodness!) be found online at

Pictures courtesy of Parfums de Pub and Lulu’s Vintage.


Blogger tmp00 said...

What a wonderful, evocative review! I haven't smelled Norell in years; but I remember it was the epitome of cool, sexy sophistication.

Faye Dunaway in a tailored white jacket is the perfect image.

I miss that New York as well.

9:59 PM EDT  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

Oh my goodness Tom , I am so thrilled that you enjoyed my review. I loved writing it and reliving those memories and it is such a gift to me to know that someone else remembers New York in that same special way....Thank you!

11:52 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greetings and a warm welcome! Thank you for sharing this picture
; NY of the sixties with your mother and your dreams of things to come. I wished I had seen this New York once in my life!

12:43 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beth, what a wonderful review, and I just LOVE that perfume too! I always thought it was so sophisticated and cool compared to what everyone else was wearing when I first discovered it - it must have been the late Seventies or early Eighties. I was very young and still trying to figure out what worked for me, and I loved its green quality to go along with the florals. And yes, it does smell like "old money", like another old favorite of mine, Nettie Rosenstein's Odalisque, which is virtually impossible to find. Good to know that Norell is still around at least. Just in case I ever need to convince anyone that I actually HAVE old money. ;-)

I have only been to New York twice and I was too young to appreciate it (not to mention that it was during a heat wave) but I would love to go back, and I want to visit THAT New York.

Welcome to PST, I look forward to reading more of your offerings.

1:58 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

I need to re-try Norell, because I want the smell of "old money, Wall Street, Carnegie Hall, and an early morning walk down Fifth Avenue." :-)

Wonderful review and a beautiful tribute to New York!

8:56 AM EDT  
Blogger Ducks said...

Beth, that was great -- I love the trip down memory lane. I had a very stylish grandma and wanted desperately to grow into her style. You will probably all flinch to know her perfume was Tea Rose or Vanderbilt. =) It was not to be. In high school, when I really started scenting myself, I had friends who wore both of those, and as an "individual" I could never copy them. Later, I just didn't love them.

How fortunate you are to still take pleasure in that (rather more durable than mine) childhood inspiration, and how appealing it sounds!

11:46 AM EDT  
Blogger NowSmellThis said...

Welcome Beth!

How much has it changed from the original? Christopher Brosius of CB I Hate Perfume once mentioned that he gets frequent requests to "remake" the original because the reformulated is so different (?)

12:36 PM EDT  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

Hi Andy! Thanks so much for the weonderful welcome, I really feel so at home here! I'm very glad that you enjoyed my memories. It was an incredible time in that glamorous and full of possibility!

12:59 PM EDT  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

Imagine my delight to find another Norell lover! After I read your response, I spent some time looking for Odalisque (wonderfully named like my favorite painting in the Cleveland Museum of Art!)and reading about Nettie Rosenstein, whom I never knew existed. What a fabulous talent and as soon as I can find it I AM getting some of that fragrance! Thank you for turning me on to it....I'm so intrigued!That New York was wonderful....New York is still wonderful to me and I go as often as I can. It sounds like there are alot of NYC lovers here...Maybe a field trip, Marina ?

1:06 PM EDT  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

Thank you Marina,

It really means the world to me that you liked it. I really enjoyed writing it for today. A part of my heart is always there, but definitely on September 11th, a day that rocked my (and everyones) world. Thank you for creating this community...I feel so welcome here!

1:11 PM EDT  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

Hi Ducks,
I won't cringe at the mention of Tea Rose. One of the most ladylike, stylish women that I've ever known wore that fragrance, and although I tried to wear it many times just to be like her, I could never be that much of a lady:) so it never quite worked! These were and still are wonderful memories for me and I still use them often for inspiration in my life. I am so glad that you enjoyed hearing about them and thank you for sharing yours.

1:18 PM EDT  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

Hello Nowsmellthis...(I love that name!) Thanks so much for the welcome..I just love it here!

To me the original was just a wee bit "flouncier" if that is an adequate description:) There was, from what I remember, a rosier, muskier (and just bit of powder) element to the original Norell that does not seem to be there anymore. I would love it if CB actually did that because I am quite sure that it would be the fragrance that I remember and I would enjoy using it alot!

1:28 PM EDT  
Blogger rosarita said...

Hi, Beth - great review of one of my favorite fragrances! I've worn Norell on and off since the 70s. Lovely evocative post, thank you.

3:33 PM EDT  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

Hi Anita,

I am so glad that you enjoying dancing down memory lane with me for a bit. It's amazing how many Norell lovers there are still out there and I am so happy to meet you. Thanks so much for letting me know that you enjoyed my review, it means quite alot to me!

3:54 PM EDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

Welcome, Beth, and a great review! I used to have some Norell around, and now I've misplaced it. I need to find it again. :)

7:48 PM EDT  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

Hi Patty

Thank you so much for the warm and wonderful welcome! Definitely break out that bottle and try it again! I think that you will be really surprised. It's still such a charming fragrance although not at all like the current crop of florally,fruity, fluffy fragrances that are running rampant through every department store! It's very easy to wear!

9:56 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today I wear Norell. This is , perhaps, the most incisive article you've ever written! Thanks for the inspiration.

Patricianly Yours,


9:49 AM EDT  

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