Caron’s Royal Bain de Caron (1941)

Royal Bain de Caron © Victor Wong
Royal Bain de Caron © Victor Wong

Why did they name it “Royal Bane”? What’s a “Royal Bane”? Like the character Tyrion Lannister in the book Game of Thrones? Then I realized it’s “Royal Bain”, which is French and it means Royal Bath. I read it from another fragrance group that if you pour it in your bathwater and you will come out smelling like a king.

I discovered Royal Bain in a local, kind of dowdy, perfume shop in a hot summer day. I loosened the splash bottle faux-gold cap and took a sniff – it smelled delicious (not like fruit juice, but more like rosewater) and I wanted to drink it. I was very thirsty and I admit there was a small struggle in my head, and the champagne-shaped bottle overflown with golden juice was looking at me like a terrified anthropomorphic M&M candy.

Royal Bain de Caron smells very mellow and light floral (I think it’s mostly lilac), and quite sweet (lots of resins and vanilla) but at the same time a little metallic. I think it also has some aldehyde in the formula that makes it invigorating. Unlike Caron’s more famous and much richer and darker “Fleurs de Rocaille” and “Narcisse Noir”, I imagine Royal Bain from 1941 was probably a daytime scent for the middle-class French white collar workers (a small splash on the face and off to work) or an occasional little luxury bath time/bedtime scent. To me, it’s rather unsophisticated, but not simple and single-noted, and it definitely has that vintage French perfume smell, and it is surprisingly unisex. The label with the “royal” design is very interesting, but the monotone printing on a simple white label inevitably makes me think it’s an effort to make it look expensive in the 50s, but in fact, it’s for designed for the general public like Old Spice.

Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps (1948)

Nina Ricci's L'Air du Temps Vintage Flacon © Victor Wong
Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps Vintage Flacon © Victor Wong

For people who study or collect vintage perfumes, it’s almost impossible to miss the famous two-dove flacon bottle that houses Nina Ricci’s L’air du Temps (The Air of Spring). Released in 1948 after World War II, it was a huge hit and became Nina Ricci’s most famous perfume. Nina Ricci has never ceased the production of L’Air du Temps (although continuously being reformulated) and this perfume can be found everywhere perfumes are sold.

Now I cut to the chase: L’Air du Temps sucks. Well, I am just referring to the modern version. Actually, when I first smelled it in a department store, I thought it smelled good. I was very tempted to buy a bottle, but I didn’t. Many months later I bought a mini 30ml version in a local drugstore at a discounted price. (Man, that bottle was so flimsy and cheap looking.) I have spent some good time smelling the perfume and come to this conclusion: I can tell this perfume used to smell wonderful but now it isn’t because of the cheap and synthetic ingredients that they used. The feeling is similar to eating cakes made with synthetic vanilla and fake jam (I eat that all the time when coworkers leave the company); you know how they could be better if you have eaten cakes made with real buttah and good ingredients.

So I started hunting for a vintage version of L’Air de Temps on eBay. Actually, it was no challenge at all because they were so popular. I found one that was sealed and never seen the light. As expected, the difference between vintage and reformulation is huge. But what I didn’t expect was that they smelled like two different perfumes, not one with better ingredients. The modern version does fit the title “The Air of Spring”; it’s floral and light and full of aldehyde, but it’s so pale and bleached like a poster that has been tormented by the sun for years, most of the colors are gone, all you see are images of pale yellow and cyan. The vintage version on the other hand is a full-color classic chypre with focus on carnation and spice (particularly cloves), so much so that it almost smells metallic. The perfume should be named “The Air of Fall” or “The Grandmother of Opium”. Sadly, I am not a big fan of both versions. If the modern version uses higher quality ingredients, I will choose to wear it.

I recently talked to a local perfume shop owner and she complained that the evergreen perfumes no longer sell as well as the previous years. Her conclusion, “People who are loyal to those classics are mostly seniors, maybe they are now dead.” It’s sad that perfume companies choose to serve water downed version of their waning products instead of keeping the quality that brought them riches. Or May be they are doing a service to the retirees that don’t have much to spend but still want to wear their favorites? I don’t know.

Robert Piguet’s Bandit (1944, reforumated 1999) & Balmain’s Jolie Madame (1953, reforumated)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Perfumer Germain Cellier had two “daughters” who shared similar personalities. The elder one, whom no one really knew her real name, had a nickname, “Bandit” (by Robert Piguet, 1944), for her fearsome demeanour and untouchable “love it or hate it” beauty. I suspect Germain was secretly very proud of Bandit’s notoriousness. The younger one who was 9 years junior, lived a much more ordinary and subdued life; she had a softer feminine side, but still emitted a “don’t you dare to to take advantage of me” toughness. People called her Madame Jolie (by Balmain, 1953.)

Bandit and Jolie Madame are both leather-based perfumes for women. Although by today’s standard, it’s everyone’s game. Bandit is such an iconic perfume, it needs to be preserved in the world of perfumery. It has been “faithfully” reproduced by Aurelien Guichard of Robert Piguet, for anything less is really a waste of effort. It is a rather “hard to digest” perfume, and I vividly remember the moment I smelled it (one of my bravest blind-buys) – my brain was yelling “I can’t get a refund because I’ve opened the shrink-wrap,” and before my regret was fully formed, I died half-way crawling out of the car. But, I accepted fate, and slowly grew to appreciate and like it like hugging a porcupine. If you like Etat Libre D’Orange’s Rien, I don’t see why you would repel Bandit. It has a much more complex floral notes and your daily dose of three truck loads of leather.

Jolie Madame, on the other hand, is now discontinued and no one gives a damn. It’s a pity for it is a much more wearable perfume than Bandit (if you are chicken shit). It’s a half-and-half split between leather and violet leaves, quite soapy and doesn’t last long on my skin. If you go to Fragrantica to check out its notes breakdown, it is almost identical to Bandit, only the proportion of the ingredients used is different. I can imagine Jolie Madame being Grey Flannel’s wife.

If I ever want a perfume whiplash, I will wear Bandit. (Awesome during winter season!!) If I want a quickie of leather-violet leaf with a vintage smell, I will invite Jolie Madame for tea.

Rochas Femme (1943, reformulated in 1989)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

There’s a perfume blog named “What Men Should Smell Like”, and I have been waiting for the author to talk about Rochas’ “Femme” (1943). I guess that will never happen, for one, the name of the perfume is totally the opposite of Homme.

The name of this perfume pops up here and there on different social media sites, and people seem to be only looking for the vintage version. To my knowledge, there are at least three different versions: the first one comes in a white box with black laces; the second one comes in a black box with black laces, the latest one comes in a simple black box. Rochas is re-introducing Femme again with a different packaging and a special “just-for-you” formula that no one likes, I guess.

The significance of vintage Femme, to my understanding, is that it is a chypre designed by Edmond Roudnitska, the godfather of noses, and it smells, I quote from a Fragrantica user review, “A woman who wears this scent will NEVER be forgotten.” Note the screaming big caps here.

Did you wear it? Have you been forgotten? Femme, to me, is a spice bomb. (Not Viktor & Rolf’s Spicebomb, but you get the idea.) A grenade left untouched in a war field of perfumes for 70 years, not lethal, but still detonates with an assertive strength when the pin is pulled – trails of cloves & cinnamon particularly, but also scents of stone fruits raining down from the sky like you’ve have hit the jackpot of a slots machine. If you are a man, and you wear A Portrait of a Lady, I don’t see why you can’t wear Femme.

Weil’s Antilope (1946)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Many times I have stumbled upon listings of old Weil bottles on eBay when I search for vintage perfumes. I notice that no one talks about them on forums and groups, so I guess they have been completely forgotten. I have also deduced that they are not really unique/well-loved perfumes, otherwise why there is no mentioning of them anywhere? (Please correct me if you are a fan of Weil.)

I first learned about Antilope (1946) in Barbara Herman’s book on vintage perfumes. As some of you already know, I am starting my own line of perfumes and all the perfumes will be named after an animal. I was a bit dismayed to find out Weil had named their perfume Antilope decades ago, but I wasn’t surprised either – I admit that not many ideas are brand new.

There is a perfume shop that I visit almost every week, and I am surprised that I still find perfumes that I don’t realize exist in the shop before. This time it was a bunch of Antilopes sitting on the floor. The sales person told me that they were already there when she started her job here years ago, and they would never go away. She sprayed it on a test strip with a bonus “yuck” expression. I could tell the juice had turned bad – no way it smelled so wrong. However, I believed the ones in the unopened boxes were still good, so I bought one for twenty bucks.

The perfume has not gone bad, although it smells very very light (it’s an Eau de Cologne). I really wanted to know how Weil interpreted an antelope through a perfume. Well, all I can say is that it smells decent and typical of the perfumes of its time – aldehyde, florals such as jasmine and rose, a little bit of woodiness via cedar woods and some light musks and leather. Ask anyone, I don’t think she can see an agile antelope running in the plains of Africa after smelling it. Remember, it’s a perfume for women in the 40s. This makes me feel a bit relieved, for the niche perfumes of nowadays are much more creative, challenging and fun.

Rochas’ Moustache (1948)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

The Rochas Moustache store display was such a great bargain and rare find on eBay that I had to get it, even though I had no clue what the cologne smelled like. Through eBay again I have acquired a vintage bottle of Moustache, and now my diorama is complete.

Judging from the packaging, I guess my bottle was from the late 70s. Not the first version (1948), and not the latest “more modern-looking” version either. (All discontinued now.) I actually quite wanted to smell Moustache, because I have smelled a few vintage perfumes for women already, but never a vintage cologne for men.

So here’s my report. Moustache is the father of Eau Sauvage by Dior. Eau Sauvage is a well-educated charmer, well known in the circle. He is more sophisticated than his father and exceeds his father in many ways, but the older ladies definitely knows where the genes of that kid come from, and that silver-haired old man still carries his moustache and charisma pretty well. Moustache opens with a mega blast of citrus, then very out-of-this-world oakmoss follows. Is that all, old pop? No, bitter herbal notes and a hint of honey/floral notes start to appear, which reminds me a little bit of that dirty old man Yatagan everyone wants to push him in a senior home, but without the prolonged awkwardness of “You don’t know him, but he’s actually approachable.” Strangely, I feel like I am more an old man wearing Eau Sauvage than Moustache.

Robert Piguet’s Baghari (1945, redesigned 2006)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

I’d say aldehydic perfumes are like Coca Cola – no one really gets too bored with it, but when they release a new flavour, like Diet Lime Coke, some people go very excited over them. Robert Piguet’s Baghari (2006) has that effect on me for, yes, it’s an aldehydic perfume, but a candied-orange-flavoured one.

Surprisingly, Baghari doesn’t smell refreshing, but rather, quite solemn and too matured for its true candied-orange-flavored personality; it’s like a naturally vivacious girl being too disciplined in a Catholic school – where’s the fun? Wearing it doesn’t bring me any smile, but often it challenges and puzzles me – big pendulum swings between happiness (aldehydic florals) and uneasiness (heavy amber/vetiver basenotes).

Balmain’s Vent Vert (1947, reformulated 1991)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Vent Vert (1947) is one of those perfumes with a long history and is still available in the market. What it does not have is integrity and foresights from perfumers who were responsible for its reformations over the years. It has gone through at least three reformulations, and Luca Turin announces in his book that Vent Vert, is dead. If it is dead, Balmain reformulated the corpse one more time and has given it a new packaging and a new price tag, 75 Euros for 75ml instead of $50 for 100ml.

The bottle I have, I believe, is the 1999’s reformulation (the dead one), and it smells ok. Actually very good, but as I have read enough negative reviews, I do not dare to say it’s great. (Kind of like saying the latest Adam Sandler’s movie is great very loudly in a movie critics convention.) But I like it as is – a little bit green and bitterness, rosy and a little bit powdery, and I do not feel like spending more money trying to find the vintage vintage versions on eBay. But I can imagine the glory Vent Vert had had when it came out – “With its famous overdose of the ingredient galbanum, which imparts a bitter-green freshness to scents, Vent Vert is herbs, bent stems and roses.”, writes Barbara Herman in her book, Scent & Subversion. Let’s be complacent that I have the better version of Vent Vert at a greater price than the newest one.

P.S. Actually I have never smelled the newest one. I wonder if it is better?

[A reader has informed me that my bottle, in fact, is not the latest reformulation (which is dreadful), but a still good reformulation.]

Balenciaga’s Le Dix (1947)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Sorry about yesterday’s perfume shop photo posts. The comments spread like wild fire. Another group invited me to post even more photos, and again, an avalanche of comments. Thank you, but I won’t post such stuff again because it made me broke! I went to the shop today and looked for a lot of the perfumes that people told me were super precious and bought some. Now I don’t want to see my next credit card statement in the mail. There are some regrets, but also some surprises. My strategy is to get the ones that only have one bottle left.

So let me share my first delight – Balenciaga Le Dix EDP… probably very vintage? The perfume bottle almost looks older than me. But it was love at first spray! It instantly reminds me of Mr. Bubbles. That cheery pink bubble bath mascot. Aldehyde, peach, jasmine, all float to the top. Then Mr. Bubbles slowly finishes his bottle of champagne and reveals his dirty side – civet, musks, vetiver, but it’s still fun! Thanks to the folks who pointed it out in the photo!

[Originally posted on Facebook Fragrance Friends group. The moderator didn’t like me posting a lot of photos of a perfume shop that carried a lot of discontinued perfumes.]