Lanvin’s Famous Perfumes from the 20th Century, Part 5 – Crescendo

Lanvin Vintage Ads and Crescendo Extrait © Victor Wong
Lanvin Vintage Ads and Crescendo Extrait © Victor Wong

Over the many months of continuous searching for vintage Lanvin perfumes on eBay, I had come across many Lanvin’s perfume ads and posters. For more than 20 years since late 1930s, Lanvin had been grouping “My Sin”, “Arpege”, “Rumeur”, “Scandal” and “Pretexte” together in their printed ads, almost like a frequent reminder that those were their best perfume offerings. (They were. Lanvin had had other perfumes released throughout those years, but they were never a big hit.) In 1958, Crescendo debut. (Some sites say 1965, which I think is incorrect because periodicals from 1958 already mentioned of Crescendo.) It seemed to me that Lanvin was trying to make it another hit to join the “classic five”, but it had never succeeded. The big wave crests that Lanvin wanted Crescendo to make turned out to be ripples in a quiet pond, and in 1969, Lanvin discontinued it.

Compared to the “classic five” Lanvin perfumes, Crescendo is a decidedly more floral one (but it’s still an oriental spicy perfume), and it smells more interesting to me because of the ingredients used that had never* appeared in any of the “classic five” perfumes – hyacinth, linden blossom, marigold, honey, heliotrope, just to name a few. (*If my memory serves me right.) My only bottle of Crescendo is almost 50 years old, the aldehyde note is mostly gone, and with typical mid/base notes such as carnation, iris, incense, oakmoss, sandalwood and spices trying to run the show. But something is different in Crescendo if you pay a bit more attention to its floral part – it’s sweeter, more tender and creamier, and a bit more uncommon and interesting. I think it’s the hyacinth and ylang-ylang that set it apart. (I thought they were a bit more exotic for a perfume released in the 1960s, but Houbigant’s Quelques Fleurs in 1913 had all the flowers mentioned above. Bitch please.)

Overall, I think Crescendo is one of the better extraits that Lanvin have ever produced, despite its short-lived glory.

Lubin’s Gin Fizz (1955, reformulated 2009)

Lubin's Gin Fizz © Victor Wong
Lubin’s Gin Fizz © Victor Wong

I don’t enjoy drinking any alcohol beverages, and never have a craving for any, yet I have a vivid memory of me having a good time drinking gin mixed with 7 Up with my elder brother when I was a kid in the early 80s. My elder youngest brother, the “bad son” in the family (yet most beloved by my father) who never liked to study but bring explosive troublesome news to my parents, found out from a party that it was super cool to mix 7 Up with some Gordon’s London Gin and canned DeMonte fruit cocktail together and called it a “punch”. He smuggled a small bottle home and skipped the fruit cocktail part and let me have a glass. The gin portion was little and I didn’t get drunk at all, but I remember it tasted strange, somehow fragrant and bitter, and my brother had a handsome smirk on his face, which ultimately got a girl and her parents to come visit our home a few years later, for a matter my mom told me, “none of your business”.

Fast forward 30-or-so years, I was at a department store testing some Atkinson perfumes, and the British sales lady told me that the perfume 24 Bond Street had juniper berries in it, and the British absolutely loved it because juniper berries are used to make gin, and gin is the favorite spirit of the British. I carried this little piece of information with me and suddenly I understood why Penhaligons’ gin perfume was called Juniper Sling.

Later I became a bit obsessed with Lubin perfumes, I came across a few bottles on eBay called Gin Fizz (1955). According to Wikipedia, “a fizz is a mixed cocktail drink with some acidic juice (such as lemon or lime) and carbonated water. The fizz became widely popular in America between 1900 and the 1940s. Known as a hometown specialty of New Orleans, the gin fizz was so popular that bars would employ teams of bartenders that would take turns shaking the drinks. Demand for fizzes went international at least as early as 1950…” So here’s my wild guess: the “gin fizz” craze spread to France and Lubin created the hip and trendy Gin Fizz in 1955.

I thought it was fun to own a gin-themed perfume and I bought the modern reformulated version of Lubin’s Gin Fizz (2009). A spritz on the skin, I get a very refreshing gin note (juniper berries, lemon and lime), which I think it’s perfect for the summer (not sure if it is best for work), and quickly the gin gets shuffled to the bottom deck and the “perfume part” of the perfume kicks in, and it smells classy, floral, light, teasing with a little bit of warmth (jasmine, lily, iris, benzoin, oakmoss). While I definitely enjoy wearing it, it is most perfect if you are really at the bar scene wearing it; if you are a lady, I recommend walking in the room in an open back black dress and a good many sprays of Gin Fizz.

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.

Robert Piguet’s Fracas (1948, reformulated, 1988)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Now that the ice bucket challenge has subsided and no one embraces the boiling water challenge, I propose a new idea for all perfume lovers – the Fracas challenge for men (women are welcome). You will wear three sprays of this legendary perfume and go to work or any public spaces with tons of people without feeling insecure about your manhood. I am challenging Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia – if he couldn’t do it, he has to stop invading Ukraine and make peace with the world.

I categorize my perfumes into two simple groups – scents that I can wear to work (it contains perfumes for men and women), and scents that I wear at home only. In the latter group I have perfumes that have poor longevity, ones that are too challenging/pungent/skanky for work (e.g. Le Labo’s Oud 27), and sadly, ones that are just too feminine even for me. (That makes me a hypocrite because I like to tell my friends that perfumes are supposed to be unisex.) I honestly think that a lot of men (straight or gay) can wear Fracas beautifully, particularly to formal social gatherings – the key is moderation. (i.e. maximum one spray. More than three and you will grow boobs.) Luca Turin mentioned that perfumes that were designed in the old times actually smelled very masculine in today’s “standard”, and Fracas was designed in 1948 and the reformulation is supposedly faithful to the original.

Fracas is the legendary tuberose perfume that put Robert Piguet on the map. His fashion house did not survive after his death in 1953, but his perfumes did. Each bottle of Fracas contains a cumulus cloud of buttery, potent, kaleidoscopic vintage-smelling floral peachy scent that is one-of-a-kind. Give it a sniff and see why it’s so famous.

Pino Silverstre’s Pino Original (1955)

Pino Silverstre Original, 125ml, EDT
© Victor Wong

I am not going to lie to you, there have been great struggles in my head trying to decide if I can wear Pino Silvestre (1955) without others feeling that I am wearing an air freshener. Imagine I bump into a coworker in a washroom and he smells me, would he think that I have just made some big business or helped the company mop the bathroom floor?

The cologne itself doesn’t smell simple at all – lavender, carnation, caraway seeds, oakmoss, tonka beans, etc, a perfect footprint for a niche perfume. And the dry down? Smells very manly and not simple. Luca Turin briefly mentioned this perfume in his book and called it a very Italian perfume. Le Labo, has a home scent called Pin 12, doesn’t smell as good as Pino Silvestre and it costs $120 a bottle.

At $25, this perfume is fun to own and wear. I can’t imagine someone wearing it consecutively for days because it can be boring (but I have seen an eBay listing of 10 empty bottles of Penhaligon’s English Fern, which means that there are people that boring). I can wear it on Christmas, on a hot summer day, totally nostalgic, appropriate and strange.