Caron’s Parfum Fleurs de Rocaille (1934)

Caron Parfum Fleurs de Rocaille © Victor Wong
Caron Parfum Fleurs de Rocaille © Victor Wong

I know there are a lot of fans of Caron vintage perfumes for women, and they always lament the watered-down or disfigured modern reformulations. I have read enough negative comments to avoid, blindly, all reformulations for women from Caron (updated Caron’s perfumes for men don’t seem to have suffered much at all), and also partly due to the relatively reasonable prices of the vintage versions you can still find on eBay.

One particularly Caron fragrance that caught my attention was “Fleurs de Rocaille” (1934). Note the plural, “Fleurs”. People always say, don’t buy “Fleur de Rocaille”, buy “FleurS de Rocaille”, just like the movies “Alien” and “Aliens” are two different things. Well, “Fleurs de Rocaille” had me at the packaging. I absolutely adore the colourful, almost folksy bouquet illustration on the box and perfume stopper. I wish I can find a poster of that illustration and hang it on my wall.

Only one aspect of the scent of Fleurs de Rocaille is surprising to me, which is its “dirtiness”, otherwise, it smells perfectly of the similar vintage perfumes from that era, such as Arpege. According to Fragrantica, Fluers de Rocaille has a lot of flower notes, such as jasmine, rose, lilac, ylang, but I guess it’s the carnation/violet/musks combo that makes it super spicy and funky. May be aging has something to do with it too.

Imagine, you are sitting by the sea, the golden shimmering reflections of the waves illuminating your face. Slightly startled by a beautiful, fragrant bouquet of flowers brought to you quietly from behind, you involuntarily have a big smile on your face; you turn around to find out who the thoughtful one is, and it’s a smelly baboon showing his love to you.

[After wearing a few more times: The dirtiness is a bit exaggerated, but it’s still a rich, dark, ambery and heavy floral perfume.]

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Chanel No. 5 Eau de Toilette (1921)

Photos from IMDB.com
Photos from IMDB.com

I have smelled Chanel No. 5 in department stores numerous times; it’s beautiful and classic, (my coworkers all say it smells granny, their loss) but I never feel like I need to own a bottle because it is so widely available – If it were an animal, it belongs to “Least Concern” category on the endangered species list, there’s simply no urgency for me to get one. However, this might change soon…

During my 15-hour-long flight to Hong Kong I exhausted the very few movies that interested me and subsequently made me browse the international movie category. The one that immediately caught my attention was the French movie “Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky” (2009). It was actually a very well made and thoughtful drama, focusing on the brief and life-changing adulterous affair of Coco Chanel and the struggling Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky, who was already a married man and a father of four when they first met.

Dotted cleverly in the movie are snippets showing Coco Chanel as a talented designer who can see much further than a common pedestrian, a ruthless and iron-fisted businesswoman who demands nothing but perfection from her sales, workers and collaborators, and a flawed, wealthy woman who gets whatever she wants. Of course, there’s a scene showing the birth of the Chanel No. 5 perfume – “I don’t want to smell like a rose, I want to smell like woman,” she tells her perfumer.

There is a chilling scene in the movie (spoiler) showing Coco Chanel gifting the newly created Chanel No. 5 perfume to Igor Stravinsky’s wife, Katarina. Katarina is sick and dying and she knows that her husband and Coco are having an affair. She thanks Coco for the perfume, and immediately asks her if she ever feels guilty for destroying her family. Without much second-thought, she says no. You could say Coco Chanel has broken a family apart, but at the same time she helps create Stravinsky’s shining career. (The movie ends with a short but devastating scene of Coco and Igor in their senior years remembering each other. *tears*)

A common object can become an uncommon souvenir when you have learned the story behind it and a popular perfume can become very special when you know the history behind it.

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.

Lanvin Vintage Black Bottle (1927)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

I have finally successfully removed the stuck stopper from the Lanvin bottle without breaking my heart and the bottle.I had come across many tips and know-how articles on how to do it before, but when it came to doing it on my own for the first time, I was so frightened. It is almost like a cat has jumped on your lap but decides to leave, but one its claws is hooked to the knitting of your brand-new sweater – the cat is struggling, your expensive sweater is being destroyed in front of your eyes, and you don’t want to break its paw trying to get that stupid claw off the sweater. That scary.

I got this bottle from eBay, and the seller wrote it’s a bottle of My Sin (1925) and it’s half-full. (There’s no label on the bottle.) When the stopper suddenly popped out from the bottle, a very little bit of perfume spilled on my hands and I could smell the stunning aroma. It’s beautiful and fresh and new… and old. Very ironic. And judging from the reflection, the bottle is actually 90% full. A very pleasant 1-2-yes-yes surprise. One time I tried to return a full bottle of perfume (in an opaque bottle), and the salesman shook the bottle to gauge how much was left. Honestly, it’s very hard to guess. A full bottle feels like half-full when you shake it.

Now the remaining mystery of this bottle is that I am not very sure whether it’s My Sin or Arpege (1927) for I have never smelled My Sin before, and the Internet told me it smells kind of like vintage Arpege.

[Turned out it’s a bottle of Arpege.]

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Paco Robanne’s Calandre (1969)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

When I first discovered niche perfumes, I shamefully looked down upon all designer perfumes. The one that I most detested was Paco Rabanne’s 1 Million. The gold bar bottle looked so tacky to me but it seemed like the whole world were crazy about it. Then one day I went through Luca Turin’s book again and to my surprise, he had given a 5-star rating to a Paco Rabanne’s perfume, and that perfume was Calandre (1969).

Naturally, I started looking for a bottle of Calandre in Toronto. At Shop A, I found out that they still had 3 bottles available, and because they were quite expensive ($100), I didn’t have the impulse to get one immediately. A few months later I visited Shop B and saw a bottle of Calandre on the shelf. I asked the old shopkeeper lady for the price, and the drama began: “Huh, Calandre eh? Everyone is looking desperately for a bottle and only I have it. $150, take it or leave it.” The pride and contempt that belonged to a spoiled girl appearing on a 60 year old woman was not easy to swallow. I said, “well, I saw some in another shop and I just want compare prices.” Her smirk disappeared and she said, “come back when you’ve changed your mind, but I won’t put aside a bottle for you because everyone wants one!” She squinted her eyes as if she was trying to direct some focused attitude beam at me.

I visited Shop A again (are you bored yet?) and asked for a bottle of Calandre and the shopkeeper said, “Sorry, we are sold out.” I stood in the shop frozen in horror as tumbleweeds blew across the shopping mall behind me. I could hear the old shopkeeper laughing in my head. “Are you f**king serious?” “Oh wait, we still have one, lucky you.”

Feeling a bit wounded, I test-sprayed some at work and my coworker sitting close to me said, “Hmm, I could smell some hair spray.” I looked at her and she could probably feel a silent nuclear bomb had just detonated in my head.

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).

Vigny’s Golliwogg (1919)

[On June 10, 2014, I posted some photos of my newly acquired Golliwogg perfume bottle on a Facebook perfume group. It created a fire storm of comments and subsequently the post was deleted. However, the whole thread was archived and I am putting the abridged version here. I have changed the names of the people who made comments.]

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

[On June 10, 2014, I posted some photos of my newly acquired Golliwogg perfume bottle on a Facebook perfume group. It created a fire storm of comments and subsequently the post was deleted. However, the whole thread was archived and I am putting the abridged version here. I have changed the names of the people who made comments.]

[Victor] I want to share with you my prized collection – Vigny Golliwogg Perfume (empty) and a parfum/cologne set. The children’s book illustrated character “Golliwogg” was created by Florence K. Upton in 1895. Vigny of Paris introduced the perfume in 1918. The bottle stopper features the character’s head, with seal fur hair. I acquired the bottle and set separately; I eagerly wanted to know what Golliwogg smelled like. Now I can tell you it smells quite like Chanel No. 5. For more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golliwogg

[Reader Diana] Unfortunately, this historical character is complicated and many feel it contains a fair dose of cultural insensitivity. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golliwogg
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