Sunday, 1 June 2014

Caron - Pure Genius....

Narcisse Noir

Small collections of empty bottles from a single source can continue to retain an aura, as if still warm from the hand that once held them, lifted lovingly from their place on the dressing table. Evoking a distinct presence, yet at the same time as elusive and insubstantial as particles of dust falling through a shaft of sunlight.

One such collection consisted simply of a family of one and two 1oz bottles of Narcisse Noir and Fleurs de Rocaille.

It would have to be a very ruthless Mrs Clean who could bring herself to throw away something as perfect as a miniature Narcisse Noir, with its Louis Suë designed black glass bouton; ground so delicately to fit exactly the clear round bowl.

But such a woman would never have had the perception to choose Caron in the first place, or have the strength of character and style necessary to wear Narcisse Noir.

And Fleurs de Rocaille? Is there a more exquisite day-time, spring time, summer time, all time classic than Fleurs de Rocaille? And doesn’t it prove this this was indeed a woman of rare style and infinite taste, who obviously would not have dreamed of wearing Narcisse Noir until after 6pm, and was content to let Fleurs de Rocaille float her through the day?
Fleurs de Rocaille

To such a discerning lady, whose song, alas, is long over, but whose “little things remain”, one longs to say: “ah yes, but did you ever try Tabac Blond? Did you consider Pois de Senteur de Chez Moi? And don’t you think that either would marry well with Narcisse Noir?”

The Perfumes

Tabac Blond – (Ernest Daltroff) 1919
Orange blossom/jasmine/tobacco
Tabac Blond

It’s a strange scent, there is no denying it, but I would go as far as to say it is probably the greatest scent ever created. The modern version is still lovely, but the original took time, and time is something most people these days simply won’t spare.

The first application of it it smelled not unlike slightly perished rubber, hardly a selling point. But – if you waited...

I dabbed a little on a friend [it was actually my father on one of his visits] to see what he thought.

“Ugh,” he said. “I don’t like that!”

A few hours later, he telephoned.

“I’ve just been woken up by the most heavenly smell,” he said, “and I wondered who was in bed with me!”

“I told you it took time...” I said.

But four hours? Actually no. It only takes about 20 minutes, but if one is the type who simply cannot wait for anything, better give Tabac Blond a miss, and stick to something that gives a good kick in the guts from the moment you open the bottle, something like Poison...

Narcisse Noir – (Ernest Daltroff) 1911
In 1911, there was turmoil in China; revolution, and the fall of the Manchu empire, as well as war in Libya, meanwhile, the first escalators were introduced at Earl’s Court Station in London.

Gustav Mahler died, Richard Strauss produced “Der Rosenkavalier”, and Igor Stravinsky produced “Petrouchka” for Les Ballets Russes. At the same time, Debussy wrote “Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien” and Marc Chagall painted “To Russia: Me and My Village”.

Into all this Caron stepped to present a pervasive, persistent, magnificently sinister woody jasmine scent in a Baccarat flacon with a black glass stopper. A timeless beauty, but: “I don’t know why” I confessed to my late friend Srba, perfume consultant extraordinary of the Guerlain counter at Selfridges, “but it makes me feel uneasy...”

“I know what you mean”, he replied, “it’s as if someone is standing behind you, watching...”

Such is the mystique surrounding this most timeless classic, it has actually been claimed that Narcisse Noir possesses hallucinogenic properties. Before dismissing such a proposition as preposterous, perhaps we should remember what cat-nip (or cat mint as this humble, inconspicuous plant is sometimes called) does to cats.

Cats don’t taste catnip, or drink it, or smoke it; they’re not sent into euphoric ecstasy at the sight or sound of it – it’s the smell of it that makes these most sensual of beasts abandon themselves to total intoxication and roll about, milky-eyed in sybaritic excess, ending in exhausted collapse.

Just as well, perhaps, that humans can exercise a little more control, or there could be alarming scenes in the perfume hall at Harrods...

Sally Blake
Date unknown
Oh, and Bellodgia - favoured by Vivien Leigh...

Note by Emma Blake
One day, when I was standing at the Number 18 bus stop on the Marylebone Road wearing Tabac Blond, I became aware that the thin, elderly Jamaican gentleman standing behind me was moving closer. It was like a game of Granny's Steps. Eventually, I turned around to catch him leaning towards me, sniffing.
"My God," he exclaimed at last, "what is it that smell so sweet?"
I offered my wrist for him to have a proper sniff.
"It's called Tabac Blond," I told him, "created in 1919. Just after the Great War."
"My God," he said again, "why don't more ladies want to smell like that?"
Why indeed...?