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Perfume Notes: My Grandmother's Cupboard
by Dorothy

I received Chandler Burr's The Perfect Scent as a Christmas gift; I'm reading it now and shall post something about it when I've finished. I'm nearly done; the highlight for me is definitely his vitriolic take-down of the Hugo Boss line, but then I love watching articulate people bitch about things they dislike. (I was also fascinated to read the lists of 2003's bestsellers in America and France; American women really love florals, so it seems.)

On Christmas Day, I mentioned my developing perfume habit to my grandmother, whom I associate very strongly with the smell of Jean Patou Cocktail and, to a lesser extent, Joy. As it turns out, she said she has never worn perfume, but had a collection of scents she'd received as gifts over the forty-plus years she's lived in her house, which she urged me to take.

And so I have a small collection of minis, mostly from the '60s and '70s, revealing as examples, not of my grandmother's particular taste, but of what people thought suitable to give a woman in her forties at that time. The most exciting thing, to me is a full-sized bottle of vintage Chamade EDC, 2/3 full, still nearly fresh. Chamade is a heartbreaker on my skin; the first fifteen minutes (particularly in the vintage) are phenomenally beautiful, the most lush, creamy hyacinth imaginable, and then it becomes dried-rose potpourri, a high-quality potpourri to be sure, but still too, too sweet. I must put it on fabric and see if it fares any better there.

Larger than actual size, of course. Is this not the most darling thing? Houndstooth! I think I would keep this even if the juice had turned. Chandler Burr writes that vintage Miss Dior smells like armpit. I didn't believe this until I tried it on and...I'll be damned, it kind of does. I think it needs to grow on me; at present the leathery bitterness (a scent related to armpit, evidently) is a bit disconcerting, although it softens and sweetens in the drydown.

My grandmother also had a half-ounce bottle of Helena Rubinstein Courant.

This surprised me: a chypre, on the sweet side, with the warm-skin feeling people call "animalic". I think the top notes have suffered some from being in a cupboard for 30 years, but I still find it lovely, eminently wearable. I suppose it isn't surprising it was discontinued; it was released in 1972 and is recognizable, even to me, as a 1970s chypre, a style that went out of fashion (as did Helena Rubinstein, to a great extent; certainly the brand no longer has the profile it once did).

And now, dear readers, a mystery -- what is this?

There was no box and there's no label anywhere on the bottle. It smells like an oriental (through the seal beneath the cap, as my grandmother never opened it). It looks a little like a Youth Dew bottle, which would certainly make sense, but I'm stumped.

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1/03/2009 [3]

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