A fan of the perfume Femme, Actress Mae West once said, “Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before.”
In this segment of the Vintage Perfume series, I’m featuring two vintage perfumes (neither of which are evil!), but if you love vintage you should try them both.
Since my novel, Scent of Triumph, is set partly in France during the 1940s, I wanted to showcase two exquisite French fragrances that were created during the first half of the nineteenth century. From Marcel Rochas comes Femme, created for his wife, Hélène, in 1944 after the end of World War II. Guerlain created L’Heure Bleue in 1912, a time of relative innocence in Paris before the war years. These perfumes are exemplary artistic bookends of the period. To this day, these perfumes have the power to transport the wearer back in time.
L’Heure Bleue by Guerlain (1912) – L’Heure Bleue means “blue hour” in French, and it was reportedly inspired by the gentle blue-hued twilight of a pre-World War I Paris, a time of relative innocence.
Third-generation perfumer Jacques Guerlain conceived L’Heure Bleue for the sophisticated woman. He freely employed the latest synthetic ingredients to create a totally new scent, combined with passionate florals of rose, jasmine, and iris, and dusky, exotic base notes of vanilla, vetiver, and sandalwood The resulting scent is tender yet penetrating, like a twilit evening in Paris, with undercurrents of bewitching sensuality, and a powdery sillage.
The perfume is captured in a heavy glass flacon adorned by scrollwork on the shoulders. The triangular stopper is shaped like a gentleman’s hat, a chapeau de gendarme, from which a hand-tied silken tassel dangles. L’Heure Bleue was a landmark scent of 1912 and remains an enchanting favorite. A classic French perfume, L’Heure Bleue is an elegant selection for romantics at heart.
Femme by Rochas (1944) – Femme is a full-bodied fragrance from Parfums Rochas, a fragrance as rich in history as in scent. The distinctive composition was created for the House of Rochas just after World War II by the noted perfumer Edmond Roudnitska of Cabris, France. When once asked about his olfactory gift, Roudnitska replied, “The capacity to create is essentially the ability to imagine.” To the perfumer, the fragrance is a composition, as evocative as a Monet masterpiece. Femme was his second professional composition.
Marcel Rochas opened his couture salon in Paris in 1924 and quickly became known for his broad-shouldered suits, bustiers, and elaborate designs. Femme was originally available only by strict invitation. Rochas sent a letter to his clients, allowing them to purchase a limited-edition, numbered bottle. Imagine the demand he created! The next year when he made Femme available to the public, he had an instant hit.
The legendary Femme explodes with sweet Mediterranean fruits, mingled with intoxicating floral aromas, and underscored with lingering balsamics. Due to the rarity of ingredients, Roudnitska was limited to ingredients available during the war. He created a peach and oakmoss accord and enveloped it in prune, the magical note in Femme. The effect is opulent and magnetic, a perfume designed to be the essence of femininity.
The bottle, designed by René Lalique, is a sensuously curved crystal flacon, symbolic of a woman’s graceful silhouette. The voluptuous Mae West, who was a personal friend of Lalique and a valued client of Rochas, inspired the bottle.
Femme–created to embody femininity.
Scent of Triumph is a suspenseful historical saga about a young French perfumer. The protagonist, Danielle Bretancourt, hails from a family of perfumers.
Perfumery is her profession and her passion, so authentic vintage perfumes available at that time were an important part of the world building in this story.
Why not share your favorites here? And if you’d like to read previous segments, find them here:
- A Stellar Trio of Vintage Perfumes: A Brief History of Chanel No. 5, Mitsouko, Joy
- A Brief History of Vol de Nuit and Narcisse Noir
- Vintage Perfume AromaTrack – Classic Fragrance Guide