Scent Sample Sunday: Galanos

Occasionally I find a fragrance gem online, for sale by a resale shop that has discovered the internet. This spring, my find was the first fragrance from designer James Galanos, an eau de toilette named, simply, Galanos. James Galanos was highly selective in all his choices, from the very wealthy women who were his preferred and devoted clientele (most famously, Nancy Reagan), to his refusal to license his name for almost anything: the two exceptions were furs, and fragrance.

There are only two Galanos fragrances: the first, eponymous one, and a flanker called Galanos De Serene. Both can be found in eau de toilette and parfum though both have been discontinued. I found an unboxed bottle of the first eau de toilette, for sale online, and I knew I would probably like it as I already had a small bottle of the parfum. The fragrance was created in 1979 and won a FiFi award in 1980, the one for “Women’s Fragrance of the Year — Prestige”. I have been unable to find out who the perfumer was; please comment below if you know! Angela at “Now Smell This” wrote a terrific review of Galanos, aptly comparing its appeal to that of classic vintage clothing.

There was only one catch to my purchase: when it arrived, the top of the sprayer turned out to be a replacement that didn’t work. I contacted the seller (from whom I had successfully bought a vintage fragrance once before), who immediately offered to send a replacement top or a partial refund. Since I was pretty sure I would be able to use a Travalo to get the fragrance out, the price had been very reasonable, and it really wasn’t worth the seller’s time to send a new top that might not work either, I took the partial refund and bought my first Travalo. Happily, it worked!

Basenotes analyzes Galanos as follows: top notes: lemon, orange, mandarin, chamomile, coriander, clove, and bay leaf; heart notes: lily of the valley, orange blossom, jasmine, gardenia, ylang ylang, rose, geranium, carnation; base notes: cypress, musk, amber, vanilla, tonka bean, vetiver, cedarwood, oakmoss, sandalwood, and patchouli. It smells to me like a cross between a floral chypre and a green chypre, with the herbal top notes in smooth balance with the floral heart notes, and its woody, mossy, aromatic base. It reminds me a bit of Estee Lauder’s Azuree, but with a more floral, 1980s vibe. The notes that “speak” to me most strongly are the carnation and geranium notes, followed closely by ylang ylang and gardenia, but the herbal notes are evident from start to finish.

James Galanos was famous for the craft of his designer clothing, often compared favorably to Parisian “haute couture” although his creations were ready-to-wear (but still VERY expensive). Galanos’ designs reached their height of fame in the decade of excess, the 1980s, and he used only the most expensive materials and finest workmanship, but you rarely see huge puffy sleeves or gigantic flounces on his dresses.

Gowns by designer James Galanos at Phoenix Art Museum retrospective exhibit

James Galanos gowns; image from Phoenix Art Museum.

You see elegant, feminine lines, often enhanced by exquisite embroidery. Nancy Reagan once commented about his dresses that “you can wear one inside out, they are so beautifully made.” His fragrance is consistent with that elegant, luxurious simplicity: understated, classic, of its era but also timeless. It feels like an elegant accessory, meant to complement the wearer and the outfit instead of outshining or competing with them.

Designer James Galanos in clothing atelier

James Galanos; photo by Getty Images

Although James Galanos retired in 1998 and died in 2016, you will still see his creations on the red carpet, since many stylish women wear vintage Galanos gowns to occasions like the Academy Awards and the Met Costume Institute Gala, where they are as elegant and timeless as ever. I wonder if any of the wearers know that they could also wear the perfect fragrance accessory with those beautiful gowns?

Do you have any fragrances that you think of as couture accessories? Favorites?

Just had to add this photo, taken in the early 2000s in San Francisco, when Mr. Galanos was delighted to discover a perfume boutique that still carried his fragrance:

Fashion designer James Galanos in Jacqueline perfume boutique, San Francisco

James Galanos with his fragrance; image from San Francisco Chronicle

Featured image: James Galanos vintage gown (1950s), www.etsy.com.

20 thoughts on “Scent Sample Sunday: Galanos

    • I think the fragrance has mostly been forgotten, which is a shame! I’ve read that the version to get if you really want OAKMOSS is the one with the round cap, not the cylinder (which is the one I got), but I’m very pleased with mine.

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  1. This fragrance is new to me as well. I’ve heard of designer James Galano (that pink gown in the photo above is stunning!) but didn’t know there was a fragrance. I read that the round cap was the original formula from 1979 which was discontinued, then reintroduced in 1996. Does the fragrance remind you of any other? Just trying to get a reference point!

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          • Which are your favorites? Wondering if there are any that I actually wore in the 70s and early 80s. There were a lot of Estee Lauder bottles in my house.

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            • Best of all: Chanel No. 19! Current likes: EL White Linen, Halston, EL Azuree, Clinique Aromatics Elixir, Jacomo Silences, Chamade. Scents from that era I wore in the 1980s: Pheromone, Pavlova. I mostly wore Diorissimo in the 1980s, though. A common thread in many of the ones I have liked is oakmoss; another is greenness.

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              • You have special and classic fragrances in you list. I don’t fall for the green fragrances as much but I do wear Silences and Cristalle in the spring.
                I wish I could step back in time to the 1920s to sample perfume; many of my faves originated then. Otherwise, 80’s-90’s had many that I’m loving discovering or re-visiting.

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                  • Yes! Some of my favorites from the 80s-90s include Ombre Rose, Nike de Saint Phalle, Chanel Coco, Givenchy Ysatis, Cartier Panthere (not the new Le Panthere), Caron Parfum Sacre, Jean Patou Sublime, Hypnotic Poison, Guerlain Champs Elysees, I’m not sure if or what any of them have in common, but I love them all.
                    Chanel No 22 has been a long time love of mine too! Other favorite 1920s fragrances include the iconic No 5, Chanel Bois Des Isles, Emeraude (no versions past the 70s though), Habanita (the current version still smells good!), Lanvin Arpege and My Sin, Corday Toujours Moi, Shalimar, and Bourjois Evening in Paris. I think this era speaks to me the most!

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                    • What a wonderful list! I agree, current Habanita smells great, although I don’t have any vintage with which to compare it. The versions of Shalimar I like best are the Shalimar Cologne and Shalimar Eau de Cologne, they’re beautiful.

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                    • Shalimar Eau de cologne is a treasure indeed. I have a small bottle and adore it.
                      I have some vintage Habanita and despite the top notes being off, the dry down is gorgeous and not that much different from the current version surprisingly. I wish I could sniff the 1920s version. If I could time travel, I’d go to 1920s and sniff perfume!

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              • Wow!!! I wore so many of those back in the days of their release! Having been a professional ballet dancer Pavlova was always close to my heart. I am fairly certain that I still have an empty bottle of it hidden in a box in the basement with a pair of my pointe shoes. Cristalle was also a favorite of mine in the late 70s early 80s. Yes, there were many oakmoss fragrances available with real oakmoss. If you are ever adventurous order some oakmoss absolute from Eden Botanicals…your eyes will roll to the back of your head when you try it 🙂

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        • Give it a try next time you are near an Estee Lauder counter. You have to ask for it because they keep the classics behind the counter and the SAs try to talk you out of sampling. And don’t oversprayed because it packs a punch!

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          • Ok, I will stop by Estée Lauder counter this Friday after my appointment. There is a Neiman Marcus near my dental surgeon office. Hopefully they will have sample of Azuree. Thanks for the tip!

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            • Brigitte, I stopped by Nordstrom and they didn’t have Azuree, suggested I visit Macy’s I did and it was exactly as you said! The classics were behind the counter in a box, and the SA tried to warn me about how green Azurée was. Of course it was the new formulation but wow! I was surprised I liked it as much as I did since that style of fragrance isn’t my favorite. I enjoyed the drydown very much.
              I also sampled Estée and White Linen.
              And then I ordered a small bottle of White Linen from fragrancenet!

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