Fragrance Friday: Total Eclipse of the Sun

Fragrance Friday: Total Eclipse of the Sun

I live in a part of the US that was near, but not in, the zone of “totality” for this week’s total solar eclipse. Nevertheless, the moon’s coverage of the sun peaked here at about 98%, which was dramatic. Lots of excitement about it in my city; libraries, museums and schools handed out free “eclipse glasses” so people could look at it safely (btw: yes, you can go blind from looking directly at a solar eclipse, or at least do serious damage to your eyes).

One blog I follow had the wonderful idea of asking perfumistas what special scent they would wear for the occasion. Many responses were that the commenter would wear either a really special occasion perfume, or something that referred to the sun or moon. My choice? L’Heure Attendue, by Jean Patou. I mean, how could I not choose that? This week’s eclipse was the DEFINITION of the “awaited hour”; some estimates claim that American employers lost several hundred million dollars of productivity due to their workplaces coming to a halt during the eclipse. (Not shedding tears for them. This major astronomical event doesn’t happen every day).

So, L’Heure Attendue. It was launched in 1946, the reference being to the long-awaited liberation of Paris and the end of World War II. The perfumer was Henri Almeras, working for the couture house of Jean Patou, who created most of Patou’s legendary fragrances including Joy. The vintage advertising showed the perfume as a rising sun and the beautiful bottle shared that optimistic image of dawn:

Vintage bottle and package of L'Heure Attendue perfume by Jean Patou

L’Heure Attendue vintage; photo from jeanpatouperfumes.blogspot.com

Australian Perfume Junkies has some lovely photos of a vintage bottle found in an antiques market, with commentary. According to some commentators, the house of Patou registered the name as early as 1940, after the Nazi invasion of France and occupation of Paris, already hoping for the end of the war. The original ad copy says: “Created in a mood of hope, to capture your dreams, your desires, to bring them nearer to realization …”

It has been reformulated at least twice: once in 1984, when some of Patou’s classic perfumes were reissued, and again in 2014, as part of Patou’s “Collection Heritage.”

Six bottles of reformulated classic Jean Patou perfumes: Duex Amours, Adieu Sagesse, Que Sais-Je?, Colony, L'Heure Attendue, Vacances

Jean Patou Collection Heritage 2014; photo from perfumemaster.org

That is the version I have, and it is lovely. The reformulation was done by Thomas Fontaine. I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the bottle. It is heavy, high-quality glass, clear enough to be mistaken for crystal; the weight and the rounded shape of the bottle feel elegant in the hand. It is a pleasure to hold. The notes are listed on Fragrantica as: top notes: tangerine, aldehydes and neroli; middle notes are rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang and peach; base notes are opoponax, patchouli, sandalwood and amber.

These notes are quite different from those listed for the 1946 original: top: lily of the valley, geranium, lilac; heart: ylang-ylang, jasmine, rose, opopanax; base: mysore sandalwood, vanilla, patchouli. The opening must be very different from the original, but it is delightfully sunny: a light hand with the aldehydes but enough to give it a classic nuance, combined with the light floral of neroli and freshened by the citrusy tangerine (a fragrance note I appreciate more and more — not too sour, not too sweet).

The middle notes of rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang and peach are almost the same as the original except for the addition of peach and the placement of the opoponax; my nose isn’t sophisticated enough to distinguish whether the latter is appearing among the heart notes or, as listed for the original, in the base notes. Opoponax is also known as “sweet myrrh” and is used to impart sweet, honeyed balsamic notes. In the 2014 L’Heure Attendue, it lends a lightly Oriental nuance to the floral notes that deepens as the fragrances dries down. Overall, though, I don’t think I would place it in the category of spicy Oriental, as I don’t pick up on any spices here, just warmth. Maybe it’s a “floriental.”

The base notes in the 2014 formulation differ from those listed for the original: they are opoponax, sandalwood, patchouli and amber. The original lists opoponax as a middle note, with sandalwood, patchouli and vanilla in the base. The only real difference is the substitution of amber for vanilla. I think Mr. Fontaine may have carried forward the sweetness of the peach in his reformulation to combine with the amber in the base and create an impression of vanilla-like warmth.

I do find this L’Heure Attendue to be a warm scent, unlike at least one other reviewer‘s reaction to the vintage original EDT. She found the lilac note of the original to be melancholy; it is not present in the new version, nor are the geranium and lily of the valley notes from 1946. PerfumeMaster sums up the new one nicely: “The fog in the atmosphere has dissolved, night is no more and the sun has risen gloriously once again.” That’s also a pretty good description of the recent eclipse! It was truly amazing to watch the black circle of the moon slowly creep across the face of the mid-afternoon sun blazing in the sky. As I was not in the path of eclipse “totality”, daylight did not disappear, but the light dimmed noticeably and the temperature cooled ever so slightly when the moon’s coverage of the sun was at its peak. The leaves of the trees acted as pinhole cameras, with the light of the eclipse shining through tiny gaps between them and casting thousands of crescent-shaped shadows on the ground. The moon continued its progress and full daylight was eventually restored.

As L’Heure Attendue slowly fades on my skin hours later, it leaves a lingering, sweet warmth. It is elegant and ladylike, but not chilly. It almost feels like a softer, gentler Chanel No. 5, probably because of the similar floral heart notes, the aldehydes in the top notes, and sandalwood and patchouli among the base notes. They have other notes in common — notably, Chanel No. 5 EDP (created in 1986 by Jacques Polge) has a peach top note, which the original L’Heure Attendue did not have but the new one includes as a heart note. I’m glad to recognize the similarities, as the original Chanel No. 5 eau de toilette and parfum were my mother’s scents and I don’t want to wear that particular Chanel, but I’m enjoying this “kissing cousin” very much. I especially like the contrast between the sunny opening, the progression through rosiness, and the slow, warm drydown. Like the dawn of a new day … the awaited hour.

Photo of sun at dawn behind clouds, over sea.

Dawn through clouds; photo from pexels.com

Did you choose a special scent to wear during this eclipse, or have you done that for any other natural event, like a solstice?

My Mother’s Last Perfume

My Mother’s Last Perfume

Re-posting this in honor of National Fragrance Day, as the Fragrance Foundation has suggested sharing one’s most poignant scent memories. My poor mother is still with us and still in her own home, but her condition has declined even further.

My mother is slowly dying. It is sad but acceptable, given that she is in her mid-80s and suffered a major stroke more than two years ago. She has been able to stay in her own home, cared for by a live-in aide who has become a much-appreciated member of the family “team.” Now my mother also gets hospice care in her home and she is bedridden. She is emaciated, as she only drinks protein shakes and water. Most of her medications have been discontinued, because trying to swallow pills came to cause her so much distress. She would be mortified to know her present condition, as she was always a proud woman who valued autonomy above almost anything else. She had always hoped that her unhealthy heart would fell her instantly, without any fuss, after she was no longer able to enjoy what she called her “adventures.” My mother loved to travel to exotic places, with or without my father (who died several years ago).

In her younger days, my mother also loved glamour, and parties, and dressing up. She had an eye for fashion and was a striking woman herself: tall, with white Irish skin and startling blue eyes under dark eyebrows and hair that was such a dark brown it looked black. An early memory of mine is of sitting on my parents’ bed, watching her do her hair and make up at a vanity, or what we called her “dressing table.” It was a ritual; and part of that ritual was the finishing flourish of Chanel No. 5.

Chanel No. 5 perfume ad

My parents’ marriage was not always a happy one, though it lasted more than 50 years and only ended with my father’s death when he was almost 90. My mother was never cut out to be a suburban housewife, yet the part of her that craved security sought out that life and chose to stay in it. She was, indeed, very like the creation of Rudyard Kipling to which she frequently compared herself: The Cat that Walked by Himself, or as she said, “the Cat that walked alone.” She sought out creature comfort and made for herself (and us) a pleasing home, but there was always part of her that withheld itself. As a child, I often tried to make my mother feel happier, though I now realize that much of her unhappiness was due to exaggerated expectations on her part of how her life should have unfolded.

The Cat that Walked by Himself, from the Just-So Stories, text and illustration by Rudyard Kipling

One way I tried to make her happy was to save my small allowance to offer her gifts: special gifts, the kind I thought my father should give her more often. More than once, that gift was some form of Chanel No. 5. I remember offering Chanel talcum powder; and once, the smallest size of spray cologne, as that was all I could afford. She was, in fact, delighted by these offerings and made a point of using them when I was around to see that she loved and appreciated them. My mother was in many ways a self-centered woman but she loved us as much as she was able to, given her own loveless childhood.

So now, as she lies slowly dying — a process that could sadly take many more weeks or even months — I occasionally “borrow” a spritz from her last spray bottle of Chanel No. 5 eau de toilette. I think I may have given it to her some time in the last decade; I just don’t remember. But I do remember the fragrance, and her bottle pre-dates the 2013 reformulation. It hasn’t been carefully preserved — it sat out on a shelf in her sunny bathroom for years. So the top notes are a little “off”, but it quickly settles onto one’s skin with powdery, warm, heady florals. Smelling it, I can recall the vibrant, restless, beautiful woman my mother once was. It really is a lovely scent, though I would never choose to wear it regularly as my own perfume, given its long association with my mother.

Sadly, she no longer enjoys it. On one of my visits during this latest phase of her long decline, I thought she might like to smell it again, as she was always hyper-alert to smells, so I applied a bit to my own wrist and held it close so she could smell it. She wrinkled her nose and said to the room, “What is that awful smell?”. So I haven’t offered it again; instead, I bring her pots of live hyacinths, which she has long loved and still enjoys. My father, an avid amateur gardener, used to please her by potting up dozens of hyacinth bulbs for forcing indoors every winter, when their perfume would fill entire rooms.

Pots of blue hyacinth bulbs in bloom

My mother slips in and out of awareness these days, and I’m not always sure she knows I am there, but when I brought her the latest hyacinths and held the pot of blossoms close to her, she inhaled their fragrance, smiled and said, “Lovely!”. It still matters to me to try to make my mother happy, even at this indeterminate, shadowy end.

Bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume with pink hyacinths

Postscript: My mother died peacefully on May 30. We are thankful for her release; we believe she no longer walks alone.

My Mother’s Last Perfume

My Mother’s Last Perfume

My mother is slowly dying. It is sad but acceptable, given that she is in her mid-80s and suffered a major stroke more than two years ago. She has been able to stay in her own home, cared for by a live-in aide who has become a much-appreciated member of the family “team.” Now my mother also gets hospice care in her home and she is bedridden. She is emaciated, as she only drinks protein shakes and water. Most of her medications have been discontinued, because trying to swallow pills came to cause her so much distress. She would be mortified to know her present condition, as she was always a proud woman who valued autonomy above almost anything else. She had always hoped that her unhealthy heart would fell her instantly, without any fuss, after she was no longer able to enjoy what she called her “adventures.” My mother loved to travel to exotic places, with or without my father (who died several years ago).

In her younger days, my mother also loved glamour, and parties, and dressing up. She had an eye for fashion and was a striking woman herself: tall, with white Irish skin and startling blue eyes under dark eyebrows and hair that was such a dark brown it looked black. An early memory of mine is of sitting on my parents’ bed, watching her do her hair and make up at a vanity, or what we called her “dressing table.” It was a ritual; and part of that ritual was the finishing flourish of Chanel No. 5.

Chanel No. 5 perfume ad

My parents’ marriage was not always a happy one, though it lasted more than 50 years and only ended with my father’s death when he was almost 90. My mother was never cut out to be a suburban housewife, yet the part of her that craved security sought out that life and chose to stay in it. She was, indeed, very like the creation of Rudyard Kipling to which she frequently compared herself: The Cat that Walked by Himself, or as she said, “the Cat that walked alone.” She sought out creature comfort and made for herself (and us) a pleasing home, but there was always part of her that withheld itself. As a child, I often tried to make my mother feel happier, though I now realize that much of her unhappiness was due to exaggerated expectations on her part of how her life should have unfolded.

The Cat that Walked by Himself, from the Just-So Stories, text and illustration by Rudyard Kipling

The Cat that Walked by Himself, by Rudyard Kipling

One way I tried to make her happy was to save my small allowance to offer her gifts: special gifts, the kind I thought my father should give her more often. More than once, that gift was some form of Chanel No. 5. I remember offering Chanel talcum powder; and once, the smallest size of spray cologne, as that was all I could afford. She was, in fact, delighted by these offerings and made a point of using them when I was around to see that she loved and appreciated them. My mother was in many ways a self-centered woman but she loved us as much as she was able to, given her own loveless childhood.

So now, as she lies slowly dying — a process that could sadly take many more weeks or even months — I occasionally “borrow” a spritz from her last spray bottle of Chanel No. 5 eau de toilette. I think I may have given it to her some time in the last decade; I just don’t remember. But I do remember the fragrance, and her bottle pre-dates the 2013 reformulation. It hasn’t been carefully preserved — it sat out on a shelf in her sunny bathroom for years. So the top notes are a little “off”, but it quickly settles onto one’s skin with powdery, warm, heady florals. Smelling it, I can recall the vibrant, restless, beautiful woman my mother once was. It really is a lovely scent, though I would never choose to wear it regularly as my own perfume, given its long association with my mother.

Sadly, she no longer enjoys it. On one of my visits during this latest phase of her long decline, I thought she might like to smell it again, as she was always hyper-alert to smells, so I applied a bit to my own wrist and held it close so she could smell it. She wrinkled her nose and said to the room, “What is that awful smell?”. So I haven’t offered it again; instead, I bring her pots of live hyacinths, which she has long loved and still enjoys. My father, an avid amateur gardener, used to please her by potting up dozens of hyacinth bulbs for forcing indoors every winter, when their perfume would fill entire rooms.

My mother slips in and out of awareness these days, and I’m not always sure she knows I am there, but when I brought her the latest hyacinths and held the pot of blossoms close to her, she inhaled their fragrance, smiled and said, “Lovely!”. It still matters to me to try to make my mother happy, even at this indeterminate, shadowy end.