Scent Sample Sunday: Silences

Scent Sample Sunday: Silences

One of the regular readers here mentioned recently wearing Silences, and Portia from “Australian Perfume Junkies” and I immediately oohed and aahed over it. So today’s scent sample is Jacomo’s classic fragrance, the original Silences.

Magazine ad for fragrance Jacomo Silences

Jacomo Silences, original ad (1978).

Silences was launched in 1978, and it fits right in with the green, woody, chypre vibe of so many classic fragrances from that decade. I’ve realized that my scent tastes seem to have been formed mostly in the 1960s and 1970s, when I was a child; given how deeply scent is linked to our subconscious, it makes sense that the fragrances of one’s childhood have particular impact. (To be clear, I own and love MANY later fragrances, but I find that I am really drawn to chypres, for instance, and to retro florals).

Fragrantica lists its notes as follows: Top notes — orange blossom, galbanum, bergamot, lemon, green notes and cassia; middle notes — iris, jasmine, narcissus, hyacinth, rose and lily-of-the-valley; base notes — vetiver, musk, sandalwood, oakmoss, cedar and ambrette (musk mallow). This list refers to the original and classic Silences, which was reissued in 2004. There is a new version, called Silences Eau de Parfum Sublime, which was issued in 2012. I appreciate, by the way, that the brand didn’t just reformulate and pretend that the new version was the same Silences. It’s easy to tell them apart, both from the name and from the packaging; Silences Sublime comes in a similar iconic round black bottle, but the lettering on it is completely different. It has excellent reviews online, but it doesn’t seem to be widely available in the US, unlike classic Silences, which can be found online for bargain prices. One can order it directly for delivery to Europe and a few other countries from the Jacomo brand website.

And Silences is a true bargain beauty! You have to like dry green chypres to enjoy it, though. It opens with galbanum leading the charge, a soupcon of bergamot floating in its wake. I don’t smell orange blossom at all, and while I’m sure the other listed top notes are there, because the opening is multi-faceted and complex, most of what I clearly smell is the combination of galbanum and bergamot, with galbanum dominating. As it dries down, two of my favorite flowers emerge: narcissus and hyacinth. The dry greenness of the galbanum persists, though I also get a hint of lily of the valley (another favorite flower). There’s a soft green earthiness that I have come to associate with iris root. I don’t smell any jasmine or rose in this middle phase.

Silences has often been compared to Chanel No. 19 in its eau de toilette version and for good reason. Their notes are almost identical, though in slightly different order and emphasis. No. 19 was created by the master Henri Robert in 1970, who also created 1974’s Chanel Cristalle. The perfumer behind Silences was Gerard Goupy, working at Givaudan with Jean-Charles Niel. Interestingly, M. Goupy was also the nose behind Lancome’s Climat, created in 1967, which in its vintage form is another green floral, though its opening is strongly aldehydic, unlike these later chypres. He also created Lancome’s Magie Noire in 1978, which has many of the same notes, also in a different order, but adding notes like spices and incense, honey and civet; it too is considered a chypre but more floral than green or woody. Victoria at “Bois de Jasmin” points out that its particular genius lies in the tension of combining its oriental and chypre accords.

So although one might be tempted to pigeonhole Silences as a bargain shadow of No. 19, it is not. Look at the sequence above: 1967: Goupy’s Climat; 1970: Robert’s No. 19; 1974: Robert’s Cristalle; 1978: Goupy’s Silences. Add in Bernard Chant’s creations for Estee Lauder, 1969’s Azuree and 1971’s Clinique Aromatics Elixir, and you see the fragrance zeitgeist of the time, with several gifted French perfumers exploring facets of dry, woody, green, bitter, mossy, dark, earthy scents — very fitting, for an era that also brought the environmental movement, the first “Earth Day” in 1970, and many landmark environmental protection laws.

Where does Silences fit on the scent spectrum? To my nose, it is more of a bitter green than the others, because of the strong galbanum opening. I love galbanum, so this delights me. It doesn’t have the leather notes that some of the others listed above have, or some of the animalic notes (it does list musk, but that may be based more on the base note of ambrette, or musk mallow plant).  Bitter, yes, but I don’t find Silences aggressive overall, as some commenters do. The opening is sharply green, but its final drydown phase becomes quite gentle and earthy while staying green, probably due to the combination of oakmoss, vetiver and sandalwood, softened by the ambrette. The complexity of its base accord is revealed in that today, I sprayed both my wrists at the same time. One wrist smells more strongly green and mossy, and the other more like a sweetish sandalwood with some lingering hyacinth.

The floral notes in Silences are quite reticent. The only ones I really smell are the narcissus and hyacinth, with a hint of muguet, all of which are quite green in their own right. So if it’s a more floral green you seek, I suggest you try No. 19 or Cristalle. Fruit? Aside from the bergamot opening note, which is subtle, there is no fruit here AT ALL. Sweet? Nope. Look elsewhere for fruity florals, or gourmands.

Have you tried Silences? Do you like green fragrances?

May Muguet Marathon: Coty Muguet des Bois

May Muguet Marathon: Coty Muguet des Bois

One of the most famous lily of the valley fragrances, Coty’s Muguet des Bois was created by perfumer Henri Robert, some time between 1936 and 1941. According to one source, it was created in 1936 as a tribute to the recently deceased Francois Coty, who had a tradition of giving friends and employees the usual May Day bouquets of “muguets”, but his were grown on the grounds of his personal chateau! Muguet des Bois is now available mostly in eau de cologne strength but even that appears to have been discontinued, with stock still available online. The bottle I have echoes the colors of the vintage ad above: light green bottle with a touch of yellow; aqua blue label; light violet cap. Sort of dorky but pretty!

Coty bottle of MdB

Modern bottle of Coty Muguet des Bois; photo from http://www.basenotes.net.

Fragrantica says that the top notes are aldehydes, orange, green leaves and bergamot; middle notes are cyclamen, lilac, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley and rose; base notes are sandalwood and musk. I do smell the aldehydes but not heavily so; definitely the green, green leaves; a light citrusy touch that may be notes of both orange and bergamot and then — LILY OF THE VALLEY! And yes, I meant to put that in all caps, because it just jumps right out at you. I happen to like it very much, especially as it is a very green lily of the valley and it really does smell amazingly like the actual flower. Sad to say, it quickly fades. I find I am left with a faint hint of leafy musk and that’s about it. But oh, that initial blast! It is so, so appealing.

Now Smell This found a wonderful quote about Muguet des Bois by the legendary Edmond Roudnitska, creator of Diorissimo:

I remembered that Coty had a lily that was called Muguet des Bois. No better lily note was ever made. It pushed the green note of the flower. As a lily note, it was magnificent. It was much better than the one I had made myself. I wondered how they had managed to create such a masterpiece in the Thirties, with so little means.

He went on to call it “unwearable” but it’s not clear why. He also said it wasn’t successful, but that is contradicted by the sheer volume of related products sold now on eBay! Gift sets, talcum, parfum, eau de toilette, many gorgeous ads over decades — it sure looks as if it was successful. Many of the most beautiful ads were illustrations by an in-house artist who signed his work “Eric”.

Ad for Coty Muguet des Bois perfume, 1942.

Coty Muguet des Bois, 1942.

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May Muguet Marathon: Premier Muguet

May Muguet Marathon: Premier Muguet

Premier Muguet by Bourjois is a bit of a mystery. The nose behind it is listed in many places as Ernest Beaux, creator of the legendary Chanel No. 5 and Chanel No. 22, among other Chanel fragrances. Bois de Jasmin has a wonderful post about him, which is mostly in his own words, a magazine article he wrote about perfumery, translated from French. M. Beaux created a few perfumes for Bourjois (a cosmetics house whose early, but not first, owners were the Wertheimer family and which was sold just last year to Coty), including an early favorite and perhaps their most famous fragrance, Soir de Paris,  or Evening in Paris. He is supposed to have created Premier Muguet for Bourjois in 1955, during the same decade when others were creating muguet fragrances like the legendary Diorissimo and Caron’s Muguet du Bonheur.

UPDATE: the master and perfume legend Luca Turin, now blogging on WordPress at perfumesIlove, sent me this information which he kindly solicited from perfume historian Will Inrig: that Premier Muguet was in fact created in 1955 by Henri Robert, the nose behind Coty’s Muguet des Bois, who had recently joined the house of Bourjois-Chanel (they were jointly owned at that point). I have a small bottle of what I believe is the eau de cologne of Premier Muguet, full and in its original box and bottle.

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