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?

Fragrance Friday: Jackie

This week, I flew to Washington, D.C. for work, and on the plane I watched the movie “Jackie”, starring the beautiful Natalie Portman as the late First Lady. The movie imagines her reactions during the week of JFK’s assassination, including her thoughts about his legacy and her role in shaping it, and her famous interview with Life magazine, when she compared JFK’s White House to Camelot.

Jacqueline Kennedy in pink suit and pillbox hat, riding with JFK in limo in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

November 22, 1963. Photo by Reuters.

It is a powerful, moving film. Ms. Portman’s performance is wonderful, alternating between heartbreak, anger, shrewd calculation, and maternal protectiveness. In flashbacks, we see her work to support her husband’s administration, bringing youth, glamour and style to a White House that hadn’t see much of those under Coolidge, Hoover, FDR, Truman and Eisenhower. We also see her fitting herself into Washington and taking her place as a leader there in society and the arts. That would have been no small task, as I was reminded on my recent visit; I am always struck by the aura of raw power that Washington projects, with its massive, monumental government buildings, the huge Capitol, the wide boulevards, the show of muscular strength, the many statues of powerful men, the many powerful living men who run the nation there. It is so ironic that Washington’s iconic flower associated with the city is the delicate, feminine, evanescent cherry blossom. I see a similar contrast between Jackie, the feminine lover of the arts and all beauty, and the city where she had to find her place.

Jackie Kennedy, JFK, Johnson, Nixon, Eisenhower at JFK's inauguration in 1961

Kennedy Inauguration, 1961.

One especially powerful scene shows Jackie showering, at last, upon her return to the White House as a new widow, right after the assassination. It shows her naked back, with her husband’s blood running down her back in the hot water as it washes out of her hair. We know that Mrs. Kennedy was splattered with blood, as close as she was to JFK when he was shot, and that she wore the same pink suit on the plane back to DC from Dallas. It is reasonable to surmise that the first shower she took washed away blood. Horrible to know this happened to any human being, but it is a very moving, vulnerable moment in the film.

The same scene shows, briefly, an array of fragrances on a shelf. Most appear to be Guerlain, in the fleeting glimpse I got. I think I spotted Shalimar, an unidentifed bee bottle, a bottle of either Mitsouko or L’Heure Bleue, and possibly one of Jicky. There was a clear view of Bal a Versailles, from Jean Desprez. Great product placement by Guerlain…

This got me wondering: what perfumes did Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis actually wear in real life? According to one source, she did wear Bal a Versailles and Jicky. She is also said to have worn Joy, and 1000, by Jean Patou, Fleurissimo, by Creed, Lovely Patchouli, by Krigler, and Jil Sander No. 4.

All of those fragrances have very different personalities.  How interesting that a First Lady, whose outer image is consistent with, say, Joy and Fleurissimo, also wore sexy powerhouses like Jicky and Bal a Versailles. All floral fragrances, but oh so different in so many ways! Fleurissimo, said to have been created for Grace Kelly on the occasion of her wedding to the Prince of Monaco: delicate, virginal, a fragrance for a bride veiled in white.

Jackie Kennedy's portrait in wedding dress

Jacqueline Kennedy

Joy, a sophisticated, elegant “evening perfume”, made in France and said to be “the most expensive perfume in the world” when it was launched.

Jackie Kennedy wears Givenchy evening gown to Versailles on state visit to France

Jacqueline Kennedy wearing Givenchy to Versailles

Her choice of Jicky and Bal a Versailles, however, suggest a more complex, assertive Jackie. Female, as opposed to feminine. Bold and confident when necessary, or desirable.

Jackie Kennedy in yellow at Hyannisport

Jacqueline Kennedy

What a complicated, lovely woman she was. I’m glad to have been reminded of her this past week, and also glad to have been able to see the fleeting clouds of cherry blossoms. Let’s not forget that many of those fragile cherry trees have outlived the men who planted them and walked under their boughs. Maybe they are not as fragile as they look.

Blossoming cherry trees and the Jefferson Memorial at the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC

Cherry blossoms and the Jefferson Memorial