Vamp as Muse
Interesting that the Golden Age of Perfumery should coincide with the apogee of the Silent Cinema: the two relatively new art forms came simultaneously to full flower in the Roaring Twenties, each to enhance and complement the other. Each one a sharing of magic by the masses.
What we think of modern perfumery had begun to define itself in the 1860's with the emergence of synthetic molecules. During the 1920’s such genius perfumers as Ernest Daltroff, the Guerlains, Francois Coty and Ernest Beaux created a succession of audacious innovative masterpieces. Meanwhile, faces of unearthly beauty and exquisite artifice gazed down in vast closeup from the Silver Screen. The cinema was itself a Muse, resplendent with a galaxy of muses - a sun surrounded by stars.
One of the most celebrated of these goddesses was Gloria Swanson: Chanel designed her screen wardrobe; and, according to Caron at least, she made Narcisse Noir her lifelong signature. Certainly, this exotically weird perfume perfectly complemented Swanson’s bizarre brilliantined looks, eccentric angles and enormous sapphire eyes. Later on, the same scent inspired a novel - and, from that, a movie - “Black Narcissus” - only just lately remade for television in a never-ending cycle of the Muses.
Jasmin et Cigarette is also a child of the cinema: a sketch of glorious women lolling on the set between takes; chain-smoking while they wait to be lit for their close-ups.
The Muse in Rebellion
The 1920’s were the early years of female emancipation: women smoked in public (as celebrated by Tabac Blond); shingled their hair; rouged their knees and dabbed perfume on their ankles.
The two great European femmes fatales - Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich - sported the unprecedently high hemlines of 1927 and then enhanced their mystique by shrouding their sculptured nether limbs in men’s trousers. Marlene and Greta still make their presence felt at Les Senteurs today: Garbo in Rosa Greta by Eau d'Italie (packaged in her favourite colours: pink and baby blue) which celebrates her years as Leopold Stokowski’s muse.
Marlene’s masculine side is evoked in Knize Ten, while her Berlin origins are honoured with splashes of blood-red roses in La Fille de Berlin by Serge Lutens. But then, Dietrich was one of the great perfumistas of all time. Name any scent launched before 1990 and the chances are she tried it. She is said to have been buried wearing her favourite Balenciaga fragrance, and for her, the odour of violets had a special esoteric significance..
Garbo’s exact contemporary at MGM was the flame-haired freckled Joan Crawford, the factory girls’ muse, who popularised the new gardenia scents of the era. Later in life, as her metabolism changed, she preferred men’s colognes of the spicy green type. Joan was an early proponent, it seems, of Les Senteurs’ philosophy of choosing scent not by gender but by what suits the skin and aura of each individual.
A 1920’s professional Muse, the dotty Marchesa Luisa Casati - she of the inky kohl and the leopard on a golden leash - waited until the 21st century to be immortalised by the simmering Myrrh Casati by Mona Di Orio. However, her image had already been morphed onto celluloid in a now-forgotten movie of the 1970’s in which Casati was played by both Liza Minnelli and Ingrid Bergman, Muse of Roberto Rossellini - and of half the world.
So, what of Muses of our own times, the new 2020’s? Do they compare? Most certainly!
Despite all the non-binary odds the Eternal Feminine still works her spell: the Muses continue to hover benevolently over Elizabeth Street. Etat Libre D’Orange depicts Tilda Swinton in the wistful, fey and delicate fragrance Like This; and of course, Pedro de Almodovar’s flamboyant Muse Rossy de Palma materialises in the shining rose gardens of Eau de Protection. Then comes the trio of grand and stately icy blondes: Grace Kelly is forever associated with the champagne & white velvet florality of Fleurissimo by Creed; Candice Bergen was the direct inspiration for iconic tuberose Carnal Flower by Frederic Malle; and Catherine Deneuve for the chicer than chic Lumiere Noire Pour Femme by Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
And now Papillon has described a new style of Muse - Mimi the beautiful Bengal cat: the gorgeous girl who generated the conception of Elizabeth Moore’s divine Bengale Rouge, a stunning sexy confection of Turkish rose, honey and the touch of silky fur. When we inhale Bengale Rouge we remember the cat goddesses venerated by the Ancient Egyptians- Bast, the Lady of Life; and the lioness Sekhmet, the Lady of the Chamber of Flames. Ancient or modern the goddess still presides!