The other weekend I was delighted to go to another of Odette Toilette’s Vintage Scent Sessions at Les Senteurs in Marylebone. I blogged about The Rebel Cake and Perfume Club in February which was a journey through 20th century history in perfumes and cookery, focussing on cakes. What a great concept! I love going to talks and gallery tours, cookery classes and baking so these afternoons are the perfect combination for me and were so for a very enthusiastic thirty or so others.
This scent session focussed on the 20s and our noses sampled perfumes only from France as French perfume houses were very en vogue at the time. Perfume was also taking on a more varied approach as brands started producing scents for every occasion so not just day and night perfumes but sport perfumes, the perfect meeting your mother for lunch perfume, bridge party playing perfumes and any occasion you can think of from the frivolous to the formal. The post WWI 20s was a decade experimenting with new things and beginning to indulge again after years of rationing and upheaval.
The perfumes we sampled included Tabac Blond by Caron, 1919, which we smelled whilst eating the French Almond Macaron. I have a healthy obsession with les macarons, as featured in Macaron Monster in Paris, and I have to say that this macaron was really dang good! The chocolate centre induced slightly rude noises it was so good! Tabac Blond had a musky talc scent mixed with vanilla and tonka bean. There was also a touch of the tobacco flower. An interesting and utterly bizarre fact that Odette imparted was that in the 20s in the US and UK a woman could be arrested for smoking in public! Needless to say this was ridiculous, yet by the end of the decade Amelia Earhart was endorsing cigarettes by starring in Luck Strikes’ print ads. So smoking went from a crime to the habit of a heroine in the space of a few years.
This brings me to another perfume we tried: En Avion, again by Caron and from 1929. Flying was one of the most exciting things at the time and was becoming within reach of people other than pilots. If you had the means you could take a flight from San Francisco to Hawaii in only…20 hours!! The scent of flying was a combination of orange blossom, aniseed and I sensed violet sweeties. It’s all so personal, just like trying wine, although I find with wine that as soon as someone suggests a scent of whatever, from toffee yoghurt to wet pencil sharpenings, everyone agrees!
Another Caron was Nuit de Noel with scents of moss, clove and carnation. The bottle was inspired by the flapper style with a gold band around the top like typical flapper headbands. We then moved on to Le Dandy! What a great name! This had boozy and fruity tones as though le dandy had just rolled out of a summer pudding swigging a rum. We learnt about perfume nips which were samples that were available in bars and restaurants often in vending machines. The perfumes came in a glass vial which you had to snap each end off to let out the one application that it held. I think this could make a great come back.
Another rage of the 20s was exoticism making Josephine Baker and particularly her banana dance one of the most famous dances of the time. She inspired the perfume Black Tulip by E. Coudray which has been reissued as Nohiba. This perfume capitalized on the current trend of exoticism with its name and peppery bold notes. There was even another perfume by E. Coudray released as a suite called Perfume Set to Music which had tones of honey, menthol and eucalyptus.
The cakes we ate were Mint Julep Chocolate Cake, Rose and Pistachio Shortbread, Almond and Chocolate Macaron and Bauhaus Gingerbread. Since the Bauhaus was all about the beauty of an object’s form being dictated by its function the gingerbread biscuits exemplified this at they had no decoration and were simple shapes. These delights by Leonie Sooke were just as scrumptious as last time. You can sign up on her website, The Gossip Bowl, to receive recipes.
To find out more about Odette’s sessions click here.