The blonde in the chalk white Austin Healey
20
Sep 2020

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A blonde in a chalk-white Austin Healy evokes memories of perfumes since the swinging sixties.

It was August 1968.

Just before sunset, on that winter afternoon, I stood in my black navy uniform at the foot of the Du Toitskloof Pass. The road was deserted, dull black after rain, and the first straight trajectory uphill ended in a vanishing point at the foot of red cliffs. From the plain I heard a sound coming – an inline six-cylinder engine at high revs – the sound, wow-wow-wow, a Doppler echo in the amphitheater of the mountains.

A chalk-white Austin Healy 3000, homeless, rushed at me; A pale young woman with flowing blonde hair behind the wheel. I shook my thumb and raised hopefully. Without looking left or right, she rushed past me and disappeared at the foot of the cliffs. When it became quiet, and the whirlwind lay around me, I could smell her perfume through the exhaust fumes. I sometimes wonder in the late night what perfume it could have been. But in my heart I know it was Robert Piguet’s Fracas.

Piguet se fracas.

Fracas stand alone, no, stand out above a group of extravagant and overwhelming perfumes. You know that kind of scented water – upper chord musk, middle chord musk, base chord musk – the kind of smell that migraines can cause when the wearer is sitting in front of you in church on a February morning, and all her soaked wrinkles with a folding fan trying to cool down. But, of course, Fracas is a perfume, not a perfume.

‘n Loud parfume

Designed by Germaine Cellier in 1948, this masterpiece remains the Mount Everest of noisy perfumes. The moment you spray it hits a buttery tuberose, horny and impenetrable. If you read the composition, you will see that the upper chord also contains bergamot and orange blossom. And only then do you realize why the smell hits so hard. On a hot day, when bees are buzzing aggressively, they will smell of orange blossoms – they are bitterly close to tuberose – Fracas open with a double-door attack!

Tuberoos

The heart of Fracas naturally has tuberose, jasmine and Lilly of the Valley, the latter one of the freshest floral fragrances on earth – cloves (Laperoussia) from the Little Karoo smell like this. As children we went to pick cloves in the spring and took them to my grandmother’s house. In her dark anteroom, she then floated them in a shallow crystal bowl. The ice blue flowers permeated the house with streaks of Lilly of the Valley and I suspect my interest in fragrance and memory took hold here.

Lilly of the Valley. Foto: Pixabay

After an hour or two, Fracas come to rest and then the basic chords of sandalwood, musk and couscous grass smolder through. Wear this perfume just for yourself. Wear it when you want to be alone. Wear it after a long boiling bath. Ignore the sailor along the road as you take the mountain road with your chalk-white Austin Healy.

‘n Austen Healey 3000.

The volcano of 1977

In 1977 a new perfume volcano erupted unexpectedly – Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium. Oriental perfumes are as old as the mountains, this is obviously where the art originated.

Yves St. Laurent se Opium.

Before Opium, of course, there was Guerlain’s Shalimar, still the most brilliant vanilla concoction on earth today. Opium was different, because here was a new luxury, the conical red packaging, the chords of only the very best quality, carnation, cinnamon and pepper beforehand, jasmine and rose and ylang-ylang trapped above the base of vanilla, patchouli and rare resin from the deserts of Arabia.

The aftermath of the swinging 60s was still in the air, and Diana Vreeland was fashion goddess:

“There’s a whole school now that says the scent must be faint. This is ridiculous. I’m speaking from the experience of a lifetime.”

Diana Vreeland, fashion icon and columnist who started writing about fashion and style for Harper’s Bazaar and in 1963 became the editor of the influential Vogue. Here she was photographed in New York in 1981. Photo: Evelyn Hofer

And then the whole of South Africa’s Dutch Reformed Churches started smelling Opium. My late mother-in-law from Tulbagh, on her own, made Yves Saint Laurant rich. As one might expect in the fashion industry, Madame Lauder did not keep her waiting and exactly a year later, in 1978, her Cinnabar appeared. From exactly the same stable, red, oriental, deep spices and overwhelming. Both were huge market hits, but, markets saturated. Of the old guard, Opium and Cinnabar will survive many young guys, and who knows, one day, will re-emerge.

An old advertisement for Cinnabar.

The eruption of 1992

Just when everyone started breathing freely again, Thierry Mugler’s Angel struck in 1992. I remember shivering in planes on endless international flights. Angel sold by the liter, and just before landing, the ladies quickly went to the toilet to freshen up a bit. When the plane’s door was opened, the ground staff must have thought that chocolate had leaked onto a load of overripe tropical fruit. But what fruit, what chocolate! Everyone tried to imitate it, but no one could ever imitate Angel’s miraculous tension between male and female, heavenly and disgusting, timeless and “trashy”.

Thierry Mugler se Angel

The closest anyone came to Angel, or the elusive to Angel was Loliata Lempicka (in 1997 with her first perfume, Loliata Lempicka). Sweet and syrupy and emerging Hollywood cookie-fresh, this ghostly perfume hides sweet scents. Spray it and wait patiently, after first laying down the caramel and dog blood, and then comes Lilly of the Valley, jasmine and heliotrope. But be warned – Angel will, in equal measure, make friends and enemies.

An undiscovered favourite

No discussion of big and chubby perfumes would be complete without a few fringe figures. L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Vanilia is one of my favorite sizes. I can not imagine why this one, and all the other perfumes by L’Artisan, are no longer known. A so-called “indie” or independent small perfume house from Paris, they are at the forefront of new chords and new ideas. Vanilla is simply that, not a soliflore (single chord perfume), but a complete composition devoted exclusively to vanilla. If Shalimar is salon vanilla, Vanilia is Madagascar.

L’Artisan Parfumeur se Vanilia

A best seller in 1985

No discussion of big and chubby perfumes would be complete without a few fringe figures. L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Vanilia is one of my favorite sizes. I can not imagine why this one, and all the other perfumes by L’Artisan, are no longer known. A so-called “indie” or independent small perfume house from Paris, they are at the forefront of new chords and new ideas. Vanilla is simply that, not a soliflore (single chord perfume), but a complete composition devoted exclusively to vanilla. If Shalimar is salon vanilla, Vanilia is Madagascar.

Dior se Hypnotic Poison

Lastly, there is also Gucci’s Rush (delightfully exaggerated milky lactones and peaches), Dolce and Gabbana’s new Eau de Toilette (be warned – this is a “stinker” as Luca Turin calls them – it’s as Italian as Ferrari) , Givenchy’s Amarige (tuberose for the disco) and Guerlain’s heavenly Samsara (they simply do not make bad perfume).

Gucci se Rush

These perfumes are definitely not for the beginner because if you were to wear one of them to a matric dance, your reputation would be shattered. No, they are asking for a woman who has a solid sense of self and who does not care what fashion prescribes.

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