I see the story of Clarimonde and the properties of perfume side by side in an affinity of nuance, sensuality and even a reach into either romance or decadence, depending on how you want to look at either of them.
By chance and the gracious generosity of Yesterday’s Perfume, I was recently introduced to a set of vintage perfumes, and it’s a rich new world for me. The few vintage perfumes I have tried before, and these too, have had this burning heat to them. They seem to have an internal fire that evaporates the fragrance for even more warmth on the bonfire of body heat as they rise up from the skin.
I am so fortunate as to now have samples of the vintage form of the following classics:
Bal a Versailles, an old favorite I recall trying long ago and loving at first encounter but never finding again in the form I remembered until now. The warmth reminds me of candle wax, powder and polished wood in a well-proportioned high-ceiling drawing room that holds bowls of musk scented leaves, like potpourri. There is a mellow and lilting quality to the vintage form that seems lost in the more recent reformulation.
Youth Dew edp – I have heard so much about this classic. It was the American perfume that made Estee Lauder’s first fortune and a huge favorite of a generation. It has a bright amber energy that will wake you up.
Emeraude – the legend and memory of this perfume launched a million bad versions of itself that sold purely on the force of its original mystique and personality. The liquid has a green tint to it, and it has that classic, honeyed brandy tone, both bright and warmly smooth.
Primitif – new to me, the burning heat holds a fresh sweetness to its edge that implies an animalistic yet sophisticated air, something like the African masks people used to decorate their walls in the early 60s.
I find they all have a lot of heat to them that after their initial sharp individual tangy edge mellows down to an abiding warmth. They throw a halo and aura around you that emanates from your skin.
At the same time, I found by chance and the search around the name that the story of Clarimonde had itself been presented in a film treatment where heat itself was a symbol of her power and the essence of the life force.
It was filmed in a short version for a television series by Ridley and Tony Scott.
This interpretation of the story is as condensed and deep as a haiku. It uses an extremely beautiful pair of actors as the couple, and in this version they reflect each other. Clairmonde in this seems like the female version of Roumald. Both are tall, slender, young, pale, with short dark hair and dark eyes with thick lashes, vivid features, wearing long dark clothes that swirl around them as they move.
It is set in the countryside near Quebec in the 1850s, in winter. Deep white snow stretches for miles in every direction, with a tree line black against the horizon. There is a great use of the freezing cold of the environment as a force that acts on the few inhabitants who have to work hard to keep warm.
There is the feeling that love, warmth, pleasure and the heat of another are even more necessary in such a place. Though beautiful it is so cold and isolated it’s difficult to ever relax the tension of working very hard to keep alive, to keep the spirit and body togther.
Clarimonde appears as a force of warmth that counters all the cold discipline and isolation. She lives in a place that is the epitome of the warm interior, with large vases of flowers, art on the walls, a large ornately carved bed, luxurious carpets. She is naked beneath the dark furs she wears, which match her hair. Near her it is warm enough to undress and luxuriate in nakedness.
The couple’s meetings are presented as dreams, but then revealed to be true, with an internal war between opposites brutally resolved by blind faith that is a both a reality check and a betrayal. I highly recommend renting it from Netflix. The series is called The Hunger, Season 1, Disc 4. Terence Stamp introduces this episode, and David Bowie is a host of the series. The incredibly beautiful actress, Audrey Benoit, was a supermodel who later became a respected author.
The perfumers of the Clarimonde project are still busy at work. We are now joined by Beth Schreibman Gehring, who will both write and has made the tantalizing promise to prepare perfumed gloves herself. She has a pair of vintage white leather embroidered ones she intends to perfume. I think it’s high time the custom of perfuming gloves came back in full force.
I understand that Mandy Aftel has decided to make a solid perfume, which I am looking forward to with great anticipation. I know she has a great affinity to the era and school of writing that Clarimonde came from.
Maria Mcelroy and Alexis Karl are in the midst of perfume that is a cool breeze through the deep woods that Clarimonde and her lover pass through.
Deana Sidney is preparing a perfumed wine of her own recipe based on a very old recipe for a Medieval/Rennaissance hippocras.
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz is getting into something metallic and dark.
Monica Miller has made a fragrant lip stain, both in red and purple, which reaches across the spectrum of energy to stillness, the appearance of life and death.
I look forward to more and will report the next developments here and on Facebook and Twitter. The writers will all link to each other as they come in. If you wish to be included in the Facebook group, please let me know. We are posting visuals and music and other sources of inspiration there.
Vintage perfume bottles above from a Brooklyn flea market,
Photos above from the Clarimonde episode of The Hunger, Season 1, disc 4
Vintage samples both purchased and gifted from Yesterday’s Perfume.