Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

Isn't it a lovely ad? Such a diamond-studded backdrop of Manhattan would be perfect to stage a marriage proposal or to say "I love you" for the first time (or the 1000th). Since I'm posting this 1981 advertisement of Revlon Norell, a perfume that's intrinsically intertwined with New York City (at least as much as Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works scents might be part of our landscape now), it seems only right to write a proper (or improper--purely subjective) review. Norell followed Guy Laroche Fidgi (1966), a popular perfume of the late '60s which featured in its ad the imagery of a tropical paradise on Earth, accompanied by the phrase to sell it: "A woman is an island. Fidji is her perfume". It could be interpreted that a woman is a whole person, like an island, without the help of a man to make her complete: a cutting edge concept back then. As for the scent, it featured in a list of notes a whole shebang of lush white florals: tuberose, jasmine, ylang-ylang topped off with hyacinth and the very leafy-green galbanum through the mist of a powdery iris heart and a bold, mossy-woody (patchouli) base. If you expected Fidgi to smell as fulfillingly luscious as a tropical getaway, you're in for a tease that ends as a tease. Fidgi never quite warms up--in fact, Fidgi is cruel and hides all the good stuff under notes that point out, "an aristocratic woman doesn't have lascivious desires of her own, but you may desire me".

It was written in Michael Edwards' book, Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances, that the perfumer modeled Fidgi after L'Air du Temps, the classic "innocent" powdery-spicy (carnation) perfume by Nina Ricci. Fidgi, like L'Air du Temps, smells to me like an Aldehydic Floral that wasn't marketed as such. I have never desired the smell of Fidgi, nor did I particularly find it as high society-smelling as many other Green Florals I love. Maybe it's the subtle sprinkling of predictable, evenly-spaced spices that bugged me. Or, it was that there wasn't much in it for me to make perfume enjoyable--the mark of true elegance, the coitus interruptus factor. To me, Fidgi smells like a soapy, mossy mishmash of sharp, powdery-spicy floral notes on an earthy, wooded base, but somewhat nondescript, forgettable, not even cerebrally exciting. However, Fidgi was a hit and eventually inspired Revlon's Norell (1968) followed by Charlie (1973), two of the greatest American perfume successes in those eras. Please don't take my word for anything and judge Fidgi for yourself. You may love it and find it swoonworthy. Fidgi no doubt was a great perfume, some technological breakthrough in perfumery. Now, onto Norell...

I think Norell smells a lot like Fidgi. Norell is said to smell like furs and money, so this is basically an affordable version of what's perceived traditionally as a high society, sophisticated scent born of Western perfumery made possible by neverending advances in science and technology. Norell is a Green Floral by many standards but it's really Aldehydic like Fidgi to me (even though it's more piercingly wooded and bold than powdery soft), and borderline Chypre (why no patchouli in the notes? It smells very earthy, like patch could be in here--I have the parfum Made In France). It's woody and unsweet (save for a welcome touch of vanilla), dry, heavy and perfumey. Here's Norell: Green notes, spicy carnation heart, no filthy, indolic tropical white flowers that writhe with passion or scream in ecstacy, sharp, "sparkling" aldehydes made sharper with galbanum and bergamot, that bitter Italian citrus. Norell is a tough scent that says "I'm supremely confident in my own skin". No wonder it fit right in, here in New York. If one good thing could be said about Norell, it's much softer and wearable than Halston which came out around the same time.

It's only a drugstore perfume with no sense of clout now, or perhaps the clout died with Norell, the first American designer perfume, but there was a time in herstory when it meant something that such a traditional scent could be made mainstream, and not just available to a select few, affordable even by a bourjeois woman with her own *gasp* paycheck. Well, thank goodness for that. A top New York financial planner I once had the privilege of meeting once told me in her throughly professional, executive voice: "Princes may not show up, or appear, then disappear". We need to be able to fend for ourselves because no matter where in our life stage we may be, a woman is an island, after all.

Jan Moran's Notes:
Revlon Norell (1968, Floral)
Top Notes: Greens, reseda, galbanum, bergamot, verbena
Heart Notes: Carnation, hyacinth, rose, jasmine, ginger lily, calla lily, jonquil, ylang-ylang, heliotrope
Base Notes: Musk, iris, sandalwood, myrrh, vanilla