Saturday, August 16, 2008

Krasnaya Moskva (Red Moscow)

I had heard about this Soviet era Russian perfume known to be the only perfume Russian women were allowed to wear (true or not, that's the legend), and wondered so much about it that I bought one on eBay from a Russian seller. It was an antiquated bottle with a faded label and a worn out box, but the scent inside had apparently survived the 1970s. As I opened the screw top bottle, I imagined myself being told to stick to this one perfume and none else if I am to perfume myself at all. As it is, I'm far from a perfume monogamist, and can't fathom a life in which I would have to dedicate myself to a single bodily smell, and one that everybody else would be emanating, too.

From the bit of reading I've done on this scent, Red Moscow was a completely synthetic perfume to bolster the brave new achievements of modern science. Born in 1913, it launched in the same year as Igor Stravinsky's “The Rite of Spring", famous for its scandalous premiere on May 29, 1913, at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées in Paris. The gist of the conceptual angle was that there was no need for costly French perfumes with their natural essential oils when synthetics smelled equally delightful and can be sold so economically that everyone can afford it (incidentally, in the US, a bottle of Red Moscow could currently be bought online for about $15). Could people tell the difference? As I hold this bottle that came to me across the seas, here are my thoughts on the actual scent...

You've probably heard me say this before but it smells to me compositionally like Jean Patou Normandie, a carnation-based spicy perfume, with rich ambery-woody tones underneath, and a full floral heart. I know it's synthetic and the scent is as linear as any modern perfume can be, but it's not a bad scent - it has a very classic vibe with a strong personality. Other carnation fragrances you might be familiar with include Old Spice, Yves Saint-Laurent Opium and Calvin Klein Obsession - carnation can smell like cinnamon. Are red hot spicy perfumes the color equivalent of their olfactory sensations? They don't call it Big Red gum for nothing, do they? But Red Moscow is more than just spicy, and also complex, full-bodied, rich-smelling, every bit like the All-American Giorgio with its over 600 ingredients (as can only be done through modern technology), except maybe not quite as happy and bright a scent, but a bit jagged and much warmer as one would want (? or expect) in a cold climate.

It's not quite a parfum fourrure, however. I suppose if Red Moscow were to be reorchestrated using some quality ingredients in the mix, it could smell even more like Jean Patou Normandie or Guerlain Vol de Nuit, but I'd say it comes pretty close to a cross between Normandie, Old Spice and Red by Giorgio Beverly Hills (a carnation-based Aldehydic Chypre-Oriental)- not bad for a mass market perfume to smell rather "prestige", but still a hard sell if you ask me, especially for a lifetime. I'm glad I got to try it, though. One thing is certain, that for me, the more I study perfumes composed by Russian perfumers (edited to add: although Red Moscow is credited to "a well-known French perfumer" according to a Russian online shop), the more I understand that from My Sin to No.5, Russians have laid down a bedrock of modern perfumery.

Notes on
Red Moscow
Date of introduction: 1913
Type: flowery - chypre with woody notes
Occassion: everyday wear, evening wear

Top Note: bergamot, coriander, neroli flower
Middle Note: ylang - ylang, rose, jasmine
Base Note: orris, vanilla, tonka bean

I can not tell the story of Red Moscow as well as these illustrious perfume bloggers for whom this perfume had truly hit home can. Please visit their blogs and read:

Russian Perfumery and Red Moscow, Bois de Jasmin, June 23, 2005

Scented Thoughts: My National Parfum, The Scented Salamander, July 5, 2006

More suggested reading on The Scented Salamander:
Scented Thoughts: Patriotic (American) Perfumes to Wear on the 4th of July, Some Modest Suggestions, July 3, 2006