Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lenthéric Tweed

Tweed was one of many perfumes made by Lenthéric, a millinery-turned-hair-and-beauty salon established in 1795. Although I'm finding it hard to confirm the launch year, I believe Tweed perfume was created in the 1920s. I don't have the exact year but an antique bottle on sale at is dated from 1920 which would predate Chanel No.5. Basenotes lists the launch year as being 1924. Tweed became a popular classic throughout the 1950s. It's an oldie but a goodie, one of substance and subdued grace. Yardley which merged with Lenthéric in the 1990s took over Tweed, and today, it's changed hands to yet another company. Tweed is hard to find in its vintage form; I was only able to get a tiny Art Deco-inspired mini bottle of the vintage perfume on eBay to test. Tweed smells like a Chypre to me, or an Aldehydic Floral which is often a Chypre in disguise, although I've seen it described as an Oriental fragrance. If we're comparing with a perfume like Caron Tabac Blond, I can almost see how it could be an Oriental, so perhaps it really fits in the Dry Woods Tobacco-Animalic family.

To me, the woody, patchouli-heavy base with animalic (civet), leathery tones (thanks to the addition of bergamot, indolic jasmine and rose to patchouli), plus the greenness of it backed by oakmoss, smells like a halfway point between Gres Cabochard or Miss Balmain and Mary Quant Havoc, Hermes Caleche or another 1960s-1970s Aldehydic Floral leaning on the green side of the olfactive spectrum. I'm also reminded of Yves-Saint Laurent Y, especially the murky, mysterious heaviness of its rose-patchouli-oakmoss character. In a nutshell, it smells like a foreshadowing of 1947 and the New Look with its cinched waistline and boldly wooded, animalic, neoclassical taste in scents as well as clothes. By neoclassical, I mean the disciplined and somewhat severe, dramatic Woods fragrance family. Chypre comes from the Greco-Roman Cyprus, after all, and Dry Woods is the same as the Animalic family of scents, not in the least bit devoid of drama, especially for the animals from whence rare and costly ingredients came.

As the vintage ad depicts, Tweed is a fragrance for "the black sheep", or the woman who doesn't want anything too mainstream. By mainstream I mean pleasant scents most people would agree on. A different type of scent would be an acquired taste, therefore special, a sign of good breeding. Of course, such a scent was the popular mainstream scent of the day, ironic to say the least. From Miss Dior to Ma Griffe, I think I would have been hard-pressed to find a scent in those days that didn't smell like this: the earthy (heavy), green (sharp, with bite), often spicy, animalic (sexual?) perfume, suggested to the masses with the same ad campaign to stand out and not be like the rest (of the girls). Maybe quieted, repressed women needed heavy scents to get some attention, to be taken seriously with an oh-so-serious scent such as this. It seems designed to send out the right message to the men they would marry -"I'm brainy and chaste and I recognize quality". Tweed certainly doesn't smell silly or fun at all...but then, I wouldn't wear it to the office in 2008 for fear of smelling waaaaay too intimidatingly perfumey.

Times change, but Tweed lovers need not lose heart. A perfume like Tweed isn't to be wasted on Philistines. Now, there's a classic attitude - nothing like a little passive-aggressive condescension to feel special, a cut above the rest. Come to think of it, owning a perfume, even an affordably priced one for the working class (like Tweed), has always been a status symbol. As Jean Patou Joy showed the world in 1930, if we can't afford anything else thanks to the Depression, a lovely and extravagant perfume can make us feel rich. It's the scent of confidence you can bank on.

These are the notes on Perfume Intelligence, Encyclopaedia of Perfume:

Tweed Parfums Lenthéric (1933, Aldehydic Floral)
A classic floral aldehyde parfum with top notes of bergamot, neroli, orange and violets, heart notes of rose, jasmine, carnation, orris, lilac and magnolia with base notes of sandalwood, civet and leather.

Here are the notes according to

Lentheric Tweed (1933, Floral Woody Musk)
Top Notes: bergamot, cinnamon, geranium
Middle notes: ylang-ylang, jasmine, lavender, orange flower
Base Notes: oakmoss, patchouli, sandalwood, benzoin, vanilla, vetiver

(Image: Lentheric Tweed ad, possibly 1960s)