When I first started wearing vintage clothes, I remember standing in front of a rack of 1950s dresses and wondering if I could really pull one off without looking like I was going to a costume party. After a few years, ramping up first with old handbags and cashmere twin sets, I started to see that dressing retro is all about balance and confidence. The same principles seem to apply to wearing old perfume.
Let’s take, for example, Jean Patou’s Colony. Colony is decidedly from the 1930s, a heady mix of pineapple and what smells to me like marjoram and sap. I love it. The booklet with Ma Collection describes Colony as “The exotic image of the deepest jungle, lush vegetation, powerful spices borne over amethyst seas and strange girls in distant sun-kissed ports.” It would be jarring worn with a modern suit and overwhelming with jeans and a tank top. In the summer, I would wear it at night with a filmy dress and a pile of bakelite bracelets. In the winter, it would be perfect with a 1950s coat with a big fur collar over a Diane Von Furstenberg silk jersey dress in a funky print and tall boots.
Vacances, on the other hand, goes with everything from jeans to evening dresses. It is a breezy lilac scent mixed with what smells like smashed flower stems, drying down to a barely perceptible musk. Even after it’s sprayed head to toe, it stays gentle and close to the body, and I can imagine Ingrid Bergman wearing it when she’s happy. It doesn’t seem substantial enough, though, to stand up to heavy winter clothes or too much drama. Of the Ma Collection fragrances, it’s probably the easiest to wear.
Patou’s Que Sais-Je, though, is especially tricky and should be avoided by fragrance novices. Que Sais-Je is hideously beautiful, a peach syrup, honey, and hazelnut scent with a fetid chypre base. If it were a woman, she would be elegant, with a difficult background and maybe bipolar tendancies. I would save Que Sais-Je for evening and stay monochrome for balance, except for a scarf or brilliant cocktail ring. Que Sais-Je is best kept to wear in the company of one or two people with exceptional taste.
Divine Folie would be terrific in the morning in a dressing gown or dressed to go to a wedding; Moment Suprême could see you through most days when you have to wear panty hose; and Normandie wants to go to dinner in the fall in a man’s old Harris Tweed jacket with La Perla lingerie somewhere underneath. For me right now, though, a more important question is, what goes with old jeans, slippers, and a frayed cardigan?
Note: image via Jardin d'Aromes, a Jean Patou site for collectors (in French).
So why do I now want to try the bipolar perfume who was abandoned on a doorstep as a child?
Great illustration on how/when to wear these.
On rereading the article, boy do I sound bossy! And now I'm billing myself as a perfume psychologist, diagnosing the traumas of dead scents….still, Que Sais-Je is like truffle oil. A little bit makes almost anything luxurious, but more than a teaspoonful can make you want to puke.
I enjoyed your review of My Collection. Wearing Colony today because of your article. As for Que Sais-Je, it really is “hideously beautiful”.
What do you think of Colony? I'm soon to go out for a meeting and think I'll try Moment Supreme.
So, Angela: What does one wear with old jeans (better yet jammie bottoms), slippers and a frayed cardigan? :):)
I love your descriptions of these fragrances and hope that one day I get to test them all.
Brilliant creative and funny review on how to wear this gems, and which clothes to pair them with.
You made me wonder which scents I find “Hideously Beautiful”. A couple of 70's powerhouses come to mind.
Nocturnes de Caron, for Women. Jules de Dior and Balafre de Lancome for Men.
Balafre should not be worn in temperatures above 7° Celsius, period!!!
I don't know, I was hoping someone like you would have an answer! I'm open to suggestions.
Some of the Serge Lutens scents probably fall into that category, too, although in a different way. Fleur de Cassie, from Malle, too.
“…elegant, with a difficult background and maybe bipolar tendancies” … ah, the relief of finally being understood. By a perfume (and its explicator). Must find this hideously beautiful object of affection! (psychoaromacology: what a creative approach!) xoxo
Now I must find the perfume that matches my own “psychoaromacology” (brilliant, Mireille!). Quasi bohemian, with a white trash background and intellectual pretensions…
Mmmm, Your perfume….
Quasi bohemian with intellectual pretentions and white trash background.
For me it would be Paloma Picasso or Sarah jessica Parker's lovely… (I think this definitely suit your needs).
Give it a chance, it smells actually interesting.
Chandler Burr has an interesting article in his site about the fragrance and the muse…She favors a “layering” of jovan musk, egyptian oil, and incense avignon from comme des garcons
I do like Paloma Picasso, but haven't been crazy about Lovely. You're right, though, the Jovan musk/CdG Avignon combo is a definite white trash/bohemian approach. As far as Paloma goes, I definitely see the bohemian part with intellectural pretensions, but it's hard to picture Paloma in a trailer.
Please!, there is a fine line between glamour and kitsch, I can picture her perfectly frying bacon and eggs!!!
Of course, with a martini on hand and red lips to go!
“..there's a fine line between glamour and kitsch”, you are so right! I think I'll have that embroidered on my pillow cases.
Just starting to be a CRAZED vintage-fragrance lover (you enabler, you!) and am soaking up info on Carons and Patous like a human sponge, Angela. This is one of the best things I’ve ever read about these particular scents. You’ve nailed them technically and still been your usual original, creative self. Love all your fashion visuals; they jumped off the page.
Thanks to you, I am about to buy a 2.5 of Que Sais-Je. I’m more excited about this than I thought possible. It is $120 but runs circles around many an over-priced niche scent.
Que Sais-Je is so strange but wonderful–I’m glad you like it! $120 really isn’t bad at all for 2.5 oz. Enjoy it!
Just want you to know, too, that thanks to you I now have a Patou shrine: a lovely little old painted metal box filled with samples. In another box, Chanels and Carons and Diors mingle. I am wearing Vacances this morning and MUST track down a bottle; can a girl be in the middle of a glorious West Coast summer and actually be nostalgic for last Spring and its cool, pale lilacs????
Vacances is so, so nice. It must have stood out among all the powdery, ambery fragrances when it was released. I’m glad you like it!