Sometimes I want a glamorous perfume. I don’t mean a blatantly sexy fragrance, but one that oozes retro allure. Imagine Carole Lombard, swathed in silk charmeuse, warm from the bath, with bowls of roses in every room. That kind of perfume. I think of these fragrances as “dressing table” perfumes. They’re resolutely feminine and are usually dosed with rose, violet, iris, and powder. The best of them carry an animalic purr. They’d be right at home perched on a vintage dressing table with a postcard from a lover in Paris clipped to the mirror.
Here are five of my favorite dressing table perfumes. With each perfume, I add a dressing table accessory that suits it. In the comments, please share your favorite dressing table perfumes.
Amouage Beloved: Beloved is tender, powdery, complex, and expensive — the Grace Kelly of dressing table scents. Beloved is rich and full, but with a silky, powdery texture that renders it gentle despite its sillage. Recently, on a friend, I was surprised to smell a thread of incense in its dry down, but on me it’s all dark pink blush and satiny face powder with an unobtrusive chypre underpinning. I see Beloved worn with an ivory silk dressing gown and a long rope of pearls. Dressing table accessory: crystal picture frame with black and white studio photo of Darling Husband.
Dita Von Teese: Can’t afford Beloved? Try this one. Once the classic aldehydes fade, Dita Von Teese features fresh rose-violet pulled from an old wooden drawer full of cosmetics, with a pair of dirty stockings nearby. After a minute, Dita Von Teese pulls tightly to skin — tight enough that you can really spray it on and not worry what your office mates will say — but it’s also persistent. Wear Dita Von Teese with an old red and black, lavishly embroidered silk kimono with frayed sleeves. Dressing table accessory: swan’s down powder puffs and red nail polish.
Frédéric Malle Lipstick Rose: To me, Lipstick Rose is classy kitsch, kind of like Yves Saint Laurent’s 1971 collection, the one with the 1940s-influenced ensembles in neon colors. Lipstick Rose says: “Hey, I smell like Marilyn Monroe fresh from Woolworth’s, but this patent leather clutch? You couldn’t afford it.” It’s the idealized scent of the idealized pin-up’s makeup. You might try a modern, throwback dressing gown with Lipstick Rose (Prada, hop to it). Dressing table accessory: 1950s clip-on lipstick mirrors.
Chanel Misia: Misia has all of Beloved’s status, but is less maternal. If Beloved is the wife, Misia is the kept woman. She’s no ex-showgirl, though. Misia lives in a Gotham apartment with acres of plush white carpeting and nightstands paneled in beveled mirrors. Her violet, rose, and iris glimmer like a handful of cut gems. Her dressing gown is silk crepe on the outside, but silk velvet next to the skin. Dressing table accessory: marabou-trimmed mules and a poodle.
Guerlain Attrape-Coeur: Attrape-Coeur is the oddball here, not so much for its rose-violet-iris goodness, but for its sweet vanilla foundation. Attrape-Coeur smells like Valentine’s Day at the five-and-dime, like a mash-up of face powder and a box of chocolates. Somehow, that only makes the fragrance more dressing table to me. This one deserves a dressing gown as pink as a kindergartner’s cheeks after a nap. Its belt should end in a lush tassel. Dressing table accessory: boar bristle hairbrush and a plate of chocolate truffles. (Excuse me a moment while I shed a few tears that Attrape-Coeur is discontinued.)
Honorable mentions: Guerlain Meteorites (sadly discontinued), Cadolle No. 9 (brutally hard to find, but perfect with a bespoke nightgown), Lorenzo Villoresi Teint de Neige (the best kind of powder fest), L’Artisan Parfumeur Drôle de Rose, Frédéric Malle Iris Poudre.