12/25/11

White Shoulders Eau de Parfum (Evyan)



One of the many things that bothers me in this world is how difficult it is to find a nicely-done floral perfume on the cheap. I'm not really sure how or when it happened, but somewhere along the line people decided that flowers weren't cool anymore. I suppose it started during the '80s, when women were exposed to Andron, and all that weird pheromone psychology began applying to personal fragrance. Eventually a boatload of sweet synthetic musks and even sweeter synthetic floral ionones flooded the market (see Poison), and wearing quelques fleurs was no longer de rigueur. This used to seem like an attractive development, but now I'm not so sure. On the one hand, smelling of lilies and roses and violets puts one in danger of smelling like his or her grandmother. On the other, smelling like grandmother is no better or worse than enjoying grandma's taste in music, or movies, or food. I have yet to meet anyone who was ridiculed for liking depression-era American folk songs, Billy Wilder films, and Spam. In fact, a Spam truck actually visited my college during my senior year, and the guy made out pretty well. True story.

A little imagination yields another possibility with florals: smelling of royalty. When I consider what was available to perfumers in the 18th and 19th centuries, I'm reminded of how crucial flowers were to their art form. Six years ago, Le Château de Versailles commissioned Francis Kurkdjian to recreate Marie Antoinette's signature bergamot, jasmine, and rose perfume. The house of Lubin followed suit, naming it Black Jade, supposedly after the jade bottle she carried with her everywhere. Reading up on these scents brings to light a startling reality - history's most famous Dauphine liked and wore flowers. Lots of flowers. One can conclude that flowers were never considered "cheap." Her taste wasn't just feminine - it was royal.

Nearer on the perfume timeline are Guerlain's classics, stuff like the violet-tinged Après L'ondée (After the Rain), and the white floral L'Heure Bleue (Blue Hour). Both masterpieces were dependent on direct floral notes within modern compositions. They weren't considered dowdy when they were released, and held their own against D'Orsay's Chypre and Houbigant's own sunny Quelques Fleurs. The trend continued well into the twentieth century, as fragrances became rosy and white during the thirties and forties, and green in the fifties. Men and women liked what they smelled because flowers are always fresh, natural, and effortlessly sultry.

Evyan's White Shoulders was released in 1945, and somehow seems to signify, through scent, the end of the second World War. Its opening volley of floral notes is so fresh and serene that I'm immediately transported to an outcrop overlooking a dewy meadow in France. It is one of the most direct floral arrangements I have ever smelled in a perfume. Gardenia, tuberose, muguet, orange blossom, lilac, and jasmine (my god, the jasmine!) flood my senses in a manner devoid of the usual synthetic screech found in other $20 fragrances. The white blossoms possess a crisply gentle realism, and are gathered in an uncomplicated bouquet. I keep waiting for the scratchy peach and musk notes to arrive, but they never do. An apt stylistic and price-point comparison is found in Alfred Sung's eponymous perfume, now reformulated into a yellow chemical blob.

If White Shoulders is associated with grandma, then grandma has excellent taste. The basic accords here are artfully composed to produce a very proud, straightforward scent. There is no postmodern flourish, no antisocial contrast, no synthetic bombast. In this way, White Shoulders is elegant and dignified, an update of something one might smell in 18th century Versailles. Analogs of nature's finest buds bring with them a hint of antiquity, and at no stage of its sauntering development does White Shoulders feel modern. Instead it smells classical, sexual, refined. It is feminine, yes, but its honesty compels me to wear it myself. Could this be the second blatantly feminine fragrance that I unabashedly adopt? Very possibly. It's something to wear while listening to the soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou? and munching on a Spam sandwich.




























2 comments:

  1. My grandma did wear this, and she had excellent taste. :) I found a bottle at a thrift store recently and was pleasantly surprised by it. I did find the current version quite synthetic, but it could have been suffering by comparison or it could have been a very old bottle (with some of these lesser-loved fragrances, I often wonder how long they've been sitting on the exposed shelves of Walgreens).

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  2. the EDC is apparently abysmal in comparison to the EDP. I think in the old days people in general had better taste in everything, including fragrance. Gotta love the classics!

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