Cotton Club (Jeanne Arthes)

I want to start off by thanking jtd, the author of Scent Hurdle, for giving me a heads-up on his wonderful "Fougère Project," which appears to be an expository and ongoing dialogue about fougères, and what defines them. He contacted me about this in the comments section of my latest post on Brut, and in jtd's comments Christos from Memory of Scent mentions my recent post about lavender, and why it is essential to the fougère. I think these kinds of discussions and olfactory investigations are important to fully understanding perfumery. Not only do they delve into note combinations and classical forms, but they contextualize fragrance in a historical and genealogical manner. If you understand the established classifications of fragrances, the experience of wearing them is that much richer and more rewarding - if the study of perfume is to be considered an intellectual pursuit, that is.

I happened across another very good fougère, a little scent called Cotton Club by not-so-little Grasse-based concern Jeanne Arthes. Let me get this out of the way first: this fragrance has a sketchy name. It rubs me the wrong way, but that's why I bought it. It references the famous 1923 Cotton Club in the Theater District of Harlem, which used to be a whites-only establishment that ironically featured some of the world's greatest black jazz musicians. The Cotton Club took its racism to the usual lows for the time period, as performances by white actors in blackface were not uncommon there, and the club's seventeen year stint came to an abrupt end in 1940 with its owners under investigation for tax evasion. It was replaced by none other than The Latin Quarter, but mysteriously enough you can still find the Cotton Club sign at its original location in New York City. I'd hazard to guess that whoever owns the property is merely trying to capitalize on the site's musical history, and would rather forget about the awful cultural impact this kind of establishment had on the world.

The fragrance is an interesting barbershop fougère distantly related to Mennen's Skin Bracer, and features a striking accord of caramelized sugar and doughy lavender during the first five minutes of wear. In the style of Caron Pour un Homme, Jeanne Arthes opted for a caramelic lavender, not the more commonly-used minty variety, and it smells smooth and clean against the flame-singed sugar note, an olfactory study of white-on-white. The heart is mostly coumarin, light but ambery, and also a bit gourmand with generous trimmings of vanilla. Within forty-five minutes of application a base accord of creamy synthetic sandalwood and white musk appears, and dominates the proceedings until the fade-out. I get about five hours from it. There are only a few notes, but their quality and balance are good enough to make Cotton Club feel like a niche scent, which is impressive for something that costs twelve dollars.

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