lundi 30 mars 2009

Studio Harcourt, a whiff of retro glamour (for your boudoir though, not your skin)


Have you noticed how good house fragrances are getting? Some are giving personal perfumery a run for its money, at a time when many mainstream offerings – and even some niche – are little better than improved shampoo or shower gel fruit-floral-musk combos.

The Cire Trudon candles, for one, have been generating a lot of buzz, and rightly so: their scents are composed exactly like personal fragrances, with top, heart and base notes. They’ve got a concept (historical characters or places) and, most importantly, they smell so lovely it’s all I can do not to rub the wax on my pulse points. Ramdane Touhami should definitely be looking at starting his own line by now (as though there weren’t enough new niche perfumery brands already… still, he’s got a great feel for artistic direction.)

The latest case in point is the signature fragrance designed for the Studio Harcourt in Paris.

Since 1934, every star in Paris (and quite a few unknowns) has been beating a path to Harcourt to have their glamour shots taken. Harcourt still do their portraits in the same, old-school, black and white style, and to match their retro sensibility, have commissioned a signature scent to one Fabrice Olivieri, associate perfumer at Trend’s Lab (note how the French over-apply the apostrophe-s – it’s driving me out of my mind), who has apparently done work for L’Artisan Parfumeur. His Harcourt room spray is so utterly lovely I couldn’t resist trying it on my skin in the interest of science.

The result, somewhat befittingly for such a historical outfit, was a fragrance that developed at the speed of a silent movie run on a modern projector: first, a totally vintage-smelling burst of rose-lilac on a cloud of white, fluffy musk; then something slightly pomander-like (cinnamon and ginger) with a spoonful of honey, that resolved into sandalwood and cashmere wood (which is of course IFF’s Cashmeran, a soft, musky, woody balsamic material), before dissolving into a powdery musk base that went on forever…

On skin, the whole show was over in ten minutes. On house fabrics, it gives a cozy, sophisticated boudoir feel to any room – upholstered brocade chairs, canopy bed and swan’s down powder puffs strewn on the dresser… Unabashedly girly, but in a 1930s drawing room comedy kind of way. I’ve been spraying it obsessively in my bedroom.


On to you: what are the house fragrances you wish were made for skin?


The Studio Harcourt room spray and candle are, for the time being (as far as I can tell) exclusively distributed by The Beauty Lounge in Paris, but they do ship abroad.

Image: Brigitte Bardot in a Studio Harcourt portrait.

24 commentaires:

  1. Hello, D. This is one of my favourite topics, as I agree that there are many parfums d'ambiance that are as good as, if not better than, many of the personal fragrances out there.

    Like Veneziana posted on the French side of your blog, one of my favourites is the L'Artisan/Bottega Veneta effort, Intreccio No. 1, by Olivia Giacobetti. A sheer (not heavy at all) scent of leather, wood, and old books, it has a kind of restrained and austere feeling that I find immensely appealing.

    The original Costes parfum d'ambiance (there are apparently several, but I mean the one in the original dark red flacon) is beautiful, rich, dark, and woodier than the corresponding EdT. And it's less expensive than the EdT as well.

    Patricia di Nicolai makes some amazing parfums d'ambiance as well. Her Vetyver de Java is a fantastic smoky, a bit astringent vetiver. Gorgeous. Au Coin du Feu also has a similar smokiness that I love. Havane is also very nice, with a leathery and coffee vibe, if I recall correctly.

    Diptyque's Feu de Bois has always been a personal favourite, as is their Essence of John Galliano. Both are fantastic smells, although unlike the more complex ones I mentioned above, both are more linear, and for that reason, perhaps less appropriately used as personal fragrance.

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  2. Hi Jarvis. I could actually talk about the reverse phenomenon -- personal fragrances that I perceive as ambient scents. But I'll tackle that one later.
    I love Vétyver de Java, and used up a full bottle last summer. The Nicolaï are so good and reasonably priced, aren't they?
    And I don't think Giacobetti's work for room sprays is substantially different from her personal fragrances. The border is getting blurred, isn't it?

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  3. Ce commentaire a été supprimé par un administrateur du blog.

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  4. Your home sounds like my idea of heaven, and I have a serious jones for the candle now.

    This isn't the question you asked, but I think the old Frances Denney Interlude would be a great scent for a candle--lilies, musk, and sandalwood.

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  5. Angela, my home isn't like what I described (no canopied bed, alas)... But it's got a pretty vintage vibe, with make-up colored walls, so I'm sure you'd love it!
    I don't know Interlude, but lilies, musk and sandalwood sound like something I'd love to smell around me.

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  6. I agree with Jarvis, the Costes fragrances are what first popped into my head. On a different but related topic: Scents that completely change on the skin compared to the blotter paper. To my nose, Hermes Osmanthus Yunan is gorgeous on the paper, but on my skin is something so completely different that I cannot wear it...the chemistry behind the phenomenon baffles me.

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  7. Scott, I don't really see why the Costes couldn't be worn on fabric... I wonder about development though.
    About the famed skin chemistry, that's a major source of frustration, isn't it? I'm lucky enough to have a skin that doesn't turn anything -- but I have a nose/brain that picks out the notes that bug me!

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  8. Pretty much what Jarvis listed -- with the addition of two of the other L'Artisan Bottega scents (2 and 5? can't remember)

    I use the room sprays on my skin and nothing's dropped off yet, so I tend to take that distinction lightly. I wear Galliano all the time.

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  9. Ok, now see? March wears room sprays and her skin is intact! What about development though, do they behave like regular fragrances?

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  10. thanks March for galliano, and about , I dont know the word in english for "tenue du parfum"
    help me Denyse :)

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  11. March, Vero wants to know whether the Galliano is long-lasting on skin, could you chime in?

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  12. Yes, very -- although please remember that I seldom complain about longevity. It lasts most of the day on me. I think it's actually my favorite of the wood/smoke scents because there is something underneath that is vaguely "perfume-y" -- like a cologne, almost, not just the smoke. Like being near a fire, and a man wearing nice cologne has walked through recently. I am not sure if that makes sense!

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  13. Like regular fragrances .... hm. That would be a good analytical question for someone like Octavian. I would say that in general they are more linear scents. In terms of sillage, probably not that different than an "average" edp, however you'd define it. What I mean is, I don't find them super-concentrated. And some of my favorite skin scents are simple anyway. One example: I do not find the Diptyque Figuer room spray all that different from Philosykos, although if I put one on each arm there must be some difference in detail.

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  14. The Diptyque John Galliano is another Olivia Giacobetti composition, and as you pointed out earlier, D, OG seems to approach her parfums d'ambiance much like her parfums d'habit.

    The Diptyque John Galliano (to me) has a nice soapy, birch tar vibe, and it does last and last. I would imagine (hope?) that there isn't anything in a parfum d'ambiance that would preclude it being in contact with human skin. After all, if you're going to spray it in a room, it's going to come into contact with the inside of your lungs. :-) (On the other hand, I'm constantly amazed by unsafe things that end up being sold anyway, so perhaps I shouldn't be so blasé).

    I feel like the Costes room spray does have a lot of complexity to it.

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  15. thanks a lot March for your answer

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  16. The one I'm hungry for is the Trapp candles "Sexy Cinnamon" (painfully bad name). I adore this frag in my home. I did buy the room spray once in an attempt to wear it, but the spray version is not a good translation of the candle to begin with, and it was a disaster.

    I do wear Esteban Ambre. One of its many forms is an oil, and I wear it on my skin with no problem, finishing off with a spritz of the room spray over my hair & clothes. Marvelous. Perhaps not as complex as a well-composed perfume, but it does have decent throw and good longevity. It's a bit embarrassing when I'm asked what it is, though, as I almost always am. Usually I just airily reply, "Oh, it's an amber I picked up in Paris."

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  17. March, you're making perfect sense. I think for a room spray to be wearable as a personal fragrance, it has to have a link to what we're used to in personal fragrances. That's why the Harcourt was so tempting: its composition (not talking about the materials, but the notes) is perfectly wearable on skin, at least in theory.

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  18. Jarvis, that's a good remark about the lungs -- you'd imagine they were at least as sensitive as skin!

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  19. A., Sexy Cinnamon is not quite the name I'd look for in a fragrance either... But Esteban Ambre, who'd know the difference?

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  20. Adding: I loved the IUNX candles I recently sniffed. Not sure how they would work as personal fragrances, but I think they're beautifully done.

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  21. I avoid the use of room sprays to scent either my house or myself because I simply do not need one more scented item addiction! But in your first response to Jarvis, you mention the use of personal fragrances as ambient scents, so I will look forward to your thoughts about that.

    Scents such as Costes, whether in the room or the personal fragrance, seem to be fairly interchangeable. I use the edt in an electric tart warmer with some water to keep it from smoking. The resulting scent is long-lasting and perfumes an entire room. This works well with many fragrances, particularly heavier winter scents. So, maybe I should buy the Costes room fragrance for my skin and scent the room with the edt just for fun?

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  22. Hi, M --

    that's what I would do! I prefer the room spray to the EdT. :-) (Although to be fair, I do like both).

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  23. Melisand, that sounds like a plan!

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  24. Jarvis, my next post expresses my feelings on the matter...

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