I wrote about sweet-faced girl-next-door Debbie Reynolds the other week, and now, like the contrary little soul I am, I find myself longing for the company of a brace of bad gals. I mean, who amongst us can live up to all that goodness? All that niceness, and I say the word nice like I have discovered something unpalatable stuck between my teeth, spitting the word out whilst rifling through my bag for a quick spritz of Frederick Malle’s Carnal Flower, a fragrance that doesn’t even try to pretend to be sweet and innocent. As I inhale the smell of tuberose and white musk, I find myself contemplating the fragrances worn by all those adorable Hollywood firebrands of years gone by.
Vivien Leigh allegedly suffered from bipolar disorder, a condition that would have fed her reputation as a fragile and incredibly difficult actress to work with. She played Ophelia to Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind and Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire; brittle, troubled, fiery, impassioned characters, a quixotic blending of real life and fiction. She died of tuberculosis at the age of 53 and when her death was announced, the theatres of London all extinguished their lights as a mark of respect. I think it us quite fitting that Leigh’s favoured perfume was Joy by Jean Patou, a floral, heady fragrance comprising rose, jasmine, ylang ylang and tuberose. I think theatres across the land should have their ushers spray this fragrance from way up in the highest balcony, allowing the perfume to rain down on the audience on the anniversary of her death every year. A bit dramatic? I think she would have approved.
Marilyn, yes, of course, she wore nothing but Chanel No. 5, and who wouldn’t? It’s a classic fragrance, but it wasn’t Marilyn’s only favourite scent. Rose Geranium by Floris, the traditional British fragrance house was a perfume she adored and wore often. Rose geranium is often recommended as a soothing aromatherapy oil, particularly suited to women. I have no expertise in this field, but I can appreciate a fine, uplifting fragrance when I smell it! One can only hope that any anger generated by the hours spent waiting for La Monroe to show up on set were diffused by this delicate floral scent when she finally arrived in a fragrant blonde cloud of giggles and stiletto heels.
Shalimar by Guerlain was apparently favoured by Louise Brooks. Created in 1925, it would have been quite the fashionable fragrance to wear during the years when Louise was busy raising hell in Hollywood, sabotaging her own career and maintaining that perfect bob haircut (check out the biography by Barry Paris for all the stories not fit to be published in a genteel online blog devoted to 50s style vintage clothes). The silent classic film Pandora’s Box is her most famous legacy, a dark, heady tale of sex and depravity. Brooks was the original Hollywood hellcat, adorable, beautiful but likely to tear you to shreds. You have been warned.
For unashamedly playing the field when it came to fragrance, look no further than Joan Crawford. Just look at this incredible vintage dressing table, laden with all manner of crystal bottles, jars, lotions and potions. Youth Dew by Estee Lauder was a favourite, as was Je Reviens by Worth (both still available) and Jungle Gardenia by Tuvache (no longer in production). Joan’s reputation goes before her and I can’t help imagining that every bottle was liberally and aggressively applied to wrists and neck before she clipped her heels across a cool marble floor on her way to a swish evening soiree.
We can no longer meet these glamorous ladies outside of their films, but we can breathe in the beautiful perfumes they wore. My own little tip is to apply perfume to the areas that don’t come into obvious contact with 50’s style clothing, for example, the inside of your arm near to the elbow, behind the knees or the décolletage. I also like to give a quick spritz of my current favourite into the air, then walk into it, like a beautifully scented mist. Try this with one of our wonderful vintage style Wonderland Coats and appreciate the way the fragrance is carried with you as you wear the coat and then settles in your closet when the coat is put away. Scent-sational!