Perfume Review & Musings: Norell by Norell

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Norell was created in 1967 by nose Josephine Catapano for couturier Norman Norell. It is one of the early American design fragrances. By 1970, it was advertised as "The first great perfume born in America" so as to mark the beginning of a new decade on a positive note, oblivious to a forerunner such as Youth-Dew by Estée Lauder which is especially ironic since Catapano was also a co-author of Youth-Dew in an era when perfumers were working like ghost writers, behind the scenes. She is also the nose behind Guy Laroche Fidji (1966).

Perfumer Catapano said that Norell was her favorite fragrance of the ones she had created. She reportedly commented, alluding to the neglect of Norell by the public in the 80's and 90's,

"It's a silly world. It's the best fragrance, and nobody buys it anymore"...

I concur, it is silly to neglect Norell because it is truly a wonderful fragrance. What is equally wonderful is that you can still find it relatively easily, salvaged from the 1960's and moreover at dirt cheap prices since it went downmarket - a blessing and a curse at the same time all rolled into one opportunity. By contrast for instance, people have to engage in bidding wars over rare vintage bottles of Yardley Oh! de London from the same time period.

Norell is a sophisticated, multifaceted perfume. Depending on the angle at which you place yourself, it smells sweeter, drier, lighter, or darker. The sillage or trail of the scent is somewhat distinct from the scent near your skin, and both smell, once again, wonderful.

Its affordability has not contributed to the popularity of the fragrance - quite to the contrary. Once Norell left the confines of prestige department stores, its image suffered from a less-than-glamorous association with drugstores' shelves and K-Mart. Nevertheless, it has remained in favor with a select group of people and never completely lost its old-money reputation amongst some, including the snobbiest of the snobs, (the ones that consider that shopping at K-mart for a hidden gem like Norell is one rarefied experience.)

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Norell sold their rights to the fragrance to Revlon in 1971, and Five Star Fragrance took over in the late 90's. They attempted to re-launch the fragrance with an advertising campaign featuring Faye Dunaway in 1997, but the fragrance never really took off. The edt version dates back to that year as only the cologne concentration was available before then (there is also a pure parfum).

To me, the qualities of Norell are immediately apparent; it has cachet, presence, allure, character, and charm. The very start of the fragrance is somewhat bracing with galbanum offering some dry, slightly verdant sensations to the nose together with lemon, mandarin, and lavender notes. It mellows down very quickly to a warm, round and sensual floral heart composed of jasmine, hyacinth, iris, mimosa, and ylang-ylang.

It reminds me personally irresistibly of the way the ylang-ylang is showcased in Heliotrope by Crown Perfumery. Its aura, its personality are in fact very similar to that of Heliotrope but with a more pronounced aldehydic character. Mercifully, the aldehydes are tame enough, never conspicuous.

In Norell, the notes that dominate to my nose are ylang-ylang, carnation and clove. A dry, spicy counterpoint balances out the sweetness of the perfume.The base has cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, vanilla, Calla-Lily, musky vetiver, oakmoss, and myrrh.

The jus is classified as a green floral and is subtly reminiscent of the green overtones in Fidji by the same author, while being at the same time a much warmer and sensual fragrance.


Like the Subway Wool Coat by Norell which looks classic and downtown on the outside but is uptown on the inside with its champagne-colored, sequined mermaid lining and dress, it exudes a sense of carefully hidden luxury.

This luxuriating eau de cologne reflects the spirit of a couturier and his perfumer who knew how to ally French high-style with American practical mindedness. And it smells so superlatively good it's a shame, as Josephine Catapano put it, to overlook it especially when it's available for a song thanks to the dust of times.

You can find all three concentrations on eBay.

A bottle of pure parfum is on its way and I will update my review when I receive it.

Sources: "Mink Dew" by Mary Tannen, Cosmetic News

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15 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. I haven't tried this one and you made me really want to. Will look at ebay...failing that, will have to opt for the "rarefied experience" of shopping at K-mart :-)

  2. You can purchase pure parfum from dynabazzaar for $27.95 total and edt from perfumewholesaleny for $25.94 total (including shipping rates). They might be some cheaper alternatives even:)

    I liked it immediately and had to get more:)

    I'm wondering if there's heliotrope in Norell because it makes me think so much of Heliotrope. I adore H; unfortunately, I have issues with its staying power.To my relief, I found I don't have that problem with Norell.

  3. This is a great fragrance. An older cousin wore this back in the sixties/seventies and it always smelled great on her. I have been wondering recently if anyone wore or even remembered this great designer fragrance. Therefore, I am glad that you wrote about it! :)

    Now if I could just find one original bottle of Oh de London! I've been looking for the real thing for years.

    Hugs and have a great weekend!

  4. Isn't it? This fragrance deserves more recognition from the wider public.

    I just bought the Irma Shorell version of Oh de London! I won't be able to compare it with the original of course. Well, maybe one day...

    Shorell insists on the fact that her re-editions are freshly blended so that the top notes are a little sharp. It probably needs to be aged to smell more like the original.

    Have a great weekend too!

  5. I have been wearing Norell since the '60's and nothing else compares when I try domething different.
    I always get compliments on the wonderful smell.

  6. Linda,

    You are one lucky lady to have discovered this marvel early enough to enjoy it all these years!

    I just received a bottle of Norell in the cologne concentration and it smells even more fabulous than the edt and the parfum!! The wonderful thing is that they all smell different, yet incredible, especially the cologne, Wow!

  7. I have used Norell since it appeared in the marketplace..........I also worked for Revlon in the 70's and sold it into stores too......It smelled better on me than anyone else who tried to where it......It was very, very, very, elegant.......Sadly along the way the formula changed in the late 90's and my beautiful fragrance smells unlike it did before.....Now on me it smells cheap and less complex.......What I would give to have my old Norell back!!!!!!

  8. I am glad I found Norell again in a Mall Kiosk. I loved it in the 70's and then couldn't find it for a long time. I use it sparingly, but now will try to get it on line. Thanks for publishing the info about how it got started, I did not know about the designer Norell. But I was surprised to hear that the same person who invented Youth Dew invented Norell, I absolutely despise Youth Dew and most who wear it put on way too much. Phew!

  9. Recent bottles of Norell that I have bought on line have been dark in color and smell bad. Have these gone bad? Is this the "new formula" mentioned above? Is there a reliable source for good smelling Norell?

  10. the bath oil can be had for a song and is the most accurate rendition to the original..comparing to the vintage cologne released by norell,nor revlon,five star etc..this really is a stunning has real presence yet is so elegant and earthy.

  11. I first tried Norrell in the mid 1970"S.I fell in love with it then and have never stopped loving Norrell.PLs never discontinue it!

    angela rayner
  12. I have been wearing Norell for as long as I can remember and I'm now 63. I have tried other fragrances but always come back and am constantly getting compliments.

    • It's a wonderful fragrance. It's also wonderful to hear that some persons still love to wear it.

      Chant Wagner
  13. I couldn't believe it when i just by chance typed Revlon/Norell. I can remember as a child sneaking into my mother's room just to smell the bottle. When I got older Norell was the first scent I bought. Always received compliments. The new scent just isn't the same.

    Mary r
    • We're glad you were able to reminisce thanks to our article. Yes, the new scent has been tweaked and re-interpreted to contemporary standards.

      Chant Wagner

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