Courtesan by Worth Paris: The Scent of Cora Pearl's Skin {Perfume Review & Musings}



Cora Pearl born Emma Elizabeth Crouch (1835-1886)

Courtesan by Worth Paris is a very subtle and quite refined a fragrance with just enough sharpness and spiciness to it to lift it above the level of a murmur on the skin.

The luminous bergamot interplays with its very hushed down notes to bring up a certain quality of luminosity and brightness to it, one that can however fade away easily if the scent is applied only sparingly.

The intricate weaving of the scent transfigures fruity notes that are used as if to isolate this and that aspect only: the slight tartness of the red berries and sweetness of the raspberry, the yellowness of the pineapple, the translucence of the bergamot.

It is as if it were a veiled painting, a mysterious nature morte hung in the house of a courtesan in which one can guess the shapes of fruits that are only half-forming, half-vanishing into a dreamier fabric.

At the same time, the erotic character of the scent is unmistakable with the dusty cocoa and spicy accents that evoke an erotic concoction like the special recipe of a fiery Mexican cocoa drink sprinkled with chili pepper and other spices and drunk as an aphrodisiac. The musk and cocoa are the least secret ingredients of this quasi dusting powder meant no doubt for amorous games...


Lingerie by Atsuko Miyawaki, spring 2007 from China Daily


This once elusive perfume was created in 2005 by renowned nose Pierre Bourdon for the house of Worth which, originally founded in 1858 by Frederick Charles Worth (1826-1895) an Englishman established in Paris who was to lead Western fashion in the 19th and well into the 20th century thanks to successive generations of the Worth family.

The Worth perfumes appeared, according to the official chronology, in the 1920s, with the first one, Dans La Nuit, having been introduced in 1924. The house closed in 1956 to be revived only in January of 2003 when the Worth couture lingerie collection was presented at the Paris salon.

The most famous perfume by the house was and continues to be Je Reviens (1932).


Courtesan is inspired by the world of the demi-mondaines or grandes horizontales in 19th century Paris and especially by one of the most devoted Worth customers of the time, courtesan Cora Pearl (1837-1886).

She recounted the story of her life in a manuscript which was found after her death and published in 1886 as her Mémoires, and more recently in 1983 bearing the explicit title Grand Horizontal: The Erotic Memoirs of a Passionate Lady where it is reported that the author goes into great detail about her escapades and that of the French establishment of the Second Empire. Having not (yet) read it, we were only able to catch some of its flavor, for example illustrated in this quite memorable scene in which Cora dazzled her male-only audience by dancing naked in her salon on a floor covered with orchids, and then ended this sally by sauntering up to and into a sterling silver bathtub filled with champagne.

The perfume is very sheer and powdery when applied by touches. If put on in greater quantities - we have noticed - the brighter yellow notes of the scent come forth forming more of a luminous aura with light chypre-like and delicate green nuances. The initial impressions as the perfume starts unfolding are animalic (musk, cumin), spicy (cinnamon, cardamom, clove), with a certain raw greenness derived from the cardamom note all this warmed up by the soft glow of amber. Everything we say about the perfume has to be understood as expressed by the perfumer sotto voce. The overture resolves momentarily into a cardamom chaï impression with milky, caramel-y undertones.

The perfume then becomes more characteristically hushed in tone, velvety in texture, even whispery, evoking dusty cocoa beans. It is at this point that the scent takes on the allure of a courtisan's alcove most, as if it were decorated with heavy velvet drapes and letting filter out overheard indiscreet conversations. The fragrance stays very close to the skin with the quality of a murmur of whispering voices behind heavily gilded burgundy-colored curtains letting out musky effluvia and spicy incense-like nuances. With time, the scent seems to meld with your skin and the slightly dry cocoa folds into the creamy texture of one's skin.

Courtesan is distinctive, unusually conceived. It is extremely soft, one of the most subtle "closet-musk fragrance" we know of. As the press release states, "...Courtesan encourages the sense of touch, the warm caress of skin", and indeed it does just that. Despite its feminine connotations, this is a scent that we could see a man wear as it is really all about the skin. One could interpret it as being, in part, a milder take on Borneo 1834 by Serge Lutens.

Top notes are cinnamon, cardamom, clove, pineapple, red berries, bergamot of Calabria. Heart notes are orange blossom from Tunisia, magnolia from China, Egyptian jasmine, Turkish rose. Base notes are sandalwood, peach, caramel, raspberry, chocolate, cocoa beans, amber,vanilla, and musk.

The scent is not currently exported to the US but can be purchased at Harrods who will ship it internationally. Worth's PR also indicated (20% off) although they do not appear to ship to the US.

A 50 ml bottle retails for approximately $55 and a 100 ml for $77.

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4 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. This is fascinating and I had not heard about this perfume previously. Do you have contact details for the manufacturer, please? You mention Worth PR. Where are they?
    Thanks for your help.
    Christian Worth

    Christian Worth
    • Thank you. I do not have the PR contact handy right now but I think it's the same if you go through their website. Here is what I gleaned:

      Write to: The House of Worth Ltd.
      Bushey Mill Lane • Watford • WD24 7JG


      Tel: 01923 204450 • Fax: 01923 224060

      Chant Wagner
  2. Cora Pearl is my great aunt. Daughter of Prof. Frederick W N Crouch composer. She was English but courtesan 19th century. I have photos of Cora (Emma Eliz Crouch) in F C Worths creations and others. Your Courtesan purely expresses her seductive independence exceptionally well.

    Frederick W N Crouch V

    • Delighted. It would be lovely to see these pictures -- why not set up a website?

      I read her memoirs after doing this review and would use more of that autobiographical material to put the perfume in context, if I were to develop that article further.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Chant Wagner

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