While posting about how men prefer natural-looking women, I had to remember and pay homage to natural beauty Evelyn Nesbit (1884-1967) whose turn-of-the-20th-century pictures are, for many of them, strangely contemporary in feel. Abundantly photographed in an era when taking pictures was still relatively complicated, she appears in some of her portraits as the epitome of unadorned beauty, just a few steps away from the threshold of an agrestic farm; in others, she is more like a regular Belle Epoque and Gilded Age studio belle.
On the cover of the book that biographer Paula Uruburu consecrated to her, American Eve, Nesbit appears with flowing long hair, no or very little makeup that one can tell and still striking by contemporary standards. One of the defining traits of the "it-girl" then and now seems to be the manner in which one is able to come across as effortlessly beautiful and natural.
It might be more the lineage that gave Kate Moss rather than the one which created Greta Garbo, the latter which inspired in her times a more sophisticated and hieratic sphinx-like look beginning with the vogue for architecturally structured and enigmatic eyebrows.
So, what did the most beautiful woman in America once upon a time wear as perfume at the height of her beguiling influence?...
We learn in her biography that Nesbit did apparently have a signature perfume - and it was as befitted the fragrance fashion and feminine mores of her times, a soliflore. This was an era where women liked to identify with and be identified by a characteristic floral scent, a phenomenon we like to dub "the era of totemic florals." Evelyn Nesbit's flower of choice was not rose, tuberose or violet, but honeysuckle.
In her biography, Uruburu writes that her infamous lover Stanford White who would be shot to death by her husband, creating one of the biggest media splashes at the time "...luxuriated in her sweet honeysuckle perfume..."
One other indication that she had chosen a perfume that became her particularly well is that it smelled of more than the sum of its parts on her. At another point we are told, the young John Barrymore, who was falling in love with her fast, asked for her number and this is what took place,
"He leaned in closely and whispered in Evelyn's ear, asking for her phone number. In pure Barrymore fashion, he wrote the number with a flourish on his frayed shirt cuff as she whispered it into his ear, leaving a deliciously indescribable floral scent on his collar."
Nesbit's relationship to perfume does not end here. As a veritable celebrity of her days, she was also portrayed by illustrator Maxfield Parrish on an advertising for the popular fragrance Djer-Kiss by French brand Chalmin & Kerkoff which was located 40, rue Sainte Anne and 40, Avenue de l'Opéra in Paris, with these advertising lines which seem to be read - in our imagination - by the suave voice of actor Maurice Chevalier (1888-1972) offering in franglais and with his typically sexy rasping French accent,
"Ah, Madame, Mademoiselle, even the genius of Maxfield Parrish can emphasize through fancy only the charme of Djer-Kiss. Wherever beauty is considered first, Djer-Kiss holds its magic sway . Wherever smartness is desired, its French appeal, its air parisien are irresistible. To be charmed with Djer-Kiss once is to be charmed with Djer-Kiss always. To use one Djer-Kiss Specialite once is to desire them all. Alfred H. Smith Co., Soler Importers, New York. Extract, Face Powder, Talc, Sachet, Toilet Water, Vegetale Soap, Djer-Kiss, Made in France only, A.H.S. Co. 1918."
In the Victorian language of flowers, which informed the practice of wearing perfume and soliflores in particular in those days, honeysuckle represented love - and more specifically the notion of "devoted love." Its scent was considered to encourage dreams of both passion and love and favor an upcoming marriage. A Victorian person could have or would have read the scent of honeysuckle as whispering "I love you" and affirming "the bond of love."
This is a game you can definitely try at home.