The Powder Room Ritual by Rachel Deacon, contemporary.
Once upon a time, powder and femininity were much more commonly entwined than they are today. Except that as the heat of summer of 2012 envelops the streets of Paris, a note of powder has become much more conspicuous in the gusts of wind blowing out from subway exits, and in the sillages of busy yet often thoughtfully perfumed Parisians.
What is more, you can smell this trail of powder not just on women but on men too...
In Tender is the Night by Scott. F. Fitzgerald, the scene of a beauty ritual is presented at one point in the novel. The heroine is standing in her bathroom making certain her body is evenly covered with powder. In my memory, a towel has been laid down under her feet so as to allow for this second dry shower of fresh, satiny particles to settle gracefully and thoroughly, after the first one of water.
The exoticism-in-time of that moment remains - such attention to a gesture so intimate and almost forgotten. While neglected as a habit today, powdering, with the pefume and texture of face powder especially, has remained with us through its easily decipherable perfumey nostalgic accord which some crave precisely because there is in it this comforting smell of familiar bygone things, of early maternal attention and care.
Powdery rose-violet accords are sometimes still found in lipsticks provoking a recall of vintage coquettish smells. "Baby powder" best known as manufactured by Johnson and Johnson is of course deliciously regressive.
In 2012, while dusting body powders and talcum powders are available, even perfumey ones like Yardley's in pharmacies, they bespeak of a retro habit acquired by another generation in another time. Maybe it was under the Tropics or maybe in England, where it seems a bit more prevalent, and maybe it continues to be carried on as an imitation of a great-aunt or a grand-mother.
In 2007, I interviewed perfumery owner Kathy B. of Colonial Drug fame in Cambridge, Massachusetts and she pointed out then how perfumed powders were neglected albeit a terrific gesture to remember to resort to in the summer.
Fine perfumes of late however have been re-incorporating an overdose of powder in their formulations. While Ombre Rose by Jean-Charles Brosseau and Flower by Kenzo have ensured that the contingent of women, and why not men, who like this sensation of smelling like their grand-mothers' powder remain well approvisioned, a new generational cohort of perfumes wafting of this ever nostalgic note has appeared.
Love, Chloé (2010) was probably the recent mainstream revivalist turning point with its clear conceptual aim of mimicking the scent of a Coty face powder. To the nose it is also clearly inspired by a classic now defunct, Le Dix de Balenciaga, one of the most seductive powdery notes to have wafted in the history of modern perfumery. In Extrait, its violet-iris refinement was absolutely beguiling. If you can find it in vintage form, it is so very much worth experiencing. But the current formulation of Love, Chloé has made sure to recapture Le Dix, like a butterfly, in the net of the fragrance. It has been nailed down with a pin, and its colors are still shimmering. Behind Le Dix, you can perceive the ghost of L'Heure Bleue by Guerlain (1912) with its mist-and-fog effect; it is in fact the ancestor of many of these neo-retro-powdery perfumes ca. 2010. Chanel No.19 Poudré and Oscar de la Renta Esprit d'Oscar - a clear love child of L'Heure Bleue - followed suit in 2011.This taste current seems to tie in naturally with the popular white musk one in its powdery incarnation. Before L'Heure Bleue, there was L'Origan by Coty (1905) which is its direct ancestor yet is much more solar in character.
More discreetly distributed but very self-aware of its identity as an innovative powdery perfume was in 2009 Eau de Sourcellerie by Garancia created by perfumer Fabrice Olivieri which was launched under a heading proclaiming it to be "the first powdery aromatic". You may slightly beg to differ when remembering the aromatic anisic facet of L'Heure Bleue, but a rethink of powdery notes has obviously been going on.
The cool, green, slightly strange prophylactic note of powder has been recaptured and blackened in Dahlia Noir by Givenchy with the help of a little inspiration from the sulfurous Black Orchid by Tom Ford. Datura Noir by Serge Lutens is powdery and also inspired by L'Heure Bleue, but it is not a cool composition thanks to the solar notes of tuberose plus coconut. It is in fact tropically warm. It is L'Origan plus L'Heure Bleue transported in the heat of the jungle.
The new Carita Eau de Parfum composed by Alberto Morillas, the master of white musks and the creator of the delectably powdery Flower by Kenzo, is inspired by L'Heure Bleue too.
If you are looking mostly for this sensation of wearing a cool powdery sillage, independent of more complex feelings, we recommend Aqua Motu by Comptoir Sud Pacifique which has a cooling, sea-breeze aspect.
I Profumi di Firenze Talco Delicato is pure powder, plus anise. It has the right kind of chilling effect.
Heliotrope perfumes are also helpful in this regard; it is a powdery floral note constitutive of L'Heure Bleue. One of our favorites is Bourbon French Heliotrope. Other heliotrope soliflores to consider are Etro Heliotrope and L.T. Piver Heliotrope.
Powdery fougères like Brut by Fabergé can be approached from this textural angle. Homme de Lalique is extremely powdery and sweet enough to be worn by women.
A good poudré perfume for summer ought to feel powdery enough to suggest a veil of powder but without falling in the range of powdery and sticky-resinous. It should retain a slightly dry character suggestive of well-controlled perspiration, an association we make when smelling a powdery scent. A cool spicy note like anise or mint helps a powdery perfume feel even more at home in the summer.