There is not a person alive who has been unaffected by the wretchedness of 2020 and the pandemic that has dominated the list of traumas. I won’t even start to talk about the issues of this year because they are many and all hideous. But what about the escape methods for many of us during the best of times: scent? How much is perfumery still a big escape in the midst of one of the worst years in the 21st century?
1892 was a year of empires, part of The Golden Age when aristocrats flourished and opulence was the order of the day. It was also the year when Oriza L. Legrand released a leather fragrance designed to appeal to its imperial Russian clients. A few weeks ago, the modern Oriza re-released the scent which it called Cuir de l’Aigle Russe. The name translates to “Leather of the Russian Eagle,” and the fragrance is based on the 1892 original formula with only a few tweaks to conform to modern perfume regulations.
The scent is quite different from what I had expected. To the extent that there is leather, it is the Spanish leather or Peau d’Espagne of Catherine de Medici, not the tarry, smoky birch leather of the Russian cossacks. And the first three hours were something else entirely.
Love and marriage, virginal propriety and lusty naughtiness. Marrions-Nous runs the olfactory gamut from the virginal, cool aloofness of an aristocratic aldehydic floral, through the consummation of lust with darkly skanky notes, before ending with a sigh as creamy smoothness. The fragrance was released by Oriza L. Legrand (hereinafter just “Oriza“) in 1928 and feels very much a product of its time, a decade when the cool hauteur of Chanel No. 5 had become a runaway hit that revolutionized perfumery, but one in which Josephine Baker also ruled the stage and naughty, animalic seduction was in the air. I find Marrion-Nous to have been influenced by both competing trends, resulting in an elegant fragrance that is one-part aristo in white, one-part Mae West and a Folies Bergère showgirl doing the can-can in black.
Technically, however, Marrions-Nous was inspired by “Gai! Marions-Nous” [“Great! Let’s Get Married”], a successful 1927 novel by Germaine Acrement that later became a famous play. As Oriza explains on its website, the perfume house was moved by the play to make an eau de parfum that was meant to be “an expression of sensory playfulness.” The various notes were intended to be symbolic parallels to the various stages of the romantic process:
Inspired by love and marriage, which are not always related to each other, “Marions-nous” offers the virginal touches of orange blossom, rose, jasmine, and hyacinth.
In an interplay of propriety and informal understandings, the marriage reaches its peak as the heart succumbs to the essences of carnation and iris and the comforting accents of aldehydes and Ylang Ylang.
On the chessboard of Love, mutual consent seals the arrangement… and we slip into the gentle clutches of sweet emotion.
Tonka Beans, Musk Tonkinese accord, Civet, and Sandalwood add their fragrances to the happy ceremony… “Gai! Marions-nous!”
Childhood pleasures and sweet innocence, captured in a bottle. Heliotrope Blanc surprised me, beguiled me, and charmed me against all odds. So many of its elements are things that I normally struggle with in perfumery, quite deeply at times, but there is something about this fragrance that is incredibly soothing and comforting for me.
It’s a cozy snuggle scent that made me think of Mary Poppins, almond milk and marshmallow cream, babies in soft blankets, a mother’s loving embrace as she puts her child to sleep, and childhood treats. Heliotrope Blanc’s sweet innocence completely blew away my longstanding issues with iris and powdery scents, leaving me coming back again and again for another sniff. In the end, I simply sprayed some on my sheets and pillows, and snuggled into them with a happy sigh. Apparently, one should never underestimate the impact of childhood comforts.