Though the fashion pendulum swung back to femininity, away from the androgynous styles of the Garçonnes towards a more traditionally feminine silhouette ~waists, breasts and hips caressed by bias-cut satin, bobs set in platinum marcelled curls~ the Thirties were in fact a much tougher era than the Années Folles. Perhaps all-out modernism can only occur in an era of financial optimism…
The France in which Scandal was born in 1932 was riddled with unemployment, political instability and financial scandals. In the wake of the newly fashionable psychoanalysis, surrealism delved into the subconscious and its disturbing images. From the 1932 Tabu by Dana to Schiaparelli’s Shocking in 1937, perfume names reflected these troubled times…
It is strange, though, that the house of Lanvin would be the boldest in naming its scents: the milliner Jeanne Lanvin actually launched her brilliant career by producing for her high society clientele the designs she had created for her beloved daughter – the house logo by Paul Iribe showed a stylised mother and daughter embrace. However, starting with the sensuous My Sin in 1925, on to L’Ame Perdue (“Lost Soul”) and Pétales Froissés (“Crumpled Petals”, perhaps a vague allusion to “damaged goods”), both in 1928, Lanvin launched a series of racily-named perfumes. A shrewd marketer, she was in tune with the zeitgeist. In the year following the launch of Scandal, the most resounding politico-financial scandal of the decade, the Stavisky affair ~in which several prominent figures were embroiled~ would rock France to its very foundations.
Was Scandal scandalous for its day? As we have seen in the previous instalments of this series, leather had already entered the feminine scent wardrobe a decade earlier. But unlike its Twenties forerunners Tabac Blond, En Avion or Djedi, and to a much greater degree than Chanel Cuir de Russie, Scandal plays up the animalic, leathery side of leather. According to perfume historian Octavian Sever Coifan, who commented about it on these pages, André Fraysse had also composed a “cuir de Russie” base (i.e. a mixture of different components for ready use in perfumery) for Synarome.
This is possibly the “cuir de Russie” mentioned in the breakdown of notes:
Considered by many perfume lovers to be the ultimate leather, Scandal was admired by no lesser an authority than the late, great Edmond Roudnitska. It is one of the few classics he mentions in his book Le Parfum(Presses Universitaires de France, 1980), firstly as the prototype of a “fruity-aldehydic-leather” family and secondly, as a prime example of compositions that evoke rather than represent a note (which he opposes to non-representational perfumes such as N°5, Arpège, Mitsouko or Femme).
Top: neroli, bergamot, mandarine, clary sage.
Heart: jüchten (cuir de Russie), iris, rose, ylang
Base: incense, civet, oakmoss, vanilla, vetiver, benzoin.
“Leather and tobacco”, he observes, “are already transpositions of natural elements since they undergo painstaking preparations which alter the initial odour.”
My own version of Scandal is a flacon of extrait, of which one third has evaporated. The aldehydic top notes mentioned by Roudnitska have all but disappeared, except in the first fleeting moments of application, with a slight hint of citrus.
What immediately dominates is, well, leather, with a stronger birch tar edge than Chanel Cuir de Russie, with which it shares several notes: rich, deep, smooth as a fine old Bordeaux or a single malt whisky, with its complex peaty-mossy depths – oakmoss certainly, possibly vetiver because of the earthiness. A sombre undercurrent yields a vaguely licorice-y tinge to the heart, in a moment of olfactory illusionism: is it the clary sage? The floral notes seem so deeply blended in that they don’t appear as such any longer, which could be an effect of the age of the sample – a common phenomenon in older extraits. In its pristine version, the aldehydic fizz lifting the dark wood-resin-animal base, churning through the stately cool iris, tender rose and flesh-like carnality of the ylang-ylang must made for an intoxicating experience.
As it is, though, it is still a compellingly complex, opulent leather.
Though Lanvin has recently re-launched a scent of the same André Fraysse series, Rumeur (there was also Crescendo and Prétexte), there seems to be no chance of their resurrecting Scandal, discontinued in 1971: British perfumer Roja Dove has appropriated the name which had fallen into the public domain for one of his own compositions, an opulent white floral. Lancôme’s 2007 re-edition of Révolte/Cuir, another animalic leather of the period, was quickly followed by its discontinuation, allegedly because it was too costly to produce.
Thus, the original Scandal seems condemned to the limbo of long-lost scents. The few drops remaining are all the more precious: a reminder of an age where to dab your skin in the scent of a flower-drenched leather would send an iconoclastic frisson coursing through well-bred salons…
Pics from the "Gosford Park" film by Robert Altman, set in 1932, courtesy of djuna.cine21.
Pic of the french film "La règle du jeu" by Jean Renoir from wikipedia.
Lanvin ad originally uploaded at cofe.ru