After the ravages of WWII, which brought real emancipation to women through their en masse contribution to the workforce and the uniformity of vote throughout the western world, people were now free to revert to more conservative models of life. In that regard, fashion and its cultural sensibilities that pertain to fragrances followed suit. Women craved glamour and style after the privasions of the war and the boosting economy tended to their needs with swathes of fabric and gilded bottles of precious, fragrant liquid.
In this economically optimistic atmosphere which was olfactorily inaugurated with the stunning verdancy of Vent Vert by Balmain (1947) and the playfully leathery animalic chypré Miss Dior by Christian Dior (1947), women reverted to more traditional roles in which the bitter green dyke-y typhoon of Bandit (1944) had no place. Family values gained newfound popularity as the world was ready to be repopulated with young people, to substitute the ones who had perished in the fields of warfare. Thus, being a good wife and mother was seen as the height of success for a woman of that era and in that regard fashion and perfumes complimented that ideal: constrictive lingerie that created smooth but immovable lines beneath the new secretary-chic clothing of twin sets and pencil skirts; bows and polka dots fighting for a decorative boost, capri pants and Vichy plaid, pearls adorning swan and less swan-like necks alike; the introduction of the stiletto heel ramaging parquet floors and the concept of shoes matching the outfit in its colouring and detail.
The formality and solid glamour of the 1940s relaxed into clothing that was more conservative overall, taking cue from the “I Love Lucy” series and “The Honeymooners”. The rock n’roll craze injected its own special touch to the youth culture with voluminous circle skirts, short ankle socks and ballet flats. Dior and Balenciaga were the couturiers to revolutionize fashions and while to wear the former you needed a slim waist, to wear the latter you needed a headstrong caracter: Many of his creations were architectural in nature and striking in their aesthetics.
Perfumes consequently moved into the realm of demure floral, feminine floral chyprés and elegant cool aldehydics. Leather as a material had lost its emancipated allure of the Garconnes of the 20s and the toughness of the Nazi uniform of WWII, relegated into items of luxury denoting prestige: expensive, smooth handbags of stiff shape made from endangered species (ecoconsiousness had not entered people’s vernacular yet), heels in elongated impractical shapes, Chesterfield couches in gentlemen’s clubs. With a rebelious sideline of leather boots worn by Teddy Boys and youths copying Marlon Brando in “The Wild One”.
Leather in fragrances therefore took a new twist to match the sartorial mores of the times: powdery, with floral touches of old-fashioned violets such as in Jolie Madame by Balmain (1953) or starting its own revolution with all the gusto of a "Rebel without a Cause" in Cabochard by madame Grès (1959). The refinement of the original Doblis, issued by the house of Hermès in 1955, is the soft to the touch hand that caresses a crocodile-skin bag; in many ways its logical descendant in fatal smoothness is Paul Vacher's Diorling for Christian Dior in 1963.
Myself I envision the femme leathers of the 50s emulating the style of two different ends of the spectrum: on one hand like the insouciant costumes of “Une Parisienne” (1957) with Brigitte Bardot and on the other like the faded, broken heroine of “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone” (1961) as played by Vivien Leigh; both elegantly dressed by none other than Pierre Balmain, the couturier who established the jolie madame style of 50s fashion.
(uploaded by stallano)
Reviews on all those scents coming up shortly!
Pic of Suzy Parker for Balenciaga couture from Vogue 1963. Roger Vivier pink embroided shoe for Christian Dior from Victoria & Albert museum exhibition.