Thursday, May 1, 2008

Little known facts: fragrance history

I have been keeping these "on ice", so to speak, for some time. They're interesting and fun to know and probably not too practical either, but thought I'd share.

Light Blue: It's the title and colour of attire by which a representative of Cambridge in an athletic tournament goes by, its counterpoint being Dark Blue *for Oxford. It goes back to the boatraces between the two university towns many years ago, specifically the Varsity Match. Something tells me Dolce & Gabanna never thought of that!

"The man who began the Varsity match tradition was Charles Wordsworth of Christ Church college Oxford, who in June 1827 arranged a two-day cricket match against Cambridge at Lords. The first Boat Race between the two universities was in 1829, and was rowed over 2 and a quarter miles between Hambleden Lock and Henley Bridge. The second Boat Race was not until 1836 which was rowed over more than double the distance, from Westminster Bridge upstream to Putney Bridge. It was in this race that one of the Cambridge oarsmen tied a light blue ribbon to the bows of the Cambridge boat (the colours of his school, Eton College). The colour dark blue was then ascribed to Oxford because it is the colour of Christ Church college, and the Oxford crew sported white jerseys with dark blue stripes during the race. These colours have remained over the years and now sportsmen who have represented Oxford in a Varsity match against Cambridge in a Full Blue sport are entitled to wear a dark blue blazer".
~according to Sport.ox.ac.uk

Chamade: Technically thus is called the drumroll that in the Napoleonic wars signalled retreat. Also used by Françoise Sagan in her novel, La Chamade as a sign of erotic surrender ("son coeur bat la chamade"). Interestingly, on top of all that, the name of a quite successful car model by French auto-industry Renault!
Guerlain had chosen a wonderful vehicle for conveying the sweet message of romantic surrender to love.

Listerine: Now known as a deodorising mouthwash and also a series of oral hygiene products, it began its career as a house and hospital general antiseptic in the 1870s! It only re-invented itself as a mouthwash in 1920, through cunning and rather manipulative advertising; even inventing the non-existent medical term halitosis for what is commonly known as bad breath!

Ma Griffe: In French it means both "my signature" (hence a designer's marquee is called one's griffe) and "my talon" (accordingly pictured in advertisements in the 1970s). So basically, Ma Griffe hints at having someone at your clutches: not exactly the prim image we have of it, now, is it?

Eternity: The Calvin Klein scent derives its name from the eternity ring of Mrs.Simpson (which was a gift by the Duke of Windsor) that Calvin bought at an auction for his then wife Kelly Rector. Inside the ring there was a simple inscription: Eternity. Which was the case for the Windsors, but not for the Kleins as they seperated later on.

More fun later on!

*Thanks to Bela for pointing out that the translation for "dark" vs "deep" does denote a difference in shade in this instance.

Pics courtesy of ciao.fr and parfumdepub


  1. I was a bit puzzled by what you wrote about Cambridge and Oxford blues so I delved a little deeper. It turns out that Light and Deep Blue are both Cambridge colours; Oxford Blue is Dark Blue, but referred to only as Oxford Blue, just as Cambridge Light Blue is usually referred to as Cambridge Blue. I have two bowls that I bought in Habitat back in the early 80s; they are the exact shades of blue for each university. Very pretty.

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambridge_Blue_(Colour) http://www.cam.ac.uk/cambuniv/style/five.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_University (side panel)

    Light blue and deep blue – without the name of a university – are just shades of blue.

    If I may, I’d like to add re. ‘Chamade’ that the expression ‘battre la chamade’ as applied to the heart just means ‘to beat very very fast’. It was first used by Théophile Gautier in Le Capitaine Fracasse in 1863. In everyday life, one can safely use the phrase without suggesting sexual surrender. LOL! What it conjures up is panic.

  2. Bela,

    what would one do without your delving deeper? ;-)
    I was reading a very interesting monograph on university life as seen through the eyes of a British writer who in fact hadn't studied in those two uni-towns but used the colours in his stories.
    Turns our translation makes the difference: "deep" and "dark" are both translated the same! Hence my mention.
    I also have a tie I got while at Cambridge, which is dark blue background with light blue stripes edged in red. Very proper, very English! (the thing you'd never catch a Med wearing, bless their flamboyant hearts, LOL)

    I will edit to correct it per your
    guidance :-)

    VERY interesting info about Gautier using it in "Le Capitaine Fracasse": il faut que je le trouve!

  3. Anonymous20:53

    I plan to read La Chamade, is it good? I didn't read any of Sagan's books.

  4. I very much like Sagan! I think you'd enjoy it.
    Just bear in mind she is a product of her times (60s) and therefore it might seem tamer now.

  5. Anonymous14:23

    Thank you, I just have to finish Gabriel Chevallier's Clochemerle and then I can read it.

  6. A rather more modern times Rouge et Noir, so to speak!
    Well, when you finish...



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