Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Nina Ricci Coeur Joie: fragrance review & history

My maternal grandmother had a Louis XVI vanity with silk damask that had a interlay of glass vitrine within the wood panel back, behind which small precious flacons from Paris hid. They seemed to flirt with each other at nights and I imagined them having spirited conversations when I was little. The square-shouldered Balmain extrait was the masculine counterpoint leaning seductively close to the smoothly countoured L'Air du temps and close to them a bottle of Coeur Joie seemed to proclaim by its very name the romanticism which those perfumes aimed to provoke. Perfume was a reverie back then, a daydream and a longing, more than a mere accessory and my grandmother brought them all to life.
I was watching an Angela Lansbury film, in which she travelled to Paris and had a gown made at the famous Nina Ricci atelier and what stayed was the palpable feeling of her intoxication of becoming another person through this chrysallis transformation; or rather the person which she used to be as a young girl; optmistic and hopeful, before the vagaries of life had crushed her dreams. In retrospect I believe Coeur Joie would have been an excellent scent choice to accompany this elegant vision! Its understated luxury of its feminine bouquet of subdued, cooly whispering flowers transports us into an early evening reverie someplace where Chopin Nocturnes can be heard through ajar French windows and ball-gowned debutantes are casting their dreams on the flip of a wrist during a waltz.

Robert Ricci, the son of fashion designer Nina Ricci and head of development at parfums Ricci, took an unconventional approach when visualising how he wanted Coeur Joie to be, the first Nina Ricci perfume to diversify from clothing, in 1946. Despite it being a creation of Germaine Cellier, a perfumer with a daring and unapologetic streak of rebellion, then working at the famous Roure company, this Ricci perfume comes off as a comparatively soft fragrance; delicate and low-key floral, with an elegant polish rendering it suitable for a Grace Kelly type rather than the more daring amazones of Cellier's. Germaine Cellier was quite formidable herself, a great beauty of alleged lesbian tendencies, smoking a chimney, eating garlic with other famous couturiers, violently clashing with Roure's acclaimed perfumer Jean Carles, briefly acting as a functional scents composer for Colgate-Palmolive soaps (a stint which lasted but three months) and gingerly mixing perfumers' "bases" wondoursly resulting into stunning compositions such as the first "green" fragrance (the galbanum-souled Vent Vert), the knife-scathing outlaw of Bandit with its leathery bitterness of quinolines of 1944, the buttery radiance of tuberose in 1948's Fracas (both for Robert Piguet), the nostalgic violet chypre Jolie Madame for Balmain (1953) and the lesser known La Fuite des Heures for Balenciaga in 1949. There is also the enigmatic Eau d'Herbes (Herbal Water) conceived for Hermes at an unspecified date during the 1950s, which remains an enigma, and several compositions for Elizabeth Arden during the same time-frame. The solution to her Roure disputes presented by Louis Amic was to set Cellier up in her own laboratory in Paris (baptized Exarome), a place of her own where she could create her perfumes and meet her clients.

Nina Ricci on the other hand is best remembered for L'Air du Temps, the romantic lactonic floral with a carnation accent by Fabric Fabron in the emblematic flacon crowned with doves, but she has had a line-up of several less popular classic fragrances. Among them Coeur Joie (1946), Fille d'Eve (1952), Capricci (1961), the masculine Signoricci (1965), the orange-rich Bigarade (1971)and the spicy carnation aldehydic Farouche (1973) all the way to the original green Nina in the frosted bottle in 1987 (the name has been reprised for the gourmand in the apple-shaped bottle of 2006), the playful fruity chypre Deci-Dela and the trio of Les Belles de Ricci, all the way into the recent years when the company was bought by Puig.
Marie Adélaïde Nielli (nickenamed Nina when she was but a mere girl) was married to Louis Ricci, to whom she bore a son, Robert. Nina Ricci relocated to Monte Carlo first and ultimately in Paris in 1932 when Robert was 27 years old, working as a model maker. But her son's motivation instilled into her the desire to open a fashion house one year short of her 50th birthday and the rest is, as they say, history.

The polished feel of the fragrance is immediately apparent, from its fresh, greenish opening oscilating between neroli and cool iris tonalities to the discreet, slightly warm and reassuring drydown which shares elements with the original Nina by the same designer, while being as waxy woody as the legendary Dior Dior. Despite scents of that time being usually powdery, Coeur joie stops short of producing this effect and does not smell old-fashioned in the least, although modern noses might be disappointed at the lack of overt sweetness. As someone at Fragrantica put it: "Launched just two years prior to Nina Ricci's renowned L'Air du Temps, Coeur Joie is L'air du Temps with a whiskey chaser -- a lilting, cool, pretty-as-a-princess floral with a knowing, silken drydown befitting an empress. Wear this when you want to promise nothing but deliver everything". I'd substitute whiskey with champagne, but the rest rings quite true.

The bottle, designed by Marc Lalique with whom the Ricci family enjoyed a close relationship since childhood, reprised the romantic theme into a garlanded tube that was heart-shaped. Extremely costly due to its rarity nowadays, yet there are round canisters of Eau de Toilette, holding big quantities appearing now and then on Ebay auctions and on online discounters; these harken back to the 1960s. There is a rumour circulating that they were especially made for the Greek market where Ricci perfumes were especially popular at the time and well-to-do ladies used them for refreshment on warm spring days.

Notes for Nina Ricci Coeur Joie:
Top: neroli, bergamot, orange blossom
Middle: iris, violet, hyacinth, jasmine, gardenia, and rose
Base: woods

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Germaine Cellier scents

Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938) plays Frédéric Chopin: Nocturne nr. 12 in G, opus 37 no. 2, composed in 1839. Recorded in 1928. Originally uploaded by pianopera on Youtube

Fashion photo of Van Cleef & Arpels jewels by Bert Stern. Nina Ricci atelier via nytimes. bottle pics via parfumgott/flickr and ebay


  1. Good lord, sorella mia !
    You are a seductress, no ?
    Bless your DH, and your little one-
    They don't stand a chance !

    Do you think Coeur Joie is me ?
    I'm definitely Farouche.
    And I'm a MAJOR Cellier fan ;)

  2. Fiordiligi16:24

    Chaya! It's beautiful! Roja Dove has this very presentation in his beautiful shop and I came this close to buying it.

    I agree that if our dearest E keeps posting these tantalising pieces, we will all be lost!

    Thank you so much for all these fabulous articles.

  3. I love these posts with a bit of history. Very interesting to learn more about history of some of the houses and some of the more "vivacious" characters. :)

  4. I,

    aww, cara mia, you're much too good into caressing my ears, you will spoil me rotten! :-)

    I think Farouche is more you (more fiery, more spirited), this is quieter but still tender and giving like you are.

  5. D,

    isn't that wonderful presentation like the most delectable dessert? Like the fluffiest meringue for the eyes!
    You're too kind, thanks so much for your support. I am glad that there are people like you interested in the history of perfumes. :-)

  6. I,

    thanks honey for saying so (and I am late in sending you that little something I had promised, forgive me, will have it in the mail by the end of the week)

    Hope you enjoy the articles, they often contain anecdotal info; at least I try to. ;-)

  7. Rappleyea22:36

    Sorry, I'm a day late here, but this sounds GORGEOUS!! I was a major L'Air du Temps fan back in the day, and I understand that now it is better forgotten. I agree with Fiordiligi - we're lost in the beauty here!

    And "disappointed at the lack of overt sweetness" sounds wonderful! I've been on a major testing binge, and I am overwhelmed with the sweetness and lack of the darker base notes in modern frags.

  8. Rappleyea23:06

    Oh my! Look what I just found on beautyencounter.com - 1/2 oz. in the Lalique bottle:


    Priced at $299. Ouch!


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