Wednesday, May 14, 2008

O la la, how fresh! ~O de Lancome: fragrance review

Inhaling a lemon grove's foliage trail in the morning air under hot azure skies, set to savour the day with optimism, full of joie de vivre must be one of life's simplest and most satisfying pleasures. Fragrances that give a lift to my step and make me face the mornings with élan are precious.
The task of achieving just that is not easy: it has to be uplifting, but also suave, not rasping on the senses which are slowly winding up to function from the night's inertia. Optimistic but with a hint of the stoic that marks the nature of my thoughts. Ô de Lancôme with its playfully double entendre of aqueous name and cool, dark green chyprish tendencies puts the right balance between the zesty burst of yellow hesperides and the alchemy of green herbs, interwoven like baroque music with its rounded forms philosophically puts some semblance of order into chaos.

The first advertisements for Ô de Lancôme emphasised the back to nature vibe that the French do so well with artistic merit: young women on bikes emerging from the rampant countryside, drenched in sunlight but with the coolness of spring air and dew in the fragrant grass, putting goosebumps on the skin at the hint of a breeze. It is so rare to encounter such a blatantly unpretentious image in fragrance advertising any more. Seeing those advertisements while leafing spring volumes of French Elle magazine, yearly devoted to beauty rituals of what seemed an arcane yet factually a simple mode, made me realize at a tender age how the natural world hides secrets of longing in the grass.

Composed in 1969 by perfumer René GonnonÔ de Lancôme came out at the time of Paris students' revolt and became an emblematic fresh Eau, taking the uber-successful Eau Sauvage one step further with the inclusion of synthetic aroma-chemical Thujopsanone. The consolidation of greenness under the crushed lemon leaves in the palm, with a subtle woody background resembles a viola da gamba supporting a clear, young female voice singing rounds of couplets in an allemande that converge on the same sweet surrender of a third majore of Provence in the end of a song in minore. Almost thirty years later and it retains the fresh radiance of a young girl, nary a shadow under the eye, curiously a tad sorrowful for the joys of life she has yet to experience.

Like the song goes:

Une jeune fillette
De noble coeur
Plaisante et joliette
De grande valeur
Outre son grès,
On l'a rendue nonette
Celui point de lui haicte
D'où vit en grande douleur

~{see the translation and musical notation on this page}

Ô de Lancôme was according to Osmoz the start of
"a new olfactory adventure [..] and perfumery would continue to explore its charms and powers until the early 80’s: Eau de Rochas, de Courrèges, de Guerlain, de Patou, de Givenchy, Eau d’Hadrien (Annick Goutal), Eau de Cologne d’Hermès, and even Cristalle (Chanel) and Diorella (Dior) would successfully pick up the gauntlet of those fresh, signature thrills that left their mark on an entire generation".

Notes: bergamot, citron, mandarin, petit-grain, jasmine, rose, honeysuckle, (witch hazel in 1995 version), basil, rosemary, coriander, oakmoss, cedar, sandalwood, vetiver.

Eau de Toilette comes in 75ml/2.5-oz and costs €48.50 and lasts incredibly well for this kind of fragrance.
Available at major department stores and Sephora.

The fragrance was re-issued in 1995 with a slight change in colouring in the packaging, which is helpful in identifying batches: the band around the bottle changed from ambery brown to bright green, same with the colour scheme of the box. The motif on the glass, like 60s wallpaper as Susan Irvine succinctly put it, remained the same.

There are two "flankers" to the original fragrance, both futile in my opinion for different reasons: O oui!, a fruity floral in a similar bottle with the palest white-ish blue colouring, aimed at generation Y, so saccharine-full generic and dull that it barely made a bleep on the radar; and a men's version in a green capped spartan column of a bottle called O pour Homme , marketed with the symbol of Mars (and male too) as the variation on O. Pleasurable thought it is, it seems like a redundant attempt to market what is already an eminently unisex fragrance in a new packaging to the opposite sex.
No need to splurge in getting both: the original is perfect on men as well and I highly recommend it.

Pics from parfumdepub.
Clip of popular song Une Jeune Fillette arranged by J.Savall from the exquisite film Tous les matins du monde, originally uploaded by Peteronfire on Youtube


  1. I will have to make a point of trying this one next time I am at the mall. I happen to love lemon, having a lemon tree is one of the greatest things in life.

  2. Please do, dear Jen.
    It's truly lovely and quite lasting for an eau fraîche!

    Do you have a lemon tree in your house?
    If so, you're lucky :-)

  3. "It is so rare to encounter such a blatantly unpretentious image in fragrance advertising any more. Seeing those advertisements while leafing spring volumes of French Elle magazine, yearly devoted to beauty rituals of what seemed an arcane yet factually a simple mode, made me realize at a tender age how the natural world hides secrets of longing in the grass."

    Yes, indeed! I hope this age of hyperconsumerism passes soon.

  4. Thanks Dain, I do hope so too.
    It's striking how those ads differ from current ones.
    I also think there is a hypersexualisation of everything in today's market just to sell, don't you think so?

  5. Anonymous06:29

    Oh, I had never seen this advertisement before. Thank you for finding it and sharing. It's romantic in its way!


  6. You're very welcome, Abigail.
    It is indeed romantic, as you say.

    (BTW, I sent out your prize sample for the draw, you should have it soon)

  7. Anonymous09:00

    The smell of citrus in the morning must be wonderful! I happen to love citruses both in food and drinks, but, of coarse, ours have travelled a long way, so a citrus grove is just a mental picture this spring (today snow down to 600 metres, 4 degrees, and really a cold feeling waking up! - therefore a warming & comforting illusion-of-hot-weather scent, rather than a spring scent, for me today).
    Neroli oil on the skin at bedtime is one of my favourite small pleasures!

  8. Anonymous09:09

    Since the day i found Ô i don't ever want to miss it! For packing my holiday suitcase for the mediterranean or somewhere else where the sun drenches this one is the first thing to come with me! The ad is especially enchanting as it perfectly articulates the carefree and natural character of the scent which is HIGHLY underrated today, i find. But that is also one big bonus: we're the selected ones and stand out of the fruity-floral-summer-scented crowd! :-)
    I also adore that ad with the O-formed blade of grass.
    I also prefer it to some of the above mentioned other eaux (Rochas-too "watery", Givenchy-"too fruity", Hadrien-"very fruity-lemony") as it features a certain dark green note, as you wrote above, i pay that to the oakmoss and i adore the rosemary in it!
    Have i mentioned that i LOVE the bottle? It's pure 60ies glass-art. I have a soft spot for those.

  9. Anonymous09:26

    Ps, I haven't tried this Lancome, but think I should! I like very much Clarin's Eau Dynamisante; they must be quite close?

  10. S,
    snow in May? It does seem too unfathoable for my habitual perception. What can I say? I do hope it warms up soon.
    Neroli is wonderfully cool, clean and mesmerising floral at the same time, it's one of my favourite smells as well. :-)

  11. N,

    sweetie, I know how much you love this; there is indeed a little dark undercurrent in there which gives it all the more piquancy for it. It's one of my favourite eaux.
    I like to think we belong to a secret club which appreciates this fresh beauty :-)

    You articulated my thoughts on the bottle and the advertising perfectly!

  12. S,

    we must have been posting at the same time! LOL

    Yes, you really should and if you want me to I can send a sample to brighten your cold days :-)

    It is rather close to Eau Dynamisante (another favourite of mine and of Lillie ~eh, Lillie?), although that one is more herbal overall, less lemony-woody.
    Very refreshing both of them.

  13. Anonymous09:57

    Thank you very much! I would really appreciate a sample! :)

  14. It's probably the same thing: sex sells?

    I feel constantly discouraged by the disregard our current culture has for feminine dignity and mystery. Sexual liberation is one thing, but the point was that women were supposed to be valued as equal intellectual partners in society; it's not exactly a license to be stupid spoiled whores.

  15. S, a sample will be crawling its way through the snow to your door soon :-))

  16. It's a sad conclusion to decide it all boils down to this :-(

    It's the demystification which annoys me more than the dignity. It's more insidious and less complained about from women themselves, for some reason.

    LOL on the link!! (and especially the Canuck French which sound funny after the proper French of the clip from the film I posted)

  17. I guess people are lazy; and let's face it, it's easier to sell the surface vulgarities, the lowest common denominator.

    There's no Canada like French Canada. : D

  18. People are lazy. That's unfortunately true :-(

    But why should companies/brand cater to the lowest common denominator??? I think a few of the bestsellers (which are actually good perfumes, solid art-pieces) point out that there is a market to be tapped, an audience who appreciates a well-made fragrance. And they're not so few, either...
    But lowering the expectations makes for an increased diorientation for the consumer, who after a while gets bored and sticks to their old guns. Or just foregoes scent altogether, inundated as they are with fumes emanating from ecerywhere.

    How could this be fixed?

  19. Er, paradigm shift? The problem is widespread, in my humble opinion. The perfume industry is just trying to cope with the world it's living in. I'm thinking of the 1930s, for example, when socialism wasn't a dirty word, and the height of chic was Vol de Nuit/Mitsouko/Tabac Blond and Greta Garbo. Conservatism and vulgarity go hand in hand, if I may make the generalization, because for both money is the absolute power.

  20. True, Dain, and you have a point there! There's something to be said about the idolisation of just money contributing to crass vulgarity of taste.

    But let me offer another perspective on that note: In the 1930s there were also many cheap, badly executed perfumes. Those you mention are the survivals, the ones which had something important to say in the first place and therefore became legendary.
    The Greta Garbo icon of course speaks for itself about what was considered chic (can't argue with that).
    But then there were also equally big stars (Mary Pickford, Theda Bara etc) with quite a different image (proper, proper squeaky clean in the first case; mysteriously vampish and sexually a provocateur in the second) and of course numerous lesser starlets who had lower aspirations.

    So, to being this to a point, what shaped the definitive tendency that remained as our perceptions of the times's vogues and sensibilities?
    And is there such a thing as the past being ameliorated in the decendant's perception because of the attenuation of the worst aspects of it?
    Are we nostalgising about times we haven't lived in out of disappointment with the present?

    {I am living this open for anyone who wants to jump in, not just Dain}.

  21. Anonymous14:00

    Ergo, when it comes to real quality, we must be happy for the Darwianian mechanism of survival of the fittest, functioning..

  22. You're absolutely right, we cannot compare the best of an era with another's generalities. All the same, I feel wary about casting our current bestsellers in the same field as something like Mitsouko or Tabac Blond. I mean, if you want to get down to it, artistic merit isn't really an inherent condition, but one that is determined by extent of influence, which is why it can only be understood historically. It's like what Joyce said about Ulysses, that he wanted to write a book that would be debated in universities for the rest of time. Nevermind that it's a drunken Irish piece o' crap (my personal opinion, of course). Angel, for example, really ushered in the gourmand as a serious genre, and will probably be "remembered". [shrugs] How many of those can we expect every decade?

    On the other hand, vulgarity as kneejerk profit strategy is quite something else, and a very real phenomenon in modern culture.

  23. Perhaps, that might do a service after all.
    Of course it leaves some unacknowledged beauties in the dark. I don't think there is an easy way out of this conundrum, dear S!

  24. D,

    Whether art is a thing of its own or the criterion with which other pieces of art are compared to is an interesting discussion and Ulysses could be a fabulous paradigm for this. (purposely entangled into trapping us into discussions, so manipulative!)

    It's true that one cannot expect many milestones in each decade. But the avant garde of today usually becomes the classic of tomorrow, I always say. It's true for fashion (Balecianga, Chanel, YSL) and it could be true for fragrance too.

    I can't disagree with your take on vulgarity as a sales tactic, it's assuredly happening.

  25. Anonymous07:49

    Vulgarity as a sales tactic seems to be good for selling large quanta, but however many perfumes of similar styles and easy pleasure people get on the market, they will eventually seek out something new, something different. So the perfumes that can offer only "easy pleasures" will at least not survive for long (?), and the really good one's will always find adherents. I am not sure that it only is a bad thing with all the poor quality on the market..

  26. S,

    I think what you say has some resonance with many people: they do tend to seek out something new because they're dissatisfied with what they have when it is not something worthwhile in the first place.
    Hopefully the good ones get their fans. If only they weren't discontinued...

  27. Coming late to this wonderfully passionate discourse [ which I thoroughly enjoy].

    I adored the citrus/ cilantro pairing in this- it was a true classic, instant refreshment in a magnificent work of art...

  28. Thanks I, honey. It was an interesting discussion, even if I say so myself: the people here have many ideas to share with me.

    Indeed I consider O magnificent work of art as well :-)


Type your comment in the box, choose the Profile option you prefer from the drop down menu, below text box (Anonymous is fine too!) and hit Publish.
And you're set!

This Month's Popular Posts on Perfume Shrine