Thursday, February 9, 2012

Lancome La Valee Bleue: vintage fragrance review

La Vallée Bleue from 1943, smack between the Occupation of Paris and the turmoil of WWII, comes in a moment in history rich in intrigue, ravages and the desire to escape them; which was puzzling me when I first discovered it exactly due to its timing. The perfume is also a poignant station in a long line of nowadays largely unknown Lancôme perfumes: the first five with which the firm was established in 1935 by Armand Petitjean -previously manager director at Coty- on occasion of the Brussels Exhibition (Bocages, Conquête, Kypre, Tendres Nuits, Tropiques, alongside Etiquette Noire, Cachet Bleu from the same year), Révolte (1936), Peut-Être (1937 and briefly re-issued in the late 2000s), Gardénia (1937), Flèches (1938), Fête de Paris (1938), Chèvrefeuille (1939) and of course Cuir (the changed name of the original Révolte) also from 1939.

These intermittent years of the war saw not only one, but four Lancome perfumes introduced: Les Oiseaux from 1944 as well as Ange and Lavandes in 1945. There is also La Nativité, briefly issued in 1945, relaunched in 1952 and then discontinued. Perhaps it is our twisted perception of the war-time era which accounts for our perplexment at this.

We tend to either overdramatize the plight, imagining that everything disappeared as if stolen by aliens, or we tend to imagine that the situation was more heroic than it was seeing numerous French resistance fighters where there were instead many collaborators and attendates (people remaining silent, just watching to see what happens). The truth is many commodities, even luxury commodities, continued to circulate, either for those in positions of power (be it the position of conqueror or of black-market profiteer) or for those who could still afford to get them in some way. At a time of strict rationing, women still permed their hair and bought cosmetics to boost their morale. L'Oréal, the famous French company starting in hair-dyes under the brand name Auréole (and who ultimately bought Lancôme out in 1965 after Petitjean's retirement in 1963), was so energetic that even the outbreak of World War II in 1939 failed to curb the company's growth and they continued to produce cosmetics throughout: Oréol, the first cold permanent wave, was introduced in 1945 when the war was drawing to an end. La Valée Bleue isn't totally incogruent with this frame.

The intoduction of Lancôme in the USA after WWII saw a proliferation of perfumes issued: A new trio for 1946: Marrakech, Nutrix and Qui Sait, Bel Automne (1947), Joyeux Eté (1947), Minlys (1949), Magie (1950), Lait des Hesperides (1950), Galateis (1951), Trésor (1952), Eau de Senteur de Lancôme (1952), Plaisir (1952), Grâces du Printemps (1952), Envol (1952), Seul Tresor (1955), Flèches D'Or (1957), Lancôme d'Abord (1958), Fêtes de l'Hiver (1959) all the way to Climat by 1967, which was introduced under the new ownership.

The scent of La Valée Bleue was not languishing though, as attested by the fact that it used to circulate in antique French coffrets including 4 Lancôme perfume bottles: Conquête, La Vallée Bleue, Bocages, Tendres Nuits. One alonside the 1935 classics, so to speak. Someone was buying this stuff regularly to make it popular enough, if it formed part of a selection to be offered as a gift.

La Valée Bleue smells like a vintage, but not necessarily too dated, too dark or thick and somewhat musty as some of the old perfumes do. The freshness of the composition, which rested on lime and lemon essences, refreshing with winey rosy terpenic nuances on a bed of herbaceous, cooling lavender, light amber and sandlwood, gave the perfume a character that is not contrasted too sharply with today's sensibilities. Sensibilities which demand a balance of fresh and warm, a balance between emotional and reserved. Even though the lavender is central in the plot, the fragrance smells like a composite mosaic in the SanVitale basilica in Ravenna rather than the central theme in a kid's 10-piece puzzle. Obviously the ravages of time and war have burnished some of the sheen of the vintage I have tried, so it's difficult to pinpoint exactly what goes into it. The general feel however is one of innocent nostalgia and mystery, reinforced by the landscape-evocative name and the timing of this elusive Lancôme perfume.

Pics thanks to the generosity and assistance of Lovelyhazel/MUA & her photographing husband. All copyright is theirs. Used here with permission.


  1. Thank you for the list, now I can date the Gardenia which is hiding somewhere between the other bottles.

    La Vallee Bleue is one of those fragrances that make one think that life indeed was much better long time ago. I need to find my bottle and sniff it again. I think I even blogged about it long time ago.

  2. L,

    happy it provided a compass into chronologising. I always thought Lancome had TOO many perfumes out compared to what is revered nowadays of her oldies (The old Magie and possibly old Tresor and that's about it, until the late 1960s stuff and so forth)

    I think you did review it and I should probably get a link in there someplace.

  3. There are a few brands I truly collect and Lancome is one of them. Some of the fragrances are so obscure that I just flipped over them on the internetz because it HAD to be a fake, hoax or whoknowswhat. Which is why I thought Tresor and Seul Tresor were the same thing and considered Marrakech a random nonsense. Bad for me. Now, someone did my homework and I can make a checklist to tick off. I pride myself on owning a bottle of Envol - it's a real beauty and I'm going to my Prague place for a writing retreat so I might well add some interesting blog posts to my schedule.

  4. L,

    glad you found the info useful in that desirable duty you have to do now! Envol is fabulous and I always regret the day I declined an offer from a private seller. It was $$$ but still....

    Lancome flies off the radar fragrance-wise IMO because the current stuff is so...well...and the old stuff doesn't circulate widely therefore is unknown even to vintage scouters. Plus the only fragrances LT praised are Cuir (an aquired taste) and Tresor (the 90s one) and most people -me included- have dreadful memories of someone who marinated in the latter at the time, so they never took that rec seriously. (A generation or two in the making and it will be absolved, I bet). Pity that the Collection re-issues were drawn off the market so rapidly and unceremoniously.

  5. Fantastic names for those fragrances - that alone makes me want to try them.

  6. Eliam20:30

    Sounds refreshing and gorgeous. I absolutely love the bottle too. Simple, yet, classy and elegant.

  7. Elena, funnily enough, I got the half-full bottle of Envol for something like 15 euros. I'll at least send you a sample.

  8. lovelyhazel19:58

    Thank you for the research, Elena! Fabulous writing! :)


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