Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Marilyn Monroe and the Unknown Perfume She Favored (Not the Chanel!)

Is there a single soul who hasn't heard the famous quip of Marilyn about wearing a few drops of Chanel No.5 in bed? I happen to know from reading biographies that she also kept a bottle of Joy perfume by Jean Patou, which is just as well. A recent Salvatore Ferragamo exhibition in Florence (Marilyn was an avid fan of the Italian shoemaker) alongside the 50th anniversary of Marilyn's tragic death in August 1962 revealed however an altogether unknown love for another perfume; quite different to the previous two, one which we wouldn't quite have pegged to Marilyn! Goes to show you how much we have made up our minds on how we view the iconic blonde...

Floris on Jermyn Street receipt ~click to enlarge

The evidence is rather conclusive (?)  A receipt from Floris on Jermyn Street in London during a dipping into the archives of the British brand -founded by Juan Famenias Floris of Spanish extraction in the early 19th century (1830 to be exact)- came up stating a purchase of six bottles of Floris Rose Geranium eau de toilette in 1959 under the alias of Miss Dorothy Blass, Monroe's personal secretary. Much as the name might mean nothing however, the bottles were to be sent to the Beverly Hills Hotel in Hollywood, California, where Marilyn Monroe stayed during the filming of one of her most celebrated films, Some Like it Hot. The hand-written "correction" striking out the Dorothy Blass name from the printed form to replace it with Marilyn Monroe Miller is telling. I don't know whether Floris is intent on resurrecting this fragrance based on this "leaked" info; if they did it might hint at other machinations behind it, but that remains to be seen.

Although quite different from the intimately sexy character of the Chanel (lots of sensuous musk and civet under the sweet jasmine and ylang ylang), Floris Rose Geranium does have some common thread with her other proclaimed love, Joy: the celebration of rose takes a quieter, more retro interplay with geranium (which is rosy in itself but somewhat more masculine than rose), sharp lemony citronella and the milkiness of sandalwood.

Perhaps it's just as well: Chanel got its most famous unsolicited endorsement through Marilyn (to the point that even rival brands today, such as Dior, try to gnaw on some of this Marilyn perfume legend) but the woman kept a secret as to her more private choice of fragrance, a tiny reflection of her inner maze. Or so it seems, at least for now.

Pic of Floris receipt via dailymail, pic of Marilyn putting on makeup via


  1. Anonymous17:58

    Dear Ms.Vosnaki,

    Thank you for your article! I contacted Floris (not affiliated) and they told me that while the Rose Geranium EdT is a discontinued product, they do offer a Rose Geranium bath oil and soap (at a discounted price). I wonder if they will re-launch this product... my instinct says "yes".

    Best regards!

  2. Anonymous20:19

    Terrific essay! Thanks for posting.

  3. Anonymous23:04

    Interesting post, but I'm rather suspicious, namely because Monroe's name is printed in what looks to be fresh ink on an old receipt.

  4. annemariec23:10

    Fantastic! What a great find! It looks like an invoice, not a receipt, which has been hand annotated, presumably by Floris staff, to record the payment. Or perhaps MM's staff sent the invoice back to Floris with the cheque, with annotations noting the details of the payment. It does actually look like the customer copy of the invoice, not the company copy. (Sorry, I'm an archives geek.)

    I'm delighted that MM had her own fragrance secret. I've always felt slightly discomforted about the Chanel No 5 comment. She produced a suitably titillating reply to the intrusive question from a reporter ('what do you wear to bed?') just to keep everyone happy. But surely there was something more subtle going on underneath? Turns out there was. I would never have picked Rose Geranium from Floris.

    Still - was it for herself? Could she have been buying six bottles to have on hand as gifts? Six bottles is a LOT.

  5. Love this! Geranium was one of my favs when I started messing around with EO's. I still love it, especially with a touch of pine.

  6. Miss Heliotrope01:15

    It is always fascinating how we set up an image of other people (not just celebrities) & put them in a set box. If they do something that doesnt match what we want to see it can be problematic.
    The difference in scents distinguishes between her public persona & the private person - something that was/is undoubtedly troubling for her & others in her position.

  7. In her last completed film The Misfits (1961)there is a line: "What is this wonderful smell, like green perfume?" Clark Gable answers it's clary sage. (I'm quoting from memory) As the screenplay is by her then husband Arthur Miller I always thought it must have a real life reference and wondered which green perfume this could be.

  8. Anon,

    thanks for commenting and for the added info.
    This is very useful to know!

    You're most welcome on the article. The info made an impression as it goes against everything we considered Marilyn-like.

  9. Taffy,

    thanks, you're welcome!

  10. Anon,

    I kinda thought anyone could do it indeed, as you say: it wouldn't be the first time someone tampers with an old document, after all. ;-)

    But there are a couple of points that dissuaded me in the end and I decided to run this with some conviction:
    1.The ink is rather bright blue, but there it wasn't unusual for the time. Plus there's another notification in blue ink at the bottom. Looks a bit much to also be fabricated. Someone might try to be a bit too smart, of course, going the extra mile, but as you can see above it would be without point: the scent is discontinued and even the bath products are on discount currently. Too much trouble & the risk of getting caught for something that doesn't make profit? Hmmmm.

    2.The name in the printed form is indeed the name of Monroe's personal secretary. If indeed she was the recipient, why order six bottles and have them delivered at the hotel Marilyn stayed? It would make sense if it were for herself to have it delivered someplace else. Such a notification points to someone being eager to note on the package that it would be delivered on behalf of Ms.Monroe Miller so that extra care would be given to it (or extra discretion if it were a gift from her husband, we haven't ruled out this possibility, have we?)

    What do you think?

  11. AMC,

    it must be as you say! It makes sense.

    Marilyn's answer wasn't exactly delivered like that either. It was a reporter asking her what she wore throughout the day (what do you wear in the morning, in the afternoon etc) and because she was being really literal in the more demure questions at the beginning she had to devise something both exciting and not giving away anything to reply to that. Thus the famous endorsement, which of course should be at least partly true. (Though come to think of it, it does kinda give the luxe, posh, haute bourgeois image of Chanel a completely different take not explored as of yet, does it not??)

    Six bottles is a lot, but considering that's an overseas shipment (time and trouble consuming) and money was no object, why not? I have known of celebrities ordering by the crate when it's something they go through a lot. Also, Marilyn does't strike me as the kind of person who would mass buy something as a gift for people. She was more sensitive than that, to me at least.

    Another point: The bottle in front of her in the photo I posted is eerily similar to the old Coty eau de cologne bottles of fragrance (Muguet de Bois etc). Could that it be it? Or perhaps it could just be some demaquillant milk or something, assisting her in her make-up ritual. Who knows...Fun to guess though!

  12. DJF,

    it's certainly a very distinctive smell and one which goes against the grain for a ladylike floral of the times, sorta.

    Playing with the oils themselves is a great exercise in calibrating one's nose!

  13. C,

    I think so too! This is what stroke me as most intriguing upon hearing about the unearthing of the document.

    Marilyn is perhaps among the most enigmatic personas, because there's so much mythos tangled up in her short life. And her formative years being so troubled as they were, it makes sense that she would be willing to upkeep a facade for the outer world as a shield against her innermost thoughts and emotions.

  14. Idomeneum,

    that's fascinating to add. I admit I didn't recall the line at all. Makes sense what you say. It fits the character, but it is a bit random too to warrant the guess it might have come out of true incidents in her own private life.
    Green and Marilyn: She was indeed less of the sexpot than we ever thought.

  15. annemariec13:13

    Hi again, thanks for the context of the MM's Chanel remark. I had not heard it, and had often wondered.

    I don't know much about Monroe really, so I am sure you are right about her sensitivity - and complexity! Certainly if all six bottles were for herself that signals a serious commitment to that fragrance. I wonder if she had lived longer she would have gone for some of the American greats by Elizabeth Arden or Estee Lauder?

    Anyway, there is much food for thought here, so thanks.

  16. AMC,

    you're welcome. I have read the whole "quote" in a book, but can't recall exact title now. Googling doesn't help, everyone just keeps repeating the same old same old "hey, a few drops of chanel no.5 of course". It was really contextualised.

    She could very well have had associations with specific American greats. I bet if any of them was worn by women influential in her life the link would be a strong one.

    There is much more to what meets the eye with these choices. ;-)

  17. Anonymous23:39

    What do I think? You make good points. It's possible this is quite real.

    However, it's a little too "tidy" for me. It's very possible this is manufactured. Not hard to do after the fact, especially for a company with access to its own vintage receipt papers. A little computer wizardry and a vintage typewriter redux with some blue ink scrawled here and there takes all of ninety minutes to pull together well, with another ninety seconds to sell this fiction to the rest of the world.

    The fact that it's a discontinued product reinforces the credibility factor, but I can't believe they would sit on this for all these years. Really, Penhaligon's had a fan in the great Marilyn Monroe, and they just happen to remember it now? I don't know. I appreciate the enthusiasm here, but I smell a ploy. Look for this fragrance to be re-released very soon . . .

  18. Anonymous00:43

    Interesting! I can see her liking something fresh and spicy, actually.

    By the way, there was a photograph of her in Vanity Fair last year. She was reading, and on a shelf behind her was the classic faux shagreen case of Caron Nuit de Noel. ~~nozknoz

  19. Anon,

    you do have a most valid point: I guess the only way to ascertain is to wait and see. If it does get re-issued, then something's "too tidy" indeed! ;)
    I certainly wouldn't put it past any company.

    BTW, it's Floris, not Penhaligon's.

  20. Nozkoz,

    that's a most interesting tidibit, thank you for providing it here!! I wonder if she did like that one. It's cuddly and deep. She might have.

  21. Anonymous00:36

    It's interesting, but Monroe's secretary was actually a woman named May Reis. No idea where "Dorothy Blass" came from.

  22. Anon,

    there: the perfect conspiracy is brewing!
    Like another anon said, I wouldn't put it past them to have a 'too tidy" thing manufactured. It's an interesting factoid to add to the text for readers stumbling upon the post searching for something else. Thanks!

    Then again, why would they make a mistake as to the secretary's name?!?

  23. Anonymous12:27

    This may or may not shed some light on it:

  24. My Aunt was Dorothy Blass.
    She was a private secretary for Marilyn Monroe for a short period of time. They lived in The Beverly Hills Hotel around the time The Misfits was shot.
    May Reis was MM's secretary for many years and was a very dear friend of my Aunts.
    The document is real, of that time and very clear to me, in my Aunt's handwriting.
    Hope that sheds some light on the mystery.

  25. Dear Dorte,

    thank you for chiming in and providing this bit of information. How very interesting indeed!
    I hope that Ross above (from Pyrgos) is reading this too, as I know he's skeptical.

  26. Oystersandchampagne10:08

    I believe the blue annotations have been added.
    The handwritten date at the bottom is written in the American style: month, day, year
    A date would never be written like that in the UK
    It is always written day, month, year without exception

  27. Oysters and Champagne,

    this is an excellent point. It's the same throughout Europe.

    The one caveat is that should Floris have tampered with it, surely they would have used the UK style of date?
    So it's a moot point?

    I don't know. I guess we will only find out if they relaunch the perfume soon. That would be sorta conclusive. ;-)

  28. The blue writing is my Aunts's writing. It was done at some point, probably when staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel with MM.
    It was not added by Floris.
    Hope this helps the on going mystery…:)

  29. The writing is in my Aunt's hand writing. Most likely done when staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel with MM, as My aunt referred to her as.

    Floris has not tampered with the document. How they got it back in their files is more the question.

    The mystery continues….:)

  30. Dorte,

    thank you very much for the added information.
    It's very interesting.

    I suppose handwriting cognizance can;t be fooled just randomly?

    Anyway, I will be following the unfolding of this little mystery with the keen attention of wannabe Poirot. ;-)

  31. Dorthy Blass became an actress, later in life and may be seen playing the acting coach, Paula Strasberg, in "The Private Life of Marilyn Monore" (with Carlissa Hayden)on Dramamonster's YouTube channel.

  32. It is Dorothy's handwriting. I recognized it right away. The perfume was probably sent to her in care of the Beverly Hills Hotel, to avoid alerting everyone in residence that MM was staying there. Dorothy spoke of the bungalow, where the Millers stayed across the hallway from the Montands in two separate, second story apartments during the filming of "Let's Make Love."

  33. Rose geranium is not for everyone, some think it smells like cheap soap. I remember reading that Ben Gazarra thought Marilyn smelled like cheap soap at the Actors studio. Marilyn was not a cheap soap kinda Gal, he could have been very easily referring to rose Geranium.


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