Friday, September 7, 2012
By Hové: Three from New Orleans
I'd been living in Memphis a good two decades, a hop and a skip away from New Orleans, and a couple of years into collecting all things perfume, before I learned about Hové Parfumeur. Located on Chartres St., in the French Quarter, Hové has been around a lot longer than I've been around here, let alone anywhere. The store opened for business in 1931, right after the worst stock market crash in history.
Opening a luxury perfume house during an economic depression seems like the kind of bold, if not foolish, move only the truly deluded would make, but like other forms of entertainment - movies, for instance - perfume offered a reasonable and useful distraction, if not relief, from overall financial duress. While it might have been tempting to view Hové's founder and perfumer, Mrs. Alvin Hovey-King, as a naive woman when her bright idea struck, it's now just as tempting to view her along the lines of a small-scale Coco Chanel, somewhat visionary in her understanding of the things which sustain people during hardship, priceless commodities for which they're willing to pay with what little money they have.
Her husband's investment business went the way of the crash. There must have been few other prospects. Opening a perfumery was a wild hair idea, maybe, but probably less ridiculous than doing nothing. The couple lived above the first shop, located on Royal Street. In 1938, the year that Commander Hovey died, the outfit moved to Toulouse. Again, Mrs. Hovey lived in an apartment above the store.
In 1961, the widowed Hovey, having survived her husband by over twenty years, passed away, leaving the brand to her daughter and granddaughter. Before its move to Chartres, Hové was moved to one other location. Since the death of its founder it has been passed along to several generations of the extended Hovey family. Currently, it's being run by the Wendels, husband and wife, who, like Mrs. Hovey, live above the shop.
Mrs. Hovey is said to have learned the craft of perfumery from her Creole French mother. There's very little about Hové online, other than the company's website, and I've been unable to find out who its "house" perfumer is now. Several of the fragrances - there are quite a few - are said to have been revived, suggesting reformulation. I still haven't made it over to the storefront, but friends have visited and, calling me on the phone from the counter, relayed their impressions based on what they imagined I would like.
Hové sells parfum extrait and eau de cologne versions ranging in sizes from half ounce to four ounce splashes. A half ounce of extrait runs for 55 to 65 dollars, depending on the line. The smallest cologne comes in a 2 ounce atomizer and costs 31 or 37.
After our telephone conversation, a friend brought me back Vetiver, Fascinator, and Spanish Moss, the three I felt might be most up my alley, or at least as good a place as any to start. Of the three, I've smelled only the vetiver in both cologne and extrait formulations.
VETIVERT is the safest bet. It's one of the nicer vetivers I've smelled; strong - and persistent - enough to satisfy in either concentration. Hové's Vetivert is raw and peppery. Of the many vetivers I know, I'd say Encre Noire comes closest. As much as I love Encre Noire, I prefer Hové's version: it's rawer still. For all its earthiness, Encre Noire has an airy quality I wish would dig deeper. Even in cologne form, Hové's vetiver maintains the rooty opacity of the best vetiver oil. Despite this, it isn't a "thick" wear. It's just that it doesn't bat its eyes at you. It has none of the cheery bright reassurance of the present day Guerlain Vetiver.
SPANISH MOSS is my second favorite. The subject of some debate in the few online reviews I've read, it is said to be either the perfect moss or nothing close. It smells plenty mossy to me. Hové's website doesn't list much by way of notes, but on one customer review they're listed as: Lilac, lemon, rose, orange blossom, osmanthus, orris, heliotrope, myrrh, and vanilla. That all sounds about right to me, and sniffing my wrist I get more than anything the heliotrope, vanilla, rose, and orange blossom. Why there isn't any moss in the formula, if in fact there isn't, is something you'd have to take up with the ghost of Mrs. Hovey, but like Nahema, a rose which is said to contain anything but, Spanish Moss conjures the impression of sweet, dry moss with a floral wind running through it. The extrait lasts respectably, with modest projection.
FASCINATOR, according to the Hové website, is a medley of musks and moss. It's an old school scent, to my nose somewhere along the chypre continuum - falling on the light side. Aspects of the fragrance remind me of 31 Rue Cambon, which isn't to say they smell alike; only that both get close to what I imagine people must mean when they talk about modern day chypres. In other words, they smell like the present with a distinct nod to the past. Fascinator smells best right out of the bottle, and I wish it would stay that way. It fades to a murmur too quickly for my taste. I picture the little pieces of drama it's named after, those vintage hats, and I want it to have more of their flair.
All three of these Hové scents, while wearable as modern perfumery, rather than mere curiosity pieces of the past, have a definite vintage vibe to them.
Hové doesn't seem to offer sample vials, so it's a bit of a crap shoot exploring the line. The packaging is fairly utilitarian. The bottles are simply labeled, with no particular frills to their silhouettes. The company also sells soaps in some of the scents it produces. I've smelled vetiver, which was wonderful. I keep trying to find an excuse to get back to New Orleans so I can spend some serious time in the shop, but it hasn't worked out yet.