Friday, June 27, 2014

Selections from Bourbon French Parfums, New Orleans, Lousiana

Originally called Doussan French Perfumery, the perfume house now known as Bourbon French Parfums dates back to 1843, the year perfumer and founder August Doussan arrived in New Orleans from France.

The establishment has since passed through several hands and noses, all of which and whom you can read about on the company's website or hear about, I imagine, if you visit the store in the French Quarter.

The perfumes are, depending on who smells them, either wonderfully old school or old lady, that much-loved term for all things not fairly strictly contemporary. I like or love nearly everything I've smelled, and stand among Bourbon French's many admirers.

It's true the scents recall a different time and probably require some amount of appreciation for perfumes past. It's also true that the history of perfumery is increasingly hard to discern in the changing landscape of modern fragrance, where reformulations have altered the old reliables and prevailing fashion has drastically remapped the rest.

It helps that the pricing is reasonable. It doesn't hurt that you can buy many different sizes and concentrations. The perfumes arrive in velvet drawstring pouches. The labels look like they were printed on a vintage press hidden in the basement of the building. Not much information is provided about the fragrances, which adds to the pleasure of discovering them and enhances their sense of mystery. Several have become personal favorites:

Voodoo Love

One of the house's better known fragrances, Voodoo Love is earthy, floral, and spicy, beginning with an unusually strong dose of vetiver that bursts forth on the skin and is gradually embraced by velvety rose and jasmine. There is probably quite a lot of patchouli in this fragrance, helping to turn the lights down on those florals, and it could be that the patchouli, and the vetiver, neither remotely clean, contribute to the scent's subtle but pervasive animalic quality. It could also be that there's civet in the mix. If so, it's humming faint accompaniment. I sense clove but could be imagining that, a phenomenon that happens for me with many of Bourbon French's perfumes. I would probably classify Voodoo Love as a floriental, and it reminds me of once-popular, now-forgotten Lanvin fragrance which only exists in my mind. It has great persistence and projection, and the extended dry down is worth waiting for. The scent veers back and forth between accepted ideas of masculine and feminine on the way there.

Mon Idée

Imagine carnations steeped in peach nectar. Pour that peach nectar infusion over slightly spiced rose. Mon Idée is the most cheerful Bourbon French scent I've smelled. It doesn't get "carnation" right in the strict sense of the word, and carnation is so ever-present that you might be led to believe that it strives to. What it does get is the feeling of receiving a bouquet of carnations from, say, an admirer, or a loved one - that flush to your cheeks and your senses, the heightened feeling of possibility being noticed or admired can bring, the nearly electric thrum of the colors in the bouquet after this mood filters them to your senses. Mon Idée, for me, is an astonishing fragrance. It's very floral, like another favorite, Perfume of Paradise, but it doesn't have the latter's hothouse vibe, nor its indolic carnality. Mon Idée wafts around in a little pocket of happiness, well being, and radiance which is so foreign to the experience of every day life that smelling the perfume can produce an elated confusion of uplift and heartbreak.


A peach of a very different frequency presides over Romanov. This fruit is slightly turned, an effect enhanced, if not entirely created, by the distinct presence of honey. The peach skin has darkened; its fuzz gone rough. I would say this is primarily peach, rose, and honey, although there is clearly something sturdier going on underneath that core medley; some clove, possibly or even probably some patchouli. Like Voodoo Love, Romanov conjures fragrances that never were but seem to have been. You keep trying to place it. I should add that a common remark about the Bourbon French fragrances is that they are uniformly powdery. With a few exceptions, I don't get the connection. Romanov, Mon Idée, and Voodoo Love could hardly to my nose be called powdery, nor can most of the others, which leads me to believe that I've been right in concluding previously that for many the word powdery is often a stand-in for vintage. That said, while all three of the scents I've mentioned have vintage aspects and at times an overall vintage vibe, they also strike me as better versions of niche scents than the overwhelming majority of niche scents I've smelled in the last few years.

Sans Nom

If you find a better name for a fragrance, do let me know. Sans Nom has to be called something, so why not call a spade a spade? The scent reminds me of everything from Opium to Cinnabar by way of Teatro alla Scala, but Sans Nom feels peerless at the same time. The usual suspects are there: rose, jasmine, patchouli, clove. But somehow Sans Nom feels softer than its comparisons. Again, I could be imagining it, but I smell what seems like a lot of Ylang to me. Of the so called feminine fragrances in the Bourbon French inventory, Sans Nom sits second to Voodoo Love as the most masculine in feel. Or does it? I can't decide. It's the only BF fragrance I've smelled that I might call a straight up oriental. Despite it's powerhouse company and notes, it isn't the most persistent fragrance in the line, nor the loudest. It isn't quiet - not at all - but there's something meditative and whispery about it that I don't usually get in orientals.

Other favorites are Perfume of Paradise, the custom blend formerly known as Dark Gift, Patchouli, Vetiver, Kus Kus, and Oriental Rose. Thanks out to Maria Browning of Bitter Grace Notes for introducing me to this line with a very thoughtful and generous care package of samplers.


BitterGrace said...

Wonderful reviews of all these -- I especially love your characterization of Mon Idee. You do justice to its glory. I see your point about the overuse of the term "powdery," but I do love the BF scents that actually ARE powdery. In addition to Kus Kus, there's Huiles 85 in the men's line. That one is so powdery and soft that it's almost hard to believe it was originally formulated as a men's cologne. Also, there used to be an eponymous Bourbon French fragrance similar to Kus Kus but a bit lighter and fresher. I think you can still get it as a custom order. It's mildly powdery, very nice.

Brian said...

I agree about Kus Kus. But I guess I expected, after reading all the powder comments, many of them complaints, to smell more of it throughout the line. I love powder, so it wouldn't be unwelcome. Are there any others you tried that have been discontinued? I read about one called I think Tonight that sounds interesting.

Barbara said...

I'm really excited about getting my batch now! (I hope they throw in Sans Nom. I would say "La Fuite des Heures" by Balenciaga competes as a perfume name, however.) Completely absurd that I could have just waltzed over to Bourbon French with an iced coffee from Café du Monde, covered in beignet sniff everything. But noooo...I avoided it. And now I want it. Story of my life...

Greg said...

Good read :)

Tania said...

Nice reviews, Brian. These sound right up my alley! I am SO annoyed with the mailing restrictions which now mean I can't get perfume from overseas any more….. *grump*
Ah, powdery… I love powdery.  But for my friends who are not scent fans, any scent they consider ‘too strong’ is powdery, whether it strictly is, or not. I had an argy with a friend recently over a sandalwood scent, which she said was 'too powdery and old lady in church' and it hurt her sinuses. I said that those old ladies were probably wearing classic scents which had been new and daring in their youth, but hey, fashions change. I’m just a vintage kind of girl.  And she came down with a cold a day later, so I doubt my perfume was the cause of her sinus issues.
By the way, can I ask, what is this ‘I have allergies’ thing? Americans (my friend is one) seem to be the only people who declare this, as a way to object to scents they don’t like. Or any scents at all. Are Americans super-allergic, or is it learned behaviour? As far as I know, regulations prevent perfumes having irritant ingredients any more. I’m asthmatic myself, and unless I walk into a cloud of just-sprayed perfume without holding my breath, I don’t have a problem. But some people seem to play the allergy card if anybody wears perfume near them.

Brian said...

So sorry guys: I had no idea these comments had been left until this morning. I used to get notifications. Something's changed.

Tania, I think it's similar to the gluten free craze, which in many cases becomes a shorthand for, I'm on a diet which requires me to be bone thin but if I tell you I'm dieting to be bone thin you will think me shallow so let me just assure you I have issues and those issues are gluten, otherwise I would eat like a normal person. The allergies thing is...what it is? A sometimes catch-all justification with which there's no argument. What do you say? Screw your allergies? I mean, I do, but that's me.

Barbara, I LOVE the story of your life. It's like something out of a Sagan novel. And being in it is even better.

Tania said...

I did wonder if you'd seen our comments, Brian. :-)

Oh yeah, gluten-free.... I've seen scam posts on Facebook, advocating it for weight loss. I didn't know it was an 'I'm not dieting, I have issues!' thing though. People are such morons. I have a friend who really is gluten intolerant, she has horrible stomach issues if she eats it. It's no joke.

Ha! I'd love to say 'screw your allergies!' :-) Maybe I will next time.
My pal isn't a perfume hater as such, but she only likes innocuous light florals or citruses. And anything more than one tiny spray or dab is 'marinating in it', to her. A real chypre or oriental will send her screaming for the hills, and my collection baffles her. So I imagine my perfume annoys her a lot - though this is the first time she's complained. It will probably be the last, after the lecture I gave her about exactly was, and was not, powdery, and how 'old lady' is a bloody annoying generalisation to a perfumista....

The perfume I was wearing which bothered her 'allergies' was Imaginary Authors 'Memoirs of a Trespasser', by the way. It's gorgeous. :-)