(Bruce Lee, image source unknown)
The standard Eaux de Cologne* seem like an obvious choice for summer. Citric, bright, refreshing. They don’t have a lot of duration, but they’re a break from the heat and cast a spell of cleanliness long enough for a first impression if you move very quickly. The traditional EdC is the most democratic of genres. The difference between the $8 bottle of EdC and the $200 bottle is minimal and you can get a bottle at the corner bodega or the nearest Chanel boutique.
Most perfume brands have at least one offering in the genre. The pricier lines have been taking two additional approaches to gain a greater foothold in the market. The first is to keep the general shape, but replace the citrus with either another fruit or a vegetal note (see Christine Nagel’s Eau de Rhubarbe Escarlate and Jean Claude Ellena’s Eau de Gentiane Blanc, both for Hermès). The other is the Faustian deal: the immortal cologne. Try Dominique Ropion’s Cologne Indelible for Frédéric Malle or Eau de Néroli Doré for Hermès, also by Ellena.
There’s another choice. Skip the Eau de Cologne genre and embrace the eau de cologne concentration. I’m wearing three vintage edc this summer. They work with the heat rather than battle it. They’re *not* fresh.
Starting with the fragrance closest to the cheery spirit of the Eau de Cologne and then moving outward:
Carven Ma Griffe (Jean Carles, 1946) , a green, floral-aldehydic chypre, makes an opening bid similar to an Eau de Cologne’s. It’s bright and smiling, and the bergamot topnote seems as sparkly as as the lemon/lime/petitgrain/what-have-you of an EdC. Pretty quickly, though, the mossy powderiness seems like it’s hiding something a little shady. It’s all so delicate and brief as to be nearly a secret and five minutes in, Ma Griffe edc is almost subliminal. What’s left is a light powder-dusted wood and a glow of sweat. The rounded drydown matches an EdC’s muskiness and of this trio, Ma Griffe is the nearest thing to a head-to-head alternative to an EdC. Ma Griffe’s timeframe is also closest to a traditional EdC and is the sort of fragrance that would need to be refreshed throughout the day if you want persistence.
A vanillic-amber, in fact, the ‘reference’ oriental, might seem like an odd choice to replace the fragrance equivalent of a smily-face, but Guerlain Shalimar is sensational in the summer. Other concentrations of Shalimar (Jacques Guerlain, 1925) are dense, sweet and smoky. The edc has a bit of sweetness but it’s balanced by the tartness and resinousness of raw bergamot. It’s a little smoky and a lot animalic. It hits the scene with growling sillage and settles to a purr at a deliberate pace. The edc doesn’t doesn’t have quite the endurance of the other concentrations of Shalimar, but it’s not far off. Emphasizing the animalism makes Shalimar edc sink into the skin with a plainspokenness that the other concentrations lack. It’s not transparent by a longshot, but it’s not tightly-wound either. Splash this stuff on out of the shower at the end of the day and you’ll have a better life.
If Shalimar edc growls and purrs, Christian Dior Miss Dior snarls. A buttery, floral-animalic chypre, Miss Dior (Jean Carles, 1947) is known best for its eau de toilette and extrait, but like Guerlain, Dior knew how to make a wicked edc. Even in lighter concentration the signature animalc growl is recognizable in an instant. Lightening the concentration while toning down the florals makes a less powdery but equally ferocious fragrance. This is exactly what people are referring to when they talk about the great animalic perfumes of the mid-twentieth century. It wears beautifully in the heat and signals a confidence that a ‘fresh’ perfume never will.
Vintage versions of these eaux de cologne from the 1960s-1980s are available with minimal fuss on eBay. They can be found boxed and unopened in excellent condition and at prices less per ounce than Eaux de Cologne from Guerlain, Chanel, Malle and Hermès. (Caveat: I’ve found that Ma Griffe doesn’t age quite as well as either the Guerlain or the Dior. The shape of the edc is legible and intact, but it is more fleeting, suggesting that it is not quite its former self.) I offer these three classics as an alternative to the sunny Eau de Cologne, not a point of comparison. They have an entirely different make-up than the citric-musky EdC, different goals. If you love the zest of an EdC and find it a winning strategy in a hot climate, this trio won’t sway you. But if there’s a doubt, you just might be seduced.
* For clarity’s sake, I’ll refer to the light citric genre as Eau de Cologne (EdC) and the concentration of a fragrance as eau de cologne (edc.)
(image of Bruce Lee, source unknown)