Back when we were talking about Jean Nate (and now I’ve gotta hunt up some retro JN cologne) March and several other of The Posse starting yarking about retro scents – not vintage haute couture but the scents that used to be found in drugstores and those odd little department stores (omg I LOVE coming across those! Chicago used to be rife with them (back then, Bramson’s was my favorite – right on the corner of Randolph and Michigan Avenues, one stepped into a little cavern of mid-level luxe). Now (at least in the Chicagoland area) the only two I can think of are Von Maur and Stein Mart – but… also.. back in the day (which seems to be going further and further ‘back’…) suburban outdoor mall full-line department stores seemed more autonomous, carrying lines different than what could be found at the Boul Mich flagship.
One such store was Marshall Field and Company and one such mall was Oakbrook Center, in the Western ‘burbs. Now… I was a North Shore gal, so ‘my’ malls were Old Orchard and Plaza del Lago and the strip malls of Skokie and Wilmette. Going to the Western suburbs was akin to going to Jupiter! In my mid-20s, though, I found myself at Oakbrook (Floyd only knows why) and I stepped into Marshall Field & Company (the name had not yet been changed)… as was the wont of all department stores of that era, Beauty was at the front of the store… and at the front of this particular department was a table display of Suzanne Thierry’s Ondine.
I can’t tell you much about the scent other than it’s an aldehydic floral, which is one of my favorite perfume types. It’s got a nice galbanum-y whack, which I also love, and, if memory serves, reminds me a lot of the much later Romeo Gigli – Mark Benhke wrote a marvelous review of the actual Ondine perfume here and there’s no point in me trying to gild a Mark Behnke lily – it can’t be done (at least not by me) – you’ll just have to read it.
This is about the memory of the display and maaayybe the perfume, just a little bit (because it’s that galbanum-y aldefloral that I find so irresistible (I don’t think anybody else likes Caron Montaigne – but I do, precisely because of the memories that watery (not aquatic) scent evokes, much like Ondine)…. anyway… back to the ‘experience’:
the courtyard entrance to Marshall Field & Company was dusky – that (and the fact that there were no revolving doors – too hoi polloi for that store – that’s all I remember. And I might even be making that up, much as I probably am misremembering my first time walking up the original Bergdorf Goodman dove-grey carpeted stairs (later, those vaunted dove-grey stairs would be stained and dispirited, alas) – in my memory none of those areas ‘sparkled’ – not at first. Much like a designer will create a bit of a tunnel to further enhance the glittery Beyond, I always think of those early stores as having that visual lead-in; maybe it’s just wishful thinking… but I digress…
but I do remember the display. A round table, with a fountain of white lilies and roses – and atop the fountain, a crystal statue of Ondine, the water sprite. Maybe even a little trickling fountain…? I stood there, in the vague dusk, mesmerized by that display. I’ve always liked the story of Ondine. Of course I had no idea of Audrey Hepburn’s stellar turn on Broadway – but I’m sure I would’ve adored that as well – Audrey & Broadway: what’s not to adore? But I don’t even remember if there was an image of her (read Mark’s post!) – I only saw the crystal statue of Ondine, the water sprite. And every time I spritz a watery galbanum-y aldehydic floral, for just a moment, I’m transported back to that magical moment. I’ve got a healthy dollop in my cart at Surrender to Chance – but, to be honest, I’m kind of afraid to spritz it; what if it’s NOT like the scents that always conjure it (and bonus points if you can parse that). We shall see. Besides, that scent/experience memory is 40+ years old, so I’m sure it’s morphed a bit over time – or maybe my brain is just flat-out lying about the entire thing. I’ll just adjust my memory – and why not, right? I probably made the whole thing up, anyway! But gosh, what a scent memory, eh? Even if it just might be a lie.
Do you have any weird, retro memories like that? My favorite one (other than the Ondine memory) is of Bergdorf and Amouage Beloved. A total fabrication, I wove an entire story of having climbed those dove-grey stairs in a pale pink St John knit suit, awash in Beloved. The image is so clear that had I not known that the stairs were redone 25 years before Beloved was created… and I did not ever own a pale pink St John knit suit… I swear, I would swear! that memory was real.
Is there anyone else who weaves backstories and… well… makes up stuff about your perfume experiences? I can’t be the only one… can I?