A few days ago, I came across a few mills of vintage Lanvin Rumeur. I didn’t have time to sample it properly over the weekend, so I thought, for some reason, that it was an aldehydic floral like Arpege. Anyway, I grabbed a couple of those for comparison and brought it down to the studio to sniff and write about today.
Maaaannnn! This is no floral.
Rumeur was released in the early Thirties. Not a particularly good decade for most. Times were tough. (Perfumes, as markers of history, fascinate me. This is why I love the vintage stuff so much.) The Thirties were a decade of tough fragrances, too, like this: leather. Like an old aviator jacket once owned by a pipe smoker who, well, maybe didn’t get to wash his hair as often as he should have; a prominent note here is costus.
Costus is made from steam-distilling the roots of the Saussuria costus, a perennial, thistle-like herb that grows in Asia. I have a little bit of the essential oil. It smells like scalp, sort of dirty and fleshy and musky at once. It was used as a fixative in the ancient world, but that may not have been the same plant — there are many types.
Reading up on the IFRA regulations, I see that costus oil and absolute are — you guessed it! — prohibited, as a severe sensitizer. So now I treasure my tiny little vial of EO all the more. Black market costus! (And no, I’m not going to rub the pure stuff on my skin, nannykins, okay? I have been using it as an ingredient in mixtures I call scents of place, as an element that adds that necessary bit of urban funk.) Rumeur is full of it.
So can I expect a rash? I’ll let you know.
But back to the scent. I get aldehydes at first, a tiny bit of floral (carved in stone, though, like those carved flowers over doorways in some old cathedrals) and some stone fruit. And civet, a little. The aforementioned costus. Leather leather leather, and it smells like the birch tar kind, not the synthetic “leather” note IBQ. A little smoke. I guess you could call it a leather chypre, as there’s oakmoss in it, too.
I brought along some 1990 Chanel No. 5 EDT and some vintage Arpege extrait for comparison, when I was still thinking that this would be an aldehydic floral. The Chanel in particular gave me that “Why haven’t I been wearing this more often!” thrill. The Rumeur is an intellectually challenging fragrance, one that I found to be a little, er, disconcerting, similar in that way to Coty's Chypre.
I would love to get my hands on some Remeur extrait. It must be amazing.
Certainly, this is one that would scare the horses.
Remember this is vintage Rumeur. Reviews on the new one, released in 2006, range from “absolutely awful” to “not as bad as all that.”
I know the photo of Ava Gardner is out of time. It's a publicity still for "The Killers," from the late Forties. But it's such a great photo, I just had to use it. I have not been able to find the name of the photographer.
Perfumer was Andre Fraysse, who also created Arpege for Lanvin. "Rumeur" was released in 1934.
A quick search of our favorite auction site revealed…nothing. Not one bottle. But there’s always tomorrow, and some decant sellers might have it.
Full disclosure: I got my sample in a swap.