Monday, November 28, 2011

Like Nothing Else: Loulou

I wondered if there was anything in my collection that was truly unique. That really didn’t smell like anything else. 

Awhile back, I’d made a purchase of 40 or so minis, always a risk because minis are usually the first to go “off.” I lucked out, though. Only a few had. The rest — vintage Caleche, Ombre Rose, even the original Chloe — were still good. Among them was a strange, squat hexagonal blue bottle with a maroon spire cap: Loulou. I vaguely recognized it. I put it away for further reference.

Last week I finally got around to smelling it.

This does not smell like anything else I have. I think it’s one of those Rashomon perfumes — eight blind men, one elephant, eight widely varying guesses. Reading comments here and there on the forums, I seen everything from “too sweet” to “tuberose,” and I wonder, once again, if they’re just smelling something I can’t.

To me, “Loulou” is anything but sweet. It’s heavy and dark, full of wood and spice; cassis, a little jasmine, the herbaceous flower tagetes, plum (skin, not flesh.)  Aldehydes. Some heliotrope, certainly not enough to make it sweet! I’ve seen it compared to L’Huere Bleue, but to my nose they’re no more than minimally similar. (Having just applied a little LHB vintage extract to my other hand, I can see the resemblance, but this A to B comparison leads me to a new “note” in Loulou — coffee. That is to say, molecules assembled in such a way as to remind me of coffee. And I haven’t seen “coffee” listed anywhere else.) 

“Notes.” More and more, we hear they’re marketing-speak, nothing more; useful to prospective buyers, as one wants to have some idea about what one is getting, more or less. From reading descriptions of “Loulou,” it would appear that one is getting The Eighties in a bottle — “a frag with shoulder pads,” somebody said.

Well, I don’t think so. It’s true that this is powerful stuff. And I guess it does have something in common with Opium, the darkness and spices. But there is much more of the former than the latter here. When I think of the Eighties I think Little-Shop-of-Horrors tuberose: choose your Poison. This isn’t that. This is a truly dark, mysterious scent, a femme fatale perfume if there ever was one, reaching much further back into time than The Eighties. (The name “Loulou” refers to Louise Brooks, with the Twenties pageboy bob.)

My little mini is vintage, made of the same opaline glass as the big bottle (the spire top, though, is plastic). Judging from the label on the bottom, it’s pretty old. And I swear I keep smelling castoreum in there somewhere.

LouLou isn’t discontinued. It’s available on the discounters for a song, although it’s in a big ordinary bottle and, dollars to doughnuts, the bottle is plastic and the scent inside is reformulated beyond recognition, at least compared to the mini I have. Maybe that’s what all the commenters who call it “sweet” have been smelling. These minis like mine, though, show up all over, and they’re not expensive; around ten bucks usually for the EDP.

I will wear this out some night, the kind of night where I might otherwise wear L’Ombre Fauve — one that calls for some dark, sultry scent. One I know the DH will like, because he’s already told me he does. I’d like to see what others say about it. I think it’s in the same conceptual ballpark as the real (read: wildly expensive) ouds.

The garish colors of the bottle, the maroon and cyan, aren’t about the Eighties, either. They were used by Matisse often enough to become associated with him.  That’s one his paintings, “The Casbah Door,” from 1912. 

“Loulou” was released in 1987. The perfumer was Jean Guichard, who also did “Obsession” for Calvin Klein.

The painting image came from here.


Anonymous said...

I've seen this around on ebay and wondered what it smelled like in its original form. "Unique" is well, unique indeed! Thanks for reviewing.

Vanessa said...

I bought Loulou when it first came out - one of the very few bottles I have ever bought for myself in the 30 years before I "got" perfume and my associated habit. And recently I tried the modern version of Loulou which was super sweet to my nose, but more than that it made me feel instantly sick and headachey. So clearly the old stuff must have been different for me to have enjoyed wearing it, though my memory is very sketchy. If I see this ever in vintage form, I would definitely try it again...

Olfacta said...

Hi another -- The vintage mini appears in lots of those "sets" -- the boxes sold on duty-free carts on planes, usually with names like "Perfumes from France!" I think lots of them got split up, and the minis appearing on auction sites came from them.

Olfacta said...

Hi Vanessa -- More and more I'm hearing "the new version of (whatever classic scent) made me ill/gave me a headache/made me nauseated." How ironic that the regulation fever that led to this was supposedly about preventing bad reactions to perfumes! Of course, we know better. Another one bites the dust, I guess.

annemariec said...

About the jasmine, I thought that the EDT still has real jasmine, but just not from Grasse? I can't remember where I read that. I hope it's true.

I have an old bottle of No 5 EDC that I bought it a junk store. It was sealed when I bought it, whihc was a bit of a thrill. I don't much like it, to be honest. It smells sour, and powdery but not in a good way.

I am enjoying the Chaney biography, and overall finding it better than the Justine Picardie biography that came out last year (although the Picardie has its strengths). I'm looking forward to your review!