The idea that an actress and a scent might have something in common is not too great a stretch of the imagination; for both, at their best, are feminine, challenging, intriguing. Each may be different things at different times – shape-shifting, mercurial – with a strong intrinsic core, while also boasting a venerable history of ensnaring men. Perfume might be said to have the qualities of an actress bottled; an actress, the elusive, allusive, illusive elements of a perfume.
The analogy is one that perfume houses have long found themselves bewitched by. Before such things were monetised, Gloria Swanson had a penchant for Caron’s Narcisse Noir (1911), becoming enamoured after visiting Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, whose ballerinas all wore it. The set of Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950) had to be sprayed with this intoxicant before Swanson would emerge from her trailer.
Greta Garbo favoured Balmain’s bracing Vent Vert (1947); Rita Hayworth preferred Lanvin’s serene Arpege (1927). Grace Kelly exuded Creed’s Fleurissimo (1972), as chaste as she was, in film, at least; and Marilyn Monroe famously went to bed wearing only Chanel No 5 (1921).
Some played muse more directly. In 1957 the couturier Hubert de Givenchy created a perfume for Audrey Hepburn, L’Interdit (‘forbidden’) to anyone else. When we met Jean-Paul Guerlain, he was still obsessing over the notes in Nahema (1979), his tender rose symphony, inspired by a vision he had of Catherine Deneuve showered in rose petals. Serge Lutens is keeping this tradition alive in his La Fille de Berlin (2013) – another rose, this time with thorns – and a salute to Marlene Dietrich.
Today, a commercial fragrance rarely appears without an actress as ‘spokescelebrity’. Lancôme is represented by Penelope Cruz, Julia Roberts and Kate Winslet. Natalie Portman is Miss Dior, Keira Knightley Coco Mademoiselle, while Clemence Poesy tells Chloe’s Love Story. YSL has Jessica Chastain; Dior, Charlize Theron; Gucci, Evan Rachel Wood and Blake Lively; Balenciaga, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kristen Stewart; Bulgari, Kirsten Dunst; and Prada, Lea Seydoux.
James Craven, a perfume archivist at Les Senteurs, views the issue of whether to opt for an actress or a model in such circumstances as one of adult creativity versus infantile passivity. "A model is a face, a young, perfect, aspired-to body, but a cold, silent marble statue, a Galatea. An actress may be physically desirable, but she is also a character with virtues, flaws, opinions – in every sense, a voice. I see models as appealing to young girls, whereas an actress has a role in the public consciousness appealing to all ages." He states.
"Actresses also retain a pioneering spirit about them," Craven continues. "One thinks back to women first appearing on the English stage in the 1660s and taking a proto-feminist role in challenging women’s status in society. Actresses battle for their careers; challenge age and push social boundaries; redefine women’s roles on and off the stage; speak out; set trends. Any perfume endorsed by such a woman is bound to enthral."
One of the most compelling symbioses of recent years has been the Oscar winner Cate Blanchett’s embodiment of Giorgio Armani’s bestseller Si, released in 2013. Si is a refined, yet insouciant, skin-soft chypre, in which fruits give way to woods via a sparkling floral heart. The relationship works because it would appear to be authentic: Blanchett spent her first pay cheque on an Armani suit, and she and the designer bonded when she won her first Academy Award, for The Aviator, back in 2005.
It is a match made in heaven, marketing and metaphysical. For there is something ethereal about Blanchett, despite her robustness: a certain mystery that speaks of old-school Hollywood stardom, with Armani’s distinctly contemporary edge. She loves swathing herself in Si’s base notes of patchouli, orcanox and blonde amber wood, trailing their sillage in her wake.
Mr Armani certainly regards her as a muse: "I love her gaze – it expresses both coldness and tenderness – and her modern-looking face with its unique lines, and her way of moving that is so elegant, yet natural. I thought she would express the originality of a different type of perfume: one that is intense, sweet, and light all at the same time. I thought of the zeal and passion that can be perceived behind her impeccable manners – a seductive combination that reflects Si’s complex character."
"As an actress, I get to inhabit different types of women – it means you have an understanding of the fragility and strength that are part of being a woman. The clash of these two seemingly polar opposites is where the energy of life exists." She says. The actress is an everywoman, then, but oh, such a glamorous one. At times, the glamour is such that this everywoman aspect fades. One thinks of Elizabeth Taylor and her White Diamonds (1991), plus other olfactory jewels. Created by the perfumer Carlos Benaïm – and unlike the celebrity scent phenomenon they inspired – these were as coruscating as their names, meaning that one bought into Taylor’s divinity, rather than have the goddess descend.
Paul Zak for Harper's Bazaar
Some performers may be too mysterious, too intangible for fragrance interpretation. James Craven asks: "Why has Garbo never inspired a scent? Has her very remoteness put the perfumer off?" (In fact, Gres made a vague attempt across a trinity of floral musks – Mythos, Sphinx and Goddess – released in 2009.) At Les Senteurs, Craven boasts Frederic Malle’s tuberose scent Carnal Flower (2005), created by the perfumer Dominique Ropion. It is a tribute to Malle’s aunt, Candice Bergen, and named after the 1971 film Carnal Knowledge, in which she starred with Jack Nicholson.
Craven also stocks Etat Libre d’Orange’s Tilda Swinton collaboration, Like This (2010), a flame-gold metallic; Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s sensual chypre Lumiere Noire (2009), another Deneuve paean; and the great Germaine Cellier’s Fracas and Bandit, both created for Robert Piguet.
Fracas (1948), a lurid deluge of over-ripe tuberose, was created with Rita Hayworth’s 'Gilda' in mind. Of the perverse, green, leatherscented Bandit (1944), Craven recalls: "It is said to have been a gift for the actress Edwige Feuillere, darling of the film intelligentsia and blessed with glorious, red-gold hair and a ravishing husky voice. It certainly sits uncommonly well on women of this colouring."
Via Harper's Bazaar UK