If aggressive 80s perfumes wore olfactory shoulder pads, as perfume writer Susan Irvine suggests in her book Perfume Guide, then picture 50s perfumes wearing those dresses with rounded shoulders and poofy skirts.
"Friendly-sexy" was exemplified by Marilyn Monroe’s soft, downward-curving and rounded eyes, full lips, and pillowy body. Everything about her look screamed sex — but with a smile.
1950s perfume, too, represented by Revlon's Intimate or Robert Piguet's Baghari, is steeped in musky sensuality. (Intimate's animalic ballast — castoreum, civet, and musk — is about as subtle as a bullet bra, and Baghari sinks you into a musky vanilla reverie that's heavy and rich.)
And then there's this little known gem by Max Factor — Primitif. (Thanks to Leslie Ann from Miniature Perfume Shoppe for introducing me to it and offering up a sample vial!)
Primitif is deliciously skanky, with intentions about as wholesome as Danger Girl's to your left there. But there's something campy and pulp novel about its menace.
Primitif starts out with a roar of sharp, crisp aldehydes. Within seconds, it lurches down into a caramely, crisp, buttery, peachy perfume with more than a little stink of civet and musk (perhaps nitromusks?) toward its dry down. I would guess some oakmoss and maybe a smidge of patchouli. It's definitely in the chypre-animalic floral family. Jasmine? Gardenia?
A Basenotes reader noted that Primitif reminds her of Arpège, but if Arpège is Natalie Portman, Primitif is Lindsay Lohan. Out of control, incorrigible, and perspiring a kind of animalic pheromone. (Yes, I know; pheromones don't have a detectable scent to humans. Humor me, please.)
When my perfume friend Robin sent me a super-vintage Chanel No. 5 with nitromusks, it was a revelation. This was a serious musk, and made me rethink all of the perfumes with musk that had disquieted me so. Nitromusks — in perfumes like vintage Chanel, Baghari, and Intimate — curl, crackle, and fatten up the perfumes they're in. You have to smell this added dimension to understand what I mean, but the best analogy I can think of is the difference between a dish with butter or without it. There's an olfactory "mouthfeel" you get from these musks...
So is Primitif primitive? Well, in the most civilized, self-conscious way, like a well-heeled woman wearing a leopard print coat. It reveals, in perfume notes, the contradictions in 1950s good girl/bad girl sexuality. In any case, I'll be Huffing it all week...