Perfume Review: Vintage Coty Emeraude
It’s difficult for me to write a review of a fragrance that is special to me. Emeraude was the first perfume I ever loved. I still love it. I’m a little worried that the magic could wear off and it could become ordinary for me. But this is a lovely thing, and if I had my way, everyone would smell it – everyone.
I first encountered Emeraude at the drugstore sometime around 1984, and instantly thought it the most beautiful perfume I’d ever smelled. Soft and aromatic and floral at the same time, it was so well-blended that I could never have told you what was in it. At the time, I was about halfway through my bottle of original Chloe, that big flirty white floral bomb, and I was only really familiar with my Chloe, my mom’s No. 5, my grandmother’s Avon Cotillion – which I thought was hideous - and Opium, my personal scent nightmare. Emeraude was like nothing else in my world.
And (in the smug, naive manner of teenagers everywhere), I loved the ads for it, too: “I love only one man. I wear only one fragrance – Emeraude.”
This was the bottle of Emeraude that I owned – eau de cologne in a lime green color, in a slightly-curved rectangular bottle with a white top. My mother disliked it, finding it “too mature” for a teenage girl. But a boyfriend gave me a small half-ounce bottle, and I kept it on my dresser and wore it and loved it until it went bad from a couple of years’ worth of light and heat damage. And then the next time I went to smell it at the drugstore, some time in the early 90′s, it smelled different to me. It smelled like itself – sort of – but sharper and thinner. It didn’t make me sigh with pleasure, so I thought that my tastes must have changed. I just put it back on the shelf and gave it no further thought.
Until I read a mini-review of the vintage on the Posse (link at bottom of page), in which March described Emeraude as soft and rich. Yes, I said to myself. Yes, ebay. Yes, I’ll go look. I bid on a half-ounce bottle of parfum de toilette that looks 70′s-era to me. It smelled even better than I’d remembered. I went on an extended Emeraude quest last summer, eventually hunting down and dragging home six bottles. (Um, yeah, you read that correctly: six bottles. Two teeny bottles of parfum, one half-ounce bottle of 1950′s edt, two half-ounce bottles of pdt, and one stunning FOUR-ounce bottle of pdt. I told you, I love this stuff.)
I will make the observation that unlike many vintage fragrances, vintage orientals tend to survive the years largely intact, although sometimes they can go faint. All of the pdt bottles I own smell fabulous, which the two parfums, which are in pretty, decorative bottles and presumably spent some time on display on dressers, are actually less strong, and less long-lasting, than the pdt bottles.
Since you knew this was coming anyway, I’ll give you the usual caveats regarding vintage bottles, particularly those on ebay: YOUR BOTTLE MAY VARY. You never know the conditions under which a particular bottle was stored – was it kept in Aunt Sadie’s bedroom closet, in a box up on the shelf, away from light, until she bought her assisted-living condo and downsized her possessions? Or did it spend twenty years sitting out on Aunt Louise’s windowsill because “it was so pretty”? Has it been sitting in the window of the thrift shop, catching the light, until an ebay seller snapped it up and listed it for sale at a 400% markup? You just don’t know.
Ahem. So on to the important stuff: how’s it smell?
When I first put it on (all my vintage bottles are splash-type, not spray), I dab one drop on each wrist and one at the base of my throat. Then I attempt to dissect what I’m smelling, which is a little like trying to diagram Shakespeare’s poetry in that it’s not only difficult, but rather pointless when it comes to describing Emeraude’s appeal. What is immediately apparent is the citrus. There’s a huge ton of bergamot, intense but somehow creamy, possibly because of all the vanilla in the base. This is the big-sillage phase, and it only lasts about 20 minutes before quieting and settling down onto skin.
The heart of the fragrance gradually comes into play, and it consists of rich florals that are so well-blended it’s difficult to pick out any specific note except jasmine. This blend seems very classical, and under the citrus vanilla, it reminds me of quite a number of familiar fragrances – No. 5′s rose-jasmine-ylang center comes to mind, and so does Alahine’s. The heart phase, which seems to stay always underneath the citrus-vanilla veil that characterizes Emeraude to me, lasts about an hour, maybe an hour and a half.
Eventually it slides into its beautiful base. Emeraude is, particularly in its drydown, extremely soft. There is an element of powder from the benzoin, and the smooth sweet blend of vanilla and sandalwood. I can’t pick out opoponax or (thank goodness, because a lot of orientals are ruined for me by this) patchouli. The whole base is satin-smooth like scented talc, but is also mysteriously creamy, plush, and sweet and seems to melt into my skin and stay. And stay, and stay… I typically get about eight to ten hours out of those three drops of Emeraude, which is excellent staying power for me.
Here are the notes for Emeraude: Lemon, bergamot, orange, tarragon, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, Brazilian rosewood, vanilla, sandalwood, benzoin, patchouli, opoponax, and amber.
What Emeraude feels like: velvet the color of soft moss, like “Miss Ellen’s portieres” at Tara, the ones Scarlett made a dress out of. It feels like a heavy, weighty formal gown made of heavy cream satin, with green ribbon trim. It feels soft and plushy and bosomy, womanly and quietly sexy, but not flirty or coy or predatory. It feels comfortable. For all that heavy, smooth weight, it is surprisingly wearable in the summer because its sillage seems to stay rather close to the skin, once the big bergamot blast has settled. It’s one of my favorites, and I’d probably take it to the desert island (heat or no) if I were ever forced there.
A word on concentrations and formulations: Emeraude has throughout its life been released as parfum, eau de cologne, eau de toilette, and parfum de toilette. While the vintage edc and edt smell nice, they tend to be rather faint. The two small bottles of parfum that I own are also quite ethereally light, possibly due to light damage. My favorite concentration is the pdt - I haven’t been disappointed with any of the samples I’ve smelled of it – it is rich and lasting, without overwhelming anyone. The pdt was last produced, as far as I can tell, in the late 1970s/ very early 1980s. I recommend the 1960s-1970s pdt in the gold crown-topped bottle (see image #5). However, I have not sampled proper vintage parfum that smells as it should, so if you can find that, it might be the way to go. Edit: Forgot to mention color. The oldest stuff has usually lost its green tint and turned a light amber color, like weakish iced tea (okay, fine, I’m a Southerner, I just assume everybody knows what that looks like, and if you don’t, I’m sorry). See image #3 above. The PdT is usually a soft mossy-green color, like really good virgin olive oil. See image #5 again. Anything the color of neon sour-apple candy? To be avoided, in my opinion. The 80′s EdC was not hideous, so if the only thing you can find on ebay is in the rectangular-ish bottle with the wide white top, check the color. If it’s peridot green (image #6) as opposed to Green Apple Jolly Rancher green (image #2), it might be okay. The bottle has not changed since then, but the color has grown more garish.
Emeraude was reformulated sometime in the 1980s, and has been retooled since then. There may be reformulations I’m unaware of, which is not unusual for such an old fragrance. I’ll be honest with you: leave the current version on the drugstore shelf. It’s thin and sharp, stiletto-y, nothing like its former bosomy, creamy self. Luca Turin says of Emeraude that it was the second oriental fragrance (the first, he says, was created for the original Parfums de Rosine company, and its formula has been lost) and “arguably best,” but that it has been ruined. I concur.
A large number of people comment on (vintage) Emeraude that it’s “just like Shalimar, only softer.” I’d disagree, at least in part. Certainly I see why people make the observation, because Shalimar and Emeraude share some DNA: a bright citrus top, a classical floral heart, a rich, powdery-creamy vanilla base. There’s no question in my mind that Shalimar is a further exploration of the structure of Emeraude. The differences, as I notice them? Shalimar’s citrus is more tart, a bit more lemony. Instead of Emeraude’s soft rose-jasmine heart, I smell mostly jasmine, full and luxurious in Shalimar. And the base contains noticeable patchouli as well as the famous vanilla – once the “impure” De Laure vanilla, now recreated with a bit of birch tar – that Guerlain uses to such startling effect . I’ll venture to say that perhaps Shalimar is the better perfume. It is more adventurous, more contrasted, more surprising and complex. That touch of tar in the base – that’s genius. It’s shocking. It’s art in a way that Emeraude is not.
And yet, I do not love Shalimar. I find it difficult to wear, unless the weather is just right; it seems to be perfect in the fall, when there is a hint of woodsmoke in the air and the promise of rain. I find it impossible to wear in any concentration lower than parfum de toilette. But Emeraude is forgiving and soft, plush as kitten’s fur and friendly as my favorite sweater. Perhaps it’s telling that I’d a thousand times rather have Shalimar Light than the original – all the difficult parts of Shalimar were planed away, and the whole thing sanded down to a finish with a texture like suede. If you love Shalimar, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were to find Emeraude unchallenging and perhaps a bit dull.
Francois Coty’s insistence on keeping his perfumes available at a low price made it possible for a lot of women to own Emeraude. Which is lucky for us, because a fair number of those Emeraude bottles, packed away in someone’s underwear drawer still in the boxes, are popping up on ebay and in thrift stores all the time. Also luckily, Emeraude seems to age well.
Reminder: if you are interested in entering the drawing for a sample of vintage Emeraude PdT, please leave a comment on this post, before midnight (Eastern Daylight Savings Time) on Sunday, May 23, 2010.
I could not find a full review of vintage Emeraude on any of the perfume blogs I frequent. There’s a brief one from March and a separate brief one from Musette at Perfume Posse; another brief mention of it in this review of L’Origan at Grain de Musc (Warning: the accompanying illustration, an art nude by Kees van Dongen, may not be suitable for the workplace), and a mention of it in this review of Parfumerie Generale Felanilla at 1000Fragrances. Also, here’s a very brief mention among other Coty scents in this post at Perfume-Smellin’ Things. And here is a short history at Perfume Projects. Edit: I had forgotten this lovely review at Yesterday’s Perfume and overlooked it when I went hunting for blog reviews. (So sorry, Barbara!)