Boot or Reboot: Norell (1968) & Norell New York (2015)- Requiem for an Original

If I was to offer up a pop quiz and ask this question, “Name the first American designer fragrance?” I bet, notwithstanding looking at the title of this article, few would come up with the correct answer. Norell was the first American designer fragrance. Charles Revson of Revlon and perfumer Josephine Catapano were the creative team behind the perfume representing fashion designer Norman Norell. Norell became the first perfume to feature a huge amount of galbanum in the top notes. It was a trailblazer in many ways. In 1968 it was debuted in the luxury department store Bonwit Teller. It sold $1 Million dollars in its first year. Today heavily reformulated it can be found in any drugstore franchise fragrance cabinet.

In 2015 it was thought the Norell name needed to be recaptured in the fragrance sector. Perfumer Celine Barel was asked to create a new version called Norell New York. Ms. Barel has made a perfume which definitely has some of the same components but they have been altered in strength and prominence to create something similar but different.

norell 1968

Photo: www.vintageadbrowser.com

Norell (1968) opens with that blast of galbanum. Smelling it now that doesn’t seem to be different than many very green perfumes on the market. In 1968 this was a completely unique opening. The galbanum moves into a full floral heart of hyacinth, rose, and gardenia. Ms. Catapano adds the twist of using clove and cinnamon leaves to provide a long tail on the galbanum and a real accentuation of the spicy core of the rose. In many ways this is also the trendsetter for the spicy floral heart which will explode in the 1970’s. The base is another ahead of its time piece of work as it takes a large amount of oakmoss and softens it tremendously with sandalwood, vanilla and orris. It was a supple foundation which would also not become fashionable for another 10-15 years. If there is one word to describe Norell it is green.

norell new york 2015

That is not the word I would use to describe Norell New York (2015). This time I would say floral. Ms. Barel does hearken back to the original with a bit of galbanum in the top but it is matched with an equal amount of pear. The heart is floral dominated but instead of rose Ms. Barel uses jasmine as her focal point to which gardenia and peony provide the supporting roles. Here the green has been cut off at the pass and we are in more traditional fruity floral territory with the pear and florals interacting. The place where Norell New York most closely resembles the original is in the base as Ms. Barel uses sandalwood, vanilla, and orris. Her stand-in for the oakmoss is a particularly earthy patchouli. All together it is a really excellent re-creation of the original’s base.

One final experiment I performed with a strip of Norell and Norell New York was I gave it to a group of women who are similar in age to me in their late 40’s early 50’s; four out of the five preferred the older Norell using words like “classic”. I also tried the same exercise with five women in their late 20’s early 30’s and the result was the opposite; four out of five preferred the more recent version. Those women all had a strong reaction to the original calling it the dreaded “old lady” smell. I pointed out the base was similar in the new version but they all like the fruity floral opening so much that it seems that similarity didn’t matter.

If I was presented a bottle of the original Norell in a pristine well-preserved box I would obviously choose that. But the Norell which I find at my local CVS has been cheapened by reformulation so much that it has lost much of the original verve it had. Which is why I am pleased that Norell New York exists. By using a slightly different name and allowing a perfumer instead of an accountant to modernize the brand. The new release is a much more fitting representative of the first American designer perfume.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample of the original Norell provided by an anonymous donor. The current Norell was purchased by me. Norell New York came from a sample provided by Bergdorf Goodman.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Diana Vreeland Perfectly Marvelous- Sort Of Original

One of Diana Vreeland’s quotable quotes was, “Style, all who have it share one thing: originality.” If you’re going to do a perfume line which carries the name of Diana Vreeland, originality should be a given. The new five fragrance Diana Vreeland line of perfumes which was creatively directed by her grandson Alexander Vreeland is almost entirely devoid of originality. Four of the five fragrances are routine reworks of popular styles of perfumes. Like a box checking exercise there’s an oriental, a rose, a tuberose, and an amber. They are all so forgettable and banal that it seems almost a crime they carry Ms. Vreeland’s name. They are all so unoriginal that as I started to try the fifth one Perfectly Marvelous I was already stifling my yawn. In a true contest of diminished expectations it is by far the best of a bad lot. As I wore it for a couple of days my attitude brightened somewhat toward it.

Perfumer Celine Barel was, according to the website, inspired by another of Ms. Vreeland’s quotes, “If it isn’t a passion, it isn’t burning, it isn’t on fire, you haven’t lived.” Mme Barel does not deliver a fire with Perfectly Marvelous but she does deliver something a bit different on a basic jasmine theme. She takes a few variations on well-understood tropes and makes Perfectly Marvelous the only one of this collection I could enjoy.

diana vreeland

Diana Vreeland surrounded by red

Ms. Vreeland’s favorite color was red and she was known for the red décor of her home and her red nail polish. Another of the descriptors from the website was for Perfectly Marvelous to evoke red lacquered sandalwood. In that desire I think Mme Barel comes closer to the mark. She starts with a soft swirl of spices centered on pimento. The pimento is probably the most original ingredient used in all five perfumes in the collection. Mme Barel doesn’t squander it as she uses jasmine sambac as floral contrast. This version of jasmine is the kind with the indoles mostly neutered. Every time I wore this I wondered how much better this might have been with a bit of feral indole in the mix. What is here is pleasant and in place of the indole she uses cashmeran to add its very polite muskiness along with sandalwood. The cashmeran feels too proper for a trailblazer like Ms. Vreeland.

Perfectly Marvelous has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

Perfectly Marvelous suffers from a distinct desire to play it safe something which can be used to describe the other four perfumes in the line. At least in the case of Perfectly Marvelous Mme Barel was allowed one tiny moment to allow Ms. Vreeland to channel some originality her way. It makes Perfectly Marvelous sort of original which is a very sad thing to say about something which carries Diana Vreeland’s name.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples I received at Sniffapalooza Fall Ball.

Mark Behnke