Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Scents the Wind Got: A Joint Project From Two Sides Of The World

Helg from Perfume Shrine and I are collaborating again. This time we've taken on an epic project. Or rather, an epic movie. Gone With The Wind is one of the most beloved movies of all times. It has shaped romance for generations, despite the eyebrow-raising political background.
The perfumes I'm about to associate with characters and scenes haven't been around back then. While some houses like Guerlain have already been in business in the nineteenth century, the scents from that period are long gone. Instead, I chose mostly modern fragrances, but ones that I feel can evoke the right atmosphere.

Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm. Of course, the above sentence which opens the book, does not apply to Vivien Leigh, the English beauty who played the part. She also wasn't 16, Scarlett's age at the beginning of the film, but nobody cares. Most of us saw the movie or even just pictures and scenes from it long before reading the book, and Vivien is forever Scarlett in our minds.

Young Scarlett, decked in whites and greens that correspond perfectly with springtime in Georgia's country side ("...Spring had come early that year, with warm quick rains and sudden frothing of pink peach blossoms and dogwood dappling with white stars the dark river swamp and far-off hills"). We can imagine what the air smells like in April, and I'm pretty sure it involves lush magnolia. But what scent would Scarlett wear? It has to involve white flowers, but at sixteen it just can't be Fracas. The original Chloe is a possibility. It's young and on the right woman can also be incredibly sexy.

The two most important women in Scarlett's life at that time were her nanny-slave, Mammy and her French mother, Ellen. Both spent their days trying to make Scarlett into the lady she'd never be, or at least to polish her exterior enough to fool the untrained eye and make sure she doesn't show her bosom before three o'clock. Mrs. O'Hara did it by setting an example. Mammy- by constant lecturing, chastising and feeding. We all know that it is highly unlikely that a slave, even a loved one who ruled the household would wear any perfume. But Mammy's crisp and clean uniform and apron must have had a certain scent. Laundry soap? Lavender?

As for Ellen, the book actually mentions her fragrance. She smelled faintly of the lemon verbena sachets that were kept in her silk dresses. There was nothing frivolous in this great lady who at age 15 gave up on love and joy for a life of heartbreak and constant duty. I sometimes wish the book wouldn't have revealed the scent. I would have preferred to imagine her in the very French and melancholy L'Heure Bleue rather than in L'Occitane Verbena.

The rich men of South lived in a world full of horses, dogs and barbecues if they lived on the plantations, or refined salons and good whiskey if they were city dwellers. In both cases there were leather, booze and wood. However, Ashley Wilkes, "born of a line of men who used their leisure for thinking, not doing, for spinning brightly colored dreams that had in them no touch of reality". If many of the other young men of Scarlett's circle could have worn Lonestar Memories, with its leather and outdoors notes, young Ashley, who until the war led a gentle, easy existence would wear another Tauer creation, the dreamy Reverie au Jardin.

It's in the Wilkes plantation, Twelve Oaks, that we meet the other two main characters. There's Ashley's soon-to-be fiancée, Melanie Hamilton. Melanie is serious, bookish, sweet-natured, kind, caring and has perfect manners. Jealous Scarlett fails to see her beauty and character, but Melanie is one of those real "great ladies". A Steel Magnolia if there ever was one, devoted to Ashley and to her family. She's still young, pretty and a Southerner. I'd like to see her in white flowers, but not of the man-eater variety. Instead, she'd be lovely in the quiet elegance of L'Artisan La Chasse aux Papillons. The regular, not the extreme version. I can't imagine her with any sillage.

The dashing Rhett Butler has already ruined the reputation of at least one Charleston girl, the black sheep of his family, expelled from West Point and "isn't received" in any good homes. He sees through Scarlett even before the famous vase-throwing scene. Rhett has been around and has learned a thing or two. He'd wear something dirty, sexy, earthy, sweet and dangerous. Serge Lutens Vetiver Oriental would fit him perfectly. It's irresistible with the combination of chocolate and vetiver, just like Rhett.

The next part of the movie takes us to war-time Atlanta. Scarlett is newly widowed, living with Melanie and her aunt Pittypat. Scarlett is unhappy having to wear black, to stay out of the public eye and be the picture of a perfect Southerner lady. She shocks everyone at "The Monster Bazaar," Atlanta's wartime charity ball for its military hospital, where she not only appears despite being expected to stay home mourning, but also agrees to dance with Rhett, who is back in town from one of his blockade running escapades. She's trying to appear proper and demure, but yearns to let her true nature come out and wear her beloved green silks. She's still wearing white floral fragrances, but now they have an edge. There's something dangerous lurking underneath. She might be wearing Serge Lutens Datura Noir, Parfumerie Generale Tubereuse Couture or even Vero Kern Rubj.

Aunt Pittypat, unlike Scarlett, never grew up. A former over-indulgent child who still acts cutesy, does her hair in flirty curls and threatens to faint when she gets over-excited. There's something very not age-appropriate about her, and I'd imagine her perfume to be sweet and fruity. She's wear Cacharel Lou Lou or Lancome Tresor, which suits her even in color.

Another interesting character that's introduced in Atlanta, is Belle Watling, the madam of a local brothel. You can't ignore her, with her red-dyed hair, obvious makeup and bold behavior. She's also a caring person and is Rhett's mistress on and off throughout the movie. She wears Bandit, I'm sure of that.

The next chapter in Scarlett's life sees her escaping the burning Atlanta with Melanie and her newborn son, caring for her family in rundown Tara and trying to save the plantation. She does things she'd never have thought about: she works in the fields, runs the home, makes an outfit out of her mother's curtains and when she can't get Rhett to give her the money she needs to pay the taxes, she goes after her sister's man, Frank Kennedy and marries him for his money, runs and grows his business before burrying him and becomes successful enough to support both her own family as well as Ashley's. Scarlett has come into the realms of Fracas. A real woman's fragrance, as femme as can ever be. She's unstoppable.

Following Frank's death, Scarlett starts drinking. In a memorable scene, she gurgles cologne to hide the smell. Since the classic 4711 has been around since the 18th century, there's a good chance that it could have been the one. But she doesn't fool Rhett. Instead, she marries him.

The next stage in Scarlett's life is big, bold and sad. She wears a big, vulgar diamond, builds a house that's too big and tasteless, wears red velvet, uses rouge on her face and ignores the gossip. She defies every rule and convention about good taste and a woman's place. She's been through enough and feels that's her time to have it all. What's the right perfume for such a woman? She can still wear Fracas, of course, but she needs more. Would it be the rotting Jardenia? The too-much-of-a-good-thing Coco? Maybe a big chypre, like Paloma Picasso. But Scarlett and Rhett's lives and marriage begin to disintegrate and they suffer one loss after the other. Their unborn child, their daughter Bonnie, Melanie dies at childbirth and Scarlett realizes that Ashley was never the right man for her, despite all those wasted years of pining and dreaming.

In the end, she loses Rhett. He leaves her in the famous final scene, but despite her grief she finds her inner strength and knows she's going to figure it all out tomorrow, when she goes back home to Tara. This mature, strong and unbeatable Scarlett can only have one fragrance. It's Onda (by Vero Kern), with it's fiery heart, earth, leather and smoke.

Don't forget to visit Perfume Shrine for another take on the story and scents.

Images: IMDB


  1. You go into all the juicy details!! How nice!
    I missed Scarlett's mother mention of her wardrobe scent myself: it sounds so fitting though for Ellen ~proper, clean, comforting in a way and fresh.

  2. wow, this was such a great post!

  3. Fragrant greetings- Wonderful post- I will have to watch the movie again one of these grey April sunday afternoons back in Zurich

  4. This has had me thinking all night. I love it - I just wish I knew all the scents you talk about so I could 'smell' what you are saying.

  5. So far, this "double post" between you and Helg has been the single interesting and captivating thing I've ever read concerning "Gone With the Wind". I heartily detest both the book and the film. In my opinion somebody should've given Scarlett a hearty slap right at the beginning and we'd have been spared all those shenanigans. The woman is a pain in the butt. She probably wore the equally unpleasant White Linen


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