Friday, October 25, 2013

Lucien Lelong- Balalaika (Vintage Perfume)



It's a bit hard to tell when exactly Balalaika by Lucien Lelong was originally launched. Sources claim every year between 1939 and 1945, but my money is on the 1939-1940 time frame, both because there are ads dated 1940 and since the name of a traditional Russian music instrument probably belongs at a time before the division between East and West. Another interesting thing about Balalaika is that as far as I can tell it was the first of Lucien Lelong's perfumes to be issued in the hob bottle that later became the standard for the brand (though Balalaika extrait had a different bottle).
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Naming a perfume "Balalaika" was probably meant to evoke faraway places. Especially one faraway land where the winter is long and the forests are dark and vast. The modern Lucien Lelong website lists the notes of Balalaika as "mandarin, violet, rosewood and gardenia with a woodsy note of musk and vanilla". Are those the original notes? I don't know. Of the two bottles I have, one is significantly older and looks exactly like the one you see in the 1940 ad at the top. The stopper is more elegant and elaborate than that of the hob bottles from the 1950s and 1960s. That bottle lost all semblance of top notes and is all about earthy and mossy woods, slightly lightened by an abstract floral core. It's very pretty, actually. Does it evoke the Russian Tundra? I doubt it. I think it smells very French.

I also have a small amount of newer juice, probably from the late 60s or early 70s (white plastic caps),  also an eau de cologne concentration, which is significantly more floral. I'd describe it as an incredibly mossy gardenia and would love to have a lot more of this version. It could have easily passed as a modern niche perfume. Even the husband has never voiced his typical "smells like vintage" complaint when I wear this particular Balalaika. It's a little musky, quite unsweetened, and while the sillage is minimal, its longevity is very impressive for an eau de cologne. This Balalaika does have the depth of an ancient wood to carry one's imagination. It's a little damp but not really musty, and a little mysterious and clings beautifully to winter scarves, including a Russian floral one that my mother got me years ago. I think they go very well together.

Images: Hprint.com

2 comments:

  1. So glad you gave a positive review to the newer formulation. Have three bottles of older formulations (am sort of obsessed with getting multiple bottles of vintage perfumes from a line that I love - like Lelong - not just to stockpile, but because I'm hopelessly fascinated by the subtle or not so subtle differences in vintage perfumes depending on year of release, etc.) and the two that are in the metal filigree encasements both remind me of a somewhat mossier riff on Coty's Paris. The hob bottle I have (actually have two, but one has gone missing - God knows where, but it's not in either of my two Lelong areas - may be off fraternizing w/ one of the Cuir de Russies) has considerably more emphasis on the earthy base notes. Definitely am going to get a bottle of the newer formulation now that I've read your review. Thanks!
    Anna

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  2. I have rarely loved a fragrance, enjoyed yes. I received this as a child for Christmas. I loved it and remember taking it from under the tree to smell it, became we kept our gifts there for several days. It will always be associated with Christmas for me.

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