One Thousand Scents

Thursday, January 03, 2008

As The Strength of Ten: Roget et Gallet Carnation Soap

One of the problems with moving house is that you get rid of stuff, forget you got rid of it, and can't find it when you go look for it. Did I sell it? Is it still in a box somewhere that I forgot to unpack (three years ago)? Is it just in a place I haven't looked yet?

I was going to scan a completely apropos page from a charming and now out-of-print book called "Hey Skinny! Great Advertisements from the Golden Age of Comic Books", but I can't find the damned thing anywhere (and it really isn't the kind of thing I would usually part with, but it's nowhere to be found), so I'll just have to describe the page to you. Obviously from one of those kissy-faced girls' romance comics from the 1950s like these

the ad was a full page, divided into ten or twelve rectangles, of perfume ads from the same low-rent company. Each perfume was a variation on the same thing; a gypsy concoction, a magical potion from New Orleans, a love philtre that would get you any man you desired. The perfumes were never described in any real detail, certainly nothing as prosaic as their notes; you couldn't tell if one or another smelled of rose or gardenia. No, the two things they all had in common was that they would bring back your man, or bind him to you forever if he hadn't left yet for some floozy, or get you one if you didn't have one already, and that they were strong. "This is the STRONGEST perfume you have ever owned!", an ad might say.

I can only think that this is because, to the young women who were buying these comic books, scent was a luxury and a rarity and a fairly lightweight one at that when you could get it--a watery EDT concoction of apple blossom or violets or whatnot. Real perfume, the kind that could make you a man-trap (I think one of the perfumes in the ad was even called Man-Trap), had to be strong.

Anybody who lived through the eighties knows what strong perfume is all about. The economy was enormous, and to fit into it, you had to take up as much space as possible. Clothing was big (look at those padded shoulders on women's business jackets, and the huge Perry Ellis bubble sweater, and such massive Japanese fashion objects as this

which fit the times perfectly), and so was fragrance, a succession of room-filling scents such as Obsession and Diva.

Super-strong scents have fallen out of favour, and good thing, too. But sometimes you come across something that's unapologetically strong but which works anyway. When it's a soap, that's a good thing indeed, because soap is meant to be washed down the drain; if it's strong in the right way, it stays with you.

Roger et Gallet Carnation is extraordinarily potent. As soon as you remove the wrapper from the box, before you even open it, the air is curled and laced with a distinct carnation scent; there's no doubt about what's inside. Each circular bar of soap is wrapped in a tightly pleated paper, surrounded with a colourful paper collar; it looks like a little gift.

The scent of the soap is dazzling, almost dizzying. It's a very clear, pure carnation scent; it doesn't have that striking greenness that fresh carnations have (except for a mere suggestion which doesn't stick around), but otherwise it's everything you could hope for: spicy, lightly floral, vibrant. (Why isn't there an EDT version of this?) The scent that remains on the skin is much lighter, but it stays with you for a while; it's good for an hour, at least.

As a soap, it's a five-star winner, too. The box contains three 100-gram (3.5-ounce) soaps (you can also buy a single cake of soap in a plastic travel dish), and they feel heavy and dense in the hand. They're milled very hard, but as soon as water touches them, the surface melts into a slick, creamy lather. Even if it didn't smell extraordinary, this would be a soap you'd want to use. (Roger et Gallet makes other soaps as well; I've never tried any of them, because this one is perfect--I've used it on and off for almost ten years--but people seem to love those, too, as you will see if you read the reviews at Makeup Alley: virtually everyone says they'd buy the product again, which is a sure sign of a great product.)

The French name for the carnation, by the way, right there on the box, is Oeillet Mignardise. "Oeillet" means, literally, "eyelet", and "mignardise" is the noun form of "mignon", "cute"; it means, literally, "cuteness". Eyelet cuteness!



  • I didn't think anything could surpass my love of all things rose-scented, but carnation is quickly taking the lead. I recently received a bottle of Lorenzo Villoresi Garofano and I absolutely love it. I know you recently reviewed a Caron carnation fragrance, so I'm on look out for a bottle that "vintage" juice. Where can I find these soaps? They sound great!


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:08 PM  

  • I feel exactly the same way: roses used to be the number-one flower, but for the last year or so I've been obsessed with carnations. Don't know why.

    There are still some carnation scents I haven't tried yet; Garofano is supposed to be great, and Floris Malmaison is another one I must try some time. I also mean to try Caron Bellodgia, but it's not a pure carnation scent as their Coup de Fouet is, and it sounds too floral for my taste--lots of rose, jasmine, and muguet. Still, I will try it. The fact is that I love every carnation-based scent I've ever worn.

    I found the soap at Winners, which is a chain of Canadian stores that buy up merchandise from other stores and sell them at a markdown: it's like TJ Maxx in the US, I think. They had them for $9.99 and they're usually about $16-$20 a box, as far as I know. You can probably find it in lots of specialty shops, and quite a few department stores carry Roger et Gallet as well. Worth hunting down!

    By Blogger pyramus, at 9:09 PM  

  • That sounds heavenly! It's been so cold here, and that just sounds warming and invigorating at the same time...It would be much easier to drag myself out of bed to get ready for work with something like this.

    By Blogger priscilla, at 10:26 AM  

  • Pyramus, I really enjoyed reading your musings on the 80's and hugeness, as well as those ads for "low rent perfumes". I had to laugh, thinking of all the suits with shoulder pads I still have in my closet. Time to get rid of those, I suppose! The soap sounds lovely as well. I hope you find your book soon.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:55 PM  

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