Sunday, May 25, 2014

Vanderbilt comfort. In the lead-up to Mother's Day I noticed that there were perfumes being sold at the supermarket – for the truly lazy person who picks up a gift for mum while doing the weekly grocery shop. I eagerly anticipated going back the week after Mother's Day to see if they were reduced.

Yes! It was cheap, mumsy perfume, however. There was Elizabeth Taylor's Diamonds and Rubies and Diamonds and Emeralds, in giant bottles in gift sets. And then there were small 15ml bottles of Red Door by Elizabeth Arden, Sunflowers by Elizabeth Arden and Vanderbilt by Gloria Vanderbilt. 

I consulted Fragrantica, the perfume website with which I have become increasingly obsessed as my interest in perfumes has grown. (You can see my profile here, which lists my reviews and the perfumes I own and am interested in.) And on the basis of the descriptions, the notes listed and the reviews by other Fragrantica users, I figured that Vanderbilt would be the perfume I'd like most. So I bought it.

I remember seeing ads for Vanderbilt perfume in magazines during the '80s and '90s. It had a blurry, mysterious swan motif, as if wearing it would transport you into Swan Lake or something.

The Vanderbilts are one of New York's oldest and historically most privileged families. (I have a personal tenet that if a New Yorker's surname starts with 'van der' then they are very wealthy and established.) But the Vanderbilts' social and economic clout had waned by the mid-20th century.

Gloria Vanderbilt inherited her dad's vast fortune as an infant, but her globetrotting mother was accused of frittering the money away. After a sensational 1934 custody trial, ten-year-old Gloria went to live with her aunt, the artist and Whitney Museum philanthropist Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. Gloria also became an artist, specialising in design for textiles, pottery and glassware. In 1976 she ventured into fashion, putting her name and swan logo to a range of eyebrow-raisingly tight jeans, along with other clothing and accessories.

She also licensed her brand to Estée Lauder, which engaged the nose Sophia Grojsman to create Vanderbilt in 1982. Grojsman's other well-known fragrances include Estée Lauder's Spellbound and White Linen, YSL's ParisBvlgari Pour Femme, Trésor by Lancôme and Volupte by Oscar de la Renta.

Some reviews suggest that Vanderbilt is quite powerful and strong-smelling, but to be honest, I find it relatively subdued. Maybe it's because I have the eau de toilette. I can't smell it on myself, really, without sniffing my wrist.

At the beginning I get a tiny fizz of aldehydes – as much fizziness as you'd get from an open then resealed bottle of soft drink. Nowhere near as aggressively fizzy as White Linen. On me it disappeared quite early and I get a sweet and powdery scent like carnations and jasmine, with a warm undertone. I can smell the pineapple in the bottle but it doesn't seem to make it onto my skin.

It's not sweet in the gourmand, fruity way that many contemporary perfumes are sweet, but it's still one of the sweetest perfumes I own (maybe April Violets by Yardley is sweeter). It smells old-fashioned but not in the complex, 'expensive-smelling' way that 20th-century classics do – rather, in the daggy way of formerly trendy perfumes that have gone out of style.

Perhaps it's the powdery spiciness of it, but Vanderbilt gives me a warm, comforting feeling. For me it's not a glamour perfume that you put on when you want to feel sophisticated; it's a comfort perfume for when you want to feel secure.

As my purchase of it has coincided with my malaise, I need a lot of comforting right now. So I have been spraying myself with Vanderbilt much more liberally than I normally wear perfume. I've even been spraying some on before I go to bed, which I would never normally do.

I've since discovered that you can buy giant 100ml bottles of the stuff from Chemist Warehouse for $13. I sometimes wonder if in future, this will be the olfactory motif of my malaise, but for the moment I'm deriving tremendous solace from wearing this.

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