Friday, April 29, 2011

The Henri Bendel Collection

by J.S. Holland

In Victorian times, men wore fragrances like lavender, rose, lilac, honeysuckle, violet, mint and magnolia, daubing themselves from a tiny perfume-soaked sponge stored inside a silver scent box they kept in their pocket. Logical enough, right? Since, after all, these are things generally universally regarded as smelling pleasant.

I haven't really studied on the historical timeline of men's colognes, so I'm not exactly sure at what point it was decided that men should stop smelling like a rose and start smelling like diesel fuel and ass. I do know that most of the men's fragrances I first came in contact with as a child of the 60s and 70s - Old Spice, Trouble, Turbo, Woodhue, and whatever junk they put in those God-awful Avon bottles shaped like automobiles - smelled virtually indistinguishable from furniture stripping solution. Later offerings, like Chaps and Polo, don't smell much better to my nose. You may say my olfactory's gone womanish on me, but I'd rather smell like Lafayette than LaCoste.

And smelling like a waffle cone's pretty darn good too.

I do admit a certain fondness for Fahrenheit 32, one of the very few contemporary scents that speaks to me, for whatever reason. There are hints of that modern-stuff bitterness, yet also a certain spicy-floral charm that somehow manages to smell au courant and great-grandfatherly at the same time. It also appears to be what the KISS Colognes were shooting for in their formulation (now's a great time to get 'em cheap as they're in that limbo of being discontinued but not quite collectible yet.)

But for several years, my fragrance of choice was the signature series from Henri Bendel, who also is known for some of the most amazing candles in the Universe. Back in the day, like, those halcyon days of the year 2003, you could find Bendel products at any Bath & Body Works location. Then, one day, the distribution deal ended and they disappeared from the shelves. And why I've never known.

I'm down to my last two bottles of Bendel now; all that remains from my once mighty collection of nine or ten. There's hardly anything left in my Blackberry Cassis bottle, which means Vanilla Flower - my least favorite - is all I have left to remember Henri (is he even a real person, or is he made-up like Betty Crocker?) by. And looking at Bendel's website, it would seem that Vanilla Flower was everybody else's least favorite too. That and Rare Mimosa are all that's left. Wild Fig was recently available but has sold out. My favorite, Mandarin Verbena, left this world long, long ago.

Fortunately, new-old stock still can still be found on Amazon and eBay. I believe I'll dust my credit card.

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