Sister Wendy : Painting starts at the top

Ok.  I said last week that I would do a perfume review but I HAD to do this post.  I’ve been watching (once again) Sister Wendy’s The Story of Painting and when she says, “Painting starts at the top”, I always get shivers down my spine.  So let’s put the statement in context.  Sister Wendy is commenting on the cave drawings at Lascaux II and she is wondering about the people who made the art.

“And so you see, scientifically, these are primitive people because science advances.  It’s like a ladder, one step leads to another.  But art isn’t like that.  Art is about being human.  Children make art instinctively.  Archaeologists know when they find evidence of art, they found evidence of human beings.  It expresses all that is best in us… our desires, our hopes, our truth.  And so… art changes, but it doesn’t get better!  And in the great hall of the bulls with these images of majesty and power… so strong, so dignified… we understand… that painting starts at the top.”

And perfume is like that too.  You could replace the words “art” or “painting” with the word “perfume” and it would work.

After a short discussion of Chanel No. 19 Poudré and Shalimar Parfum Initial, a friend lamented to me recently, “They just don’t know what to do anymore.”  I hear that a lot these days.  There is this feeling among certain perfumistas that it all started in 1882 with Fougère Royale.  And then perfume got better and lived its golden age in early-to-mid 20th century but after that… nothing worth celebrating.  But if that were the case, perfume wouldn’t be an art.  It would be a technology that came in… and then fizzled out because it couldn’t better itself.

And so when Paul Parquet, our hero of the day, created Fougère Royale by using newly discovered coumarin (the first recognized synthetic) he didn’t create a perfume that was at the bottom of a ladder… or even the middle.   He created a perfume in the same way that perfume is created today… at the top.  Perfume changes… but it doesn’t get better.

And so, on this Canadian Thanksgiving Day weekend… let’s be thankful for the beautiful creations that are still available today and let’s look forward to the new creations coming in the following years… not better, just different.

Have a nice week everyone!

Top image : The cave drawings at Lascaux

Bottom image : Sister Wendy (photo by Andrew Crowley)

Leave a comment


  1. annemariec

     /  October 10, 2011

    So there have always been both good AND bad fragrances – always have, and always will.

    People who lament the apparent decline in perfumery are apt to forget that for every Mitsouko, Bandit, etc there has always been a plethora of cheaply produced scents on the market, most of which disappear after a few years.

    I snapped up some vintage(ish) Panache on eBay yesterday, and while researching its history noticed that Lentheric, which introduced Panache in 1920, released 140 fragrances between 1910 and 1965. Goya is another brand like that – dozens of fragrance releases in the mid-c.20, all forgotten now. But these were the sorts of fragrances most people bought. Miss Dior may be a great work of art, but not too many people, especially in 1947 when it was released, could have paid for it.

    To me it does not make sense to judge the state of the fragrance industry by merely looking back at the great works. They have always jostled with lesser products, and that is still true today.

    Great post, thanks!

    • Hi! Alot of great information in there! 140 fragrances! Thanks for this.

      Enjoy your newly acquired Panache!



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