Norma Desmond : We didn’t need perfume. We had faces!

Do you remember this scene from Sunset Boulevard?

Actually, it was dialogue and not perfume that wasn’t necessary but it reminds me of the state of perfume today. Walk into any perfume store or department and what do you see? Faces, faces, FACES!!! Penelope Cruz, Cate Blanchett, Julia Roberts and, of course, Charlize Theron for J’Adore! Well… I don’t mind Charlize that much because that video with Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Marlene Dietrick is genius!  But you have to wonder… is this the perfume department or a movie theatre?

Where do we NOT see faces? Hermès. Guerlain.  And, of course, most of the niche brands.  I was told that Hermès makes a point of not using a “face” for their perfume to underline the fact that the Hermès woman or man can be ANY woman or man.  Very smart!

I can imagine that the perfume companies probably negotiate the “face” long before they create the perfume.  The juice only has to smell decent.  The face will sell the perfume.  When I was trying Sì, a woman at the counter told me flat out… “I knew I had to have it when I saw the face of Cate Blanchett!”  Right.

And so, I am skeptical when I see the face of a big name on a billboard bigger than I am tall.  I figure that’s where most of the money is going… not the research and definitely not the materials.  Such is life.

However on a positive note, I read that Chanel has come out with three new “extraits”… 1932, Beige and Jersey and I wonder just how wonderful they are.  And, Thierry Wasser has restored some of the classic Guerlains, notably Mitsouko and Chamade.  Can you imagine?  And so I start to dream about the perfumes again and I forget about the faces.  They’re temporary… like Norma Desmond.

I’ve been away with some family matters but I’ll be back more often.  Enjoy!

Leave a comment


  1. I really enjoyed reading this. For me the “face” that sells is the bottle and what’s inside.

  2. I hadn’t realised that Hermès doesn’t use faces until now. I have a friend that works in Hermès and has let me sample many perfumes and I really adore them, which shows that we don’t need a face for them.

  3. FiveoaksBouquet

     /  February 6, 2014

    Models, especially celebrities, are to me like static between me and the perfume. That’s why I always say just show me the bottle. I agree with Hermès that the viewer should be able to put herself or himself into the image of the perfume created in the ad.

    It is claimed that in Sunset Boulevard Norma Desmond wore Narcisse Noir and that there is a scene toward the beginning where either she applies it or one can see it on her dressing table. I have watched the film easily a half dozen times, looking for that bottle, and never been able to find it. If anyone here knows where it is, please do tell.

    • I’ve never seen that bottle either and just before the scene in my post, Gillis says…

      “She’d sit very close to me, and she’d smell of tuberoses, which is not my favorite perfume, not by a long shot.”

      So, I don’t know where this Narcisse Noir reference comes from either.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. Dear Chronicles
    How very true.
    The perfume department has become something of a visual assault, and not just the celebrities. It now seems that no perfume marketed to men can be launched without a naked torso or three thrown in for good measure.
    A certain kind of equality of the sexes, has then been achieved.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

  5. FiveoaksBouquet

     /  February 6, 2014

    Normand, it’s not surprising if they would have a bottle of Narcisse Noir, predominantly orange blossom and narcissus, and a throwaway perfume comment about tuberose. In 1950 there was no general talk of notes like there is today and they might have put any perfume on the dresser and made a comment about any flower, regardless of whether it was accurate or not, either out of ignorance on the part of the screen writers or under the impression that no one would know anyway and it was not important enough a point to research for accuracy. If an inaccuracy like that turned up in a film today, perfumistas would be exposing it all over the internet in an instant, like you did above! Vive les perfumistas!

    • I think the point that bothers me is that Gillis says “she’d smell of tube roses”.

      Ok, ok… I am being WAY too picky. FiveoaksBouquet… I agree with everything you said.

  6. mario

     /  February 8, 2014

    Hi Normand, I am totally in agreement with your comment. What I like to see in a frag ad is a reflection of the notes, so I have a better idea of what to expect when I smell the perfume for the first time. Hermès does it beautifully with their “Jardin” collection. The beautiful frimousse of Kate Blanchett or the torso of a male model does not give any idea of what the fragrance smells like.


  7. Andrea

     /  February 16, 2014

    I’ve never been attracted to a perfume because of the face that promotes it. It’s all about the fragrance. Ahhh…. Chamade….. have not had a whiff in many years… but I do remember that I liked it very much. Must check it out.

    • Many of us are looking forward to sniffing those Guerlain restorations in extract concentration. Can’t wait!

      Thanks for the comment!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: