Several months ago, I had the pleasure of stumbling upon a rare perfume find. I was out and about, exploring local antique stores, when I entered a gorgeous shop – a veritable shabby-chic Shangri la – where vintage Victorian doilies existed alongside sharp Art-Deco angles. Among the costume jewelry, seafoam green cabinetry, white bird cages, and vanity trays, there were several tall perfume bottles. They were primarily turn of the centrury toilet waters, long emptied of their contents, save for one. It was a large bottle of Cherigan’s Fleurs de Tabac in ‘Lotion’ concentration (which is equivalent to modern EDT or EDP), and let’s just say it was priced to sell and I acquired it for a song. Score! I am a tobacco lover. I’ve shelled out for vintage Tabac Blond, sampled Habanita, Chergui, Bell’Antonio, Tobacco Vanille. All of those are endowed with virtues that endear them to me in different ways, but none of them quite smells like real cured tobacco. And neither does Cherigan’s Fleurs de Tabac, though to my nose it does come close .
I believe this fragrance may have been originally created for men, but has evolved culturally to become unisex. Indeed, there are no noticeable aldehydes or ‘sparkle’, and it contains a limited amount of powder. My vintage juice starts out with the brushy, spring breeze of vetiver, a prominent ingredient in many perfumes of this era. The vetiver here contributes both a freshness and a light smokiness in that magical way that vetiver does, yet it is given an animalic twinge by the antique musks that waft up from the base, apparently wishing to give a lightly ribald birthday-spanking to the upper notes. As the scent fades down, the promise of nicotine is made manifest, sparking this ex-smoker’s reflex of deep inhalation when confronted with the aroma of tobacco. Making up the tobacco accord, I smell vetiver, jasmine, amber (benzoin), vanilla, and musk. It’s floral-oriental character is clear, yet its nature is not as powdery as say, old L’Origan or Habanita, nor as floral – or as melancholy – as L’Heure Bleue. Although I don’t detect many floral notes, its bearing is essentially joyful: it is a cigarette at a picnic as the sun shines down upon the shoulders of everyone seated on the blanket; it is an old-timer wearing a plaid fedora, sitting on a boardwalk bench, watching the passers-by and enjoying a good cigar; it’s a retired professor sitting back in his leather chair, puffing on a pipe as his grandchildren gather around to hear his tales. I can make no distinction between cigarette, cigar, and pipe tobacco here; the suggestion of tobacco is more general than that, though Fleurs de Tabac’s sweetness pushes it closer to pipes or cigars.
Unlike Tabac Blond, Fleurs de Tabac lacks the strong clove-ish notes of that esteemed classic, and it’s also light on the smoke. Yet a whisper of smoke is still present via the vetiver as it plays among sweet amber, and in doing so fuels the ‘tobacco’ accord. At the forefront of the conspicuous amber base is benzoin, with its thick, almost peanut-buttery, resinous sweetness made sexier by a subtle vanilla. Vintage nitro-musks, now obsolete in perfumery, up the animalic ante, expanding the sillage and softening the other notes; in its final stages, the lit stogie that is Fleurs de Tabac burns down to pure nitro-musks, animalic and unabashedly primal.
I have another fragrance by Cherigan called Chance (no relation to the Chanel scent of the same name). I bought a full mini bottle off Ebay for a mere pittance in an uncontested auction. The mini bottle itself is absolutely charming, practically dripping with Art-Deco flourishes (see pic). Chance de Cherigan is a rather nondescript, heavy amber oriental – like Youth Dew – and also very heavy on the nitro-musks. It is very weak and hard to detect on me and it is not nearly as interesting as Fleurs de Tabac.
Info on Cherigan and its magnum opus Fleurs de Tabac is extremely meager, although I found several online references to its popularity in Cuba (for reasons that are absolutely baffling…wink). It seems that many – or all? – of the bottles of this fabulous scent were actually produced in Cuba, prompting me to wonder, Is Cherigan a Cuban company [with a French name]? From what I can tell, the company Cherigan does appear to have been a subsidiary of Parfums Habana, Inc., which was based in Cuba. Its elusiveness and limited audience have given Fleurs de Tabac a “cult film” status in the world of vintage fragrances. Hopefully in time, it will gain more of a following and perhaps one day be spoken of alongside Tabac Blond and Habanita in discussions of brilliant early tobacco fragrances.