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The following is an article I came across in my research on the White Shoulders fragrance and it’s history. It is one of my most favorite fragrances, as it was for my maternal grandmother.

I was mistaken that it was a fragrance created in the 19th century. It was, in fact, first produced at about the time of World War II.

This article is also a study in the marketing techniques of the time. Great use of Hollywood figures were utilized.

This article was first published in

Friday, June 18, 2010 at http://thevintageperfumevault.blogspot.com/2010/06/white-shoulders-true-american-beauty.html?m=1

White Shoulders: an American Beauty…

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WHITE SHOULDERS was launched by the design house of Evyan sometime in 1940s (dates vary from 1943 to 1949!). Very early on the Evyan company was apparently called by another name, albeit briefly- Hartnell. And so some of the older most original White Shoulders presentations are bottled under a Hartnell label. But soon enough the company was called Lady Evyan (and later, just Evyan) = Evelyn Diane Westall, the wife of company owner Dr Walter Langer. Evyan boasted at the time that White Shoulders (and their other perfumes) were prime examples of fine American perfumery. Everything, so it was told, was strictly produced in USA. So White Shoulders was meant to be the perfume to show that Americans could compete with the best of what was being produced in Europe (and specifically, in France). Now this was happening during the years of American involvement in WWII, feelings of patriotism were running high. Americans of the day wanted (and needed) to spend their luxury dollars at home. Indeed it is worth noting that prices for White Shoulders were initially set rather high- beginning around $3 at a time when many “fine” perfumes of that day offered products priced beginning at around $1.

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Over time White Shoulders has remained very popular; it’s seen in both vintage and new formulations in thirft shops, antiques markets, modern drugstores and of course everywhere on-line. Although the perfume has changed hands from Hartnell/Evyan to Elizabeth Arden, the packaging- peach and lace, and later with a lovely feminine sillhouette- has remained and is familar to most American women. And there isn’t any mistake about why its become and stayed so successful- White Shoulders is an iconic fragrance. Actually it is probably the iconic American fragrance. Classified as a Floral Aldehyde, it is: beautiful, sweet, sexy, powdery, radiant, maternal, refined, approachable, fresh, gracious and warm but at it’s core.

I’ve owned cologne and perfume versions of White Shoulders from the Evyan years and have found them all to be very good. I can’t attest to the Elizabeth Arden version at all. For this review, I’m referring to the earliest Hartnell pure perfume version from my own collection. The original presentation of White Shoulders was packaged in round peach satin and cream lace powder style boxes. The bottles were square, decorated with vertically cut pinstripes alternating with plain glass stripes and topped by a stout round stopper. Ihe bottle I own was still tied up with it’s orignal peach satin bow and cord, wrapped in onion skin and as I peeled away, I was surprised to find a thick layer of beeswax under the onion skin. I’ve occasionally seen collectors reseal bottles with beeswax, but I didn’t realize it was used by the bottlers, too. I think now that I’ve probably come across some beeswax remnants before in opened older bottles, and not really known what the gunk was…However, in this case, it was easy to remove it cleanly and it seems to have prevented virtually any losses of the juice.

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White Shoulders features a “joyful” opening – the nicely green and cool LOVT becomes positively juicy thanks to jammy banana notes (a delightful jasmine effect) that teases and whetts the pallet. The fresh smelling Neroli + rubbery, yummy Tuberose come together early and play especially well with the aldehydes, the whole creating a shimmering, nearly giddy opening.

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At its heart, lilac and jasmine (supported by the rose) give White Shoulders a lush radiance. A very sweet Gardenia accord pronounces itself again and again throughout the mid-stages of wearing… that accord really underscores and characterizes this perfume for me. White Shoulders is very much what a classic Southern Belle would’ve worn (I picture Bette Davis wearing this while playing Jezebel- even though that movie dates 1938 and the perfume wasn’t released until at the earliest 1943). A nearly narcotic floral, saved from overdose by refreshing and cooling green facets that contrast well with the seductive animal tendencies and spicy heart; it would’ve suited Julie Marston to a tee.

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The ending for the pure perfume is very, very rich. The base certainly gives the impression of a shoulder covered in a fine white powder of dry incense (orris, sandalwood, benzoin). But that lightness is perfectly set against darker shadows of musk, civet and oakmoss. The effect of the white flowers makes this a perfect perfume for wearing on warm summer nights. It sparkles and excites early on but in the end you’ll find you’re pleasantly subdued by the dry down….

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The Vintage Perfume Vault, where the scent of yesterday’s vogue lives.

images :
White Shoulders movie poster – lapl.org
White Shoulders ad w/ Lilys- tradewithTony.com
pair of color ads- vintageadbrowser
pair of B&W ads devocanada and 237 (EBay sellers)
Bette Davis poster woodwins.org
Bette Davis still from dvdbeaver.com

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