An Evening In Paris

A scented pearl for the masses?

A scented pearl for the masses.

The floral notes of the perfume Evening In Paris – or Soir de Paris for those with a nose for Gallic authenticity – first enhanced a woman’s décolletage in 1929.  In those simpler marketing times the dainty bottle – half-decorated by variations on a silver sticker and boxed by an image of the Eiffel Tower – was aimed squarely at the height of popular sophistication and wild cross-Channel imaginings of French bohemian nightlife.

Whether the actualité or not I always associate the height of the scent with the early-1970s.  This probably came from the personal – as I vividly remember my Dad buying the crisp purple (to me) cigarette-style card box for my Mum’s birthday on more than one occasion.  Some might disparage it as the decade that style forgot however, Evening In Paris was one of those products that hinted at the first stirrings of a true cosmopolitan style-consciousness in the hitherto homogenous bloc of the British population.  The ‘60s were a private party – beyond the hip urban enclaves the rest of Britain was spitting out the grist from the ‘50s and Evening In Paris was the sensibility of another time simply carried over in a less zealous consumer era when product-churn hadn’t reached the epidemic proportions of today.

Hand-in-hand with the growth of package holidays, purchase of the distinctive cobalt blue bottle couched in the then satin-style box lining was indicative of either aspiration – looking up – or a reason for being looked down upon; all depending on your perceived or actual social status.  Reflecting my true priorities it reminded of a pale version of a box of Cadbury’s individual-wrapped Dairy Milk mini-bars that shared similar packaging to the uninterested/untrained child’s eye.

Variations on a theme/dream.

Variations on a theme/dream.

The tiny precious bottle encased inside  – with its fiddly ribbed silver dome of a cap made for delicate fingers – had to be sophisticated as sophisticated came in small quantities: as such it was definitely one for the ladies.  Especially as the male aftershave alternative was about splashing it all over – you Brut(e)!

From our cynical/ironic/post-modern perspectives Evening In Paris is a close relation of Matteus Rosé and Babycham as prime example of 70’s kitsch: humour-inducing attempts at pseudo–sophistication.  It’s easy to look back and laugh given the easy availability of our huge consumer choice in wine and perfumes but more difficult to remember that this was one of few chances – for better or worse – for the working class to buy into another life in what was a very grey world.  Cultural references from afar were few and far between and the bland popular conservatism of Terry and June dominated even middle-class conversation.

A dream of romance that wasn't everyday.

A dream of romance that wasn’t everyday.

Evening In Paris was a distinctive part of the cloak of sophistication for the masses… even the name of the maker Bourjois hung heavy with connotation.  It was a scent for those who probably had never crossed the Channel at leisure; or for those who had but only for an early forerunner of the booze and cheese cruise at Carrefour hypermarket – in and out quick and back to Blighty before something awful and continental rubbed off.   All from an era of even greater distrust when the Common Market was still residually seen as Degaulle’s plaything.

Evening In Paris would not have been a staple for Abigail’s Party but was for the modest woman who wanted just a hint of glamour in her life to fuel her imagination in the grim round of ironing, kids and non-existent career opportunities.  And it was an imagination that was distinctly not long-haul.  The scent was reformulated in 1992 but to me it will always remain a sniff of the early-1970s and the smell of change.


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