Monday 23 January 2023

The Coudray Curiosities

The Coudray Curiosities, which are bottles of Agua Divina and Eau Celeste perfume along with Lait d'Iris
The chances of finding a fragrance rarity while walking down the high street are pretty, for want of a better word, “rare”. Large companies are so quick to launch their latest updated version of a bestseller, or storm the shelves with a seasonal “must have”, that there isn’t room for novelty releases from their historic back catalogues. However, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t impossible. Coudray are one of the legendary French perfume houses, next to the likes of Piver, Guerlain and Lubin, and it’s from them that this surprise has sprung. It’s time to go back in time and discover the historic trio of Coudray Curiosities.

Coudray was founded in Paris in 1810 by Edmond Coudray, who was a doctor and a chemist. He began by creating soaps and balms but, such was his popularity, Eau de Colognes and true perfumes quickly followed. This reached the eyes and noses of royalty and nobility around the world, and a legendary house was born. The company remained in family hands until 1908 and, whilst it was sold numerous times over the following century, the traditional ethos of the brand always endured. So, whilst some of the dates might be a little sketchy, are you ready to travel back to the 19th century?

A bottle of Agua Divina perfume by Coudray
One of the issues with purchasing a vintage fragrance is that it probably has, over many years, lost its top notes and increased its deeply resinous strength. Now, whilst this may be a style of fragrance that you enjoy, it’s important to remember that this isn’t how the perfumer originally intended it to smell. However, this isn’t always solved with new reconstructions. Due to changes in ingredient regulations, and also sometimes the thorny issue of cost, we can be left with approximations and reinterpretations. This doesn’t have to be a barrier to enjoyment though, and that definitely applies to the Coudray Curiosities.

Let’s begin with the legendary Agua Divina, which has an apparent launch date of around 1822*. It’s Spanish for “Divine Water” and promised to “guide the wearer into making the right decisions”. This strongly coloured perfume is also suitable for burning in a diffuser, which does lessen the chance of a stained wrist. Straight out of the bottle you get a bold lavender and tiare flower pairing, which was a new scent experience for me, before a cherry-pie heliotrope arrives along with a hint of lime. There’s also a coconut quality in here that attaches to the vanilla and, with a final touch of ylang, makes for an attention-grabbing start to the trio.

A bottle of Eau Celeste perfume by Coudray
We’ll jump now to 1920* and the post-war Eau Celeste. This “celestial water” was given the important role of aligning the wearer with the planets, and so allow them to “succeed in everything they undertake”. The lighter colour means this can be happily worn on the skin, but do exercise moderation because it’s definitely a distinctive style. The fragrance opens with an effervescent blend of citrus orange and tiara flower but, very quickly, a piercing lavender comes into play. This is followed by a pairing of rose and iris, before a final hint of tonka bean and cedarwood adds a touch of dry sweetness to this short-lived scent.

The final member of the Coudray Curiosities is my favourite, the possibly mis-attributed Lait d’Iris. Online fans believe that this may actually be based on the 1873* product by L.T. Piver, which eventually became the owner of the Coudray brand. Either way, this is a beautiful addition to anybody’s daily ritual. This gentle face, hand and aftershave lotion has an initial hit of lemon and sappy rose, which is a delicious opening, before the promised powdery iris scent quickly arrives to take control. It’s rumoured to help ease headaches but, whether it does or not, it’s a great finale to a fascinating trio.

All three of the Coudray Curiosities are available online, or from Tresors Publics in Nice, priced at around €10 each. [Samples provided by Tresors Publics]

* The dates mentioned in this article are widely reported as being correct but remain unverified.

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