Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Lanvin Via Lanvin: Beauty on the Sly

August 19, 2011:

Some months ago, I received a package of vintage perfumes decanted for me by perfume blogger Olenska of Parfümieren, and in among the many wondrous things she gave me was a generous decant of Via Lanvin, a chypre-like fragrance launched by the prestigious fashion house in 1971 and discontinued sometime in the mid-eighties. Woody, green, floral, sometimes soapy, often touched by a bit of smokiness, Via Lanvin had my heart from the get-go and I’ve been meaning to write about it for weeks, but trying to find words for it is no easy feat. It’s a fragrance that sends up a specific image for me every time I wear it—that of a beautiful lady spy in a trench coat—but how to connect the dots between the two?

While my reading and television viewing choices rarely reflect this, I’ve always had a fascination for anything that is clandestine, mysterious, secretive and private. For too long, in fact, I’ve believed that living one’s life on the fringe of society was somehow cooler, better, and more authentic than anything that existed in the mainstream, and only recently have come to understand that, carried too far, this notion merely becomes a conceit; that a more productive and awe-inspiring life might be had by navigating between the two, in any and every conceivable direction, making lots of connections along the way. But while from an intellectual standpoint I am able to realize this, old habits are hard to break, and I suspect my attraction to the peripheral elements of society will always drive me to a great extent.

Given that this is my predilection, little wonder that when I study the svelte silhouette and charismatic composition of Via Lanvin, a sexy, trench-coat fantasy flashes through my mind. And this statement—about its svelte yet charismatic character—says a lot, too, about why I love it: If you’ve read a number of my reviews, you already know how the condition of opposites cohabiting nicely within a fragrance sways me. Via Lanvin is a lean and angular perfume without being skinny or emaciated. Its composition has the kind of complexity that spells intrigue and lets you know that underneath that trench coat is something firm-breasted with a high-water booty and a quick-ticking brain. Via Lanvin keeps most of its assets contained, but like a lady spy who knows you’ll be happily occupied looking at her legs while she’s picking the locks of your brain, it knows how to rivet your attention and place it just so. Via Lanvin accomplishes this with a thumping good top-notes stage, heavy on the aldehydes, with a piquantly-honeyed quality to it that reminds me of the same in its better-known sister scent, Lanvin My Sin. (If you compare notes between the two fragrances, you’ll see they share many of the same ones; though not identical, their kinship is obvious). While there’s greenery in the opening stages, as well, it’s Via Lanvin’s opening combo of candied lemon meeting a rush of floral heart-notes that grabs me initially; the greenery seems to gather strength around the twenty-minute mark of wear.

(By the way, leafy green, bergamot, aldehyde, violet and lemon are among Via Lanvin’s top notes; lily of the valley, jasmine, orris, carnation, rose, ylang-ylang and narcisse form the fragrance’s heart; and vetiver, cedar, sandalwood, musk, amber and moss comprise its base.)

After the top notes fade, Via Lanvin quiets significantly and becomes more linear—a serious, green-tinged floral, rather reedy from the wood at its base, the kind of fragrance your Aunt Dora would label as ‘smart.’ However, almost as soon as I type those words I want to retract them, because this sly scent presents different facets depending upon the weather. When it’s humid, it smells a bit soapy, while on a dry summer day it’s a touch powdery; and sometimes there’s a smoky aspect to its sandalwood and vetiver base, as if it stepped outside for a quick cigarette. Just as any spy worthy of her fedora knows how to adopt a number of facades, Via Lanvin, too, embraces subtle changes that are hard to put one’s finger on and make you feel like you’re never really able to “see” this fragrance head-on. By the same token, though, once it has reached this stage (where the sexy top notes have been exhausted and the fragrance has gotten down to business), it will continually prove to be reined-in, sleek and polished. In other words, it won’t ever go too soapy on you, nor too powdery or smoky: it’s a perfume that is distinctive, yet quietly aloof, consumed with its own covert nature.

Via Lanvin’s staying power isn’t remarkable (which is the case with many vintage fragrances I’ve sampled), and while I hate having to reapply fragrance throughout the day, I’ve accepted this fact. It’s the price one pays for slinking about on the periphery, where anything you fall in love with will prove furtive and fleeting and heartbreaking when you can’t get your fix of it anymore. But instead of beating a hasty retreat to life’s steadier middle, you stay and fall in love anyway, asking yourself and everyone else in refrain, Does that make it any less beautiful, the fact that it’s not the type to stick around?

Via Lanvin is a discontinued fragrance; regular and mini-sized bottles can often be found on auction sites like eBay, where prices vary greatly. My decant was generously gifted to me by Meg (aka perfume blogger Olenska of Parfümieren), whose thrift-store, vintage-perfume scores are legendary and whose reviews are clearly the work of a beautiful and highly intelligent mind. She would make a great spy, methinks!

Image: Christina Ricci photographed in June 2007 by Tom Munro for Italian Vogue is from

To read my most recent posts, return to Home Page