Sunday, June 12, 2011

Some time after dark in Paris

When I was a kid, I bought my mother a cobalt blue bottle of Evening in Paris perfume at Woolworth's. I saw Woolworth's described as a "Target-like" store of the 1960s on a Basenotes forum. My immediate reaction is that they were very different, and that Woolworth's was much more of a downmarket store. But, with a little analysis, I can see I'm probably wrong about thinking they're different. One store is old, and has a place in my own nostalgic memories. The other is modern and impersonal (but will most likely figure in someone's nostalgia in the future, though it's hard for me to fathom).

Both stores sold pretty much everything except produce and meat. Both stores were not discount stores, but instead sold (presumably) cheaper versions of things one could buy at regular stores. You can and could eat right in the store, though Target's has a Starbucks. Woolworth's had a restaurant that serves full meals, rather like the old fashioned counter in old pharmacies. I don't remember having a full meal there, but I sure do remember their banana splits.

This post's big digression will be a little reminiscence about my local Woolworth's. It was the first place I ever stole something from.  Besides that not-so-lovely fact, it was a big part of my childhood. They had a Photo Booth, and I just discovered that there's a Facebook page called "Remembering Woolworth's Black and White Photo Booths." One person left a comment there that was exactly what I was about to write here: how they had balloons at the lunch counter, and if you ordered a banana split, you'd get to pop a balloon to find out how much it cost. Sometimes it would be a penny, and everyone would congratulate you on your good luck.

I don't remember eating anything there except banana splits, and the silly thrill of getting to pop a balloon to find out just how much it would cost.

Woolworth's did have cheap stuff. Much of the stuff they sold there is the same merchandise that's sold now in places like Rite Aid and Walgreens. Walgreens was once, in fact, an old fashioned pharmacy that had soda fountains and lunch counters. I was just amazed to find out, in their Wikipedia entry, that Walgreens "claims credit for the popularization of the malted milkshake. . .invented by Ivar "Pop" Coulson in 1922." The electric blender was invented the same year. More about milkshakes here.

Anyway, Woolworth's was were us girls got our first cheap tubes of Maybelline mascara, or surreptitiously tried on new shades of lipstick. That aforementioned Photo Booth seemed to chronicle my life with boyfriends, and what came to be my ex-husband. I bought my first bra at Woolworth's. It was a place that I strolled through on a regular basis, most often on my way home from school. My mother and I went there together frequently. Though it wasn't a small store by any means, it felt local and somewhat cozy, but perhaps that's because it was a bit shoddy. Their floors were real wood, and in need of cleaning. The counters were banged up, and the colors of them mismatched, for they came from different eras. They always seemed to be on the edge of going out of business, which now know was true by the time I was a kid.

I bought gifts for my parents there, cheap cologne for my father (poor guy) and Evening in Paris for my mother. And now I've come to the point of this post. I was confused by someone posting a comment about Midnight in Paris earlier today. Van Cleef and Arpels has a perfume of that name. It comes in a cobalt blue bottle. My first thought was, "Could this be the same perfume I bought at Woolworth's back in my youth?" No. It is not, but their use of such a similar name and a cobalt bottle in such a pricey product seems rather a large mistake.

Midnight in Paris is the name of a new Woody Allen movie. I was sure I'd read the the Arpels scent's name was taken from an old movie, but I can't find one.

Evening in Paris is another story. A cheap perfume, sold in places like Woolworth's, and affordable to any kid with a paper route, a lemonade stand, or an allowance, was formulated first in 1928 as Soir de Paris, by Bourjois, a division of Chanel. What amazes me is that I'm having a heck of a time finding any information about scent on the Web, which is pretty interesting since it was once called "The Most Famous Fragrance in the World," according to the product copy on the Vermont General Store website (an odd place to find perfume info).

Aunt Judy's Attic, where there's three pages on how to date your old bottle of the stuff, says it was first put out in 1929. Oh, who knows. . .

Image note: Bottles of Evening in Paris from the Fragrantica webpage, where I finally found a decent enough history of it. It's the bottle on the right that I remember, which is too old (40's-50's) for me to have bought it, leading me to believe I'd seen it on my grandmother's vanity.

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