Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sweet Earth Perfume Compact Returns

There is a certain emptiness that takes hold when a beloved perfume is discontinued, a feeling not dissimilar to the loss of a familiar companion. A quality of sadness laced with regret and the fear of extinguished memories painfully filters through consciousness. Perfume is witness to our innermost thoughts and as such privy to more than our earthly companions. When The Vermont Country Store decided to meet customers’ requests and re-issue Sweet Earth perfume compacts, a wound in my own heart was mended--Sweet Earth Rare Flowers was the first fragrance I had ever purchased.

1973 was the year of the Paris Peace Accords, the year in which nearly all U.S. military personnel left Vietnam. Those against the war continued to wear stainless steel bracelets with names of POW and MIA soldiers, carrying emotional shrapnel that marked a conflict which future generations would sooner sacrifice to amnesia. As the prospect of peace drew near, Coty introduced Sweet Earth, a triple-pan perfume compact containing three solid fragrances, each based on a single raw material. Sweet Earth possessed an element of affordable chic as the scents could be used alone or combined according to the desire of the wearer. A total of seven stock keeping units were released through 1976, retailing at $2.75 per unit. In a nod to the art of perfumery (and the ingredient consciousness of a waning hippie era) the inside of the compact contained a legend for each of the scents, adding an element of education to the fragrance purchase.

As a child, I purchased Sweet Earth Rare Flowers at Alexander’s department store in the Bronx. I can still recall standing on tiptoes to reach the glass counter, excitedly clutching three dollars I’d won beating a boy in a baseball card flipping game (he had a crush on me, but when I crushed him at cards it was all over). A kindly saleswoman allowed me to sample different compacts, advising me to read the legend in each one when I had questions about what I was smelling. At first I thought she was trying to keep me from overzealously dipping my fingers into the solid perfume, (I was gently, but firmly instructed to run the tip of my finger across the compact and test a small amount on my forearm) but her instruction and wisdom encouraged patience and satisfied my curiosity. There were three different compacts to choose from and I instinctively gravitated towards Rare Flowers, which housed tuberose, jasmine and mimosa scents. The mimosa intrigued me most as the year of my first fragrance purchase was also the year I’d been introduced to the scent of a Persian Silk tree in my aunt’s backyard—a tree with flowers that strongly resemble the scent of true mimosa.

The Vermont Country Store is responsible for bringing many beloved fragrances back into the marketplace, including Bourjois’ Evening in Paris (1929), a scent that was a favorite during World War II (it went out of production in 1969 and has since been resurrected as Soir de Paris). Ellen Adams, Personal Care Buyer for The Vermont Country Store, understands the emotional impact that fragrances have with regard to recollection of things past, “…We know that one whiff of a certain fragrance can bring back wonderful memories. One customer commented that when she smelled a certain perfume we had brought back, it made her feel like her mother was there with her again.” Adams and her colleagues reintroduced the Floral (née Flowers) and Wood (née Woods) Sweet Earth compacts currently sold at The Vermont Country Store. When asked if Rare Flowers would be available any time soon, yes was the definitive answer. There is a little girl inside of me who just can’t wait…


Between 1973 and 1976, Coty issued the following Sweet Earth compacts:
• Rare Flowers: tuberose, jasmine and mimosa.
• Flowers: hyacinth, honeysuckle and ylang-ylang.
• Grass: clover, gingergrass and hay.
• Woods: sandalwood, amberwood and patchouli.
• Herbs: chamomile, sage and caraway.
• Colonial Wild Flowers (1976 Bicentennial promotion): lilac, columbine and wild rose.
• Colonial Garden Flowers (1976 Bicentennial promotion): peony, verbena and lavender.

It is interesting to note the groupings of fragrance families, in addition to the educational nature of the legend which is included in the compact. Should The Vermont Country Store consider a fragrance concept for an all together new compact, a chypre trio would be quite timely.

Vintage editions of Evening in Paris can be found at Aunt Judy’s Attic, an online antique store that sells rare and discontinued perfumes. Offerings on the site are a testimony to the passion of fragrance connoisseurs and the nostalgic power of scent. The posted photo of the Rare Flowers compact is from the site.

Photo of Alexander's in the Bronx sourced from Lantern Media.