Friday, March 11, 2011

Carven - Ma Griffe

1946 sexy and The Big Sleep

The couture house of Carven was founded in 1945 by Madame Carven. She was a novice in the industry, but soon became much sought after for her clean, fresh designs that epitomized French chic. Ma Griffe, which roughly translates as my signature, was released in 1946 and was named for Carven's signature green and white striped dress. The box design is still patterned in green and white.

Ma Griffe is a green chypre, but one that leans more towards a floral than the dry greeness of Givenchy III or Silences. It opens with aldehydes and citrus and blooms into a sheer, light gardenia with green notes. An interesting hint of cinnamon accents the gardenia and the whole thing dries down to a cinnamon and wood, resiny base.

I have the modern bottle, and I have a vintage sample, but unfortunately the top notes in the vintage have gone sour. The base notes are still there however, and it seems to me that the labdanum and styrax were much stronger notes once. There is an almost incense quality to the vintage. 

I think Madame Carven wanted something that combined freshness with self-confidence, like her dress design. It was a perfume to appeal to the new working girls, making their own money and their own way in the world after the war.

Something else was released in 1946 that put a spotlight on the new post-war, independent woman. The Big Sleep, by Howard Hawkes is as dark, rainy and complicated as Ma Griffe is light and playful, but its beautiful, sexually-confident young women remind me of Ma Griffe.

First is the troubled Carmen Sternwood, the sexually-agressive opium addict, victim of a pornography ring and possible murderer. She uses sex automatically with men, to get her way. After her first meeting with Marlowe, he observes drily "She tried to sit on my lap while I was standing up."

Then there's the star, Lauren Bacall as the sultry sister Vivian Sternwood Rutledge. A young widow, presumably from the war, Vivian is sexy, mysterious and, though Bacall was only 20 at the time, she always seems in control. Humphrey Bogart fell for her hard, both in real life and in the movie. Vivian plays a dangerous game trying to keep her sister and herself out of trouble from black mailers, pornographers, gamblers and thugs while keeping it all a secret from private investigator Marlowe (Bogart). Their sexually suggestive "racehorse" scene in the movie was just about as racy as dialogue between a man and a woman could get at that time. And just look at that gorgeous lamé jacket.

Besides those two leading ladies, the movie is full of strong, sexy women. There's my favourite supporting role ever, the bookstore proprietress, played by Dorothy Malone. Bogart steps into her shop to watch the store across the street, but quickly charms her. As a heavy rain begins to fall, he proposes that they have a drink of rye (from a bottle in his pocket) while he waits - with a suggestive line: "I'd rather get wet in here." The independent bookseller pulls the shade and closes an hour early, removes her eyeglasses and lets her hair down coyly: "It looks like we're closed for the rest of the afternoon." There are many femme fatales in film noir, but this sexy-geek librarian is priceless.

Even the taxi cab driver in The Big Sleep is a little randy.

Anyway, sorry for the long non-perfume-related post. If you've never seen The Big Sleep, I highly recommend you run out and get it right away. And maybe spritz on a little Ma Griffe while watching, to get the real authentic experience.

House: Carven
Nose: Jean Carles
Notes: Top notes are aldehydes, gardenia, green notes, asafoetida, clary sage and citruses; middle notes are orris, orange blossom, orris root, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley and rose; base notes are labdanum, sandalwood, cinnamon, musk, benzoin, oakmoss, vetiver and styrax.


  1. I love Ma Griffe, and I am wearing some vintage but reformulated EDT right now. Do you know how to date your Ma Griffe bottles/samples?

  2. I have a small sample that I am going to try this weekend

  3. Love this review, a perfect blend of cinematic quirk and compelling fragrant description. I always loved the look of Ma Griffe's green-and-white box and never thought to go further inside to the scent. Now I know better than to stop at the surface! :)

  4. I love, worship and adore Ma Griffe, and indeed most green chypres, the floral and the dry - at least the one I remember - because I can't find any for love or money these days! :-(

    "The Big Sleep" is one of my favorite Chandler novels, and certainly my favorite Bogart/Bacall movie of all time. I can see the link between the movie and the perfume. And I have to say it - people, that dress! That's poetry in fabric, cut and execution. Put it on, and it would have to be..poetry in motion, too!

  5. Hi Warum. I don't know how to date the bottles either. My vintage smaple is an old carded sample from Fritsch's Pharmacy (see my early posts on Fritsch's). THere's no telling the age, since they just come out of a jumbled box in the back of the shop, but by the condition I would say no earlier than the 80's. I'll spend some time with Google to find out and if I can I will let you know.

  6. Hey Taffynfontana, I hope you like it.

  7. Hello taeleisio, I wish there were still making green chypres too. It's my favourite perfume type. And that dress is gorgeous isn't it!

  8. Ah, I wish I had that dress!
    Lovely review, those classic movies are wonderful. I can almost smell them! :)

  9. From my perspective no apologies are needed for the "non-perfume related post". Even if it had been totally unrelated (which I don't think is the case) this kind of aside is exactly what makes individual bloggers interesting to read.

    That dress is gorgeous! And so is my memory of Ma Griffe from the 70s. Definitely keeping my eyes open for some vintage.

    -- Lindaloo

  10. I absolutely loved your post from top to bottom. The description of the scent, the dress, the movie characters -- absolutely terrific! I have no experience with Ma Griffe, but you certainly piqued my curiosity.

  11. A worldly uncle brought my mother and I duty-free coffrets which contained Ma Griffe perfume. I wore it to school (9th grade) one day and was subsequently whispered about by the entire student body by the end of that day. I still love Ma Griffe.

  12. Hi Susanne, thanks for the compliment!

  13. I wish I had that dress too, Olfactoria.

  14. Hi Olfacta, that's the best story. In 9th grade I would have been wearing the old Chloe, but I wish I had been infamous for wearing Ma Griffe.

  15. Warum, I have an answer for you on dating Ma Griffe bottles. I consulted Elena at Perfume Shrine She is amazingly knowledgeable. According to her pictures, the bottle I reviewed is from the late 90's or early 2000's.

    Here's her full response:

    There are at least three distinct phases of Ma Griffe that I know of:

    #1 The original does seem to be more bergamot-heavy, later on they ditched some of the bergamot due to photosensitizing risks. It's also rather more powdery-mossy. I'm talking about stuff circulating till mid 1970s.

    #2 The 80s version: they might have boosted the character a little in the 80s to be more in keeping with fashion--just as everyone is watering down the classics now to suit 21st century taste! There is a slightly off note in the 80s formula which is NOT due to age-related deterioration because I have compared batches with a couple of collectors and they all seem to get it; must be in the formula.
    The cap is just a clear swirl.

    #3 Lighter formula. Every bottle of pdt I have purchasedfrom after 1990 was in one of the round-shouldered bottles, with that lighter formula. Parfum de Toilette circulated till mid-90s, don't know about nowadays.

    Two high-quality dupe makers whose Ma Griffes I've tried (The Fragrance Shop and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz) both make juice very similar to the #1 version, so it must be the original they're copying.

    See pics for bottles: (original vintage parfum) (this is an intermediary phase of still vintage formula stuff) (this is younger stuff, I believe from late 90s or early 2000s)
    The ad on the bottom is from late 80s (the cap is gold and like a twisted half-moon, I believe this also circulated earlier): (I believe this to be newer stuff, looks like the watered down version which I had tested in the store a couple of year4s ago)

  16. I have never tried Ma Griffe :( Now I must because of all The Big Sleep talk. There was some great hair in that movie...

  17. Thanks for this post--after years of thinking about it on and off, I just ordered some Ma Griffe, which I used a lot when I was younger. Very interesting to read about Carven and about the dating issue. I had no idea. I think I'll watch The Big Sleep too!

  18. Enjoy the perfume and the movie, Ann!

  19. I love that dress at the top of the post! it's perfect! Lauren Bacall is amazing isn't she- and still amazing now- that bone structure. I love the film and I like the perfume- it's big and green in a way you don't get today but I want greens to be reborn and loved and I think this is one that should be worn more, perhaps sparingly but it's great

  20. I agree with you completely Rose, love the film, like the perfume.


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