Sortilège – a saucy secret?

Costume Collection | Folk and Costume Museum

Actresses Jinx Falkenburg, Dorothy Lamour and Anita Colby at The Stork Club in 1946.
Actresses Jinx Falkenburg, Dorothy Lamour and Anita Colby at The Stork Club in 1946.

Visit this exhibition before it closes and find out more about a tiny artefact that packed a mighty punch in a celebrity hangout of 1930s New York.

A tiny perfume bottle discovered within a heritage handbag and forming part of our 'Pockets to Handbags' exhibition has a considerable and lavish history. We are always intrigued with the finer detail which, in this instance, proves quite fascinating.

Launched in 1937 by the House of Le Galion, Sortilège became the iconic signature perfume of New York's famous Stork Jazz Club. Branded in 1965 as 'the fragrance that makes women faithful. To their fragrance', the message resonates 1960s confidence for women and something of a 'roll the dice' vibe with no guarantees of faithfulness to anyone but themselves. 

The origin of the word 'sortilege' however, is a lot older. It is believed that Druids had recourse to sortilege by fire, in that the will of the gods was ascertained by the casting of lots or other processes of sortilege. How clever a name and message for a perfume pertaining to make women faithful – only to their fragrance – and, by proxy, unaccountable. This was a message bang on target with the spirit of the 60s. Today's message might be 'the perfume made me do it'.

The nose behind this fragrance is Paul Vacher (1902-1975) whose other famous fragrances include Lanvin Arpege, Dior Miss Dior, Dior Miss Dior Parfum, Dior Diorling, Le Galion Sortilège  and Long Lost Perfume Sortilége. Vacher's unique approach to perfume creation and his innovative use of natural essences have made him one of the most respected and influential figures in fine fragrances.

Sortilège: Top notes: Aldehydes, Ylang-Ylang, Lilac and Lily-of-the-Valley. Middle notes: Iris, Turkish Rose, Mimosa, Narcissus and Egyptian Jasmine. Base notes: Musk, Vetiver, Sandalwood, Amber and Labdanum

'Pockets to Handbags' exhibition at The Folk and Costume Museum closes on Sunday 29 October 2023.

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