Helena Rubenstein wearing a dress by Paul Poiret Nickolas Murray 1924
Every once in a while I will stumble across something that just absolutely baffles me. In the case here it’s Emotion by Helena Rubinstein. It’s a fragrance I have read very, very little about, but anyone who knows me will tell you if I find a vintage, I’m going to find out everything I can about it. It ends up this little gem was created by the one and only legendary perfumer, Jean Kerléo.
Jean Kerléo at the Osmothèque . This photo was taken by author John Oehler while was researching his book Aphrodesia (Tama reviewed here)
Yes, that Jean Kerléo of Jean Patou and Osmothèque fame. Of course, being the huge Patou fan that I am, I was ecstatic beyond all belief to have acquired an EDP mini of this rarity purely by accident at a cost of next to nothing! Now having an old Helena Rubinstein (she was a marketing wonder and Jewish Wonder Woman) in itself makes me giddy as a schoolgirl, but knowing that it’s an early Jean Kerléo makes it darn near invaluable to me AND makes me giddier than a giddy schoolgirl. Simply put, it’s a must have for my collection.
Vintage Ad for Helena Rubinstein Emotion Perfume, photo Marie Cosindas 1968
Emotion was created in 1960 while Kerléo was employed with Helena Rubinstein. The scent itself is fairly representative of the time it was created as it shares aspects of the great floral aldehydes of the past few decades, but also gives a nod to upcoming greens of the 60’s and 70’s. The perfume starts out with a delicate blast of my beloved aldehydes. Rose and jasmine notes are tempered just right (as not to be too domineering) with a spicy woody background that in some respects brings to mind Dana’s Canoe. The most striking thing is that there’s a balsamic edge present with a hint of benzoin that to me would have been very forward thinking at the time. Unfortunately, the top aldehydic aspects of the perfume fade very, very quickly. To say they last more than 10 minutes is being generous. Still, that is nothing to complain about.
Helena Rubenstein in Her Perfume Factory: Courtesy of FIT Library
The middle of the perfume is dominated by a powdery iris and I do believe heliotrope. In the background a gentle note of indescript greenness begins to open up to tie everything together nicely. A mossy amber (a play on the balsam/benzoin) becomes even more noticeable as time goes on. Underneath a slight hint of lily of the valley lends its help to add a lift to the powdery aspects. If I could describe in color what I am smelling, I would say this is very diffuse beige/green as seen looking through a veil. I am getting hints of Heaven Sent here, but in a much more subdued manner.
“Madame Rubinstein in Kyoto, Japan,” 1957, Andy Warhol. © 2014 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
As we come to the base we are in full powdered territory. This is not at all surprising as Rubinstein’s powders were a very hot commodity on their own. The similarities to Heaven Sent are very evident, but still different in that Heaven Sent screams “notice me” more than Emotion does. That said, they both pretty much whisper, but Emotion does it even more quietly. At certain times I detect a peach note like note that is intriguing – perhaps it’s an after effect of the top aldehydes. Whatever it is, it’s nice and adds something that’s missing to the overall mix. Another aspect that's interesting is that there’s a musky undertone mixed with moss that at times come off as slightly urinous air (which I adore). It’s naughty, yet oh so nice. Maybe a little too nice. For me, I would like much more naughty….this is just too timid.
Aaron's bottle of Helena Rubenstein vintage Emotion edp
To sum it up, Emotion is a nice perfume that did have some promise. However, the sillage and longevity are a drawback. The perfume wears very close to the skin and, even after liberal dabbing, is barely noticeable to the nose when only a few inches away. In regards to longevity, the entire scenario played out in under 3 hours. After 5 hours, you would hardly know you ever put it on. I don’t think the finest of ingredients were used in its crafting (as compared to Patou), but that in no way makes it bad. Despite this, it is a great perfume to have in the collection. Afterall, this was and is the work of 2 legends – Rubinstein and Kerléo!
Lauren Bacall in Helena Rubenstein's bathroom, photo by Louise Dahl-Wolfe,1942 (another Jewish wonder woman)
Emotion has been discontinued for many years, but does come up on Ebay/auction sites from time to time (at very high prices in relation to its overall quality). Mini’s are usually reasonable and in better abundance. For history buffs and Kerléo fans, I highly recommend it. For me, it was compulsory. Grab it while you can.
–Aaron Potterman, Contributor and Vintage Perfume Expert
The Jewish Musuem located on 92nd and 5th Avenue featured an entire Exhibit devoted to Helena Rubenstein (Oct 31, 2014 -March 15, 2015) with over 200 paintings, sculptures and prints art pieces from Helena Rubinstein’s vast collection including works by Picasso, Andy Warhol and Frida Kahlo, jewelry and clothing designed by Elsa Schiaparelli and Paul Poiret as well as vintage perfume and cosmetics ads.
Doors to the Beauty is Power Exhibit November 3, 2014 iPhone 4 !!! (AC)
Art Direction: Michelyn Camen