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An expatriate baron. His fashionista wife. A gallant compliment that inspired the creation of the first All-American perfume. That's the legend behind White Shoulders, an iconic perfume launched in the 1940s. White Shoulders wasn't so much an innovation in its actual scent as it was a revolution against the snobbish yet then-common idea that the French should have a monopoly on perfumery. The fragrance House of Evyan debunked that myth, once and for all.
The Legend of White Shoulders
It's the 1940s. An Austrian born baron -- Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff, or Dr. Walter Langer -- and his beloved British-native wife, Lady Evyan, are living in the United States. Though he hobnobs it with the rich, the royal, and the famous, Langer isn't one to simply rest on his inherited laurels. He's actually a well-educated chemist, a background that will serve him well when he makes the jump to perfume nose. One evening at a dinner party, the beautiful and porcelain-skinned Lady Evyan arrives in one of her signature off-the-shoulder gowns. The Duke of Marlborough raises a toast to the fair lady, and compliments her on "the whitest shoulders I have ever seen." And so the idea for the White Shoulders perfume is born, or so the story goes.
The Creation of White Shoulders
In the 1930s and 1940s, perfume came from France. Period. Everyone knew those uncouth Americans couldn't design a great fragrance. Langer was determined to prove that his adopted land could create a perfume to rival those of the great French couture fashion houses. The good doctor and his wife launched their perfume line, The House of Evyan, in New York and insisted that every ingredient in the perfume and even its packaging be produced in the United States. White Shoulders perfume debuted in 1945 and soon became an American classic. The fragrance was eventually acquired by the Elizabeth Arden beauty brand, but retained its iconic name and packaging.
White Shoulders -- like many of the great perfumes of its era -- is classified as aldehydic floral. Aldehydes are synthetic fragrance notes used to lighten up flowery scents with a fizzy, champagne-like sparkle. The perfume opens up with a cocktail of aldehydes and rich florals like tuberose and neroli. At White Shoulders' heart: A classic bouquet of gardenia, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, rose and lilac. The fragrance dries down to amber, musk, oakmoss and sandalwood. In the 2008 edition of their annually published "Perfumes: The Guide," snarky perfume connoisseurs Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez describe the scent as "fresh," "pleasant" and "unbendably maternal-feminine."
Lady Evyan was quite the fashionista, famous for dressing in heirloom laces and off-the-shoulder satin evening gowns. To channel the perfume muse's signature style, the House of Evyan designed lace-trimmed boxes of peachy-pink to house bottles of White Shoulders. The bottles themselves boasted a lacy etched design. A 1947 advert for the fragrance proclaimed: "To Keep the Exciting Shadow of Romance Ever Over Your White Shoulders." Yup, perfume ads have always been that dramatic.