Many real perfumes make their appearance throughout the film, but the most popular (the only one that literally moves the plot) is a fictional one – Summer Rain. Its bottle is first seen on a bedside table in Mary’s bedroom.
The bottle amplifies the name of the perfume: it’s topped by a naked glass figurine holding an umbrella to protect herself from a rain shower.
When Mary (Norma Shearer) meet her friend Peggy (Joan Fontaine), they end up talking about Summer Rain, which has already become more than just a perfume. For Mary, it’s a symbol of marital love, since her husband gave it to her for her birthday.
When the first rumours about the infidelity of Mary’s husband begin to circulate, the dynamic duo of Sylvia (Rosalind Russell) and Edith (Phyllis Povah) decide to learn more by snooping around the perfume counter at Black’s Fifth Avenue: that’s the place where the alleged mistress (Crystal Allen, interpreted by Joan Crawford) works. Once at the shop, more bottles of Summer Rain welcome the two friends.
The perfume doesn’t exist in real life, but there’s an interesting story behind the bottle. As explained by Lanier Smith, the man who chose it was the film’s art director, Cedric Gibbons. He selecte a bottle by the Czech designer Curt Schlevogt, who produced Art Deco perfume bottles with his father-in-law, the glass artist Heinrich Hoffmann. Lanier comments that Gibbons “added a plastic umbrella, a label and some festive ribbon work to the nude figure on the stopper and Summer Rain was born an M.G.M. star.”
The assassin Villanelle wears a perfume named after her, which she often uses as a weapon. Not surprisingly, she sends a bottle to Eve Polastri, the MI5 officer who is after her but at the time time obsessed with her.
The packaging is luxurious – thick cardboard for the box, satin lining, statement glass bottle. The “spiky” stopper reminds me of the Valentino Uomo bottle.
Souffle de Mer is the fictional perfume that can be seen in Arlena Stuart Marshall’s bedroom. Its bottle doesn’t remind me of any real product, but the name is appropriate, since the film is set at an exclusive Adriatic island resort.
As Allison pointed out in the comments, in the film the French name of the perfume is translated as Breath of the Sea, a poetic rendition of the literal translation Sea Air.
Vespertine is the name of the latest perfume created by Sebastian Fenix. It’s a fictional perfume, but there’s more to it. The yellow flower on the label is reminiscent of the datura flower in bloom. Not coincidentally, datura is a vespertine flower, meaning that it blooms in the evening. Furthermore, it’s a poisonous flowering plant, a nod to the shady perfumer who created the aforementioned fragrance.
Roy Adamson (Lex Shrapnel) keeps a perfume bottle in his desk drawer. It’s a fictional perfume, Amour Propre, which he puts on when he goes out on a date with Evelyn Balfour, a married woman. The name means “self-love,” a concept introduced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, according to which esteem depends upon the opinion of others.
Venetian Romance is a fictional perfume which has an important role in this episode. It’s Penny’s signature scent, the one she wears when she meets her lover Paul (Mat Fraser).
Paul goes to a drugstore to buy it for Penny. Thanks to the screencap above we can see its bottle is actually the one of a historical and extremely popular perfume, Evening in Paris by Bourjois. The cobalt blue bottle with the curved label began appearing in the late 1940s/early 1950s, so the choice to use it is historically accurate. A cobalt blue talcum powder bottle of the same scent can be seen on the drugstore shelf, too.
In the episode we also learn that Paul is Elsa Mars’s lover. She smells Venetian Romance on him and understands he’s having an affair with another woman.
As a revenge, she badly wounds Paul: she straps him to a bullseye wheel and stabs him on purpose. Penny arrives to the circus and finds Paul fighting for his life. Elsa immediately realizes she’s the one Paul is having an affair with. “Speaking of cheap perfume” conveys her contempt for the perfume and for its wearer (let’s not forget she wears Caron Nuit de Noël), but also her envy for the two star-crossed lovers.
When Comandante Carotenuto (Vittorio De Sica) first meets Donna Sofia “‘a Smargiassa” (Sofia Loren), he comments on her perfume. “What a wonderful perfume! Notti d’oriente?”, he muses. “No, no. Lavanda Cannavale,” she replies.
There’s a contrast between the two fragrances: Notti d’oriente is a fictional perfume, a synonym for respectability, despite its exotic and seductive name; on the other hand, Lavanda Cannavale is a real perfume which stands for something common, not refined. Later in the story, Carotenuto will ask Donna Violante (Lea Padovani) the same question; it will come out that she is the one wearing Notti d’oriente.
Thanks to my friend Rocco for this id.
Helen (Sarah Silverman) and Al (Johnny Sneed) have a conversation on the woman’s vanilla scent. She says she’s wearing a perfume called Cingerie, which is a fictional one. I wonder what real perfume it could refer to. Any guesses?
M. Gustave’s collection of L’Air de Panache perfumes.
Claire de la Lune is a fictional perfume with a crescent-shaped bottle which has an important function in the episode. It’s the signature scent of Lady Elizabeth Smallwood (Lindsay Duncan) and Mary Morstan Watson (Amanda Abbington).