Caron Royal Bain de Champagne/Royal Bain de Caron (1941) has an interesting story behind it, as an early unisex fragrance made “for the bath” by Caron to be used as part of good grooming and hygiene, but there’s far more to its history than that. The original product was commissioned privately in 1923 for millionaire William Randolf Hearst to replace real champagne in his extravagant baths, and designed to have a slightly boozy fruity smell that was reminiscent of the real deal, named “Bain de Champagne” and in the peculiar concentration of “eau parfumée pour le bain”. From there, the stuff gradually made the transition to public sale in 1928 as an eau de toilette because Caron had to dilute the formula and manufacture in bulk to justify the overhead (one of the reasons most classic houses do not offer private custom scents anymore), and it became “Royal Bain de Champagne” in 1941, with old adverts reading: “Before the bath. During the bath. After the bath. Royal Bain de Champagne is for everyone to enjoy at any time”. Things remained like this for over 50 years, with the scent becoming something of a bath time tradition and gifted at weddings, housewarming parties, baby showers, and the like, until the 1993 legal spat with Yves Saint Laurent and the city of Champagne in France over the YSL perfume of the same name led to Caron preemptively changing the name of their old Royal Bain de Champagne yet again to Royal Bain de Caron. This scent is mostly available in splashes due to the bottle type, but comes in some insane sizes for not a lot of money, yet isn’t weak like a traditional eau de cologne.
Regardless of the name, the scent has more or less remained consistent beyond what forced reformulations have changed over the years, and you’re getting a light fruity sweet floral oriental with boozy overtones and an ambery finish. The opening of Royal Bain de Caron starts off like many older Carons, full of notes that blur together to make a creamy floral sweetness that rides atop vintage-style musks much like Narcisse Noir (1911) or Nuit de Noël (1922). Bergamot, lilac, violet, rose, lavender, sage, and gardenia all come out in this voluptuous top, straddling the lines between femme fatale and dandy monsieur in the arrangement of flowers. The heart of benzoin, nitro musks, opoponax, frankincense, vanilla, and rosewood set up an aromatic richness that merges all the florals to the oriental woody amber base with the sweetness of vanilla and powdery smell of the unburnt incense. Things settle on skin after 30 minutes with sandalwood, cedar, and a smooth amber inflected with a boozy “champagne” note that I cannot describe. Royal Bain de Caron is surprisingly “dirty” for a bath-oriented smell thanks to all the rich earthy musky elements of the composition, but it is very inviting and cozy. Smell-wise, this stuff tries to approach the utilitarianism of Pinaud Lilac Vegetal (1880) and universal appeal of 4711 Echt Kölnisch Wasser by Wilhelm Muelhens (1792), but adding that very specific “blocky” sort of redolence Caron has which stands in stark contrast to the infinitely-filigreed and blended style Guerlain utilized in the same period. This is a scent out of time, so use whenever you’d enjoy it, but be mindful of Royal Bain de Caron in high heat where it could swelter terribly. Projection and sillage are moderate but longevity goes past eight hours, so this is all around adequate for day use if you wanted it for that. Lovers of the Caron style will definitely appreciate the vibe of Royal Bain de Caron, and the kitschy champagne bottle is fun to display and store.
All told, Royal Bain de Caron is one of the more unique entries in the classic Caron canon in terms of theme. What’s more fun, is the fact that the perfume was more the work of assistant Michel Morsetti than house founder Ernest Daltroff, although in 1923 Daltroff was responsible for the original formula given to William Randolf Hearst. Those who know their Caron lore know that Daltroff fled France to avoid persecution of the Jews by Nazi Germany in 1939, leaving muse and creative director (plus suspected lover) Félicie Wanpouille behind with Michael Morsetti promoted to master perfumer. One of the first things Morsetti did was to re-orchestrate Bain de Caron for its re-release as “Royal Bain de Caron” in 1941 (the year of Daltroff’s death), making it his own. Funny thing is we look back on that now fondly, but when modern perfumers completely change a formula to suit their own design, perfume fans scream in rage, just ask the average collector what they think of François Demachy and all his multitudinous changes to the Dior Homme (2005) line and flankers over the years since he took over as perfumer, and most of those had nothing to do with IFRA regulations. In conclusion, the question needing to be asked here is would something like this still seem appropriate alongside the bath? Well, most of us shower in-and-out with an array of shower gels and shampoos so probably not, but if you make time to stop and sniff this “champagne”, you’ll find that you don’t always need “freshness” for a perfume to be refreshing. If you’re a fan of classic dressed-up oriental ambers anyone can wear, this is one of the best values around. Thumbs up.