Scent Survival during WWII

1942 war cartoon.jpg

I’ve seen those famous archival photographs of American G.I.s in Paris, waiting on line to buy Chanel perfume for the women at home, many times. . . but I just came across this World War II-era cartoon a few days ago. It was published in The New Yorker on February 28, 1942.

The artist, known as “Alain,” was the French-born, New York-based illustrator and painter Daniel Brustlein (1904-1996). (I just learned a bit about him by browsing the official website maintained by his estate, here.) Brustlein shows us a counter in what seems to be a department store, now stocked with wartime necessities: blackout cloth and tape for windows, first aid kits, flashlights, thermoses.

One important exception: a display of fictional perfume named Chic Nocturne. I love this detail, a nod to the persistence and importance of small luxuries in a time of international crisis.

The coronavirus may differ in many ways from WWII, but it has created its own set of needs and shortages, ranging from dire (personal protective equipment for medical staff) to trivial (has anyone seen any nail polish remover lately?).

And as we lay low at home during this lockdown in NYC, I miss making stops in my favorite department stores and beauty boutiques, but I’m still making sure that perfume adds a grace note of pleasure to every day.

I feel fortunate to be safe and sound at this point, and I wish the same for all of you. Don’t forget to seek out your own moments of delight and happy distraction, whatever they may be.


  1. I am shopping from my own perfume collection (which is vast) and giving myself manicures each week (which is no fun but I am happy with how good they look). I miss seeing friends and going each Saturday to a live music venue, but it is what it is. I have been wearing at least two perfumes a day during the work week and three during the weekend…I don’t mean layering, I mean changing up my fragrance at least two or three times a day. It makes me feel happy. I am also cranking up the rarely now used CD player to listen to my favorite albums. Whatever it takes to feel a little like one’s self.


    • Hello, Filomena!! I usually do my own nails but I haven’t bothered over the past month. You’ve inspired me, though…I’ll give myself a little manicure tonight! I do have some nice polishes that I’ve been ignoring. (My new favorite brand is Cirque.)

      And yes to pulling out the CD collection!! That makes me happy too, and like “myself.” I know what you mean.


  2. I do my makeup everyday, and wear my perfumes lavishly.. I still want to look nice for my partner, who has to look at me the whole day. The poor man just burnt his thumb badly while he was taking out the freshly baked seeded buns. Our lockout luxury is good food and wine, so we spend more time in the kitchen.


    • Ouch, I’m sorry to hear about his burn, but happy that you both had some nice fresh rolls to share! 🙂 And we do all need to keep nourished, and enjoy what we have! I’m only doing makeup on the days I have video calls/meetings, which is usually 3-4 days per week. Perfume every day, though!


  3. I am used to an 8-5 routine and my furlough has me rattling around, richly perfumed at least. I followed through on an offer, which seemed too bothersome pre-lockdown, from a national brand of cat litter for a “Cat Charm Bracelet.” I had not tossed receipts recently (project: desk pigeon holes) and photographed and uploaded enough to get the prize. I felt like a little kid at Christmas when it arrived, after only about a week. It is a very fun piece and I am going to get more of the charms. One says: “You Had Me at Meow:” what cat person does not know the feeling?


    • Aw, that bracelet does sound sweet. It’s the perfect time for treats in the mail, especially ones with cat puns. 🙂 Our little guy Gus is here in the same room as me right now, basking in the sun and bird-watching at the window. What would we do without them?


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