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.