Screen Time: Perfume in FOSSE/VERDON

Last month I finally got around to viewing “FOSSE/VERDON,” which I’d been curious about since it aired on F/X two years (!) ago. I don’t have cable, hence the delay…but I do have Amazon Prime, so I figured I’d finally pay a few dollars to see this one-season series inspired by the shared lives and careers of dancer/actor/choreographer Gwen Fosse and dancer/choreographer/director Bob Fosse.

I enjoyed it—I’m a Michelle Williams fan, and I can’t resist any show or movie or book that revolves around the arts and culture of 1970s NYC, in general, so I spent eight very content hours immersed in this recreation of the couple’s onstage and offstage drama.

The costumes and set dressing are fantastic, and I also kept an eye out for perfume bottles in the background. Late in the series, my attention was rewarded—although I did catch an anachronism.

From episode 8: here’s Williams-as-Verdon at her dressing table in her palatial Central Park West apartment, getting ready for bed and explaining to her boyfriend (played by Jake Lacy) why she needs to go on tour with the musical Chicago, although that wasn’t the original plan.

I’m almost certain that there’s a bottle of CIE fragrance (1977), with its rectangular ivory-colored plastic cap, behind her.

Candice Bergen for CIE, 1979

That’s a good fit, since CIE was released by Shulton in 1977 and was still being heavily promoted in 1979, when this scene takes place. It was marketed as a fragrance for the modern woman who was independent, individualistic, and constantly shifting between different moods and roles in her life.

I haven’t been able to identify the other two (or more?) bottles behind her, but if I come up with likely answers, I’ll update this post later.

The long-suffering Jake, meanwhile, keeps a bottle of Pinaud Clubman aftershave lotion on his side of the bed. Why there, and not in the bathroom? I do not know.

Maybe it’s because he still feels like an interloper in the former Fosse/Verdon residence (Gwen and Bob being separated at this point), or else someone just wanted to add a little visual interest to that bedside table.

We get a look into Bob Fosse’s bachelor-pad bedroom in this scene (also episode 8), when daughter Nicole wanders in and performs a bit for herself in the mirror.

Off to the side, on the upper shelf next to the Exedrin and the Right Guard, I spy a bottle of English Leather men’s fragrance with its distinctive cap.

“Because all my women like English Leather. Every one of them.”

I’m not as familiar with men’s fragrances, but English Leather (available since 1949!) was apparently going through a revival in the 1970s and some of the English Leather ad copy from that era fits Fosse’s, ah, “free-spirited” persona all too well.

Then we have this scene from episode 7, in which Verdon sips some champagne in her dressing room after a performance of CHICAGO. Among the assorted cosmetics on her dressing table, there’s a perfume bottle with a gold cap (just to the left of the small oval mirror).

Its box lies slightly off to the left, and together they’re easy for me to identify, but they don’t fit the timeframe of the series (mid-1950s to 1987, with flashbacks to both lead characters’ earlier years).

It’s a perfume from the house Annick Goutal, founded in 1980—but this scene takes place in 1975, just before Verdon takes medical leave from CHICAGO in order to receive surgery on her vocal cords.

(I’m not sure why the set dressers didn’t just fact-check Goutal before placing that bottle on the table. There are plenty of other 1970s-era gold-topped perfume bottles that could have been used instead. Call me, tv people!)

I’m wondering, though, which Annick Goutal might Verdon have enjoyed if she ever came across the brand later in life? I’m imagining her in the cult-classic Eau d’Hadrien, a citrusy eau de cologne, or maybe Eau de Camille, with its sunny notes of ivy, honeysuckle, cut grass, and lilac. Then again, if she were thinking of her role as Roxie Hart, she might have chosen a more intense floral, like Grand Amour.

What do you think?

I’m also seeing a small jar of Pond’s cold cream laid out on Verdon’s dressing table, as well as a bottle of Oil of Olay. And what’s that tall red canister standing just in front of the mirror?

It seems to be Vivadou’s Mavis talcum powder, a scented dusting powder for the body. Mavis was around in the 1920s, as you can see in the above ad; I’m not sure when it went out of production, but someone probably could have access to it in the 70s. And it’s a nice choice for Verdon playing the character of a 1920s femme fatale and slithering into her various slinky costumes for the part.

I haven’t been able to locate any references to Gwen Verdon’s real-life perfume preferences, so…who knows?

Have you seen FOSSE/VERDON? How would you scent Verdon or any of her roles?

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