Vanities: Anne Rice (1941-2021)

The New York Times, November 1988

“And you must know we do not really change over time; we are as flowers unfolding, we merely become more nearly ourselves.” — The Queen of the Damned (1988)

The author Anne Rice passed away last week, leaving behind three dozen books and legions of dedicated readers. I haven’t kept up with her releases in a while, I’ll confess, but in my teens and early twenties I was immersed in her vampire novels and other horror fiction. She was a best-selling female author who redefined a literary genre and established a real sense of connection with her admirers, and I’m still very impressed by those accomplishments.

Anne Rice at Three Lives bookstore, NYC, October 1990, via Alamy

I met Anne Rice once, when she was signing copies of The Witching Hour at the legendary Greenwich Village bookstore Three Lives & Company. I remember heading downtown after my last class of the afternoon and meeting up with my friend P, who was probably coming directly from her office job. We somehow ended up being first on the line.

I couldn’t really believe, for a moment, that I was walking right up to the table where the author was sitting with a stack of her new book, and I was pleasantly shocked when she looked directly into my eyes and responded to my comments. The photo above shows her just as I remember her that night: serious, somewhat reserved, but very present and engaged.

Photo of Anne Rice by “Stina,” via Anne Rice’s Instagram account

I continued to follow Anne Rice’s fiction for several years after that, and continued to read interviews from which I absorbed details about her Victorian mansion in New Orleans, her collections of antique dolls and Catholic statuary, her apparent love for large cameo brooches. But I never stopped to wonder, until this week: did Anne Rice have a favorite perfume? Yes. She did.

In 2010, Anne (if I may call her that), who was quite active on Facebook, lamented the fact that Chanel had ceased producing No. 22.

No. 22 was created by Ernest Beaux and was launched by Chanel around 1922, shortly after the hard-to-pinpoint release of No. 5, and it was closely related to its soon-to-be-iconic older “sister.” In fact, it came from the same group of trial fragrances that Beaux had initially presented to Chanel and included many of the same notes, with heavier emphasis on the jasmine and white florals.

Chanel No. 22 advertisement, 1970s

Anne must have had some kind of difficulty finding No. 22 in 2010, but she needn’t have feared: No. 22 wasn’t discontinued, just rebranded. In 2007 it had been repackaged (and repriced, quite a bit higher) as part of Chanel’s “Les Exclusifs” collection, available only at certain retail locations.

Anne mentioned No. 22 again in an interview for The Guardian in 2014, and in 2015 she wrote on Facebook, “My favorite scent of all time? . . . Chanel No. 22 has a mysterious touch of incense in it that reminds me of vast Catholic churches with the [censers] swinging at Benediction…but it’s a sweet, sensuous scent.”

By then, she also had a new favorite to recommend: Hermès 24, Faubourg (1995, Maurice Roucel). I share her love for this perfume (and its exquisite bottle design, inspired by Hermès’s signature scarves), and I’ve gone through numerous samples of it, although I’ve never quite felt that I could pull it off well enough to purchase a whole bottle.

Hermès 24, Faubourg advertisement

24, Faubourg, named for the address of Hermès’s flagship boutique in Paris, is a lush, elegant bouquet of white florals—I’m sensing a theme here—like ylang ylang, gardenia, jasmine, and orange blossom, plus fruity topnotes of bergamot, orange, and peach and deeper elements of amber, patchouli, vanilla and sandalwood.

Two years later, Anne was describing 24, Faubourg as “purely divine” and predicting that it would someday receive a mention in one of her novels. Did that ever happen? I haven’t been able to locate any reference to this fragrance in her writing, but if you know more than I do, please make a comment below!

1960 ad for Chanel No. 5

I completely understand Anne’s reflection on perfume’s power to shape or enhance our emotions and her attachment to 24, Faubourg as a “mood elevator.” She commented, “Chanel No. 5 has a similar power over me, and carries with it memories of long ago Christmases when I was young, filled with optimism and extremely cheerful.”

I might just pick up my old paperback copy of Interview with the Vampire and re-read it over this Christmas season, in order to revisit my own memories of this story and the years when I was so attached to it. I hope that Anne’s own afterlife will be peaceful and well-fragranced with white flowers.

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