During the late 1920s La Cherte face powder claimed to be “The World’s Most Exquisite Face Powder.” Its ads even promised “it will endure through hours of dancing,” and the woman on this powder box from my collection seems to be testing the veracity of the company’s claim by strutting across a stage beneath a single spotlight.
It takes a woman with uncommon panache to take the stage alone, and that is why the La Cherte face powder box reminds me so much of Betty “Ball of Fire” Rowland, one of the most famous burlesque dancers of her era.
Betty was originally known as the “littlest burlesque star” because of her small stature, but her spirited performances earned the gorgeous titian-tressed dynamo the nickname “Ball of Fire”. Betty wowed audiences for years at the New Follies Theater on South Main Street downtown in revues such as “Panties Inferno,” “It’s Wicked,” and “Julius Teaser”.
A few years ago I met the Betty Rowland and it was a treat for me. Of course I had dozens of questions for her but I didn’t want to overwhelm the fragile nonagenarian, so I settled on one I didn’t think she had been asked a thousand times before: Did she have a signature scent? She paused for a moment before she responded.
Betty told me that her favorite fragrance had been L’Aimant by Coty. L’Aimant debuted in 1927 and it was the first perfume created by Francoise Coty. The scent is elegant and sophisticated, just like Betty. She told me that she wore it in her daily life and also on stage as a part of her act.
Before each of her appearances Betty would spray a liberal amount of L’Aimant all over herself so that when she “worked the curtain” her perfume would waft over the gents seated in the first few rows. I was awed by the anecdote. To incorporate the power of olfactory memory in her act was sheer genius. A large number of men must have seen Betty perform and carried with them the memory of her perfume. I wonder how many wives and girlfriends received gifts of L’Aimant from those men over the years; and I also wonder if the men knew why they’d selected that particular perfume at a counter crowded with choices.
As my conversation with Betty came to an end she lamented that Coty had long ago discontinued her favorite scent, but if you know where to look you can still find a vintage formulation of the famous floral. I sent a bottle of L’Aimant to Betty, and I hope it transported her back to her glory days on the stage of the New Follies Theater.
Joan Renner is an L.A.-based writer, lecturer, and social historian with an expert knowledge of vintage beauty products. She blogs at The Clutch once a week and writes about cosmetics and beauty history at her Web site, Vintage Powder Room.