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March 2018

On the wings to beauty: Jacqueline Cochran Cosmetics

Jacqueline Cochran, ca. 1938

"It never dawned on me not to do something because I was a woman...I thought nothing of approaching men like Vincent Bendix, the airplane manufacturer for whom the transcontinental air race was named, to explain my position: 'I can fly as well as any man entered in that race.'  I didn't see it as being boastful so much as speaking the truth.  I learned through hard work and hard living that if I didn't speak the truth about myself, no one else would fill in the missing pieces." - Jacqueline Cochran

As with Tommy Lewis and Richard Hudnut, I found a very interesting piece of makeup history completely by chance.  I was thinking how cool it would be to see some mid-century modern designers' work on makeup packaging, i.e. Alexander Girard, Charley Harper and Paul Rand.  On a whim I typed in "Paul Rand makeup" into Google (I think I was under the impression that I could somehow will makeup packaging with his work into being if I just believed hard enough) and lo and behold, a bunch of ads he had designed for a brand called Jacqueline Cochran Cosmetics popped up.  I had never heard of it so I searched for just Cochran's name...and was mighty confused by the results. 

Jacqueline Cochran

Jacqueline Cochran (1906?-1980) was a pioneer of aviation in the 20th century, a.k.a. an aviatrix (don't you just love that word?! So bad-ass!)  A contemporary of Amelia Earhart, Cochran set world records for flying from the '30s through the '60s, including:

  • The first woman to enter the famous Bendrix race in 1935, and the first to win in 1938
  • The first woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic in 1941
  • The first woman civilian to earn the Distinguished Service Medal for serving as the director of the Women's Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) and training women pilots in WWII
  • The first woman to break the sound barrier in 1953
  • The first living woman to be inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame in 1971
  • Held more speed, distance and altitude records than any pilot in history at the time of her death.

Further along in my search I discovered that this amazing woman was, in fact, the same Jacqueline Cochran as the one behind the cosmetics line.  While I don't wish to diminish her accomplishments as a pilot, obviously I'm more interested in telling the story of her makeup company.  As we'll see, Cochran may never have gotten into flying if it wasn't for her interest in cosmetics. 

It seems like I'm sharing too much of Cochran's early life, but I promise it's relevant!  Jackie Cochran (original name Bessie Lee Pittman1) was born an orphan around 1906 in Florida.  The exact year is unknown because she didn't have a birth certificate.  Adopted by an impoverished foster family, Cochran worked throughout basically her entire childhood.  When I say "impoverished" I don't mean the family couldn't afford multiple cars; I mean they literally didn't know when or if their next meal would come, and the children's clothing consisted of flour sacks stitched together.  In 1914 the family relocated to Columbus, Georgia to work at a cotton mill, children included.  At the age of 14 she experienced her first foray into the beauty industry by taking on the role of "beauty operator" at a local salon, learning how to operate the perming machines and dyeing clients' hair.  A traveling salesman for a perm machine knocked on the door one day and offered her a job as an operator in Montgomery, Alabama, and off she went.  (I can't even imagine going to a strange town with not a penny in my pocket and knowing nearly zero people, especially at 15.)  One of her regular customers suggested she go to nursing school despite the fact that Cochran only had a third-grade education.  After deciding nursing wasn't the career for her, Cochran moved to New York and landed a job at Antoine's, a high-end salon located within Saks department store.  I'm astonished at how hard Cochran had to work just to survive, and though sheer grit and fierce will to succeed, she was able to make a slightly better life for herself as a teenager than as a child.  (You really need to read her autobiography, which is where I'm getting most of this information2 - the courage and determination she had were mind-blowing, yet she presents it in a very matter-of-fact manner, not in any sort of bragging or "woe is me" way.  When a group of school girls asked why she was so ambitious, she straightforwardly replied, "poverty and hunger").

Jacqueline Cochran(image from floridamemory.com)

It was at a party in 1932 where she met her future husband, millionaire lawyer and businessman Floyd Odlum.  Cochran was completely unaware of his background (and wealth) at the time, but was immediately attracted to him.  The party's host introduced them, and during their chat, Cochran mentioned her desire to get out of the salon.  "I've been thinking about leaving Antoine's to go on the road selling cosmetics for a manufacturer...the shop can be so confining and the customers so frustrating and what I really love to do is travel.  I want to be out in the air."  To which Odlum replied, "If you're going to cover the kind of territory you need to cover in order to make money in this kind of economic climate, you'll need wings.  Get your pilot's license" (p. 57). And with that, Cochran took flying lessons and earned her pilot's license in a mere 3 weeks - setting records right from the start of her aviation career.  In 1935 she officially established her eponymous line, which was meant for a more active woman who wanted to have adventures but also look polished while doing so.  (Not that women need to look polished, or even require makeup to look polished, of course.)  The brand's use of "wings to beauty" and claim that a full beauty routine takes just a few minutes a day suggest that it was a brand intended for the busy go-getter, perhaps even an early version of athleisure beauty.  Indeed, both the ads and Cochran's own words in a 1938 interview demonstrate a no-nonsense, time-saving approach to beauty - ever practical, she skipped blush while flying.  Says the article, "Mandarin fingernails and artificial eyelashes are ceiling zero to [Cochran]. 'You get pale at high altitudes,' she explains. So rouge just stands out in one big spot.' Likes an eye cream to 'keep my eyelids from drying'.  There's a foundation cream with an oil base. 'Your skin gets dry in high altitudes.' Then lipstick and powder.  That's all.  In summer, she likes a grease make-up - foundation cream that makes you look all bright and shiny and is worn without any powder. 'Just a touch of paste rouge and your lipstick. It's young-looking and very attractive with sports clothes.'"  I think Cochran definitely would be a fan of athleisure makeup today, as she seemed to prefer a minimal, fresh-faced look.

Jacqueline Cochran makeup ad, 1939
(image from hprints.com)

Jacqueline Cochran cosmetics ad, 1939

Jacqueline Cochran cosmetics ad, 1939

Jacqueline Cochran cosmetics ad, 1940

Some more of her musings on makeup:  "I'm feminine but I can't say that I was ever a feminist...I refused to get out of the plane [after a crash in Bucharest] until I had removed my flying suit and used my cosmetics kit.  That was feminine and it was natural for me.  It gave me the pick-me-up I needed and I wasn't ashamed to do it.  I didn't want to be a man.  I just wanted to fly" (p. 20).  Though she says otherwise, Cochran's actions most definitely paint a feminist picture.  I'm seeing her reapplication of makeup following a crash as more of a coping technique and less "I need to look pretty".  As we'll see, however, later advertising for the brand took a decidedly ageist turn.3

Jacqueline Cochran cosmetics ad, 1940

The brand was also a reflection of Cochran's unstoppable determination and desire to innovate.  "I wanted no part of other people's products because I was crazy enough then to think I could do better...when I first set about to develop a greaseless night cream, I was told that a greaseless lubricant was clearly impossible.  I knew they were wrong and I never recognized the word impossible.  My most successful cream, Flowing Velvet, is the result of my stubbornness" (p. 119).  Flowing Velvet was possibly the first moisturizer on the market intended to replenish the skin in high altitudes and extreme travel distances - i.e. long flights.  It was introduced around 1942 and the line expanded in the '50s to include face powder and lipstick.  Sadly, the advertising greatly contradicts Cochran's own words, as it seems to be geared towards ancient ladies over the age of 20 (!) trying to regain their youthful glow.

Jacqueline Cochran Flowing Velvet ad, 1955

Jacqueline Cochran Flowing Velvet ad, 1960

I couldn't locate a jar of the famous cream, but I did scrounge up a powder refill from the early '60s. 

Jacqueline Cochran Flowing Velvet powder, ca. 1961

Jacqueline Cochran Flowing Velvet powder

Jacqueline Cochran Flowing Velvet powder ad, 1960

Jacqueline Cochran Flowing Velvet lipstick ad, 1959

One of the most unique products Cochran came up with was the "perk-up stick", which contained 5 beauty products in a tiny cylinder for on-the-go usage. "I was proud of what we used to the Jacqueline Cochran 'Perk-Up' cylinder.  I would take one on all my trips, on all my races.  It was a three-and-a-half inch stick that came apart into five separate compartments for weekends or trips.  It would fit anywhere and it had everything" (p. 119).

Jacqueline Cochran Perk-Up Stick ad, 1947
(image from Blue Velvet Vintage)

Jacqueline Cochran Perk-Up Stick ad, 1947

Jacqueline Cochran Perk-Up Stick ad, 1948

I was fortunate enough to snag one of these for the Museum. 

Jacqueline Cochran Perk-Up Stick

Jacqueline Cochran Perk-Up Stick

I've taken most of it apart so you can see what it looks like.  I couldn't get some of the compartments open and didn't want to break it, but all of the ones I did open still had product left.

Jacqueline Cochran Perk-Up Stick

Jacqueline Cochran Perk-Up Stick

At one point it had a sifter for the powder so that it didn't spill out when you opened the compartment. 

Jacqueline Cochran Perk-Up Stick

Jacqueline Cochran Perk-Up Stick

The Perk-Up Stick also came with a little spatula so you could refill it as needed and hygienically apply everything.  While the concept seems genius (seriously, why aren't companies now coming up with things like this?!) one must remember that products in the first half of the 20th century were generally smaller and more streamlined - no big huge honkin' palettes back then.  And refillable packaging was way more common.  In thinking about the lovely compacts I've collected over the years, I'm remembering that people didn't throw them out, they just popped in a refill.  Still, the Perk-Up stick is unlike anything I've seen, contemporary or vintage.  As the author of Blue Velvet Vintage notes, the closest thing we have today to the Perk-Up Stick are stackable jars.

Jacqueline Cochran Perk-Up Stick

I also purchased one more piece from the early '60s.  However, the photo below is not mine, for you see, I bought not one but TWO of these compacts, yet ended up with none.  I bought one in late February, only for USPS to claim it had been delivered when it had not...and then a few weeks later when it still didn't resurface, I found another floating around on Ebay and bought it to replace the lost one. Despite being from a totally different seller in a completely different part of the country, somehow USPS lost the replacement as well.  How they managed to do that I have no idea - perhaps this compact is cursed.  There are others available for sale but they're not in as good condition as the ones I purchased, and at this point I'm not willing to invest any more money into it.  Nevertheless it would have been a nice piece to have in the collection.

Jacqueline Cochran L'Opera compacts(image from pinterest)

Jacqueline Cochran L'Opera compacts ad, 1961

As for the Paul Rand ads, despite reading almost as much as I could find on Cochran, I'm still not clear on how the partnership with Rand started.  I do know that I'm in love with the ads. 

Jacqueline Cochran ad designed by Paul Rand, 1945

Jacqueline Cochran ad designed by Paul Rand, 1946

Jacqueline Cochran ad designed by Paul Rand

Jacqueline Cochran ad designed by Paul Rand

Jacqueline Cochran ad designed by Paul Rand

As this exhibition catalogue shows, I'm missing a few more of his ads, alas.

Jacqueline Cochran ads designed by Paul Rand(image from amulhall015.portfolio.com)

Jacqueline Cochran cosmetics ad designed by Paul Rand, 1944(image from pinterest)

Obviously I'd give my eye teeth for this crazy powder!

Jacqueline Cochran face powder box designed by Paul Rand

Jacqueline Cochran face powder box designed by Paul Rand(images from paul-rand.com)

One observation I had in looking at these was that as heavily as the Chromoblend powder was marketed throughout the '40s - given the abundance of ads I'm imagining this was one of the pillars of the line in addition to Flowing Velvet - I couldn't find any jars to actually buy.  I'm wondering if custom blend face powder king Charles of the Ritz was too stiff a competition.  Did Cochran launch her own custom face powder as a way of thumbing her nose at his company and trying to prove that, once and for all, her product was superior?  While it's unclear which Charles she was referring to, Cochran recalls her meeting with him less than fondly. "What an irritating snob of a man Mr. Charles was.  I made the interview worse by insisting outright that I was an expert at everything.  He didn't believe me.  I didn't look old enough to be expert at anything, he said.  We were two big egos out to prove who is bigger, better.  In fact, I told Charles of the Ritz that not only was I good, I was probably better than he was.  That amused him for a minute, but he was not so amused when I wanted fifty percent commission on every customer I had in his salon...it makes me smile to think that the cosmetics company I would found several years later, Jacqueline Cochran Cosmetics, still competes with Charles of the Ritz" (p. 55).

The overall concept of going to a counter and having custom face powder blended is remarkably similar.

Jacqueline Cochran cosmetics ad designed by Paul Rand, 1945

The use of the spatula in this ad and the idea of making custom powder "while you wait and watch" is also nearly identical to Charles of the Ritz's ads.

Jacqueline Cochran cosmetics ad designed by Paul Rand, 1944

So what happened to Jacqueline Cochran Cosmetics after its heyday in the '40s and '50s?  Cochran sold the company in 1963 to American Cyanamid Co.  It was then formally acquired by Shulton, a subsidiary of American Cyanamid, in 1965.  Unfortunately the ageism continued to run rampant in ads throughout the '60s.

Jacqueline Cochran Flowing Velvet ad, 1966

At least they were still touting a speedy beauty routine for women who don't have much time to devote to skincare.  Then again, sitting around and drinking tea doesn't exactly scream "busy".  Like, they couldn't have shown a woman on her way to work or engaged in a sport of some kind?

Jacqueline Cochran Flowing Velvet ad, 1967(images from ebay)

But making women terrified of aging must have been effective, since the Flowing Velvet line was popular enough to continue expanding to include eye makeup and lip gloss.

Jacqueline Cochran Flowing Velvet eye color, ca. 1967
(image from pinterest)

Jacqueline Cochran Flowing Velvet Model Mouth, ca. 1967
(image from pinterest)

Unfortunately I'm not really sure of the brand's trajectory after the '60s.   The timeline below suggests that Jacqueline Cochran Cosmetics is long gone, but also was part of a recent re-branding effort.  So maybe there are plans to revive the line?

Jacqueline Cochran cosmetics timeline(image from behance.net)

In any case, while the later advertising left something to be desired, you had to give Cochran credit for setting world flying records while simultaneously managing a multi-million dollar cosmetics company that at one point had over 700 employees.  She also made good on the originally intended purpose of her pilot's license:  after the war ended, Cochran flew an average of 90,000 miles a year to sell her line in various locales.  For Cochran, the beauty industry allowed her to both get out of poverty and provide women with a sense of well-being (ageist advertising aside).  "In a beauty shop the customers always came in looking for a lift.  And unless I really screwed up, they left with that lift.  I could give them that.  I could give them hope along with a new hairdo.  My skills as a beautician had bought me a one-way ticket out of poverty, and I'd never forgotten it.  I was always proud of my profession" (pp. 46 and 57).

Jacqueline Cochran testing out color combinations

Had you ever heard of Jacqueline Cochran?  What do you think of her and her line?  It was pretty eye-opening for me - I think I should Google the other mid-century artists I mentioned and see what rabbit holes I can fall into. :)

 

1 Interestingly, Cochran's autobiography completely leaves out how her got her surname.  Apparently she married Robert Cochran in 1920 at the age of 14, had a son a year later (who died at the age of 4 in 1925), and divorced Cochran in 1927.  She selected the name Jacqueline on a whim while working at Antoine's.  In the book there is no mention of her first husband; instead, she claims she chose the name from a phone book.  "I went to the first phone book I could find, ran my finger down a list of names, and decided on Cochran.  It had the right ring to it.  It sounded like me. My foster family's name wasn't really mine anyway...I wanted to break from them in name.  I had my own life, a new one.  What better way to begin than with my own name.  Cochran.  Why the hell not?" (p. 49)

2 In addition to the staggering amount of information online, there are also several official biographies of Cochran.  I chose the autobiography because I wanted to hear her story in her own words and get a sense of her personality.

3 It seems highly unlikely that Cochran was directing the ad copy for her line, so I can't fault her too much for that, as distasteful as it is.  However, a bit of gossip that appeared in a 1951 newspaper article makes me think that Cochran wasn't the feminist hero we'd like her to be.  I've included a few excerpts in which Cochran basically says "no fatties allowed" in the Air Force's women's pilot program.  Yikes. 

Jacqueline Cochran 1951 news article

Jacqueline Cochran 1951 news article

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Quick post: more springtime fun with Paul & Joe

Today I'm briefly sharing a very hard-to-get collection.  When PJ at A Touch of Blusher posted about these adorable lipstick cases from Paul & Joe, my heart sank as I saw they were exclusively available at Hankyu Umeda, a department store in Osaka.  While I have several personal shoppers at my disposal, all of them are based in Tokyo, and Osaka is quite a trek from there.  And since the items were only available to purchase in-store, nothing could not be ordered online or via phone by my trusty shoppers.  So how did I get my hands on these, you ask?  Well, a very sweet Instagram buddy of mine messaged me to let me know they had popped up at a Japanese auction site, so one of my shoppers was able to purchase them for me there and ship 'em straight into my eager collecting paws.  It's a springtime miracle!

There were compact cases also available, but I just picked up the lipstick cases since they had the same prints.

Paul & Joe Hankyu Umeda lipstick cases

Paul & Joe Hankyu Umeda lipstick cases

The jungle-kitten print seems to be a combination of several Paul & Joe Sister items.  While I don't see the cat in the print below, it did appear in a pair of embroidered shorts.

Paul & Joe Sister spring 2018

Paul & Joe Sister spring 2018
(images from paulandjoe.us)

I'm not sure where the leopard pattern on the red case originated, but the zebra and giraffe print is borrowed from the spring 2018 resort collection. 

Paul & Joe resort 2018

Paul & Joe resort 2018(images from vogue.com)

I'm so glad to have gotten my hands on these!  My love for this brand's packaging knows no bounds, and I would have been upset to have even more gaps in the Museum's Paul & Joe collection (I'm missing nearly all of their items from 2005 and earlier). 

What do you think of the prints?  And have you ever been overjoyed at acquiring a much-wanted item?

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Swan Lake: Polkaros for Guerlain

Easing back into blogging (and spring, hooray!) with this beautiful compact by Guerlain.  In what I'm hoping is a never-ending series of artist collaborations, for their Parure Blanc compact this year the company teamed up with Ros Lee, founder of home decor brand Polkaros.  We'll get to that in a second, but first, let's admire the delicate pair of swans gracing the compact.

Guerlain x Ros Lee (Polkaros)

I absolutely adore the white and pale baby blue hues of the swans, especially with the pops of vibrant orange-red on the their beaks, cheeks and Lee's signature.  It almost looks like they're wearing blush!  The reverse color scheme is genius as well - Lee's graphic design experience definitely shines here.

Guerlain x Ros Lee (Polkaros)

Guerlain x Ros Lee

So who is Ros Lee and what is Polkaros?  Lee comes from quite an interesting background, both personally and professionally.  Born in Singapore into a family of potters, Lee developed a love of art early on and learned pottery skills from her father. After studying graphic design, in 2002 she visited Tokyo to take part in a design festival and was so taken with the city she decided to stay.  In 2005 she won a National Arts Council Takashimaya Scholarship to study art and design there, and the following year entered the Joshibi University of Art and Design.  Majoring in textile design, after graduating Lee landed a job at Tokyo's Accent Corporation as a lifestyle product designer.  Five years later, Lee began working as a consultant/accessories designer for Clinique and decided to start her own line of home goods on the side, and Polkaros was born.  Lee explains why she chose the name: "I hoped that the products I create would carry the same characteristics as the polkadot pattern – happy, cute, classic, timeless and simple. It always amazes me how you can find polkadots everywhere and in many different eras. This may be a bit overly ambitious but I wish that our products would add a bit of childlike fun in every household and last for decades...I find inspiration from old toys, folk art and ethnic cultures. I love to look at the motifs and colors from the past as they tell a story about a certain time and a different way of life."  In looking at her work, I think Lee definitely achieved her goal.  Everything from plates and utensils to vases and planters are brimming with playfulness without being juvenile.  There's also a simplicity that echoes various forms of folk art - nothing fussy, just uncomplicated shapes that emphasize their handmade nature.

Polkaros

Polkaros

Polkaros - fox planters

Two of my favorites are these dessert-inspired vases.  This one is takes its cue from ice kachang, a Singaporean dessert with shaved ice, jelly beans and syrup.

Polkaros

And this one is inspired by Lee's favorite childhood dessert, tang yuan.

Polkaros

Of course, I'm smitten with this holiday mer-lion print, another nod to Lee's Singapore upbringing.

Polkaros merlion

I also want to briefly highlight some other key elements of Polkaros's style.  It's described as "a lifestyle brand that combines influences from Japanese traditional crafts with modern zakka goods."  While I'm unfamiliar with the former - the only Japanese craft I know about is origami - "zakka" was totally foreign to me.  I found that there are entire museum exhibitions devoted to the concept so a full history is well beyond the scope of this blog post, but in a nutshell, zakka is a way of adding beauty to mundane objects.  This site describes it as a "celebration of humble, everyday objects that bring its users great satisfaction. Zakka aren’t antiques, they’re not expensive, they’re not flashy; they’re familiar and timeless."  Needless to say I love this idea and, like hygge, I think I've been embodying it for years without realizing it - particularly when it comes to office supplies.  (Anything to help me cope with the horror of work is welcome; I'm partial to pretty/funny post-it note pads.)  As we've seen, Polkaros takes basic objects such as planters and utensils and makes them aesthetically pleasing through adding charming little faces and/or playful colors.  As for Japanese craft traditions, they are also well-represented in Lee's work.  Take, for example, this wrapping paper filled with craft motifs.

Polkaros

Or these tote bags bags, which are modern interpretations of traditional Japanese patterns.  From the website, I learned that the one on the left is a Kikko tsunagi pattern, which is inspired by the hexagonal scales on a turtle shell, while the one on the right is Uroko-gara, "a scale pattern made of a combination of triangles that is believed to ward off evil."

Polkaros

Meanwhile, the blue pattern is a twist on seigaiha, a traditional blue wave pattern (and, incidentally, one we've seen on a Guerlain piece before), and the yellow one is inspired by Mizuhiki knots:  "Mizuhiki is the art of knotting rice paper cord into a decorative element."

Polkaros

Then there are also these vases inspired by kokeshi dolls.  Again, kokeshi is such a vast topic I couldn't possibly cover it all, but they are wooden Japanese dolls that originated in northern Japan and date back all the way to the Edo period (1600-1868).  All of Polkaros' kokeshi are ceramic and have individual names and descriptions.  This little guy is known as Riku, who "practices martial arts by day and paints at night."

Riku

More recently, Lee created a beautiful collection for Hinamatsuri, a.k.a. "dolls' day" or "girls' day" in Japan that occurs annually on March 3.  It's a truly fascinating celebration in which ornamental dolls representing the Emperor, Empress and various assistants and musicians are displayed in a rather elaborate setup of 6-7 platforms.  Typically people display at least the Emperor and Empress, if not the full arrangement.  These are Lee's representations of the royal couple.

Polkaros Hinamatsuri dolls

And this hanging piece is Lee's take on tsurushi-hina, a traditional decoration consisting of handmade dolls and other objects on strings.

Polkaros tsurushi-hina

I'm impressed with Lee's vast knowledge of Japanese cultural traditions and how she infuses them with her signature modern, playful style. Getting back to the Guerlain collab, I'm not sure how it came about.  Guerlain and Clinique are owned by different parent companies, so I doubt Lee's work for Clinique had anything to do with the partnership.  I'm also a little puzzled about the swan motif.  I love it, but am wondering where the inspiration came from and why it was chosen.  I did a little sleuthing at Lee's lovely Instagram page and saw this photo from a trip to New York in 2014.

May 2014

There was also this swan, with the same overall shape and similar facial design (look at that pop of color on the cheek!) from January 2016.  It was captioned simply "a change of pace" (at least, that's what Google translate told me), and it is indeed a more sophisticated departure from Lee's usual style.  So I'm guessing Lee does have a fondness for swans and I assume they were selected as a more elegant motif to better suit Guerlain's image. 

Polkaros - swan
(images from instagram and polkaros.com)

While Polkaros's typical aesthetic is certainly delightful, it doesn't seem to align perfectly with the Guerlain brand.  Once again, I'm impressed with how Lee modified her childlike approach while maintaining the sense of whimsy to fit the likes of a high-end French line. 

Overall, this collab gets an A from the curator.  (It would have been an A+ if the powder inside the compact had been embossed with the same swans.) Not only was I introduced to Polkaros's magical world, I learned a lot about traditional Japanese crafts and the concept of zakka, which I now plan on consciously incorporating a little more into my daily life.

What do you think?  And do you prefer Przemek Sobocki's 2017 Guerlain compact over this one?  They're apples and oranges to me - totally different styles but I love both equally.