Are people who engage in discussions about vintage perfumes
ever really talking about the same thing?
ever really talking about the same thing?
I continue to ask this question most sincerely but have yet to receive a satisfactory—or any—answer from vintage-lovers themselves. We are obliged, therefore, my fellow fragrant travelers, to forge on without them. The time has arrived at last to regale you with the tale and share the results of a recent experience of mine which bears directly on the never more weighty topic at hand.
Having recently completed a Mystery Scent Vial Trial (marvelously mentored by salonista Awesomeness), The Question of Vintage has been pressing more and more insistently upon my mind. Indeed, the question achieved an acute sense of urgency as a small group of my perfumista friends attempted to determine the identity of the perfumes contained within four vials prepared by Awesomeness and marked only with the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4.
The Mystery Scent Vial Trial involved a mixture of vintage and reformulated classic perfumes. Some of the vials contained perfumes, I would later learn, which I had never smelled. Others I had tested in name, but in composition? That is another matter altogether!
If the Estée Lauder Youth Dew familiar to me was not from the same formulation as the one in the vial, much less the same batch, can I really make any claims or assumptions whatsoever about Youth Dew in general? Can anyone, pray tell? If I have only ever sniffed the reformulation of a classic perfume such as Coty Emeraude, should I be able to recognize a vintage sample when I come across it?
Through the now historic Mystery Scent Vial Trial 1 (we'll be doing more of them, I am delighted to be able to report), I discovered that the answer to the questions in both cases was a resounding No.
Reformulated Youth Dew smelled different enough from my experience of vintage Youth Dew to sow doubts in my mind, causing me first to guess that the vial contained that perfume, then to retract my guess, and finally to settle once again on Youth Dew as the best candidate, though the composition had obviously changed. If the truth be known, I eventually gravitated back to the correct answer, not only because I could not come up with anything else that rivaled the contents of the vial in sheer stinkiness, but also because no other perfume in my experience had ever looked the same!
Yes, Youth Dew, the ironically named Platonic Form of Old Lady Perfume, is the only elixir in existence empirically indistinguishable from the dehydrated body fluids of a nonagenarian who chain-smoked Camel straights for seventy years. The perfume has been reformulated, but for ready identification—or perhaps in a half-hearted gesture of hypocritical veneration—the appearance has been kept more or less the same.
The most surprising and problematic of the Mystery Scent Vial Trial cases involved vintage Halston eau de cologne, of which I happen to have a bottle in the back of my armoire, although I never use it and do not recall any occasion on which I ever did. I do not know why, to be honest, but that's the way it is. Come to think of it, it may have had something to do with the fact that someone I knew wore it, someone whom I, let us say, did not want to emulate... In any case, what I discovered when I compared my vintage Halston edc in a side-by-side test with the vintage Halston edc in the vial was that, lo and behold, they smelled nothing alike!
All of this was of course grist for my skeptical mill and specifically supported my contention that even two initially identical perfumes, drawn from the very same batch, can transform radically over the course of the years since they parted ways—separated at birth, so to speak—in the manner of identical twins given up to two different adoptive families.
But the results of Mystery Scent Vial Trial 1 also offer, more generally, further grounds for my relative cynicism about the entire enterprise—and it is one, you may rest assured, thanks to decanters—of vintage perfume. Which reminds me: I recently learned from a quick cyberstroll through a few decanter aisles that my vintage bottle of Balmain Ivoire is worth … drum roll ... $4,000!
That's right, believe it or not, The Perfumed Court charges $199 for a 5ml decant of a perfume, a 100ml bottle of which I picked up from a discount emporium for $20. How could this possibly be? you may well be wondering, and not without reason.
The answer is disarmingly simple: discount emporia are not in the vintage business. They are in the “get rid of large palettes of old boxes of old perfumes as quickly as possible” business. They know that young perfume users (the most frequent consumers of their wares) are usually looking to acquire new launches and celebrity perfumes.
This is how and why we perfumistas can sometimes enrich our collections with a bottle of Balmain perfume for $20. Are the bottles vintage? Sometimes they are; sometimes they are not. It's all a game of chance. This same bottle lottery of sorts makes it possible for decanters, too, to transform “leftovers” and “undesirables” acquired from discount emporia into veritable gold-mine finds, as the case of my $4,000 bottle of Balmain Ivoire amply illustrates.
So what's wrong with that? you may ask, and not without reason. What, indeed, is wrong with marking a bottle up from $20 to $4,000? That's only 10,000%, after all.
The questions are no doubt proliferating and surfacing rapidly in your mind, not unlike the bubbles of a freshly opened bottle of Gerolsteiner mineral water:
Is sherapop some kind of communist??
Is she asserting the existence of a military-industrial-congressional-media-pharmaceutical-perfume decanter complex???
Don't decanters deserve to make a living just like everybody else????
Calm down, calm down, my fragrant friends. Yes, of course, they may do whatever they like, and if people are foolish enough to pay the prices they ask for their decanted perfumes, then they deserve what they get—whatever it may be! Which reminds me of a tangentially related topic...
I must confess to a complete lack of understanding of the recent case in which a French court fined a group of big perfume houses 40 million euros ( = 53 million U.S. dollars) for price-fixing policies which resulted in ... charging their customers too much? What?? Isn't that just capitalism???
Well, it's clearly the case that here, in the good old plutocratic United States of America, whoever has the gold makes the rules. Isn't that, after all, why CEOs in this country earn more in a year than a dozen functionaries and grunts do together in a lifetime?
I might understand such a case if it involved fining companies for, say, withholding milk from small children and thus jeopardizing their lives. (Of course that would never happen—I mean the fines...) But … perfume? What is this world coming to?
Well, assuming that the judgment sticks (which would surprise me, frankly), one thing is clear: the French government needs to enlist some of their francophone friends in Montreal to send some mounties on mooses down to investigate the practices of the persons working behind the scenes at The Perfumed Court posthaste!
Of course, there are much swifter and surer solutions to these nagging concerns, and you may rest assured that the power brokers at Estée Lauder (one of the implicated companies, most of the rest of which were French, dont LVMH) have been strategizing assiduously, day and night since the judgment, not only to evade the abominable fine but to reveal the intrinsic corruption of the French justice system which led to this outrageous and flagrant mistake.
For those of you who do not already know, here are the current members of the Estée Lauder Empire, er, Group:
This ever-lengthening list leads one quite naturally to inquire: What will the future bring?
Would it really be such a stretch to add General Electric to the Estée Lauder Group portfolio? I think not. From there, a resolution to the problem at hand would of course be academic, and I've no need to spell out the details of what this would involve to you, my astute fellow fragrant travelers.
Then again, on the off chance that one of the dull members of the duct tape crowd is lurking about—no doubt looking for a topic of discussion a bit more interesting than “What's your favorite Creed?”—perhaps I should sketch out the broad outlines of how the story would proceed.
With General Electric under the auspices of the Estée Lauder Group, the enthusiastic support of the United Nations—and, more importantly, the power to back it up—would also be in their clasp. Should the confused French government persist, they would never, ever succeed in extracting the money, since they themselves do not possess the military means by which to threaten any consequences for refusal to comply.
To those who believe that France's veto power at the U.N. might be more than nominal, I can only reply: so did Dominique de Villepin back in 2003. Remember the invasion of Iraq? A violation of international law according to then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan himself? Need I say more?
Suffice it say, then, that with the acquisition of General Electric by the Estée Lauder Group, the French court folly (as it will be written into history by the victors) would be definitively resolved. Meanwhile, on another front, the three housewives armed with pipettes and vast stockpiles of vintage perfume—in addition to all of their analogues strewn across the broad underbelly of this land—would be summarily vaporized by Predator drone. Alas, such a victory for us would be merely Pyrrhic, for animal rights activists, too, would suddenly and not-so-mysteriously evaporate from the face of the earth.
Well, for now, rather than spinning out any further dystopic fantasies, let us just hope that the French government will begin importing large shipments of Peet's coffee very soon. Where were we? Ah yes,...
Salonista and fellow fragrance fanatic Fruitdiet reports that a palette currently being emptied at Amazon contains ... drum roll ... vintage Balmain Ivoire! If you drop what you're doing right now—yes, navigate away from this page—and rush to place an order at Amazon immediately, you may or may not be sent a bottle from that very same propitious palette, and your possible treasure may turn out to be just a cheap reformulation dud. On the other hand, if the decanters obtained their (appreciated) $4,000 bottle from e-bay, it may also be a cheap reformulation, unbeknownst to them. Three housewives armed with pipettes. Yes, Charybdis and Scylla rear their ugly heads once again...
Awesomeness pointed out in a comment on The Question of Vintage that if you can date a perfume by its bottle, then that's always a good thing. The woman not only smells sublime; she also speaks the truth, which is of course divine. I believe that dating bottles obtained from purveyors of perfume who are not a part of the decanter-vintage enterprise (not quite as insidious as the merely hypothetical military-industrial-congressional-media-pharmaceutical-perfume decanter complex...) is actually more likely to reveal the age of the perfume inside.
Why? Because discount emporia are not thinking in big price terms. They are thinking in little price terms multiplied by lots of bottles—again, warehouses and palettes. In stark contrast, e-bay peddlers of perfume—and their moral equivalents, gray market decanters—are thinking in vintage terms, wringing their hands together as they calculate the maximum price they will be able to command for a single vintage perfume persuasively promoted and divided into tiny "hand-decanted" (quoi d'autre?) aliquots.
Our lengthy excursus embedded within an excursus of what may have seemed to be dubious relevance does in fact eventually lead us back to the crux of a far more substantive concern: the breakdown in communication between perfumistas occasioned by the simultaneous existence of two completely different perfumes bearing precisely the same name and produced by the very same house.
Call it the problem of Estée Lauder Youth Dew, or the problem of Balmain Ivoire, or the problem of Guerlain Mitsouko, as you like: it's all the same problem, and it is now in virtual ubiquity as a direct result of IFRA restrictions-rationalized reformulations running rife.
Yes, far more serious than the first Tower of Babel problem of variable hyposmias, anosmias, and hyperosmias, which is exacerbated, of course, by skin chemistry, vintage perfumes and their reformulations constitute one of the greatest sources of breakdowns of communication, another notable case of, yes, none other than the Tower of Babel in perfumery.
I implore someone, anyone, anywhere, to please answer these questions at last:
Are people who engage in discussions about vintage and reformulated perfumes which go by the same name even talking about the same thing?