Are you old enough to remember the fiercely intelligent and progressive punk band Gang of Four in their prime in 1979, when they sang “I’ve found that essence rare, it’s what I’ve looked for/I knew I’d get what I asked for” ? Back then, when I was wildly dancing to this song, I thought the refrain was abstractly philosophical, but amidst lyrics referring to popular culture, consumerism, and politics, it may be that the band was riffing on a contemporary advertising campaign for Houbigant’s Essence Rare perfume
It’s early summer, and everything around me seems to be vibrating in intense shades of my favorite color. And while I know that some of us are suffering in parching heat, where I live we have been fortunate to have warm but not extreme temperatures, punctuated by brief inundations of summer rain, making all of the plants and trees–and me–very, very happy indeed. So this is the time to wear my favorite green perfumes, and luckily we are experiencing a resurgence of green notes in perfumery so there are some new ones to explore.
Do you do this? Very easily, I can become completely obsessed with a vintage perfume, so much so that I can spin its composition and history into imagined stories that turn a perfume into a complete worldview. This is true for Je Reviens–a vintage floral of great distinction that was issued by the House of Worth in 1932. Still being sold today as a drugstore perfume, vintage Je Reviens is another thing entirely. It does not smell like anything else in my perfume wardrobe, vintage or modern, and whenever I wear it, I try to understand what makes this particular perfume composition seems so compelling.
Before I began to wear vintage perfume, I rarely indulged in nostalgia. In most aspects of life, I don’t look backward to the past, and I focus on learning about new things and planning for the future. But when it comes to perfumes, I find that I am stuck with the nose of an antiquary. Recently, however, I was quite pleased to discover a newer perfume that I really enjoy
If you want me to pay attention to a new perfume release, all you need to do is tell me that it is a revival of the chypres of the 1970’s. Ella, a 2016 release from Arquisite designed by Rodrigo Flores-Roux, stakes a forceful claim to this legacy: according to its creators, its sources of inspiration are said to be Armando’s Le Club, Acapulco, Mexico, in December 1978, on a “a sultry night of disco, plunging necklines and champagne-soaked skin.”
Adjatay: Cuir Narcotique was launched in 2016 by The Different Company, with a press release that told a perfectly adorable story about a little tuberose from Grasse that was forgotten in a leather bag and thereby inspired the creation of a new floral leather eau du parfum by Alexandra Monet. From the marriage of tuberose and leather, then, comes “Adjatay,” christened with the name of “prince” in Cameroon and a perfume that could be happily worn by anyone. And although I may be a little skeptical about the details of Adjatay’s nativity tale, I think we can always use another good floral leather perfume.
When a beloved perfume from the past such as Le Galion’s Sortilège (1936) is relaunched, the logic of perfume marketing demands that the new version be praised as a faithful continuation of the legacy. Meanwhile, those who know the original version can be expected to wail in chorus, “It’s not the same.” But If you love vintage perfumes, you already know it won’t be the same. At best, you hope that the relaunch shows some respect for the history of the perfume and the memories of those who wore it in its original form.
Although it is still February, the weekend was unseasonably warm and sunny, and I felt that I could wear Diorella again. Diorella–neon bright, energetic but still relaxed, lifted my mood and dispelled the gloom of winter and uncertain times. Diorella is such an entertaining roller coaster ride of a perfume that for a long time I never stopped to analyze its appeal: I just put it on and enjoyed it. Gradually, I began to realize what an unusual composition it is: it is my favorite of all of Edmond Roudnitska’s perfumes and, it is said, his favorite as well.
What makes a perfume tough rather than pretty? I don’t think we can look to the perfume’s notes for an explanation, since the meanings we associate with specific smells vary greatly by the individual and culture. Take just about any perfume note in isolation, and you will get a multitude of interpretations. Vanilla can be comforting or cloying. The scent of jasmine is intoxicating to some, fecal to others. Rose is a masculine note in some cultures and quintessentially feminine elsewhere. But there would seem to be no possible ambiguity about the meaning of Robert Piguet’s Bandit…
I set off to college in 1979 without a single bottle of perfume, if my memory doesn’t deceive me. I wish I had known about Jean-Louis Scherrer’s first perfume then. I am convinced that my years of youthful exploration and occasional indiscretion would have been even more fun if I had been wearing this perfume. I make up for it by wearing it as often as I can now.
Do you ever wonder why we seem to be drawn almost instinctively to certain perfume notes and not others? I favor leather notes in my perfumes, but not just any leather will do, as I have come to know. Leather can be one of the most debatable and subjective notes in perfumery, and I believe it is always a learned, not a natural association. Leather perfumes can be plastic, animalic, smoky, powdery, gasolinic, rubbery, spicy, or even meaty. My iconic leather perfume might not smell like leather to you at all.
It’s clear that we will soon find ourselves in the midst of another wave of popularity for the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, thanks to an impending Disney film whose trailer was viewed a record-breaking 127.6 million times in the first 24 hours after its release several days ago. But as we all know, the greatest perfumers have been playing beauty against beastliness for a long time.
Although buying vintage bottles can be a perilous exercise, vintage perfumes are my comfort zone. I wear many beautiful current perfumes and I always like to explore new releases, but once you develop a taste for certain now restricted ingredients found in vintage perfumes such as eugenol, nitromusks, civet, and oakmoss, newer perfumes will always smell different to you. Some will be just as good as your beloved vintages, but they will always have a different character.