Niche Fragrance Magazine

Perfumes in Short Supply: Loving the Rare, the Discontinued, and the Gone Forever

in Thoughts by

What do you do when you fall in love with a perfume that is discontinued or otherwise unavailable to you (for reasons of cost or limited supply)? Do you spend huge amounts of time and money tracking it down on eBay? Do you beg friends to bring you back exclusive bottles from Tokyo, Paris, and London? Or do you just…..let it go?

I am working very hard at being one of those people who just accepts it and moves on. But damn, it’s hard.

Personally, the way I react to a perfume I love being in short supply depends on the reason behind its unavailability. As far as I can see, there are three main reasons.

First of all, perfumes are routinely discontinued by perfume houses for reasons of poor commercial success, even if they have been critically well received. This type of discontinuation doesn’t bother me too much: fragrance companies are businesses, and they have to make money. I don’t take it personally. And if the discontinuation of one perfume in a line-up translates into more money to keep a company afloat and free to continue producing other beloved perfumes, then it somehow all balances out.

For example, I adore Guerlain’s magical Vetiver Pour Elle, and am trying to ration the precious 10ml decant I have of it. It makes me very anxious to see the level in the decant drop every time I spray it.  But if discontinuing this means that Guerlain continues to have the money to churn out Shalimar on spec for the rest of my lifetime, then ok, I can live with that.

But…but….do you know what does bother me about the discontinuation of Vetiver Pour Elle? Guerlain made it available for sale only at Charles de Gaulle and other Paris airports. Not enough people saw it, so not enough people bought it. It was deemed a commercial flop. Talk about a self-defeating business move. Had Vetiver Pour Elle been released into wider circulation, it would have outstripped the sales of the original Vetiver within a couple of years (because it is miles better).

Vetiver Pour Elle can still be found on eBay and through various Guerlain stockists that have old bottles in storage. But with prices running between 300 and 500 euros per bottle, there’s no way I can afford it. Strangely, because it is priced so well beyond my wallet, I find it easier to move on. No room for hope, you see, and hope is the thing that kills you. Plus, at that price, I am just not willing to pay over the odds for what was a faulty business move on the part of Guerlain family business. So, I mourn the loss of a great smell and perhaps the only vetiver perfume I have found that I like, but I move on without bitterness and without regret. C’est la vie.

Sometimes, perfumes are in limited distribution because of their extremely rare materials. In those instances, I am willing to put my money where my mouth is, because the scarcity you are paying for is due to an artistic decision, and not a commercial one. Andy Tauer’s PHI – Une Rose de Kandahar relies on a natural extract of roses produced in Afghanistan’s rose region, Nangarhar, and is only available for a couple of months in the year. I was lucky enough to get a sample of it when I was ordering the discovery set from Tauer Perfumes in February, and boy, did it blow me away.

Any Tauer Phi Rose

PHI is one of the best gourmand roses I have ever tried. At first you get a sprinkling of dusty rose petals, drained of color by the passage of time, and so desiccated that they threaten to crumble away into nothing if you touch them. The rose petals are napped by velvety apricots, chewy and sweet but more like fruit leather than ripe, juicy fruit. The texture is like nuzzling your lips across the fuzzy skin of an apricot. The apricots are split open to reveal the bitter apricot seed within, which has the flavor of bitter almonds. The almonds and the apricots give the scent a gourmand feel, so there is sweetness, but this is perfectly balanced out by the underlying hints of grey suede, the dusty bitterness of the apricot kernels, and spikes of gentle vetiver that drift in and out of the fragrance like a ghost. When Andy re-issues this scent in late 2014, I will be falling over myself to get my hands on a bottle.

And while we’re on the subject of raw materials, I should also mention the perfumes whose original raw materials have fallen foul of IFRA or international restrictions on harvesting. Real oakmoss and Mysore sandalwood? Fuggedaboutit. If you want the real deal, then you have to spend time and money looking for vintage, which is always a risky proposition. Because oakmoss has been restricted by IFRA, the modern Mitsouko uses tree moss, and although still lovely, is not quite its old self. Vintage Mitsouko is in limited supply, so prices are invariably high. If it’s worth it to you, then absolutely – pay up! But personally? I think that many perfumers today are finding ways to deliver a valid and interesting alternative to these precious materials, or are at least interpreting them in new, creative ways.

For example, Oriza L. Legrand, a previously defunct perfume house that recently revived itself and reissued its backlog of perfumes, has done such a brilliant job with its Chypre Mousse, that I can’t stop talking about it.  It’s very interesting to me, because it smells exactly like the very last gasps of vintage Mitsouko EDT on my skin – that mineral, grey, salt-lick feel of real oakmoss that is lived-in and sweated-through. That’s the part I most enjoy about Mitsouko, and here you get it for hours and hours rather than just at the end. With stuff like this in ready supply, my anxiety about never having enough vintage Mitsouko in the world has abated. Bye bye, my dear.

But there’s another reason that a perfume may not be available to me, and it’s the one that drives me mad. This is when a company chooses a strategy of tactical paucity, whereby they deliberately restrict availability of a product to a closed circle of people or a small segment of the market, in order to artificially drive up demand and perception of exclusivity. Serge Lutens is a good example of this, with his Paris Exclusives, as is By Killian with his Moscow exclusives. Choosing which products to release into mass distribution and which to limit has absolutely nothing to do with the qualities of the fragrance itself – it’s completely random, and don’t let them tell you anything different. Is Sarrasins really that much better a jasmine scent than A La Nuit just because you can only buy it in a nice bell jar in the Paris boutique, whereas you can pick up A La Nuit in an online store?  Nope. I mean, they’re both fantastic perfumes, but whether you prefer one to the other is really a matter of personal taste. This type of cynical marketing strategy depresses me, mostly because it works. Whenever something is rare or restricted, it just makes me want it more. The bastards.

Discontinued because of commercial failure, I can understand. And I can move on.

Limited availability because of rare materials, I can understand. I can wait patiently while you make art.

Restricted availability based on marketing strategy, screw you guys (said in Cartman voice).

What do you think? Are there perfumes you are willing to hunt to the last corners of the earth? What discontinuations pain you the most? Do you search for alternatives, throw in the towel, or search relentlessly until you get your mitts on your heart’s desire?

My name is Claire, I'm a 39-year old mother of two, and I am a freelance writer and consultant. I love perfume, any perfume, practically all of 'em. Other interests such as writing, reading, and painting fall tragically behind the perfume. It's a hobby that tends to be all-consuming (of both my time and my money).

5 Comments

  1. Yes, I agree. It is so sad when a beloved fragrance is discontinued, and even worse, reformulated into something that doesn’t even resemble the original! I also love the Tauer PHI, as I also was lucky enough to have a sample, still do, but only use now and again , as want to cherish it! I will never forget when my original Opium from 1977) wasn’t made anymore..I was so upset. But, like you mentioned, I think it is better to just move on, and discover new loves!

    • That’s fascinating, Jennie! I had heard that the modern Opium is no great shakes, alright, but I didn’t know that there was a specific year that was the really good one. Never worn Opium myself, but I know about reformulation woes with my beloved Mitsouko. Sigh. I guess eBay is our only recourse if we want to get our hands on the good (old) stuff. Have you ever been tempted to hunt down vintage Opium on eBay?

      • Yes, I have been tempted, but didn’t go through with it. I decided to move on, and try some new niche fragrances. I can still smell the opium in my memory, also my other great love, KL, by Karl Lagerfield. The KL can be bought on eBay , but it now costs a small fortune! I love and admire Andy Tauer fragrances, and have just purchased my first Tom Ford. (Black Orchid). There are just so many wonderful fragrances in the world!

  2. Thanks for a great read and wonderful topic. I go nuts when fave perfumes discontinue or are re-formulated. Tom Ford recently ceased Amber Absolute for reasons I am unaware of. I take it sooooo personally. I bought a few bottles on e-bay and cried until local store allowed me to have some sample bottles. Magie Noire, no longer smells the same as the late 70’s and neither does Clinique Aromatics 🙁

    • Ah, Lou, I hear you. I have never smelled Amber Absolue, but as an amber freak I am dying to! However, even the decants are horrendously expensive. It’s funny you mentioned that one, because it is one of the perfumes that I have had to talk myself into just forgetting…and letting it go 🙂 I wasn’t aware that Aromatics Elixir had been reformulated, though. Was it very badly done?

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