Friday, January 1, 2010

Last Year's Confessions and New Years Resolution, or why vintage is your best bet in fragrance...

(image: daily contributor via crunchgear)

Happy New Years Day! This morning I arose very early and as I normally do, spent the first 30 minutes or so reading. When the mood strikes me, as it often does, I typically apply a perfume to wear during this reading time. Not only does it help me meditate on my daily verses, but I also find my sense of smell unparallelled at this time. Today for example I applied the latest scent I've acquired as part of my growing collection dedicated specifically to antique chypre scents. I could call them vintage or classic perfumes, but those terms have so many permutated meanings, and really my collection is all about 1900-1950 chypres. I think with perfumes, since few survive in wearable form at the traditional 100 year mark, the 50 year mark may be appropriate for calling something an antique. Definitely this won't work for people (!!) since we're only beginning to hit our stride, some of us, at 50.  But for the sake of personal perfume lexicon and practicality, it seems fair game to consider anything over 50 years to be an antique (or nearly so) scent.


In any case, today I'm taking stock of the past year, and thinking about perfume budgets and planning for next this year's purchases. And I've come to a conclusion, but first let's backup a bit... As many of you have, I've become more accustomed to paying larger and larger sums for perfumes. It used to be (for me, anyway) that $100 was some kind of breaking point, marking an uber-expensive purchase. Under that mark, I spent relatively freely, without really considering the import of a perfume purchase, or considering it's place in my collection. Then seemingly all of sudden, and only a couple of years ago, with the advent of many new exclusive, speciality and luxury lines and especially as the niche perfume market expanded,  exploded, the $100 mark became passe. At that time and really this past year, the mark jumped up to $200 and just as quickly to $250... Chanel Exclusives/Les Exclusifs and Guerlain Elixir Charnels and even Tom Ford's Private lines are prime examples of this trend from the past two years. Now I'm not really into super high volume purchasing at this level, and I just can't afford monthly purchases along those lines. Not that I still can't find a bunch of stuff to sniff for way, way below $100. But I'm not talking about perfumista-on-a-budget finds today.


Today, I'm contemplating "top-shelf", front-line perfume collectibles. And that stuff costs big $$$, right baby? I know those of you who crave at the higher end, be it bespoke, Clive Christian, Jar or exotic Arabian oils, may pfiffle and scoff at these figures, but for the average or even-above average income-earning American today, and given how many perfumes enthusiasts tend to collect, it's still plenty expensive to maintain a top-rate collection. This past year, I probably *only* purchased 3 new releases at that level. Needless to say, carefully considered purchases, collection wise. And I stayed +/- 1 or 2 of that same number for my vintage collection as well. So do the math; that's one major purchase every other month or so.  (I won't even address the lower-end purchases, those charming little numbers we all come across, by so many well known but not-to-be-addressed-here-and-now methods, that end up costing us much less than even one top shelf purchase and that we seem to accumulate without end.) So this past year, it was a 50/50 mix of vintage/antique and current release purchases. And in looking at what I got for my money, I've come to the conclusion that I've done much, much better with my vintage purchases than my current release purchases. It really comes down to a few key points. First, quality of packaging... Sorry folks, but penny for pennny you'll get much more extravagent, luxurious packaging from well preserved pre 1950's packages than from anything more modern. If you've any doubt, compare the labels, bottles, stoppers, the boxes used to house the juice. It is common that older presentations include crystal bottles, hand cut and ground stoppers, boxes covered in silk, hand decorated pressed paper, leather and everything made by hand, down to the lettering and art on the labels. You seldom get this level of luxury in the smaller details from anything made today. And the perfume contained within the bottles is probably an even sadder story.

(image: dealcatcher)

You see, perfumes of yesteryear were made with a wide variety of ingredients, some complex synthesized blends to be sure, but those were carefully considered back then and created with a critical eye, especially considering the wealth of natural essences, oils, animal products and wood distillates and the like that were more freely available then than now.  I know there are far more specialized aromatic molecules around today and many of them have astounding scent characteristics... but very few of them are really exclusive. You will smell most of them, even the very best ones, in your grocery store isles. Truth be told, that's where the real money is spent on fragrances today. But when I shop vintage, I know I'm really going to get something of value, something that is scarce and only destined to become more so.  Try a little experiment: give yourself $275 and go shopping, first at your choice for any current release, then see what you can get for the same amount in Ebay's collectible perfume category. See ? So, really for a perfume lover, the choice is pretty simple- this is the year I resolve to spend my entire budget on vintage fragrance.

(image via flickr)

The Vintage Perfume Vault, where the scent of yesterday's vogue lives.


Flora said...

I hear you! I have gotten some astonishing vintage bargains on eBay this past year, and nothing new can hold a candle to them in the bang-for-a-buck category. Not to mention the quality of the perfume itself!

Like you, I am trying to curb the urge to get lots of little fun things so I can save it for The Big One when it comes along. My tastes run to vintage Patou, Lelong and Lanvin, so if I want something really good I will have to be prepared to pay for - but the result is SO worth it.

Melanie said...

I have the same plan. I'm pretty new to the whole perfumista thing, and my first couple of years have been frantically divided between vintage and niche. But I'm finding that most of the niches, even the good quality ones, just don't have the richness, depth, and longevity of the vintages. Even when the vintages aren't in perfect condition, they have more "oomph", and many vintage eau de toilettes wear almost like contemporary parfums for longevity, richness, and sillage. They just seem to have more solidity, instead of being made to make a passing statement. The vintages seem to have been made "for the long haul". Plus they have ingredients that I'll never be able to smell in contemporary scents, or else the synthetics which have replaced them don't have the all the depth and richness of the material they're supposed to replace. Vintage perfume seems to be made when "perfume was perfume", and women weren't afraid to wear it.

Amelia said...

I applaud your sensibilities, Flora; frankly, I think this is a very good time to be a collector. And I'm so happy you're finding exciting things out there. Patou is such a fine choice, too- they are beautifully packaged and hold their age well, imo. Best of luck in getting more great stuff in the upcoming year!

Amelia said...

Melanie, your sensibilities make you sound like a seasoned and very wise perfumista, indeed. You are obviously one of a select group who doesn't buy into the hype surrounding the niche explosion. Welcome to the 'Vault and I do hope you stick around. I hope to foster the growth of our little community, and I'd like to begin inviting like-minded readers to contribute here as well in the near future. In any case, do keep coming back... and best of luck in all your perfumed pursuits!

Melanie said...

Thanks :) I am loving reading your reviews/essays of vintage perfumes, and learning of some I've never heard of, and learning about others with which I'm only familiar with the names.

H said...

I really enjoy your articles. I plan to collect more vintage fragrances. For now I am happy that I found some Geminesse for my wife.