Saturday, November 28, 2009

Le FEU D'Issey

Just a short post today- I'm wearing Le Feu D'Issey after wearing Aimez-Moi for Thanksgiving and most of Black Friday. The anise and rose notes shared by both bridges the two scents beautifully. But the thing that drew me to this 1998 Issey Miyake release was the bottle. A solid Lucite globe of reddish orange, it reminds me of a Christmas tree ornament. The firey orb also reminds me of the sun setting over the Pacific ocean on a cool fall evening. But despite the sun metaphor, Le Feu resonates cold to me- it's a frosty solar scent, if that makes sense. The heart of Le Feu is Bulgarian Rose and fresh Coriander, which creates a "modern contrast of energy and sensuality." Le Feu is an easy wearing, casual perfume, although it has a quirky, almost medicinal opening which fades quickly to reveal woody rose facets, smoothed over with a subtle milky-salty caramel note. Although it was created in 1998 and has been discontinued, Le Feu is incredibly well blended and perfectly balanced. It is one of the few perfumes I would describe as futuristic (even today, it remains so). Jacques Cavallier created Le Feu and he has authored a number of other perfumes that I've owned and admired including YSL's Cinema and Nu, Jean Paul Galtier's Women, Alexander McQueen's Kingdom, Stella by Stella McCartney, and Givenchy's Hot Couture. Unfortunately for those who haven't smelt it, Le Feu is something of a cult scent, and it commands ridiculously inflated prices on EBay. Sadly I haven't been able to find a substitute but Clarins' Eau Dynamisante may come close (I don't have any on hand to compare to it directly). So, what rare vintage, discontinued or throw-back scents have you been wearing this holiday?

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Removing Frozen or Stuck Perfume Stoppers

Recently Melissa asked me how can you remove a stuck stopper from a perfume bottle. Hopefully I can help out since I've tried quite a few methods, so let's run down the list.

When I first encountered stuck stoppers, I was told to try ice or cooling the bottle. I guess the thought is that the glass will retract and things should loosen up a bit. Well, cooling methods haven't worked for me. Running a bottle under warm water may work- if the lid is a threaded plastic or metal type and dried perfume residue is causing the lid to remain stuck-tight. Then it's just a matter of heating up the metal or plastic and twisting it off. The water might damage any paper label that's there, so keep a towel handy.

But the real challenge occurs when you run across a ground glass stopper that has become stuck or frozen in the neck of the bottle. I've even cut the cord on a sealed bottle only to find the stopper is frozen in place. So what to do? If you can access enough of the underside of the stopper, which is not always easy, old Chanel pamphlets (which used to come tucked into the perfume bottle box), advised you to tap evenly all around the stopper while applying gentle pressure until it comes unstuck. Good luck with this method! It probably works but I found it's difficult to pull off- you need some special kind of tool small and weighty enough to tap on such a small area and it requires major-league dexterity. The method perfected by my husband, which seems to work best, requires two identical pry tools- try two butter knife blades or two identical pocketknife blades. He lines the bottle up (I hold it) and works the two blade edges along opposite sides of the bottle (that's 180 degrees apart) nestling the edge of the blade right at the stopper and neck junction. He does it so the handles of each knife are on opposite sides of the bottle. Then he quickly, firmly, evenly pushes up on one knife handle while simultaneously pushing down on the other. The resultant force pops the stopper off the bottle, usually on the first try. But he isn't shy or hesitant about the movement- I think you might just chip pr break off the stopper top if you aren't smooth and decisive. I might recommend wrapping the top of the stopper or taping it up first if you do try this, so the top isn't damaged as it flies off the bottle and lands on the floor. Another technique I've used, for smaller bottles with round stoppers (like a small bottle of Poison perfume), is to wrap the stopper top in soft cloth, grasp it with a small pliers and gently turn it off. This method is easy, so you might want to give it a try first but don't use too much pressure or you will snap the stopper off at the neck for sure. Good luck but remember, no matter which method you try- you do run the risk of chipping, cracking or worse yet, breaking off the stopper top. Below you see the tragic result of an attempted removal gone wrong. That being said, the two knife method has never damaged a bottle of mine.

And it's always worked. Except with one particularly old, square-shaped stopper on an older bottle (1800s) with no clearance between the stopper and the bottle (a short neck). In that case, I tried everything that I've told you about here and more but nothing worked. I held onto that bottle for quite a while, trying to decide what to do about it. I didn't want to ruin the bottle- it was so old. But the juice inside finally won over. I really wanted to smell it! So I went for the most extreme method I know- drilling and emptying. The procedure was achieved using a small masonry drill bit called a glass bit, that bores a round hole into glass. You need to build up a coffer damn on the glass so you can keep a puddle of lubricating fluid to cool and help the bit get through. To do it, make a ring of silicone putty, stick it to the glass area around where you'll drill into the glass. Fill the ring with a few drops of light machine oil, like 3-in-1, or another suitable fluid before you start. I held the bottle in place with more silicone putty. It went beautifully; I was able to drill through without any contamination by going slow, and I kept an absorbent towel nearby to soak away the oil as I got down to the last layers of glass. Then, I decanted the contents directly from the hole, plugged it up and I was able to display the 99% intact bottle. Well, I hope this helps at least one of you get into that bottle of perfume you've been hanging on to with the stuck stopper. Let me know how you do!

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

Is it Safe to Wear Old Perfume?

If you read down to the comments on my Chypre post, you will see a couple of my readers have asked some very good questions about vintage perfumes. So good, in fact, that I've decided to respond to those questions here in a separate post so more of you can share in the answers. Now for the disclaimer- I'm just sharing my own experiences and opinions; I do not recommend that anyone else should necessarily follow me! Use your own common sense and practice safety at all times.

OK, so let's get down to business. First, Alessandra asked about the safety of wearing vintage perfumes. The short answer is yes, it is safe to wear vintage perfumes.

Now for the long answer: it is safe, but only in as much as it is safe to wear any perfume. Skin can definitely become irritated by many different perfumes and other scented products, like soaps and creams, but that is regardless of the age of the product. I know that my skin can become irritated by a few perfumes, but they tend to be carnation-spicy scents (eugenol), chypres (oakmoss) and certain musk oils. The worst effects I've experienced amount to some slight burning sensations and in more extreme reactions, transient redness of the skin in the area where I applied. I've had problems when those scents are applied right after a shower or bath or in lavish amounts. I find the perfume in extrait or oil form can be especially problematic probably because the scent molecules are more concentrated in those formulas. I avoid applying over large areas, soft areas, untanned areas or along the insides of skin folds, or anywhere skin is often rubbed. But if one was actually to become allergic or chemically sensitive to a particular scent molecule or any scented product, old or new, the reactions could be quite severe. But I stress to you that for me it does not matter whether the product is old or new, just the particular ingredient.
On a tangentially related subject, I have read on many blogs the myth that perfumes expire quickly and must be discarded after a certain age. Well, I think that is just pure myth. Scents, especially fine scents, do change over time, just as fine wine or liquors change as they age. Certain scent molecules are more prominent in younger formulas, lending a boldness or brightness, while other notes are created and accumulate as things stew in their own juices. As some notes fade others emerge or become uncovered adding depth to the formula. So the character and color of a juice usually changes as it matures and ages.

As an industrial perfumer or any modern-day scent brander I can see where one would aim to capture a particular scent and set the scent profile in stone. In those cases, the formula might be designed specifically to be stable and consistent over time and from bottle to bottle as possible. It's fine for my Gain or Downey fabric softener but I reject that type of thinking in fine perfumery! I tend to think more like a vintner or gardener. You have to approach each harvest, each batch and each bottle of scent as it's own thing. You may know you prefer a certain type of wine or variety of flowers, but you probably also recognize that sometimes the scent or taste quality of these things are exceptional but sometimes, they are just OK. I say Carpe Diem provided you don't have to pay a premium for the bottle. The bottle or historical import of a presentation tends to impart most of the value in cases where vintage perfume bottles command premium prices. I am not a bottle collector, so I avoid those deals. But if you can manage to find a second hand bottle of perfume offered at a reasonable price, consider giving it a try. Because in the end, I've found that vintage perfume is a lot like life; things change, but mostly in predictable and agreeable ways.

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Perfume Musings (of an ex-smoker)

I'm not sure I've ever said it or even thought about it much but I used to be a smoker and I believe that's where my fascination with perfume began. I may have lacked a true appreciation for the dangers of that bad habit but I certainly realized the reek of smoke clinging to one's clothes, hair and hands was not pretty. I recall selecting my signature scents, partially on their ability to blend in with and mask the residue of my cigarettes. And so I leaned naturally towards sharp greens, smoky leathers and spicy orientals from early on. Those types of perfumes seemed best suited to masking fumes and after repeated wearings they became my preference. While my love of proper perfumes waned and laid dormant for a long time after I quit smoking, I continued to have a keen interest in incense and the head-shop variety of scented oils. Now it's been some time since my interest (being polite) in perfume has been rekindled but recently I found a nifty little bottle of Bandit parfum, that famous leather scent by Robert Piguet. This is the vintage version, not the horrifying newer release (which I keep, unopened and wrapped in it's cellophane- as a punishment, on my lower shelf). The tarry, almost skunky-tart green leather of the original version is mouth-watering. The scent memory is pure bliss as well: my smoker's hands redolent of comfortably roasted tobacco, my back warmed by the autumn sun, strolling through the Tenderloin, with a group of junky musician friends, on our way to a friend's flat. No bills and no cares- and an innocent ignorance of everything to come, the vigor of youth stinging in my blood. Those were the days, lol.
But Bandit was there with me, covering up every trace of indiscretion and adding a certain flare, an unexpected dash of style to my low-brow ways. So now of course Bandit is an old friend. It understands me and I understand it. I discovered other soul-sisters in the guise of scents, specters and members of my perfume-spirit family, scents that took me back to down-home and my soul's roots. At one time there was Halston Couture (never just Halston, only the Couture!) which was the first perfume I actually inducted into the Vintage Vault. I went into absolute panic mode when that one was discontinued; it was before the days of the internet and trying to locate a bottle of HC was a truly monumental project. Chanel's Cuir de Russie and Opium joined the select group, and most of my old-school chypres now belong as well. These are the scents I reach for first when I want to feel wise and witty and warm but no one seems to get it (or me). I guess this is more a perfume reminisce and a chance for me to sing the praises of the heavy perfumes, those strange brews that were authored for a purpose even it was just to challenge, whose makers weren't afraid to use potent ingredients in generous proportions, and who succeeded in creating masterpieces capable of not only masking the repellent odours that haunt our very existence, but also seducing us with the very same breath.
The Vintage Perfume Vault, where the scent of yesterday's vogue lives.