Besides a lovely string of pearls (and in today's economy, these may no longer be affordable for most of us), are few gifts that could be more sentimental than the gift of a beloved bottle of scent. Unfortunately in today's world, perfumes tend to have a short life on the shelf and an even shorter promotional life. By the time you realize you've got a hankering to give a special someone a particular scent, it may not still be available at your local mall, and chances are, if it is, it has been reformulated and no longer smells like the original version of your memories. What to do? Well my advice is to buy vintage fragrance, of course!
But as much as I applaud and celebrate vintage scents, I'll admit they aren't always easy to find! You can't just pick up the phone and order them brought to your room on a silver platter, and there are some pitfalls to avoid when it comes to getting your hands on the good stuff. So in this season of givining, let's review some of the basics of buying vintage, hard to find and discontinued scents; hopefully a few of you will add your own tips in the posting comments sections below.
First of all- where to buy... I recommend if you're just hunting around for treasure, without a specific fragrance in mind, that you tour your local resources first. Your best local resource is likely to be your cities second hand and thrift stores. Now if you really, really want to find something, but you're not even sure what you want to find, just go look... and be prepared to go often. Make it a part of your regular routine, stop by a couple of times a week, on the way to or from work for example and chances are you'll benefit from frequent visits to your targeted stores. I don't visit all the thrift stores in my town- I won't have time! But I've picked one or two that are located well for me and those are the shops I frequent. If you're lucky, you'll also find antique shops or malls located locally. My next favorite venue? Antique fairs and flea markets. These can be more difficult to locate and many only operate on a given weekend or during a peak season, so check your local area, or google for fairs near you. These are well worth an occasional trip, and I've always profited from the first visit. If you live close to the outlet or even within a days drive, lost luggage outlets are a source of many surprising treasures. Again, google will lead you there!
Next in line for me are local garage and estate sales. Check your local newpaper classifieds every weekend if you choose to venture out for this particular brand of bargin hunt and consider investing in a Garmin or TomTom. As fun as this form of treasure hunt can be, these are no longer a super source for me - mostly because they require a LOT of leg work and valuable weekend time that I don't really have so I personally don't look there as much as I used to, but you might be surprised at what you'll find if you have the time and energy. I have had great luck at those venues, however.
Now if you ar eseeking something a little more current, but no longer in stock at your local Nordstroms, what you need is a quick visist to the outlet stores such as Marshall's, TJMax, Ross or your area's version of those stores. These places can't be beat when it comes to a great place to find recently discontinued and sold out perfumes and scented products at steep discounts. I am surprised every time I stop in, but again, smart shoppers go frequently to find the really desirable items (and we aren't the only ones out there looking, competition can be stiff and I get the feeling more than a few of the finds from theses sources end up online with high mark-ups.) But why not do your own leg-work and be someone's scented Santa this year!
Now, if you are looking for a specific vintage perfume, such as pre-IFRA, oakmoss enriched Mitsouku, then you really have to use your online resources. I've listed some of the best, most reliable sites I've patronized at the top of this blog but that's just a handfull of the sites that are out there. I'm also soliciting you for additions as I'd like to increase the list, in case you're charitable enough to share and name names.
Then there are the giants, EBay and Craigslist. Scary as it can be, Ebay is still the safest and dare I say it, the best. I've heard nightmares about Craigslist; NEVER agree to meet anyone in person and be careful in every contact you make - I've never consumated a deal for perfume there but I've looked around a bit. One problem I have with Craigslist is that many folks list perfumes without photos, which makes it hard to judge if you're even interested. But I think it may be getting better. Of course, keep all activies limited to buying by mail and at least you'll stay in control of your personal safety. But as far as buyer protection, I think Ebay still beats CL. But especially on Ebay keep an eye on the seller's location- sadly, it seems that some exotic and far away places are more prone to internet graft on Ebay than others... Pay attention to seller feedback too of course, and look at the seller's other items and completed listings FIRST not after making that bid. Also, ask questions before buying anything.
Now I am by no means an Ebay expert, so ask around as you can probably find someone you know personally who is... but I've recently learned that there are some fine points to the rules to selling and buying there. For example it is NOT good form to ask anybody to sell you anything privately. I love perfume people and I always tend to think we're special, so my bias is to protect us- for example, thinking about ways to save the seller money in Ebay fees. But really, I guess EBay when you think about it, Ebay needs to make their money too. So I know now, after making a suggestion that someone invoice me for something as yet unlisted, directly through paypal, that this technically violates one of Ebay's many policies. And from other experiences, I can tell you that Ebay is like a sleeping giant. You don't want to wake the giant. Again, I can see why profit wise, but be careful and learn from me, don't let your mania and love for a purchase make you do or say anthing rash, or step over any bounds.
Now I do suggest establishing and exchanging email information with any friendly sellers you meet who seem like "real" perfume people, because Ebay isn't likely to be there for us forever. There is legal movement on the EBay front regarding preventing people from selling perfumes there. Some people even think Ebay may pull the rug out on the vintage and all second hand fragrance trading in the near future, as they did with people selling decants and samples a few years back. If you look for samples on Ebay today, you'll see quite a few sample listings have crept back onto the site, however that could change at a moment's notice. It would be sad if EBay does pull it's plug on used perfumes,as it really is the greatest resource we have...
Despite, or perhaps precisely because it's status as the world's best market place for vintage perfumes, I also see a great number of spurious ads for rare older fragrances on Ebay. Reports of fakery and fraudulent versions of bottles, refilled with who knows what, abounds there. Often those questionable listings neglect or misspell the name of the perfume or maker, and if you look often enough, you can develop a sixth sense for the "bad" listings. I recently found a seller using the term "group" in their seller name (something like eocgroup93, for example) listing "rare perfume" with photographs of fabuluos, hard to find scents but not mentioning the name of the house (Dior, Chanel, Hermes etc) in the title of the ad or giving any text with the ad; it looked very fishy to me and so I avoid those types of deals. Also watch out for sellers from other countries, since many will not allow liquids to be shipped across international borders. I had one experience with a seller sending me an empty the perfume bottle (that had been advertised with perfume in it!), after failing to mention in his ad that he always drains the bottles before sending them!!!! So from now on, I look for sellers within the US only. Also, insure your packages in case the package is damaged in shipping.
With those caveats aside, I've gotten many great deals on many genuine, just-as-advertised super fantastic perfumes on Ebay. Personally I can accept the few bum deals I've come across as the cost of doing business in such an anonymous, impersonal market place. I try to be prudent and careful, and so far my experiences with buying vintage perfumes on Ebay has been worthwhile overall. Now I'm asking as many of you that care to, please add your experiences in the comments below so as many as possible can benefit. I'm a firm believer in doing unto others, and I certainly want to pass along to you what has so richly enhanced my experiences seeking vintage fragance treasures. Whichever way you go, good luck and happy hunting!
The Vintage Perfume Vault, where the scent of yesterday's vogue lives!