(There’s something deliciously ghoulish about buying perfume from an estate sale. You know that bottle is haunted, but you take it home anyway.)
Tom Ford’s remix of Estée Lauder’s classic Youth Dew smells exactly the way Swedish Julmust tastes, only sexier.
For those who’ve never been to Sweden in December, Julmust is a sweet spiced cola made with ginger and citrus and other secret ingredients, and is the only non-alcoholic drink you’re allowed at Christmas.
Amber Nude starts with an effervescent pop of candied grapefruit peel, ginger and cinnamon, then mixes in carnation sweetened with jasmine and ylang-ylang, which turns into clove spice-drops that melt in personal space all evening long. Spun sugar amber and warm woods linger on clothes forever afterward.
Brilliant for holiday parties with low cleavage dresses. (Cheers to you, dead lady with good taste in minimalist furniture and sexy perfume. I bet you were fun.) Skål.
Cheryl Wheeler is a brilliant folksinger and songwriter whose tunes have been covered by Bette Midler, Garth Brooks, and many others.
Have you ever opened a box of old vintage sewing patterns at a rummage sale, and gotten transported back in time–before you were born, even–just from the smell?
Sortilège whispers vintage lily-of-the-valley out of the bottle, then powdery peachy aldehydes a la Chanel No. 5 trample the flowers to dust. More try to bloom, some feeble jasmine, whimpering mimosa–the rose survives, bolstered by iris, but then they are bowled over by great gobs of amber with vetiver musk in the wake.
This makes me want a wasp-waisted dress with piping and a built-in crinoline, and wrist gloves with matching bows.
Le Galion released Sortilège in 1937, when Fred Astaire was hanging out at The Stork Club, famous for singing Gershwin. I prefer Lady Day’s cover.
This mini is the eighties edition of the seventies formula, which was a remake of Caron’s 1913 original. (The 2018 version is a complete revamp into a pear and vanilla gourmand.)
A big gust of retro aldehydes out of the bottle, carrying a mess of flowers–jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, rose and tuberose–that settle down fairly quickly a few inches above the skin, anchored by sandalwood and amber.
It’s pleasant, and nice to find a vintage scent of that era that isn’t a tangle of oakmoss and civet, but not one to keep for nostalgia or reference.
In 1970, the top female pop song in France was Venus, by the Dutch band Shocking Blue–it was also re-released in the eighties by Bananarama.
(There was actually a “Venus Waltz” by the American Standard Orchestra recorded in 1913, on cylinder.)
Vintage rose from an antique reference set. (Perfumeintelligence suggests this one was first formulated in Parma, Italy, in 1880.)
So how do you define what a rose smells like? This one does a pretty good job of it–
Opens with airy pastel buds, lemony with sugar in the tea, then ripens with earthy green leaves and bright fruity rosehip wine. The dry down is exactly that, dried petals–dusty, musky and spicy sweet with a hint of powdery cloves.
Starts out sugar sweet, the dust on marshmallows, then turns jasmine-like, with a touch of honey. Finishes fruity-juicy, more gourmand than neroli’s greener woody-spice edge.
It’s the floral note easily found in the opening of Coco Mademoiselle, and tastes delicious in Italian Cream Cakes.
This one was bottled for a mini collection for tourists from the Borsari 1970 Museum in Parma, in the seventies–the caps are hideous plastic, but they’re effective–it’s quite well preserved for being so old.
Opens with sharp green herbs and a squeeze of citrus, then immediately blooms with lilac and honey. Projection for miles, yet the flowers change closer and closer to the skin: lily of the valley, then rose, then violet.
Lasts forever, ending with the softest civet-y oakmoss and more honey.
A new favorite.
I’d never heard of it until I blind bid on a auction lot of vintage minis–then fell in love and did the research–it’s been around since 1913.
The tango was taking France by storm then, brought from Argentina. This is a modern one from the Parisian group Gotan Project.
This one opens with a ’70’s record scratch of thorny green rose then settles into a good long roll in the hay while listening to Joni Mitchell albums–but then the pepper leaves you itchy, and you’re vaguely aware that a cat has peed nearby.
To be fair, this is a nearly fifty-year-old bottle of perfume, and it may have soured a little.
(The same might be said for my nearly fifty-year-old nose.)
The fashion illustrator René Gruau’s 1953 advertisement for Jacques Griffe’s Mistigri is much more famous than the perfume ever was, but I’ve always been curious about the scent.
I finally managed to score a 70-year-old vintage mini, the little box (made to look like a deck of cards–the mistigri is the Jack of Clubs, as well as the trickster cat–still intact. The bottle even had the string on the cap, though it fell apart as soon as I opened the stopper.
A dried up drop was left, a flake of amber brown in the corner of the bottle that smelled like every fusty antique store and estate sale.
–until I rinsed it out, and the warm water brought a green chypre to life, resinous and floral. Some sharp pepper and flirty cloves were mixed in there too.
An hour later the room smells faintly of cedar and the soapy-sweetness of Chanel No. 5, in a trousseau chest with a secret kind-of-way.
So Mistigri was a nice scent, though nothing amazing. But the cat drawing on the box? I want a poster of that on my wall.
My favorite Catwoman, Eartha Kitt released C’est Si Bon in 1953.
Normally I dislike the “old lady” ageist cliche of describing vintage perfume–but my grandmother actually wore this, and damn if she wasn’t the swimsuit model at the pool in her retirement home’s brochure.
And I’m going to be that guy too, and complain that ~ThEy DoN’t MaKe It LiKe ThEy UsEd To~ but the original was much sweeter, with big banging cloves at the top sweetened by peaches and plums, and a resinous dry-down held in place with charred wood.
The 2009 version still has the carnation and myrrh at the center, but her rockin’ bottom has grown a bit soft, droopy amber patchouli and vanilla with no verve, rather than rounded out with sandalwood, cinnamon and incense.
If you need a hit of classic eighties balsamic spice, grab a vintage bottle–and pair with a pussy-bow shirt belted over culottes.
Opium came out in 1977, the same year Al Stewart’s Year of the Cat hit the charts.