10 Things I Love About Classical Perfumes

Rene gruau 2

During the course of my love affair with fragrance, I have grown to enjoy many types of perfumes, but I have always had a soft spot for classics. I gravitate to classics in my other interests too—books, films, music, dance, so it is not surprising that the retro aesthetic appeals to me in scents. Even some of my favorite modern fragrances like Serge Lutens Bois de Violette, Chanel 31 Rue Cambon, Bulgari Black and Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower are rooted in the classical tradition which they’ve reinterpreted in novel ways.

The other day as I was sighing with pleasure over Guerlain Après l’Ondée, I wondered what makes me enjoy classics so much. I came up with this list. Reading it through, I realize that I keep juxtaposing classical and modern perfumery, sometimes to the disadvantage of the latter. The perfumery has changed tremendously over the past few decades, and some changes have not benefited the output, while others resulted in more choices and new fragrance styles. When it comes to the perfumes I wear day to day, my selections lean heavily towards the modern blends. That being said, I cannot imagine my perfume shelf without the classics, and here are my ten reasons why.

1. Complexity and 2. Richness

Complexity and richness are the hallmark of the grand parfums—Guerlain, Jean Patou, Chanel, Caron, to name only a few quintessentially classical houses. The French perfumers sometimes call it “gras,” fat, alluding to the unctuous, rich quality that used to be fashionable. Today, “gras” is not necessarily a positive trait in a perfume. I love the luminosity of modern fragrances like Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue, Gucci Rush or Bulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert, but I also get weak in my knees smelling the delicious heft of Miss Dior or Chanel No 22.

The rich, complex effect was achieved in the past by using a high proportion of bases and natural materials, especially florals. Perfume bases are accords of several different materials that give a novel effect. The famous Mousse de Saxe, a base used by Caron in many of its early classics is one such example. If you could take a look at old perfume formulas, you would discover that some of the bases had other bases inside! Add to this the inherent complexity of materials like rose or jasmine absolute, and you can understand why classical fragrances smell the way they do.

Balancing many different materials requires great skill and too much complexity can result in a muddled clamor. However, many classics that survive to our day do so because their creators made each element sing in perfect harmony. Today if a young perfumer includes a dozen bases in her formula as Germaine Cellier did in Fracas, she should expect a call from her supervisor. Of course, bases are still used, but with a much lighter hand. The preference today, with some exceptions, is for a formula that is simple to produce and simple to understand.

3. Surprises

I like when the perfume changes on my skin throughout the day and smells different in the evening than in the morning. I like Clinique Aromatics Elixir and Caron Nuit de Noël, perfumes that do not reveal all their charms at once. I love being surprised by the wistful rose note that peaks out of the jasmine and hyacinth accord of Guerlain Chamade. It makes wearing these fragrances as exciting as re-reading great literature. You discover something new each time.

4. Unusual Materials

Today there are more materials in the perfumer’s palette than was the case 100 or even 50 years ago. It is now possible to create luminous, bright effects that were difficult to design with the materials of the past. As in all areas of our societies, however, progress comes at the expense of something else. In the case of perfumery, regulations and the rising costs of materials have put some notes out of reach—Indian sandalwood, traditional oakmoss with all its dirty, funky bits, rose and jasmine from Grasse, dark synthetic musks like musk ketone and musk ambrette. To smell these materials, you have to seek out vintage perfumes.

On the other hand, even post-reformulation classics can give a glimpse of the interesting materials used by perfumers of the past. I love the dark plum accord in Guerlain Mitsouko and Sisley Eau de Campagne. The smoky leather of Chanel Cuir de Russie and Knize Ten is among my favorite animalic notes. Finally, Chanel No 5 and Jean Patou Joy still use such opulent floral absolutes that they should be smelled for this reason alone.

5. Animalic Effects

In contrast to today’s fashion for “sexy clean,” many classical fragrances do not shy away from exploring “sexy dirty” effects. In Rochas Femme, the cumin and musk layered over peaches and plums, hint at ripeness, perhaps of a fruit or perhaps of someone’s warm skin. The pungent civet in Paloma Picasso, the dark honey and old furs in Schiaparelli Shocking, the smoky leather of Caron Tabac Blond… Did you know that the original formula for Chanel No 5 contained more than 30% of different musks and civet? These days you have to scour niche perfumery to find something comparably raunchy.

6. Packaging

I am usually much more interested in the contents, rather than the bottle itself, but I appreciate a beautiful presentation, whether elaborate like Nina Ricci’s or minimalist like Chanel’s. Legendary bottle designers like Pierre Dinand (Yves Saint Laurent Opium, Worth Je Reviens, Lancôme Magie Noire) sometimes worked directly with the perfumer to create a bottle that matched the fragrance. Today, by contrast, the packaging is often designed by the marketing teams separate from the fragrance development.

7. Names

Aramis, Mitsouko, Habanita, Chaldee, Cabochard, Brut, Opium… I love their meaning and simplicity. These names also match the perfumes perfectly. One of the most challenging aspects of launching a new perfume is to register a name. With many interesting names already copyrighted, a new fragrance brand faces quite a hurdle finding something original and distinctive.

8. Ground Glass Stoppers

The vision of a woman dabbing herself with a glass stopper may be a cliché, but spraying perfume, however convenient, simply does not have the same connotation of luxury and intimate pleasure. I especially love the raspy sound that a ground glass stopper makes whenever I open a perfume bottle. Ground glass stoppers are extremely rare these days. They require great skill on the part of a bottle maker to ensure a perfect fit and they are expensive.

9. Advertisement

I am not going to say that in the good old days the advertising was always tasteful and creative. Far from it! There were plenty of tacky advertising campaigns in the past. Caron French Cancan ads immediately come to mind. However, whenever I browse through the archives of Parfums de Pub, the older ads catch my attention for their elegant and often whimsical presentations. I also love drawings, which one hardly sees in ads anymore.

10. Stories

Finally, the longer the perfume has been around, the more lore it accumulates. I do not mean only the stories about its creation, but also about people who wear it and even those who hate it. It might be an endorsement of Chanel No 5 by Marilyn Monroe who declared that the only thing she wears to bed is Chanel No 5 (“five drops of Chanel No. 5,” as she put it in a 1954 interview.) Or a story could be a sign at a restaurant prohibiting Giorgio Beverly Hills, a tuberose perfume with a Godzilla-like sillage. Moreover, the story of people in your life who wore some of these classics can add its own special patina.

Do you like classical fragrances? Why or why not?

Rene Gruau drawing for Dior Diorissimo, 1956. Originally, he sketched the young woman in the nude, but Dior asked the artist to dress her in an elegant black dress.

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62 Comments

  • Raluca: Classics are not usually my thing and part of me feels guilty about it. I do like Chanel No 5 but I’m not mad about it. No matter how hard I try, I still don’t like Mitzouko, Shalimar, L’Heure Bleu etc. The only Guerlains I like are Champs Elysee, Attrape Coeur and Idylle. Recently I sampled Cuir Beluga from L’art et la Maitiere collection and I like it. May be it’s just a matter of skin chemistry as my mom and I have similar taste. But I’ll keep sniffling and who know what will happen. Thank you for your wonderful writing! 🙂 January 23, 2012 at 9:18am Reply

  • Nikki: Interesting post. Classic perfumes have a history and represent ideas of feminity frozen in time. I am a woman who loves being a woman (do I have a choice?!) and classic fragrances are in general more feminine, more seductive while newer perfumes seem to represent a certain aspect of cleanliness instead of seduction…. January 23, 2012 at 10:12am Reply

  • Elisa: I go to independent perfumers like Andy Tauer, Laurie Erickson (of Sonoma Scent Studio) and Dawn Spencer Hurwitz to get my fix of your first two features, complexity and richness. All three (still) use a high concentration of naturals and don’t shy away from animalic materials. I love that “fatty” quality in a perfume! January 23, 2012 at 10:16am Reply

  • Victoria: You really shouldn’t feel guilty! After all, it is not expected that we dress in jackets with shoulder pads or wear crinolines. Perfume is not exactly like the clothes, of course, but each decade had its own particular scent. I would rather wear a floral like Carnal Flower than Joy any day. It is just that classics have some aspects that it is rare to find in modern perfumery. Sometimes it is just interesting simply to compare. January 23, 2012 at 11:01am Reply

  • pam: Great post! Yes, I love classic perfumes, too, for the reasons you stated (and you thought of a couple I hadn’t thought of). The abundance of newer materials can give us a wider range of scents, which is a plus, but do we need to explore all of them? Some smells need to be left in another room (kitchen, laundry). But then a really good new fragrance comes out and all is forgiven. Well, maybe not ALL. January 23, 2012 at 11:01am Reply

  • Victoria: For me, the biggest downfall of many modern perfumes is that they made quickly, cheaply and are not made to last on the perfume counters. It leads to many boring scents. January 23, 2012 at 11:01am Reply

  • Victoria: You are right, the niche perfumery (and indie, independent, artisanal, whatever one wants to call it) is a good place to look for these qualities. January 23, 2012 at 11:03am Reply

  • Victoria: The main issue today is that juice itself is an afterthought. Not all big brands are guilty of it, some do put in a lot of effort and are willing to spend the money. However, by and large, the packaging on a bottle of perfume you buy costs more than the perfume liquid itself.

    I was not trying to set classical vs modern mainstream perfumery, but it just cannot be helped when talking about some of the reasons why the classics are so good. January 23, 2012 at 11:07am Reply

  • Vanessa: Great post, and one which chimed with me because I have recently rediscovered the beauty that is Apres L’Ondee after a long absence.

    Then last night (most uncharacteristically for me because I am quite timorous where animalic notes are concerned) I wore Parfum Sacre and thought to myself: “This feels very classic – why is that?”, and was posing myself just this question. I came up with 1, 2 and 5 on my own, but 3 and 4 are also bang on having read your post today! January 23, 2012 at 11:25am Reply

  • Dee: Oh yes, I love the classics! However, I’ve had a hard time trying to find a balance between going mad collecting just the right vintage, and learning to love either a contemporary version, or something else altogether. Shalimar is a great example: I have a small bottle of perfectly preserved vintage extrait, and it’s beauty is heartbreaking. When I wore it side-by-side with the current formula (which I already owned two bottles of!), the new seemed wan, thin, and synthetic. I had to put away the vintage for several months before I could appreciate the current version again!

    This may seem like a silly thing to lament, but with the vintage always rising in price, and supplies always going down, hanging onto the original isn’t really feasible. In my income bracket, anyway 😉

    My Shalimar conundrum can also be applied to five or six other scents in my cabinet…

    Fortunately, I also have a great many contemporary fragrances to love! January 23, 2012 at 11:31am Reply

  • Mare: So well said. You put into words what I could never explain for myself. Great post! TY! January 23, 2012 at 11:46am Reply

  • Martyn: Since I very rarely give myself a dab of classic perfume behind the ears, I can’t really talk about liking them as fragrances to wear. For me, they bring back memories of my mother and my aunts, preparing to go out, so there is always a sense of nostalgia and sometimes of poignant loss.

    But one thing that is still very strong is their association with other “classics” of the time – for example, Vol de Nuit always recalls the book of the same name by Antoine de St Exupéry (after which the fragrance was named), and therefore, by association, his exploits and those of other pioneer airmen. And L’Heure Bleue brings to mind Eric Rohmer’s film Le Rayon Vert. January 23, 2012 at 11:46am Reply

  • rosarita: I enjoy many classic perfumes, but that brings to mind what is defined as classic today. We live in a time that labels some Serge Lutens perfumes as “vintage”, on ebay at least. I am at an age that could define me as “classic”! I grew up wearing Chanels as they were released (#19 & Coco) and many Estee Lauder scents (Cinnabar, for one.) Among my favorite perfumes are Shalimar, Nahema, #5 and Arpege. I know these are classics. The line becomes blurred as we go forward in time. January 23, 2012 at 12:06pm Reply

  • Diane: I’m wearing both of my favourite classics today — I call it “DiorissiJoy”! 🙂 I mix Diorissimo and Joy in a small vial to carry in my handbag. January 23, 2012 at 12:14pm Reply

  • Yulya: Victoria, thank you for the post. You described my feelings, but much more beautifully as I would ever be able to do! Agree with every one of your 10 points. In addition, wearing a classic scent for me is like wearing good jewelry and high quality clothing. You do not need much, just a drop to feel classy and charming! January 23, 2012 at 12:25pm Reply

  • Kym: I do like them! I guess because they have “heft.” They matter. They are not like so many disposable scents. Still, they are not for everyday – they anchor my collection of more modern scents. January 23, 2012 at 1:35pm Reply

  • Victoria: There is such a nice heft to Parfum Sacre, and yet, it is not overly sweet. I wore it a couple of nights ago and enjoyed it very much. January 23, 2012 at 1:41pm Reply

  • Mimi Walker: Oh, the classics, sigh, sigh. It is hard to be objective about them versus modern perfumes. I tell myself I don’t want to live in the past and be hung up on all its gorgeous fragrances. But, that longing is simply there. Cabochard, Miss Dior, Diorissimo, My Sin….on and on it goes.

    I would even include fragrances, such as Channel 19 and Chloe, from the 70s that are now gone or reformulated out of recognition and Denuvue from the 80s as all are rich and luxurious.

    Speaking of Denuvue, I will have to go back and try Cannes again as one of your readers says it isn’t a bad version.

    Many years ago, Parfumelle came out with a Catherine Denuvue knockoff (and, of course, I can’t remember the name) that was identical to Denuvue! Then IT disappeared and what they now offer as a match to Denuvue is nothing of the sort. I have some of the original and know I should use it up, but somehow don’t.

    Last, I read that Jacqueline Kennedy like to wear Coty Chypre on occasions where she wanted to be a bit naughty. I ordered a sample and loved it (TPC). I could get more from TPC, but I don’t want to get attached to something that is impossible to find any more except eBay and you don’t know if what they are selling is fresh, relatively or has gone bad.

    Sign, sign again. January 23, 2012 at 1:41pm Reply

  • Victoria: D, I hear you! At one point, it was so easy to find great vintage perfumes, but today they are far too expensive. And if they come in a great bottle, then forget about it…
    At any rate, the modern Shalimar is beautiful, even with some facets downplayed. The problem with vintage Shalimar is that the citrus degrades over time, and that oily-rancid note ruins the whole thing for me (and bergamot is a big chunk of Shalimar’s structure.) January 23, 2012 at 1:44pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you, Mare! 🙂 January 23, 2012 at 1:45pm Reply

  • Victoria: Great point! That’s another thing I love about fragrances that have been around for a while–the link to another classic from their time, in another area. Nahema always makes me think of Deneuve’s films, for instance, since Jean-Paul Guerlain was inspired by her in “Benjamin.” January 23, 2012 at 1:46pm Reply

  • Victoria: I agree, that’s tricky! Vintage in clothing refers, as far as I know, to everything made between 1920s and 1960s. Before 1920s, that’s antique, after 1960s that’s modern. The classical music means the art music grounded in the Western musical tradition. Now, perfume is not produced by the sake of art, it is a commercial product. Perhaps, artisanal is a better way to put it. So, the musical categorizations do not really apply.

    On the other hand, today in the industry a fragrance is called a classic if it has been on the market for a couple of years! That’s not what most perfumistas would call a classic though. A perfume that has been continuously on the market for at least 30 years is probably closer. The thirty year limit makes sense to me, because some of the greatest changes in the way perfume is made and sold have occurred over the past 3-4 days. January 23, 2012 at 1:54pm Reply

  • Victoria: Wow, it sounds so good! January 23, 2012 at 1:54pm Reply

  • Victoria: You are right, it is a pleasure of that sort, of experiencing something well-crafted, well-put together. January 23, 2012 at 3:46pm Reply

  • Victoria: The perfumes used to be created as an addition to the fashion lines, but today they are the driver behind the houses’ profits. So, it changes the way they are created, and taking of risks is not encouraged. January 23, 2012 at 3:47pm Reply

  • Victoria: I suppose that when something is beautiful, it does not really have an age. Still, I know what you mean. January 23, 2012 at 3:48pm Reply

  • Mimi Walker: First, darn, darn I obviously didn’t proof my post all the way through.

    Second, is there a scent you would recommend that is close to the Coty Chypre? I can wait to see what the new Miss Dior is like.

    Thank you for this post. You described the qualities of classics so well and the responses are very interesting, and full of ideas for scents. January 23, 2012 at 5:33pm Reply

  • Victoria: Oh, please don't worry about that! 
    Coty Chypre smell-alikes… The closest for me would be Chanel Pour Monsieur. It is less floral though than Chypre was, but it is close. And Miss Dior EDT is close in spirit. I need to smell the latest version called Miss Dior Originale. It is about to be released on the counters. January 23, 2012 at 5:52pm Reply

  • rednails: Probably all perfumes formulated since the advent of modern advertising (1920) were meant to be commercial, that is, to sell well. But since globalization and modern mass communications a fragrance needs to appeal to a much broader and democratic public than, say, before 1970 — and in many more countries. So perfumery is no londer a national art but rather a global commodity. That doesn’t mean that some don’t achieve artistry — just that it’s less of a primary aim.

    Me, a love the classics and have a shelf full of darkening old vintages. January 23, 2012 at 5:56pm Reply

  • Victoria: I completely agree with you. Even in the past, the purpose of perfume was to please the consumer. As time went on, the perfume (and beauty) business became the driving force behind profits for the fashion houses. Also, since the 1970s the process of perfume creation has changed. In the past, the choices were made by the heads of the houses who had a specific vision of their own. Today, they are made by marketing and via marketing research. This is not to say that the way things were done in the past was ideal–plenty of great ideas were killed because of the stubbornness of one person with an absolute veto power. However, the marketing tests do their best in identifying the likable and the familiar, which is not necessarily the best recipe for a great perfume.

    And as you say, it is now a global commodity. January 23, 2012 at 6:12pm Reply

  • sweetlife: Gorgeous, informative post, V. I love thinking about bases within bases–a fractal, kaleidoscopic quality–and also about “gras”. Complexity, richness and heft. Perfumes are not the only art form where these things have become rare, even suspect… January 23, 2012 at 6:28pm Reply

  • Victoria: Some of those bases are more complex than perfumes today! It took a great deal of skill to balance the formula to make sure that you get that fractal, kaleidoscopic quality–what a beautiful way to put it! Otherwise, you end up with a bland mess. Older fragrances are so difficult to duplicate for this reason. January 23, 2012 at 8:10pm Reply

  • bulldoggirl: Terrific post! Most of my favorite perfumes are classics and I wear them regularly, whether beautifully preserved vintages (and it’s surprising how many DO age well) or current reformulations, as not all are awful. In fact, I probably wear more classics than not. As you point out, there seems to be a heft and complexity to the classics that are missing from most ‘fumes made today.

    I’m wearing Youth Dew right now as a matter of fact and, in sniffing its dry down, the first thing that comes to mind is how GOOD it smells. And by “good” I mean, thoughtfully composed with high quality ingredients to achieve an idea of a fragrance that is both identifiable in structure AND that puzzling enough to make me bring my nose to my wrist again and again. That’s the kind of thing I think the classics deliver in the majority, the moderns in the minority. January 23, 2012 at 8:56pm Reply

  • Musette: This is a gorgeous post and addresses all my reasons for loving classical perfumes. I find myself drawn more and more ‘back’ to those and their modern spawn (realized, just recently, that I love Iris Poudre because it smells so Old School and I love Parfum de Therese because it IS Old School). There is a distinctiveness to that era of fragrance that is rarely matched today. The indie perfumers are doing excellent work (and I love a lot of their offerings) but nothing compares to vintage Mitsouko or Coty Chypre, imo.

    xooxA January 23, 2012 at 10:03pm Reply

  • Musette: btw – I’m glad the model in the drawing is wearing the elegant black dress. Nothing wrong with nudity (and I paint nudes a lot! ) but I think the lbd gives the drawing a timeless mystery that nudity can’t (in this venue). Besides, it’s winter – I’m cold. Any form of clothing is better than nude, imo! 😀 January 23, 2012 at 10:36pm Reply

  • OperaFan: Ah… the ground glass stoppers!
    You know, V – That was the reason I started collecting perfume bottles in the ’90s. I was initially inspired by my mother’s Chanel No.5 perfume bottle that she’s had since the ’60s. She used it only on very special occassions so that she never used it all. It resided in her medicine cabinet and I would sneak into her bathroom, pull it out of its stained and worne box and play with it, wrinkling my nose when I get a whiff of the perfume. I found it far too sophisticated and modern for my adolescent taste.
    When I saw how newer perfume bottles all had a plastic fitting over or built into the stopper’s surface, I grew appreciative of these precious bottles – beautiful artworks in and of themselves. For years I I sought out these bottles, then eventually began exploring the scents. How these bottles add to the beauty of their contents!
    Great post btw as I love many great classics as well as classic-inspired perfumes, but reading this point really made me smile. January 23, 2012 at 11:11pm Reply

  • Joan: Regarding your comment about bases: it does seem like there were more notes in classic perfumes than modern ones. I’ve never been a fan of minimalism in the first place. So a streamlined perfume, even one as beautiful as say, Tocade, doesn’t have quite the same appeal as a delightfully crammed vintage perfume like Vent Vert. January 24, 2012 at 12:04am Reply

  • hongkongmom: Classics are anchoring in an ever shifting world! I love them and their glass stoppers and bottles. I also love modern perfume that fits into classic mould (carnal flower..jubilation 25…iris poudre) Then i love the serges who although very serge, will be classic for me! I guess there is classic…and then there is my classic into which all perfume that I never tire of, will fit into!
    Oh, I love perfume, period!
    Thanks again for a great, informative post! January 24, 2012 at 1:44am Reply

  • nstephens@beachcroft.com: Interesting post and comments. Although today I am wearing probably my all time favourite modern fragrance, Bulgari Black, I think I am a classic girl at heart. (And anyway, isn’t Black descended from Bandit?)I relate to many of your reasons for loving classics and they reminded me of a passage in JC Ellena’s book on The Alchemy of Fragarance when he talks about time in relation to perfume. He draws an analogy with music (I think I understood this correctly!) as in the classics can be likened to jazz/classical music which to enjoy/appreciate properly you have to actually listen to and modern, more linear scents which are like the background music which seems to be everywhere and which requires no effort on the part of the listener. I have some vintage Lanvin My Sin parfum and it shocks me each time I smell it how much is going on! Nicola January 24, 2012 at 6:37am Reply

  • Maria: It’s a most intersting topic and it seems other bloggers took this issue. I was impressed the other day to read on nowsmellthis which would be the first perfume people buy if won the lottery. There is overwhelming to see mostly old guerlains and chanels and other vintages. Now, how we define ‘classic’. Is it about old, vintage? Or is it about that kind of perfume which has a timeless feeling? From my side:
    – these are the perfumes pieces of art, born 100 years ago or yesterday.
    – they are timeless for a timeless person (woman or man), out of fashion and tastes
    – they bring universal dreams with them
    – you feel the energy of the creator, his\her message. I listen to Jacques Guerlain every day, trying to understand what he wanted to say, never bored
    – how you said, they are suprising. To me, these ‘classics’ (old and new) are surprising from the first moment every time I use them, no matter if this means every day. It’s like ‘wow, what is this’
    Thank you for bringing up the issue! January 24, 2012 at 7:01am Reply

  • Victoria: Great comments, Maria! Yes, classics are loved on the blogs. When I polled the readers here on their favorite top 20 fragrances, guess what ended up in the top? Old Guerlains and Chanel (and Carnal Flower was in the 5th position):
    http://boisdejasmin.typepad.com/_/2011/05/top-20-bois-de-jasmin-reader-favorite-fragrances-popular-perfumes.html January 24, 2012 at 8:39am Reply

  • Victoria: Mmmm, that’s a good analogy and it make sense. You know the feeling of some classical perfumes that wear you, rather than the other way around? For me, it is that complexity and richness. Today the clarity is important, and if a perfume is not easily legible–it is a woody rose, it is an apple, etc., it will not score well on marketing test. Once something is too easy, it can either bore or become like some olfactory version of white noise. I think that this is what Ellena was driving at. January 24, 2012 at 8:43am Reply

  • Victoria: As an afterthought, even streamlined blends do not need to be easy. I think Ellena’s fragrances are a good example. They are hardly fatty and complex in the style of grand parfums, but they offer plenty of interesting elements and little twists of their own. January 24, 2012 at 8:45am Reply

  • Victoria: >>>Classics are anchoring in an ever shifting world!

    I love this! You’ve captured another way why I love classics. I do not mind wearing the same thing my mom or my grandmother wore. On the other hand, a perfume reminds me of them and makes me feel comforted. January 24, 2012 at 8:46am Reply

  • Victoria: As Alyssa/sweetlife put it above, it is that kaleidoscopic quality! January 24, 2012 at 8:50am Reply

  • Victoria: Me too! I still have a vivid memory of my mom’s perfume bottles. She had only a few, but all of them were perfume. The plastic wrapped stopper just does not have quite the same feel to me. The perfumes themselves were also too rich for me back then, but I just loved the ritual. January 24, 2012 at 8:52am Reply

  • Victoria: Me too! Plus, that V cut is incredibly sexy. If she were nude, the effect would not be as striking. January 24, 2012 at 8:52am Reply

  • Victoria: I am smelling Le Parfum de Therese right now! Yes, talk about rich and complex. It is stunning. January 24, 2012 at 8:53am Reply

  • Victoria: I agree, not all reformulations are bad! Of course, if you wear a perfume for many years and then you suddenly smell the new reformulated version, all you notice is the difference. For instance, Eau d’Hadrien did not really smell the same to me the last time I’ve tried it. It is the same perfume, only the proportion of citrus oil was increased. However, the old version (maybe, it was not as rich even, not as good) reminds me of a very specific time in my life, and I miss it. On the other hand, what can you do? Things change. We change. January 24, 2012 at 8:59am Reply

  • Deborah: I am new to your blog, and have enjoyed reading it so much! thank you for sharing your obvious depth of appreciation for all that is fragrance.

    I remain intrigued with the notion of classic fragrances, although before reading your entry didn’t articulate them. Brilliant.

    My question is around purchasing the classics today. Are they made differently? Reformulated? more synthetic than original materials? How different do the newly produced classics smell from the original release? I would think they might be however optimistically i would hope they retain their original structure, and therefore performance on the skin.

    And if the only way to get a classic from its original formulation is to buy an old one (vintage, i guess you described) what is the life of a perfume, or an eau’d version? I have seen some dark perfume in my mother’s old bottles, and I imagine the fragrance has decononstructed. What is the likelihood of purchasing a vintage that smells like it was originally produced?

    Thank you for sharing your passion with us. January 24, 2012 at 9:36am Reply

  • nstephens@beachcroft.com: Yes, “olfactory version of white noise” – absolutely. And I agree that is what I think JCE was getting at. Also the time when the full bottomed classics became less the norm, about 30-40 years ago maybe? Though it always amuses me that JCE authored VC&A First! January 24, 2012 at 9:46am Reply

  • Victoria: He also worked on Rumba! Talk about rich. That fragrance is like a chocolate cake topped with creme brulee. Fun!

    The style has always been changing, from light to rich and back. I think that today many fragrances are rich, but it is in a different way–heavy white musks, creamy notes, vanilla, cotton candy. Just a different feel. The issue that I usually have is not with the style itself, but with the quality overall. January 24, 2012 at 10:43am Reply

  • Victoria: Deborah, thank you for your kind words and welcome! 🙂

    These are good questions, although there are no straightforward answers to them. As far as reformulations go, all fragrances are changed at some point or another for reasons of costs, style change and ingredient availability. Some fragrances are reformulated in such a way as to remain true to their original selves. For instance, Chanel, Guerlain Shalimar, Caron Nuit de Noel are some of the classics that I think are well-preserved. Others did not fare well–YSL Opium, Caron Tabac Blond immediately come to mind. The aim usually is to preserve the original idea as much as possible, but sometimes it is just not easy to achieve. Or maybe, the brand wants to modernize their perfume. So they use the old name, but the formula is completely new.

    If you see that the perfume has changed color, it is normal with the older blends. They generally contain more materials that darken over time, but the perfume structure may not be affected. If you can store your vintage perfumes in the fridge, it would be the best option to keep them fresh longer.

    I’ve purchased many vintage perfumes that were close to their original versions–I had a chance to compare at the Osmotheque, a perfume conservatory based in Versailles, France. There is no easy way to determine the freshness, but if you buy a whole, sealed bottle, your chances of discovering a vintage that smells like it was originally produced are higher. Some perfumes actually age nicely. January 24, 2012 at 10:56am Reply

  • Marlena: I enjoyed reading this post yesterday and then re-reading it again this morning to catch up on the discussion in the comments. You include the most interesting tidbits in your articles and your prose is so elegant and assured. Thank you for a delightful blog. It were a place, it would be a springtime garden, with all of us sitting on the grass and chatting about perfume. January 24, 2012 at 12:53pm Reply

  • Victoria: Marlena, thank you for your nice comment. You are making me blush.
    I like the idea of Bois de Jasmin as a garden! 🙂 January 24, 2012 at 3:19pm Reply

  • Judith: I love classics. Growing up I’d flipped Vogue magazines and I’d always pay extra attentions to the perfumes ads. In my teenage years I’d scoured fleamarkets and secondhand bookshops for vintage Vogues and I’m struck by the fact that classic perfumes ads have always been the simplest and the most consistent.I remembered Catherine Deneuve & Carole Bouquet for Chanel No.5…beautiful, simple, and striking. The stylised picture of a woman in Feminite du Bois….the lone and simple image of a single bottle of The Elixirs…the hazy and bucolic garden scene of Ma Griffe. Like all things classic they are beautiful, simple, and always relevant without being boring. January 25, 2012 at 5:30am Reply

  • Wendy: hi Victoria

    I was wondering, you mention “Did you know that the original formula for Chanel No 5 contained more than 30% of different musks and civet?”. I have a bottle of chanel 5 eau de toilette. Apparently it is about 25 years old. the thing is,when i sprayed it on for the first time i was shocked at how dark it was… no bubbly aldehydes. I mean, it is for sure not like the Chanel 5 you spritz on nowadays. Has my bottle aged badly, or do you think it is the civet and musk you mentioned? I’d be happy to send you a sample….

    cheers, Wendy January 25, 2012 at 7:06am Reply

  • Victoria: Wendy, what does it smell like–rancid, old fur, leather? Sometimes perfumes lose their top notes, which is normal, esp with the citrusy and aldehydic notes. The animalic notes would come more from the drydown. You should smell a rich, dark and sweet note. January 25, 2012 at 8:17am Reply

  • Victoria: You've summed it all up nicely, especially with your last sentence, and I cannot agree more. "Beautiful, simple, and always relevant without being boring." Yes! I'm smelling Chanel No 19 on my wrist right now, and it fits under this description perfectly. January 25, 2012 at 8:17am Reply

  • Ingeborg: Hi Victoria,

    I wish you would write even more on chypre perfumes and green perfumes (I am thinking leaves,fern and moss rather than hay or cut grass). I still have not found a classic perfume I can wear easily, I feel the sweeter ones tend to go out with me rather than the other way around, if that makes sense. I wore Le Dix many years ago and would have bought it again now if it had been available. Loved to wear Chanel no.5 in the 80s, but had skin issues wearing it more than a day at a time, like with some other darker perfumes mostly. In cold weather orange blossom and citrusy scents just disappear outdoors, “fur perfumes” are needed, it seems. January 29, 2012 at 5:48pm Reply

  • Elizabeth: Hello, Victoria.

    Thank you very much for such an enchanting blog.

    All I have are the classics–Chanel no. 5, Chanel no. 19, Chanel Cuir de Russie, Mitsouko, Jicky. I want to get Sous le Vent as well … and perhaps a Caron or two. The only ‘new’ fragrances I have are Amouage Gold, and Vetiver pour Elle.

    My mother wore nothing but Chanel no. 5, so I grew up surrounded by this beautiful classic.

    It seems that I like classics that are less flowery and more green or chypre (Chanel no. 5 is an exception, of course).

    For me, it’s the quality, the history, the bottles … and knowing that my favorites have stood the test of time.

    I am soon to be 56, and as a ‘woman of a certain age’, these classics really suit me, and my stage of life. I feel very confident in my skin, and these fragrances are part of my identity.

    Thanks again for your blog; I am very glad I found it. May 19, 2012 at 4:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for your kind words, Elizabeth! I love how you say that you feel very confident in your skin, and these fragrances are part of your identity. I can relate to this, and also to the quality and history aspect of classics. So many reasons to love them. May 20, 2012 at 9:56am Reply

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