” ‘Eau Sauvage was a real chef d’oeuvre in its original form,’ retired perfume-maker Pierre Bourdon, who created Dior’s Dolce Vita and Yves Saint Laurent’s Kouros, said of the 1966 scent. ‘It used to be very green and fresh. Today, it has been replaced by something softer and duller,’ ” from EU threat spotlights perfume makers’ secrets.
All my life I’ve been hearing that things used to be better in the past. Paris used to be more exciting, Rome cleaner, New York cheaper. When I began exploring the world of perfumery on a professional level, I was told by many older colleagues that the golden age of fragrance had passed. Talk about curbing one’s enthusiasm! Despite these warnings, I persisted with my perfumery training.
But you need not be inordinately nostalgic to realize that many perfumes used to be better before many classical materials were banned or restricted and before fragrance companies started reformulating en masse. There is something fascinating about the delicate and precise balance of essences. Even the smallest changes can have dramatic consequences. Imagine what happens when a perfumer is told to remove whole building blocks of a composition or to make a chypre (a mossy perfume type) without moss.
But regulations aside, the nature of perfume is so ethereal that it’s hard to preserve its exact form over time. The materials themselves change because the processing methods evolve, countries fight wars, or farmers stop growing unprofitable crops. As a result, even when fragrance companies remain faithful to their formulas, classical perfumes produced with modern materials do not smell the same as the originals.
For all of these reasons, a love affair with perfume, like many passionate romances, is prone to heartbreak. Perfumes change but our scent memories are painstakingly exact. For me to be transported to the Kiev of my childhood, today’s Diorissimo, Dior’s lily of the valley perfume, won’t do; it has to be the exact Diorissimo my mom wore back in the 1980s.
So, what to do if your favorite fragrance has been reformulated and you no longer like it? I assume that you’ve already given up on the idea of tracking down the remaining vintage stock and creating a climate controlled space to store it. It’s tempting to look for something identical, but I urge you instead to take this opportunity to play the field, especially if you lost your beloved signature perfume. Turn this loss into an opportunity to learn more about your tastes and try new things.
The reason I recommend against looking for exact replacements is to avoid more frustration. If your signature favorite was Yves Saint Laurent Opium, a spicy carnation drama queen, any other spicy blossom will seem like a pale wallflower next to it. But if you try a dark woods or warm incense fragrance, you may discover that it can satisfy your cravings for a lush, dusky blend.
Identify what you loved most about your lost favorite and search for fragrances with similar qualities. You can turn to the experienced perfume sales associates or come and share your grievances on blogs. Bois de Jasmin runs a monthly Perfume Recommendation thread, while Nowsmellthis has The Monday Mail section. Then there are Makeupalley, Basenotes and Fragrantica, all of which have plenty of resources for both seasoned aficionados and newbies alike.
Avoid anything that calls itself a dupe, because it will smell like a cheap version of the thing it aims to duplicate, with no other redeeming qualities. If a perfume is explicit about being a dupe of a commercial fragrance, there are also ethical reasons to avoid such copycats.
Just for fun, try perfumes that are different from what you usually wear. It’s a low commitment proposal, and if you have some makeup remover on hand (the kind designed for waterproof makeup), you don’t have to worry about being stuck with an offending scent for the whole day. If you wear white florals, try incense fragrances. If your signature was a musky perfume, try something fruity. It seems counter-intuitive, but by going in the opposite direction of your established preferences, you can make even more discoveries. At worst, you will confirm that you’re really a Big White Floral girl or a Citrus Cologne guy.
Reformulation or not, I still recommend exploring the classics. Chanel No 19 is a marvel. Guerlain Mitsouko may not smell the way it used to, but its mossy peach aura is irresistible. Someone who has worn Estée Lauder Azurée for decades will find the changes in today’s formula obvious, but those who discover it now will nevertheless enjoy its dark leather studded with patchouli.
As for me and my longing for the Diorissimo my mom wore in the Soviet Union of the 1980s, I’ve moved on. The current version of Diorissimo is lovely enough. It’s not exactly how Diorissimo used to be, but then again, what is?
Was your favorite perfume reformulated? Have you found something to fill the void or are you still looking?
Ads by René Gruau (4 February 1909 – 31 March 2004), a famous fashion illustrator who was renowned for his whimsical images for Dior and other couture brands, via wiki-images.