7 Rare Vintage Perfumes : The Perfume and Wine Class

As preparation for the Art of Perfume and Wine class that I’m teaching in April in France (more details here), I thought I would write about 7 vintage perfumes that have been influential for the evolution of perfumery and that we will smell in their original versions. There will be over 50 different perfumes in this course, but these 7 are among the most essential to learn.

Guerlain L’Heure Bleue 1912

Many perfumers will name Guerlain as the most influential perfume house, especially in its period when Jacques Guerlain was the head creator. L’Heure Bleue is a textbook example of a classic as well as of a symphonic perfume.

We will, of course, smell other Guerlain classics, from Après L’Ondée and Mitsouko to Chamade and Chant d’Arômes.

Coty Chypre 1917

Paul Poiret’s memoirs tell the amusing story of François Coty dropping by the couturier’s house and saying by way of hello that he wanted to purchase his perfume business, Les Parfums de Rosine. Poiret curtly told Coty to leave. While he was a less than pleasant character, from his business practices to his political convictions, Coty was a visionary. Rebuked by Poiret, he went on to create a big enterprise. Even though the Coty classics fell into oblivion as brands, fragrances like Coty Chypre, L’Origan, or Emeraude changed perfume history by introducing new forms and streamlining accords. As Poiret banished the corset in favor of loose, floating garments, Coty introduced simpler formulas and stronger effects. It would be left up to perfumers like Jacques Guerlain and Ernest Beaux to refine his discoveries.

Chanel No 5  1921

We will compare No 5 from different decades to see how perfume has changed and how these changes affect the character of the perfume. Chanel No 5 is a good example to discuss reformulation, changing tastes and the difficulty of creating classics in today’s competitive and short-sighted market. We will compare it to different aldehydic perfumes and will smell different components that give No 5 its distinctive scent.

Balmain Vent Vert 1947

Germaine Cellier was a remarkable perfumer and a fascinating character. Of all her fragrances, Vent Vert is the one that captures her style best–bold accords, technical elegance and originality. It’s the sensation of early spring bottled.

Christian Dior Miss Dior 1947

When marketing press releases talk about a perfume pyramid, they’re usually misusing the term. To smell Miss Dior is to understand what a perfume pyramid really is–a structure with clearly defined layers, which evolve smoothly to tell a story. By contrast, most perfumes today are linear compositions. We will examine Miss Dior on paper over the course of a day to see how it evolves. We will also see elements of other famous perfumes in it, including Germaine Cellier’s Balmain Vent Vert.

Hermès Calèche 1961

Perfumer Guy Robert contributed not only great fragrances to the art of perfumery, but also a new way of composing them. His fragrances are what many call today grands parfums, with a rich sillage and strong character, and yet they have uncluttered, elegant structures and interesting accords. I was privileged to know Mr. Robert and to learn from him, and in explaining the marvel that is Calèche, I will explain in his own words the intent and the idea behind it.

Guerlain Nahéma 1979

Are all great perfumes successful? Not really. Some fine fragrances were terrible flops. Nahéma caused Guerlain the loss of real estate in the heart of Paris, since its sales didn’t pay off. Nevertheless, it’s a true masterpiece, and we will smell it in its lush, damascone-rich glory. Nahéma’s extrait de parfum has been discontinued, and while the Eau de Parfum is a beautiful perfume, and I wear it happily, it doesn’t have the drama of the original.

The Art of Perfume and Wine website also has extra information that you’ve requested via email. Those of who are interested in combining the class with discovering this area of France will have a chance to do so. Please take a look at the page, and if there are any other questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.

How to Book The Course: please go to The Art of Perfume website. The class is close to being full, but we can still make room for a couple of spaces.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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  • Anne: I’m dying to try Coty Chypre. Is there another perfume that’s similar? March 9, 2018 at 8:25am Reply

    • Victoria: Guerlain Mitsouko was inspired very much by Coty, but for me, the closest would be Chanel’s Pour Monsieur. It has the same vivid green note that make Coty Chypre unique. If you put Chanel Cuir de Russie on one arm and Chanel Pour Monsieur on another, the mix in the air comes close. Some say that Bandit by Robert Piguet is close in spirit, but to me they’re different enough, although Bandit also has a great leather note and lots of green nuances. March 9, 2018 at 10:23am Reply

      • zephyr: I’d have to buy samples, but I’d love to try this. Always wondered what Coty Chypre smelled like! March 9, 2018 at 7:45pm Reply

        • Victoria: It’s a foundation of so many chypres. March 14, 2018 at 4:35am Reply

  • sarah: Ah, this is a blast from the past. I wore Caleche on my wedding day. 🌷❤️ March 9, 2018 at 8:48am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s a beauty, isn’t it? March 9, 2018 at 10:24am Reply

  • Marc: Interesting. I wear Pour Monsieur and I love chypres, but I didn’t know that Coty’s was also green. I’ve never smelled it, but I imagine it as smoky and dark. March 9, 2018 at 10:31am Reply

    • Victoria: I wouldn’t describe it as dark and smoky. It’s definitely an aggressive fragrance, though, but the emphasis is on the green mossy part. There is also a great leather-patchouli-musk accord in the base, which is part of what makes it a classical chypre. The surprising part is that there is a delicate, crisp floral note that makes me think of sheer jasmine. March 9, 2018 at 10:47am Reply

      • Marc: I need to find a sample or better yet get to your class. 🙂 March 10, 2018 at 4:09am Reply

  • DelRae: What a wonderful class…. Guerlain has been a huge influence. I love many of their perfumes and as you say true masterpieces, L’Heure Bleu, Mitsouko, Apree L’Ondee and Nahema. A list of truly fabulous with distinctive personalites and beautiful construction. All so wearable too!
    Wish I could be there… xo DelRae March 9, 2018 at 11:28am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you!

      How would you say Guerlain influenced your fragrances, if at all? March 14, 2018 at 4:36am Reply

  • Filomena: I wish I were able to attend your class. March 9, 2018 at 11:57am Reply

    • Victoria: I hope to meet you! March 14, 2018 at 4:37am Reply

      • Filomena: Hopefully that will happen one day. March 14, 2018 at 8:30pm Reply

  • sandra: Your class sounds wonderful! Best of luck

    I have smelled vintage Shalimar and Coco, both gorgeous March 9, 2018 at 1:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much.

      Coco smells so baroque. March 14, 2018 at 4:37am Reply

  • Jennifer Shaw: That sounds like an amazing class! It would be wonderful to smell the original Chamade. Since I am reading “The Emperor of Scent”, I would love to finally smell the vintage Guerlain’s Chamade.

    I so want to join you for one of your classes in the future.

    Wishing you a very successful class. March 9, 2018 at 2:59pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much.

      Have you tried Chamade in its most recent version? I thought that it’s closer to the original now than it has been in the past ten years. March 14, 2018 at 4:38am Reply

      • Eric Brandon: I can attest to that. I just bought a 90’s bottle of the EdT that is sadly anemic. Compared to my 2016 tester and my 1981 refill EdT, it just peters out. I’d believe it more if the bottle said Eau de Cologne.

        Jennifer, I’d definitely suggest trying the new one. It is very very good. March 15, 2018 at 1:51am Reply

        • Victoria: Good to hear that you also thought so. People (myself included) always complain about reformulations, but it really depends on how it’s done. March 16, 2018 at 10:22am Reply

  • zephyr: A blast from the past for me, too – I wore Nahema on my wedding day thirty four years ago. It was Eau de Parfum, if I’m remembering correctly. Wish I saved the bottle! I will buy more, but probably a small decant first.

    Good luck with what sounds to be a fabulous class, Victoria! March 9, 2018 at 7:49pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you!

      Wow, what a beautiful wedding perfume it was. Nahema is a perfect mix of elegant and seductive. March 14, 2018 at 4:39am Reply

      • zephyr: My mother (who has worn Shalimar for most of her life) said I was too young to be wearing Nahema. I was twenty-five. Looking back, I think what she really meant was that she just wasn’t ready for her daughter to be grown-up and married. Haha! Never mind that she was married at nineteen, lol. Fascinating what fragrance can communicate! March 14, 2018 at 6:42pm Reply

  • Klaas: Hey Victoria, I would love to take your class sometine…..I’d be curious to smell the original versions of all these iconic perfumes. Though I’m old enough to remember smelling Nahema when it came out 😉 Funny how it never caught on, it is a remarkable fragrance!

    There are some beautiful male fragrances to explore as well! Chanel pour Monsieur (my desert island male fragrance and a real Chypre), Eau Sauvage, Hagit Rouge, Vetiver (Guerlain), Aqua di Parma, Jules or even disco powerhouse Kouros (speaking of aldehydes!) Enjoy your course! March 10, 2018 at 10:28am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, Nahema was a few years too early. If it came in the 80s instead, it would have been a hit.

      We will definitely be smelling Vetiver and Eau Sauvage and many other masculines. In general, the most exceptional early 20th century perfumes were feminine, but later things started changing. And of course, there are many colognes, etc. I do think that Mitsouko smells fabulous on a man. March 14, 2018 at 4:41am Reply

      • Klaas: Oh, Mitsouko is gorgeous on anyone 😉 Diaghilev use to wear it! March 14, 2018 at 5:27am Reply

        • Victoria: Isn’t that the truth! Diaghilev, though, could probably carry off just about everything. 🙂 March 14, 2018 at 8:12am Reply

          • zephyr: Don’t want to thread-crash but I had to throw this in – I have a dear friend (now eighty) who adores Mitsouko and wears nothing else. We’re birthday twins, ironically. Many years ago I decided to try Mitsouko, because I loved it on her, and found that I really like it as well. March 14, 2018 at 6:47pm Reply

            • zephyr: I’ve been trying to figure out why I was entranced by Nahema thirty-five years ago. I knew nothing about fragrances back then. I could definitely smell its big rose, but its fruitiness appealed as well. And something else – maybe patchouli? I’ll always be hooked. March 14, 2018 at 6:52pm Reply

              • Victoria: It’s a dramatic perfume, but what I like is how well it tells its story and maintains its momentum. All layers of it are beautiful. March 16, 2018 at 10:19am Reply

            • Victoria: On the contrary, go ahead! All of us here love such stories. March 16, 2018 at 10:18am Reply

  • Aurora: This brings back memory of our class together, it was amazing to discover many of these classics. It must have been wonderful to meet Guy Robert, I think of Caleche as the most effortlessly elegant scent. March 10, 2018 at 1:34pm Reply

    • Victoria: I enjoyed our class too! 🙂 March 14, 2018 at 4:41am Reply

  • Flora: Both L’Heure Bleue and Mitsouko have an ingredient that smells so strongly to me of stale bread that it ruins them for me. Is it possible for a person’s nose to amplify certain notes that another might barely smell? I did not think Mitsouko would be my cup of tea; L’Heure Bleue I expected to love, but that note of stale bread is so strong that it’s ruinous. Is there a note that smells like this? Were my samples tainted in some way? I hope to one day take a perfumery course with you, Victoria. The whole subject is fascinating! March 10, 2018 at 4:46pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m not sure, Flora. I don’t know what it might be and without smelling it with you, I wouldn’t be able to say. Have you tried a few different samples? March 14, 2018 at 4:42am Reply

  • Doreen: So interesting to read about these classics and how they shaped. I’d love to learn more about Germaine (I read your lovely linked article as well).

    It is interesting to reflect how these perfumes and perfume classics have shaped culture. Even for those who are not perfumistas.

    This class and journey sounds fab!!!! Nicely put together! March 11, 2018 at 9:30am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s true! Perfume is part of the trends in society in general, and that’s what makes it interesting. March 14, 2018 at 4:43am Reply

  • Eudora: Dear Victoria, I discovered Nahema the last time I had the chance. At the beginning was like ok…Then, 30 minutes passed and ooohhh! I cannot stop smelling my wrist, so gorgeous, so beautiful. When I was leaving the store I asked the SA to spray Nahema in my scarf and I was able to enjoy it even days and days after.
    I am discovering little by little Guerlain. The big mistery is Apres l’ Ondee… Someday. March 11, 2018 at 1:30pm Reply

    • Victoria: It doesn’t smell right to you? March 14, 2018 at 4:44am Reply

      • Eudora: Dear Victoria, it is a mistery because I didn’t smelled it yet. I am waiting for a chance. I am like 110% I will love it.

        Sent from my iPad March 14, 2018 at 8:16am Reply

        • Victoria: Ah, I now understand. Then I hope that this mystery will become resolved soon enough. 🙂 March 14, 2018 at 8:24am Reply

  • Aisha: I wish I could attend this! I’m sure it will be fabulous. March 11, 2018 at 1:45pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Aisha. I also hope to meet you one day. March 14, 2018 at 4:44am Reply

  • Eric Brandon: I love your lists! I hope one day you’ll find the time to finish your 100 Influential perfumes list.

    I’ve been lucky enough to try a lot of vintage perfumes, and have a pretty decent vintage collection. Sadly Coty’s Chypre still eludes me, but I have some 60’s Mitsouko extrait to console myself.

    L’Heure Bleue is so fascinating. Almost abstract, just an unknown accord that smells so distinct and lovely. I’m alway fascinated by it. I’ve really been brushing up on my Guerlains, but I’ve been so smitten with Chamade, I haven’t given the rest proper due. If I could pick one Guerlain to wear for the rest of my life, I think it might be Chamade.

    I just bought a modern tester of Nahema parfum (I couldn’t afford vintage or even newer quadrilobe bottles) and it is a force to be reckoned with! I’ve only been bold enough to wear it once since getting it. I’m certainly not going to wear it to work, for instance.

    I have a new bottle of Nahema EdP and an old bottle of Pdt and I’m struck by how lovely the EdP is. The PdT certainly has more galbanum bite up top, but the EdP is no slouch. I’ve been wearing it often.

    I feel like this comment is so long already, but I haven’t even gotten to the point! That is, Caleche. I have a huge 200ml splash of the EdT and just found a very small bottle of the parfum, which still had the intact baudruchage. It really is harmonious, a pert green chypre with just a tinge of brown leather. I once had a client who arrived sweating one day, in the heat of Houston. She’s a very chic older European woman (I want to say Swiss but I can’t remember), with short silver hair, large glasses, slim and always in a white button-down. Again, she was sweating a touch and she smelled utterly divine. Of course, I asked what she wore, and to my surprise it was Caleche. It perfectly evokes an elegant woman after a brisk horse ride. I’d love to hear one day what Mr. Robert had to say about this lovely perfume! March 15, 2018 at 1:46am Reply

    • Eric Brandon: Ack, it looked so much smaller in the text box! March 15, 2018 at 1:47am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for your comment. It’s precisely the reason why I enjoy vintage perfumes. They come with so many stories and emotions.

      I will have to write about Caleche one day, since I just realized that I’ve never reviewed it. March 16, 2018 at 10:21am Reply

      • JulienFromDijon: Then don’t hesitate to compare Calèche to Amouage’s Gold in extrait form, both actual and vintage. Guy Robert said it was the crowning of its carrier.

        Gold and calèche have the same theme, but with Gold one can see what more opulence in the floral would have made to Calèche (thanks to the current Gold extrait).
        And with the vintage gold, one can see what calèche is when the bottom note have endless depth. (lots of biblical animalic notes and incense)

        I can help and provide decant if you search vintage and mid-vintage Gold extrait. (though I’m short on decant vial) March 21, 2018 at 11:05am Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you for your kind offer. I have Amouage Gold too. March 22, 2018 at 5:19am Reply

  • Inma: Sooo apealling your course!

    I love people who create such beautiful, intelligent experiences. Thank you.

    Have, all of you, a lovely weekend! March 16, 2018 at 9:54am Reply

  • Richard Goller: What a thrill to be taken through all these classics, Victoria. Alas, I can’t attend. R March 17, 2018 at 6:55am Reply

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