Wearing Vintage

Opium advert

Opium advert

A disclaimer here, I’ve always worn vintage clothes.  I did stop after the age of forty, but in my twenties I never wore anything more recent than the fifties-why?  Contemporary stuff was much less chic. So my take on old perfume tends to follow the same pattern, if it works why not wear it? Perfumes are not antiques, you can use them.  The question is where and how?  Some old perfumes have become cliches and everyone knows what you are wearing or thinks that they do- which can be worse. You don’t want to be walking around in a personal atmosphere which shrieks, “I’m from 1983!” Unless you were born later than that, or have great presence, or are a guy wearing a woman’s perfume, which suggests a kind of bravado and if you have it-good on you.  Curiously, the older a perfume is the more likely it is to be perfectly usable and the more recent it is the less it may be amenable to re-introduction in party air-space.  For instance, Opium which is a well known perfume if your Mom wore the scent in the eighties or nineties, might not do so well now on a woman in her thirties or twenties. Here’s what happened when I tried though I’m older.

“Old rose soap,” says my fourteen year old helpfully, of the vintage Opium sample I have put on.  “Is that right?  It doesn’t really smell of anything except strong old soap.”

“”Soap.” said my husband,”That’s all I get.” So the message is that to the uninitiated old Opium seems currently to smell …hygeinic, the fragrance message has been over-ridden by familiar knock-offs in the industrial perfume business.

You need to find things which get past this soap and powder association problem.  My own preference for vintage is Guerlain’s Fleur de Feu which is a delicate cousine of Mettalica/Metalys and so like a cloud of white carnations hovering around my wrist I keep checking to see if there’s a corsage pinned to me somewhere.  The old perfume has been out of production since some time in the sixties I think, but  is still perfectly wearable.What else would I wear that was vintage?  Here’s a list:

En Avion: Don’t scrub this off.  You smell the leathery takeoff and that is an uneasy combination of materials birch tar anise and a slightly gas like odor. Wait till you’re airborne , you get orange blossoms and anise, airy delicacy at high altitude.  This is Futurist Apres L’Ondee. A fragrance for Amelia Earhart.

Balenciaga’s Le Dix: NO 5 with Violets. That’s it but think how this softens and feminizes

Eau d'Hadrian advert

Eau d’Hadrian advert

the old white wonder of No 5.

Tabac Blond: Leather rolled with tobacco and darkness, an uncompromising perfume, very dry, and an excellent choice for men.

Old Bellodgia: Spring rain puddle spalshing with an arm full of lilies of the valley, roses and carnations home from the market. A beautiful perfume that requires patience but will not be confused with anything made recently.

Pour un Homme: This is functionally immortal.  Vanilla and then lavender but in older bottles the midsection is wonderfully complex.

Bois des Illes: A perfect sandalwood perfume also a good choice for men.

Bal a Versailles: This is the animalic that I think still works better than either Opium or its predecessor Tabu, strong but very refined and wearable by either sex, flowers and civet over leather-how erotic is that?

Arpege: Because although you may love No5 Arpege is now rather less of a cliche, and who does not like the satin smooth formula with a hint of vanilla in the end?

Caleche: This is one of the most perfectly rounded and worked out formulas ever and very much worth seeking out in vintage form. I wore it for years and still cannot tell you which flower predominated-it was that subtle.

Tuscany from Cycle tuscany

Tuscany from Cycle tuscany

Eau de Hadrian: Don’t touch the modern version, search out the old bottles and you  smell Tuscany, lemons, herbs and cypress trees.  A gorgeous evocative perfume, good for men or women. Petrarch would have worn this one.

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8 thoughts on “Wearing Vintage

  1. I don’t wear many vintage perfumes, so my list is small, but I do agree with you on Hermes Caleche, and I also love vintage Chanel No. 5 parfum, Coty Paris, Lancôme Magie Noire and Denueve’s Deneuve. There are more (thanks to Meg of Parfumieren fame I got to sample many vintage marvels) but these are the ones that come to mind first. Asali of Sounds of Scent recently sent me a small vial of vintage Habanita, which I thought would be more tobacco-y, powdery and leathery than the version I have (an edt I bought almost 10 years ago), and it’s not, but it makes up for it by being smoother, richer and more golden.

    • The lovely and generous Meg taught me all I know about Cotys, and I am so grateful because if she hadn’t I would never have tried and loved Emeraude or Les Muses, or L’Aimant! In fact the third one my Mother in law adored in her last months because it reminded her of her own mother’s handbag- seventy five years later!

      Habanita is a curious omission for me. Interesting that you mention it. I know Habanita in theory only. Deneuve is one that I wish I had met and bought earlier, gorgeous and very subtle.

  2. I aspire to wear more vintage scents than I do – I have two bottles of vintage Opium, but it doesn’t feel quite right, for example. Le Dix and Bois des Iles I will wear with abandon. Aldehydes are always appropriate, I think. Bal a Versailles I must dig out and experiment with…

    • Your vintage Opium sample was mis-identified as soap by my near and dear but on the other hand my Hub LOVED Penhaligan’s Amaranthine, so you scored on that sample big time. He very seldom likes anything I experiment with or try.

      Aldehydes are nearly always right I agree. I wore a Neil Morris Intimate Lily for most of the summer and would have worn it longer only of course the Husband did not like that one-grump.

      Am wondering about the British Brand 4160 Tuesdays which I know you wrote about. I love the names alone. Who could resist Sunshine and Pancakes? Not me. I think I will have to try.

  3. ‘For no day is so dead as the day before yesterday’.

    I read that just this morning, a line in a Somerset Maugham story. I will mark myself out as hopelessly fusty if I admit that I bought myself a second volume of SM stories for Christmas. That’s just the kind of fascinating gal I am.

    Anyway, following your, and Somerset Maugham’s, train of thought, calone ought to be so 1994 it’s not funny. Teenagers today ought to be repulsed by their mother’s and father’s L’Eau d’Issey and Cool Water. ButI wonder if they are? It still reads as ‘clean’ and in mainstream perfumery, ‘clean’ is still the main goal, it seems.

    Another of my Christmas presents to myself was a decant of Badgley Mischka (2006) and that to me as a noticeable dash of calone (or something like it) in the top notes. I wore it on Christmas Day and was much surprised when my son (16) told me how much he likes it. He never notices any other perfume I wear. But as I hardly ever wear sweet fruit and I NEVER wear calone, I was not sure whether to be delighted or horrified. Was it the calone that he registered as pleasing, or the fruit? Both? No point asking, I doubt he could say.

    While I would cheerfully drop all bottles of L’eau d’Issey in the ocean (except think of the fate of the poor fish! :( ) I admit that in Badgley Mischka, the calone freshens the fruit very nicely and stops it turning to sticky mush.

  4. Was the Badgley Mishka the cut glass bottle? The one that looks like an expensive paperweight?

    If so I don’t blame your son. That was one of my favorite releases that year and really good. The fruity marvel smelled good on you! Plus, I think Calone is going nowhere. I spent a lot of yesterday running down recent releases on Luckyscent etc, and the number of new perfumes that featured it was still considerable. Le Labo made a candle Calone 17 I think, and then it’s in at least two or more de Nicolais including Musc Monoi.

    Most of all I like the Somerset Maugham quote. He is out of fashion now but he was such a spot on writer. One of my Hub’s favorites along with Evelyn Waugh!

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