It came to my attention that my article on Vintages on the mega perfume site has created much controversy. That's a good thing! It was written with a view of being controversial in the first place. I outright stated it from the get go that that was expected and in fact desirable. Still, there is some misunderstanding of the aim and the construction behind it and I feel like a couple of things need clarifying.
The core confusion seems to be that I have had a change of heart. That I loved vintages, reviewed them lovingly and somehow that's kaput. One commentator went as far as saying "The Perfume Shrine is bar-none the best resource for information on vintage perfumes available on the internet. Her vintage reviews are favorable and spot-on" continuing by saying that therefore the contrarian view therein is confusing. Well, thank you very much, and maybe there is a reason behind this accolade. Maybe it's because I double, triple, quadruple-check things. And people who do that often come across -shall we say- interesting discrepancies; I'm not alone.
Still, the question remains: have I lost my love of historical fragrances? No, actually that's not the case at all. In fact I intend to continue to review and smell vintage perfumes, just not pay crazy prices on them.
Indeed because I have been a huge collector (of vintage perfumes and otherwise) I have had a sort of epiphany lately. Lots of things I have amassed have ceased to be as they were the moment I had first bought them; not necessarily going bad always, but not what I had loved at that moment in time. This isn't going by memory alone, as many perfume lovers staked memory as the main argument into collecting vintages: "because they continue to smell as we remember them". No, I'm not going just on memory. I was actually keeping notes on them, very studiously too, with very specific attributes, marking this or that component and this or that twist; comparing and contrasting the notes with what I smell now I find that some of the attributes have changed. Some of these perfumes have been tossed because of this. Especially whatever was bought in decant form or air-seeping containers. (The suggestion on buying "nips" by one collector is -I concur- a good one). This is a valuable lesson to wear and enjoy what you have, for seasoned as much as for new collectors. Especially coming on the heels of the unfortunate demise of a huge and much loved in the perfume community collector, dear Linda. I didn't want to mention this in the article, it felt too personal for such a huge site, but this unfortunate event was a wake up call. The fact that her massive, beloved collection is being sold by relatives in an attempt to collect money for her children leaves me with mixed feelings. No matter how lovingly one keeps their collection, when one dies it's especially sad to see that a life's accumulation can't always be appreciated for what it was intended to be. That's point number 1.
Point number 2 is that apparently vintage collectors felt offended as if I had implied -through industry professionals' quotes- that they are not savvy. No, actually that's not true. I specifically mentioned that "people aren't that stupid" and that they can discern whether something has turned and has become dreck. It's the other nuances which are harder to pinpoint (authenticity to original formula, nuances between years and batches) and that goes for me too and any expert on the planet. A perfume, even from the same bottle, even from the same batch, is never the same twice. Octavian Coiffan had said it in his own erudite style too before closing his blog. Like Heraclitus said "you can't cross the same river twice". It's the transience of perfume that is accountable for that.
Besides, what constitutes "vintage", a term taken from wine? Vintage refers to specific year and perfumes do not have a date stamped on them, so what one refers to as vintage Miss Dior might be 1950s stuff and another's vintage might be 1970s stuff; two very different things! Unless we're 100% specific and unless we know EXACTLY when our bottle was produced we can't really talk about the same thing (and going by the packaging is not enough, because the professional I quote has seen with his very eyes that brands take left-over caps or boxes from one batch and use them for a later perfume batch as if nothing intervened.)
To revert to the feelings of collectors which have been ruffled: Even though once one has spent thousands of dollars on what they initially considered an investment or an art lesson it's hard to admit some error, the risk is totally legit. And should continue to be legit, something which the ridiculous hike on vintage perfume prices has rendered semi-impossible at the moment. (Not that I don't chastise the niche industry for their equally ridiculous prices as well from time to time and if you've been reading here you know it). Not a day passes by when I don't receive in my inbox some inquiry or other that goes along the lines "I have found X perfume at the back of my grandma's/aunt's/deceased relative's closet, how much is it worth?" It's a question that is impossible to answer straight for various reasons. Therefore my reply (after trying to offer some practical tips) invariably boils down to "as much as the market will bear". Because, I don't really know. People buy things that are claimed to be great and they buy them in whatever condition because they're a "MUST TRY" right and left. Whether they're then disappointed is a moot point, as the discussion following the purchase, much like a refutation in a tabloid paper, is written in small print. There is a public service hiding someplace rather than condescension when one says "hey, maybe it's not worth taking the risk unless the price is quite low, you know". This isn't such a bad reminder for very experienced players either, come to think of it. The other day someone had on offer an original Guerlain Parure "wave" design extrait bottle asking for thousands of dollars. Yes, Parure is fabulous and it keeps rather well too, oddly enough, but the price is more than ridiculous; it's scourging. We need to say it. I consider it a duty as a writer whose work is read by people budding into the hobby; not everyone is an old timer and "newbies" shouldn't be shunned in this vintage snobbery.
Some people felt offended all the same. What is easily forgotten is it is impossible to know exactly how something originally intended to smell, unless you have been to the Osmotheque, have compared the freshly made reconstitutions of vintage formulae with the vintage juice you have purchased from someone and ~assuming that this is even possible, since even the Osmotheque doesn't reconstitute everything under the sun~ you can speak with some certainty. Most of the time you can only get an idea. An idea is good enough compared to nothing and I know that very well. But it's just that: an idea and it's important to stress this when talking about something, even in the more formal context of a review. Much like classical antiquity isn't all white like we're accustomed to see in museums and idealized through the eyes of the 19th century ~I bet most of us we'd get a heart attack to see the vibrancy of color actually painted on classical statues (yes, painted on, you read this right)~ it's a similar case with perfume. We see the past through the eyes of the present and with a hope and longing for the future. It's an Utopia. And like all Utopias, an ideal one. I sympathize. I'm with you. But I prefer to admit it is and don't think I should be penalized for saying so.
One point which was resounding and which the industry would better heed to is the following, voiced by many: "I buy vintage because I don't like modern perfumes, niche or mainstream". Yup, I can see some of the veracity of that pronouncement. Maybe if mediocre stuff wasn't pushed as unicorn's tears, maybe I would be less harsh myself.
Finally, point number 3, it was rather disconcerting to see to have the authority of the people I quoted attempted to be undermined as non relatable, as "weirdos" (verbatim on another site) or with some invested interest into pushing new niche juice or into selling their own "versions" of vintage juice. The quotes are taken from the public forum and are just a choice picking because they are fascinating, coming from people who have spent their lives into the actual business and had access to the original formulae. As an example Musc Ravageur was recently reformulated, as officially admitted, yet no one raised an eyebrow; if Malle hadn't leaked this, no one wouldn't have been the wiser, because there is attention given to the work, it's not some hatched up job as widely imagined to be. Pity poor Thierry Wasser for all the shit he had thrown his way because he came on board at Guerlain at that particular moment in time: remember the vilifying, criminally rude implication that he should somehow forsake his position to allow Patricia de Nicolai gain access to the Guerlain canon? I consider this just one of the despicable milestones of the perfume world timeline.
Obviously people at large will continue to buy new niche juice because the concept of niche perfumes as connoisseur or exclusive stuff is too successful from a marketing point of view to stop anytime soon; market research shows it's the only rapidly growing segment of the perfume industry and everyone is jumping on board to grab a bite off the pie. And obviously the market for reconstituted vintage juices wasn't big to begin with, never was the prime objective or job of one of the people quoted and shouldn't be held as an ad hominem attack. It's highly ironic, let it be said in passing, that someone with a self-promoted controversial profile in our secluded circle, who has never been in any capacity involved into the creation of fine fragrance at any given moment, was deemed a quotable source than professionals who have spent their whole lives immersed into actual perfume making (let me here repeat that Malle's kin was fragrance head at Dior "back in the good old days" and that Dame has worked at Caron, Lauder, you-name-it etc). It proves something that is all too well known to politicians: that self-promo works and the more you say what people want to hear the more you're "liked" by them.