Friday, October 30, 2015

Polly Bergen TorTue: vintage fragrance

Sometimes what had been filed under "tidbits" in my mind resurges thanks to the unending stimulation that my readers provide. Jean, one of my favorite people in Perfume Shrine's elite readership, pointed out that a "tortue" perfume was advertised by Polly Bergen.


Indeed it is so. 

The American actress Polly Bergen, best known for her role in the original Cape Fear movie, founded the Polly Bergen Company which sold cosmetics in 1965. The concept and catchy marketing pitch was the inclusion of turtle oil (the snail mucus of yesterday I assume). Hence the name Tor Tue (turtle in French, please note the parted writing which looks fetching on the actual product label) for her first perfume, introduced in 1973. The scent came in a tubular shaped spray perfume bottle with either a silver metal colored cap or a deepest brown one. The label was deep brown itself, lined in silver, to reflect a upmarket interpretation of the tortoise scheme, I presume.
There are also specimens of rounded bottles with a dark navy round cap, resembling the Lanvin Clair de Jour fragrance minis. Same glass manufacturer obviously, mass market mould. 

The ambery color of the juice accurately reflects the heavyweight feeling of the scent, full bodied and not conceding to modernities of the times, even if not the fragrance family in which it technically falls. From what I recall from a tiny sample a fellow collector had once shared generously out of her own derelict little bottle, Tortue is a chypre fragrance with fresher top notes of hesperides which had unluckily degraded over time leaving a rather resinous feel (I seem to detect myrrh and vetiver in the mix). The mossier elements made it a classy perfume-y scent , something to wear with tweet suits or gabardine pants and a twin set, which lovers of vintage often hanker after. 

Seeing as the prices on auction sites and collectors' sites are extremely friendly (due to low demand I wager) it's not a risk investing in a bottle or mini of TorTue by Polly Bergen.


  1. "Cosmetics that contained turtle oil were either discontinued or substituted the turtle oil with something else; for example, in response to criticism by conservationists and because of the ban on such materials in California, the Polly Bergen Company announced in 1975 that the natural turtle oil in its skin care lines would be replaced with a new artificial lubricating emollient called ‘Replensil’."
    Apparently Estee Lauder's initial formulation of Re-Nutriv cream contained turtle oil too.

    1. That's fascinating, thank you Bibi so much!
      I would assume that like with tortoise shell sales, the oil would be controversial as well, but didn't know all the details.

  2. Polly Bergen was a great actress but I never knew she had a cosmetic's company!

    1. Apparently she did. And quite popular too from what I see.

  3. Ellen14:41

    Speaking of "vintage.," is there a guide , somewhere, that can let me know how to distinguish the older version of current perfumes? Clearly when I'm on say Ebay, there will be sites which advertise a fragrance as vintage. Being the skeptic, I'm not sure if indeed the product is vintage or not. Perfumistas will tell me that it is the bottle shape, the color of the packaging, etc. What I want to know is where they get that information , so that I'm not a dummy when I buy. Are there reference books? Where does one get that? Help please. Thank you.

    1. Excellent question Ellen! Thanks for bringing it on board. :-)

      The short answer is no, there is no book reference at large. There is a now out of print Guerlain guide book that used to contain the various bottle styles with dates, but it's not inclusive of the last 15 years or so when so many of the different editions/re-issues happened which confuse the subject. For other brands there is not even that. People like me base their research on knowledge of the perfume in question in first hand experience and searching for clues as we go along.

      The crux of the matter is that -as I have learned from a business insider who has worked for both Caron and Lauder and a couple of other big names- the criterion of bottle shape and packaging, upon which many online guides/blogs/posters on fora base their information, can be deceptive. This is because companies continue to use OLD packaging when there is leftover inventory (they wouldn't throw it away, would they?) but fill it with NEWER juice. Therefore not even the companies themselves can be trusted with "vintage". They don't have to divulge the information and they do not have any special investment in ever doing it (or knowing it officially; this happens at the various bottling plants).

      There is also the cosmetics calculator database (searchable on Google) which works on batch codes printed on the packaging. This is where sites such as Raiders of lost scent (IIRC name, also Googlable) base their data. If you have the patience to go through this route it might be of help because the batch code is something concrete and marks production date.

      I have compiled a few guides here on Perfume Shrine about things that could be traced to some reputable degree (to the best of my knowledge) which might help. Start with Miss Dior Cherie for instance. http://perfumeshrine.blogspot.com/2011/12/chronology-comparison-photos-of-miss.html
      (There's another for Diorissimo -and Dior bottles in general- and for Guerlain umbrella bottles; use the Search This Blog on right hand column for anything you need)

      However if I understand correctly your question is really about Ebay, correct? I'm afraid there is no conclusive answer to that. There have been so many "fake vintages" (one infamous American based seller sold fakes for years!), sold to so many buyers all over the world and from thereon recycled and lost track of provenance thereof, that it's highly unlikely to be able to know for certain unless someone already knows the vintage perfume well and can compare by actual sniffing.
      Most vintage buying on Ebay nevertheless is done unsniffed and largely with unknowledgeable (or evasive) sellers so it's always a calculated risk. It's not only that sellers can be sketchy, not all are. It's just that they cannot know for sure; they only know where they came upon X bottle themselves, not what happened to it before that.
      Augmented by the fact that even the original juice can deteriorate in the bottle, even sealed, due to the chemical interaction of the ingredients over the years.

      Unless something is sealed and bears a distinct batch code one can't tell for sure, nor can one tell if it would keep well. But if it's not too much money asked, or one is after a sought after collectible that might be worth it for the bottle alone, sometimes it's a fun risk to take.
      Your decision, always!

  4. I am so honored that you decided to mention this! After writing about it initially, I looked online and found nothing about it! I was sure I was wrong. Thank you for not making me look like an idiot!
    In the mid-eighties, I was in New York City with an old school friend at the St. Regis Hotel's "King Cole Bar" having hamburgers for lunch. I saw Jonathan Winters (the famous comedian), who had just written a book. He was at another table having lunch with the gorgeous Polly Bergen. Persuaded by my friend, I got up and went over to their table. I babbled on and on about how I was Johnathan Winters' greatest fan, and managed to get his autograph. I barely said anything to Polly Bergen, who was sitting very quietly and politely through this uninvited onslaught. I finally said cheerily to her, "Oh!, and you're great, too!" My behavior couldn't have been more uncouth.Being a fan is sometimes not so pretty!
    At the moment, I am feeling more antique than vintage. :)
    Thank you again for solving the Polly Bergen mystery. You are wonderful!

    1. You're to be commended for your original mention. You brought back the memory of browsing through these bottles on Ebay a long time ago. And nothing wrong with "antique"; it's got added value. But better not think of yourself that way. Think of it as wiseness gained (I always do that, I wouldn't trade my earned years for nothing in the world).

      And what a didactic, if embarrassing at the time, story to share with us all! Thank you so much! Polly Bergen must have been a well mannered person too, besides being a great actress. Sheds new light on the people we like, correct?

  5. Polly Bergen had a "high class" store in the tourist town of Gatlinburg, Tn. for many years. We used to go to Gatlinburg when the children were small and I always wanted to go in, but didn't want to drag 4 little kids in to a movie stars store. I don't know how long the store was there. Bringing back lots of memories.... It is a beautiful little town that leads in to the Great Smoky Mts. park.

    1. Sounds positively dreamy AND glamorous at the same time! I wish I had known about this and had seen it myself. Thanks for sharing this knowledge with us Jan! :-)


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