Wednesday, October 6, 2010

When is a Fake not a Fake?

Browsing through online auctions and reading perfume fora one is left with the impression that highly unscrupulous vendors are roaming the Net "selling algae for silk ribbons". This Greek idiom describes exactly what sometimes happens: something quite different with only a passing resemblance to the coveted is being sold with claims of greatness all the same. This has proven a beneficial compass for the average consumer at the back of their minds no doubt, as people have increasingly become more sophisticated over the years and know how to spot a fake when they see one. It has also created a sort of panic and knee-jerk reaction however, even when witnessing unusual but nonetheless legitimate specimens. Today, let's see three unusual offerings which in one capacity or the other I was drawn to offer some proficiency on in the past few days. Perhaps not coincidentally, they all involve Guerlain...(To explain myself, I simply mean that a fragrance house with hundreds of flacon designs and as many perfumes of modern or vintage cut to contend with, being confused comes with the territory).

Exhibit A:

L'Heure Bleue by Guerlain 75ml Eau de Toilette in the typical "bouchon coeur" bottle (1911) in which the fragrance (as well as Mitsouko) is traditionally housed. YET the label and box are identical to the old "petit beurre" design (from 1916) which also housed Vague Souvenir, Pour Troubler, Kadine, Rue de la Paix, Candide Effleuve.... What's happening? Are we confronted with a fake label and box? Or with a rare, precious vintage? Relax; neither is the case. It wouldn't make sense to fake the label/box, but not the bottle or the fragrance. And the seller has actually five identical offerings to sell, making it rather less rare than one might at first think. Plus the juice looks pristine and very fresh (sprayer mechanism too) for an old vintage.
Verdict: A limited edition bottle from the "limbo" years when the recent LVMH take-over had resulted in several issues of renewed presentation.

Exhibit B:

My friend Dimitri got hold of that one and consulted me about it. I was greatly intrigued! A Shalimar extrait in the typical "bouchon coeur" bottle in glass that only ever housed L'Heure Bleue, Fol Arôme (both from 1912) and later Mitsouko (1919). Since Shalimar has a well documented history on these pages, how could this be possible? The juice is authentic and so is the bottle and label, incidentally. The bottom (not shown) has a label typical of the years between the two world wars and the 1960s, but without the usual stamping in red ink.
Verdict: Shortages of war probably resulted in using a former mould (that of L'heure Bleue indeed) to house a fragrance in search of a bottle.

Exhibit C:

Another Guerlain "bouchon coeur" bottle, this time bearing a (rather worn) Calèche by Hermès label! It looks like a mutant, infested with great genes which somehow got jumbled when the genetic dice was cast and is forever incancerated due to collateral shame. Technically not a fake, but doubtful that either Guerlain or Hermes fans would be very much pleased.
Verdict: Someone once owned and liked the "bouchon coeur" bottle very much; so much in fact that they decanted their Caleche fragrance into it and relabelled so as not to confuse themselves. Then again, that someone probably died at some point and left someone else with something incomprehensible on their hands...which they're now trying to sell with ludicrous results.


  1. Mimi Gardenia16:23

    Great post, Elena ! Isn't Dimitri's bottle just wonderful !
    The Caleche label on the Guerlain extrait bottle gives me icky shivers !

  2. Thank you honey! (How are you? Hugs!)

    Yes, I thought the Shalimar bottle was simply great. It's difficult to place chronologically, but he owes a rarity for sure. The label not being imprinted with some distributor sign probably means it was unissued stock or something (that's what I told him IIRC). So doubly rare.
    The Caleche might be in great shape in that bottle, after all, but there is some truth in what they say about "you only get one chance to make a first impression", LOL!

  3. Anonymous17:00

    Hi Elena,

    Guerlain-Hermes.... That would make sense to me if someone loved the Guerlain bottle so much and transferred the Caleche and the label to the G bottle.

    I was kind of sad to see the auction closed and the one person who bid on it retracted their bid. The seller described it very accurately. I wonder if someone contacted the seller and then she got nervous. The seller didn't do anything wrong imo.

    It was funny in a peculiar way though and you don't see listings like that but once in a blue moon.

    Have a great day.

    Hugs from the rainy west coast today!


  4. Anonymous17:06

    Update E....

    Just saw this on MUA ....


  5. Thanks Dawn! (nice to see you)

    As always people are quick to judge. And sometimes get the lesser end of the deal that way. That auction was a perfect chance to get some vintage Caleche at a super affordable price as no one would be bidding on this for all the reasons stated. Who's the fool now? ;-)

    Yes, it was perfectly funny nonetheless and the seller was probably oblivious all along. I'm sure they did get it from a reputable collector. If it were the infamous PDP person, he would make very sure not to mix up the labels/scents/bottles and the work on the label itself would be pristine.

  6. Anonymous17:20

    Good to be back here reading.

    A big YES about PDP! That seller is meticulous about fooling the eye and the nose. ;0

    I'm outta here to go exercise.


  7. Love your Sherlock Holmes detective work here! I mean, somebody has to get to the bottom of what's going on here, right?
    Take care,

  8. The fakest fakes are reformulations! Same perfume names, same labels but NOT same formulae!

  9. Rappleyea23:33

    What fun detective work, and especially concerning my favorite house - Guerlain. I really enjoyed the post, multi-talented E. Thanks so much!

  10. Mimi Gardenia01:48

    Elena- hugs back to you - I'm well ! :) :)

  11. That's a very interesting article, we have to be very wary about all the collection bottles on ebay and other places. your tips are great.
    on another note, every time i see these old guerlain bottles and others i feel sad as I lost my complete collection (some bottles had not even been opened and were inside lovely boxex from the 30s, 40s...) during the earthquake in Haiti..! I should write an article on my blog about this someday...but life goes on.. and i will have more opportunities to make an even more interesting collection. anyway.. oh well... ok.

  12. Oh, this was fun. My favorite way to pick up a morsel or two of knowledge... :)

    And my condolences to Vintage Lady, though I am happy to see such a healthy attitude toward the next collection. :)

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. A nice, entertaining piece E! Thank you for the write up, and for your counsel too! (Your 'Dimitri' link is broken though) :)
    That Caleche presentation is just screwing with my mind! It reminds me of a hermit crab that has cheekily taken up residence in another crab's shell!

  15. Anonymous21:17

    Hi everyone,
    I am fairly new (just the past several months) to my perfume obsession/collecting. Who is the PDP seller? Is he on ebay? I love Perfumeshrine btw. I fell in love with Elena's articles on perfume scents for Easter week, which I somehow found in the archives when I googled something. I had never even heard of a perfume blog --- imagine that! Anyway, thank you Elena, for this beautiful blog.

  16. Dawn,

    yup, the scammer is pretty good in providing a foolproof presentation, hence this can't be his ware.

    Hope your exercise was stimulating!!

  17. Michael,

    thanks! There were two many weird bottles showing up all at once (towards me anyway), but funnily enough these three are the real deal. Isn't it interesting?
    I'm afraid I love some Sherlock ;-)

  18. Uella,

    you're ABSOLUTELY right! I couldn't agree more!

    It's funny how the industry is so adamant about fakes made in China etc. but they allow many times their own formulae to be so tampered with to the point of irrecognisability. (is there such a word?)

  19. Donna,

    you're welcome, thanks for saying so. Like I said, too many incidents which were intriguing, I had to sit down and group them with a few words on them.

  20. Vintage Lady,

    oh wow, sorry about that and I have to say you're taking it calmly. Kudos for that :-)

    Thanks for stopping by!

  21. S,

    glad you enjoyed it. It was meant to be a light piece with some insight into how too much paranoia over stuff might be detrimental.

  22. Dimitri,

    thank you for the stimulation you provided. I think you're right on the supposition, although I wouldn't want to elaborate too long on it, it's your bottle after all.
    Fixed the link too, good thing you noticed because a small typo and everything is off :/
    Now, as to the third example, I believe it's someone who wanted to use the Caleche but they either had a defective bottle or they loved the Guerlain so much that they decanted. Of course someone in the interim might have bought and resold this one and perhaps someone along the way might have realised this is not what it should be. But I still think the seller wasn't aware of what was happening, the wording was all weird on the auction.
    Still, I do believe someone must have missed the chance to score some vintage Caleche on the cheap ;-)
    Your simile is inspired!!!

  23. Dimitri,

    btw, I meant to let you know of something nice. Dropping you a line later today.:-)

  24. Anon,

    thank you for stopping by and commenting in such a sweet way. It's heart-warming, especially since you liked the Easter week/incense series articles, which I consider close to my heart.

    The PDP seller is an infamous seller on Ebay who has changed many handles. His wares are a mixed lot: some absolutely real, some highly elaborate "faked" vintages which go for a high price. Some ladies who have actually bought from him in the past unravelled that thread and some detective word following that has revealed a few of his handles.

    Basically, to make a long story short: If you're cruising Ebay and you see something which is purported to be very old, has a description that forsakes all responsibility on how something smells, is an opened/splash presentation and claimed as authetic and non used (and ships from PA or NC), then take it with a pinch of salt (and caution, unless you want to pay for more than it's worth). It might be too good to be true ;-)

  25. Elena,

    What a GREAT post! Wow! Thanks for all the detective work. It's still scary to buy online but I mitigate it by limiting my spending - have gotten some incredible 'finds' and a few duds - but al in all, have been fortunate in my transactions - knowing just a bit more about possible alternatives means all of us can go bid/buy with a bit more education.

    Thanks again!


  26. Rita16:01

    This blog is wonderful! It is so informative and it is written in terms that a layperson can understand!

    Wanted to ask you what you had heard of the Perfumes 4 U stores in the Tanger Outlets...are they reputable? I go back to many of your postings as a reference, in fact, you had one a while ago about honest perfume sellers, but you did not mention Perfume 4 U. Always a pleasure!


  27. A,

    thanks for the kind words! I think it's rather not nice to let people get fooled ;-)

  28. Rita,

    thank you very much for your compliment, it's very appreciated and I'm thrilled you think so.
    I have no personal experience with those sellers, but I'm sure if someone subscribed on this thread has any negative experience they might drop in and let you know.
    Everyone is presumambly innocent till proven guilty, but a little precaution might come handy.

  29. Anonymous23:49

    Thank you for so many interesting articles!
    I've been mesmerised by Mitsouko ever since I nicked my mother's ancient bottle from the early 80's. I started to look around in Japanese auction sites (where there are lots and lots of vintage Mitsoukos that were taken to Japan as souvenir from holidays in Europe, like my mother's), and found this. This must be a fake!

  30. Anon,

    great point! It's always interesting to see how cultural references stick to their source of inspiration.

    No, actually the bottle in the auction you mentioned is in the classical "umbrella" bottle of Guerlain (see corresponding article I wrote about those bottles) and should be all right, assuming it's sealed and/or hasn't been tampered with.

    Hope this helps!

  31. The box looks a bit odd, though! (but the bottle is all right)

  32. Anonymous00:30

    yes that was my impression, too. the box, both outer and inner, particularly the outer box label (typeface and what it says), looks very suspicious! and yellow in the inner box, too....

  33. Anon,

    so now you know exactly what questions to ask for!

    (it could be that the box is weird but the bottle is all right -people interchanged bottles and boxes all the time, so ask carefully and make sure about the bottle itself; sealed, non sealed, onion skin or not, evaporation etc.)
    The yellow on the box can be spillage stains.

    Hope this helps! Good luck!

  34. Anonymous11:20


    I am a newby ... have been reading
    comments here with great interest.
    I have recently won an ebay auction for a vintage Caleche Parfum 30 ml.
    The item was described as authentic, vintage but new, sealed and packaged in its original cellophane (photos looked
    good, was able to read Ref number etc on the underside of the box). I put a high'ish advanced bid on,
    and went away for the w/end. I returned to find I had won the bid at a very reasonable price for this rare item (less than half of current market value).
    The Parfum arrived within 3 days, well packaged but without a packing note or the sellers details.
    I removed the cellophane and remember thinking something is not right...the suede effect box has tell tale scratch marks and was not sealed under the cellophane. Anyway the packaging
    and bottle seem to be original...then I opened it! The
    juice has the wrong consistency and is a strong orange colour and smells 'fabreze' of nothing really...I applied a drop and knew
    immediately I had been duped.
    I have worn this fragrance for 30
    years, this perfume is fantastically lasting and unmistakable.
    Please be warned of unscrupulous sellers who buy empty bottles and refill them with Lord knows what to sell on ebay. I hope to get my money back, either way I am sending this bottle to Trading Standards... These people have to be stopped!

  35. Anon,

    this is especially unfortunate! I do hope that if you have bought from the infamous seller by many names (who has recycled his wares enough as to render many things unsafe) the Trading Standards can put an end to this, because Ebay certainly won't. I'd contact the seller and ask for a full refund stating everything you just said to me and the readers here.

    There can be small differences from batch to batch and from time frame to time frame, fair enough, ("one can't cross the same river twice" and all that), but from that to the disgraceful discrepancy you noted there's a vast distance. My sympathies and a pat on the back, wishing you to find justice in this.


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