Friday, January 1, 2010

Perfume: New Year's Resolution One - Be a Better Curator

My first (and possibly only - we'll see) perfume resolution of the year is to be a better curator of my perfume collection.

That is, admittedly, a rather high-flown word for the management of a huddle of bottles and vials stored in bread boxes. But I am trying to be a fraction more high-flown in my perfume acquisition and retention decisions, so a high-flown word feels right.

My goal is for the perfume collection to be more of a collection, and less of an impulse-driven accumulation. I'd like to know why I own each bottle, instead of puzzling over what I was thinking when I brandished the credit card.

An example of a good answer for a theoretical bottle is, "It's a classic leather. It's a good contrast to my other five leathers. It's by a perfumer whose work I collect. It's well-regarded, and often mentioned as a reference in evaluating other perfumes. And by the way, I love it."

A bad answer is, "It's kind of pretty, and I like leather, and it was cheap!"

So how to sculpt the collection to be more of a collection? Some of my half-formed thoughts follow. I find that they're presented backwards, starting with specifics and ending with goals. But since that's how I thought them through, I'll leave them that way.

Pre-acquisition research: I resolve to thoroughly research and sample the major candidates in a perfume's category(ies) before buying a full bottle,

This should minimize what the Left Coast Nose called "kitchening" (love that term) - the situation where a once-loved fragrance is made irrelevant, never to be worn again, by the introduction of another fragrance. This phenomenon is inevitable, but it's one thing to buy a fragrance and have it replaced by a new release a year later. It's another to buy a fragrance only to have it replaced the following week by something that's been available for a decade.

But more importantly, plenty of research will help me to determine what the perfume will contribute to my collection.

For example, the modern Robert Piguet Bandit is a friendly animalic leather fragrance that I love. The original was created by Germaine Cellier, a perfumer that interests me, but the reformulation is so much changed that its relevance to her is limited. It has galbanum, a note that also interests me, but it doesn't highlight the note in a way that does much for me.

The modern Chanel Cuir de Russie is also an animalic leather fragrance that I love. It's reputed to be a more accurate recreation of a classic. It reflects the work of its original creator, and of a modern perfumer that I'm also interested in. It gives me more experience with iris, a note that I want to learn more about.

I love Bandit and Cuir de Russie more or less equally, but Cuir de Russie would contribute more to my perfume education, and to the body of perfume history represented by the collection. So that's the one to buy, unless I find another leather that's even better. (For example, maybe vintage Bandit is really what should fill this slot?)

Priorities, and management of breadth and depth: I'd like to own every perfume in every category that I love. But budget is limited and space is even more limited. So I resolve to be conscious of the aspects of the perfume world that I want to represent in the collection - the notes, the styles, the perfumers, the eras - and the priority, for me, of each aspect.

That priority is what will determine how much representation a category gets. Do I want every Germaine Cellier scent, or just a selection? Do I want them enough to hunt down full bottles of the vintage versions? Do I already have too many leathers? What notes or fragrance categories would I like to learn more about?

As an example, the leather analysis reflects the fact that I've decided that the collection can support at least one more leather, that it needs more iris, that I'm interested in the history of Chanel perfumes and in Germaine Cellier, and that I want to start investigating Chanel's Les Exclusifs. The most important factor is always how much I like the perfume, but when I like many choices equally, I'll be more satisfied with my final decision if it's guided by my goals for the collection.

Overall focus: The specific areas of interest - galbanum, iris, Germaine Cellier, history of Chanel, dozens of others - should reflect my overall vision for the collection. It's hard to phrase that vision, but I think that I can say that there are three major interests - the past-to-future history of perfume, the best of perfume, and the extremes of perfume.

I resolve to keep these goals in mind every time I buy a bottle. Ideally, a bottle would represent all three - as in, for example, Chanel No. 19 extrait, where the extreme is represented by its merciless knife-edge galbanum. Comme des Garcons Garage represents the modern elements of history, the gasoline and rubber and dirty garage floor notes represent an extreme, and it's good enough to make me happy.

On the other hand, Chanel No. 5 vintage parfum would be more history than I need, given that I don't actually like it, and Secretions Magnifiques would most likely represent more of an extreme than I'm willing to accept.

So that's the end of a long and drawn-out resolution. Next January 1, I'll see how I did.

Link Roundup: Curating the collection, resolutions, and whatever else seems to fit:

Curating a Perfume Collection, from Now Smell this.
Becoming a Perfumista, from Now Smell This.
On Perfume Storage, parts One, Two, and Three, from Now Smell This.

Photo of NICL Freezer. Wikimedia Commons.


  1. My collection is sadly full of purchases prompted by bad answers, and there has been a fair bit of kitchening going on of late... Am trying to job the unloved bottles off on MUA, but that is a very slow process. In my defence, I have only been properly interested in perfume for two years, and I can perhaps excuse the many impulse buys of the first six months or so, before I discovered more about what were to become my enduring tastes (well, as far as I can tell!).

    In my collection, I think Creed Love in Black is an example of a bottle that is "too extreme", and I am gifting it away, 5ml at a time, to the lady who massages my feet.

  2. For a while, I had a the simplest taxonomy possible: 1 to 5 stars, a plastic (sealed) bag to stick the no-star stuff I couldn't stand to be near, and a few off-beat "masculines" to mull over.

    Then I decided to get *fancy*: stuff I'd love "forever," stuff to get rid of, stuff to share with this person, or that person. Stuff to find a story about, stuff with no story, and on, and on, and on. Now it takes me five extra minutes to get out the door every day, because I can't FIND anything!!

    I'm with you-- I resolve this year to get it together!!

  3. Yep, a fair percentage of my impulse buys were in my first few months of perfume freakery, too, and I've already expressed my Fear Of Mailing Perfume, so swaps are a problem.

    I've already given away the less expensive ones, and the ones I hate. But somehow it's hard to get rid of something medium expensive that's Perfectly Nice that I just don't wear. Like Philosykos. Not a thing wrong with it, and once in a long while I really like it a lot. But the only real reason to hang on to it is as a "reference fig", and a small decant would serve that purpose just as well.

    I used to store the samples and decants by logical (to me) categories - gourmand, fruit, femme fatale florals, and so on. And, yes, couldn't find anything. Now I've just gone to alphabetical-by-house, which is no good for browsing, but if I know what I want, I can find it. I compromised on the browsing by making one candy dish the "try soon" repository, where I dump interesting things that I notice while retrieving by name. But this is not altogether satisfactory.

    The _bottles_ have no particular storage logic. They're in tight little columns in breadboxes, usually all of one house together, and "other" season bottles further back. This isn't going to work if I start accumulating seriously more bottles.

    And I think of large decants as being bottle-equivalents, so I really really want a way to make them reliably stand up among the bottle army. Maybe some sort of sleek, heavy pencil cup? Hmmm.

  4. Since this theme is all about organization, I am going to pose the query... what is a year end without a top 10 roundup? I'd love to know what your highnotes (and possibly lownotes) of scents where for the year that was.

  5. Hmmm. A top ten roundup could be fun - though I just started the blog in October, and the nine months of sniffing before then is a little fuzzy in my memory. (Though my Perfumed Court emails would be a half-decent record of what I sniffed. :))

  6. Hm, I would like to bring more objective thought into my perfume buys as well. :) And now I'm at the point that I cannot give away any bottle I have, even if I don't wear it or don't like it much (if I learned anything since my perfume journey started - it is that you never know what you might like in the months to come). :)
    Btw, I store my samples by houses as well, those that I acquired quite some time ago - the ones from last 2-3 months are still all over the place. :)

  7. Yep, that's part of why I want to be much more careful about acquisitions - it's a lot easier to not buy a bottle than to get rid of one I already have.

    Logically, if something's practically free, or almost the same price as a sample of that something, I should be comfortable getting it and giving it away. In reality, I'm not always that comfortable. I'm determined to get rid of the excess, but it's painful to get rid of some of them.