Friday, November 2, 2012

Perfume: Turin and Sanchez and triage

Are we all preparing for hibernation, with our credit cards?

OK, forget "we"--am I?

Ever since the temperatures started to turn, I've wanted to buy things. Socks. Scarves. Patterns. Fabric. Fancy canned goods. Hats. Books. Chocolate. Garden tools. Of course, perfume. I've mostly resisted--I keep emptying my online shopping carts into ever-growng "save for later" lists--but the urge is there.

It's logical to have an instinct to fatten up before retreating to the cave for cold weather, but does it make sense for that instinct to extend to snatching up non-edible pretty things? Am I making up for missing sunshine-serotonin with shopping-serotonin--or, since I'm not buying much, browsing-serotonin?

I suppose I am shopping against famine, when I'm shopping for perfume. In a way. In this madly-reformulating world, you really can't count on any perfume being what it was when you last heard someone describe it. I've been reading the Turin/Sanchez Little Book, and eagerly reading the little added paragraphs that tell me whether the perfume was still decent in 2011--but that was 2011. We're nearly at the end of 2012. That leaves a year or more for those perfumes to have been destroyed, and the regulating bodies have a strong and dedicated perfume-destroying work ethic. What should I have bought in 2011? What should I buy now?

OK, there is no "should". Looking back to my recent post about hoarding and choosing to be in control of the stuff, it's not as if I really need any perfume. At all. Even one bottle. If I never smell the classic vintage greats, well, I'll live.

But it is exciting that I have vintage Diorella parfum on my arm. Both arms, one dab each. From a sample--I didn't spring for a bottle or even a sizable decant. I'm still absorbing the experience. First it was an OhMyGod vintage blast that I simultaneously wanted to embrace and flee from. And then a sweet smooth odd thing that I wanted more of--I almost went on eBay to pay for a bottle then. Right now it's a gorgeously self-conscious powdery ladylike. I'm sure that it will keep developing.

"Diorella" is still sold, but is it any good? I could try to get a sample. I could try to sniff it somewhere. But will the sample be the same stuff that's in the bottle? Will one or the other be a different reformulation generation? If I take fifteen minutes to decide, will it have changed again?

I tried a sample of Robert Piguet Bandit and fell in love; I bought a bottle and it wasn't the same stuff at all. The sample was a sweaty cat in the sun; the bottle was a clean ladylike leather purse. I've been tempted to buy other Piguet fragrances. I like Fracas, I like Cravache--but, do I? I like the samples. The specific samples that I have. That offers no assurance whatsoever that I'll like the bottle.

Is this level of complete distrust really a good way to sell a product? I realize that some folks in the industry might prefer that we just admire the pretty bottle and obediently buy it--for all I know, maybe they don't really care if we ever wear the stuff. Maybe they'd rather we didn't. Maybe in their eyes, perfume is like those books with the pretty leather bindings that decorators buy by the foot, and they're a little startled and dismayed if we try to actually read them. Er, smell them. I return to edit this because I realize that yes, yes, there are many individuals in the industry who care very much about their perfume. But when the behavior gets up to the large-corporation level, that's not so much what it feels like.

I feel the urge to gobble up all the fading perfumes before they're gone. But which ones? What's most urgent? What are my triage rules?

Do I start with the ones that can still be bought new at a fairly modest price at the discounters, avoiding the vintage price premiim? Is Diorella still good? Miss Balmain? Jolie Madame? Shalimar? The Little Book says that Shalimar has actually improved, but that was 2011; has it been pulled over and cited for excessive artistic merit between then and now? How about Azuree? Poison? Missoni? White Linen? I've never smelled most of them; am I too late?

Or do I chase the niche bottles that I've craved for months or years, before they're gone? Do I get a bottle or a decant of Douce Amere? Or neither? What about Chene, that rummy thing that I one hated and then abruptly fell in love with? Is it still love? Which of Nicolai's work am I too late to catch? Do I really want Lann-Ael? Will I regret Bois Blond when it's gone?

They're killing birch tar. I love birch tar. Is it too late to buy Patchouli 24? Is Eau de Fier gone forever? I have Chanel Cuir de Russie; will that do the job?

What about the expensive designer houses? Are the Chanel Exclusifs still any good? I secured my No. 5, both EDT and parfum, but what about 18 and 22 and 31 Rue de Cambon and all those Chanels that don't even have numbers in their names? Will I run out of Osmanthe Yunnan? I have two Discovery Set bottles, and for almost any other fragrance that would be plenty, but a nice fog of Osmanthe Yunnan requires a good four or five sprays.

Or do I--and, yes, this is what I should do, but that doesn't mean I will--save my money for the small artisan perfumers? Their perfumes go away, too, but the perfumer has a face, and they're absolutely not selling books-by-the-foot. They care if you smell it and wear it and love it. That would be the sensible thing, and somehow it feels vaguely non-hoarding as well--forget the past, and pick and choose, non-urgently, among the present, even as bits of the present slides gently into the past.


Image: Wikimedia Commons.

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