I spent a lifetime disliking Arpege. The aldehydes did me in every single time, which was why it took me forever to understand and learn to really love Chanel No. 5. That felt like enough and I wasn't planning to put any effort into making friends with Lanvin's iconic perfume. But I kept sniffing it occasionally and shrugging. It always felt wrong. The amusing part is that unlike other classics I've come to enjoy after experiencing them in a vintage extrait de parfum, my appreciation for Arpege was born one day at either Saks or Nordstrom. They had the EDP on a forgotten corner of one counter, away from the main area where they try to push whatever overpriced drek de jour (before it's sent to face eternity at the discounters). A too-blonde pusher just shoved a scent strips under my nose and I needed to recalibrate my senses before dying from exposure to a synthetic raspberry. I grabbed the familiar black bottle, sprayed my wrist and noticed how much better this old-school thing was in comparison. The amalgamated floral heart was a lot more substantial than in many modern perfumes, and even though there was a thin feeling as it moved towards the drydown and that familiar vetiver base that seems to have taken over just about every reformulation of the great classics, it was still good.
Arpege remained on my skin for hours and I found myself enjoying it a lot more than anticipated. It made me got back to vintage and discover what it was all about. It's clear that this Lanvin perfume relates heavily to Chanel No. 5, but then again, so many other perfumes from the first half of the 20th century were created in that image. Even Guerlain made Liu. No. 5 is ingrained deeply in many people's scent memory and is instantly recognizable even after all these years. It's probably why I and others feel a certain closeness to it, and combined with the sweet, somewhat vanillic base it feels warmer and more embracing than Arpege. It's probably not what Mademoiselle had in mind, considering she didn't have a very soft and fuzzy personality.
To my nose, Arpege feels a bit more formal. It's drier, and lacks any sunny quality despite all the flower notes that were blended into the heart. It feels almost prim and proper until something winks from deep in the drydown and makes it more interesting. I smell wood, vetiver and at times I could swear there's oakmoss somewhere in the composition, though I can't confirm it. Now it's official: I like Arpege. A lot.
Arpege in its current formulation is available as an EDP from every online discounter and usually for less than $40. Some department stores still have it, too. The vintage can be easily found on eBay and second hand stores, though I'd recommend caution with the extrait de parfum, as it seems to turn easily and I've come across quite a few rancid bottles.
Vintage Arpege perfume ads (1959 and 1963) from adclassix.com
Photographs of Lanvin dresses (1951 and 1954) from dovima_is_devine on Flickr.