Sunday, July 22, 2012

Perfumes I Never Smelled

A few weeks ago I spent several hours in a semi-Herculean effort to sort and organize the perfume samples that have been infesting every living space and seemingly procreating and multiplying behind my back. The process actually took several days, as every time I though I was finally done, another little stash popped in various closets and dresser drawers. Going over all the samples, re-sniffing some forgotten ones and reconnecting with my sniffing past made me think how much nose mileage I have behind me. My earliest perfume memories are from the seventies, so a lot of oakmoss and tonka bean have passed through my nose (sounds so wrong!). I realized that I'm lucky to have smelled and tried so many perfumes and that I have a decent ideas what some great perfumes used to smell like back when they were, well... great.

It also made me think of perfumes I never smelled. I try not to think of that in the depressing way of "I'll never be able to read all the books, listen to all the music, see all the movies or smell all the perfumes" way that leads to a Woody Allen-like death neurosis. But still. What have I been missing? What will I never ever get to smell?

There are some important perfume legends I never got to try, such as Hermes Doblis (original or reissue), Shiseido Nombre Noir (no wonder,considering Luca Turin allegedly bought every last bottle). Not as famous but still rarities that eluded me are the 2007 limited edition Seraphim by Ormonde Jayne and Baccarat Les Larmes Sacrées de Thebes. And if we're talking unicorns, there are two of the long-gone Gobin-Daude line that I never smelled: Seve Exquise and Biche Dans l'Absinthe.

I'm a Guerlain girl through and through and my collection includes a few rarities and truly vintage bottles, but if you look in the Basenotes directory and sort it by launch date you'll see so many pre-Jicky and Cologne Imperiale perfumes that I never even heard about, let alone come across a bottle. Then there's Chanel. Younger and less prolific, but the database still lists 71 fragrances. Does any of you own a bottle or a sample of Chanel's forgotten 1920s, 1930s and 1940s perfumes? Chanel No. 46 is probably the most famous of them, but I'm curious about things like Chanel Chypre, Glamour or Cynique.

Still talking vintage, there are the original versions of iconic Coty, Lanvin and Lancome perfumes, not to mentions all the ones that have disappeared completely. Yes, I smelled and I own several 1950s or 1960s bottles, so I'm sure I have a decent idea what some of this perfumes were all about, but if I could time travel to the 1920s I'll park my nose at the nearest Coty counter. Try to get me away from there.

And how about perfumes that are on the market today? I admit: I probably sniffed the first Paris Hilton perfume and promptly forgot all about it, but I never came near any of the ones that followed. There are also dozens of "sport" fragrance, mostly masculine, that I never bothered to testing, the entire Mariah Carey olfactory opus, and perfumes/brands named after cars. But there are lines, much more desirable, that I somehow managed to miss despite my best intentions. I know that I had a tiny sample or two of MDCI perfumes, but somehow I never put the effort to really get acquainted and form an opinion (to be rectified soon). I probably smelled something from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, but seriously, with so many of them I can't tell for sure.

How about you? What perfumes escaped you? What are you still seeking?

All vintage perfume ads from


  1. I never got to smell the pre-reformulation versions of classic Guerlains. And I'm not even sure I want to, since I've learned from my Jolie Madame experience that such comparisons can be dreadful, and cause depression and despair about the future of humanity. Let me think l'Heure Bleue is alive, at least for the time being... On the other hand, I've just ordered a sample of Coty Chypre, and can barely wait for the mail!
    Have a nice week, all of you!

  2. Great post, I was just trying to get some order in my samples collection, and thinking some of the same thoughts. At the moment top of my wanting to try list is Djedi. Thanks to you, I am also really lemming those Gobin-Daude, and how about Valle des Rois? Also, quite a few of the Patou Ma Collection are on my to try list, since the ones I did try are quite gorgeous.
    The MDCI are wonderful- at the moment I can't get enough of the simple but stunning Promesse a L'aube, I am looking forward to reading your take on them.

  3. You honestly didn't miss much with Nombre Noir. I managed to obtain a mini and I cannot even describe my excitement as I unpacked it and opened it. Then - 'Is that it? Really?'. Basically it was a fairly unexciting 80s fruity floral with woods. I immediately swapped it away. I did not do a side by side comparison but my impression was that it reminded me of Cacharel Loulou.

    Frustratingly, I have a full bottle of 1920s Coty Chypre and I cannot get it open without risking smashing it.

  4. I often think (and feel strong twinges of regret) about all of the perfumes I am missing, but there is simply no way to keep up with the new launches, much less find treasures from the distant past. On the unicorn front, however, I'd be happy to send you sample vials of those two Gobin-Daude scents (it's so odd that you mentioned the two that I have decants of!) - small enough thanks for the enjoyment I get out of perusing your blog on a regular basis. Is there somewhere I can send you an email to arrange this, if you'd care to?

  5. I really appreciate this post - you've described so perfectly the agony side of the agony and ecstacy of being a perfume lover!

    No matter how many perfumes I have, it's painful to look at those vintage ads or books of amazingly beautiful antique perfume bottles and realize I'll never know what they smelled like. And near misses are especially frustrating: I could have sniffed or even owned the Gobin-Daudes and just wasn't paying attention. If I allow myself to think about it, all the new niche lines make me fairly frantic wondering if I'm missing something that good I try not to think about it!

    I do have one of the rare perfumes you mention, and it's the one I paid the most for in my entire collection. I love having it, but it's not my greatest fav and I rarely wear it. I guess that should be a lesson to focus on enjoying what I do have and love! ~~nozknoz

  6. Lovely post. I'd love to smell a couple of forgotten Lauders - Celadon and Pavillion - that came out in 1978, same year as White Linen. I'm not sure about Pavillion, but Celadon was in a bottle identical to White Linen. Interesting that WL became so successful and the others not. You sometime see Celadon on eBay at very high prices.

  7. Dear Gaia,
    Seve Exquise and Biche Dans l'Absinthe are the ONLY ones from Gaubin-Daude that I've smelled. I'll be happy to send you some to try!


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