Thursday, August 23, 2012

17 Perfumes To Seek In Vintage Formulation

There are many classic perfumes that weren't discontinued and survived rebranding and reshuffling; These fragrances are still in production and available for their fans for those of us who want to get acquainted with them and learn how it all began.

Sort of.

It's no secret (unless you work for Chanel) that everything has been reformulated. Classic perfumes, designer perfumes, and even niche fragrances (Serge Lutens is perhaps the most honest about it). Some of those reformulations are more adequate than others, but if you're curious and enthusiastic enough about the subject, these are seventeen perfumes that are currently on the market but are worth the time, effort, and money it takes to find and smell in vintage form:

Guerlain- Mitsouko and Shalimar. While the juice currently on the shelves under these revered names is still better than about 80% of other department store fare, the only way to truly understand the greatness of Guerlain is to smell the real thing. Honorable mention: Jicky.

Balmain- Jolie Madame and Vent Vert. The latter is till a pleasant perfume for green lovers, but there's nothing like the original for a lesson in galbanum. As for Jolie Madame... sigh. I'll cry if I talk about it.

Dior- Everything, but especially Miss Dior (now called Miss Dior Classic), Diorella and Dioressence. I sniffed the most recent versions (exclusive to Saks and Dior boutiques, I think) and they're a clear improvement over the stuff from one, three or five years ago. Still, there's something pale and languid about them which you'll understand once you've smelled the real thing.

Chanel- No.5 (extrait de parfum), Cuir de Russie and No.19. If the difference between old and new Jolie Madame makes me want to cry, Chanel reformulations give me frag-rage.  The new No. 19 is the most criminal, bearing little resemblance to the forceful and crisp galbanum-iris-oakmoss of yore.

GresCabochard. Smoke and leather. While I can't for the life of me imagine Coco Chanel in her own No.5, vintage Cabochard fits her to perfection.

Givenchy- Ysatis and Organza Indecense. Givenchy perfumes used to be wonderful. Over the years they've been thinned, diluted, and cheapened. I'd actually advise to seek most of them in their vintage incarnations but the floriental Ysatis and the creamy Organza Indecense are too beautiful to miss.

RochasFemme. I actually had to check the company's website to verify that Femme is still in production. They bastardized and cuminized it so many times I wasn't sure they didn't give up on it completely. In any case, the original was a glorious fruity leathery chypre like no other (but somewhat related to Mitsouko).

Lancome- Magie Noire. This is a case of a perfume better off dead. The 1978 perfume was, indeed, magical. What's left of it is as sexy as the Lancome counters where it's sold.

YSL- Opium. The fragrance pretending to be Opium has stolen the identity of a sex icon. We shouldn't let the thief get away with it.

Annick Goutal- Eau d'Hadrien. Once upon a time Eau d'Hadrien was a landmark perfume, the perfect combination of Mediterranean citrus and cypress green. Then came IFRA and reduced poor Hadrien into a generic lemon cologne.

Please add your recommendations. Remember: I only mentioned perfumes that are still in production, as  ghostly and ghastly as they might be.

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  1. Gaia, you are so right! Chanel SAs and customer services will argue till they are blue in the face that they have NOT changed a thing (in my case I waged war about Cristalle edt, but got nowhere in the end - just cross). As for Femme - I haven't smelt the current formulation and now don't want to, as I keep hearing about the cumin; I don't ever remember smelling cumin when I wore it in the 70s - it was just peachy deep chypre and made me feel sophisticated and womanly.

  2. I really, really miss Jolie Madame and Magie Noire. Would love to have a vintage Cabochard or Miss Dior to gift my mom. However, I'm afraid of trying the vintage Guerlains, since my love for Shalimar, L'Heure Bleue and Mitsouko is fairly recent, and I'm not sure I can handle the disapointment!

  3. I thought my new bottle of Opium smelled strange... It's still recognizable, but I felt like it was missing something.

    L'Air du Temps used to be a favorite fragrance, but the newer formulations smell very shallow and cheap to me. I'm currently hunting for a bottle of vintage EDP.

    I remember Magie Noire. I had a sample of it back in the 80's, and used it up but never got around to buying a bottle. I'm kind of afraid to sniff the new version.

    1. Just saw Kijiji Ottawa (Canada) lists an *unopened* Lalique bottle of L'Air du Temps from 1970's. Wonder how it's lasted and what it's worth. Is there any way to 'extend' a vintage bottle's contents?

  4. I can hardly talk about Chanel's Coco.... I will say, however, that after having dabbled recently in vintage, I've had some disappointment. Perhaps I didn't choose well, or had the misfortune to get a bottle that has "turned." So I'm feeling a little gun-shy about trying another vintage. I would love to try vintage L'Heure Bleue, Chanel No.5, and Diorella. I've sampled vintage Shalimar - one of my favorites - and Jolie Madame. Both are fantastic!

  5. I just noticed this past weekend that my signature, Chanel Coco, is now being sold as a light green juice. Coco? GREEN?! WTF?

    And of course, although the top notes smell like Coco, the drydown is thin and pallid, rather than rich and baroque.

    I need to start hoarding old bottles.


  6. It's a travesty that some perfumes are posing as what they used to be. Opium is especially cutting for me. :-(

    I'd add L'Heure Bleue (nothing compares to the PdT of the 80s or the very early "cologne" versions in those zebra-print boxes, sadly) and of course Diorissimo (though you do mention the Dior clan en masse).

  7. Gaia, of all subjects this is one I was pondering last night. I was looking for an ad by Rene Gruau for Miss Dior where one of the few men he ever drew was featured carrying a huge bouquet of flowers. The bouquet is so large that only his legs are seen. Of course this brought up memories of old perfumes and why they are not available; or at least available as they were. It is criminal what passes for perfume nowadays.

  8. I managed to score a reasonably priced Opium parfum on eBay a while ago when it was rumoured to be discontinued/reformulated. I was a little shocked at how creamy and wearable I found it. It's a 70's beast for sure, but much more balanced than the current version, which seems harsh and disjointed to me.

  9. Gaia, this is a sobering post in terms of the damage that has been done to so many extraordinary and beloved works of olfactory art. On the other hand, you've expunged any lingering guilt over the massive ebay spree that I launched three years to secure my olfactory treasure hoard. I'm especially grateful for your owe post on auction sniping. That saved me money and helped me win most of what I set my sights on. ~~nozknoz

  10. ohhhh i would LOVE to find a bottle of vintage no19 and any chance have you done a post on how to find/recognize a bottle of vintage fragrances without getting ripped off? i saw a bunch of "vintage" ysatis bottles on ebay, but they look exactly like the ones that are being sold at Ulta...any help is greatly appreciated! thank you, ocelot1

  11. This is a subject to get perfume enthusiasts everywhere hopping mad. I don't take such a bleak view as you do regarding many of the Chanels and Diors, but I agree that the current Dioressence is not worth bothering with if you can get your hands on some pre-reformulation Dioressence (at least one of the major decant services is selling pre-reformulated Dioressence at a very reasonable price). I'm also disappointed in Vent Vert and Magie Noire.

    I must say though that I have no problem with the current Femme. In fact I adore it, but then I like cumin. I picked up some vintage Femme EDC on ebay but was disappointed, not so much because the top notes had turned (that happens) but because its staying power was very poor. Once the perfume emerges out of the damaged top notes, I really only get about an hour's good wear out of it before it fades. Apart from a nice dirty patchouli base that I don't notice so much in the modern Femme, I could not see what the fuss is about. I wonder if it dates from the final years of Femme before the 1989 reformulation, when Rochas was not bothering to support it with hight quality materials.

    The take-home thought for me is that I would rather a good reformulation than a run-down and cheapened vintage version.

  12. I grew up on my mother's Dior poison, YSL Opium and Chanel no.5 and 19, which became reassuring scents to me. I kept the bottles and the scents still lingers. it is sad that current ones are ghosts of the old versions.

  13. I notice that Guerlain's Mitsuoko also has a lipstick named after it - do you think that there is ever any special relationship between a fragrance and its namesake (like a shared image or idea?), or do they just sort of reuse names for continuity within a brand?

  14. Vintage Jolie Madame and L'Interdit--gorgeous! And dare I add vintage Taboo? Back in the day, we weren't afraid of raunchy scents. So much of a scent's perception is just a matter of the environment and the times in which it was worn. So, yeah, I'll add Taboo :-)

  15. I'm a little afraid that PdN's Odalisque has suffered from reformulation. It's still terrific, but the old sample I had was nearly mindblowing, like your first whiff of Secretions...wonderful. Now it is an almost perfectly clean floral, and that minus the ethylmaltol and vanilla is something for which to be grateful. Still, the older stuff was outstanding.

  16. Guerlain-Jicky is at the top of my list for Guerlain, the original formula was much richer, velvety-smooth.

    Hermes- Bel Ami and Amazone. In Amazone’s original formula, the oakmoss gives depth, and the greenness of vetiver gives it a wonderful freshness, giving balance to the fruit notes. The current formula is flat. And don’t get me started about Bel Ami, the leather notes are no longer recognizable.

    Chanel No.19. I agree with the frag-rage. The new No. 19 is much less green, with almost no leathery edge. My other huge disappointment is Cristalle edt, the reform is especially evident in the drydown. It doesn’t resemble the sporty chypre I fell in love with at 16.

    Givenchy- Ysatis used to be wonderful, it was a beautiful animalic floriental. I really (really) miss Ysatis’ body products, the body cream especially. It came in this magical cream/gel formula that had a featherweight whipped consistency.

    Lancome- Magie Noire. In a way, I’m glad Lancome stopped production of their modern debacle; it’s a perfume better off discontinued. The 1978 perfume was, indeed, a thing of elegance and beauty..

    Estee Lauder- Estee, the original had a beautiful lilac/rose note with sparkling aldehydes. The current version is just fuzzy and muddled.… My other love was Aliage, the current version is decent, but the older formulation had more galbanum/oakmoss and is less awkward.

  17. Thank you for writing this column, it is helping to preserve - and to allow others to discover - our olfactory heritage. And I love the term 'frag-rage' which I suffer from regularly, though often it's just 'frag-melancholia' to know that such exquisite treasures and works of art have passed out of this world and will expire completely when the last bottle is used up and human memory of it is gone.

    Then people will sniff the late 21st century formulations of L'Heure Bleue, which will probably be called Loorblu by then, and say, this is nothing special, what on earth did they go on about?

    Thank goodness we have the indies to keep the ethos of classic perfumery alive.

  18. Late to the party, but thank you, thank you, Sam-I-Am. Thank you for confirming that my Mom and I have NOT gone crazy, and that unethical people who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing have gotten their hooks into our dearly loved Ysatis (Mom) and Obsession (me). She says she almost can't recognize Ysatis (weak and somehow missing some things) and while the new Obsession's not bad, it lasts about 10 minutes on me before my body is finished with it after stomping up and down on it, chewing it up and spitting it out. No staying power, even if I marinated in perfume--which I don't. I understand my (paternal) grandmother loved Mitsuoko but now I'm hearing this has also been gutted. How sad to think that what you hoped would be an almost 100-year old tradition has been thrown out in favor of making money off the name.

  19. I have just bought some Chanel 19 eau de parfum on e bay. I first used this in 1980 in Paris, and become very nostalgic whenever I smell this lovely perfume. It was a bargain on e bay, so I hope it smells ok. Wish that I had seen your site earlier. I will let you know if this compares well with the 1980 version.

  20. I am new to this totally amazing web site, i thought i was alone in mourning the passing of some of my olfactory signatures from the past.If it aint broke , dont fix it is what i say. Why mess around with what i regard as great works of art?Just tell where i can get my hands on a bottle of Guerlains "ODE"

  21. I just bought a bottle of Magie Noir from 1986 - it smells great - but it is almost 30 years old. Do you think there are any safety issues with perfume that old?

  22. BTW any advice on how to store vintage perfume?? I should also say how much I enjoy reading your blog (even though I am a blonde :-)

  23. To me, no reformulation was more criminal then what P&G did to Patou 1000. But in all honesty I also think it would be impossible to reformulate back to its original splendor.

  24. Chanel is no where as near as guilty as some of the other houses. Coco still smells like Coco to me. Givenchy has definitely cheapened their offerings more than Chanel has. I don't want to smell reformulated Ysatis because I think it will be a travesty. Same for the Diors, they smell cheaper. Poison is missing is sparkle but I have to say it still smells pretty good. Miss Dior...sigh...I have heard there is a trend going on with large houses reformulating their frags back to a more original state with the advent of a new, accepted oakmoss aroma chemical. Guerlain has done this with Mitsouko and they are working on Vol de Nuit now. I hope this is true. As for the worst most criminal reformulation I have ever experienced...hands down, what Tom Ford did to Opium.

  25. Just for information, Opium formula has been changed in 2009 and the brand new Opium is so deceptive to my nose. Now Opium smells between Cinnamon and Youth Dew by Estée Lauder but the price is not the same !!!
    All the french scents masterpieces are ruined !!!

  26. Jude the obscure
    Bought a really cheap bottle of Taboo last week and was transported back to my early forays into fragrance discovery
    . It smelt just as sexy and lasted for ages. Love it love it. Also scored a lovely bottle of Cabochard. still wonderful.

  27. It is sooo disheartening when you discover what you thought was a no-longer-in - production perfume, only to find it online, reformulated and an embarrassment to it's original creation. I found that with Coriandre, by Jean Couturier.
    The original was an exhilarating blast of woody green that dried down to this clean, warm subtle floral..sigh...Now it has no staying power, no balls, if you will, and not worth the money.

  28. The vintage Magie Noire was a scent that had become my signature perfume; I wore it and nothing else. At least until they changed the formula and it was no longer the perfume I identified with. So I went on a quest to find a replacement scent but nothing satisfied my nose until I found the vintage Lancôme for sale on various internet sites. Magie Noire is a scent that stays with you all day and into the night; everything you wear becomes infused with the sexy scent and I feel like myself again..

  29. I would like to add Chanel Coco. I love this and own a small stash of vintage bottles of the late 80s and early 90s. The reformulated version is sad shadow of the original, very weak and only faintly recognizable in its base.
    I tested it against a current version with the vintage on my left wrist for comparison. The shop assistant tried to deny outright that anything had changed at all. When I let her smell the vintage version, she didm't recognize it at first. She was too young to have experienced the original. Why oh why did Chanel destroy one of the greatest perfumes of all time?

  30. My favourite perfume of all time is Tabu I have got two bottles of vintage which was before they started putting scan codes on things and I have got the modern version which is ok until you put the vintage on no comparison the modern one is just a shadow compared to the vintage what a shame ?/

  31. Will add Beautiful, since it no longer is. Personally, I think reformulating fragrances should not be legal -- those that don't know better are throwing their money away on something that "was", I'd call it a sham. I'm annoyed by the masquerade, give the fragrance a new name and a discount.

  32. You can add almost every perfume made before 2000 to the list. The sad reality is that a lot of the ingredients that used to make perfumes so elegant and beautiful just aren't available anymore. Or if they are, the cost to buy a fragrance would be hundreds, if not thousands. The most obvious example of this is true mysore sandalwood. If you've ever smelled the real thing, any other sandalwood will smell wrong and off. I think the first ingredient that perfume makers stopped using was real amber gris -- yes, the stuff whales 'expel' that washes up on beaches. It's thick, sticky, stinky, fish-smelling stuff that is full of squid beaks. It's also gives vintage perfumes their staying power. I can't think of a single reformulated perfume that is anything like the old stuff. Personally, I think I'd almost prefer it if they'd discontinue them instead of making imitations of the real thing.


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