Passing a department-store perfume counter, I noticed a holiday display for Clinique's Aromatics Elixir. I picked up the tester of the Limited Edition version, recalling the exotic, heady concoction of the '80s; only a scant half-spray had unleashed a massive rose-patchouli powerhouse.
Instead, I was "treated" to a shock. Apparently Clinique saw fit to slather on orange flower and peach "to add a creaminess" to this flanker, dumbing down the scent to an incoherent, sweet sludge.
The 'unlimited' (supposedly original) version was no better. Aromatics used to be that interesting girl in a brocade vest who sold silver earrings in a boutique for a little while, before heading back to Goa; now, she's at a backyard bar-be-que in the suburbs, with a blowout.
I began to research the current editions of perfumes I once coveted. The news is dire; nearly every beloved grande dame classic is a ghost of itself: Rive Gauche, Diorella, Fidji, Arpege, Allure; the idiosyncratic Caron scents like Vol de Nuit and Tabac Blonde. Givenchy's L'Interdit is now stale strawberry gum.
My longtime signature, Norell, has been demoted from Casablancan madam to pleasant bank teller.
Essentially, if you remember it from when you got carded in a bar, you don't want it anymore. Though even scents created in the '90s have been altered, those dating from the '60s or earlier have had more work done than a septagenarian movie star.
The outstanding perfume blog Now Smell This has contributed a post about the whys of this depressing practice; in summary, they give three reasons:
1. Profit (first, foremost and always denied as the reason by the house). As Luca Turin says, "The beancounters have triumphed over the noses."
2. Banning of products, namely oakmoss, and therefore, the effects of synthetic replacements, and
Pandering to the "new tastes", mostly an eye to expansion to customer
bases unfamiliar with the heady, assertive scents of the
previous century. (See #1.)
Hard-core devotées scour vintage dealers, but one person commented on Now Smell This, "Give up. Never revisit the old scents."
Like many women, I have two perfume wardrobes: one is the evening side of the drawer, those lush, red-curtain bottles with knockout sillage. In them, I feel glamourous, reckless, hopeful. I have even been obsessed with some. These are the close dancers, the perfumes, not "scents".
The other side is daytime (and not necessarily worn only then): light but not boring. They go anywhere, and once there, stay politely within your personal space. For some time, I have included at least one natural fragrance in this mix, in case the scent-adverse stray too close.
Given my low-key life, these are the bottles I go through quickly, even though Le Duc prefers the evening ones.
Looking for love
If I must abandon my old paramours, who is next?
For the past two years, I've ordered sample-sized decants from LuckyScent and IndieScents and dropped by perfume counters, with special attention to the niche players whom, I hope, have more integrity than the giants.
Too many of the decants dried
down to frothy, indistinct blends for twenty-somethings. Even if the
site's copy conjured a siren in a red silk slip, the sample took me to
Even so, I found standouts: for evening, Malle's "Parfum pour Térese" and Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier's "La Reine Margot"; for day, Hermès' "Un Jardin Sur le Nil" and Serge Lutens' "La Fille de Berlin".
For a spritz to keep in my gym locker, I bought a bottle of Sarah Jessica Parker's "Lovely"; it has short staying power, but it's pretty, not cloying, and as well-balanced as many frags four times the price.
I'm still searching for the must-always-have-a-bottle, flagrant love like I had for the originals of Lancome's "Magie Noir", and "Montana Parfum de Peau".
Have you noticed, few department stores hand out actual samples anymore? They spray a card and hand it to you, as if you are made of paper. The best you can get is a spray on the wrist, which nine times out of ten, settles into an insipid haze.
What's the top-selling fragrance of 2013? Justin Bieber Girlfriend.
Says it all, doesn't it?