digging (into) vintage: Carven Ma Griffe, 1946

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jolie madame

Perfumer Jean Carles

Pursuing vintage perfume has its difficulties.  Date?  Formulation?  Provenance?  Concentration? At the heart of the matter is a question that can be asked of every perfume, whether vintage or current.  It’s a variation on the ‘does one ever swim in the same river twice’ chestnut: does one ever smell the same perfume twice?  Is my new bottle of Mitsouko the same perfume as my last bottle?  Is Mitsouko Mitsouko?  It’s a high-school philosophy survey course sort of dilemma.

The problem with vintage perfume has to do with expectation. What do you expect from your ebay perfume purchase?  If it is a greater authenticity than a contemporary bottle offers you, be prepared to smell the disappointment.

Ma Griffe is my instructor on the topic. I’ve smelled 3 vintage versions made in the 1970s to 1990s and they all smell largely the same to me. Powdery and buttery, green but vague. Weak, indistinct, uninteresting.

This is the powerhouse green locomotive from 1947?  The legend that paved the way for the commanding green chypres of the mid-late 20th century? Of course it isn’t. I’ll never really know what the old girl smelled like in her heyday. I wasn’t there in 1947, and to smell a bottle of Ma Griffe in 2014 that might have been produced in the 1970s can’t compare. If you’re chasing the authentic experience, like a junkie chasing that first high, it’ll feel like a hint of a memory.  Like a dream at the tip of your mind’s tongue.

So what to do?  Consensus is that the current Ma Griffe is rubbish and vintage is unreliable at best. Buying vintage doesn’t usually give you the option of sampling or testing a perfume in advance of purchase. It’s a stab in the dark.

So Ma Griffe is dead to me. It is the plight of perfumery and the perfume lover that over the course of time even iconic, seminal fragrances will go away. We blame IFRA compliance for reformulation, but forget to consider that the loss of past perfumes is inherent in the form. I enjoy the discussion of perfumery and the language that it prompts us to create. As for Ma Griffe, I’ll have to be content with viewing from the sidelines of the debate. I’ll never smell the perfume.

Still, it’s worth it to have the discussion, don’t you think?

addendum: OK, I tried it again. Fool me, shame on me. I have an EDC from the 1960s and it’s fairly gorgeous for 10 minutes before it disappears, which leads me to believe that this might simply be a composition that doesn’t age well. That said, I’m glad I bought it (ebay, for pennies). It’s an interesting chypre-floral. Oddly safe from the man who went out on a limb with Miss Dior, but very presentable. The genteel green/powder mix is a great contrast with the green/leather whip-crack of Cellier’s Bandit.

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