digging (into) vintage: Christian Dior Jules, 1980

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(image, Martha–the last passenger pigeon. source, Smithsonian Institution.)

Perfumer Jean Martel (perfumer of Paco Rabanne pour Homme!)

What does “vintage” mean in perfumery?  It doesn’t have the same meaning as wine, where the noun ‘vintage’ refers to a specific year.  We use ‘vintage’ as an adjective to connote quality and a timeframe.  The time implied is somewhere in the past.  Anywhere in the past, as long as it isn’t still current.  The intimation, aside from connoisseurship, is that the better/best version of a perfume is no longer made.  The current model is defective.

One force that presses the issue is the restriction of materials and the dreaded reformulation. The chypre genre has become vintage by extinction due to the limited use of oakmoss.  That is, pre-reformulation chypres become vintage the day after reformulation. Coumarin, the sine qua non of the fougère, is restricted as well. The chypre was bled to death over time. Has the same happened to the fougère?

So here’s the question: Does Jules still exist? Vintage Jules took advantage of everything the aromatic fougère offered. It was gregarious and handsome. It hit the balance point between cleanliness and funk that made you want to throw your arms around your fellow humans and smell them. It had the soap/musk mash-up typical of the genre, but added a bouquet garni and a smile. Vintage Jules reminds me why I grew up loving the smell of Paco Rabanne pour Homme and easily fell in with Yves Saint Laurent Kouros as a young man when it was released.  The aromatic fougère reaches out for you. It reminds you why the term inspiration carries multiple meanings. It is optimistic by nature.

The current iteration suffers from everything we kvetch about with reformulation: thinner, pale, less long-lasting. There are plenty of well-maneuvered reformulations, but when a particularly strapping version of a titanic genre is made small, I have to question whether it’s better simply left to die.


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