digging (into) vintage

The discussion of perfume has exploded in the past 15 or so years and vintage perfumes play an important role. A great deal of information that was previously need-to-know within the industry has found its way to the light of day. New information, new perspectives. Vintage perfumery is ripe for excavation.

I’m compiling some things I’ve written about vintage perfume over the past few years to see if any ideas come into focus. Ideas that apply to contemporary perfumery are relevant to vintage, the key one being that perfume can be read. It’s loaded with information and meaning. Even if we lack a language for scent we identify place, person (including ourselves) and time through it. Olfaction is ours for the taking.

Up front, a few of my biases:

  1. Notes are misleading. They ostensibly give information about the composition of a perfume but are fiction. Note lists offer the appearance of certainty but I would argue that they teach us not to trust our own perceptions.
  2. Lists of materials don’t capture a perfume. They’re just the stuff used to make it.
  3. Searching for narrative in perfume is a trap. Perfume works in ways that we’ve only barely started to investigate but it doesn’t tell stories.
  4. I believe that perfume is art but I accept the reasoning that it is not. A more relevant question is: What’s so great about art?

That said: 1) Notes do come up in the discussion and fiction isn’t the worst thing in the world. I try to be thoughtful if I utilize them and appreciative of other people’s use of them. 2) Ditto materials. 3) People use narrative in meaningful ways and I don’t discount their stories. 4) Art can easily survive my calling it out.

Below are perfumes that I know in vintage form. Extant classic perfumes that  I only own in contemporary form (eg. Mouchoir de Monsieur, Knize Ten and Fracas) are excluded.

General:

 

1880s

 

1910s

1920s

1930s

1940s

1950s

1960s

 

1970s

1980s

1990s

2000s

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2 Comments

  1. Daniel says:

    I could be wrong, but I’m fairly certain that’s a picture of the back wall behind the counter at Osswald perfume shop in NYC…

    1. jtd says:

      I’ve never been to Osswald, though I’m a long-distance admirer of Josie.

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