Health & Grooming | The Haute Seat

The scents that can instantly summon up the past

Part two of our guest blogger’s trip into the world of vintage perfume

The scents that can instantly summon up the past

September 05 2011
Odette Toilette

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In part one of my triple-bonanza on vintage fragrances, I looked into how interest in this whole area is growing, and the motivations that lie behind our desire to recapture a lost time by getting hold of some antique “juice”.

I discovered that this nostalgia often comes with poignant personal meaning when I called Veronica Pirie of Sublime Sourcery (www.sublimesourcery.com), a self-styled perfume detectives’ agency commissioned by clients who are desperate to track down an obsolete bottle so they can smell once more their grandmother’s perfume, or the scent of somebody lost to them.

Veronica told me an intriguing story: “Every time one of my clients opens the stopper, they can almost summon back a loved one. A customer of mine was hunting for a perfume from the 1960s, worn by her beloved fiancée. He ran off to Australia and she never saw him again. The lady told me she was happily married, but said, ‘I just want to remember those times back when I was young, just the once.’”

For Veronica, finding exactly the right bottle takes patience: “In most cases I get it, but it doesn’t happen overnight. You have to be very precise. I always ask clients when they last used the scent, as there’s no point bringing a bottle made 10 years later, which might smell very different.”

For those looking to sleuth out some vintage perfumes for themselves, a growing army of sellers on Ebay are catering to collectors’ every whim.

“Just call me Nana – people on Ebay know me as Nana”, is how one seller introduces herself to me (her official trading name is Bragarite). Nana is, she tells me, sitting in her home in Scotland, surrounded by boxes and boxes of vintage perfume miniatures. I wished I could be there in person and have a good rummage, as, at its peak, her collection numbered 4,000 bottles. “It got to the point where my poor husband had no space. There was perfume everywhere, the shed was full. So I thought, enough; I’ve got to start selling.”

She’d caught the bug early: “I was nine years old, and a neighbour came back from France with a set of mini-perfumes. That was the hook. From then on, it was always: where can I get more of these?”

In Nana’s case (ironically, she is allergic to perfume), it was the glass, not the juice, that allured, a preference that until recently has dominated the collecting scene. Such was the focus on the crystal, especially by Baccarat, that dealers would routinely throw out the contents. Only with the explosion of perfume blogging and online communities have most enthusiasts, myself included, had the information and knowledge to investigate confidently, or even discover what is out there.

“I started getting more questions from buyers who really knew their stuff about perfume,” remembers Nana. “They were asking about the liquid, not the glassware. I’ll never forget the day I sold a bottle of Lancôme’s Sikkim for £440. That was astonishing. I realised this could be quite serious.”

Though undoubtedly on the rise, vintage fragrance collecting is still relatively underground, says Rebecca Rose of Juno Says Hello, who we met in Part One: “When I bring up vintage perfume in conversation, people think I’m talking about parma violets or lavender, which is a far cry from the reality of the scents. And think about the fragrances that were top sellers in the 1990s, such as CK1 and L’Eau D’Issey. That was only 15 years ago and they are still very popular. It will take a little while for tastes to come round to the other end of the spectrum. But I do think it’s coming. Give it five years.”

In which case, you’d better get hunting before the rush. Just stay away from my Narcisse Noir (pictured), unless you’d like to buy it for me for the tidy sum of £950 on Ebay. Apropos: in the final part of my odyssey into vintage fragrance, which you can read here later this week, get ready to start collecting for yourself with my handy buyer’s guide.

See also

Perfume