Today’s collectors are considering and collecting vintage perfumes both nationally and internationally. While the scents are alluring, the design of the perfume bottle is what attracts one to a particular vintage perfume.
When I started my research on vintage perfumes, it was all about the beauty of the bottles and the bravado of the brands.
Now, there is much more to the vintage perfume market. Skilled sellers/scientists are trying to blend old familiar perfume scents with new additions to create some collectible fragrances.
It is interesting and a bit exciting to learn that an interested collector can actually find and purchase a favorite old-school perfume on the market. Would these old perfumes still smell good? Would they smell the same, bringing back memories with a whiff?
The idea of recovering old perfumes is interesting but it is not without its obstacles. The science surrounding the art of collecting vintage perfume is the real story here, along with the setbacks.
Setback 1: Perfumes go bad over time. No matter how lovely or high quality a bottle is — French Baccarat or Lalique crystal — perfumes lose their punch. The shelf life for most high-quality perfumes is about 18 months to two years. I was saddened by this fact since I have decades-old perfumes that I still use that date back to my high school days. When I hold those bottles and squirt the atomizer of my vintage Lauren or Calvin Klein perfume, I am immediately back in my childhood bedroom standing in front of my dresser thrilled to be going somewhere fun. Alas, too many years have passed to save the original smell.
Setback 2: You really can’t go back to Kansas … even if you were, like me, raised in Connecticut. You see, perfumes can degrade from exposure to light, heat and oxygen (air). A perfume’s top notes go by the wayside first and then the base or core scent languishes over time. Citrus scents fade very quickly. The floral scents are stronger but they too will eventually give in to old age. Like people, some perfume scents age better than others.
Setback 3: Trying to find a full, unopened bottle of vintage scents like Juneve by Reval Langlois from the 1920s, Sycomore by Chanel from the 1930s or Apres L’Ondee by Guerlain from the 1950s is next to impossible. Why? Most people don’t realize that perfume collecting is a real thing. And this “real thing” is trendy and expensive. These vintage scents — not just the beautiful bottles — are worth big bucks to a new generation of perfume chemists mixing new and old scents in New York, Milan and Paris. Don’t forget about the industrious group of new age perfume entrepreneurs who are amassing old, half-empty bottles of perfume in thrift stores and from estate sales that were cast off. These folks are buying them up and auctioning them off online. They are reselling these scents by the tiny vial for a very nice profit on Etsy.com, Ebay.com, etc. So, if you are going all Marie Kondo and your old perfume is on the $1 and under table at your estate sale, you are making a big mistake. The money you lose on that transaction with a savvy estate sale shopper will certainly not “bring you joy.”
Is there any hope for collectors who want to wear their favorite vintage scent and have a sniff that recalls a fond memory? Many vintage perfumes are sold online and are, with some obvious olfactory differences, ready to wear. Some collectors are looking for that scent that their late mother wore and paying big bucks to recapture it in a bottle or a vial. Others want to share a fragrance promoted or named by their favorite Hollywood celebrity or pop star. Either way, the vintage perfume market is alive and well. These old perfumes and their bottles are leading the pack as a valuable, memorable, and somewhat attainable collecting category.