I recently salvaged a stash of old perfumes which included some vintage Chanel No. 5, Miss Dior and other more contemporary scents from the 70‘s and 80’s. It was such a pleasure to experience them, knowing they were no longer in production, at least the way they were formulated at the time. They reminded me of old buildings; we continue to inhabit them, but they are shells of their former selves. And yet traces of the past can be sensed like ghostly reminders.
I was surprised to discover that some of the unknown scents had murky bases full of labdanum, oakmoss, vanilla and patchouli. Contrast that to the metallic brightness favored today. These old perfumes actually unfolded on my skin, leading me to believe they contained high percentages of naturals.
Another surprise was how these old compositions were all about the base, exuding richness and complexity in lieu of lightness and transparency. Some might associate this with an “old lady” smell, but I realized that at some point in time, base notes were treasured in women’s perfumery. The leathery Miss Dior reminded me of a handsome satchel worn with a houndstooth suit and black stilletos. This Miss Dior could kick the crap out of any modern day sylph and yet her ladylike persona defined restraint.
When my mother smelled it on my wrist she said it instantly transported her back to New York in the 1950’s, when Miss Dior was a popular choice for young women with new found jobs. I may not have known my mother back then but I was able to imagine her as a 22 year old music school grad working her job at RCA and for a moment was connected to her in her past.