Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Perfume Ghosts

A recollection: I am standing beside a flea market-addict friend, holding her purse, while she sifts through dusty old junk, hour after hour. Such treasure she finds! A cardboard doily with some cartoon character on it! A broken table designed for a doll house! Scratched aluminum tumblers in the original colors!

As she picks through the leavings of others, I occasionally find objects that remind me that I’m, well, aging myself. Like my first-grade “Old McDonald” lunchbox. A Barbie doll head with a platinum bouffant hairdo, same as the one I had. Dishes just like my grandmother’s.

Finally my feet or back and patience give out. “For Christ’s sake,” I say. “Let’s go get something to eat.” She relents, but I still have to drag her away, her eyes sweeping frantically across the panorama of Junque Hell.

You know the punch line. This was before I discovered vintage perfumes.

Why, just the other day, I was at a flea market looking for a couple of useful objects, and a shelf of glittering little bottles caught my eye. Here’s what I got, never mind the useful objects:

A quarter ounce of vintage Rochas Femme, 99% full, deep, rich and skanky. A small bottle of old Norell parfum, a little degraded in the top notes, but I wore it yesterday and after it blooms it smells great. (My college roommate wore this, reminds me of her.) Boucheron EDP, one of those “I’m really a Countess” lush mixes, dark and sultry, a mini. Givenchy “pi,” which I’d never heard of but smells great, citrusy and rich with vanilla. A few mills of Molinard de Molinard, with that odd high – almost screechy – green note, strength unmarked, but I think it’s perfume. This is one I can wear to the gym. A half-bottle of vintage Rive Gauche cologne. I used to test this when I was in college, and found it awful; now, it’s intriguing, and definitely the version I remember. In other words, it’s as weird as ever.

I know this was an exceptionally good haul, especially for $33 – I’ve gone to these places and found nothing – but I’ve discovered that flea marketing is not a bad way to spend a couple of hours, even if I don’t find a thing. Because flea markets are kaleidoscope of a culture.

Each of these bottles has a back story. Who owned them? I bet someone gave someone that Rochas Femme. It’s quite old. Maybe the giver was thinking it would be some innocuous feminine floral, and the recipient wore it – once – was horrified at the skank, and put it in a drawer, where it remained until uncovered many years later.

The rest? Probably minis bought in sets from duty-free shops and carts. Ladies who didn’t wear much scent, sighing as they made more room in the dresser drawer for Christmas presents from grown children or clueless husbands. Or scents they did wear but didn’t have time to use up.

Most of the stuff in flea markets comes from estates. There are “liquidators” who will clean out a house for a nominal fee and the rights to anything really valuable they find. One of them once told me that they found a letter from Abraham Lincoln tucked behind an old framed painting. This, of course, is what keeps these companies in business, and what keeps “Antiques Roadshow” going.

Perfume is so personal, and some people find buying it like this to be a little, well, creepy. Others believe that objects somehow carry spirits. I’m not sure what I believe. In a way, these places are filled with ghosts. When I look at my growing collection of fragrance bought in this way, or, especially, when I wear the scents, I wonder about them. Make up stories about them.

It’s as good a way to spark imagination as any.
photo by "Retroholic" on Flickr.
Reminder: Deadline for the Rosine and Bulgari samples drawing is March 1; see previous post for details. Leave me a comment and you'll be entered: what was your first gotta-have-it perfume?


BitterGrace said...

Wow, nice haul. I envy the Rive Gauche. You don't often find that one abandoned. I think its fans rarely let it go to waste.

I've never thought of my flea market finds as creepy, though they do always seem a little sad--but that's part of their charm.

lady jicky said...

Why is it that I never find scent at flea markets or Op shops!
Bravo you!

Lucy said...

That is exactly what I do with flea market finds, make up stories to go with the finds. If my stuff ever ends up that way I hope whoever finds it worth buying does the same...

nice catch, with that perfume! I am envious!

Olfacta said...

Hi M --

I don't find them creepy myself, but my husband does...odd. Sometimes they make me sad, but that's usually when I see something just like objects my parents had.

Thanks for commenting!

Olfacta said...

Hi Lady Jicky --

Well, I usually don't either. This was extradordinary. I know people who swear they've found vintage Tabac Blond at garage sales, but all I ever seem to find is orange crock-pots.

Thanks for commenting!

Olfacta said...

Hi Lucy -- It does spark me, the making up of stories. There are a number of Native American tribes, if I remember correctly, who believe that objects transfer spirits. All flea markets seem haunted to me, but not in a bad way. And I too hope that my "stuff" goes to someone who can appreciate it.

Thanks for commenting!

Oh, True Apothecary said...

"Or scents they did wear but didn’t have time to use up."

Oh, my god. That made my heart stick in my throat a bit. Sad when you think of it that way, but so true . . .

Nice haul, by the way :D

Olfacta said...

Hi OTA --

Thanks. I have a couple of old bottles that were my mother's, and I was thinking about her when I wrote that.

Always use the good silver and the "company" dishes, because you just never know.

Haven't heard from you before, thanks for commenting!

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