Is this bottle half-empty or half-full?
The other week, I went with a couple of friends to a Sephora. I guess that chain has turned mainstream in recent years. The fragrance stock seems limited to the kind of thing you’d expect to find at an Ulta discount cosmetics store, with a few exceptions. We weren’t buying, though. We were on a smelling safari.
I don’t shop in malls much at all, so this was a rare experience for me. As I tried the new scents, it became obvious that much of the damage has already been done. Imagine a thunderstorm without any sound. No thunder. Flashes of silent, safe lightning. Opium, Coco, No. 22, the Diors -- pleasant enough, unless you remember what they’re supposed to do.
We were all so busy sweating the arrival of the new IFRA regulations in January April (read about the IFRA and Joy here, if you like) that we stepped right over the note slipped under the door.
My response? Makes me want to hoard the old stuff. Bad mojo? Maybe, but only natural.
I’m thinking about searching out those old drugstores, the indies that are barely in business, with their dust-caked boxes that list three ingredients: alcohol, water, fragrance. That’s it. Those are the ones you want, if you can find them. Rule of thumb: the longer the list on the back of the box, the more godawful the perfume will be. So I’ve been fleabay-ing again, trying to get the ones I’ve craved, before this news hits the mainstream media (if it ever does) and the sellers find out that there isn’t going to be any more.
I finally got myself a half ounce of vintage Joy, the perfume, because how can you call yourself a perfumista without it? (And, yeah, I got a deal -- still to be had, just not at the fleabay perfume “stores.” I look for indie sellers who have, for example, six antique plates, a felt-covered bobblehead dachshund from the 60’s (missing an eye), a box of plastic horses, a Hummel sheperd figure wearing lederhosen, a shoebox full of tintype postcards of somebody else’s ancestors and maybe one bottle of boxed, still-sealed perfume.) These big florals aren’t really my style, but since many of the jasmines are going away with the new rules recommendations, I figured it was now or never.
I’m glad I did. It’s not my first pick, hubby doesn’t like it (“I don’t understand the appeal,” he says; sweetheart, I don’t understand the appeal of the NFL, so there ya go, but I digress).
But what does it smell like? Well, it smells like Joy.
A bit of aldehyde; and then: Man. Is this indolic jasmine or what? There’s that fine little note of rot in there. Rose and tuberose, of course. Sure, the top notes are a little degraded, but that’s over in minutes, and when it blooms...this stuff blooms. There’s something almost psychedelic about it. I think of huge fields of flowers, done in hand-colored animation a’ la “Fantasia”, cartoon flowers in pink and orange, blooming and blooming and blooming in superfast time lapse motion for hours, then collapsing in exhaustion. It’s not just from another era. It is one.
I suffer little nostalgia for the good ol’ days of girdles and dress shields, sleeping on hair rollers, or a bad reputation followed by eternity tethered to a typewriter. But this isn’t the fine new world we were promised, either. I get exhausted sometimes from the daily struggle with technology, and that endless hamster-on-a-wheel feeling of being permanently behind the curve. Faster and faster and faster we go. This is the future. Our stockings this Christmas will be filled with communications devices that do more and more and more, but we have less and less free time to do them; less than ever. This stuff was supposed to work for us. Instead, we work for it.
So: forgive me a little hoarding, a little bit of something beautiful from the past, when people called each other just to talk. When we accepted a party invitation delivered by phone or in person, not by an anonymous Facebook invite list. When we sat around laughing at each other’s stories.
Because I have this little suspicion that humans aren’t supposed to live this way.
Joy, released at the dawn of the depression in 1930, was once advertised as the “costliest perfume in the world,” a title that has been surpassed many times now. The notes include aldehyde, greens, peach, Bulgarian rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, tuberose, musk, sandalwood and civet. The perfumer was Henri Almeras, who (it is said) worried that Patou had gone mad when he stated his intent to market this fragrance during such a dismal era.
Joy bottle image from PerfumeProjects.com.