Monday, December 14, 2009

Smells Like Joy

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


BitterGrace said...

Wonderful. I feel sorry sometimes for perfume lovers who are just coming of age, and may never experience wonderful old stinkers like Joy. I get weary sometimes of all the lamenting, but that's only because it's so completely appropriate. I don't like to think about it all, to tell you the truth.

I'm conflicted about hoarding. I've gone wild a time or two, and given away every drop some precious, irreplaceable vintage. I felt good when I did it, but I have to confess that regret caught up with me later.

The Left Coast Nose said...

I love "Joy"-- and I LOVE your description of the good stuff, but in my house? "Joy"= my dead mother-in-law, who only wore "Joy" because it was "the most expensive perfume in the world" for its era. (Gertrude would be wearing Clive #1 if she were still here.)

So I don't get to. ("Wonderful old stinkers"-- yeah!)

I just had my mind blown by Barbara over at (AKA "Yesterday's Perfume") last week. We met in the flesh, and she let me sniff a whole bunch of the old oldies-but-goodies: "Vent Vert," "Fracas," and the one that changed me deep inside, "Bandit." "Bandit," in it's current form, I refer to as "pain & despair in a bottle." But the original "Bandit"? There's a whole world inside that smell.

Uuugghhhh- vintage perfume. Do I really need another bad habit?

chayaruchama said...

Yes, sisters.
Old stinkers, dear to the nose and the soul.

I resolutely concur that life should NOT be this way; and I've passed my biases on to the next generation, too-
Because what is real, and genuine, and delightful needs to be perpetuated.

I am conflicted about the Hoarding.

But any time you need a drop of Precious-
Be it time, energy,care, or perfume-
You know I will step up to the plate .

Love and delights this season...

Scent Hive said...

Dear Olfacta,

I believe your bottle will always be half full. I still believe in calling people just to talk and hand written thank you notes rather than by email. We kindred spirits need to stick to together!

Warm thoughts to you this holiday season,

Olfacta said...

Hi M -- I do too. Imagine thinking that "Chance" is the pinnacle of this art. So sad!

Olfacta said...

Hi R -- I too have known people like your mil. Just not for a long time thanks be to whatever! So, I went to the link and had myself a little envy party. What I wouldn't give to own some of those or even sniff them! I've tried the newish Bandit but never the vintage. Did she have Miss Balmain, btw? I'll add her link to my blogroll.

To me, vintage perfume is a direct conduit to great style, the scent of ghosts, the difference between a painting and a print.

Olfacta said...

Hi C -- Such kind words. Love and delights to you, too.

Olfacta said...

Hi T -- Yes the art of the phone call and the handwritten note. Thanks for the encouraging words!

Mals86 said...

Another lovely post, O.

I do love some vintage stuff - the old Cotys in parfum are just lovely - including Je Reviens, Sortilege, and some ancient and truly gorgeous No. 5, but Joy does nothing for me. Well, nothing good, and I'll leave it at that. But at least I KNOW firsthand, having tried two current versions and concentrations, and two different vintage parfums. I feel lucky to have smelled them.

I will say that I've been pleased to smell a few new things this year that seem, to me, to have that weight and gravitas and substantiality that really classic perfumes share: Tauer Une Rose Chypree, and Maison Francis Kurkdjian Lumiere Noire pour femme. It's wonderful to know, while we mourn over what's slipped through our fingers, that Serious Perfumes are still being made.

The Left Coast Nose said...

Miss Balmain? Why yes, she did!! In the most fetching little bottle ever!! (I was surprised at how small so many of the bottles were...)

You're just gonna have to come out and visit us and we'll have a sniff-a-thon.... Ooops! Barbara's leaving here to go write a book in NYC and, New Orleans, I think. We'll just have to admire her from afar from her blog.

She is amazing-- I'm so glad you've found her!

Olfacta said...

Hi M -- Sorry to be so late getting back. I do love many of the niche and indie perfumes. The perfumers, though, may have a problem getting their ingredients once the suppliers begin to lose money on them as their larger customers slip away. Or be forced to sell them at such high prices that they become unaffordable, or the perfumes made from them do, to all but the wealthiest. I hope this dismal scenario doesn't come to pass, but already the price of the good niche perfumes is going up and up and up.

Olfacta said...

Hi R -- Can I be Barbara?

Hmmm....I do come out to California at least once a year, LA, but it's just a short flight...

Aimée L'Ondée said...

Beautifully written post, Olfacta. I feel the same about my old bottle of Joy, and all my vintage juices. Thank you!

brian said...

Hey there, Olfacta, sorry I've been out of touch. I would email but can't remember your new address. Was sorry things didn't work out in September/October, but I'm still planning to move ahead with some of those projects. Would love to do something together. Hope you're well. Great post.

Joy Perfume said...

Standing out from the crowd is a woman that is offered with Sublime by the Jean Patou House. A mixture of the most delicate yet sensual notes, the top notes are of bergamot, tangerine and coriander with green accords to give you a fresh and sweet tinge. Joy perfume