Saturday, 13 August 2011
Tabac Blond and reformulating perfumes
Tabac Blond was actually the first vintage perfume I tried and it was love at first smell. Looking at the notes it was not a perfume I expected to suit me, even if carnation and ambergris usually work well on me. Patchouli, however, usually have the dreaded “old lady” smell for me and I felt very, very unsure of the leather
Top notes: leather, linden, carnation
Heart notes: iris, vetiver, ylang ylang
Base notes: cedar, patchouli, vanilla, ambergris, musk
I’m not a smoker and I don’t like the smell of it, but tobacco does smells different from smoke. When I was a child my grandmother had an antique snuff box in silver and her brother once filled it with tobacco. Probably to tease his big sister as she was vehemently against smoking, but the tobacco stayed put and over the years it dried and the scent grow fainter. I remember opening that box and sniff at times, it smelled so nice, somehow. The first whiff of Caron’s Tabac Blond reminds me of that smell and it smells lovely. It may sound like a paradox, but it’s true. It evolves into a lovely spicy scent that is a little bit naughty- sexy, but rather quiet about it. Of the leather I detect nothing much, a mere whiff, , but when the patchouli arrives in the dry down it plays nicely and smells divine. Finally a patchouli scent I can wear! Oh, I love Tabac Blond.
Then I started to read up a bit more on vintage perfumes and I came across a phenomena in the perfume world that was completely new to me, that of reformulating. It’s not an easy concept to grasp, even if it sounds straightforward. The reasons for reformulating a perfume can vary. A rather obvious reason is a need to substitute a component with a synthetic counterpart. That is what has happened with the base notes that come from the animal kingdom like musk, civet and ambergris. Musk and civet comes from glandular secretions from certain animals and to obtain it, the animals were killed. Ambergris is a substance sperm whales produce in their intestines though ambergris found inside a whale actually has to be cured to be used in perfume. One of the things that make it smell so divine in perfumes is that it floats around in the sea for a long period before floating ashore or found at sea. I think it’s pretty clear to why these substances have been replaced by synthetics and from my understanding these are of a very high quality.
Cost is another reason for re-formulation. Substitute a costly component with a cheaper or fewer ones and you can rake in some extra money. Because, and this was something that really surprised me, there are no regulations when it comes to perfume. A masterpiece of a perfume where components have been carefully blended and balanced, may be totally changed and the perfume company are under no obligation to tell. Of course, people notice, but the way you perceive scent is highly subjective and what you enjoyed once upon a time may not please you anymore. A perfume change too, it ages and a new bottle may smell very differently from the old one. A perfume that has been reformulated on the sly may easily be explained away with those factors. However, nowadays perfume nerds can get together on the Net and compare notes. When everyone agrees that a scent have changed character, then it probably isn’t their noses playing tricks on them.
Then it seems quite popular to update an old perfume, to make it sellable in a new age. There are trends in scents too. Of course, when updating, it’s perfectly possible to make the scent cheaper to produce as well…. Yes, I am critical to the concept of reformulating, while I can understand and accept the need to change when a component for whatever reason become unavailable, I think that to change a perfume in order to cash in or sell more is a good way of slapping those who are interested in perfume in the face. I’m not trying to be snobbish here, there are lovely perfumes who are both cheap and bestsellers out there and if that happens to be a perfume who suits you, then you should wear it. But to try to make every perfume into that is a mistake, in my view. If you want something to appeal to a lot of people, then you have to find a common ground that covers a lot and in that process the thing that makes a scent complex and unique may very well go away. A daring perfume may not appeal to everyone, but for those who do love it, well, they may very well be prepared to pay a little extra to get it too. A perfume created 1918, as Tabac Blond was, does echo the esthetic values of the time, as do a perfume from any epoch. To me that is what makes it so interesting and covetable and I don’t want to experience something that someone has decided to change in the hope to appeal to a modern nose. It shows very little trust in something that is, in its own way, a piece of art.
Tabac Blond is one of these perfumes that have been changed. I found numerous of discussions when the new version was compared with the old one and deemed simpler and more boring. As I really like this new version I got very interested in how the original smelled. Could it really be such a difference? So I hunted out a sample of pre-reformulated Tabac Blond to try.
As I said, I love the modern sample of Tabac Blond, but it truly pale compared to the old one. At first they smell quite similar, but the leather and the patchouli seems to have switched places- I can hardly detect the patchouli while the leather goes wild. This is a very sexy perfume, there is nothing understated about it at all and absolutely gorgeous and quite complex. I can easily see a naughty flapper wear it for a night of divine decadence. Modern Tabac Blond, however lovely, it’s the sanitized version of her youth she tell her granddaughter.
So what is my conclusion of this very long post? (I hope I haven’t bored you too much). Well, my conclusion is that if you are interested in vintage perfume and then finds that it is available today, do some research and see how the modern version compares to the old one. You may very well find a lovely perfume, like Tabac Blond, but some of the reformulations seems to have morphed a once glorious scent into something rather horrible. If so you may want to find a sample of the original rather than the new version.
Personally I’m going to buy me some more of modern Tabac Blond, but I’m going to save a bit and get some of the old one too, for those very special moments.
If you want to read some more about reformulation, then I think you should read The quest for the ideal perfume and Perfumista tip: on reformulations.