Vintage Perfumes - why did they reformulate my perfume?
Old Perfumes are a puzzlement. I'm using the term "old perfumes" because vintage and discontinued seems to not be one size fits all like they used to be.
Let me explain.
A few things have happened to perfumery over the decades, but probably one of the single biggest Perfume-Changing-Events was IFRA. IFRA was the European Union's imposition of strict regulations on what raw materials could be used in perfume (list at end of article as of 2010). Not talking about chemicals, the raw materials, or, you know, organics, naturals. Chemicals are all still perfectly fine! Turns out real oakmoss caused a rash. Bad oakmoss.
Oh, listen, we are so not going to get into some chemistry talk - that just makes me really sleepy! - but in brief, in 2010, the Perfume Prohibition Era was launched. Everyone who belongs to IFRA - and absolutely everyone in Europe regardless of being a card-carrying member of IFRA - may not use the banned substances. Perfumers in other countries that are not members are free to make all the Bathtub Perfume Gin they want and pack it full of natural oakmoss, Ylang, orange blossom, etc.
Why should you care about this?
Well, you shouldn't! Except you might. Let's say you've been a big fan of Guerlain Mitsouko and bought bottle after bottle of it through the years, and it may take you a couple of years to get through a bottle. Last year when your kids gifted you with your much beloved Mitsouko, you thought they just got you a bad bottle or the wrong strength or - well, it was just off, it smelled sorta right, but it was missing something. Maybe they went on eBay and got you some cheap fake? Cheapskate kids, trying to save a buck on a birthday gift for mom!
IFRA changed your Mitsouko. It had so much lovely, lovely oakmoss in it. While Guerlain has done a decent job of substituting a synthetic, it is different. Someone who has never smelled it wouldn't know the difference, but those who have known it and loved Mitsouko for years will.
That's how we wind up calling four-year-old bottles of Guerlain Mitsouko, um, vintage.
It's not really vintage as in old, but it is vintage as in it's not made anymore because that particular vintage can't be. We often use the term pre-reformulation, but in some cases (Hey, Rochas Femme! I see you over there!) perfumes have been reformulated more than once. Rochas Femme has maybe four iterations that I know of off the top of my head. Original 1940s and '50s, something pretty close to it made up until about 1972 or so, then the first reformulation that subbed in the cumin, and then another one after that. It gets hard to keep track.
We at Surrender to Chance get asked about the vintage of something we are selling. We often don't know just by the date purchased. If we know what bottle was made when or if the box changed on reformulation, we can tell you. If you know those things, we'd love to have that passed along! Then we can note it in the description so you are pretty clear on what you're getting - you can try out the newest version of an old perfume so you won't be disappointed. Listen, I have to search for a certain type of label in a certain color on the box of one perfume to make sure I've got the older version.
Are all reformulations bad? No. some reformulations have been really amazingly great.
So that's what I refer to as reformulated vintage - it's not really old perfume, it's just been changed.
Discontinued perfume can be any age - really old and hasn't been made in forever, like F. Millot Crepe de Chene, or something they made for a short while and the company is out of business or discontinued the fragrance, like MosBudHinJewChrsomethingsomething, you know, that great Mark Buxton scent that came in the concrete box that was made for like two minutes and disappeared around 2008 or so.
Old Perfume is how I like to refer to vintage now because it seems to be more meaningful. This could be the stuff that is discontinued or is in a formulation that hasn't been made in 40 years, but they still make some version of it. Old perfume is often referred to by the younger set as "Old Lady Perfume" or "Gramma Perfume."
Yeah, I know, I quit taking it personally. I love my old lady perfumes that chuff gardenia and tuberose and oakmoss like a perfumed freight train. Not for every day, but for when I want to go all in and apologize for nothing, especially not my stinky bleu cheese gardenia and indolic jasmine scent plume.