New Releases vs Obscurity – A post in which I write a bit about niche and about rummaging through history courtesy of an unknown vintage perfume.

Sylvaine Delacourte* writes a piece on her blog about the state of ‘niche’ perfumery. Her thoughts are not new, in fact this is what many have been talking about for some time; the amount of new releases by niche, or exclusive brands, the number of new niche brands, and the difficulty at keeping up with them. What surprised me were her numbers 1 in 4 new releases is a niche perfume.

She says;”What is the future of all these niche brands? Some brands will grow with the support of powerful investors and become part of the conventional circuit, others will disappear? Either because they lack interest, or because they will not find any investors?DSC02510 New brands will be born?” (sorry for the translation.) She says that out of 1330 new releases 331 are niche. I don’t know where this number is from, but releases for 2014 says 2400 new fragrances. Let’s say 2500 to count in the last month of the year too, that would make 625 niche releases. I agree that this is a big enough number to question the word ‘Niche’.

I’m going to make a jump here, and come back to my own point later.

Recently I saw a good-looking Baccarat bottle, sealed but without etiquette, on an online auction site. It reminded me of something…a minute flickering through my minds inner picture album and I remembered what it was; Guerlilas, a long gone Guerlain vintage. With a bit of internet rummage I managed to establish that three perfumes were filled in this particular Baccarat bottle; Guerlilas, Guerlarose (also Guerlain) and a long forgotten fragrance Bal des Fleurs by Gueldy** all from 1930 perhaps 1929. For a very low bid, I thought it would be worth playing the vintage-roulette.

I was only partly lucky, the perfume is great and in amazing condition, but since it’s neither Guerlilas nor Guerlarose, I have no idea of whether what I smell is actually the third perfume mentioned; Bal des Fleurs or something else refilled and re-sealed… ( edit 2016, I’ve established that this is indeed BdF)gueldy_004

What was lucky was that I actually adore the perfume inside, it sits nicely somewhere between Arpège (1927) and Vega (1931), with its champagne bubbling aldehydes and soft but discreet abstract floral bouquet. I did search for notes and old adverts, but no luck. I shall do my best to describe it. This floral aldehyde is remarkably strong lived and strong-willed. The sparkle is bold, cheerful and happy, like if no 5 was a woman, slightly tipsy at a 1920s dance hall. In time as in execution, it sits somewhere between flapper and ‘The Depression’-it’s cheerful but not foolhardy.

It goes soapy in the nice old-fashioned way, which is more soap than clean, and in the abstraction of flowers, I believe I smell the sweetness of orange blossom and some jasmine. Even if there’s no obvious rose scent, I’m certain that it’s there. There’s a nectarish presence between the flowers and the sparkle, and as the fragrance reaches the dry down some 10-12 hours later, I detect just the tiniest lady-like bit of civet, and I suspect various balsams and/ or resins to make this lady get home safely on her high heels.

As much as Bal des Fleurs is no epochal fragrance, it is definitely as good as and better than some of the Floral Aldehydes which survived. I’ll wear it now and again as a happy fragrance, and though this Gueldy might not have survived the test of time, a small time capsule did, and can live on my skin every now and again.gueldy 001kopi3

 

Back to the thoughts I had receiving this forgotten fragrance and todays niche.

If we go back a little under 100 years, and look at new releases in for example the year 1920, my pretty rough guestimate***is that 600+ fragrances would have been released that year. Taking things like todays wider distribution into account, I might just say that history is simply repeating itself. Were they called ‘niche’ perfumes and ‘mainstream’- most certainly not, but surely there was a difference between what one bought at the pharmacy, and what one would buy at Rue de la Paix.

Not many of the perfumes from 1920 are known to us today. I didn’t expect they would be, and perhaps more interestingly, of the brands not many are still around. But a few stuck out; Molinard, Coty and…Guerlain.

They survived (without intermission) along with a few others in a supersaturated market. I can’t help but thinking of Mme. Delacourte’s own words, did they survive because they were the interesting ones or the ones with the biggest investors? Or something else entirely????????????????????????????????

 

 

 

*Sylvaine Delacourte is fragrance creative director of Guerlain and writes her blog in French Esprit de Parfum

** Thank you Grace Hummel at Cleopatra’s various boudoirs and listings

*** This is based on the fact that even the best database only had 225 releases listed, but cross referencing the various brands on this database with other lists, such as Cleopatra’s, gave that most brands present in the list with only 1 fragrance, had infact released between 6-9 fragrances that year. So the 600+ should be a very conservative guess. Also, compare this to the releases in the 1970s between 50-70 and 1980s 80-150 releases I assume that here the databases are correct as they basically agree.

 

Disclaimer; if anyone should at all doubt it, I LOVE GUERLAIN PERFUMES- and I had hoped the bottle would house vintage Guerlilas, so this is merely my thoughts upon reading the post by Mme. Delacourte which coincided with the arrival of “Bal de Fleurs”(?). And I am happy that history did not erase some of my favourite Guerlain perfumes, Vol de Nuit, L’Heure Bleue etc…

and as nearly always, naivistic pics by me.

 

13 thoughts on “New Releases vs Obscurity – A post in which I write a bit about niche and about rummaging through history courtesy of an unknown vintage perfume.

  1. Fascinating post.

    First, what an interesting game of vintage roulette. I love Vega and its touch of civet it has in the base so I can imagine how your (probable) bottle of Bal de Fleurs smells. Too bad it wasn’t the Guerlain you were hoping for but how lucky that you like it.

    I sometimes wonder why some perfumes survive and others falls by the wayside. Clearly it’s down to sales but in the long-run is it the interesting ones that sustain repeat purchases? I like to think so but it’s hard to say. I was told at the new Harrods Guerlain boutique that Vega has been discontinued now.

    BTW I’m glad you’ve put a banner of your lovely illustrations under the header.

    • Thank you Tara 🙂
      You know, I took ages with this post, although I had most of it finished, because it’s no complaint, but just this big question, as you put it; why do some survive and others not? I’m sure there are many explainations, but clearly even funding is not just what makes something survive. I mean Coty survived and got bigger and bigger, but it’s fragrances didn’t… Coty Celeb frag vs vintage Coty Chypre (which I haven’t tried) just saying.
      You love Vega, interesting, I had no idea- I love Vega too. That and Arpège shouldn’t be me, but I love to wear them for parties- and now this little obscure one too.
      And the banner was actually always there, but only when you’re on the main/homepage, not not the actual post. Also, I found that sometimes things which won’t work on the post side, works on the home-site (music for example) and vice versa. If that makes sense. I really need to do something about it :-/ If you ever wondered at that.

  2. I love your illustrations but this is one of those rare cases where I wouldn’t mind seeing the real photo also 😉

    As to your thought, I swear I expressed something along the lines somewhere in my comment on somebody else’s blog. I can’t remember even the topic, but my idea was that 100 years ago most perfumes were niche and now we were just on the next spiral section of the history with the only difference that we have a bigger exposure to the information about those brands thanks to Internet. And, if to keep going into that direction, higher prices and lower accessibility for these perfumes isn’t something new as well.

    • Ha, Undina: Your wish is my command.
      The reason was that my battery had run out, so it was a lot quicker to paint a bit, than to wait for it to reload. But now there’s both.
      I normally read through comments sections too, so your comment must have escaped me, but how interesting. I agree, obviously, also about the prices. And I honestly think that my estimate of 600+ is (way) too low, I think we’re talking more double that. And that’s without adding every little pharmasist, who I’m sure must also have made little bottles of Kölsch Wasser in his lab.
      The perfume craze was really huge, there was even a cabaret song about how women would do anything to get their hands on a bottle of L’Heure Bleue…

  3. Oh, I finally got round to reading this.
    I love how you find the most interesting things on ebay. I really need to learn that. 🙂

    Unfortunately, I think Mme Delacourte might be correct when saying perfumes with the best (financial) backup might survive.
    I’m a bit scared about that but I also wonder how many formulas come back a bit recycled and presented as new perfumes… (after they’ve been gone 20-30 years)

    • A bit like treasure hunting, a lot of fun actually:-)
      Let’s hope you’re right about the recycling, it would be better than all the 100 Angel clones out there (and that trend need not come back 😉 ) However, I fear the recycling is more of an immediate thing, so that with so many new releases it’s unavoidable that twins will appear.

  4. Interesting thoughts on Madame Delacourte’s piece, Asali. It might be foolishly naïve of me to say this, but I really don’t get too worried about the number of new perfumes being launched and which ones are truly niche and which ones will survive based on the merit of the composition or based on the financial (merchandising) strength of the company that created it, because I really do think that true beauty – truly beautiful perfumes, in this case – never die. There is a net of support that keeps them from perishing: perfume bloggers who write pieces about beautiful vintage perfumes that helps spur the collector to seek them out on Ebay; the artisanal perfumers who resurrect these beauties because they know they interest is there (in this case I am thinking of a perfume you recently wrote about, DSH Scent of Hope); and though the IFRA body continually represents a serious obstacle to perfumers producing great perfumes, I don’t even think that it can ruin the art of perfumery as we know it, because I think that different paths will be developed that circumnavigate the laws (for lack of better word) that they lay down … and smaller companies will then produce the fragrances that true connoisseurs want, and that is the way true niche perfumes will flourish.

    I guess this is my long-about way of saying that I think you are right about history simply repeating itself. And I’ll end this simply by saying that the perfume you found on Ebay, whatever it is, sounds gorgeous (especially to someone like me who loves aldehydic beauties like Vega, Chanel No. 5, Chanel No. 22, etc).

    • Dear Suzanne, I don’t think it’s naive, and it is in part how I think myself, what does it matter if there are many releases? Obviously it matters to the company or the perfumer, but as for the comsumer… Apart from the fact that niche, as Undina suggests is now a question of price tag, and that it becomes impossible to be alert to all things happening (which isn’t really a great problem the way I see it), I think that the struggle to survive will make it hard to create new things, hard to experiment. But I hope, and do believe, that you are right, that at least some of the true beauties will survive.
      As someone who loves their aldehydes, I am sure you would like it a lot 🙂

  5. I am glad your vintage roulette sort of paid off, even if it wasn’t quite the perfume you were hoping for. Just the fact that it was very nice and in decent condition was a result. I have recently sniffed Vega on Tara and was very taken with it on her, I must say, so you probably did get something special there, if it is even a little bit similar.

    Re the statistical musings, all very interesting. I can believe that ‘niche’ is exploding – I get contacted by quite a few brands I have never heard of, sometimes launching a bunch of scents all at once. That quickly multiplies, I would imagine…

    • It’s only a bit similar, it hasn’t got that soft, sweet Guerlain dry down.
      Exactly, it’s just musings, I’m not judging, since I think there are probably as many good sides as there are not so good sides to the ‘explosion’ ;-). I also like to hear what other perfumistas have to say about it, since it makes room for new thoughts. I thought about how as niche turns mainstream, the niche will be, again as Undina pointed out, price tag, but also I suppose indie perfumery. Anyway, it’ll be fun watching the developement.
      I wonder what you say to all those brands? do you select which ones are the most likely to interest you?

      • Sort of – there are a handful of niche brands I have had a good rate of success with, so I am a bit more curious about their new releases, then am neutral for the most part otherwise. If I receive a sample I will of course give it a whirl, occasionally sitting up because I really like something! The other scenario is where a friend tips me off about a perfume they think has my name on it. 😉 But I find the wealth of launches quite overwhelming, I will be honest.

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