Sunday, 19 February 2012

Spend it like the 70s 7: Smelling like the 70s

I usually write about perfume elsewhere, but this week it's crossed over into this part of life.
As soon as I get onto eBay to sell things - which I'm doing at the moment, honest I am - I start to glance at other stuff.
And I got it into my head that I wanted a bottle of 1970s Diorella perfume, the one I discovered when I was 16 and wore for years, until it seemed to disappear and I forgot about it and bought something different. 
In those days most people rarely had more than one bottle of perfume at a time, and you wore whatever you'd been given for Christmas. Generally I got something in a twist-up stick from Avon, then there was Aqua Manda, with its daring ad slogan "Love me for my body". It comes up on eBay occasionally but I can't bring myself to pay £50 for it, so I'll wait for a car boot find. My gran - my dad's mam - used to give my mother Lentheric's Tweed for Christmas. My mother, with her perverse way of looking at the world, decided that this was because Grandma McCartney didn't like her. I think it was because she used to thank her so convincingly that my gran was convinced, so she went back for more every year.
My mother also had a bottle of Chanel No 5 which had come from my French penfriend's family. It was MASSIVE, and it just sat there. I think she somehow didn't feel that she was the Chanel No 5 kind of person. So she saved it for best and best never happened. Later they bought her Givenchy III and L'Air du Temps. By that time she'd actually started to wear them occasionally.
Perfume has changed in lots of ways, physically with reformulations, and in the way we buy it. We would dab it on carefully, on special occasions because it cost loads of money. It came from smart department stores, with cream carpets around the well lit perfumery booths. These days, pretty much everyone can afford a bottle of scent and you can get it at Boots and Superdrug. Posh brands and bankable celebs licence out their names to massive marketing companies. The materials costs have been cut to be competitive and the individuality and character have been sucked out of scent. They are now mass market, so they've got to be innovensive to 98% of scent buyers.

Back when I first got my Diorella (as described elsewhere) I'd saved up my holiday money, and a lovely Scottish women at a Dundee department store helped me choose. It was so beautiful I fell in love at once. I'm still in love with it. I was delighted to find out that it's recognised as one of the all time greats, but that's not really the point. The point is that I can't live without it.
Your scent shouldn't be something you can just try on and throw out, something you quite like on paper (in both senses of the phrase), shell out £15 for then get bored with. Your perfume should be something you feel passionately about. And let's be honest, women wear perfume because they love it, not because they think it'll help them be more attractive. Frankly, we don't give a monkey's about that. In fact, I know women who only wear perfume when they're out of their partners' smelling distance.
I now own some reformulated* Diorella, newly released by the LVMH empire. It's OK, pretty good even. But from eBay I got my hands on half a 150ml bottle of the 1970s stuff. Its bright top notes might be a little less buzzing, but after 10 minutes you've got the orignal beautiful smell. It's supposed to be Eau de Toilette but it lasts all day. That's another difference between now and then. Now, give it 20 minutes and modern commercial scent has all but vanished. They call it "fine fragrance" but most of it's not.
So now we have a handful of bottles hanging around until we give them away or pour the juice down the sink and recycle them. There's no connection between the nose and the heart. So I ask you only to buy scent that sings to you, that murmers "love me love me love me" when you put it on your skin. Forget the paper. And wear it to please yourself, every day if you like.

Right, that's where it started,  but then I'd put some searches into place. And I got a little obsessed with smelling the before and after versions of perfume reformulations. EU regulations and US recommendations have all but forced perfume companies to take oakmoss out of scents; this is vital to the depth and darkness of classic 60s and 70s formulas.
The accountants have forced perfumers to find less expensive ways to create something that smells almost the same as the original. And let's be fair to the health and safely people; some very early scents had beautifully smelling materials in them that were plain straight poisonous, and some that weren't biodegradable.
If you used to like Coty's L'Aimant in the 70s you will hate it now. The current version is a despicable shadow of its namesake. Likewise Chantilly, the creamy, fruity, flowergarden of a scent made by Houbigant, now a heartless stink made by Dana. (Who? Exactly.)
So this week - even though I've sold my university probability theory book on Amazon for £30, dropped stuff off at charity shops, been to the recycling centre and got 16 things up on eBay - I've had a bit of a setback. Because in California is a man called Jaime who's inherited his grandfather's perfume warehouse, which had stuff in the back corners that had been there since the 1930s. A small box of those will be crossing the Atlantic heading for Ealing very shortly. The man even had some original Trophee Lancome.
But it's not just for me. My plan is to decant it into little bottles and share it with the scent lovers of the world.
And if you do want to find the perfume love of your life, it's still possible. Just bear in mind that if you want a really top pong, you'll probably have to spend time searching, and save up your pence like we did in the 70s.
That way, it's been something worth the bother; there's a connection to it. It's a relationship that's going to last, not just one more forgettable purchase on the road to filling the unfillable desire for more stuff.

Maybe I'm kidding myself, but I do think that if a thing's worth having it's worth trying a bit hard to get the right one.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Spend it like the 70s 6: Je ne regrette rien (ish)

There was an article in the Guardian last week called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Look it up; it's interesting. Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse wrote it after she'd spent time working with people in the last 12 weeks of their lives and realised that there were common themes that kept coming up.

One of them was "I wish I hadn't worked so hard." Then there was, "I wish I'd allowed myself to be happier." They are related, I imagine, in most cases. How much time do we spend worrying not just about working hard, but being seen to be working hard? Who are we trying to impress? What good does it do?
I spent 13 years with one company, writing so hard that my fingerprints wore off. They didn't notice. They just thought it was normal.They thought that was what I was like. I don't regret that though. I learned lots and got quite good at writing and there's still time to put it to better use. But I do question why I bothered trying to impress the people who wrote the cheques. Probably because they kept promising me that great rewards awaited me, but it turns out they didn't.

Anyway, people were adding their comments to the article using Facebook, saying what they thought their own last regrets would be. I thought about how I'd feel if I found out I only had twelve weeks left and I wrote:

"I'd wish that I hadn't aquired so much stuff that people were going to have to tidy up, and that I'd spent the money on travelling instead."

In two days I got 56 "likes" and a reply that said, "sell ur stuff and go travelling now" from Emma Butterfly Walsh. That got 32 "likes. My answer, "Emma Butterfly Walsh, I will" has had 44 and a request for me to post the pictures and keep everyone updated.

So this week I searched among my books for ones I thought might be worth more than Amazon's default £0.01 and put a load of them up for sale. They can stay there until I get tired of them. The ones that were selling for £0.01, I decided to take to the Oxfam book shop. Even if it doesn't help my travel fund (currently needed retrospectively to pay off October's Japan trip) it'll be less to do for the people who'll have to tidy up when I pop my clogs.

How lovely would it be for all our nieces and nephews to walk into a tidy clean house, keep a few beautiful things and not have to spend months gasping in frustration as they open another box full of my "interesting" things. I mean, I do like to have several colours of sealing wax handy for just in case, but most people can manage without.

I've also assembled 18 stackable cubes for putting stuff in while it's in transition. They are my in-boxes and out-boxes. A white one is my photography studio; it's great for eBay pictures. I shot a load of stuff yesterday reading for putting up next week. (This week I've got real work and when you're freelance, you take it while it's there.)

Two cubes are taken up with first editions of magazines and newspapers from the 1980s and 1990s, including a Judge Dred which should fetch me £50. (Woo hoo!) The rest are probably worth about fourpence each. Let me know if you're interested.

As a nation, we've not grown any happier since the 70s, despite all the extra things we've all got. I'd be interested to see if I get happier as I empty the boxes, the cupboards and the bookshelves.

PS And where it went wrong.
I'm easily distracted by lovely things, I confess this openly.
For Christmas Mr Tuesdays got me a day out perfume sniffing at a perfume shop. Was that wise? Anyway, I bought perfume. I also discovered that you can snap up many beautiful vintage scents, that are no longer made, on eBay (particularly if you speak French and go to and Etsy. So now I have a box full of vintage Je Reviens, Chantilly by Houbigant, Soir de Paris and Diorella 70s edition. My 1970s Bal a Versailles is on its way. I also bought 288 2ml bottles (they come in packs of 288) and I'm going to share my treasure a tiny bit at a time with the perfume sniffing fraternity, but it does take up a bit of space.
I have one good excuse. I really am writing a book about it. Promise.