The moral of the story is this:
As soon as you find a perfume you adore, take out a small loan and invest in half a dozen bottles. Now. This minute. Do it while they’re still making Eau de Perfection with sandalwood and genuine jasmine – stuff that someone squeezed from an actual plant – and not from sleek vats of Jas-super Type F19544432 and SandaLozone and other chemicals that just about fool your nose into thinking it’s smelling the real thing.
I’ve had my first big niche perfume disappointment. Can you tell?
Apologies if you arrived at this page by accident, googling ‘SandaLozone’ or ‘Nepal’ (we’ll get to that) or whatever. If you’re not a perfume fanatic, you probably think that the orange liquid inside a bottle of, say, Chanel No. 5, has been exactly the same stuff since Coco first pointed a finger at a beaker and said ‘J’ai choisi. Numéro Cinq!’ and the rest of this piece will be a bafflement. In fact, as with most perfumes, from the moment Ernest Beaux got back to the lab and told his minions that – sacré bleu – Madame had selected the very one which Claude-Yves¹ had accidentally loaded with aldehydes – at that moment, he was doubtless already fretting about how to obtain huge quantities of rose morocco absolute, and calculating that Madame’s nose would fail to detect une petite substitution of something rather cheaper.
Perfumes are all about substitution. ‘Contains something rather cheaper’ ought to be printed on the back of the box of almost everything you can buy at the average department store perfume counter. Or the very least, ‘contains something we’re actually allowed to put in it by IFRA, that smells roughly the same if you squint’.
Classic perfume after classic perfume has had its vital organs removed. The big companies gamble that if your Miss Dior smells a little startling, you’ll think it’s on account of you getting old and your nose being burned out by years of spray deodorant. The truth, of course, is that the manufacturer long ago stopped putting in the more troublesome ingredients that came from living objects, and started putting in ‘safe’ aromachemicals whose presence you don’t have to admit to on the packaging, and which, by a happy coincidence, are usually much cheaper.
Now, this doesn’t often affect me, because the kinds of perfumes that I love tend to be made in artisanal batches, using whispers and pinches of precious ingredients instead of great glugs from industrial vats. I can make a sad face about the death of classic Shalimar, but in fact I never wore it, so what I feel is a pang of regret, not an urge to drop my face onto the keyboard and sob.
And, in truth, I have so much perfume that I rarely get to the end of a bottle. In recent years, I’ve only bought new bottles of Cuir Ottoman, vintage Nuit de Noel and Ambre 114. The replacements all smell exactly as before.
But one of my absolute favourites, that I haven’t got round to replacing, is Ambra del Nepal (see, I told you we’d get to Nepal), from the small Florentine herbalist/parfumerie, i Profumi di Firenze. I have about a millimetre left in a bottle I bought ten years ago. Ambre del Nepal isn’t groundbreaking or anything – Tania Sancha gave it grudging acceptance in ‘The Guide’ – but nothing makes me happy quite like it. I always think it smells of brick dust, if bricks were made of cinnamon and vanilla. I love it.
Now, Ambra del Nepal isn’t an expensive perfume, so the reason for not buying a new bottle really came down to the sheer faff of it. You couldn’t seem to buy the stuff anywhere in Europe. The website – I’ll say ‘unhelpful’ and bite my lip – still claims that Selfridges is their UK reseller, which is news to Selfridges. My lone bottle came from the USA. Yup, it had to be shipped from Italy to Florida, then shipped back to me at four times the cost of the stuff as sold in Italy, with all the cost of DHL transporting it, and…this is the killer…weeks of waiting while it clears customs and eventually I’m told I can pick it up from a business park in Tonbridge once I’ve paid the thirty pound customs charge.
Have you added all that up on your fingers? A bottle you could buy for £25 in Florence ends up costing something like £150.
And yet….and yet….Ambra del Nepal is my ultimate comfort scent. I’ve been looking at that last, sad millimetre and wondering…
This is why I found myself googling every internet source of a shop in the EU that might just stock iPdF. I didn’t bother with the iPdF website, where I’d always been able to see the perfumes listed without being able to buy them (face-palm, I know). But somehow I tripped into a link that got me to a page on iprofumidifirenze.it where I saw the fabulous, magical words….
“Add to basket.”
I thought I might be hallucinating. In fact, the browser crashed and for days I couldn’t find the page again and thought there must have been some digital confusion. Then I found it again…
Naturally, I ordered a lifetime’s supply.
Delivery was prompt – four days. The packaging was lovely. With trembling hands, I pulled the cap from a new bottle of Ambra del Nepal and sprayed…
…and thought ‘WTF?’ Whatever I was smelling, it bore no resemblance to the warm, creamy perfection in my precious millimetre upstairs.
I let it settle down. I unwrapped another bottle and tried that. But there was no escaping the truth. The juice in my new bottles smelled as if a woman wearing Ambra del Nepal had passed through the dry-cleaning shop an hour ahead of me. It smelled – and I mean no disrespect – like something from Yves Rocher (worthwhile perfumes, but you suspect a certain necessary pragmatism with the ingredients).
Immediately I wondered if I’d been fobbed off with a fake. But even I really can’t imagine an international gang of criminals carefully faking the products of a small Florentine perfumery. Then I wondered – aha! – if I’d got the wrong concentration. A product sheet which came with the perfumes suggested that you could get 15%, 20% and 60% concentration, and my Last Remaining Millimetre said ‘Eau de Parfum’. The new bottles also came in slightly different packaging, without the perfume names hand-written in gold. If I ordered from the US would I get a bottle just like my vintage one, or…
Then I read these awful words on BlogdorfGoodman, recommending amber perfumes…
‘IPdF Ambra del Nepal: Only the original. The reformulations have not been kind.’ ²
Reformulations. Re. Form. U. La. Shons.
That’s it. It’s over. My precious brick dust is gone forever. I will never smell it on my skin ever again. (I’m not wasting the last millimetre on flesh, obviously.)
I’m not sure I can bear it.
And, you know what? Now that I’ve been stung by a reformulation, it strikes me that I’m getting through my MDCI Chypre Palatin (£200 at Harrods) at a rate of knots. Of course, I’m sure Claude Marchal wouldn’t dream of swapping out the oakmoss for something cheap like vetiver…
Anyone in the market for a kidney?
¹ I made up Claude-Yves. I think.
² (Annie: http://blogdorfgoodman.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/40-days-and-40-nights-of-fragrance_25.html)