Vintage talks and reason walks...
As you have probably already guessed, this is an article about the irrational prices at which many discontinued and thus rare fragrances are offered (and possibly sold) nowadays. I know that everything is a matter of supply and demand, but come on now! What's wrong with all these people? Since when finding some old perfumes while cleaning their grandparents' basement means they could make a Ferrari out of them?
As we speak, someone is selling this bottle of Guerlain's Derby on a well known site, for 799,99$, describing it as "Rare & Very Hard To Find ORIGINAL DERBY de Guerlain Eau De Toilette for Men 3,4 fl. oz. / 100 ml Natural Spray. New in original retail box (box has some wear as pictured). Made in France".
I don't know if he's misinformed or a misinformant, but what he's selling IS NOT the original Derby de Guerlain, cause the original Derby de Guerlain is this, in the so-called "eagle" bottle.
The Derby he's selling is post-1993, when Guerlain changed its different bottles with the universal one it now uses for nearly every one of its masculine fragrances. But I guess that since the same guy is selling 15ml of Shiseido's Nombre Noir Pure Parfum for 1,099.99$, his Derby should be considered a bargain.
Don't bother that he claims it's sealed, while the pictures are clearly showing that it isn't. What matters is that for a mere 1,099.99 bucks you'll get your paws on something that will allow you to brag about your prosperity and owning a not so historic piece of perfume history.
A couple of months ago I received a private message from a perfect stranger, willing to sell me some long discontinued Macassar by Rochas. These were his exact words.
"Hi, I found that you were looking for some Macassar Rochas. I have some for sale. I have 4 100ml and 2 200ml. They are new and in their own boxes. The price is US$300 for 100ml and US$600 for 200ml. If you are interested send me an e-mail at..."
The message was accompanied by a picture showing the goods.
I loved Macassar something fierce back in the day, and it's one of the discontinued fragrances that I miss the most. But how this dude found that I was in desperate need of some and eager to pay a fortune for it, completely eludes me. I haven't even written a review about it, so there's no way he knew. Macassar was just one of the numerous fragrances in my "I had it" list. Trying to be polite, I didn't mention that placing a splash bottle sideways is not the wisest thing to do, and I answered.
"How did you assume that I'm looking for Macassar? It's not in my want list. Truth be told, I prefer to discover old and discontinued perfumes by myself, usually in small and nearly forgotten shops. And at their original or even a discount price most of the times. Anyway, thanks for your offer and have a nice weekend."
He never bothered to reply of course...
However, I can't help but think what would have happened if I had bought 50 bottles of Macassar when it was still available for 40$. As it seems, investing on fragrances is not such laughable a tactic as many people would think. The only problem seems to be the lack of prescience about which perfumes are going to become ultra rare and preposterously expensive in the future. But the truth is that an unofficial perfume "stock-market" already exists, and that replacing "stock" with "black" wouldn't be that much of an exaggeration.
But since my moral compass sometimes gets demagnetised, I'd like to ask a couple of questions hoping that the possible answers will help me recalibrate it. When a discontinued fragrance sells for let's say 100€ online, but I find it for its original price of 20€ in a little backstreet shop, does this mean that I'm actually fooling the shop owner if I buy it? Could it be that informing her/him of its current value would be the right thing to do? Or should I consider that being aware about the value of her/his merchandise is her/his job and not mine? On the other hand, I've happened on shop owners who had put a 100€ price tag sticker over the initial 20€ one, cause it seems that they did their homework and searched a bit online. Or even worse, I've seen fragrances with two different price tags on them. One in euros and one in drachmas. They obviously didn't bother to remove the drachmas' one before sticking the one in euros when Greece replaced its millennia old currency in 2002. This wouldn't be something to complain about, if the readings were analogous. But when the euro price tag reads 50 and the one in drachmas reads 5000 (17€ approximately), then we have a problem. In these cases, it's obvious that the shop owner acted like a black market thug, but what am I supposed to be called when I omit to inform her/him about the current value of the fragrance?
I always wondered if there are actually people who pay this kind of money for a hard to find fragrance, or it's only about some sellers testing their luck and checking the gullibility of perfume afficionados. I mean no offense (and I hope that none will be taken), but who on Earth would pay 500$ for something that (s)he won't be able to examine thoroughly before purchasing it? Especially when this something has a good chance of being spoiled because of being old. I understand that fragrances of past decades were made with way better ingredients than today's "something like a scent" formulations, but this doesn't negate the fact that fragrance is a relatively easily spoilable product. The highest amount I ever paid for a rarity was 50€ for each of these 100ml Loulous, and this was their initial price, slightly risen perhaps, due to rounding their price after the currency transition.
I've never sold a fragrance, but I think that +50% of what I paid for it would be a very reasonable price, given that it would be a rare one. And to those who will hastily call me an unscrupulous profiteer, I'll say that this "profiteering" translates into 75€ maximum for fragrances like these.
In many of these auctions/sales the ones making them claim that the fragrance smells gorgeous/divine/exquisite/whatever. What seems to elude them is the fact that even if the fragrance actually smells like any of the adjectives they use, this doesn't mean that it smells like it's supposed to smell. To make such claims has knowing how the fragrance originally smelled as a prerequisite. And I don't think that all these people have first hand experience of how their "treasures" smelled like when they were launched. And this also applies to the buyers' side. To be satisfied with a purchase, the buyer must be sure that (s)he got what (s)he paid for. And that means that (s)he must know how the purchased fragrance is supposed to smell like. Last week I purchased a 50ml Tabac Original flacon from a small neighbourhood shop for 10€. The fact that there was a "Made in West Germany" on its box gave me a good indication of how vintage it was. And a mere 5% of evaporation aside, the fragrance smelled exactly as I remember it to smell when it was widely used by me and family members back in the '70s-'80s. Just out of curiosity, I searched for the same bottle online. I found only one, with a damaged box, in an auction starting at 35€.
Although I believe that people are basically good, I like to contradict myself by being extremely suspicious when it comes to online buys. And this, along with having no credit cards, is the reason I've only bought one fragrance in my entire web surfing career. What if someone from half the world away sells me a bottle of "vintage" Opium, where the only vintage part of the deal is the bottle, but it's full with the sacrilege that Opium has become nowadays, and then swears that the difference is due to the fact that the perfume is 40 years old? How am I supposed to prove that (s)he's a swindler? By conducting a chemical analysis? Or by starting a crusade to mar her/his good reputation as a seller? The only thing that I could do would be going livid while thinking of her/him laughing with the sucker's naiveness.
I already know the reason behind this absurdity going on with vintage fragrance prices. It's called greed and it's also responsible for most of the bad things happening on our tiny blue sphere. The reason I wrote these words is that I find it hugely unfair and extremely annoying to not being able to enjoy something as beautiful as perfumes, without having vultures circling over long dead fragrances and my pockets...
P.S.: I sometimes wonder about the motives behind perfume houses like Guerlain replacing their beautiful individual bottles with some universal (and in most cases generic) one, but I guess "greed" is the answer to this question too...