The pejorative expression ‘old lady smell’, for most perfumistas, is a justifiably hated phrase (so reductive; so un-connoisseur). In Japan, malodorous criticism is aimed much more at men; the supposed stench of the jiji, or man over retirement age. Salarymen of a certain generation tended to pick a product; be it Shiseido Vintage, Kanebo’s Eroica, Mandom, Auslese, or any one of the selection (still readily available on shelves at local pharmacies) that come in every conceivable toiletry – see the triangular Vintage box set above – and wear it for life. Imagine the scented hair tonics and creams and brilliantines plus a freshly shaven face splashed with hopeful aftershave: the result; a real cloud of aldehydic sweet woody herbal aromatics that the young men of today here would rather die than wear, the associations so strong. I have had male students talk quite avidly of how much they physically detest the smell of the overscented comb-over retirees embarking the city trains to meet their old colleagues for a game of golf or mahjong or to just talk about the old days in some cafe or beer hall: an olfactory divide that is quite different from the UK, for example, where all generations slap on their Sauvage or their Boss or Paco Rabanne or Aventus for a night out at the pub with no real cognitive dissonance. Here, a perfume like Vintage, which D picked up for me the other day for about 50 yen (about 33p) from the Zushi recycle shop, immediately confers a real sense of age, denoting wordlessly that you worked through the Bubble in the post-war years like a dog, and that you are now, in your dotage, still clinging to the old ways.

Post-war Japan was a thriving, dynamic period when men were required to sacrifice themselves 24 hours a day for the economic recovery and dignity of the nation: wives stayed at home and reared children (even now, many women don’t go back to work until their children are around ten), cooking and cleaning and socialising with other mama-san, while exhausted but nicotinized and over-adrenalised husbands would be forced to go for compulsory drinks after office hours until the last train or later to cement the bonds with the other workers in their guaranteed-job-for-life companies (the younger generation is learning to say no). Then, you couldn’t. I wonder, then, if a loyalty to a product like Vintage – warm, sad, musty, quite touching in its lingering sensuality -is a way of of just maintaining that time line; a daily men’s ritual that for many of the boom-generation now must be a visceral smell-link to the past, and for them at least, still relevant to their present.


Filed under Flowers

21 responses to “VINTAGE by SHISEIDO (1975)

  1. What is “middle-aged oily odor”?

    Through its unique research regarding men’s body odor, Mandom has discovered a “third odor” distinctive to men in their 30s and 40s. This odor is different from sweaty odor and aging body odor.
    We call it “middle-aged oily odor.”
    “Diacetyl” included in sweat is a key compound for middle-aged oily odor, which smells like old, used oil and is mainly generated from the back and crown of the head. Although men have difficulty noticing this odor themselves, women notice it easily as it has the characteristic of being unpleasant.

    Oh my.

    • I am not remotely surprised.

      It is hard being a woman, and hard being a man.
      There is seku-hara ( sexual harassment ), pawa-Hara (bosses making subordinates drink etc though thankfully that is now waning), and smeru-hara – subjecting others to your vile odour or otherwise too much fabric conditioner.

      As for the hair thing, I mentioned it the other day. It is a form of insidious product advertising to make you paranoid about how you smell.

    • Wow I just clicked on the article. AMAZING.

      People literally sniffing balding middle aged men’s scalps as a JOB.

    • Some people have special intravenous drips to rid themselves of old man odour

    • Just to say :

      I truly believe that personal odour varies from person to person, as intricate and unique as personality. Plenty of people here don’t even need to wear deodorant, even on hot summer days – it amazes me : almost: an odour of sanctity. Others are not so lucky ( especially smokers).If some Mandom researcher started sniffing me 24 hours after a bath on an August day I think I would kill myself.

      • Not sure why but I find this entire topic hilarious.
        I too believe that everyone has a very personal and unique odor. I am certain it varies due to hormones, diet, genetics, and our individual microbial flora & fauna. I’m quite curious as to why some people smell better than others to me? I also think part of finding perfumes that suit you is finding one that melds with your natural stench (hopefully creating something wonderful or at least tolerable?) I have found that as I age I smell like more my mom, and tend to wear the same white florals & roses as beautifully she did. I don’t wear deodorant either, but mine is not an odor of sanctity (lol). I met a very famous “nose” when I was a young thing, he said I smelled like grapefruit & a little sandalwood. Now I veer more towards sandalwood, heavily.

  2. Robin

    Those ads, those images, for some reason half intrigue me and half repel me. Especially the ones with the cigarettes and the moustaches. Sort of the worst of the seventies. I can almost smell them, and not in a good way. The diacetyl, the oily hair, the scalp. (Diacetyl, interestingly, is what gives certain Chardonnays that characteristic buttery smell that most people find attractive, so context must count for something.) My Dad was into that manly thing of the time. Ick. He was better in the sixties, clean-shaven with a crew cut.

    Just in case anyone hasn’t seen the commercial. (Neil, do you know what the Japanese voiceover says at the end of this?)

    • Is this in the link Bibi put up? I should look again but probably wouldn’t be able to translate it properly.

      I deliberately put up slightly greasy images, as the scent also has that slightly stale ashtray quality of perfumes like Carven Pour Homme that for me really are relics of the past and haven’t transcended to modernity.

      Interesting about the wine connection : I know I find a creamy note in many award-winning French reds almost heavously nauseating but don’t drink whites so much ( if I do I like very light, watery Italians); I associate Chardonnay with a slight paint stripper rancdity

      • Robin

        That’s just a vid I found on YouTube, remembering that I’d seen it before. At the rate Bronson is tossing around the Mandom, he must go through a couple of six-packs of it a week.

        Those images did the trick for sure. I almost held my head a little further away from the screen.

        Oh, yeah, that creamy note in some reds. Yech. I get sour cream specifically. Turns my stomach. It’s often in Merlots, which I don’t like as a rule anyway, unless they’re top-notch French.

        And stale ashtray smell. *Shudders*

      • Smoking REALLY isn’t good for one’s smell. A fresh curl of cigarette on a clean face is ok for a moment, but when all it all adds up after a day anybody STINKS. I actually have one every once in a while just because I feel like extra stimulation, but the breath of a smoker ain’t pretty.

      • Robin

        Canadian cigarettes are the worst. They stink in the ugliest, stenchiest way. American cigarettes smell better. So do French and Italian. I don’t know that I’ve ever smelled English cigarettes. Ric smoked Dutch loose tobacco, which is a good, woody, clean smell. His breath never was bad — and I am acutely sensitive to bad breath. (Any bad smells, just a microbe in the air from thirty feet away, and I’ll pick it up.) It’s like his body just rejected all the molecules that attach to other smokers, the insides of their mouths, even their skin, oozing through their pores. His scalp doesn’t smell and neither does behind his ears, even after a day working a winch to get fallen trees out of the brush for firewood. I can smell my own scalp and back of my neck if I rub them — I’m clean and not a smelly person at all — and I don’t like it. Some people smell better than others to me, no question, and better than I do, I think. I’ve heard you can’t really smell yourself but these little nostrils of mine are in a league of their own.

        Another thing I liked was the texture of the skin in your ads. It really added to the overall impression. We’re so used to digital smoothing and filters these days that it’s a shock to see unretouched photos in ads.

        You’ve got me so curious about the smell of Mandom, N. I don’t suppose I’ll ever run across an old bottle, but from now on I’m keeping an eye out. Ric would smell gorgeous drenched in the stuff, I’m sure.

      • I don’t doubt it. Sometimes five dollar colognes can work beautifully. I like Skin Bracer even.

      • Robin

        Skin Bracer! I got it for my dad every time his birthday rolled around when I was a kid. I was just spraying on some Caron pour un Homme after my lavender bath last night and thought, “This stuff reminds me a little of Dad’s Skin Bracer.” True story.

      • They are similar. Soft and lovely.

        Great to hear

  3. It is funny how the older generation found a scent and just embraced it to the point that younger generations of men don’t want to have any part of it. The stench of some of those jiji must be horrific; the dated fragrance, the smoking stench, the booze, the natural bodily excretions, along with whatever else. It makes me cringe just thinking about it. I can truly see how the younger generations just want to smell fresh and clean
    My father was a smoker, never in the house though, and I hated the smell that lingered on him. It is also what killed him; massive coronary at 55, 6 years almost to the day after a quadruple by-pass. I still detest everything about smoking to this day. At least his fragrance choice, Pierre Cardin pour Homme, made him smell lovely overall. He never had a bad middle-age man smell about him. I am not sure what makes some men have this smell, because I have definitely smelt it on many men I have been in close proxemity to on public transportation, but more have it than do not.

    • I love Pierre Cardin pour Homme – wasn’t it that scent with a powdery halo to it that was quite distinctive ?

      Re the middle aged man smell, it exists, and more men should also be self aware, but at the sam time to a large extent it can’t be helped and people shouldn’t be demonized into becoming completely paranoid by advantage taking cosmetics companies.

      • It is the the distinctive powdery scent!!
        Our natural odeur changes as we go through different stages of life, it’s only natural. The only things that can be helped are physical hygiene and oral hygiene, both of which many people sadly overlook.

      • I agree.

        Sorry he passed away so long – that must have been very tough for you.

      • It was horrid. Losing ones parents is an unavoidable tragedy. Losing a parent when one is young is soul wrenchingly painful, especially when you are close to them.
        I think I will hunt eBay for some Cardin pour Homme to have in his honour.

      • I can’t imagine what it must have been like for you. My sincere sympathies.

        I do remember that this scent was great though – glad you got to grow up with someone wearing it. x

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