IS THERE ANY POINT IN BUYING PERFUMED VINTAGE SOAPS?

There is a lot of misunderstanding among those not in the know about perfume how long it actually lasts. Yes, some perfumes do ‘turn’. But many do actually in fact last in perfect – or near perfect – condition for decades, particularly if boxed. You can get an old Guerlain from the fifties or sixties and sit in utter amazement as you lift up the unstoppered flacon and inhale the incredibly unsullied beauty. Rochas lasts very well, as does Hermès. Caron extraits can remain immaculate for half a century, or even longer – no problem, their unctuous oils untroubled by time. Quality perfume is often a lot more resilient than you might think.

But what about the other products that are often sold together with liquid fragrance? Are they as durable? Soap, body lotion, shower gels? Not really. Obviously it depends; and I know nothing about chemistry so cannot comment on how different compounds deteriorate over the years in the scientific sense, but from my personal experience, these auxiliary extra indulgences do lose their scent much more quickly. Sometimes if you buy what was once a luxurious soap, deeply infused with your fragrance, it is now, with the passing of time, nothing much more than a mournful faint remembrance of its former self. If it is a cheap bargain bin mystery I don’t mind it his, and enjoy using it anyway, but if I pay more than I should for these elegant toiletries I can’t deny that there is sometimes a slight feeling of deception (look, though! a pristine rectangular stiff white paper box of Chanel Nº19 soap! How could I not? And the glorious ridiculousness of a Rive Gauche soap that comes in its own YSL plastic container and that inimitable silver, blue and black iconic packaging that I have always hugely enjoyed looking at (and which I might therefore take to work when it is used up and then fill it with paperclips…..) Being me, it is often impossible for me to resist such an item, because if it does pay dividends in the bath or shower, I will be set up for the rest of the day. I love how a well-scented hard soap lasts and imparts a more abstract groundwork for the rest of the fragrance, the same DNA, just a different branch of the family – a different perspective – which will then meldeven better right from the start when you apply the actual perfume, like a sword lowered into a chamois leather sheath.

Unfortunately, the soaps you see pictured above were quite disappointing. At least initially. Very underwhelming. Not very perfumed. I think what happens is that while the core of the product often stays scented, the outer layers get exposed to the air or the light over the years and gradually become much more attenuated. And so I was bored and a bit miffed with the generic old lather these were generating: not sufficiently scented, even, to accurately resemble the perfumes in question.

But now that the soaps are half used, a few baths and showers down the line, I am excited to report that they are really starting to come into their own. And both are divine. I have had better Nº19 savons de toilette in the past – some of the most pristine vintage versions of these soaps are utterly incredible in the iris and dark vetiver leather aura they produce as you are using them (current soaps in the line bear no resemblance whatsoever to this scent – I consider the modern version an entirely different perfume, ; quite a nice fresh green muguet/iris/modern sandalwood, but nothing like the original); but I used this original edition yesterday and was in love, seduced into a kind of hot water zen state until the time I started saying to myself “No : : : don’t use all of it now”. Likewise, the extraordinarily pleasant Rive Gauche savon, which, as a classic floral woody aldehydic template I use as a pre-base for wearing Calandre or Farouche (both by the same perfumer, Michael Hy), feels quite different from using a standard modern soap or shower gel, which I often do like by themselves in a different context, but not the way that they, and many shampoos and fabric conditioners, contaminate the scent profile you have carefully been preparing for that day, which then puts me in a state of permanent olfactory irritation. This is the beauty of a great soap like these when you find them – they give you harmony (which is is making me wonder, now, about a whole cache of vintage soaps I spotted the other day at a shop in Ofuna – Calèche, Eau D’Orange Vert, and intriguingly, Equipage, which I would really like to try in order to whip myself up into a more masculine lather – but they are not cheap, I think they were asking for 1400 yen each for the larger size and you never know which way they are going to go – nicely perfumed, or sud duds -until you use them. Mmm. I am tempted, but am currently trying to economize).

With its ergonomic container though (more soaps should come with a hermetically sealable dish like this!), I am going to take the Rive Gauche with me today in my travel bag on our trip to Shizuoka. We are travelling down and staying a couple of days to see the cherry blossom and do a mini hanami (flower viewing party) with some friends, go to a strange open air art museum with bizarre sculptures in the middle of nowhere and perhaps do some filming ; just catch up, generally, and take in the natural scenery of the prefecture famed for its fields of green tea and proximity to Moun Fuji- undoubtedly we will come home ladened down with matcha-themed souvenirs. On the way back from Mishima, we will also go to the cinema to see the only film I am willing to travel so far to experience – the newly released here Memoria, by one of my favourite ever directors, the visionary Apichatpong Weerasthukul, starring Tilda Swinton. I can’t wait to sit in an art cinema in a new city; scented correctly; lose myself; and bliss out into dreams.

24 Comments

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24 responses to “IS THERE ANY POINT IN BUYING PERFUMED VINTAGE SOAPS?

  1. Liz

    Scented correctly, I love it! I most always wear fragrance and earrings. If figure if I smell nice, it doesn’t matter as much if I’m not as dressed as I should be. I wear Hanes mens sweats to work. I work in a warehouse.

  2. Scent_Insensibility

    I do buy the odd “bathing product” to go with my vintage fragrances but tend to buy then as a “collectable” and if they happen to be usable then it’s a bonus.

    Lotions are mostly a no-go as they split and gels often fade. I’ve had most success with talcs or “dusting powder” ( dry ingredients have greater longevity – look at eyeshadow and face powder compared to lipstick and mascara ) I I have some Lauder ones: Youth Dew, Alliage and an amazing Azuree cooling spray powder. Guerlain, too, both soap and talc are stiil very fragrant ( 80’s vintage ).

    I think some of he best are Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass and also easy and cheap to find.

    One which smells amazing but I can’t bring myself to use is Halston in its kidney-shaped dish. It sits alongside an Elsa Perreti Parfum Bottle, looking pretty !

    • You are a maniac like me !

      I agree about the dusting powders, even though I have an actual powder phobia. I am interested in them nevertheless, and still regret not buying the Guerlain Vol De Nuit one.

      • Scent_Insensibility

        I agree, clearly cut from the same ( highly fragrant ) cloth !

        How awful to have a phobia of the ( whispers) powdered stuff. I guess it’s old-fashioned these days but I do use it ( I think something happens in middle age 😆 ). Well, not necessarily the Guerlain’s except in very rare occasions.

        I passed on job lot of Mitsouko dosp a while back as I was skint, still haunts me !

        Oh the many regrets, all those bottles we never bought when they were plentiful 😭

  3. Strange question: Do you think the soaps could last longer if they were refrigerated? (Noted that the freezer would damage various chemicals and any water).

    • Scent_Insensibility

      That’s interesting ?
      Will have to do a bit of research, see if there’s anything out there. What we need is a chemist, I guess !

      I think keeping them dry is the key ( so not the bathroom.

      My old mum used to put them in her drawers ( especially the ones she kept her “drawers” in 🤭 ) and old-fashioned way to fragrance your linens etc. They seemed to last forever.

      She passed a few months ago and, looking for stuff she tended to hide in het knicker drawer, I came across a little Roget et Gallet Carnation Soap ( 70’s I’d guess ). Using it now, it smells amazing !

      • I am unsure. I’m not sure I have forty years left in me!

      • Scent_Insensibility

        Yes, really .
        I have loads of 70s stuff ( my favourite era , being a fan of chypres, I guess my tastes were formed then)
        Most have lasted fine but obviously perfumes keep more easily ( though I bought some lippies today that could have just walked off the shelves but that’s unusual for make-up )

        If I make it another 40 years I’ll be the age my mum was but she was far cleaner living than me !

      • Meticulousness is not my forte either : I LOVE a Bohemian junk heap !

  4. Robin

    I still have mixed feelings about giving away a large vintage No 19 soap to one of my dearest niecelettes, for purely selfish reasons. It would have been glorious to experience it for myself.

    I think the best soapy bets are good bath gels. Air doesn’t get at them like soap bars so the volatile scent compounds don’t evaporate or degrade. My fave are Amouage. I use a teensy squeeze for washing my face in the morning and the pleasure payoff is disproportionately enormous!

    The Guerlains are great, too. I’ve got a Shalimar shower gel that is dynamite. Hot water, suds, a big blob of it on my bath poof, and the whole bathroom is one big steamy bergamot-laced Shalimar bomb. It smells just like the edt.

  5. I haven’t had the opportunity to try vintage soaps of any sort. Many of the soaps from these luxury houses are quite cosmetically elegant with loads of creamy lather as well as incredible scent.
    Two cheapie soaps I love to scent my linen and lingerie drawers with are Maja and Yardley Old English Lavender. Maja has the extra benefit of being olive oil based, gentle to the skin, and with the aforementioned creamy lather as well as a lovely rose based feminine fougere. YOEL smells divine but is skin irritating and rather disappointing as a soap. Found both in the Latino/ethnic section at Walmart in Miami in 2019.

  6. I am not sure how well most soaps last, but I have a soap from the early 80s by Stendhal, of their scent Symbiose (a gorgeous floral scent) and it is only in my drawer, but it still is super fragrant. It is not even wrapped. I still have a couple of Caron heart shaped mini soaps from the 90s and those smell fabulous as well. I do not know how they would smell for bathing, I use a shower gel, but they are still definitely potent. I guess it just matters how the soap was stored, and how much moisture it was exposed to.

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