Snippets Issue 16 : The Vintage & Retro Issue

Retro Perfume

What was “in” then? Plus, enter for your chance of winning some Posset's perfume!

Retro Perfume

By Fabienne Christenson

Win some retro Posset's perfume:

From August 17-31st, Posset's will be running an event called Retour de Posset's, where Fabienne will be bringing back retired fragrances, for a few weeks only.

To be in with your chance of winning a choice of three of the retired fragrances, simply leave a comment below telling us what your favorite scent is.

Good luck!

Congratulations to our winner, Disaster Jess!

What would you have smelled like if you decided to douse yourself with your favorite perfume in about 1550? Well, for one thing, you wouldn’t be doing much dousing, you would have gone to your favorite glove box and put on your scented gloves and then minced about waving your hands prettily in order to scent the air you moved through.

And how would you describe the fragrance you left behind? Probably like clove and Port-O-Let. Yes, the big scenting materials of old were 100% natural and were only chosen for their strength and staying power. There were few options so perfumers relied on heavy heavy musks and things excreted from various orifices of animals to keep the scent hanging in the air. it was difficult to put into liquid form that was attractive, so they soaked gloves in it to be the vehicle.

Why would anyone want to smell like, well, the rear end of anything else? I suspect that the answer is we smelled pretty bad anyway, so if we could smell like something else, we were ahead of the game. Our tastes have to have changed drastically since 1550, and you can just imagine the streets of London in a good hot summer with the open sewers and unwashed people. Under those circumstances, a paste of civit, cloves, bergamot and rose might have been downright refreshing.

This dismal state of affairs lasted for a long time. People played endlessly with the perfume making supplies they had: lavender, orange oil, bergamot, rose, sage, rosemary, clove, myrrh. The best perfumes prior to about 1850 would have smelled more like aromatherapy and less like perfume to us.

Things didn’t change much until one fateful day when an artificial perfume ingredient was put into a blend called Eau Imperial. The ingredient was coumarin, a compound which was nature-identical (made in a lab) and smelled like a green vanilla. The world saw artificial perfume as the big fad of the day and the art of perfume changed forever. Now you could have what you wanted when you wanted it and it always smelled the same. So the perfumer could rely on a rose accord being the same price and always smelling the same way if he bought it from the same place.

Perfumes started to be lighter and less weighed down with the natural musks and heavy plant fixatives. The smell of modern artificial vanilla started to creep into perfume, replacing the very different scent of vanilla extract. In addition, the line was being crossed between “perfumy” blends and gourmandy things. Heliotropin was a big favorite, it smelled like sugar, vanilla and a hint of cherry pie. But man made ingredients were still imitating the smells in nature, and hadn’t taken off as pure scent not found in the wild.


The next huge change in perfume came about in the 1920’s when Coco Chanel bullyragged her chemist, Earnest Beaux, into putting an overdose of floral aldehyde into Chanel No. 5. He was supposed to have been horrified at the amount she wanted him to include, but she won out and the world got that amazing blend which is such a lovely floral, sweet, and alluring thing. That set the world on fire and it’s used even today and we will never get tired of it (it is said to exist heavily in Estee Lauder’s White Linen). From this point on, perfume didn’t have to smell like flowers or musk or resins, there were notes we had created which were never produced in the wild.

This is the era that Guerlain launched it’s Shalimar, which I suspect also has a huge shot of coumarin in it judging from the vanilla like nod it gives. In the ‘20’s women smelled good enough to eat and it seemed that direction would last in fragrance but, there was a change with the Great Depression.

In the ‘30’s fragrance went back to being heavy and almost cloying. Perhaps it was a response to the Economic slide and women wanted something which would cling to them all day. Perfumes like Dana’s Tabu, Jean Patou’s Joy were heavy and stayed on your skin until you washed them off. But there was another end of the spectrum which were produced as a backlash and were more grassy and breezy like Elizabeth Arden’s Blue Grass, Worth’s Je Reviens, and L’Air du Temps; they brought out the more ethereal presentation of women.

The ‘40’s were all about war, and the French perfume industry was battered in the fray. Rochas’ Femme appeared at this time and it was one of the first of the really fruity perfumes which amazing staying power. Miss Dior probably is the fragrance that I would charge with the spirit of the late ‘40’s and early ‘50’s—sharp and astringent, using sandalwood like a knife with a backlash of rose and a very very clean edge. Miss Dior just screamed “modern!” and did it well.

Then there were the 1950’s. Nothing says it like Bandit by Piguet. The biggest and most perfect of the chypres, this was Bernini. After this one, any other chypre was a corny imitation, this was the upper limit. A supersaturated concoction smelling of leather, and dark rose, very rare resins and fabric. It was pure glamour, the only thing which could stand up to the smoky rooms of the heyday of the Mad Men. For everyday wear, Bond Street by Yardley continued the astringent tradition started by Miss Dior, but it was cheaper but it was very nice indeed. Ladylike.

But as the 1950’s gave way to the 1960’s orientals became popular because people started to experiment with their lives and with their perfumes. Odalisque by Yardley was a smash failure but it was like a cross between baby powder and a deep labdanum oriental. Oh! De London, again by Yardley, sold briskly but it was a light mishmash of aldehydes which had no character but did have the face of Jean Shrimpton to sell it. Dana was still selling lots of the sickly sweet Tabu but their blockbuster for the ‘60’s was Ambush, very modern and very loud. Tigress, Aphrodisia, Woodhue and Kiku were big sellers from Faberge. All of them but Kiku were eminently forgettable lackluster florals. Youth Dew from Estee Lauder continued the trend for strong perfume. This was a engrossing oriental which would scent your world for days once you uncorked it. And who could forget English Leather by Mem? Goodness, that stuff was everywhere and everyone wore it. It was ravishing, it was the longest lasting perfume ever invented.

The ‘70’s ramped up BIG perfumes again with Charlie from Revlon. Smelling like the combination of everything from the perfume counter all at once, Charlie flew off the shelves. Paco Rabanne came up with a great eponymous fragrance which was beautiful and ladylike at the same time, and Geoffry Bean produced Red, a spectacular oriental and unlike anything since.

The ‘80’s saw a flood of brash musky perfumes. Big tough musk was everywhere. The trend for smelling like Raid was on, and it matched the aggressive shoulder pads of the fashions. Georgio was sold by the vat full, Obsession assaulted you with it’s white flower tank guns, Poison pumped out purple and passionate from Dior. Just when you thought you couldn’t take one more good scrubbing of your nose, Opium by Yves St. Laurent came out.

The ‘90’s were kind of a drifting time. I think this was when the oceanics started their ascent, some people call them the ozones. Strange and not sweet at all, these compounds are more like seashore and clean laundry than anything else. Cool Water by Davidoff was popular but the fragrance which probably defined the era was Eau d’Issey by Issey Miyake. No one had smelled anything like it before and it started a stampede for uber-astringent “sea side” fragrances.

The return of the gourmandy perfume occurred in the 2000’s. At first ridiculed by the big perfume houses (childish, unsophisticated, cheap), the laughter stopped when Angel by Thierry Meugler became the smash hit of the season. There was a discreet rustle and “things” started to pop up. Dior Cherie was the inexplicable candy floss scented offering from Dior. Aquilino’s Pink Sugar was the rage and then was knocked off so many times it has become an ingredient in it’s own right for perfume, a note! And Demeter introduced thousands of women to the fun of smelling like a martini, a sugar cookie, or even Play-Doh. The perfumes didn’t seem to last as long or be as strong as fragrances of yore, but that was a reflection of the times when friendships were deep and short on the internet, and the fun stopped with breathtaking suddenness like the dotcom bust of the early 00’s. If the perfume didn’t last all day, that was fine because, well, who wants to smell the same way all day long, right?

As you can see, there is a wonderful ebb and flow of different types of perfume over time. From the sweet and foody beginning of modern fragrance with Eau Imperial, to the very very sharp and clingy stuff of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s and now a swinging back to sweetness. The range of “acceptable” perfumes continues to widen and women will despair of having to choose.

This article was written by Fabienne Christenson who is the Head Perfumer at Possets® Perfumes. She has studied and encountered a lot of the perfumes mentioned in the article and has been a part of the independent revolution in perfuming. Fabienne writes frequently on the subject of perfume and has a website where she sells “Bottled Happiness”.


This is such a cool article! I love it, and I love being able to now imagine how my own favorite perfume, <a href="">rain perfume</a>, came about. I would hate to have lived back in the times when everything around a person smelled bad, so you just wanted to smell different. Ick.
I love flowery scents like crabtree and evellyn's
summer hill. I also love pink sugar and charlie
My favourite scents are sandalwood, bergamot and some mens' cologne.
But I always wear Vera Wang Princess
my favorite scent so far is jasmine.
I have a perfume oil from a festival that has jasmine in it, it smells so amazing!

I also have the most incredible perfume that my dad brought me from Egypt, though I have no idea what it is!
My favorite sent to wear is Pomegranate. my favorite to smell on a woman is Lilac or Lilly of the Valley. My Great grandmother wears that sent and anytime I smell them it makes me feel like she's right in the room with me.
My all-time favorite is Elizabeth Arden's Red Door, but lately I've come to enjoy Nantucket by Evelyn & Crabtree. Both have kind of powdery, earthy undertones.
When I was 7, my mom planted our lavender bush. It grew so fast and filled the whole yard with the smell of lavender. It smells so clean and soft and makes me think of perfect summer days.
One time I was at this garden shop inside a greenhouse, I smelled an oil called "rain". It was a rainy afternoon in a bottle, I didn't get it which was a mistake and I can't find anything that smelled that good again.
Heh, a sugar cookie sounds like something I might want to smell like.
I like vanilla, honey and coconut as fragrances.
I've never actually smelled Chanel's famous perfume, wouldn't mind a try sometime...
i remember "Electric Youth" by Debbie Gibson. I get one single whiff-- and i'm 10 years old all over again..
I have a bottle of Magnolia that I got from The Body Shop. The saddest day of my life will be when that runs out! Also, Coco by Chanel, but I expect I will be able to replace that.
I love smelling my moms Cherie by dior, and really want to try that pink sugar one. I think my favorite perfume is Emporio Armani (red) for women, it just takes me back to when i was six, sitting in my grandma's kitchen watching all my telatives cook and stuff. Not because it smells like food or grandmother's houses, mostly because it smells...warm. I sniffed it in this perfume shop and have yet to buy it D: aww well, mebe on my bday Happy Oh, and it donates money to an aids charity, so there that too :3
Hands down the most amazing scent around, there is something incredibly captivating and exotic about the spicy fragrance. I use the essential oil mixed with unfragranced almond oil instead of perfume or lotion most of the time, and thus my clothes always smell faintly of sandlewood.
I love earthy smells. Clean earthy smell though. I hate the "earthy" perfumes that smell like that wanna-be hippie that lived down the hall in your dorm in college. You know the one. I love the scents of pomegranate, clean linen, honeysuckle, and sandalwood.
I wish I could invent a perfume that perfectly captured all the amazing scents & fading memories from my childhood into one eau de toilette: mud pies, crayons, cookies and milk, blanket forts, puppy dog kisses, etc.
My favorite scents are a tie between lavender and the scent of the breeze at the ocean. These two scents always remind me of having fun during the summer.
My favorite scent is Balsam of Peru.
The scent of magnolias! It's like a virgin scent it only last so long. In order to smell it you have to "Deflower the Flower" (pick it from the tree). After that the beauty fades. The white color turns brown but... it's personality (it's scent) is still there for a little will longer.
I love floral scents.
I usually stay away from the fruity kind. But I guess it depends because sometimes they smell nice
my favorite fragrence is Lavender. Love your whole site. Keep up the good work. Maxine
I am obsessed with the art of perfume, and amazing scents in general. Still looking for the perfect magic one- but some of my favorites are:
- Roots by Oshadhi
- Mechant Loup by L'Artisan
- Trois by Diptyque
- Un Jardin Sur le Nil by Hermes
- Fracas by Piguet (of course)
so many more, but those are my stand-by faves-
depending on the season and occasion!
It's not at all sophisticated, expensive, or avante-garde, but my favorite scent will always be Baby Soft. It reminds me of my mother, my grandmother, and all the Christmases that my sister and I received a bottle. It's soft and sweet, and delicious.
Without a doubt, the most beautiful and elegant fragrance in the world is Chanel Coco Mademoiselle, but No5 is close. The fact that the box is rather simple tells you everything: the perfume is so good that it speaks for itself! Fresh, light and youthful, it automatically makes me feel 10 times more prettier, no matter what I'm wearing. I'm not really into the whole fancy perfume thing, and it annoys me how celebrity's all follow the same trend by bringing out some boring scent with a posh name and a fancy advert. At the end of the day, Chanel's history of class and elegance towers over the others.
I am vegan so it important for me to avoid perfumes with any animal products. I've fallen in love with Rose scents and am currently enjoying Rose Absolute by Stella McCartney.
I am a big fan of anything that has a strong smell of vanilla. A lot of perfumes have a weird reaction with my body chemistry and tend to alter a lot when I wear them so I have found it difficult to find something that smells good in the bottle and when I put it on. I have recently bought a perfume off of Etsy which is nice but more floral than I normally like. I hate anything that smells overly artificial. I want to smell nice, not like a bunch of chemicals.
My favorite scent is that of the orchid, the estee lauder collection of paradise fragrances are made with this scent and are delightfully romantic and fresh at the same time. Although a wonderful girly and evening scent I adore is the angel collection at Victoria Secret, Divine, Wish, Heavenly... it goes on but they are all not overbearing and blend well with my own personal scent. Which is key in choosing a scent for yourself, remember we all have our own personal musk so just make sure your perfume accents this and not completely covers it up!
I prefer the single floral scents where it is dominated by one flower in comparison to the floral bucnh it is much stronger, it has a girl aroma to it. I also like wood fragrances it has a more natural scent.
Being fairly new to fragrances, I've just got a limited selection on hand for branded things, but I have an inappropriate fascination for the Possets "Ohio" - sticky gooey buckeyes. Smelling of food seems odd to me, but at the same time I _love_ the chocolate and peanut butter combination in any form, and being able to smell like it? Divine!
I want to smell like a sugar cookie! heh
I usually just use my bath and body works Cucumber melon spray . I havce a tiny bit left of Sparkling Snowflake mirror gel by them .. It's been discontinued for years now . It's an awesome scent
I like the smell of when you just blow out the candle,and when the fireworks have stopped. The warm smokey smell is the scent of my childhood,and if it was ever a perfume, which may only be in my dreams, I would bye it all the time. My favourite perfume though is harajuki lovers, despite the mainstream love amd the price. The bottles excite me, and music is my favourite. I also love Vera rock princess and Anna sui. But, the candle scent is wonderful,something that is so beautiful and gorgeous.
My favorite smell, though I don't believe it would make a good base for any kind of perfume, is the smell of old, musty books and vintage and thrift stores that smell similar. It's probably the memories I associate with it more than anything.
mmm, lovely smelly article. I prefer heavier old fashioned scents generally (my dad sends them to me from the UAE) , but my favourite light one is Monsoon by Coty.
I thought CK 1 and Unisex scents were also very big in the 90s too?
My favourite scent is fresh Spring air, when you walk past a flowering bush and just have to stop and inhale and smile. Mmmmmm Happy
Potion Form lush- It is a solid perfume and The smell is quite strong and Spice Like so it is Really Mysterious and Wonderful! Happy
I have two perfumes I use: Princess by Vera Wang and Music from Harajuku Lovers. I use Music for just everyday wear, because it's light and girly, but still has a fruity, playful punch. Then I use Princess for dates or important events, because it's also light and girly, but more romantic, with vanilla and waterlily.
But I always make sure to carry some lavender and rosemary in my purse. I love the smell it gives when ever I open my bag! =)
My favorite scent is vanilla, amber, or jasmine. Hard to pick one really... it depends on my mood.
i lave lil angle in the harajuku fragrance collection and it has the cutest packageing
My favorite scent is either Daisy by Marc Jacobs, freshly cut grass, or oranges.
My favorite scent is either Daisy by Marc Jacobs, freshly cut grass, or oranges.
my favorite smell is that fresh warm smell on a beautiful
sping day,that smell of new life and rain and beauty awes me.
my favorite smell is that fresh warm smell on a beautiful
sping day,that smell of new life and rain and beauty awes me.
My favourite scent is fresh sea air. It brings back childhood memories and takes me back home. Nothing could ever replicate that for me!
That's incredible, I love smelling like food, and all the interesting smells that you wouldn't have thought of. (Gotta get me some of that play-doh stuff!)

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