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Thursday, September 17, 2009

An Unexpected Pleasure: Vintage Wind Song by Prince Matchabelli (1952)

By Donna

I had a rather humbling experience recently. Someone I know in the perfume community decided to put some of his extensive collection up for auction on eBay. I was a complete neophyte, never having used eBay, since I was wary of scammers and buying from “stores” that may or not be on the level. However, knowing what his collection was like I signed up and eagerly went to his page to place a bid. Surely there was something in that stash I could afford, right? Why, look at that, something I love under 20 bucks, and bidding is slow, I might score it for under 30, let me just – hey! Who outbid me by twice as much with only three seconds to go? Rinse and repeat a few more times with several more bottles, and pretty soon I knew I could not run with the big dogs. The blood was in the water and the sharks were circling. The scents were all of quite recent origin and from prestige niche houses, what was I thinking? Now I realize it was a blessing in disguise, because once I was done licking my wounds I thought I might as well look around and see what else was on there from other sellers. I had a list of things I had been meaning to look for anyway, and they were not all that much in demand as far as I knew. I vowed to do business only with sellers that had a long history and high approval ratings, and off I went.

A few months ago I had read a delicious description of vintage Wind Song, the classic drugstore standard from Prince Matchabelli, and how it compared to the current version. It stuck in my mind, because Wind Song came out only a few years before I was born –which meant that the “vintage” was my contemporary, and that’s what I would have smelled as a child in the cosmetics aisle of my beloved Woolworth’s store. I had only smelled the modern version a few times and found it wanting in the same way so many reformulated fragrances are; a bit sharp and also simple, though far better than many so-called designer fragrances that cost far more. I had never worn it when I was younger but I did find it pleasing and I liked it on other people, and I have to think that my early positive experience with it was in fact because it as the original. So I did a quick search and up it popped, the original juice in an adorable little glass crown-shaped bottle – for five bucks and a “Buy Now” option! Wow, could that be for real? It looked legitimate, as I had researched the bottles, and the new one is taller and more columnar. The first Matchabelli scents were color-coded by scent and bottled in the puffy glass crown containers (yes, the Prince really was a prince) and later versions were plastic but in the same style, until the switch to the current design. So I took the plunge and bought it. When it arrived it was a glass bottle, which was a good sign. I opened it up and noted that it had the original seal. It smelled very good and so familiar, and the funky little lunch counter and notions department of Woolworth’s floated into my mind. I loved that place, now long gone, so it was a pleasing association. (Prince Matchabelli is also associated in my mind with one of the funniest lines ever from The Sopranos, but that’s just me.)

I splashed a generous amount on my arm and went about my day. It was a fresh, aldehydic and slightly soapy floral, so familiar yet not so, since so many years had passed. A hint of spicy carnation added interest at the opening, but over time it had softened, and the fragrance was very round and gentle. I had already put another, stronger perfume on earlier, so I did not expect it to assert itself very much, but it did indeed, catching my attention every so often, and it was lovely as it settled in. Hours later, when I went to bed, I laid my head on my arm and –wow, what was that? A radiant accord of neroli and mandarin had fused with my skin and was glowing with the burnished depth of amber and sandalwood. I could hardly believe that the innocent little ingénue I had applied earlier in the day had turned into a temptress by night. The more I smelled it the more enamored I was. Another application with no competition confirmed its qualities.

Many years ago a very dear friend who wore nothing but Wind Song told me that she had thought of trying another perfume, but her husband would not hear of it – he was crazy about Wind Song and bought her a new bottle every year. At the time I thought maybe she should branch out anyway, just to try something else, but after my revelation I know exactly why he loved her in Wind Song. It’s just like the slogan goes: “I can’t seem to forget you” – a truly romantic fragrance.

From Fragrantica, the composition is as follows: Top notes are coriander, orange leaf, mandarin orange, tarragon, neroli, bergamot and lemon; heart notes are cloves, carnation, orris root, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose and Brazilian rosewood; base notes are sandalwood, amber, musk, benzoin, vetiver and cedar. The newer formula is much sharper on top than mine, but I don’t know how much of that is the natural breakdown of the top notes and what can be attributed to a reformulation. However, most of these notes are easily discernible in the vintage, so it has probably not been bowdlerized as much as some older scents have when they are reworked. It’s the wonderful drydown that really sets it apart; I had no idea what a beautiful symphony of orange essence this perfume was. I will wear it with pride, right alongside the pricier perfumes in my collection. It has earned its place.

Image credit: 1959 Wind Song ad via This bottle looks very much like mine, isn’t it adorable?

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Blogger tmp00 said...

I didn't wear this one and I don't have any memories of it on others; like Canoe by Dana it seems it was a nice mid-priced scent that's slammed because of the perceived cheesiness of the ads for it.

12:16 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Tom, this was a practically a default drugstore perfume in my youth - if you liked girly florals but did not wear that one, you probably wore either Houbigant's Chantilly or Helena Rubinstein's Heaven Sent. (Both of which are still around but now made by Dana; I have not smelled them since they went downhill.)

This was before you were even born, though. :-D

1:12 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved and wore this in the 70's. I can clearly remember its scent, and I loved the little glass bottles.

I haven't tried it in years, and didn't realize that they'd changed from glass to plastic to a totally different style bottle.

I wonder if I should try the new version, or just keep my pleasant memories of the vintage?

Ann C

5:53 AM EDT  
Blogger chayaruchama said...

Oh, sweetie-
Though it ain't what it was [ and who among us is ? ;-) ]-

It has a charm and beauty all its own.

The bath oil was divine; those green glass vintage bottles [ I never owned one ], crown-shaped- were beautiful.

6:07 AM EDT  
Blogger Mals86 said...

Must go haunt ebay for some vintage Wind Song... I do really love carnation. I've been finding that if you don't get too hung up on "Sealed" and "Boxed" and "Mint," you can find some real gems of vintage perfume on ebay, particularly the better-known scents that are still in production as mere ghosts of their former selves.

Just last week I snagged a little bottle of Toujours Moi parfum (my bottle was produced by Max Factor, not by Dana). I haven't tested it yet, but it certainly smells lovely in the bottle. And I have a few bottles of 70's-era pdt Emeraude that are simply To Die For.

8:42 AM EDT  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

I wasn't a Windsong girl but I loved Emeraude and Tabu...and I adored this review Donna! Took me right back to the 60's when I was playing dressup with my sister's red lipsticks and her "Date" perfume:)
Thanks for the memories!!!!!!

9:16 AM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Great story and review, Donna! I love it when folks revive the reputations of perfumes-gone-by -- especially when they are still readily available!

9:50 AM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Ann C., it's worth a shot to try the new - it is recognizable, much more so than such tragic cases as Emeraude. :-(

3:50 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Chaya, I never tried the bath oil, but I can imagine how good it must have been!

(And we are all like fine wine with age, right?)

3:52 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Mals86, they are out there. I "watched" a sealed, "mint" bottle of vintage Coty Chypre (YES!)on eBay just to see how far beyond my price range it ended up to be. Oy.

I have no qualms about opened bottles as long as the stuff is still good and the price is right. It's probably the only way I will ever get most of my vintage lovelies!

It looks like Dana and/or Parlux will corner the drugstore market for license-expired frags pretty soon, so get 'em now!

3:58 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Thanks Beth, I love time-travel perfumes! :-)

I remember Tabu lipstick, it was flame red and scented with Tabu perfume, believe it or not- and when I played dress-up with it, I got a rash on my lips! Maybe that's why I still can't do Tabu!

(Remember Tangee lipstick? Or are you a little too young for that?)

4:01 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Thanks Alyssa, it is so enjoyable to rediscover these fragrances.

4:02 PM EDT  
Blogger elle said...

Wow - a real prince! Who knew? I don't really remember this one, but am going to go check it out immediately on ebay. Sounds gorgeous! And I *love* inexpensive vintage finds on ebay (although it always weirds me out that scents from the 80s and even early 90s are now considered vintage).

8:12 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Elle, I know,I just got a couple of "Vintage" minis that I remember perfectly well from my younger days! Scary! :-D

12:30 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderfully rich tribute! I wore Wind Song before anyone cared enough to "not get me out of his mind." And Chantilly and Emeraude, too, although I loved Wind Song because it wasn't quite as sweet. Wow. I can remember the shelf in the drug store, too. . .

12:15 AM EDT  

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