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Friday, February 03, 2012

Aldehydes and Vintage: My Love-Hate Relationship

by Marla, the Nerd Girl

What exactly is an aldehyde? And what makes a perfume, vintage or new, aldehydic? Aldehydes are organic compounds that contain a carbonyl group that’s bonded to a hydrogen atom; the general formula is RCHO. They can be naturally derived (from citrus peels or clary sage, for example), or completely synthetic. Formaldehyde is a lower-weight aldehyde, and, as we all remember from high school biology class, has a truly disgusting odor. Paraldehyde is a hypnotic drug. Big, fat aldehydes, however, can smell really good. At least to some people. Turns out different people perceive perfumery aldehydes differently (shock!) and what smells delightfully effervescent and fruity to some can smell like burnt wax and diesel fuel to others. So if Chanel No. 5 smells repulsive to you, don’t blame yourself, it’s just your DNA….

There’s been a resurgence in aldehydic perfumes. An aldehydic perfume is one where certain aldehydes (those with a particular “waxy/fatty/rosy/fruity” character) take center stage, as in No. 5, White Linen, or Femme. Many of the perfumes of the 50s and 60s were Aldehydic Extremes. Now I’m seeing some indie perfumers, like Andy Tauer and Laurie Erickson, highlight these aldehydes in perfumes like Miriam and Nostalgie with a lighter touch and a deft hand, and I’m very pleased.

Aldehydics tend to make us feel a little more “dressed up”. They are (generally!) perceived as mature, upscale, sophisticated notes. You don’t wear aldehydics with unwashed hair, in an old jogging suit, schlepping the kids around in the SUV, or digging trenches in the backyard. They are “little black dress” perfumes, and are usually regarded as special. I know that my 50s/60s vintage perfumes will find their moment on those rare occasions I go to a concert, opera, or special dinner with my DH. When I wear them, someone near me will certainly comment, “My, don’t you smell posh!”

When I’m not in the mood, they smell too sharp to me, too firmly tethered to a bygone era, and I pass them by with a wrinkled nose. Then a month or so goes by and I just want to smell like the aptly named Ma Griffe (My Claw), Bakir, or Replique again! It’s a love-hate relationship I particularly relish, and so I’m glad to see these lovely gems, the aldehydes, in modern settings, crafted by artists I respect. My modern aldehydic faves are Champagne du Bois (Sonoma Scent Studio), Serge Lutens’ La Myrrhe, and Shiseido’s original Zen (the black bottle, just reissued and as good as ever). And I’m dying to try Miriam and Nostalgie. How do you feel about aldehydics, old and new? And which are your favorites?

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Blogger Flora said...

For vintage, my favorite aldehydic fragrance is probably Le Galion's Sortilege, a doppelganger for Chanel No.5 but somehow I love it and I can't wear No. 5 - Sortilege does not have that heavily powdered character that I just can't get past with the Chanel.

I am with you on La Myrrhe - I think I need several gallons of it but one bell jar would be just fine. Still waiting to try Miriam but I have a feeling I will like it.

1:44 AM EST  
Blogger Olfactoria's Travels said...

Great post, dear Nerd Girl!
I like the modern use of aldehydes more,, I must say. Nostalgie is amazing, so is Champagne de Bois. I was surprised by how much I like La Labo Aldehyde 40. But now and again a true vintage aldehydic perfume is just the thing I need and then nothing else will do.

4:05 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like aldehydic florals. My favorites are:

Chanel No. 5
Chanel No. 22
Guerlain Lieu
Guerlain Vega
Madame Rochas

6:09 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sortilege, that's one yummy perfume! And I agree, it's more wearable because it's less powdery.
Ah, La Myrrhe, a bell jar when we win the lotter, indeed!

6:41 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Exactly, sometimes you just gotta have the Traditional Aldehydic Experience! ;-)

6:42 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've heard Natori is beautiful, but I've never found a tester bottle or sample! Gorgeous bottle.

6:43 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Miss Dior has a huge hit of aldehydes that leave me almost euphoric upon first application (Miss Dior - original - not vintage - NOT Miss Dior Cherie renamed Miss Dior). Chanel No. 5 EdT is also the most aldehydic of the three formulations available and I love it dearly. Nostalgie has an enormous hit of vintage style and strength aldehyde but is ruined by the fruity base which stubbornly shines through on me as grape koolaid, stroooonnngg grape koolaid, such a pity. Prodigious lasting power too, will not wash off! Sigh . . . off to try Miriam . . . .

7:02 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Must. Try. Miriam.

7:18 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I adore aldehydic chypres, and Ungaro's Diva was my special love. Sad though, what such elegant beauties have become. Searching for new aldehydic fragrances to love, I appreciate your post very much.

9:58 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Anonymous!

10:32 AM EST  
Anonymous mals86 said...

Another AldeHo checking in... I love them.

La Myrrhe is AWESOME. It is made of awesomeness and little sparkling lights.

Miriam and Nostalgie and Champagne de Bois are absolutely gorgeous and wearable, and the aldehydes highlight what is under them (in these cases, good stuff like real sandalwood and lovely floral absolutes).

I have a vintage (1940s? 50s?) bottle of No. 5 extrait in which the aldehydes have gone very quiet and the florals glow. It is absolutely stunning. (I also have two other vintage bottles which don't have that same quality, since bottles age differently!)

Vega is lovely. Iris Poudre is another favorite. Le Labo Aldehyde 44 is very pretty - I have a decant but wouldn't buy a whole bottle, I'd far rather have Vega or IP for that money! Mariella Burani is delightful but almost impossible to find these days.

A couple other aldehydies I really enjoy: the first Ines de la Fressange, a peach-rose cocktail with fizzy aldehydes (Donna loves it), Ferre 20, whose aldehydes make a blackberry-floral-musk sparkle (bought it in Rome!), and vintage Coty L'Aimant pdt, which smells like hot peach pie with lemonade. (Huh. All those have a strong fruity component, I just noticed. But I don't mind a fruity floral if it isn't ditzy.)

OH! And I forgot Climat, gorgeous green floral with silk knickers worn for three days straight.

11:12 AM EST  
Blogger TimeaZsofia said...

I appreciate No. 5, but did not love.
My favorite aldehydic scent: JHG: Citizen Queen :)

11:52 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear mals86,
I have a bottle of vintage L'Aimant and it's true love! You are right, that aldehydes do so very well when they are undergirding high quality naturals, particularly florals. And I'd neglected Iris Poudre, I loved it, though it was too strong for my skin, never ordered a bottle. But it's stunning and I've never forgotten it.

12:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Kym said...

Very nice article. I have tried Vega a couple of times in the store, and would love a decant for further investigation. Other than that, though, I don't care for aldehydes at all. I'll go so far as to say Tauer's latest actually makes my tummy turn!

This doesn't take away from your lovely piece, though!

2:34 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My love-hate relationship with aldehydes definitely includes some tummy-turning, I completely understand!

2:46 PM EST  
Anonymous Alison said...

My favorite Aldehyde is Calandre, now sadly out of production. I started wearing it when I was 15 and wore it exclusively and heavily for most of my bachelorette days. I now own 3 bottles of it, just in case I run out in this lifetime . . . . ;-).

3:06 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember Calandre, just gorgeous stuff. I understand collecting backup bottles- I don't want to say how much Barbara Bui or Niki de St. Phalle perfume I own!

6:11 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Le Dix.

9:57 PM EST  
Anonymous ElizabethC said...

I was lucky enough to get a bottle of La Myrrhe for Christmas this year. It is sooo beautiful. Does anyone else think that it smells somewhat similar to the Chanel No. 5 body lotion? Sounds like I need to get a sample of Miriam soon.

2:29 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lucky you!! Yes, it has similarities to No. 5. Enjoy!

6:14 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm still waiting with baited breath to try Le Dix! But without some lovely perfumes to look forward too, I'd just be too jaded to cope....

7:44 PM EST  
Blogger ladymurasaki said...

Great post. You said that Shiseido's original Zen has been reissued. Where did you find that? I've looked at Shiseido's UK website and it's not on the list. I used to sneak a sniff of my mother's when I was young.

8:26 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found it at a very unlikely place, the Base Exchange at an Air Force base! Since there are bases in Japan, I'm wondering if they had some at a PX there, and then shipped it on to us stateside? It's also at Epcot at Disney World, and you can find it here and there online. Hope you find some!

11:54 AM EST  
Blogger ladymurasaki said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:20 PM EST  

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