Up until this year I had successfully managed to avoid vintage perfumes. I resisted trying old formulations because I knew I would fall madly in love, thus condemning myself to a stressful search for an elusive bottle which – if found – I’d have to pay a high price for, with no guarantee that it hadn’t turned.
Vol de Nuit was created in 1933 by Jacques Guerlain and includes notes of Hesperidic (citrus) notes, galbanum, narcissus, green notes, woods, oakmoss, iris, vanilla and spices.
I have tested Vol de Nuit in its current pure parfum formulation a number of times and liked it, but not enough to buy a bottle or even get round to acquiring a decant or sample. However, my view of this 1933 classic changed when The Candy Perfume Boy very generously sent me a sample of his vintage Vol de Nuit extrait de parfum, saying I had to try it.
I spilt half of the sample vial’s contents onto the back of my hand and was utterly transported. I knew I had to have it – just like that – and as soon as possible. Luckily, within a fortnight, a sealed vintage (possibly 1960s) 30ml bottle of the parfum, came up for auction. In the end I got it for a far bit less than I anticipated, but what condition would it be in?
When it arrived I opened the zebra print box and sat the stunning propeller bottle on the kitchen table. (Incidentally, that smoked glass Art Deco bottle has to be my absolute favourite bottle design). Nervously, I cut the threads around the neck and tentatively rubbed the glass stopper against my wrist. At first sniff I must admit I was a little disappointed that the citrus top notes had clearly evaporated over time, but happy that the wonderfully acrid galbanum remained. Even after several decades, this bottle of Vol de Nuit still seemed to pulse with plant life; tree sap, green shoots, budding daffodils, woods and undergrowth.
Resinous and mossy but also balsamic and slightly powdery with a touch of vanilla, Vol de Nuit seems to reside at the intersection of chypré and oriental. Possessing a slight edge and a hint of darkness, it has shown me the wonder of real oakmoss. Half forest floor, half seashore, this much lamented natural material is nothing short of addictive. The other great thing is the presence of Guerlinade, that mysterious signature accord you find in some of the classic Guerlains.
Sadly, the current parfum doesn’t make me swoon in the same way. Vol de Nuit has always been a svelte composition but the current formulation is just a little too stark to move me. The vintage version is so much fuller, deeper, greener and mossier. It is altogether so much more.
Just the other day, when I applied my vintage Vol de Nuit and slung on my Patti Smith-style leather jacket, something just clicked. I felt strong and self-possessed, just like that rock ‘n’ roll poet at her 1970s peak. It occurred to me that Patti Smith and Vol de Nuit make a good match. Both are empowering, androgynous and truly compelling.
“Brimming with audacity, it is the perfume of the woman who goes for broke”
– from the Vol de Nuit page of the Guerlain website
Do you have a vintage perfume tale to tell?