When I first started wearing vintage clothes, I remember standing in front of a rack of 1950s dresses and wondering if I could really pull one off without looking like I was going to a costume party. After a few years, ramping up first with old handbags and cashmere twin sets, I started to see that dressing retro is all about balance and confidence. The same principles seem to apply to wearing old perfume.
Let’s take, for example, Jean Patou’s Colony. Colony is decidedly from the 1930s, a heady mix of pineapple and what smells to me like marjoram and sap. I love it. The booklet with Ma Collection describes Colony as “The exotic image of the deepest jungle, lush vegetation, powerful spices borne over amethyst seas and strange girls in distant sun-kissed ports.” It would be jarring worn with a modern suit and overwhelming with jeans and a tank top. In the summer, I would wear it at night with a filmy dress and a pile of bakelite bracelets. In the winter, it would be perfect with a 1950s coat with a big fur collar over a Diane Von Furstenberg silk jersey dress in a funky print and tall boots.
Vacances, on the other hand, goes with everything from jeans to evening dresses. It is a breezy lilac scent mixed with what smells like smashed flower stems, drying down to a barely perceptible musk. Even after it’s sprayed head to toe, it stays gentle and close to the body, and I can imagine Ingrid Bergman wearing it when she’s happy. It doesn’t seem substantial enough, though, to stand up to heavy winter clothes or too much drama. Of the Ma Collection fragrances, it’s probably the easiest to wear.
Patou’s Que Sais-Je, though, is especially tricky and should be avoided by fragrance novices. Que Sais-Je is hideously beautiful, a peach syrup, honey, and hazelnut scent with a fetid chypre base. If it were a woman, she would be elegant, with a difficult background and maybe bipolar tendancies. I would save Que Sais-Je for evening and stay monochrome for balance, except for a scarf or brilliant cocktail ring. Que Sais-Je is best kept to wear in the company of one or two people with exceptional taste.
Divine Folie would be terrific in the morning in a dressing gown or dressed to go to a wedding; Moment Suprême could see you through most days when you have to wear panty hose; and Normandie wants to go to dinner in the fall in a man’s old Harris Tweed jacket with La Perla lingerie somewhere underneath. For me right now, though, a more important question is, what goes with old jeans, slippers, and a frayed cardigan?
Note: image via Jardin d’Aromes, a Jean Patou site for collectors (in French).