Lanvin Arpege ~ vintage fragrance review

Lanvin Arpege bottle

Vintage Lanvin Arpège has broken my heart more than once. From its inception in 1927 to its major reformulation in 1993, Arpège was well loved, which means that plenty of bottles lurk in thrift stores and antiques malls. The problem is that unlike her sister, My Sin, Arpège doesn’t age well. At last, after bearing the grief of one small Extrait turned to sour Madeira, one evaporated Extrait purse spray, and two fusty Arpège Eau de Toilettes, I found a bottle of Eau de Toilette that opens my eyes to what made Arpège so beloved. I’m hooked.

In 1927 to celebrate her daughter’s thirtieth birthday, Jeanne Lanvin asked André Fraysse — Lanvin’s house chemist — to create Arpège. Fraysse enlisted Paul Vacher’s help, and together they reportedly blended 62 notes for the fragrance. According to Roja Dove’s The Essence of Perfume, among Arpège’s notes are rose, jasmine, lily of the valley, ylang ylang, iris, vetiver, ambrein and benzoin. Arpège glows with waxy aldehydes, and I also smell a whisper of coriander and maybe nutmeg in its warm dry down.

Dove said he talked to Richard Fraysse about his father’s creation of Arpège, and Richard reported that Jeanne Lanvin insisted on using the finest materials available for the fragrance, no matter the cost. Dove adds that when he first started selling perfume, he noted it was “always the most refined, elegant, and wordly wise men that purchased the scent as a gift to their lovers and mothers.”

“Refined” and “elegant” are spot-on words to describe vintage Arpège, but so are “approachable” and even “maternal.” Since my bottle is old, Arpège’s top notes are hard to read, but they feel tinged with green herbs before the fragrance settles into a subtle, velvety, multi-faceted floral fragrance. It reminds me of a Bucky Ball of scent. One edge is fresh like lily of the valley, but turn it slightly and it morphs to creamy ylang ylang. Rotate it again, and iris and lily waft from the mix. The whole thing feels lit from within, radiating a skin-tender light.

Unlike Chanel No. 5, which can read as a little stand-offish, Arpège is warm and easy to wear. Part of this is probably due to its barely sweet, spicy base. But for me, part of it comes from the way my skin seems to take up the fragrance, infuse it with my own chemistry, then emit it as if Arpège were part of my DNA. Arpège doesn’t try to make witty statements or ramp up sexiness or otherwise draw attention to itself. It simply smells quietly welcoming. I understand why so many women made Arpège their signature perfume.

In 1993, Arpège was overhauled. These days, it’s more assertive, a little dirtier, and a lot woodier. Luca Turin, who gave it four stars in Perfumes: the A – Z Guide, wrote that it “would be very dowdy on all but a guy.” At its heart, it’s still Arpège, but the new Arpège is more like the original’s bossy sister: cultured, no-nonsense, and smart, but perhaps without a lot of imagination. That lack of humor seems to matter less with vintage Arpège’s tenderness.

In the 66 years the original Arpège was in production, it was undoubtedly tweaked regularly. Add that to how age really seems to damage Arpège, and there’s no telling exactly what you’ll smell if you chance upon a bottle. But if you do sample vintage Arpège, give it ten or fifteen minutes for damaged top notes to burn off and for the fragrance to settle on your skin. Cross your fingers. It might be extraordinary.

Vintage Lanvin Arpège turns up at thrift stores regularly and generally doesn’t cost an arm and a leg (the bottle I’m reviewing was full and cost $10). Also, Lanvin changed the name of its Eau de Toilettes over the years, and I’ve had bottles labeled as “Arpège Eau de Lanvin” and “Eau Arpège.” As far as I can tell, they're the same.


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34 Comments

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  1. Rappleyea says:

    Great review, Angela! Even though I’ve collected and worn good perfume from a very early age, I never wore Arpege. The reason? It was my beloved great aunt’s signature scent. I can’t smell it without thinking of her. And your description of the character of the scent fits her to a T!

    • Angela says:

      I can completely understand why she chose it as a signature scent! It’s very easy to wear and unobtrusive. But still so pretty.

  2. mals86 says:

    I had to look up “Bucky Ball” – which was kind of awesome, thank you.

    I remember your earlier review of Arpege and how lyrical it was! Nice to see a revisit of a different version.

    My bottle of Arpege parfum seems to have come from the 1970s, perhaps – it was in a nice little hinged box, still bearing a price sticker: 1/4 ounce priced at $13.85. I paid less for it on ebay in 2007, though it was more or less full. (For anyone who would like to try vintage, I’ll say that I have had fairly good luck with vintage scents in boxes, though aldehydes do deteriorate.)

    Up top, my bottle has only a few minutes of nail-polish remover before heading straight for that lush, almost-rotting floral mix. It is fabulously ripe, almost embarrassing, and although I love my florals I do struggle through this stage.

    Yet the drydown shimmers like polished mahogany – warm, woody, intelligent and glowing. Sandalwood and vetiver are prominent to my nose, but it’s almost buttery as well. Beautiful stuff. I love it in autumn.

    • BChant says:

      I have never smelled the pre-1993, but I see its pretty affordable as vintage fragrances goes (like your find). I have a bottle from 2005 and it is definitely my “go to” fragrance (in fact I am wearing it today). I can definitely say that the bottles I have had all have that wonderful polished woody effect you describe so admirably so at least that has been preserved. One more thing, I rarely see anyone comment on the peach note in this fragrance, its evident in the heart the most and I think must contribute to the luminous quality of the base.

      • Angela says:

        I will get out my post-1993 bottle and focus on the peach. Thanks for pointing that out!

    • Angela says:

      Do you get that delicious spiciness, too? I think the ambery coriander was what really hooked me.

      • mals86 says:

        I really do not notice spices in it. So hard to tell, though, with vintage, what isn’t there and should be.

  3. Merlin says:

    Out of all the ‘classics’ Arpege is my favorite! I bought a partly used tester from a shop closing down about 4 years ago so I assume its a current formulation, and it truly is beautiful. The aldehydes, flowers, powder and woods are blended to be full, rounded and refined.

    I most especially agree that although it is elegant, it is also warm and welcoming. Tender, but not retiring! On this one, I guess I disagree with Turin and think its great on either sex.

    • Angela says:

      Some of those grand old classics are hard to beat!

      • Merlin says:

        I don’t really enjoy most of them; not Mitsouko, Jicky, Shalimar, no.5… Arpege, Coco and L’Heure Bleu EDT are so far the only exceptions!

        • Angela says:

          Well, you chose some good ones…

          • Merlin says:

            :)

  4. annemarie says:

    It’s wonderful to see you reviewing vintage again Angela! Arpege is a marvel, right up there with Chanel No. 5 and Evening in Paris as one of the most worn fragrances of the c.20. The ad campaign in during the 50s to the 70s was amazing. ‘Promise her anything but GIVE her … Arpege.’ Genius! Of course the sentiment dated badly I suppose as the 70s wore on and women started buying things like Charlie! for themselves. All power to them.

    I have a bottle of Eau Arpege but mainly keep it for reference. The damaged top notes fade fairly fast, but so does the fragrance! It just does not seem to last on my skin. In any case, I do really love the post-93 version, which seems richer and more velvety, more satisfying. The difference is partly the difference between an EDT and an EDP, I guess, and a dab-on as opposed to a spray.

    • Angela says:

      This weekend I bought a metal-sleeved atomizer for my Eau Arpege so I could enjoy the full pleasure of spraying it, then I promised myself I’d use it often. Thanks to the metal covering, I can leave it on my dresser where I see it and use it often (or that’s the plan, anyway). You’re so right–it’s so fleeting.

      • annemarie says:

        Spraying is the best way to get any heft, I’m sure. Still I decided to wear my Eau Arpege today and after much smearing and slathering obtained for myself a good perfume veil that has lasted the last four hours, so that’s encouraging. And I do detect the spice! I don’t notice it in the reformulated version.

        However, all that skin content with the contents of the bottle would be why the old splash bottles have not lasted well. I too had better get myself an atomiser for this.

        • Angela says:

          I also bought atomizers for my splash bottles of vintage Miss Dior, Diorling, and Vol de Nuit EdC. I love each of these fragrances and want to wear them more–so far, the atomizers are helping make it easier.

  5. peter says:

    I gave my Grandmother a bottle of the (I guess) reformulated Arpege sometime in the mid nineties, she took one whiff and screamed “It smells like a rancid old lady!” So I guess she didn’t like it!

    • Angela says:

      When an (I’m assuming) old lady says something smells like an old lady, I guess it’s an authoritative opinion!

  6. 50_Roses says:

    Arpege is probably my all-time favorite perfume. It was, in fact, the first perfume I ever fell hard for, at the tender age of about 4 or 5. I loved to sit at my mother’s dressing table and sniff her perfumes (and dab on a drop or two if she wasn’t looking). She had both Arpege and no. 5, among others, and these two perfumes were my introduction to the idea of fragrance families, although I didn’t understand it at the time. I noticed how they smelled “alike but different”; it wasn’t until many years later that I came to understand that the alikeness is because they were both aldehylic florals. I would say the difference is that no. 5 is cold, and Arpege is warm.

    Years later, when I was able to buy my own perfume, one of my first bottle purchases of “real” perfume was Arpege. That was sometime in the early to mid 1980s, so still the “original” formula. A few years later, when my bottle had run dry, I was devastated to be told my an SA that it was not available anymore. Eventually, I saw it again for sale, and snapped up a bottle, only to be heartbroken when it did not smell at all as I remembered.

    I will say that I do not think that the reformulated Arpege is bad, it just is not the same perfume as the vintage. Had I never smelled the original, I no doubt would have liked the new version quite well, but I did smell the original, and at a very young age, so it is indelibly impressed into my mind as one of my earliest scent memories. To my nose, the new version is thinner, sharper, brighter, and less warm.

    I have had better luck than you with vintage bottles. I have my grandmother’s bottle of extrait, age unknown, and it smells wonderful, although not quite the same as the EdT. Whether that is due to differences in the formula between extrait and EdT, or changes due to age, I cannot say. I also have a bottle of EdT which I got off eBay, still sealed in the original box. When I received it and opened the cellophane and the box, I found there was some evaporation, but what remains immediately took me back several decades–that was it, the exact scent I had been missing for so long! I have a pretty good idea of the age of my bottle, as in the box there was a leaflet advertising the rest of Lanvin’s range, including Crescendo, which appears to have been sold only during the 1960s.

    • Angela says:

      What a fabulous story! Your grandmother and your mother wore Arpege–no wonder it’s in your blood.

      I really can’t think of another contemporary fragrance that is so tender, warm, and unassuming. I think it’s the “unassuming” part that is, curiously, so alluring.

  7. rickbr says:

    Warm is really a perfect description for vintage Arpege. I guess that i can consider myself lucky, since i have a 30ml bottle of the parfum (it was a gift from a dear friend) and it seems still perfect – altough i never smelled this frag fresh, but it doesn’t seem off in any note. I get some creamy, sweet in an adult way, balmy, gorgeous.
    I’m still to smell a vintage Lanvin that doesn’t smell expensive – Jeanne really had a great taste.

    • Angela says:

      I really do love those old Lanvins, too. The bottles were so gorgeous, as well. My dream is to one day stumble upon a bottle of Scandal.

      • rickbr says:

        Id say to keep an eye on ebay. That’s where i got my eau de scandal and one of those parfum mini set that came a bottle of scandal.
        I also love the bottles. And the boxes too – very ellegant

        • Angela says:

          Good advice–thanks!

  8. Marjorie Rose says:

    Sounds lovely, Angela! But I must know–unless it’s like giving away a good fishing hole–where do you find perfume in thrift shops? I’ve only ever found one mini bottle of Shalimar at a Goodwill, otherwise, there seems to be a dearth of perfume in any of the vintage shops I’ve wandered through! Oh, I take that back–there’s one antique shop in West Moreland where I’ve seen minis, but they’re all terribly overpriced. . . and NEVER full bottles!

    • mals86 says:

      I have terrible luck, too – all I ever find are Avon bottles (not that all of the Avon things were awful, but they all seemed to have been displayed in the light and are iffy on the juice).

      I think you must be shopping in a fairly large city with at least a history of relative affluence. Which does not describe where I live… so eBay has been kinder to me.

      • Angela says:

        I see a lot of Avon out there, too. Thrifting is kind of a hobby with me, and I think it’s the sheer time I spend at it that yields the results.

    • Angela says:

      I think I simply must spend too much time trawling thrift stores! The Eau Arpege I found at Village Merchants when I was looking for a shower curtain. The downtown and Powell Goodwills are good sources, too.

  9. FragrantWitch says:

    I love the original Arpege and so did my grandmother, with whom I shared similar perfume tastes , and I remember her being so disappointed when she purchased a post-1993 bottle and it didn’t smell the same. She said it was missing its soul- it smelled beautiful but like a statue and without the gorgeous warmth that animated the previous version. At 17 I was only just beginning my fragrance journey but I completely understood what she meant and I think she was absolutely right!

    • Angela says:

      Your grandmother had a great way of describing things–and she clearly loved her perfume, too. Some things carry right on through the genes…

  10. pigoletto says:

    I’ve had the luck to stumble across sealed vintage boxed bottles from the 50s-60s, if I was dating the packaging correctly, and the juice smelled glorious from start to finish.

    • Angela says:

      That’s fabulous!

  11. nozknoz says:

    I have some circa 1940s extrait Arpege that seems to be in good condition. It was somewhat evaporated but still in the box, so protected from light. Part of what makes these older perfumes so warm and wonderful is the real sandalwood – definitely more welcoming than that artificial spiky wood in so many perfumes now.

    By the way, I have also worried about contaminating my stoppered perfumes, so I’m trying out a new technique using plastic cocktail straws to apply the perfume. This combines tips from Victoria of Bois de Jasmin, who recommended using small pipettes to apply perfume, and NST commenter Joe, who recommended inexpensive plastic cocktail straws as mini-pipettes. This seems to work quite well.

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