What does it mean to say that a perfume is ‘dated’?

I’m interested in vintage perfume so I think about this from time to time. The other day Olfactoria remarked in a post on her blog that Chanel’s Coco seems dated to her, at least in comparison to Coromandel, the fragrance she was reviewing.

I’ve read other people who also find Coco dated, and while I don’t disagree, I also think of the question likely to spring to the mind of a novice perfumista: how can a perfume seem dated if you have not smelled it before? If you are new to it, it will seem fresh, won’t it?

Of course, with experience you learn to identify different eras and fashions in perfumery, and to search for a context within which to place a perfume that is new to you. Coco came out in 1984, in the middle of a big era for perfume. The perfumes were big, the hair was big, the music was big … no-one knew the meaning of the expression ‘less is more’. Even with its customary restraint, Chanel was on-trend, and so yes, Coco is opulent. So is Chanel No 5 EDP (1986): all that vanilla. Yum!

When you compare these to what came before (the simplicity of Cristalle, for instance, 1974) and what came after (the fruity femininity of Allure, 1996, and Coco Mademoiselle, 2001), you can really see how Coco and Chanel No 5 EDP are fragrances of their time.

But you don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of fragrance to be struck by how ‘dated’ a perfume seems, on first spritz. Memory will do it too. I spritzed Rive Gauche on my wrist a short while ago, pretty certain I had not smelled it before and that it would be new to me. Nope. I knew it. I must have known someone who wore it when I was a teenager, I just could not remember who.

RG came out in 1974 but to me it seems very 1980s, a fragrance for shoulder-padded women intent upon kicking open boardroom doors with their stilettos. Someone in my life who wore it has left me with that impression. Who was this person that I so disliked? She is still troubling me now, for she has rendered a very beautiful fragrance completely unwearable.

What fragrances seem ‘dated’ to you? Does it matter?

And – Nasty Rive Gauche Lady – what are you wearing now, eh?

29 thoughts on “Dated

  1. That is a very intersting and thoughtful post. I guess perfumes bear the mark of their time just as other expressions of art or fashion do. Nobody is free of these influences, only the great masterpieces are deemed as such, because they transcend time.

  2. Thanks, yes indeed, I started to write about how a perfume might transcend its time, but decided it would be a post for another day!

  3. I think a perfume can seem dated even if you smell it for the first time here and now because you will be comparing it with what you now from the present time.

    But what does dated mean? That it’s passé – that it lacks a universal appeal that transcends time – and will everyone pick up on that? Or does it mean that it is easily identifiable as coming from a particular era? If that is the case, I guess every fragrance will eventually become “dated”.

    Personally, I don’t think it matters a great deal to me. There a fragrances that I definitely associate with a partcular era, Estee Lauder Knowing for instance. I didn’t want to wear it then, and I don’t want to wear it now, so it’s not really because I find it dated that I won’t wear, it’s mainly because it isn’t for me, eventhough I can appreciate its beauty.

    And there are “old and dated” perfumes that I know are perceived that way, Chanel no. 5 for instance, but to me it transcends time and I don’t care when it was created.

    I’ve had a similar fragrance experience to the one you had with Rive Gauche. I was getting into rose fragrances and tested YSL Paris on one occasion thinking that I didn’t know it. Wrong. I did know it because I was hit hard with an unexpected sense of melancholy and sadness when I smelled it in the department store. So strange. And I could not and still cannot remember who wore it and why it made me sad. I decided to work through it because I really liked the fragrance and the melancholy has practically vanished. But isn’t it amazing the way how our senses can store memories that our conscious minds cannot?

    1. Yes, it’s as if there is a ‘scent memory’ that is different from our other memories.

      We are back on the question of how a perfume can transcend time. Creativity, good design and execution, quality materials – all of those things count. So does good marketing – look how Chanel has supported No 5 decade after decade with innovative marketing campaigns!

      Thanks for your comments, Marie. (I must try Knowing one day, cant think why I haven’t. I wonder if it will smell ‘dated’?!

  4. I think many perfumes I’ve smelled from the ’80s especially smell dated, though I find some dated perfumes beautiful and wearable anyway. I suppose “dated” to me means obviously a product of its era — so a perfume could seem that way even the first time you smell it. A couple of perfumes I found dated and unwearable for me are Paris and Ivoire, though I appreciate them abstractly. Dated perfumes I’d happily wear include Knowing and First.

    1. Yes, a product of its era. It’s easy with the 80s, which most of us either remember, or know through the scents of our mothers and aunts.

      I’m wondering, tho’, in the absence of all other information, I could date Arpege to the 1920s, or L’Interdit to the 1950s. It gets harder the further back you go!

      I’m going to give First another sniff. In the past it has seemed too lush to me, but at the moment it is so cheap. Tempting.

      1. Anne-Marie, this would be a fun experiment: I could send you an un-labeled (or several un-labeled) sample vials, and you could try and date them! How fun would that be??? 🙂

        They call me “Spirit of Adventure”.

  5. What does dated mean? Interesting concept…I think I agree with Elisa, “obviously a product of its era.”

    I wore Rive Gauche back in the day (but I’m certain I’m not your ‘nasty Rive Gauche lady’!)– I honestly can’t remember how it smells!

    1. No, I’m sure you are not the NRGL!

      Rive Gauche is very sophisticated. Or was. I’ve heard it has been re-formulated … usual story.

  6. Very interesting post and comments!

    I’m wondering if another reason some fragrances seem “dated’ is because of a ubiquitous note or style.

    Some people find green chypres very dated (not me!). The 60s/70’s were loaded with them! Then they disappeared under clouds of candied tuberose….Perhaps if the green chypre had not faded away, they wouldn’t be “dated”.

    I wonder if oud fragrances will ever be considered dated, now that everyone and their dog has one.

  7. Thanks JoanEaliane. I reckon oud will date because it seemed to emerge on to the scene so suddenly and be taken up so quickly and thoroughly. Of course the major floral notes allow endless interpretation over the decades: rose, lily of the valley, hycinth …

    Love green chypres! Wearing Silences (1978) today. That one neve seems to go out of fashion. (But was it ever ‘in fashion’ even at the start?)

      1. Well, there are plenty of reviews online. The search engine on NST catches a lot of them, except this one:

        Silences is an extreme green fragrance, and although it is in the same family as Chanel 19 and Private Collection, it is much quieter. Not fierce or scary. Have a look at the reviews: you’ll see that people use all sorts of interesting metaphors.

        I spritzed twice yesterday, once on my wrists (shared) and once at the base of my throat. Lasted all nearly day, but gently. Just a quiet, sophisticated presence. Not a skin scent because it is too green, but still close to the skin. It has galbanum, but is mellower and less demanding than other galbanums. Not sure how well it will wear in winter tho’. I’m about to find out.

        I just have a TPC sample, but you can get it very cheap online, and I reckon I will pretty soon. Hope this helps!

        1. … and your description of Silences is going to land me squarely in no. 19 territory. That is, clicking “buy it now” on eBay!

          Admittedly, I have been thinking about buying it for a while, because it is available so cheaply (apx USD$30), so I might as well take the leap, now knowing how you feel about it! 🙂

          1. Hi, glad you like it. Not sure about the bottle. I still only have my TPC sample. Mostly the bottle I have seen is black.

        2. This is definitely helpful as it is exactly your opinion I was after 🙂

          Silences sounds so appealing to me that I know that I will buy it in the near future – I love greeeeeen 🙂

          I wore Private Collection about 15 years ago and enjoyed it a lot, dryer than no. 19 if memory serves me right and less easily wearable than no. 19. I’d love to smell PC again – a little weekend project coming up.

          1. Dryer, yes. No 19 has a juicy quality that I don’t think PC has. Hope you enjoy trying PC again.

  8. Late to this party, but better late than never…Dated…well, asd a card-carrying green chypre gal myself, I think ‘date’ has more to do with perception and association than anything else. The stream-lined, green, galbanum, get-up-and-atta-girl chypres of the 70s – off the top of my head, Silences (never out of fashion in my book!), Rive Gauche, which one former boyfriend called something akin to ‘Goosebumps’ in Danish (this in the early 80s. mind), Aliage, Knowing, Charlie etc…or those shoulder-padded creations of the 80s – are products of their time just as much as the iris/bubblegum/popcorn/oud/pink peppercorn/raspberry trends are now. I could add all those minimalist 90s creations into the mix as the backlash to the 80s in one scent – CK One, anyone???

    If perfume transcends time, as indeed some do, it’s probably because it expresses something other than its particular zeitgeist that strikes a responsive chord in its audience. I don’t think of ‘dated’ so much anymore as I think in terms of esthetics – and whether that esthetic is something I can agree with or not. I wouldn’t be caught dead and decaying in Giorgio, but I would happily wear other 80s scents – Coco, Paloma Picasso, YSL Paris, if it were what it was when I did wear it faithfully.

    My bottom line – dated, schmated…I wear what I love. It could have been created in 1887 (Jicky), or 1911 (Narcisse Noir), or 2010 (Boxeuses) – if it’s good to you, who cares when it was made?

    So long as I never, ever have to wear Giorgio anything…;-)

    1. Thanks Tarleiso! Yes, ‘date’ is really about perception and association. So it’s interesting, isn;t it, is that for some people, that association can prevent them from appreciating a fragrance. I first had this thought, I think, when i read a remark in Perfumes: The Guide that Coco is dated. ‘Dated scmated’ was pretty much my reaction too. I wear Coco all the time in the winter (sometimes on a wet day in the summer), with complete enjoyment.

      Still, historical context always interests me. I don’t just wear perfume for enjoyment, I like to read it as historical evidence. And I like to understand why a perfume is the way it is – how was it part of a trend, how was it responding to or reacting against the mood of the times – not just what it smells like.

      And then there is the personal context that we all bring: Rive Gauche is almost unwearable to me because of the NRGL.

      Damn, I’m going to have to try YSL’s Y. I see it mentioned so often. Sounds like you and Giorgio have a very special relationship!

  9. I’m with Tarleisio, in thinking that “‘date’ has more to do with perception and association than anything else,” because, while I love Chanel Coco, and didn’t smell it until the past few years, it does feel dated in the sense that it reminds me stylistically of other 80’s perfumes that I did experience during that decade.

    On the other hand, since I wasn’t alive to experience the mean greens, those don’t smell dated to me at all—at least the ones I’ve had the opportunity to smell (IRFRA got to many before I did, no doubt), and I think it’s because I have no reference for them. It’s the same for the vintage Guerlain’s too— they smell fresh and new to me, because I never knew an “old” woman who wore them!

    Interestingly, my co-worker recently asked me not to wear Montale’s Boise Vanille to work because she said that it smelled OLD. Which is interesting, because to me it smells like a masculine Shalimar! Not old at all!


    Another great post Anne-Marie— you are such a freaking treasure!! 😉

    1. Thanks dee!

      Like you, I have trouble dating perfumes outside my memory, but I’d say the longer you sniff vintage perfume, the easier that would get. Accumulated experience does count, in the same way that museum curators become experts on objects that were never in use in their lives.

      There is a whole other post in how we get on with co-workers where perfume is concerned. Australians are restrained and diffident folk, so I rarely get comments on my perfumes. But I read about plenty of other people who do.

      Masculine Shalimar sounds lovely.

  10. What a juicy topic, Anne-Marie. I don’t know what part to bite on first! Perfumes that smell dated to me…I love vintage, but some of the extremely powdery, violet-noted, aldehydic stuff smells dated to me — and unwearable. Or sweet florals like Joy or Je Reviens. I just can’t go there. (Still working on Joy, but it’s not happening yet.)

    But as a vintage loon, “dated” isn’t always pejorative to me. Some perfumes are dated but in a way that transports me to a new place. Even though I wear the perfume and smell “like an old lady,” I’m reading it, it’s exciting me, it smells edgy and weird, so in that case it becomes “fresh” in an exciting way that the latest niche from so-and-so might just cause me to raise my shoulders and say, “Meh.” Perfume in that category: the latest, which I haven’t written about yet — Blue Carnation (hello, clove cigarettes!); Colony by Patou (pineapple and oakmoss, really?!); Baghari and Rumeur (disquietingly sexy, boozy and animalic); Narcisse Noir (incense and indolic florals).

    And then there are the perfumes that transcend time, like others have said. Not surprisingly, they tend to be citrus and galbanum-laced green scents: Chanel No. 19, Vent Vert, Bandit, you mentioned Cristalle…etc.

    Especially when you consider how much people “borrow” from the past — in fashion, music, art, and perfume, etc. — it’s because many things in the past were innovative once, and like you said, if you’ve never encountered it, it should look/smell “new” to you! (Look at Lady Gaga’s fans who have no idea who her references are. They think she’s a stylistic genius!) Why that doesn’t happen in perfume more is interesting. “Unfamiliar” is more likely to smell “old,” or “dated.”

    1. Yes, for most of the world that is not obsessed with perfume, as we are, unfamiliar does seem to smell ‘old’.

      ‘Retro’ could be a useful neutral term, maybe, especially for a perfume that references older styles. Cosmetic powder perfumes sometimes strike me that way. I have never smelled Lipstick Rose but I would like to. I am cautious about cosmetic powder fragrances, but that one sounds like it is one of the best of that genre.

      I can’t do Joy either, although I only have the EDT. It is sneezy and artificial to me, but if I try, I can sort of perceive what it is trying to say. Frustrating.

      Your comments deserve a more thoughtful reply, Barbara, but I’m done in for tonight. Love you to write about Blue Carnation.

      1. I think retro is a very good term to use. It sometimes seems as if the term dated is used about fragrances we don’t like, whereas older scents we do like would be termed classics – no fair, right? 😉

  11. So many good thoughts that I’m not sure if I have anything terribly new to add, but I did want to say that I generally consider “dated” in perfume very similarly to “dated” in fashion. Some items are considered classics (trench coats, little black dresses) and are often done in ways that incorporate fewer obvious current trends so that they remain in style for longer. Those are difficult to date to a certain era. Other items set trends (like Chanel jackets or DVF wrap dresses) and are difficult to date because they have remained popular and there are so many riffs on them. And other items incorporate many trends and can be dated to a particular time or to at least identified as dated, depending on how knowledgeable we are.

    Thanks for getting this discussion going. It’s such an interesting thing to think about.

    1. Thanks. That reminds me of something I have pondered occasionally, concerning perfiume reformulations. We don’t wear exactly the same clothes that people wore in the 1920s, or build and decorate our houses in exactly the same style. So why would we wear exactly the same perfume? Why shouldn’t Chanel No 5 be tweaked to suit modern tastes? Okay, so it has, but you know what I mean. To take another example: I’m quite happy not to wear dresses of the New Look style of the late 1940s (all those corseted little waists!), but I really wish that Miss Dior still smelled the same.

      I can’t account for this.

      1. I know what you mean. Is it maybe a question of being a purist about perfume? Some people prefer to have the feel or the inspiration of the original, but updated, and some people love the original so much that the idea of a tweak is heartbreaking. I suspect most of us fall into both camps at some point, just depending on how much the original “speaks” to us. But regardless of how I feel about any one “classic”, it is sad to think of so many (like Miss Dior) potentially being lost forever in the wave of reformulations.


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