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Please visit "Perfumes - The A-Z Guide" by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

April 1, 2004

"Message in a Bottle" By Luca Turin

"Message in a Bottle" By Luca Turin

Tiny shards of your past, long gone from view, are spread all over the world. Just like a hologram, each piece contains the whole picture, only grainier. In order to work, it has to be a piece of the real thing: a child’s book distressed by other hands is merely dirty. An old record has the scratches at all the wrong places in the score. But a perfume’s moving parts are shielded from harm inside crystal. Every bottle is the bottle. This cloud of silent music was once the answer a perfumer found to a long-forgotten question, but you took it to be an emanation of your mother’s soul.

Mine was Diorama, Dior’s first fragrance. My mother wore the eau de toilette, because she thought perfume was a vulgar evening-in-furs thing. Diorama was a fruity version of Coty’s austere Chypre, and a solar counterpart to Guerlain’s saturnine Mitsouko. Dior still pretends to sell it at its boutique In Paris, but the fragrance bears no relation to Roudnitska’s masterpiece. I looked for it everywhere in the unimaginable years before the world developed a nervous system.

If what they say is true, and the Devil grants your wishes, then the Web is His finest work. A desire zips down your arm to your typing fingers. 260 milliseconds later, if the Thing exists at all, you’re looking at it. Someone in Texas has just cleared his attic, Auntie Hattie wore Diorama. Bidding at auction takes a further few minutes. It’s as much fun as haggling, and a lot easier on the shy (machines do it for you at the last second). Some days later a small package turns up in the morning post., covered in nice joined-up American handwriting By then the price you paid has stopped hurting, and it feels like a present.

All you need to know is that perfumes, like all mysteries, hate sunlight and fresh air. Buy the ones that come with a box, and nearly full. Stoppered and kept in darkness, they last for decades. When they age, their molecules break down into smaller pieces which quickly fly off your skin. An aged perfume, like a friend you haven’t seen for years, can scare you at first but its younger face soon shines through. Don’t bid against bottle collectors, or you’ll be paying a fortune for things you don’t need. And don’t ever give it to your mother: everyone wants to remember their childhood, but youth is another matter.

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