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Vol de Nuit: Dancing with itself

Rembrandt's 1660 self portraitMy most-often commenter and fellow fumehead Undina asked me to share my thoughts on comparing the vintage Vol de Nuit parfum that was my Christmas splash-out to myself, and the 2012 extrait of the same scent that I already had.

I don’t think I would do a good job of describing the vintage Vol de Nuit. It’s definitely a Guerlain and it’s definitely vintage. I didn’t like it the first time I smelled it; I never know how much of that is an old bottle that hasn’t been well preserved, and how much is the scent. Whenever I’ve gotten my hands on well-preserved vintage scent, it’s been lovely. Vol de Nuit parfumVol de Nuit has a soft but tough feel to it, not so much the smell of leather as the feel of a well-used leather coat, one with remnants of someone’s scent clinging to it, both the flowers they might have dabbed on and the smell of sweet warm skin. I fear the sillage, thinking someone will ask me what on earth has occurred whenever I put it on, but I’ve not gotten any comments on it, so I don’t think it travels as much as it seems it might.

It’s gorgeous and well worth sniffing, in fact wearing, if vintage Guerlains are your thing. (I still have Mitsouko to come to terms with – I don’t love it, fortunately – but I am now a Shalimar girl through and through and Vol de Nuit is fast becoming a don’t-want-to-do-without-it option.)

The 2012 extrait is definitely related. I wouldn’t agree with anyone who said the versions no longer had anything to do with one another. I spritzed the 2012, as opposed to (carefully) dabbing the vintage, and it definitely seemed stronger for it, but I think I have a good sense of the two scents now after several wearings.

The 2012 smells not at all pleasant right out of the bottle. I don’t know why, but it’s a cacophany of stuff my nose Does Not Want. Little shards here and there recall notes from the vintage, but I’m immediately wishing I hadn’t put it on.

And then, within minutes, the 2012 settles down to be – how can I explain this? It’s as if someone wanted to copy a Rembrandt with tempura paint from the craft store. That sounds really negative, but imagine how much skill that would take. Some aspects of the original would definitely be lost – especially a certain dark ombre that just comes with time – but with skill and craftsmanship a great forger could certainly make something that your eye immediately identified as the Rembrandt, even if it also immediately identified it as not quite the Rembrandt.

Vol de Nuit parfum vintage box

Check out the cool box of the vintage Vol de Nuit parfum!

There are so many little nooks and crannies in the vintage and the 2012 tries to represent them with strokes too broad to capture them all.

Very soon, though, the 2012 dries into a fair approximation of the vintage. It is as if you were wearing the vintage. It’s clear you’re not, but you are having an experience that’s pretty close. For all I know, the soapy aspects to the bergamot and the sharpness of the kind of gasoline note under a veil of powder are closer to the original formula than my now-aged vintage. To me I definitely can smell that if one is Vol de Nuit, the other is too.

To my nose, the 2012 smells more “old lady” than the actual vintage. I think it would to others too. There’s something about this combination of smells that evokes the old-fashioned, whereas the actual old-fashioned perfume smells smoky and sweet and I don’t think anyone would actually think I were wearing my grandmother’s perfume.

So what’s the percentage in loving a vintage perfume? Does the average Vol de Nuit wearer want to stalk eBay all day trying to score a vintage bottle, or just order one up? If he or she were to wear the current Vol de Nuit, the experience would tap into the great history of this perfume, a moment in the early days of airplane flight and the adventuresome, romantic spirit of travel it’s meant to evoke. Is it okay that they’re having a paint-by-number copy of a past masterpiece? Hey, it’s a paint-by-number copy that you can enjoy hanging over your own couch without a lot of difficulty – and how many people are going to know that those brushstrokes aren’t the original ones?


First image is of the 1660 Rembrandt self portrait, swiped off the web – sorry, Remy, feel free to come after me. Second two photos are mine. Published under Creative Commons license; feel free to reproduce with attribution.

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4 comments to Vol de Nuit: Dancing with itself

  • Hmm… Interesting. Thank you, J!

    If I could buy a perfectly preserved vintage bottle of VdN I would have probably gone for it. But I just don’t want to gamble. So I will probably test the modern version more to see if I can live through the phase when I do not like it (first 30 min).

    • Judith

      Yes, a vintage buy is always at least a little of a gamble, though I flatter myself I’ve gotten better at picking good bottles over the years.

  • I’m so glad you posted this. It is another data point in my continued argument with myself about whether I want to buy the current extrait or not.

    • Judith

      Happy to help! I still have a hard time “picturing” Vol de Nuit as a scent – it isn’t as defined and recognizable as Shalimar (though what is)? But I enjoy wearing it, especially in the vintage.

What do you think?