I first came to New Hope as a high school sophomore, crossing that narrow two-lane bridge over the Delaware into counterculture heaven. Freedom pervaded the very air of this tiny, colorful riverbank town, which simultaneously boasted the world's best ice cream parlor (Gerenser's), bookstore (Farley's), head shop (The Now & Then, now sadly defunct) and Wiccan boutique (Mystickal Times). Plus, Ween. I thought New Hope enchanting, maybe also enchanted. To quote A Hard Day's Night, it looms large in my legend.
But the older I grew, the more Lambertville -- New Hope's Jersey twin -- came to charm me in its turn. With its antique shops, art galleries, and Revolutionary War heritage, it held just as much (if not more) allure as its sister city. I could spend entire afternoons at Sojourner (an emporium where one may sit for hours crafting one's own jewelry, priced by the bead) and then head over to Giuseppe's, whose slices and stromboli boast a certain finesse lacking at Penn-side pizzerias. Swear to god, if only I won the lottery, I'd move into one of those tiny 18th-century two-room cottages just outside of town, there to hang herbs from the rafters and cast runes for weary wayfarers... But if year-round residence in my little dream town is not economically feasible, then a day trip every now and again keeps me satisfied.
So it transpires that on a sun-bright Saturday, I make the journey west to where Route 29 hugs the curves of the historic Raritan Canal. There, the Golden Nugget -- a vast outdoor antique and flea market open only on Wednesdays and weekends -- awaits me. On this cloudless, cool late-summer day, the place is hopping... and I hear the siren song of vintage perfume on the wind!
I've been told by various perfumista friends that I have an uncanny talent for locating perfume in even the most chaotic of landscapes. I sally forth with no fixed destination or orderly system, keeping my eyes peeled for telltale signs-- the vitreous shine of glass; the twinkle of light on liquid. Sometimes in the course of barrelling around, I'll make an abrupt beeline for a stall or table based on nothing but a vague intuition: There's perfume there. As I am more often right than wrong, I (and my sidekicks) have learned to trust this instinct.
This time, it pays off in spades. Shading my eyes against the midday sun, my sights fix on a table that to any other eye would seem unremarkable but for the presence of a four battered cardboard boxes whose coloration and logo graphics I recognize. Wham, bam, thank you, ma'am: Via Lanvin.
The story of my first Via Lanvin acquisition (and the insane obstacle course of getting it out of the busted spray bottle) can be found here. I keep what I was able to reap in a tightly-sealed spice jar, dipping a pipette into it every so often to refill my purse sprayer, which I deploy very sparingly. You see, I really love this fragrance. Every time I wear it, its delicious cleanliness makes me feel as if I've just shared an hour-long hot shower with the most expensive bar of moisturizing soap on the market. If I could, I'd wear it with such frequency that it would become my signature, recognizable to all. But as long as my supply -- so small to begin with -- kept dwindling, I could never afford such a luxury.
From the driver's seat of her station wagon, the vendor watches me open each box, carefully extract the bottle within, twist off the cap, and sniff the contents-- nodding enthusastically as I inhale. Those brisk evergreen/galbanum notes up top, that satisfyingly creamy sandalwood in its base.... Ahhhhhh. There you are, my beloved. These forty-year-old fragrances have been perfectly preserved, and at $12 per full unused bottle, it's a bargain for a lifetime supply.
I select two of the boxed splash bottles and hold them up to the vendor to indicate my readiness to buy. As she wearily rolls out of the car and approaches the table, I notice that she appears somewhat ill-at-ease. "You want those?" she asks.
"Absolutely. One of my all-time favorites. I'm surprised to see so much of it in one place."
"Well, the person I'm selling them for used to be a Lanvin executive, so she had a big collection..." She coughs, darts her eyes around, then leans in to whisper hoarsely as though we're fellow agents in a spy novel. "There's this lady, you see. Comes every week. Always wants perfume. She hasn't been here yet today, but she's the one I usually sell to..."
"Are these being held for her?"
"Well, then, if it's all right, I definitely want them." I choose this moment to show her some cash, which usually proves calming to the nerves. (The furious haggling which ensues at flea markets often leaves a vendor defensive and wary; as I seldom wheedle for price breaks, I always hope that my willingness to pay without argument will help to counteract the cumulative effects of bargainer's shell-shock.)
But as she hands me my change, the vendor suddenly tenses up like an intimidated cat. "Hullo, Shirley," she mutters in a voice so strangled with apprehension I can't help but follow her gaze to the source of the threat. A woman -- seventy-something, diminutive, with limp grey bobbed hair and a permanent scowl etched into her features-- has planted herself at the end of the table. With naked hostility, she glares at the two bottles in my hands. Then she flings both arms wide and scooooooops up all of the remaining perfume bottles-- clutching them to her chest in exactly the same way a greedy child hogs a pile of coveted toys.
At this point, reacting (I am positive) out of sheer terror, the vendor heaves me in front of the proverbial bus. "I'm sorry, Shirley! She got here just before you did! I tried to tell her--"
"MINE!" Shirley barks.
Realizing that Shirley may have been either a pit bull or a serial killer in a former incarnation, I attempt to defuse the situation gently. "I see you're a fellow fragrance lover," I address her in tones of deepest reverence. "I bought these two, but there are two others exactly like them right there, plus many others which--"
With that, I hightail it back to my car and take my leave of the Gold Nugget, feeling as though I may have just narrowly side-stepped a gangland-style execution at the hands of a septuagenarian. I'll always be happy to wear Via Lanvin, but I suppose I'd better enjoy it even more now... since I very nearly paid for it with my life.
(Read some other Via Lanvin reviews by Suzanne, Carol, and Gaia. Suzanne and Carol got their samples the cruelty-free way-- from me. As for Gaia, I know she's a veteran vintage hunter-- I wonder if she has ever encountered Shirley in her travels?)