Ma Griffe Vintage Parfum (Carven)

Working in a reference library, I've helped many an amateur genealogist launch their own family-roots expedition. Most begin the journey into "days of yore" with a healthy, playful sense of adventure. They end much the same way: satisfied with the few gems they find and content to let all the rest go.

But there are some who traverse the past as if chased by an army of angry ghosts. Dead ends and dry wells that would scarcely break the stride of other, happier conquistadores cause them to burn with a feverish frustration that only more facts can soothe. In these weary travelers, I glimpse a reflection of certain perfume aficionados for whom the question of vintage is something to gnaw and worry and scrap over like an everlasting ham bone. They fixate on infinitesimal details of box, bottle, and label-- all leading, of course, to the debate over whether (and how much for the worse) the jus itself has changed over time. This, they are willing to debate until Armageddon. In fact, I am reasonably certain they may ultimately be the cause of Armageddon... at which point they will start arguing about whether their brimstone is synthetic or naturally sourced.

Me, I'm the worst kind of perfume heretic: I just like to wear the stuff. Reasons, excuses, and apologies are unnecessary. Whether it's old or new, niche or mainstream, famous or obscure, currently in production or discontinued decades ago, fragrance provides me with adventure, diversion, and stimulation. Believe me, I enjoy the historical anecdotes and apocrypha that build up around it as much as the next perfumista. But nothing excites me as much as the wearing of it. E'en be it blasphemy, I just cannot manage to get myself all worked up over production lot numbers.

That being said, I did wonder about the two miniature bottles of Ma Griffe parfum and eau de toilette I recently snagged. The one with the "spiral C" stopper smells a whole lot like my previous eau de toilette sample (and makes use of that same funky '70's font). The other is a gorgeously brisk extrait whose greenery strikes the ideal balance between bitter and milky before mellowing down to a swoon-inducing sandalwood. It came to me in a gorgeous, diminutive green-and-white striped box precisely fitted to the square bottle, on whose base a gold label indicates "Jacqueline Cochran New York" as the distributor.

But what year? Machete in hand, I set out to bushwhack my way through the encyclopedic underbrush. It didn't take long to discover a trail.

Founded in 1946 by Mme. Marie-Louise Carven-Grog (birth name: Carmen de Tomasso), the Parisian fragrance house known as Parfums Carven was acquired in 1966 by Shulton, an American cosmetics conglomerate of which Jacqueline Cochran had become a subsidiary the preceding year. According to "The Story of Shulton", a corporate prospectus published in 1967, Cochran thereafter became Carven's official worldwide distributor. By 1984 Ma Griffe belonged to the Beecham Group; from this I deduce that my parfum is anywhere from three to four and a half decades old.

At that age, I'd call it vintage. Wouldn't you?

Moving onward, Beecham ceded Parfums Carven to Worth in 1992. It passed to Daniel Harlant in 1998, then to Groupe Jacques Bogart in 2010. (I can't even keep count of the number of bottle redesigns it went through-- more costume changes than a runway model at New York Fashion Week.) At the moment, Carven is the property of SAS & Company Limited, the UK outfit which markets 'fumes for Justin Bieber, Rihanna, One Direction, and other bastions of the fickle youth market. Nothing wrong with that... right?

So it's clear that Ma Griffe is a genealogist's dream. From a single seed, its tree has branched out to all horizons, and its foliage continues to flourish. Still, a recent article has me somewhat confused as to whether the 2013 relaunch version of Ma Griffe is a true descendant. Thomas of Candy Perfume Boy ascribes it with "motherly softness". SOFTNESS? Holy cow. This brings new meaning to "not your mother's Ma Griffe".

Scent Elements: Gardenia, galbanum, citrus, aldehydes, clary sage, jasmine, rose, sandalwood, vetiver, orris, ylang-ylang, styrax, oakmoss, cinnamon, musk, benzoin, labdanum