Editor's Picks, Grooming

The lost and found game of discontinued fragrances

The lost and found game of discontinued fragrances

From left to right: Bvlgari Splendida Jasmin Noir, Maison Martin Margiela Replica Whispers In the Library, Thierry Mugler A*Men Pure Malt, Tom Ford Vert Bohème.

When I am wide awake during the twilight hours, I find myself fervently trawling through eBay to find a bottle of a Guerlain fragrance called Derby. Not the 2005 or the 2012 version but instead, the 1985 edition that is often described by fragrance aficionados as the only male fragrance that has the elegance of a female one. I had the pleasure of smelling it thanks to David, a fragrance collector who also happens to work at Givaudan, a Swiss multinational manufacturer of fragrances for the likes of Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, and Kim Kardashian and there is honestly nothing like it on the market come 39 years later.

A vintage ad for Guerlain’s Derby. Photo Credit: Parfumo. 

It is at once nostalgic as it is melancholic, frigidly cold and distant in a Theodore “Laurie” Laurence way. It has the long-lost ability to surround one in a halo of elegance and mystery like no other—all with an of-its-time heady mix of bergamot, pepper, leather and oak moss. Quite like Prince in ‘Purple Rain’ who preferred to tear stages up around the world instead of fussing over posh images of equestrian sports or participating in the rat race where the arena is a dimly lit office cubicle.

An unsealed 100ml bottle of Derby, if one has good fortune, currently costs an eye-watering $1930 on eBay while a miniature seven ml version that has been opened goes at $114 on Etsy. 

For major brands like Guerlain, launching a fragrance into an increasingly crowded market is a feat of survival. There is the multi-million dollar expense that involves production, advertising, and hiring of a face and next, changing shifts in trends that move faster than one can upload a video on TikTok. One day, it seems in fashion to smell like sweetened white musk and the next, burning incense found in a Gothic cathedral but more often than not, such trends start from the top.

The Lost And Found Game Of Discontinued FragrancesThe original ad for Gucci Pour Homme II. Photo Credit: eBay.

One example is Gucci’s Pour Homme II launched in 2007 and was a flanker from the glamorous Tom Ford era. It was a sophisticated tea and cinnamon scent but was mercilessly discontinued once Alessandro Michele took over the hot seat. The commercial wheel turned again a few years later as The Alchemist’s Garden launched by him is rumoured to go extinct soon.

The Lost And Found Game Of Discontinued Fragrances
From left to right: Penhaligon’s As Sawira, Gucci Pour Homme II

Another reason would be increasingly stringent bans on ingredients that have been labelled as toxic to health, never mind that they breathe life into a fragrance. An example would be lilial, a synthetic that was banned two years ago as it had detrimental effects on the body’s fertility. Prevalent in floral fragrances like Escape for Men Calvin Klein or Pasha Cartier as it had a “lily-of-the-valley” accord, the decision to retain a fragrance often rests on the clipboards of the brand’s marketing executives.

Is it popular enough to have a new nose or its original one to reformulate it? Or has it not done well enough such that the brand can just produce a new one? Sad to say, the latter often makes more commercial sense. 

The internet, inevitably is the international market for fragrance fanatics never mind that ironically, it is the barometer for a fragrance’s popularity and eventual demise. Trawling sites like eBay for niche fragrances require patience, caution, and a stroke of fiscal luck but if one has more commercial tastes, there are now sites like Perfume.Sg that do the work. Stocking ones like Escada Moon Sparkle for Men to Givenchy Very Irresistible Attitude for Men, its founder Robin Lim created it because he was on a hunt for a fragrance himself.

“One of my favourite scents was discontinued and I only found it three years later in an old airport in Vietnam. I took all of what was on the shelf and shared some of it with my friend and the joy was similar to that when you finally found a long-lost one. Over the past years, I have managed to find discontinued perfumes upon request and currently have a decent list to share” says Lim. And as for Derby, I am hoping to find a modern interpretation. Sultan Vetiver by Nishane comes quite close. 

Photography Jaya Khidir
Styling Manfred Lu