I've taken some heat in the past for claiming that vintages are faked on auction sites, as if this idea is batshit crazy instead of an obvious fact of life. In my prior post I talked about vintage enthusiasts a bit, stating that they are generally well-informed people with an in-depth appreciation of perfume history.
Yet there is a pallor of informational hubris on this population, in that some folks think they know what a specific vintage should look like, without ever actually checking and cross-referencing their sources (if they have any) to verify.
From what I've read, I think that there have been hundreds of people suckered by clever counterfeiters into thinking their vintage is the genuine article, a tragi-comic situation. Imagine spending $300 on a "rare" bottle of something ostensibly forty or fifty years old, and taking it to your grave thinking you've been its proud owner, when in fact you were bilked and simply never knew it. Not a pleasant thought. Ignorance may be bliss, but then again why wonder if you've done something stupid? Better to know.
Take Climat Parfum by Lancôme, for instance. This was a popular fragrance in the eighties and nineties, though it was originally released in the mid sixties. The nineties version in the blue box has become quite a seller on Ebay in recent years, commanding impressive triple-digit prices, but also some fairly affordable numbers in the $40 - $80 range. It's one of those off-the-beaten-path feminines that few talk about anymore, originally made by a prestigious French firm, and long since discontinued, something that has its fans perpetually upset, I'm sure. One would think that it's wonderful that conscientious Ebay sellers have unlimited access to dusty stashes of the stuff, because how else can a chic girl get her pretty manicured hands on it? All she has to do is hop on the internet, click "Buy It Now," and she's the proud owner of a vintage bottle. Thank you, technology!
Except that she's almost guaranteed to get a fake. How do I know this? There's a blogger who has compared Ebay "vintages" to her own original, store-bought vintages. Amazing how simple that is. She kept the old stuff for years, and eventually held it up against photos on Ebay to compare. If they match, the seller is honest. If they don't, look out. Apparently there are some tricky things to look out for with Lancôme perfumes from the eighties and nineties. The accent mark over the "o" in their name as printed in ads may not match the mark on the perfume bottle. The little ribbon around the neck of the Climat bottle will be specific colors, likely a bit discolored by time. Letters will match up to each other, line by line. The perfume itself will be a specific color. The box will likely have certain features. Everything needs to add up here. Ultimately, your bottle of Climat should look like this:
And not the worthless piece of cheese nestled here:
It's hard to get too angry at the seller of the bottle above, because he or she is only asking $45 for it, but what about the same kind of counterfeit at the top of the page, going for over three hundred bucks? Some unfortunate sap will pick it up eventually, thinking she's (a) lucky to be wealthy enough to drop hundreds of bucks on vintage crap, and (b) she's lucky enough to have found an old favorite on Ebay. Now some have argued that those wealthy enough to drop this kind of money on perfume wouldn't really care if they took a loss on an accidental fake vintage purchase, but I beg to differ. I've known some wealthy people in my time. They're usually penny pinchers who only spend when they absolutely must, and even then they do it begrudgingly. With Climat, that leaves people with some disposable income who are not actually rich, but who desperately want that vintage bottle. So they splurge and buy it, and they're the real victims. To the guy who could afford a $300 lunch, losing on a counterfeit is no biggie. But to the average working person who makes $45K a year with partial benefits, it's highway robbery.
I encourage you to read that blog post I linked here. Then visit Ebay and type in "Climat" or "Vintage Climat." You'll find that most of the parfums listed are either hard to discern (the 'ol "unopened box" trick), or blatantly not the genuine article. Some are so poorly counterfeited that you can see specks of black ink smattered across the bottle. Others are very good attempts, but are a little too pristine to be up to snuff.
About five years ago, perfumeshrine.blogspot.com published a piece warning about vintage counterfeits, which is something more writers should be doing, and highlighted one especially nefarious crook who goes to great lengths to replicate vintage Chanels. Take a look at this "vintage" N°22:
Looks pretty real, right? Yet it's fake, fake, fake. The technique in question? Pretty much everything I've ever said is done to fake this shit - a carefully replicated label stuck on a pour bottle, carefully colored liquid placed a few centimeters down to create that "naturally evaporated" look, and all sorts of other shenanigans. His feedback as reported on perfumeshrine was 100%, and according to the post's author, he has:
". . . an endless supply of specific rare things, especially Carons (Farnesiana and Tabac Blond extraits are his specialty, as well as older classic Guerlains in a pleiad of incarnations and coveted Cuir de Russie, No.22, Bois des Iles and super rare No.46 Chanel extraits in collectable bottles)."
This makes me wonder if anything on Ebay can be trusted. Naturally there are real vintages on there, but it's the weeding through process that's so tricky. In this example we have someone who is clearly a criminal attempting to make a living through sales of extremely expensive counterfeits, preying on people who think they know what they're getting, or who perhaps have their heads too far up their own asses to even care.
It's noted that most scammers aren't as meticulous about it as the one mentioned on perfumeshrine, but my belief is that there's a whole league of scammers out there who buy up empty vintage bottles and fill them with home-made perfumes that are then put up for sale on Ebay as being "rare" specimens of vintage. How hard is that to do, really? All you need is some busy, old-fashioned drugstore perfume, food coloring, maybe a few inexpensive essential oils from one of those health-nut sites, and you have something that approximates what a vintage might have smelled like.
Most vintage buyers can't remember what the original formulas smelled like, if those formulas were released in their lifetime, and even if they do, they often don't have any on hand to use as a guide when purchasing. They are reading notes pyramids and reviews online, and whatever they receive in the mail will be accepted if it comes close to what they had in their head. For vintage counterfeiters, it's a fool's paradise.