When it comes to wine, it is much well known that it gets better and more exquisite with age. So the older the wine, the better. When it comes to perfume, does this also hold true?
Just recently, news broke out of a discovered 150-year-old shipwreck in Bermuda. Interestingly, along with the shipwreck was a perfectly preserved bottle of perfume. This bottle of fragrance is intended to be replicated so that everyone can own and take with them the curious aroma of history.
In September 1864, the Mary Celestia, a Civil War blockade runner, sank off Bermuda’s coast, taking down only one casualty with it, the cook of the ship. The ship’s wreckage has long been widely known by the divers in the area. But it was only in 2011, due to a series of strong winter storms that exposed and shed off a layer of deep sediment within the ship’s intact bow section, that unfolded the corner of a wooden crate that contained an unused and still corked wine bottle and other treasures, which included two bottles of perfumes, believed to be 150 years old.
These unearthed fragrance treasures have been brought to the laboratories of world renowned scent industry experts, to be examined and then replicated, so that the 150 year old piece of history can be made available to humankind.
Perfumer and Director of Lili Bermuda, more widely known as the Bermuda Perfumery, Isabelle Ramsay-Brackstone, together with Bermuda’s Custodian of Historic Wrecks, Dr. Philippe Rouja, worked hand in hand for years to investigate and write a 2500-word article containing the detailed results of their investigation, published in the Perfumer & Flavorist magazine, a world renowned authority figure on scents and fragrances.
The ship wreck contained a miraculously still intact cargo, containing the more than century old fragrance bottles that were marked Piesse and Lubin London. This was actually a famous perfumery during its day, where G.W. Septimus Piesse is among the owners. The 1857-volume book called The Art of Perfumery is believed to be the richest collection of information on the art of perfume.
Curious on how a 150-year old perfume smells like? Well not exactly lovely, as expected. Interestingly, when the master perfumers carefully removed the wax seal of the historic perfume bottles, the whiff of the scent they have described as "a dirty pirate's feet". This is beyond the fact that the two clear perfume bottles had been carefully preserved in actually favourable conditions – in darkness, under pressure, fully sealed and at a cool, constant temperature. But the truth of the matter is, perfume still unavoidably degrades over time, most especially when it contains organic matter.
However, as Master Perfumer Ramsay-Brackstone puts it, who cares? This is a piece of history we are smelling. And we’re not talking about years, or a decade, but a century of histories inculcated in that scent.
Master Perfumer Mrs. Ramsay-Brackstone of the Bermuda Perfumery reports, “We’ve spent months investigating and researching, and I’m immensely proud of the work we’ve amassed for the global fragrance industry. My goal now is to allow the public to get close to this discovery—to smell the perfume and experience its notes. I hope by sharing the story of this ancient perfume and its intriguing mystery, we grow the understanding and love of modern-day fragrance-making in the hearts of many people.”
After the expert perfumers successfully extract the perfume’s DNA and replicate it for public consumption, hopefully we can better understand and appreciate the rich story behind the Mary Celestia. Some 1,864 bottles will be sold in celebration of the year the ship sank. Some of the proceeds of the sale of the perfumes will also be donated to Bermuda's shipwreck heritage.
Some would say it may just be gimmick or another publicity stint, but come on, who would actually not be curious to know how a 150-year old perfume smells like. Who wouldn’t want to own a piece of history? Perhaps many would definitely choose it over any celebrity endorsed perfume.