Down the years I have done quite a bit of informal perfume 'consultancy' for friends, some of which I have documented on the blog. I use the term 'consultancy' most advisedly, for we are talking a session of 'guided sampling' here, not anything akin to the work of McKinsey or KPMG. Especially as I wouldn't dream of charging my friends £1500 a day for the privilege of my olfactory insights, such as they are.
One of these friends is Simon, the chap who lives on a boat, and on my instructions dutifully keeps his perfumes in a fridge - despite living on a boat, where space is at a premium! - and to whom I introduced two of what proved to be big hits with him: BEX Londoner SE1, inspired by the spice wharves of that post code (review here), and Fragrance Republic's FR! 01/03, a scent built around the elements of a Cuban mojito. It is no longer in production, indeed I think the whole company went bump, possibly dogged by the twin shackles of excessive serial numbers and exclamation marks, but this is mere speculation on my part.
|Source: Wikimedia Commons (via Vodopivez)|
Top notes: mint, lemon
Heart notes: rum pure jungle essence (excuse me??)
Base notes: Gurjum balsam
So having drained his bottle of FR1! 01/03 - of which there is none to be had through the usual channels of eBay and Facebook groups - I got together a little bag of samples for him to try in a bid to find my friend another zesty and spirit-themed scent.
And perhaps unsurprisingly - though I thought Penhaligon's Juniper Sling might have been a contender - Simon was drawn to Creed Virgin Island Water, of which I had a little splash pot from many years ago, procured in a swap on MUA (two mentions in as many posts!), but which to my nose was still in pretty good nick.
So Simon drained that with alacrity and I set about procuring some more for him via the UK Sales/Swap/Split site on Facebook. I soon found a 10ml decant, which he applied liberally and again quickly drained. I thought I would seek out a bigger quantity next time, and found a chap on the same site hosting a split that involved a humongous bottle - a veritable Jeroboam of the scent world - divided nine or ten ways, I can't quite remember the exact proportions, but it certainly made 50ml a very affordable £50 or thereabouts, compared with a much higher price were you to buy a 50ml bottle in store. At least three times that much, if not more.
So the 50ml decant bottle arrived, and Simon carried on spraying with abandon - if anything, with even more abandon that usual, as he had so much perfume to play with. However, he quickly noticed that this lot of Virgin Island Water did not smell like the smaller 10ml decant OR the original tiny splash pot. It was less coconutty to his nose and had a monster fruity opening, which we concluded must be lime. That said, the drydowns were nigh on identical, so it was a fairly fleeting, if startling difference.
So on the Interwebs I jumped in a bid to solve this puzzle, and it was the work of a few minutes to stumble upon a forum thread on Basenotes where mostly male fumeheads from all over the world were discussing different variants of Virgin Island Water, or VIW as it is typically abbreviated, in which not only the coconut vs the lime-forward versions are discussed, but people are lamenting changes in the colour of the cap, or even the juice,
"Does anyone with a 16a01 batch experience the big lime? Should I return this? I read from other threads that they got a perfect balance on this batch.... But I get straight up lime?? What should I do?? (sorry if I sound like I'm going nuts but this smells like lime juice on the opening)"
"For those looking for a nice coconut note who either can't find the right VIW batch and don't have the patience to fool around with batches in the first place, I'll suggest Diptyque Philosykos."
"I ended up paying full retail (15% off actually for Christmas) at the Creed Boutique for their last 2 super-large 17 oz. flacons of VIW from the year 2013. The juice is clear white, and the coconut is dominant. I could have saved hundreds online; however, I love the coconut in VIW and can't stand the lime-intensive versions....I would be thrilled if Creed introduced a new fragrance called Creed Coconut."
|Source: Wikimedia Commons (unknown author)|
What also struck me was the matter-of-fact way in which members were bandying around batch numbers to back up their observations. In my ten years down the rabbit hole, I have never once looked for, never mind referenced, a batch number of a perfume in current production, though I may have peered at the bottoms of flacons of vintage scents for any kind of numerical steers. But the very idea of going into Boots, picking up a bottle of Coco Mademoiselle (not that I would, given Lidl's perfectly adequate dupe for a sixteenth of the money), and checking it had the batch number I was after is a completely alien concept.
But I had learnt loud and clear that with Creed perfumes, or with VIW specifically at least, batch numbers are very much a thing. I did wonder if the coconut-forward variant is simply an older formulation whereas the lime-intensive one is the latest incarnation, but from all my reading it seems that there is more to it than that. But if anyone has the definitive line on this I would be interested to know!
So given that Simon was not as smitten with this 'lime whoosh' version, I wondered if I could track down a different one for him. Maybe even send this decant back. But if there were different, equally bona fide versions of this scent, that might not be an option. At least, I thought to myself, I could prove that the lime whoosh variant he has is kosher. That seemed a good starting point. So he gave me back his decant for now, and I studied the homemade label the seller had put on it with forensic interest. Sure enough, there was a long batch number in small type in the bottom corner of the label. Hurrah! I had something to follow up...
I jumped right back on the Net and did a trawl of sampling sites, seeing if any of the ones selling VIW actually stated the batch their sample was from. I struck lucky with a company whose name escapes me in Bangor, Co Down, a seaside resort where I spent much of my childhood summer holidays wasting my pennies on slot machines on the prom (though I resisted the urge to add that as a note with my order). The sample cost £5, plus £2.50 or so postage, but I figured that was well worth paying to prove that what Simon had was 'proper', even if it was not to his taste as much as the coconutty variant. And when the sample came, supposedly from the very same batch as our decant, it was absolutely clear that they were identical, so assuming this was a kosher sampling site, which I did assume, I could tell Simon that he had good - if rather limey - gear.
|Barry's Amusements ~ Source: geograph.org.uk|
Having established that we had no come back from the Facebook seller because he was simply hosting a split of VIW, not a batch-specific one, Simon got on with using the one he had in the spirit of that Stephen Stills song: 'Love the one you are with'. And now he has finished that too, all 50ml of it!
Another big split came up on the same site recently - involving another gigantic bottle but a different seller - however that fell through unfortunately, when the online retailer suddenly realised it was out of stock. We all got our £50 back and I am currently on the waiting list (on my friend's behalf) for another bottle to appear. It sounds a bit like waiting for a kidney to become available, and certainly Simon is very attached to this scent, even if it is not entirely essential to life. So much so, that he is now completely comfortable in the knowledge that finding a cheap source of Virgin Island Water is already good going: the coconut or lime inflection may have to remain in the lap of the gods.
Have you ever come across this phenomenon of batch variations? Is it a Creed thing or more general?