I’ve been carrying around, through 12 house moves in thirty years, an empty bottle of Shaïna packed in bubble wrap. I just unpacked it for the 13th time yesterday. It was not always empty. I bought it full from the legendary Mme Ricou, in Menton, circa 1986. But it leaked badly, lost all its contents despite Parafilm and deposited the dry residue on the porcelain bottle and the bubble wrap. The formula must have been 80% resinoids, and the sticky mess that’s left seems to consist mostly of fir balsam and labdanum.
I don’t care about the bottle, but the sticky mess still means a lot to me. It was my favorite woody-balsamic fragrance of all time. Nothing I’ve ever smelled before or since comes close. Shaïna is so obscure that it cannot even be found on Michael Edwards’ database, a rare feat. No one seems to know the year of release or what happened to it and its brand, Atelier Delteil. All I’ve been able to gather over the years was that Delteil (first name unknown) was involved in the creation of Opium (YSL 1979), went his/her own way, created Shaïna and quickly went bust when it turned out that both closures (cork and a metallic screwtop) leaked. That’s all I know: no oil firm, no perfumer, no date, no composition. If anyone out there knows anything please let me know.
When I consider the fact that two of my favorite perfumes of all time, Nombre Noir (that one too had leakage problems) and Shaïna are dead and will never come back, I wonder whether it may be possible to ask composition firms to deposit formulae in sealed envelopes with a reputable firm of notaries or attorneys mandated by the Osmothèque or the Fragrance Foundation, so that if it all goes south, the company goes bust, etc. there is still a way to crack the seal and reconstruct the fragrance. The culture of secrecy in the industry (even in these days of instant analysis) is such that it may not be easy. But I believe that if perfume one day aspires to be a proper cultural or aesthetic artefact it must be made proof against reformulations and discontinuations. Imagine all Rachmaninov was gone and all you had was All by Myself .
Update: John Bao kindly informs me he has found a source mentioning Loïc Delteil (hence a man, Breton first name) as Group Director France and International Marketing Saint Laurent perfumes. One mystery gone, several more to go.
Update 2, Apr 19: I screwed up the courage to email Chantal Roos, the legendary art director of Opium and many other marvels, and she very graciously replied with some information. Loïc Delteil was her boss and hired her at YSL in 76. Apparently Delteil’s personality was not to everyone’s liking and he was abruptly fired from YSL in 78, just before Opium was released. He started his own firm, went bust, then briefly worked for Ungaro and Rochas, then remained unemployed. Roos remembers him fondly as a strange but fascinating person and describes him as a personnage de roman, (a character from a novel). She knew nothing about Shaïna specifically.