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Let the Perfume Detective Sniff Out Your Favorite Long-Lost Fragrance


NEW YORK — Like any good detective, Anitra Earle is always sniffing around for clues. But instead of tracking down elusive criminals, Earle is on the lookout for rare perfumes.

For 15 years, she has helped people find "lost" scents that are discontinued or are no longer imported. She currently has 10,000 requests on file, 2,000 of them for perfumes that she has not found--yet.

"Any time I hear of anyone selling perfume, anywhere, I call them or write them," she said in a telephone interview from her home in Chicago. She also buys the inventories from stores that have gone out of business and seeks out small importers who buy "offbeat" things.

She started the service, which she runs by herself out of her house, because of her own difficulty in finding the products she likes. "Everything I like is discontinued," she said. "And I realized there are people like me. There are lots of people like me!"

Among the most difficult to find are Woodhue, which she describes as "the very best of all Faberge perfumes," and Intoxication by D'Orsay. She also has a "little secret cache" of Sortilege.

Earle said men and women look high and low for fragrances because they evoke powerful memories. "For a moment you may be stunned. . . . I'm in another place, 20 years ago, I'm in another country. I've had people say, 'If you can find this for me it will save my marriage.' "

Evening in Paris by Bourjois, which she said is still made in France but is no longer exported, reminds Earle of her youth. "When I was a child in the late '40s, it was in every drugstore in the United States. It came in cobalt blue bottles with a pale blue tassel. Every child pressed his nose against the window and wanted to buy that for mommy for Christmas."

Earle's search service is free but she makes a living "like anyone else--buying wholesale and selling retail." The cost of fragrances varies. "A dilemma is that if I don't buy the bottle at this outrageous price, then my customer can't have it. I usually buy so the customer can have a choice."

Earle keeps a perfume request on file for as long as it takes to find it. "If I know where the fragrance is or if I have it I try to write back [within 48 hours] with what strength it is and size. All others go in a big file," she said.

She insists that even though some products are decades old, time itself does not damage perfume. "I've sold perfumes that are 40 years old and they've been perfectly fine," she said. But Earle cautions that certain conditions can make a perfume spoil; light, she says, is perfume's biggest enemy. Many people also wrongly believe that putting perfume in the refrigerator will keep it fresh. "Nine times out of 10 it may be all right. The 10th time, it might start to decompose."

People interested in the perfume search service can send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Anitra Earle, The Perfume Detective, 21 E. Chestnut St., Chicago, IL, 60611.

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