Oud notes reappraised, and what do today’s wood notes and bad meals have in common?

If I ate the burger picture above I have no doubt I would be in discomfort for a long time. In fact, I doubt I would have to eat much of it for this to happen. With some scents, a “nice smell” can soon generate an experience that is at least somewhat similar, with the culprit often being one or more aroma chemicals that are commonly-used in recent years. And while you can avoid certain genres of scents you don’t like, you have no way of knowing if a recent scent that is described in a way that sounds great to you (and has notes listed that sound appealing as well) will contain aroma chemicals that irritate you (when I say “contain” I mean in amounts large enough to cause the problem). The wood notes are the worst, it seems (at least in “masculines”) because so many scents list one or another wood note, or don’t list any wood notes but contain these irritating molecules.

Undeniably, many people seem to enjoy these molecules (even in relatively large amounts), but for me the major problem may be their tenacity. I can usually deal with such irritating chemicals if they do not last very long, but after a couple hours or so they become like a “bad meal” that doesn’t seem to want to “let up.” The interesting question is why do some molecules do this to some of us whereas other people are not affected in this way? After all, I can appreciate vintage scents with sandalwood notes that last a long time without ever becoming experiencing irritation. In fact, I often find myself surprised at how much I am enjoying such scents over several hours! One explanation is that the older wood notes were comprised of quite a few different molecules, even if they are all synthetic, whereas today you are often exposed to a lot of one molecule and little if any others. Another possibility is that the wood notes are being blamed for the effects of the new musk molecules, since the wood notes usually last a long time and are easy to identify.

In general, this may be what often leads many of us to think of a scent as “natural smelling,” even if it is largely synthetic. However, this brings up an interesting question, which is why do scents with strong aldehydes not generate the same experience. Aldehydes (in large amounts, of course) were a problem for me as a newbie and beyond, and they too can last quite a while. However, it seems that aldehydes “play off” the other components in the scent (I am talking specifically here about the 1970s “feminine” chypre type scents), whereas many of the new wood or wood-like notes come to dominate the scent. Whereas aldehydes enhance dynamism (even if they seem at least somewhat unpleasant), these kinds of wood notes seem to calm a scent to the point where it is boring. At that point the other elements seem like they are being pushed back by the wood note, and at this point (if not sooner), I often begin to feel like I’m breathing in toxic fumes from a chemical factory.

What about oud? My first experiences were with vintage M7 and Black Aoud by Montale. I didn’t like either one, though that is not uncommon due to the “medicinal” and acrid/harsh qualities of this substance. M7, to be sure, is not as medicinal, and while I can wear it now, I actually find the oud note to be too tame relative to some of the other notes! Recently, I decided to give oud another chance, though in all three cases my guess is that only synthetic oud was used. First there is Jovan’s Intense OUd, which seems to be an attempt to copy Montale’s Black Aoud, though at “lower volume.” I’m really impressed by this one and can’t say anything negative about it. As others have said, one can think of it as a “training wheels” oud scent, though it’s strong enough to satisfy oud fans who don’t need “the best.” Longevity is at least very good. Like aldehydes, here I find that the oud note plays off the others, providing dynamism and never feeling like a bad meal causing your stomach discomfort for hours.

Another oud I recently tried is Lanvin’s Oud and Rose scent. I think I like this one the best of the three, though it seemed more like a wormwood/oud wood combination. It’s not as harsh/medicinal as the others and there is more balance here. It was reasonably natural smelling and the dynamism was very good, with a detectable but light and powdery rose note. The longevity is great and the projection (“sillage”) comes in wafts. The only “problem” here is that it isn’t necessarily what many may think of as an “oud scent,” and so they may be disappointed. Or, if they like this one and buy another oud scent, that other one might seem too harsh and unbalanced.

The last one I tried is Ameer al Oudh by Lattafa. It was recommended by a Basenotes’ member, and when I saw it at a decent discount I decided to buy a bottle. This one is quite sweet at first, but definitely feels like an “oud scent,” with spicy and floral notes along with an obvious oud one. In fact, this is more of an oud scent to me than vintage M7, for example. Over time, unfortunately, a wood note that I have encountered before emerges and yes, this is the kind of aroma chemical that possesses the “bad meal” quality mentioned above. I think it is supposed to be sandalwood, and there might be some iso e super with it, but whatever the case may be, this is my only major criticism, as I would rather it would have been made without those chemicals, even if that meant it became a weak “skin scent” after a few hours. Still, I doubt it will bother most people who are seeking an affordable scent that has an expensive “oud scent” feel, at least for a few hours.

Note that these three are marketed as unisex, from what I understand, and I would agree, but again, if you have never tried a scent with a strong oud note, at least two of these might not appeal to you. However, this seems like the kind of note you need to “warm up to” over time, though if you only like soft or sweet scents, it may be best to work your way up to them with scents that have milder wood or incense type notes.

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Mr. Ross Now Wants to Debate !

After refusing to mention my blog for a long time, despite claiming that hardly anyone reads it, the author of the FromPyrgos blog now wants some sort of debate. I generally like the idea of moderated debates, but after thinking about one in this context, I don’t really know what there is to debate. I feel that my blog speaks for itself, and I have never claimed (unlike Mr. Ross) that my opinions are never going to change. In fact, I’m sure I’d find things that I wrote in the early days of this blog with which I no longer agree! And as much as I often enjoy writing for this blog, I can’t ever imagine arguing that what I’m doing here is “serious.”

If he thinks I mischaracterized something he has written, he can simply write up a post and explain his position to his readers. If he wants to complain because he has occasionally found a “typo” error on my blog, I have no interest in thinking about that at all. If you want to point out a typo, then go ahead and do it, but if you think a person that writes a free blog is going to be perfect, I have no idea what world you are living in and I don’t want to think about it (yes, he has commented about typos on more than one occasion, but that was fine because then I just went ahead and corrected it, without posting the snide comment).

Mr. Ross suggested that fellow fragrance blogger, “Sherapop,” be a moderator for a debate. I think Sherapop could do a good job, but I’d prefer it if she simply asked us questions that she is interested in asking, because I am curious to know how others perceive some of what Mr. Ross and myself have written. I certainly know that many disagree with me, and for a very long time now I have said that I write for myself and those who use these olfactory concoctions in a similar way (and anyone who is just curious about what I’ve been doing and thinking). Mr. Ross, by contrast, seems to believe that he has discovered “the right way” to use these scents. He is entitled to that opinion, of course, but he can’t expect that everyone in the world will agree with him (anyone who has such thoughts may require help from a mental health professional).

However, I do want to address something here that I think is important to note, which is that there are different kinds of “issues” that can arise when discussing scents. Some are clearly opinion while others are clearly about who “got the facts right” (and if someone is wrong, why is it so difficult for some people to simply admit the mistake?). In other cases there may be a “simple misunderstanding” about what someone tried to communicate. In still others there is one person’s experience pitted against someone else’s. Then there are some “oddball” claims that seem to contradict each other, and if the person who made the claim would acknowledge that reasonable people might see such a contradiction and then address it, perhaps it could be resolved quickly, but of course that doesn’t always happen.

One example I’d like to mention here is Mr. Ross’ claim that a new Green Irish Tweed bottle needs to be sort of “aired out” so that some oxidation can occur, and after it does, the scent smells better. On the one hand, this is a scientific claim, and it might be possible to clear it up with a GC (gas chromatography) study, though the only way this claim could be refuted is if the two GC charts were identical. Otherwise, no matter how minute the differences, the claimant could say that those tiny differences are what he or she is perceiving as different. This exact claim came up on a recent Basenotes.net thread, so it’s not just about something I or Mr. Ross has discussed on our blogs.

The contradictory element, to me, is how Mr. Ross has talked about old scents degenerating significantly over time (or allowing someone to make this claim on his blog), the reason being (if it does occur in the scent in question) that if oxidation makes GIT smell better why are vintage scents claimed to be “dreck,” “turned,” etc. (with Mr. Ross at the very least not objecting to this characterization)? This is clearly a scientific claim, so where is the scientific evidence? The Old Spice GC study Mr. Ross has referenced suggests that there isn’t much change, in fact! Here are the first two sentences of the Conclusion of that study:

The current Shulton and vintage Shulton products, overall, are very similar. What small differences exist between them may possibly be attributed to the age of the sample or point to a natural variation in components in some essential oil…

I’d really like an answer to this question, but just as when you watch a TV news show:

1. The issue that interests you may never be “covered.”
2. The issue may be covered in a way you consider inadequate in a significant way.
3. You probably don’t know who decides what is covered or why they made the decisions they did.
4. You can complain about poor coverage but it may “fall on deaf ears.”

Thus, if I don’t think my question will be addressed in a reasonable way (and from what I’ve read in his posts I can’t say I am hopeful about this), why should I waste my time on a debate. I have come to conclude that Mr. Ross is being unreasonable on numerous issues, though I am certainly not claiming that he realizes this is the case. In the example I supplied, he can’t seem to imagine that his perception of GIT may change over time because that is the nature of these concoctions vis-a-vis our olfactory “machinery” (with some notes or accords “spiking out” in a way that may be impossible to predict). If he wants to argue that my opinions are unreasonable, nobody is restraining him! At this point, I would rather have readers ask questions, and if there are none, then I don’t see any reason to waste more time here (I’d like to get back to discussing specific scents), on things that have already been addressed in detail.

NOTE: One thing that seems to have really irritated Mr. Ross is my surprise at his claims about the new Creed atomizers. He called it an “aftermarket” atomizer, and in my understanding of the term, this would mean that the spray mechanism and spray cap were replaced, which struck me as bizarre because he also thought the scent was not replaced. Even if this should be classified as a “simple misunderstanding,” I still think it is a rather bizarre claim. This is the first time I have ever heard of such a claim and to me it makes no sense at all; moreover, he didn’t provide any evidence for it ever occurring in the past. As I pointed out (because I tried to do this once), if you try to take apart a sealed atomizer, you may find that it breaks apart, and the bottle can’t be used again (or would exhibit quite a bit of damage). In any case, why doesn’t he just write a blog post about this – he thinks he has many more readers than my blog does, so what is his reason for refraining from doing this ?

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“Some people say… “

Other than in “casual” conversation, the first time I heard someone say “some people say…” in any kind of authoritative context was on FoxNews (which I only used to watch on rare occasion and no longer watch at all, just to be clear). This kind of “reporting” is the antithesis of what I learned in graduate school, which is that a claim can either be yours or someone else’s, and if it is someone else’s, you had better cite the source! Mr. Ross over at the FromPyrgos blog doesn’t seem to understand this point. Either that or he is deliberately trying to “make a case” with the shakiest of foundations, and this is quite clear in his recent post, entitled “Gucci Pour Homme (Gucci, 2003).” Here is a quotation from it:

…to bypass an olfactory “flash” of top notes ensures that the nose’s sensory impressions of a perfume’s drydown are just as incomplete, devoid of context, and limited as the light perceptions of a colorblind person.

This is yet another thing we were warned against in graduate school, which is not to take anything for granted. Here, he seems to have “bought into” the notion that top notes are necessary to experience or else one can’t appreciate the “art” of the scent. This assumes that these concoctions are some kind of “high art” (I recommend the film “High Art,” for those who have never heard of it), and that one is “missing” something if one tries to avoid most of the very short-lived notes. One can believe such things, but I prefer to explore the world without preconceptions (whenever possible or to as much a degree as possible), and to come to my own conclusions. Moreover, these concoctions are not expensive and are rather convenient, so if Mr. Ross thinks he can prevent people from enjoying them in a non-”legitimate” way, he may be delusional. I only write to present my own perceptions and experiences, unlike Mr. Ross; I don’t claim to know the absolute truth of perfumery.

Interestingly, a couple years ago I read that:

…the components that go into a perfume formula, whether fleeting or long-lasting, are perceptible at once in their entirety. The olfactory impression is total since the materials of the perfume fade over time. Hence the error, too commonly taught, of dividing up a perfume into head, heart, and base…

Page 49 of JC Ellena’s book, “The Alchemy of Scent.”

I would add that some molecules seem to mask others for a while in some scents. Moreover, it seems that while Ellena’s claim might be true for perfumers, what about those who insist that a scent smells like Jolly Rancher candy? I don’t understand why anyone would claim that trying (and perhaps always failing) to detect molecules that last for a few minutes is so essential to the wearer, when most probably can’t detect them no matter how long they last! Mr. Ross seems to believe that the intention of the perfumer is crucial to the wearer (as if the perfumer were a “fine artist” who would never bow to any pressures, such as to produce something that is a “crowd pleaser”), but I find this view incredibly naive on multiple levels. It’s certainly true that the perfumer doesn’t always make the final decisions, and in fact this may rarely occur for the “major houses.” I began to use the phrase “the opening” several years ago, and I’m glad to see that it has caught on, whether or not I was the first one to use it in my reviews, because it refers to the earliest period one can get a grasp on a scent after application.

Some of you may have often read statements such as, “this begins with a harsh blast of alcohol that lasts a few minutes.” Just do a google search for basenotes.net harsh blast of alcohol or fragrantica harsh blast of alcohol to see what I mean! Some people seem to have their olfactory “machinery” overloaded by top notes, at least for many scents, and they just experience a harsh “blur,” which is certainly the case for me. However, I have learned that I can spray a scent into the air, away from me, and try to get a sense of the first few minutes that way. I can’t say that this experience has ever been anything special, though, and I certainly wouldn’t buy a scent for this experience. Why Mr. Ross can’t understand that people differ in how they experience these concoctions is something I will leave for others to ponder, but his apparent need to keep making the same claim, over and over again, is somewhat disturbing, like a child claiming to know how to do something when it is obvious to adults that he or she does not.

In this case, it seems like he thinks he is an olfactory sage who possesses some sort of esoteric knowledge:

This fragrance is a marvel of modern design, a terrific example of how literalistic notes in a staid composition can come together as something beautiful and unique. It is the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright in a bottle.

This is the same person who criticized Chandler Burr’s claim about these concoctions being “fine art!” The post he wrote on this subject is now missing, though this is where it used to be:

http://frompyrgos.blogspot.com/2013/09/chandler-burr-needs-to-stop.html

There are mentions of this “lost” post on Facebook:

and at the Perfume Of Life site, though I am not a member and it won’t let me access the discussion about it (I tried to sign up years ago but never got a return email with sign in information). This suggests a serious lack of “intellectual integrity” on his part, so at the very least I hope he addresses why he removed this post, which he seemed quite proud of at one time, if he hasn’t already. Mr. Ross, why did you put up this wall?

In any case, my main point here is that some of us enjoy scents as hours-long olfactory experience. We rarely if ever think of “fine art,” architecture, interior design, drama, music, etc. as we are having our bit of fun. I wonder if Mr. Ross has taken an anthropology course, because he doesn’t seem to understand the concept of “cultural relativism.” Some argue against this notion, of course (usually for political purposes, it seems), but it is clearly the case that “values” change over time, and this is also true for what people appreciate and do in their “free time.” If some children were playing wiffle ball in a back yard, would Mr. Ross tell them they are “doing it wrong” if he saw something he didn’t like? Would he want to tell married couples that their sex lives are “bad” because they disclosed that they are engaging in acts that he considers “illegitimate,” despite how much they enjoy doing what they are doing (assuming it is legal, of course)? Do I have to refrain from drinking my coffee cold because he thinks it is inconsistent with the “great history of coffee drinking,” or some such nonsense?

I wonder how strange today’s olfactory concoctions would appear to the ancient Egyptians, for example. They might think them a gift from the gods, but from what I understand, at least most of today’s scents would seem very odd, and probably unpleasant, to them. I don’t think anyone would argue that the Egyptians were “wrong” for enjoying the scents (and in the ways they did) they created back then, but for some reason Mr. Ross wants to assert that his appreciation of scents is superior to others. Perhaps he just needs another hobby. which would allow him to be less consumed by how others are enjoying scents. Whatever the case, this is his “problem,” and is ultimately meaningless. Who does he think his audience is? Does he think the vintage aficionado is going to throw away all of his or her old bottles? Does he feel he must dissuade as many people as possible from becoming vintage aficionados? How many people might that be? It seems as though he is in need of a “major reality check.”

Moreover, it is undeniable that today’s scents are largely beholden to what scientists have created, so one wonders how different things might be if aldehydes has never been “discovered,” at least in this context, for instance. Or if some other molecules had been created or invented instead of the ones we know so well at this point. And speaking of aroma chemicals, Mr. Ross uses his supposed review of this Gucci scent to launch yet another “some people say…” type of attack:

A quick note on Iso E Super: perfumer Jim Gehr recently mentioned to me that it is actually very, very mild, probably hypo-allergenic, “more texture than aroma,” and would not lend excessive scratchiness and/or chemical blare to contemporary perfumes. So I stand corrected on this material. Those of us who complain about excessive Iso E Super (or mishandled Iso E Super) are likely suffering from a sensitivity to Ambrocenide, an extremely potent woody amber used in many woody scents, at up to an astounding 24% of concentration.

No doubt, when someone makes a claim against a molecule like iso e super, there will be people who then think that is why they don’t like the scent in question, and they will then go about saying they don’t like that molecule, even if they can’t detect it! This is why it is crucial to cite a specific claim, and in this case there is an abundance. In fact, I have made this point often, though I think there is a rule in Mr. Ross’ mind that he can’t ever mention my reviews or my blog on his site (again, what does that say for his intellectual integrity?). However, I have no problem detecting “woody amber” and would not confuse it with iso e super in these concoctions. I describe iso e super as “fume-like.” I had a friend who worked at a propane company, and on the few occasions I went there (for more than a few minutes_ I experienced sensations similar to what a lot of iso e super apparently does to me (feeling like one is enveloped in a cloud of something heavy and “chemical;” my eyes also feel stressed). This is nothing like strong “woody amber” scents, and again, I think it is necessary for Mr. Ross to provide some examples of his claim about possible misunderstandings, if he is to be taken at all seriously in this context.

If he wants to think that he can appreciate “fragrance art” but that those who try to avoid most of the fleeting top notes cannot, he is welcome to that sentiment, but it is totally irrelevant to me and apparently many other aficionados, which seems to cause him great “cognitive dissonance.” I hope one day he is able to see that it makes more sense to talk about your experiences than to try and “tear down” others who view things differently. This is especially true for scents, which many people never wear and don’t care about at all. I just learned that a psychological disorder called “abrasive passive-aggressive personality disorder” was in the DSM but was removed, and I wondered why. It seems to be consistent with a lot of behavior I’ve encountered, including some of Mr. Ross’ statements. At wikipedia.org, these are listed as some of the characteristics of those who have this element to their personalities:

Contentious, intransigent, fractious, and quarrelsome; irritable, caustic, debasing, corrosive, and acrimonious, contradicts and derogates; few qualms and little conscience or remorse.

If this is his “condition,” it might explain many of his nebulous statements. Coincidentally, while doing research about Montale, I came across an old post of his which contained this statement:

Fragrance fanatics of all ages know about aoud, but there’s not a whole lot of fragrance fanatics out there. This is a relatively small circle we inhabit.

http://frompyrgos.blogspot.com/2012/04/social-politics-of-perfume-part-ii.html

So, Mr. Ross, what are your intentions? Do you think you are going to “convert” three or four people who absolutely can’t stand top notes over to your position? Is that what is motivating you? Or is it in a sense a “pathological” need to denigrate anything with which you disagree? And then there is this statement of his, from the same old post:

NOTE: The thread link to basenotes in the article above was deliberately broken by basenotes, preventing my readers from seeing the full context of all the quotes made in this article. This is typical of basenotes – contrary to its friendly, communal facade, led by a questionable character by the name of Grant, this site operates on several fundamentally dishonest levels…

Yikes, has he heard that old saying about the pot calling the kettle black? He refuses to ever mention basenotes.net now as well as my blog, and apparently deleted a post about Chandler Burr (along with the other questionable things addressed above), but doesn’t see that he “operates on several fundamentally dishonest levels?” I guess self-awareness doesn’t come easy for some people !

NOTE: Green Jeans by Versace has a fairly obvious “woody amber” in its base. In this composition it seems to create a bit of structure and dynamism, whereas in others (such as many aquatic, sport, or fresh scents) it seems to be tossed in so that the scent doesn’t seem to thin or insubstantial. I have nothing against the use of “woody amber” aroma chemicals, just as I don’t have anything against iso e super. Rather, it is how these substances are used (particularly when the amount seems incredibly high) that is sometimes questionable, IMO. In music, for example, there is almost always some repetition, but at some point almost everyone would say the repetition is excessive and there is no desire to listen to it. In the case of at least a few scents that I used to enjoy I found that there was something about them that was physically irritating and also detracting from the experience I was seeking. For me, it seems that large amounts of iso e super makes scents seem less “natural,” regardless of the the content of naturals actually is, besides possibly causing physical discomfort.

UPDATE: Mr. Ross submitted a comment, but I am no longer going to publish any of his because I don’t want to encourage inappropriate behavior. In this comment, he called this post “inane,” and said that he “beat” me “to the punch,” as if writing about scents were some sort of race (as one professor I studied with used to say, “take your time and get it right”). He didn’t explain why he thinks the post is inane, which again is a good indicator that someone lacks intellectual integrity. He didn’t address any of the points I raised, and claimed that because of how I found the Ellena quotation I used, I was somehow wrong (though with no explanation why), and that somehow I made myself look “silly.” I can only assume he would have me go to the library and read through several books in order to find a quotation that (doing the research my way) took a couple of minutes of typing, and this also supports my point that Basenotes.net can be a very helpful place, which is contrary to much of what he has said about BN in the past. He also claims that I “played into” his “hands,” but I have no idea what he is trying to communicate with such a statement (again, he did not explain his position). His comment would seem to be a great example of someone afflicted with “Abrasive Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder.” Readers, please decide for yourself !

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The Mantra of the Smells.

On basenotes.net recently a thread appeared entitled “Basenotes mantra.” The person who created it began with this:

“I don’t care what anyone thinks I dont need compliments I wear for me”

“What do you guys think I should buy _____ or _______?”

LOL !

http://www.basenotes.net/threads/378190-Basenotes-mantra

I thought I would write up a post about this notion, and not just because it is a “good segue” from my last post here. We are again back as asking about basic logic. For example, why would anyone think that the thousands of people who write up posts on Basenotes each year think exactly the same way? Much more likely, as I think nearly everyone would agree, is that there are several types of individuals who are responsible for the vast majority of the posts. One involves those people who think of these concoctions as a kind of aromatherapy. By contrast, quite a few people there seem to want to know what will “smell nice” to others, or to those in particular demographic groups.

From what I’ve seen over the years, I would describe the major categories of posters as follows:

1. Newbies, and while most of them are seeking suggestions for a “nice-smelling” scent (in one context or another), some are interested in more esoteric knowledge.

2. The casual, though possibly “addicted,” fans (or worse yet, “fanboys”). These people often say things like, “I’m not good with identifying notes,” for example. Some are loyal to specific “houses.”

3. The “chronic samplers,” who are usually most interested in niche. There seem to have been many more of them at BN a few years ago than today, and “burnout” seems to be common among these folks.

4. Those who want to “make a statement,” which means anything from vintage Old Spice to the most expensive niche (though more likely the latter). This is more about the person wearing the scent rather than others, but I guess one could include those who are seeking a “panty dropper” scent in this category.

5. The aficionado and/or those seeking a kind of “intellectual” aromatherapy experience.

What the person who began the “Basenotes mantra” thread may not have recognized is that some members who do a lot of posting (like me) rarely post to certain kinds of threads. Over the last few years, for instance, I have responded to threads seeking a specific kind of scent (especially ones about notes) much more frequently than to threads in which the author wants recommendations about what “fits” his wardrobe or what his wardrobe is “missing.” Sometimes I’ll suggest that the person provide more information, but often he or she does not.

Of course, there is a certain amount of “entertainment value” to many posts, even those that one might view as silly. Mostly what I seek are insights and specific pieces of information, however. For example, I have read many posts about scents that feature strong oud notes, especially a few years back. At the time the Montales were all the rage and I sampled a few of them. Unfortunately, my sensitivity was high at the time and these scents came across as too acrid and harsh in general. Recently, I have tried a few that are much more wearable to me, and I intend to write up a post about them soon. In a sense, oud is similar to the use of aldehydes, especially in Chanel No. 5 and many “feminine” chypres of the 1970s. However, when handled in a more subtle way (not like the Montales I tried, that’s for sure), it possesses some texture and does a better job of offering contrast and dynamism than a large dose of the usual aldehydes.

I’ll conclude here by pointing out something that few mention, which is that there appears to be a huge difference between what a scent smells like on someone else, when he or she walks by, and what it smells like on a person who sprays it on his or her chest. I wouldn’t be surprised if many people find this puzzling and difficult to believe. Lately, I have found myself thinking “oh, that smells nice” when someone walks by wearing a strong scent, but I know what the scent is or what kind of scent it is, and I know it would be quite irritating if I wore it, unless perhaps I sprayed it on the back of my coat (which I’ve done at times, to see what the effect would be, and it was not irritating). It seems that smelling strips were designed to convince people that this fleeting pleasantness is the only thing one can enjoy with these concoctions, but I certainly don’t think there was a conspiracy involved! Instead, I’ll just suggest that the more one can make these perceptions conscious, the easier it is to identify what one enjoys, whereas if one accepts the common assumptions (about scents or most other things), the more likely it is that life will seem to get less and less interesting.

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Did our “friend” go off the rails on a crazy train?

Over at the FromPyrgos blog the other day, I read a new post that was so illogical that I screen saved the whole thing, because I suspect Mr. Ross, the author, will either edit or delete it soon. And if he does, and apologizes to his readers, I would commend him. In an earlier post, he intimated that someone called him a “catastrophizing asshole,” which, to my knowledge, nobody ever did. I remember pointing out that spending an extra $20 to $40 on a 100 ml bottle of Kouros is not something one should “catastrophize” about, or something to that effect, but of course that is quite different from using obscenities to refer to a fellow human being.

In this new post, Mr. Ross tells us that “sticky threads” about certain scents (presumably about sites like Basenotes.net, which he apparently refuses to ever mention again, as if it possesses some sort of magic) are “pointless.” He then proceeds to demonstrate exactly why they are important! Can someone be this illogical, or is this a sign of something more serious? I’m not trying to be a “concern troll” here, but after reading all kinds of bizarre claims on his blog, I don’t know what to make of this one. It may be that he needs to “step back” and consider that these olfactory concoctions are only a part of one’s life. One should not view a disagreement about these things as some sort of “life and death struggle.”

Before I get to the crux of the issue here, I’ll mention the context. Mr. Ross purchased a new Green Irish Tweed bottle and the sprayer and pump were a little different from recent bottles. He proceeds to claim that he knows it is authentic by the smell, even though he recently called people who have worn scents for years or who study scents in great detail non-”astute” noses. What are the qualifications for his “nose?” How does he know he is correct? Why is it that when someone makes the same claim, that person is dismissed as some sort of fool whereas we are to believe that his similar if not identical claims are accurate? Why don’t these kinds of questions ever seem to cross his mind? By contrast, I’ve pointed out that it seems as though perception can vary quite a bit if one sprays on a lot and focuses mainly on top notes, whereas I spray as little as possible and try to largely avoid top notes.

Perhaps most disturbing is this claim: “Given that GIT ages in the bottle, and that my grey market bottle has obviously been opened for atomizer refitting…” This sounds like outright paranoia to me, but the saddest thing is that if he would just read relevant Basenotes’ threads, he would come across ones like the March 20, 2014 post about this very issue! And where is it located? In a sticky thread about a Creed scent (www.basenotes.net/threads/371106-Creed-Queries-is-my-bottle-genuine-etc/page7)! Later on March 20, someone responded and pointed out that this is the new sprayer Creed is using. But the idea that someone would break open a Creed bottle, replace the liquid (or not, for some reason), and then attach a new pump and sprayer is something I’d expect the Mel Gibson character from the “Conspiracy Theory” movie to say (if scents were a hobby of his) !

Why would someone buy a real bottle and take the liquid out (or not) and resell it? You would need a market for that liquid, and that would show up on the decant sites, probably as a “great deal” on the scents in question. As Mr. Ross knows, there are plenty of fake GIT bottles on the market, which means there is machinery being used to make them. Buying real bottles when you can just make your own (or, presumably, buy them from the faker at wholesale) for perhaps a few dollars would be ridiculous, but this appears not to have entered Mr. Ross’ mind for some reason! Moreover, I have tried to take apart a sealed atomizer bottle (of Francesco Smalto Pour Homme) because the pump wasn’t working but there was a little bit of liquid remaining (and I hadn’t worn it in many years). I didn’t want to buy a bottle “blind” so I wanted to open it up and trickle the small amount remaining onto my skin.

Guess what? It broke and there was glass everywhere, including many tiny shards. In any case, I want to conclude with a simple point here. You can’t state your opinion as a fact and then say that the opinions of others are to be dismissed as irrelevant. In this case, he made himself look foolish on multiple levels, demonstrating the opposite of what he claimed. And all he had to do was to contact Creed and ask them about the new spray cap (or have a little patience and read Basenotes)! He made some other claims, such as that different application techniques might cause a difference in perception, but that is what I (and others) have been saying for a long time now. Perhaps if he puts his “sour grapes” aside and gets back to reading the information available at sites like Basenotes he would be less likely to write up such posts, but then again, I do fear that this may be an indication of a serious underlying condition! If one is a “catastrophizer,” wouldn’t it be best to admit it and figure out how to stop doing it in the future, rather than to deny it?

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What can Auntie Bertha’s radiator tell us about scent appreciation?

This is a quasi follow-up to my last post. I thought that one was long enough so I decided to create a new one. A few months back, I visited an older relative. She doesn’t do housework as she used to, due to advanced age. Moreover, on this day the heat in her house “came up” for the first time of the season. As you might expect, there was a strong musty smell, but what’s interesting is that it smelled like a complex “masculine” scent from the 1980s! To be sure, it clearly was not an old designer scent, but rather smelled like someone wearing that kind of scent, and perhaps some clothing that had been in a closet for a long time (and possibly some kind of mild “body odor” as well).

I didn’t find it to be pleasant nor unpleasant, as it was fairly well balanced, other than for the dry, particulate, musty texture. However, nothing really “stood out,” and my guess is that it was too muddled will all kinds of things one finds in house dust. A few days ago, I came across the claim the house dust is composed of perhaps 75% (or more) human skin particles. I then did some research and it seems like this is a more accurate claim (I selected this quotation out of several similar ones because I liked the way it was stated):

There’s no evidence to suggest that dust is mostly made up of any one ingredient; rather, it is a delightful salmagundi or potpourri of everything that is likely to be drifting around your house.

The precise ingredients and proportions present will presumably depend in part on where you live, as well as how.

http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/5003/is-house-dust-mostly-made-up-of-human-skin

And this prompted me to think about the recent report about humans being able to distinguish a trillion or more different odors. Whatever the possible capabilities, clearly most people can’t detect many notes in a complex scent concoction. After reading several reports of this paper, I came across one that seemed to explain it best (I couldn’t find the paper itself online):

The human nose can distinguish at least 1 trillion different odours, a resolution orders of magnitude beyond the previous estimate of just 10,000 scents, researchers report today in Science…

To investigate the limits of humans’ sense of smell, Keller and his colleagues prepared scent mixtures with 10, 20 or 30 components selected from a collection of 128 odorous molecules. Then they asked 26 study participants to identify the mixture that smelled differently in a sample set where two of three scents were the same. When the two scents contained components that overlapped by more than about 51%, most participants struggled to discriminate between them. The authors then calculated the number of possible mixtures that overlap by less than 51% to arrive at their estimate of how many smells a human nose can detect: at least 1 trillion.

http://www.nature.com/news/human-nose-can-detect-1-trillion-odours-1.14904

Too bad they did not do this experiment with various perfumes, and also, why not get some perfumers to participate, and not use just “naive noses?” In any case, this leads me back to pondering why I enjoy certain scents so much, while disliking some intensely. Natural smells can be wonderful, as rich as any, but they tend to be too simple for long-term (several hours) enjoyment, and many are unbalanced (and so tend to get cloying after a short while). What we can detect is one subject, but why some of us appreciate scents in a certain way does not seem to be of much interest to research scientists. For example, I don’t know of any functional MRI studies of people exposed to scents they like and ones they don’t (along with a bunch of other odors, presumably).

And this leads me to consider the latest post at the FromPyrgos blog. Mr. Ross wants to “have it both ways” yet again. In this latest incarnation, people who, in his opinion apparently, he used to claim have some sort of “chemical sensitivity” issue (and thus are super-sensitive to certain notes or aroma chemicals), which must mean me (and I would be the first to admit that I seem to get sensitized to certain molecules once in a while), are now on the other side of the spectrum:

…their noses are not astute enough to detect imbalances and degradation caused by age.

At least he keeps us entertained (I hope nobody takes this sort of silliness seriously!). And he may be right to some degree, at least about top notes, but I’ve found vintage drydowns to be very good, though I haven’t had the opportunity to try every formulation, so I can’t always say how they compare to each other. Recently, I was able to sample the 2012 release of Derby, and the base was similar to several vintage scents I own (and that are well over ten years old), including Fendi Uomo, Lauder for Men, and Mitsouko EdP (Derby changes quite a bit over time, beyond the top notes, so there is no one drydown for it). Thus, my “mind’s nose” is not calibrated to enjoy only scents that have “turned.”

Even the graphic Mr. Ross chose for his post makes little sense. There are two pictures, one of a woman in bathing attire from perhaps the 1920s (with a caption that says “Sexy”) and one of a woman in bathing attire from recent years (with a caption that says “Begs to differ”). Clearly, vintage aficionados are not concerned about others thinking that the scent they wear is “old” (or he or she doesn’t wear the scent in public). We wear them because we enjoy them personally, for hours. Is this the same reason why people wear bathing suits? I’ve never heard this claim. But if Mr. Ross wants to continue to tilt at windmills, I support his right to bloviate to his hearts content !

But let us assume he is 100% correct here – how does that change anything? It certainly would be interesting to study the brains of such non-astute noses with at least functional MRIs, but if there is a percentage of the population who enjoy vintage scents (that those with obvious conflicts of interest tell us have “turned to dreck”), why should that be a problem for anyone? These folks will buy up old bottles, “stimulating” the economy and engaging in “harmless fun.” If Mr. Ross wants to think that people who sit around for hours studying vintage scents are delusional fools, I couldn’t care less; my only concern is that he might mislead people, because it’s possible if not probable that I would no longer be involved in this “hobby” if I could only choose from designer releases of the last five years or so (I do like a few but I don’t think those would be enough to sustain my interest). The fact that I do like a few new ones suggests that “vintage derangement syndrome” (or whatever Mr. Ross might like to call it) is a figment of his imagination. At the very least, Mr. Ross might want to consider proposing an experimental design that would validate his claim – not doing so comes across simply as “sour grapes,” IMO.

Overall, I largely agree with the Luca Turin quote with which I began the last post (and my disagreements with him usually involve style rather than substance):

Perfumes for the last ten years have been made for people who don’t like perfumes… ten, fifteen years.

And while “mainstream” perfumers have more materials with which to work than ever before (though not always in reasonable amounts), they seem to have been so restricted (for one reason or another) that Auntie Bertha’s radiator can generate odors that smell richer and deeper (and certainly less “synthetic”) than most if not the overwhelming majority of designer scents released in recent years. Those who feel the same way can still buy vintage scents, often at prices no higher than one finds for recent designers at the “higher end” department stores. To me, those who don’t understand our appreciation of vintage are the ones with “broken noses,” and from what I’ve read, it is common among to use many sprays with each application, which is something I wouldn’t dream of doing (in many cases I try to do a “half spritz” a couple of inches above the navel because otherwise the “nose” gets overwhelmed). In fact, it’s quite clear that many of them would complain that they couldn’t smell anything if they applied scents the way I do !

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How to explain reformulations to the uninformed.

Perfumes for the last ten years have been made for people who don’t like perfumes… ten, fifteen years.

- Luca Turin (from his lecture at the University of Alaska Southeast on 8/24/06).

The idea that fragrances made from 1994 onward are inferior to their predecessors is a puzzling one to me.

- Bryan Ross (from his 3/17/14 FromPyrgos blog post, entitled “A Comment On The ‘Great Age’ Of Masculines”).

While there are clearly are some people “out there” who claim that nearly all reformulations are basically identical to if not clearly better than the originals (and a subset of these people don’t seem to realize that you can’t believe both about the same reformulation!), one can read countless reviews that bemoan the “lost” original (the graphic for this post is meant to be facetious, for those who may not know). One point I like to make for those who have little experience in these matters is that there seems to have been a “great age” of perfumery, which began in the 1970s and lasted until the early to mid 1990s. What was great about so many designer scents of this era is that there seems to have been a kind of perfect balance between naturals and synthetics, so that the smell seemed to be transcend “ordinary reality.” Whatever the case may be, there was great balance, beyond the top notes, and the bases had excellent depth (generally-speaking, obviously).

A visual analogy for this is what we experience when we use a microscope to explore the tiny worlds we can’t see with the “naked eye.” However, with scents we can still go about our day doing the usual things, and the olfactory “buzz” often lasts for more than four or five hours! Going to see a movie in “3D” is yet another way of thinking about what great scents can do, but if we could put on “3d glasses” and walk around seeing everything as we see the movie, I think that would be the best equivalent to what these scent concoctions can accomplish. Once you experience this, you have moved beyond the “oh, that smells nice” crowd and probably won’t wear recent designer scents very often any longer.

In short, if you are speaking to someone who has not experienced what you have, it may not be easy to communicate these qualities, other than to use such analogies as the ones above. Until someone’s brain is “wired” to detect notes and synthetics, they are likely just experiencing a kind of olfactory blur. Moreover, some of them may not even believe you! In this case, I suggest you refer them to what nutritional scientist Paul Stitt experienced working for major food companies:

…most of Quaker’s research efforts are aimed not at finding new products or improving the old ones, but in cutting the cost of production. In corporate lingo, it’s called “product differentiation” and in advertisements they call the product “new and improved.” The result is a cheaper, less nutritious product that costs the consumer more.

Every employee in the building was expected to participate in this differentiation process by taking part in taste tests that would take place several times a day. Each employee would be called by name to the testing laboratory several times a week and asked to sample product “A” and compare it to product “B.” The first product would be, for instance, a bowl of Cap’n Crunch cereal; the second would be Cap’n Crunch made by a new process that would cut the cost of production by a tenth of a cent per pound. The object was to tell if we could notice any difference between the old product and the cheaper version. If the researchers, executives, secretaries couldn’t tell the difference, as was usually the case, the company assumed the public would be fooled as well, and Cap’n Crunch would henceforth be made the cheaper way. In several months, when the researchers had found an even cheaper way to make the cereal, another taste test would be performed, and if the results showed “no discernible difference,” a few tenths of a cent more were cut from production costs. This went on and on, with almost every product being altered once or several times a year. Of course, even though the harried testers couldn’t notice the difference between “A” and “B,” there was always a slight difference; and after the end of several years and many changes, the taste and nutritional value of the new product bore little resemblance to the taste of the original stuff.

http://www.whale.to/v/stitt2.html

Yes, the reformulations do smell similar, you can tell those who make this claim, but not everyone wants something superficially similar. Some of us want the original, and if we can’t get it we’d rather move on to another scent. So, you can tell people that just as they can buy a cheap pizza from some local place, there are many people who seek a certain level of quality, and would rather eat all kinds of other things than cheap pizza, including perhaps a tuna fish sandwich, if it is on “quality” bread. You may have a different view, deciding that any pizza is good enough when you are in the mood for pizza, but if you tell others than they should eat cheap pizza because it is almost identical to all other pizzas (assuming it is made correctly, of course), you can’t expect everyone to agree with you.

One example of the kind of scent to which I’m referring is vintage Xeryus Rouge. I first tried it at least four years ago and it was too strong for me at the time. Now I use a half spritz low on the chest and that is quite strong. This is not the kind of scent I would smell up close on the skin, that’s for sure. I’ve never tried any of the reformulations, but from the reviews I’ve read it sounds like a “classic case” of tinkering with a very delicate balance. Vintage XR takes things as far as they can go, in terms of the use of synthetics, it seems. Even if it is entirely synthetic, the point is that it comes across as a kind of “hyper-real” version of the olfactory world in which we are used to living. “Cheapening it up” seems to have resulted in something that, by contrast, just smells like a “soup” of chemicals (if the reviews claiming this are accurate, and I’ve found this to be the case over 90% of the time!).

To be sure, there are days when I would not consider wearing XR; I know I’d get a headache within the hour. However, on days that I’m in the mood for it, XR takes me to kind of “alternate universe.” With scents released in recent years, however, I find myself often thinking things like, “wow, they used an awful lot of iso e super in this scent.” And of course, instead of iso e super, I might think that too much “laundry musks” or dihydromyrcenol or calone or some other synthetics were used. In other words, the balance is almost always off, in the direction of one or another synthetic. Historically, aldehydes seem to have been the first “synthetic” to achieve the same result, decades ago. Scents with strong aldehydes were never popular on the “men’s” side of the aisle, and while I own more than a few “women’s” scents with strong aldehydes, I really have to be in the mood to “fight my way through” the aldehydic haze with which these scents open.

Now, however, the “designers” are releasing mostly “chemical soup” scents that you can’t fight through, because you can never get to anything that possess enough depth or smells natural enough to be worth the wait. These kinds of scents remind me of boxed breakfast cereal, in that there is a huge profit margin and the product is very easy to make. However, at least with some breakfast cereals you can add milk and get something that is reasonably nutritious (I will refrain from citing papers/studies on this subject here). With awful designer scents, by contrast, all I can think to do is to try and get someone to buy my bottles or take them in a swap. Of course, a few are wearable; these have that balance I’m seeking. Lately, I’ve thought about telling non-aficionados something like: “if you put the time in, I think you will feel rewarded greatly, but if you don’t then it’s like we live in two different olfactory worlds,” and then I’d mention how physicists explain that we live in a four-dimensional universe, citing the example of how a “two-dimensional person” would not be able to understand our three-dimensional perception:

Consider a two-dimensional world resembling a sheet of paper. How would you appear to the inhabitants of such a world if you tried to interact with with them? The 2-D creatures would only see cross-sections of you as you intersected their universe. Your finger would look like a flat disc that grew in size as you pushed it through their world. Your five fingers might looked like five separate circles. They would just see irregular shapes with skin boundaries as you entered their world. Similarly, a hyperbeing who lived in the fourth dimension would have a cross-section in our space that looked liked a bunch of skin blobs.

http://sprott.physics.wisc.edu/pickover/fourth.html

There was a recent thread on Basenotes.net, which was a poll, asking readers if they preferred the 1973-1992 period for “masculine” scents or the 1993 to present one. Mr. Ross of the FromPyrgos blog felt the need to write up a post about this, something along the lines that the “greats” of both periods are about equal. First of all, the person who created the BN post chose an arbitrary period, as Joint for Men is from 1993 and clearly should be in the earlier category (I thought it was from 1992 when I wrote up a post to that thread). We tend to forget that people think of past events when making choices, generally-speaking, other than for a few “visionaries,” who are usually wrong (a major newspaper published an article about how in 10 to 15 years “modern medicine” would be totally different by now, and if we were alive and in good health, we would likely live to be well over 100, IIRC; however, since then not much has changed in that context). The point is that there were some “stragglers,” such as Xeryus Rouge, as well as a small number that were “ahead of their time” (not necessarily in a “good way”), which is where I’d place Cool Water for Men.

What’s most important is the pattern or “MO.” With many “masculine” aquatics, for example, the pattern is the use of a great deal of synthetics, so that the balance is tipped in their favor, the scent having a “chemical soup” feel, without anything to counterbalance it. Fighting though the first hour gets you either next to nothing or more of the same! By contrast, with XR, there are clearly synthetics present, but it feels like a proper balance exists (and the drydown is quite intriguing, however natural it is or is not). This illusion gets shattered if you smell it up close on the skin, but I didn’t know that as a newbie. If you want to argue that some forgettable “minimalist” work of the 1970s is “just as good” as an Old Master painting, for instance, nobody can stop you, but you also can’t stop people from laughing at you! How many Americans even know who Frank Stella is? To some degree, the vast majority of designer scents were made to garner attention from others. Some were meant for the “office,” while others for the “evening,” and others for “casual” occasions. Some are clearly better in cold weather than hot, and vice versa. Fashions change and this helps these companies make profits, because these concoctions can last a very long time and can often be bought at a steep discount (if one wanted to “stock up”).

However, some of us enjoy the scent and don’t care about the social implications. We want the experience to last for hours, with a certain amount of “dynamism,” and this is where the argument about “equality” falls flat on its face, IMO, because after a while the heavy use of synthetics in the newer designer scents becomes quite irritating (and this is often true for reformulations of the older scents). Perhaps XR “proves” that one can use quite a bit of synthetics, if it is composed skillfully, and I’m not claiming that ingredient quality must trump the skill of the perfumer. In fact, I recently ordered a bottle of vintage Uomo? Moschino, because while I didn’t like the first bottle I purchased (a few years back), after reading some reviews I have a feeling it is quite good in an XR kind of way (I’ll write up a post about that scent after I can study it). In wine criticism, the pre-Robert Parker notion was that the land (“terre”) was what mattered, and though he largely burst that bubble, he was then in turn criticized for preferring certain kinds of wines to others.

By contrast, I have never made any attempt to hide my sense that top notes might need to be largely avoided and that the drydown is what is most important, for me (meaning my appreciation of the scent, not anyone standing or sitting nearby). I also seem to use a lot less of the liquid than most people, and this seems to have helped me detect subtle differences in the drydowns. Moreover, if anyone reads reviews at Fragrantica.com alone, one can see that many appear to agree with what I consider my main arguments (especially about reformulations into “drug store dreck”). There is clearly a group of scent aficionados who know exactly what they want and can usually find it if they have some patience (or via swapping), if not spending the “big money,” which is often not all that much when compared to what the new designer concoctions (most of which I wouldn’t even consider wearing) are selling for in major department stores!

The key for those of us who think along these lines is that the scents of the 70s through mid-90s (roughly) seem to be more natural smelling, more complex (without note clashes), and more dynamic than those of the last twenty years, approximately. We can understand why many are puzzled by our notions, because we were “newbies” at one point as well. Those who seem to be adopting an “aggressively ignorant” position, like the FromPyrgos author (IMO), may be akin to “two-dimensional people” who laugh at the notion that a third dimension exists, and may not be able to perceive (or willing to admit) that there is phenomena indicating that there must be such an extra dimension.

NOTE: I haven’t sampled nearly as much recent niche as some other bloggers, but from what I’ve read some of them appear to share my view, though perhaps they don’t want to state it as explicitly as I do. Consider the review of Imperial Tea (By Kilian) by Robin at NST:

To my (admittedly finicky) nose, it is too synthetically fresh in the top notes (the opening blast is uncomfortably close to an air freshening product) and too clean in the dry down…

Rather than having a “finicky” nose, perhaps Robin has come to a point where she values “quality” very highly, whether that is due to the ingredients, the skill of the perfumer, or some combination of the two (and of course it’s possible this varies from one “high quality” scent to another). What I’ve experienced in this “hobby,” among other things, is a loss of socio-cultural associations with scents, even beyond these mass consumer concoctions. When I smell something now that just about everyone considers “bad,” such as rotting food, for example, what “registers” for me is a lack of balance, as if my brain is sensing mostly one molecule. It seems the kind of olfactory experience I now seek can only occur when there are enough molecules of sufficient diversity (but not too much diversity) that persist for more than a few minutes (preferably hours). I can only wonder how many others have reached this point; perfumers seem to be able to detect notes/chemicals very well, but my guess is that most haven’t spent hours with complex ones, and so their minds get “wired” differently than someone like myself. Too bad there are no functional MRI studies that likely would tell us about different parts of the brain in “normals,” perfumers, and people like myself!

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