Feeling weak from the flu is no fun, and it’s even worse for us fragrance aficionados. At present the thought of even taking the cap off a bottle nearly makes me nauseous! In any case, I hope to get a new post up some time this weekend. I don’t wish this on anyone !
I was inspired to write this post after reading a review of Cotton Club for Men over at the FromPyrgos blog. The author, Mr. Ross, views this scent as a fougere, though there is not even a fougere accord present, to my nose (and the note pyramid does not list coumarin or tonka bean). And while I don’t think London should be called a “fougere” scent either, it does possess a clear fougere accord, which is one reason I never really liked it, though I like the other notes in it and think it’s reasonably natural smelling. Just so nobody thinks I’m putting words in his mouth, this is his exact statement:
I happened across another very good fougère, a little scent called Cotton Club…
There are a few non-niche scents like Cotton Club, including Cristobal Pour Homme, Rochas Man, and Legend by Michael Jordan. These three list amber but not coumarin or tonka bean in their note pyramids, whereas London does list it. I’m not sure why this is something Mr. Ross doesn’t understand, as it seems about as obvious as anything in “modern perfumery,” but I feel obligated to point what I consider to be a glaring flaw in his thought process on this subject to my readers. All these scents have lavender notes, but having a lavender note is irrelevant, and in fact if a scent only needed a lavender note to be a “fougere,” more than a few “feminine” scents would be fougeres as well !
What is so “bad” about calling a scent a “masculine lavender gourmand?” Anyway, since I’ve recently spoken on this subject a couple of posts ago, I’ll move on to London. First, I’ll point out that I think the term fougermand works nicely here on an abstract level, because the fougere accord is clear but so are the gourmand elements. I don’t know if this is what the perfumer intended but it certainly seems like the idea was to create dynamism between the two major elements that are present in this scent. Here are the notes (from Fragrantica.com):
Its formula combines mint, violet flower and leaf, mandarin leaf and orange at the top, followed by vetiver, jasmine and lavender in the middle, drying down to the base of amber, Tonka bean and Australian sandalwood.
At Basenotes.net, a brandy note is also listed in the base, and it certainly seems like one is present to me. And while some fougermands were created before London, none have the balance and liveliness that London possesses, without having a scintilla of crudeness in it. In fact, I’d say this general idea has been rather heavy-handed and clumsy, A*Men being an obvious example, though for me I like some of them as a “change of pace” once in a while. So, I would be more than willing to concede that if you want something that is more “in your face,” London is not likely to be your ultimate fougermand. However, I think London is an “artful” composition, and I really wish I could appreciate it, but the fougere accord ruins it for me. By contrast, I find scents like Cotton Club to be enjoyable because I don’t encounter that accord !
For this post, I decided to do an ankle sampling of London. I wore it normally a few months ago but didn’t enjoy it, so I decided to do an ankle sampling. I’ve found that one kind of wearing/sampling can vary significantly from the other. Yesterday, I did an ankle sample of London, and liked it a bit more that way. My main problem with it is that the fougere accord here persists to long, like the proverbial “crazy uncle” who has to interrupt every conversation to tell everyone about his conspiracy theory that he claims explains everything. This is a case where I’d really like to know what it would smell like if the fougere accord had not been added and instead only the “best” ingredients were used. I’ve come to think that fougere accords might be used to mask lower quality ingredients!
Of course if you don’t the violet or brandy notes, you may dislike London. Calling it a fougermand may cause more problems for someone with such preferences. Thus, I have my reservations about using terms like fougermand, and I thought it would be good to discuss London for this reason as well. That is, there is a rather novel brandy note in it and it begins with some clear violet, which is not something that anyone has claimed to be important (or even useful) to scents with a strong fougere accord. And so I can reiterate a question I’ve put forth before, which is, “why do some people consider it so important to reduce a scent to a one or two word designation?” If someone is willing to spend some time reading about a scent like London, why not tell them that you detect a unique brandy note, that the fougere accord is obvious, that there is violet in the opening, and that the drydown dynamism is mostly about the fougere accord playing off the slightly powdery gourmand element?
Not doing this may generate more confusion than anything else, especially for the newbie. Perhaps there is a kind of “intermediate” range of understanding which renders new terms like fougermand (or gourmanere) useful. However, I think this is a case where the sophomore is asked for advice by the freshman and often misleads him or her. It may be a “classic” instance of the old saying, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, though here the danger is likely mostly to the person’s wallet. In any case, what I’d like to see more than anything else (in this context) is for those who write about scents to either be more detailed in their descriptions or to admit that they are not to be considered “experts” in certain areas, as I’ve said about my attempts to largely avoid top notes, for example. If one does this, then I think there would be much less confusion “out there.”
From what I’ve read on some “major” online sites/blogs, it sounds like some people want to riot in the streets (at least metaphorically) over the latest IFRA guidelines, which are not even “in effect” yet. For example:
The latest European regulatory provisions of February 13th concerning raw materials used in fine fragrance, if they are adopted, will sound the death knell of high perfumery within five years.
Essential natural ingredients such as rose, citral, tonka bean, ylang-ylang, will be banished or accepted in ridiculously weak proportions. Only chemical equivalents will be authorized.
And a chemical compound, however efficient it is, does not replace the olfactive vibration of a beautiful natural.
However, on a Basenotes.net thread, a “veteran” member “Mr. Reasonable,” made some good points on this subject:
…with regard to oakmoss: keeping the current maximum is small consolation because it is not enough for a proper chypre or fougere accord in my opinion – these two genres have been eradicated from contemporary perfumery in all but name. This is why I say it’s all over bar the shouting – the current amount is really just adding insult to injury. If a truly safe and sanitised oakmoss can be pulled out of the hat that performs in the same way as an unadulterated one (i.e. what has been used in modern perfume for decades) and usage levels can be restored to the levels that it was used in the past then these genres might have a chance. Given that means getting the amount north of the decimal point, i.e. increasing by at least 10x the current allowance, I will not be holding my breath.
To anyone still reading this who is even remotely interested in knowing what a real chypre smells and feels like my advice would still be to look to the past – there is no clear cut off date but somewhere round mid 2000′s is probably a safe bet. Earlier = better.
I believe that in more ‘open’ compositions where the emphasis is on citrus, lighter floral and herbal notes with no serious base – i.e. an absence of balsamics, patchouli, vetiver etc. ‘grounding’ the fragrance (and thereby competing with and subsuming the use of oakmoss as a base fixative) that oakmoss can still play a part.
I imagine in the Jo Malone, and Eau de Guerlain, Granville and possibly L’Heure Fougueuse – all of which lean more towards a classic eau de cologne style (in terms of the ingredients) than a more robust perfume – that even a little oakmoss may add a hint of life because there’s not a lot of competition.
In other words, it is possible that a ridiculously small amount of oakmoss in certain lighter styles of perfume is still better than none at all
Of course this could all just be wishful thinking on my part
When you smell some of the Guerlain Eaux de Colognes from a couple of decades ago (Vol de Nuit, Parure, Mitsouko) they have a heft to them that even current Eaux de Parfums and Parfums cannot muster. Back then EDC’s were able to employ more oakmoss than current Parfums and even diluted at EDC proportions the shape and space of the thing was magnificent.
The first time this came to my attention with any force, so to speak, is when I read “Perfumes: The Guide” in 2008. At the time I didn’t realize what was at stake, but later that year I had come to appreciate the depth, complexity, and “naturalism” of vintage designer scents (particularly beyond the top notes), and began to “vintage hunt” soon thereafter. I now look for really “good deals,” mostly on ebay, because I have more than I can use, even if I live another 50+ years! For those who haven’t done this, and just “want to smell good,” there is little to fear, since what is thought to be a good smell changes over time, it seems, so you can just buy whatever is popular.
The major problem is for those who just began their “vintage hunting” or who use a huge amount with each application. However, even if prices continue to rise on vintage, it’s not like there aren’t a bunch of old bottles sitting in basements, garages, attics, etc. When I buy on ebay, it’s usually from a “picker” or someone clearing out “old junk,” and not from sellers who specialize in “Beauty” items. In some cases, these less savvy sellers will use the “buy it now” feature and list bottles at very good prices. Of course, that means these items are likely to get “snapped up” quickly.
In fact, I’ve been trying to get a good deal on a few scents for several years now but I’ve either missed the great “buy it now” deals or the prices were too high. And that leads to two pieces of advice. One is to ask yourself if you really need certain vintage scents (or if currently cheap substitutes are acceptable, such as Devotion for Men rather than Envy for Men). If not, I doubt you will be completely “shut out” any time soon. If so, you can use a site like Stuff Alert and hope for the best. Of course, you can simply pay the high prices, assuming you can afford them. It’s not like the prices are thousands of dollars yet (so far, I’ve only seen those kinds of prices for Vintage Tabarome). The second idea is to learn how to create your own scents. There is a company called Bulk Apothecary that has very good prices, for example, and from what I can tell, the quality is at least fairly good. At first, you can just try a few simple mixtures with cheap vodka (I’m assuming you are over the age if 21).
So, while it’s possible that scents might come to resemble “air fresheners” (perhaps with some “laundry musk” added to differentiate these two kinds of products) within the next few years, if you are reading this in 2014 you still have options that are not expensive, unless perhaps you want a specific scent that seems to have become highly sought after, for whatever reason. Complaining, positing conspiracy theories, railing against the profit motive, etc. doesn’t make sense. If you want to “get the word out” and persuade some people to pressure these companies, I have a feeling that, at best, it will result in something similar to the re-release of Patou Pour Homme (which most people don’t seem to think is “loyal” to the original). I’ve come to a point where I feel comfortable with what now have (and in fact wouldn’t mind selling a few vintage bottles), but if I come across a great deal one that I haven’t been searching for, I may grab it. I wish those who are now in “panic mode” would be more specific about what the issue is for them. Are they just “venting?” Do they think “great art” is being suppressed? Do they think their vintage collection will “turn to dreck” soon? Or is it that the only they have to fear is fear itself?
NOTE: For what seems like a reasonable argument about the “lack of science” behind the IFRA notions, I suggest reading this:
I’ve enjoyed many of “Sherapop’s” posts on her blog, but after reading a comment of hers on the FromPyrgos blog recently, I am wondering if she has “gone over to the dark side.” Before proceeding, I suggest you read my last post, “Why is basic logic lost on some people?” because it will “bring you up to speed” on some of the strange claims being made in this context. I’ll begin by quoting Sherapop’s entire comment (on the subject of vintage scents):
Really it’s a religion, Bryan. That’s the way I look at it. Religion is at best arational, at worst irrational. As long as they are doing no harm to anyone, I don’t have a problem with it. We’re not talking about Miranda Barbour and satanic rituals here–at least as far as I know. I must say that I do have a hard time taking some of these people seriously as thinkers or critics, however.
As an example, I was going to review Barbara Herman’s book on vintage perfumes (ridiculously titled “Scent and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume,” which is about as far from truth in advertising as anything could possibly be…), but it was so frustratingly unsystematic and subjective and romantic and, yes, religious, that I figured: what’s the point?
What can I say about a book which opens by observing that all perfumes spoil and will eventually disappear, leaving no traces behind, and then goes on to offer reviews of many “vintage classics” with no mention of the provenance or age of the samples or bottles. Way too unsystematic for me, but it’s really just a little book by a vintage loving blogger written for vintage loving bloggers. That’s all that it is. Oh, and also a plug for the gray-market decanters, whom Herman shills for by exhorting readers to begin their vintage journeys at those websites. (I do hope that she’s at least getting a kick back on the referrals!!!!)
In some ways, this whole “vintage movement,” if you will, seems very similar to a cult, especially the way people jump all over anyone who dares to attempt to shine a bit of light into the dark cave in which they spend their days, like archaeologists attempting to unearth treasures from centuries past, when in fact they are much more likely to dig up the bones of the victims of a serial killer.
Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.
My first thought after reading this was a question, how is scent appreciation “rational” in any context? Is she claiming that people who only enjoy niche are entirely rational, by contrast? Are the people who go to major department stores, spray the latest designer scent on their arms, and say “oh, that’s nice, I will purchase a bottle,” acting considerably more rational? As I’ve said before, I came to conclude that I enjoyed vintage designer (“men’s” and “women’s) more than niche or recent designer only after being very skeptical about claims concerning bad reformulations. I had to smell it for myself, and during the first several months of this new hobby, I couldn’t tell the difference bettween “drug store dreck” and expensive niche. It’s only when I started to say to myself things like, “Dunhill’s Desire smells like Rochas Lui but there’s something I don’t like about it, almost like a chemical smell,” that I realized there might be a big difference in the ingredient quality between these two scents.
She then goes on to criticize a book I have not read. Her criticisms seem to have at least some merit, but it’s inappropriate to at least intimate that all vintage aficionados share the views of this author. Her claim about “gray market decants” suggests she doesn’t know much about such people, because I’ve made very few sales this way, and I don’t even want to do it any more (on those few occasions) because it’s such a hassle. In fact, with vintage prices where they are now, I’m strongly considering just listing bottles I don’t need on ebay, despite how much I dislike selling on ebay. I wouldn’t doubt that the book leaves quite a bit to be desired, but so did “Perfumes: The Guide,” the point being that one might read these books for the insights and information contained within, even if there is quite a bit with which one disagrees.
To say that hobbyists are like a cult strikes me as quite bizarre. With the internet, it seems like more people are collecting and becoming hobbyists in all kinds of different fields. The ability to share information and even products to this extent was never possible before, so yes, it is new, but really, Sherapop, do you expect a Jonestown type incident among vintage aficionados? Will we gather in covens, wearing special robes, and spray each other with our vintage favorites? I’ve never even met a fellow vintage aficionado in person! Do you know what an “alarmist” is? And by your own standards, how are you not in this cult-like situation with your fragrance hobby, while those who usually prefer vintage (on most days) are? What are those standards? How did you come to this conclusion?
If anyone is being ridiculous, it is a person who makes this kind of statement you did! I hope you will reconsider and be more precise about exactly what you are claiming (with supporting evidence that is the “rule” rather than the exception). If you do find someone making outrageous claims, please let us know. I’m sure you realize that there will be a few “extremists” in any “movement,” as you call it, just as I think Mr. Ross is in his blog posts those who mostly wear vintage scents. There are quite a few blogs now about vintage scents, so perhaps you can tell us who these people with extreme views are. Or do you think that these kinds of blanket claims are appropriate? IF there is a whole lot of “irrationality” to be found here, it seems to reside in the minds of those who can’t stand the thought that some people prefer vintage scents !
NOTE: On her blog, Sherapop recently wrote about how much “nicer” the tea aficionado online community is, and my question to her is, don’t you think that with this comment you are adding to the “nastiness” of the online personal fragrance community? It’s almost like two different people wrote these two things (the tea post and the comment at the FromPyrgos blog)! Also, I’m working on a post that some may view as the “other side of the coin,” which should appear within a few days. That one should make it clear that I think Sherapop’s general notion has merit, but at the very least I think she has exaggerated the claims being made by the majority of the “vintage crowd.”
I use the phrase “basic logic” because I’m not sure what to call the latest claim by Mr. Ross over at the FromPyrgos blog (the title of the post is “Writing About Vintage Fragrances: Where Is The Nexus Of Legitimate Research?).” I really don’t know what he thinks he can accomplish, and I actually hope he can lower prices for vintage on ebay (since it’s getting more difficult to find good deals these days) with his posts, but I don’t know why he can’t understand that some of us prefer vintage. We’ve stocked up and unless the bottles get stolen, broken, etc. we are “set for life.” And we can talk about our experiences with those bottles for many years to come, which may be driving him mad, though I certainly hope not. Even if his friend and “industry insider,” Jeffrey Dame, thinks that after about a decade these scents will turn to dreck, we prefer them head and shoulders above the new releases, even niche !
However, I can’t read his mind and I have found some of his recent statements to be absurd, so here I will restrict my arguments to items that I feel can be sorted out by logic, for those who care about it. The last thing I found clearly illogical (not long ago), just to recap, is his claim that scents without coumarin can be classified as fougeres. If it’s got a clear lavender note, apparently, that’s good enough for him! Doesn’t logic “dictate” that there would have been no original fougere if any scent with strong lavender were to be called a fougere? People enjoyed strong lavender scents before the fougere was invented, after all. Did they call them rose scents? Jasmine scents? Let’s get serious here !
The latest bit of illogical thinking can be found in this passage from his latest post:
Last year I published a link to a study that showed differences between vintage Old Spice by Shulton, current Old Spice by Shulton (a version only sold in India), and current Old Spice by Proctor & Gamble for the North American market. Here is a summary of the results:
“What small differences exist between [vintage Shulton and current Shulton] may possibly be attributed to the age of the sample or point to a natural variation in components in some essential oil. It is the author’s opinion that Shulton is using the same recipe in India that was used to manufacture the vintage sample. The P&G Old Spice appears to be significantly different from the other two Old Spice samples. I believe that there may be some evidence here for a change in recipe sometime between when the vintage Old Spice was produced and the current recipe. Whether that supposed change occurred before or after P&G obtained the product line is impossible to say.”
This conclusion tears a hole in the vintage enthusiasts’ argument that vintage is “better” than “current,” simply by showing that even when using gas chromatography, it’s impossible to pin any deleterious formula change to the current fragrance licensee of something as cheap and easily-changeable as Old Spice. If a drugstore scent like Old Spice barely registers any scientifically-proven formula change while under Proctor & Gamble’s thumb, why am I to believe that more expensive fragrances are being cheapened and degraded by reformulations under new commercial ownership? The people who claim that reformulations are inferior to vintage never bother to seek any CG results, so I can not take their opinions seriously.
First, I’ll point out that these were aftershave formulations, and aftershaves usually don’t have the base notes that the kind of EdT formulations (or stronger) vintage aficionados seem to prefer do (or the base notes are quite weak and not relevant). Moreover, I’ve pointed out many times that the top notes are of little importance to me (if they last a long time, as is sometimes the case, then I would be concerned about them), and from what I’ve read over the years, at least some vintage aficionados feel the same way. Second, Mr. Ross omitted the first sentence in this paragraph, which is: “The current Shulton and vintage Shulton products, overall, are very similar.” The point here is that “very similar” may be good enough for him but not for everyone; why does he feel that he should make such decisions for other people? Third, he himself claimed that the the Old Spice formula was/is cheap, so there may not have been much of a point to cheapening it further! Fourth, the researcher did find that there was a significant difference with certain Old Spice formulations, so why would Mr. Ross think that this can’t possibly occur with another scent, made by an entirely different company? Does he really not understand this?
Thus, this study possibly could “tear a hole” in a claim that vintage Shulton Old Spice is much better than (or significantly different from) newer versions in some contexts. I say possibly because someone might appreciate vintage Shulton Old Spice for a note that was enhanced or diminished in the new version tested. The overall “feel” might be the same to most people, but for that one person the absence of that note (or perhaps a change in the molecule used to represent that note) is what matters. For example, it’s known that for some scents a modern musk has been substituted for an older one, and a particular person may be especially sensitive to the new molecule, disliking it intensely (or vice versa). This is certainly true for any “nitro musks” scent, as Luca Turin and others have pointed out quite a while ago, but some people don’t perceive the musks at all! Nitro musks were removed from scent formulations long before IFRA became an issue for many people, it seems. In any case, it’s certainly true that many if not most people won’t detect a change (in some reformulations) while a small number of people will, so Mr. Ross is telling everyone that they should smell what he does, or else he thinks this study covers all reformulations made by all companies, either of which would of course be ludicrous.
In a recent Basenotes.net thread, in fact, someone made a claim about IFRA, thinking that he was “scoring a point” against me, yet I just asked who is stocking up on vintage and to what degree, not that IFRA was to blame (I just mentioned IFRA because it seemed that there was a kind of IFRA-panic, but I made it clear that I was just prompted to write up the post in light of those apparent concerns). In fact, one could argue the “major players” are using IFRA (if they don’t control it “behind the scenes”) because it allows them to create inexpensive scents “to comply with IFRA.” And I’m not arguing that “new must be bad,” but rather that differences are detected and are not wanted by some people. You can tell people that they aren’t smelling what they think they are smelling, of course, but if that person has studied a huge number of all kinds of scents over a period of several years, I think you should be prepared for that person to get a good laugh at your expense !
What I find most egregious in this passage from his new post, however, is that Mr. Ross thinks that all scents have changed (or not) in the same way that Old Spice has. He must be aware of my writings (and that of may others), and I’ve often pointed out specific differences in formulations. Moreover, in the case of Boss Cologne/Boss Number One, I haven’t found any differences I’d consider major, and I pointed that out long ago. Where logic is really lost, so to speak, is with the notion that the “vintage” Old Spice tested had not already been reformulated into what I consider “drug store dreck.” How could he not consider this possibility? For example, I found an old bottle of Royal Copenhagen (Swank formulation) that was in the back of a drawer in a relative’s house. This person has lived in the same house (with central air conditioning) since he acquired the bottle new, and the bottle had never been taken out of the box, until I tried it.
He said he hand no use for it and told me to take it because he’d just throw it in the garbage. As I wrote long ago on this blog, I found this “vintage” formulation to be awful, and happily swapped it off. If Mr. Ross wants to find a person who can perform GC tests on scents that I think were reformulated poorly, then let’s do it! The problem here is that if there is any difference in the resulting graphs, it’s possible that this represents why a person likes or dislikes a specific formulation. The study in question suggests that Shulton may have been more consistent in their formulations (over the course of quite a few years) than some other companies, though that formulation may be viewed as “drug store dreck” by most vintage aficionados, for all we know (I haven’t tried either formulation so I can’t speak this point). I’d like to see a lot more research on these kinds of subjects, but that wouldn’t change my appreciation of these concoctions, so this seems to be yet another example of Mr. Ross seeking to get into a “right fight,” as CBS TV’s Dr. Phil might say. What he has accomplished, IMO, is a demonstration of how “twisted” one’s thoughts can become when one can’t tolerate the thought of being wrong !
NOTE: You can find the study in question, along with graphs at:
NOTE #2: It’s well-known that the “good quality” sandalwood used in many old scents is not available and hasn’t been for some time. There may be a few people who have obtained it and created their own scents with it, but it’s certainly not something you can find in any scent that has been released recently (other than perhaps very expensive niche), to my knowledge. Thus, Mr. Ross is either ignorant of something that vintage aficionados (and many others) find very important in this context (that is, the loss of that sandalwood note in some reformulations) or he has decided to ignore evidence that would “tear a hole” in his argument.
I’ve read some reviews in which Gucci’s Envy for Men is called “too old man,” and wondered what that makes Heritage, not to mention Old Spice, Aramis, Brut, etc. Fortunately (I think), at some point smells became something I simply “deconstructed,” and most if not all of the cultural associations were lost. Instead, most odors that just about everyone considers “bad” I perceive as terribly unbalanced. Interestingly, the smells I seem to dislike most these days are emitted from food (not what I eat). In particular, rancidity is most offensive, though most others don’t seem to perceive this quality at all.
And while such claims about “oldness” are rather common, there seems to be quite a fan base for Envy. Not only have the prices for Envy “gone through the roof,” but at least the asking prices for other scents that are similar (Eryo, Carven Homme, ST Dupont Signature Pour Homme, etc.) have risen as well. Devotion for Men is still reasonably priced, but my guess is that it’s much less known in general compared to the others.
Anyway, back to perceptions about the “oldness” of these scent cococtions that we find so compelling, in one way or another. What could possibly make Envy seem “old,” and what is a “young masculine oriental?” The latter may be easier to answer, though I can only guess, of course, by what I read online, since I don’t talk to young men about scents. One thing they seem to like is a kind of sweet, “bumble gum” quality (as they descrbe it). They don’t mind a musky quality so long as it’s a kind of “clean smoke.” And as you might guess, there should be no clear animalic quality. Spicebomb seems to be a good example of this kind of scent.
As you probably know, neither Envy nor Heritage have an animalic quality, unless you thinkg the ginger note in Envy supplies one, though ginger doesn’t seem to come across that way for most people. Heritage has fairly prominent patchouli, which again may be perceived as animalic by some who aren’t used to it in such quantities. So, the first question that seems worth asking now is, how does Envy different from Spicebomb. Interestingly, a quality Envy possesses that I dislike may be a major factor here. That is, it has a kind of rounded, balmy character, one that I have perceived as a “blob” at times. I am now able to “fight my way through it,” but I can understand how many find it irritating.
Some Envy type scents begin with a blast of “fresh” aroma chemicals (such as Devotion for Men). I no longer have a sample of Envy, and I don’t remember if it did as well, but I can see why some would associate that presentation with a certain period of time. In a sense, anything novel and at least somewhat pleasant might be perceived as “new,” and since the ad campaigns target the young, many of that demographic will think “young” when they smell something that “feels like” a novel concoction. Of course it would be a lot easier if people who made such claims would be more specific, though to be fair, some have said that they don’t want to smell like their fathers or grandfathers, while others say they don’t want the young ladies to think that they smell like their fathers or grandfathers.
In any case, how do considerably old scents, such as Heritage, fit into this situation? It was never especially popular, apparently, and I’d guess it was quite unpopular in the USA (though somewhat similar ones, such as Zino, seem to have been). Luca Turin might say that Heritage has more “legibility” than Envy, as it’s much less of a task to identify most of the notes in Heritage. What’s interesting is that the notes listed for these two are quite similar. First, here are the notes for Heritage (1992), from Fragrantica.com:
Bergamot, orange, aldehydes, green accords, lavender, lemon, petit grain, violet, clary sage, nutmeg.
Pepper, coriander, orris root, along with rose, jasmine, carnation, honeysuckle, geranium, lily-of-the-valley.
Cedar, vetiver, patchouli, amber, tonka bean, oakmoss, sandalwood, vanilla.
The Estonian site provides this list of notes for Envy (1998):
Mandarin, coriander, pepper, rosewood, cardemom, ginger, lavwender.
Rose, jasmine, carnation, sandalwood, cedar,
Patchouli, vetiver, leather, vanilla, amber, leather, musk tobacco, incense.
And for comparison purposes, ST Dupont’s Signature Pour Homme, (2000), which I consider very similar to Envy, has this list of notes (also from Fragrantica):
Lavender, tarragon, pepper, basil, grapefruit, lemon.
Birch, carnation, cinnamon, incense, heliotrope, geranium.
Tonka bean, amber, patchouli, benzoin, vanilla and cedar.
One thing to keep in mind is that when you get to the mid/late 1990s, especially (it seems), there are quite a few scents that use much larger amounts of certain aroma chemicals, such as dihydromyrcenol. By contrast, that’s not something you’ll find in Heritage. I think the main idea behind the Envy composition is to “power up” the opening, and this includes quite a bit of “freshness,” which then loosens up within an hour or two to reveal a rather simple oriental base. With Heritage, it’s all there at first, with notes that “know their place” and sort of play off each other, whereas with Envy the notes mostly “stick together.” Envy has more of a “vertical,” knife-like effect, whereas Heritage is more like a loose bundle of twigs from different trees. This is a good example of how “construction,” “structure,” or “composition” (whichever you prefer) plays a significant role. Neither of these are favorites of mine, but I’ve found that once in a while I am drawn to wearing them. So, while I can’t say that I think one is “better” than the other, I do think aficionados should at least obtain samples of both (or similar ones). If you are a “young guy” and have some thoughts on this subject, I would appreciate it if you leave a comment here.
You’ve probably heard about scent development, in particular top, middle/heart, and base notes. There is also the concept of the “drydown,” which seems to contradict this three tier idea in a significant way, as it suggests two important things happen when you wear a scent (at least on skin), rather than three or more. Perhaps the best way to think about how it is that you smell top notes for a while, and then middle/heart notes until the scent it totally dry, but that begs the question: does this mean middle/heart notes will persist for a long time if a person is sweating?
One term I didn’t see in reviews/posts/books until I began using it in my posts and reviews is the “opening.” For me this is whatever is present until one gets to the “base.” Even if you try to avoid most of the top notes, as I do, there is almost always some top notes residue, so to speak, that persists for more than several minutes. If you study scents on a regular basis, as I do, I think this is the more useful concept, as opposed to the three tier notion, though in rare cases a scent “fools” you into thinking you are at the base, only to reveal a different element. I’m glad to see that the opening idea has caught on, whether or not I was the first person to use it in this context, and I’ll speak more about perfumers versus aficionados below, which will address this is more detail.
I have used the term “drydown” to mean something like “when the scents settle down into a scent that persists for hours.” At this point, many scents have a kind of layered quality, though if you are used to mostly recent designer releases, this may not be the case. Many of these come across to me as a kind of sheet, meaning there is no depth. An older concept is “facets.” This seems to mean that as you wear a scent, you will smell some very different notes or accords, so you may get a sheet-like affect or a layered one, or perhaps even some combination of the two, as the facets come and go over time. Another phrase that might describe this in a helpful way is a “shape-shifter scent.”
My layers idea involves a sense that certain notes or accords are on top or in front of others. For many scents, I’ve thought to myself, “I’ve got to fight through these opening notes/accords and then I will get to a pleasant drydown.” For example, while wearing Boss Cologne the other day (it’s now called Boss Number One) I was thinking that there are two major layers present, one that is “in front” and that seems to be dominated by aroma chemicals, with a second that is “underneath,” and dominated by honey, patchouli, tobacco, and wood notes. Powdery (probably due to the iris) and dried fruit/honey elements seem to tie the two layers together, though there is still some contrast between the two (but never discord), providing dynamism. In general, musk seems to help tie layers together in many scents (this Boss scent isn’t especially musky, but it certainly doesn’t need to be).
Cool Water (“men’s” version) is an interesting example of what happens when there are a lot of notes in the scent but an absence of layering. That is, the notes feel like they are placed next to each other, many struggling to be dominant. Apparently, Luca Turin liked this structure. For example, here is a passage from his review of Eternity for Men:
It smells good but cheap, which would be fine if the overall structure were unpretentious as in Cool Water, whereas it is distinctly aspirational.
By contrast, I find Cool Water’s structure to be flawed (and quite pretentious), perhaps best viewed as a failed “experiment.” My guess, as I’ve said before, is that the perfumer was required to include a tobacco note, but had some other ideas of his own in mind, and so he put together what I view as a cluttered, discordant, flawed composition, though he may have preferred a different formulation that was not chosen, for all I know. A much better composition that has some similar qualities (the perfumer seems to have had a similar idea in mind) is Green Water, though I can’t recommend the latest formulation in this context; the original Green Water was an excellent scent, whereas the newest one is flawed due to a jasmine note that is too strong. However, if you like that note, you may of course prefer the new formulation.
And this brings me to something I was thinking about the other day, which is that perfumers don’t seem to wear the scents they create, at least not in the way I do. That is, they may wear one or two very often, but I have never heard any of them say that they only wear their own scents, or that they wear scents of a particular type nearly every day! Luca Turin, though not a perfumer, has stated that he wore New York by Parfums de Nicolai for many years, for instance. If a perfumer created two hundred scents, he or she could have a “rotation” of those, just like I have a rotation of at least two hundred, but this does not seem to be the case. Instead, they seem to think of their “creations” as a portrait painter thinks of his or her works. That is, the painter might want to keep a photo of the finished work, but doesn’t need to experience it often, if ever again, in person. Some perfumers have said that they rarely wear any scent (on most days), and this makes sense, because if you are composing new scents you can’t have one that you are wearing interfere with your formulations !
Because of this, as well as being taught the traditional notion of top, middle/heart, and base notes and the use of smelling strips to decide upon how “successful” the scent might be, they don’t seem to experience scents the same way as many of us do (and I have a feeling that they don’t perceive “layers”). Thus, for example, Cool Water may smell great on a smelling strip – I’ve never experienced it that way. Moreover, in the few “experiments” I’ve done in an attempt to create a scent, I find it very time consuming, because I want to see how the variations perform during a regular wearing. If a professional perfumer tried to do this, how would he or she be able to get much done in general, let alone meeting a bunch of crucial deadlines he or she probably has?
So, to sum things up: I think how a scent is layered (if it is layered) can determine whether one likes or dislikes a scent. For example, some perceive certain scents as “blobs” (not sure I started the use of that term in this context as well), which clearly means they are not detecting any layering, and this is almost always a criticism (though some may be especially sensitive to certain chemicals, notes, or accords, and so it doesn’t mean you will perceive it as a blob as well). For example, vintage Polo doesn’t seem to have much layering, so at times it can get a bit boring or even irritating to me, whereas Boss Cologne has always been enjoyable, though I actually don’t like its opening much, probably because the aroma chemicals used are too strong at that point. However, perhaps due to a much higher reliance on naturals (relative to Cool Water, at least), Polo seems to be more like a bubbling caldron than a flat sheet (with chemicals spilled over it).
However, if you like the notes in a scent, I suggest you “experiment” with it a few times. For example, the amount applied seems to be an important factor. Less well-known, I’d guess, is how the scent is applied. For instance, I’ve learned that with some scents it’s best to spray it on with a fine atomizer, and from a distance of at least several inches. Also, you may have to “hang in there” a while to allow the “bottom” layer to get stronger relative to the “top” layer. Finally, if I am correct and perfumers are not thinking along these lines at all, you might want to consider sampling scents made by perfumers you think do a good job of layering (whether or not they are doing it consciously), if of course you value this quality.