Yacht Man Chocolate and the Search for the Best Gourmand Scent.

I remember reading some threads on the major sites with titles like, “Help me – I want to smell like a vanilla cupcake!” and I thought I’d discuss my views on gourmands, as well as mention a great bargain scent that some may view as an excellent gourmand scent to add to their rotations (and this one has “unisex potential”). Recently I saw a 100 ml bottle of Yacht Man Chocolate for little more than a few pennies, and after reading some positive things about it, went ahead with a “blind buy.” However, I didn’t expect much, and after my first sampling, which was one spray just above the ankle, I was not hopeful. There were some very fleeting and “fresh” top notes, clearly synthetic, though one can’t expect more. What one can hope for is some sort of gourmand base. Here is the list of notes for it, from Fragrantica.com:

…cinnamon, dark chocolate, musk, rose, iris, vetiver, patchouli, cacao, cloves and nutmeg.

One thought many people might have is, “how can anyone screw up those notes?” Well, if you don’t like “laundry musks,” then you might think they did! Interestingly, there is no company information on the box or bottle. If I had seen this in a shop in New York’s “perfume district” I would think it was some kind of “knock off.” There isn’t even a label on the bottom of the bottle. And thought heavy, the cap is flimsy plastic (the box is industry standard, though). So, for my “regular wearing,” I decided to go with seven or eight sprays, in the same area to the chest. Here is the review I wrote up for it on Fragrantica.com:

I think you will want to spray spray three or four times more than usual, but if you do I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised! The notes seem right, and the musk, while of the laundry variety (at least at first) is not over the top here. At first there is a blast (if you can call it that) of obnoxious “fresh” aroma chemicals, but they only last a few minutes. Then it seems like it needs to get warmed up, but within perhaps half an hour it comes together nicely, and certainly smells reasonably natural. It’s head and shoulders above dollar store scents but doesn’t cost that much more! The spices are quite strong and rich here, and it’s not especially sweet. If you think Dior Homme smells like “lipstick” or that it’s too “feminine,” then you may not like this one, though. And if you want an outright gourmand scent, this is not it, as those elements are subsumed by musk, powdery florals, and spices. Longevity is very good too, while projection is average to good, but again, you may need to use quite a bit more than usual. Unlike what the other reviewer said, I see little resemblance to Code, which has a clear wood note.

Interestingly, when I posted about it on Basenotes.net, one person responded by saying he was looking for a gourmand, which this scent is not (and so I modified my review slightly to point that out). In any case, if you want a really inexpensive Dior Homme type scent (meaning the composition/structure), this is one to consider, especially if you prefer strong spices. By contrast, Dior Homme Sport (first formulation) is less powdery but does have nice ginger, the problem for me with that one being the irritating molecules used to create the wood note. The great thing about Yacht Man Chocolate is that it’s the kind of scent that provides a specific experience, so I doubt I will ever regret wearing it whenever I do. By contrast, another inexpensive scent that is clearly more complex and “artful,” Everlast Original 1910, is problematic for me to wear because I have no idea which facets of it will seem to dominate that day!

It’s not always clear to me what someone means by a gourmand scent, and many don’t seem able to distinguish between a gourmand and a scent that possesses a gourmand element. For example, many seem to think that Pi by Givenchy is a gourmand. Here is one review that makes this perception clear (on Fragrantica):

…a very sweet mix of sugar notes, vanilla, and almond. I don’t get much if any floral at all. It’s a confectiony sweet gourmand that reminds me of the marshmallow filling in a Rocky Road candy bar.

The last time I wore Pi (older formulation), it struck me as being mostly sweet resins, with a reasonably good cedar note eventually emerging in the drydown. The crucial thing with gourmands, at least for those who are concerned about “wearability,” seems to be providing some contrast, so that the scent doesn’t smell like marshmallows, for instance, and nothing else. In fact, there was an online store, jojoelle.com, which featured many scents that smelled like a food item (they seem to be out of business now), but for some reason few of those who say they want a scent that smells literally gourmand seem to seek out these kinds of companies. The one jojoelle scent I tried (ginger and marshmallow, or something along those lines) was quite strong and reasonably natural smelling, though not what I’ve ever sought to wear.

Perhaps the closest to an “outright gourmand” that is meant to be a “perfume” is Tea for Two. Fragrantica.com has this note pyramid for it:

Top notes are bergamot, star anise and tea; middle notes are cinnamon, ginger, spices and gingerbread; base notes are honey, vanilla, leather and tobacco.

I don’t get much if any leather in it and the tobacco is mild, though from what I understand it was common to chw the leaves at one time. And that brings me to my main point here, which is that unlike fougeres, chypres, and orientals (at least strictly defined), perceptions of gourmands seem to be quite relative. If you smell it and think you’d like to eat whatever it is, doesn’t that mean it is a gourmand? Also, I think it may make sense to distinguish between edible gourmands and beverage-oriented ones. For example, I recently tried Play Intense for the first time, and it’s a mild, creamy type coffee, without the lavender one finds in Rochas Man and some others that are similar. Thus, to me that is more of “true gourmand” than ones that include notes not considered edible/drinkable by most people. However, as I’ve said before, I think it’s best to just talk about the scent in question and to compare it to others that may be similar or that more than a few others claim to be similar, rather than to worry about whether a scent belongs to this or that genre (unless the scent is simple and conforms to the “textbook” definition or unless someone is making a ridiculous claim).

Leave a comment

Filed under Fragrance Reviews., The basics.

The “Bleu de Chanel Wars” – what is the reason for its appeal ?

There have been quite a bit of recent attempts among those who like Bleu de Chanel to try and convince others that they too should like it, and those who don’t agree sometimes get labelled “haters.” At Basenotes.net, for example, we see threads with titles such as, “why is there so much hate for BdC.” First of all, not liking a scent does not mean you hate it. Why should I hate it? I appreciate the diversity, and for all I knew (before it was released) I might have liked it! Instead, it seems that the people who make BdC “hater” claims are engaging in what Freud called “projection.” Many of these people may have strong negative emotions against some vintage scents, for example, and they think that someone like myself feels that way about BdC. In fact, I find it humorous that such a scent would become so popular, and my main interest now is in trying to figure out why (at least to my satisfaction). One on such recent thread at BN I wrote this:

Well if this is true then it begs the question, “what is it about a scent that has great mass appeal?” What could they have put in BdC to make it so special in this context? I have never read any claim that it contains anything special, in terms of something like an expensive ingredient that has hardly ever been used before? So, that might lead one to conclude that the composition is somehow extraordinary, yet no “expert” seems to think this, and even many “amateurs” argue that it is “generic.” Could it be that throwing in a bit of this and a bit of that, then “amping it up” with iso e super.(assuming this was done – again, I don’t remember for sure), is the recipe for success? From what I do remember, it came across as having too much of at least one aroma chemical I found unpleasant and not having any note or accord (in large enough amounts) that I did find pleasant, so I’m really curious about why this one is so popular. I can understand why AdG has been very popular, and to a lesser degree Allure Homme, and with Cool Water it may have been the large amount of dihydromyrcenol used for the first time in a scent that for some reason began to catch on with the public, but I have to say that the appeal of BdC, relative to all the other choices people now have, is puzzling, and has led me to think that the Chanel name might be a factor for at least more than a small number of people.

http://www.basenotes.net/threads/308772-Why-do-so-many-men-not-like-Chanel-s-Blue-de-Chanel/page4

After “blind buying” a bottle of Lomani’s Body and Soul because I thought it would be similar to BdC, but not as harsh (and I think that’s more or less what it is), I decided to read the Fragrantica.com reviews of BdC to see if I was experience in Body and Soul what is described for BdC. To my surprise, I found that very few reviews described it in what I would consider detail. There is talk about how compliments are received while wearing BdC, and some mentioned citrus and pepper, but very few reviewers discussed the development over time or much of anything beyond the top notes. However, I can’t remember any other scent that contained so many reviews that mentioned what a great “office” scent it was, or how “versatile” it was. Clearly, if you have just ten bottles that represent good diversity, you do not need a versatile scent, however.

Perhaps BdC is a very good “blended” scent, meaning that the composition is actually very bad, but that it is designed to come across as a kind of bubbling cauldron of olfactory sensations (minus the high temperatures, of course). The “newbie nose” can’t fixate on any one element for long, and so there are no complaints about this or that note/accord being to strong, sharp, or harsh. Nor can he or she say that it smells like some common item, whether it be food or even something like “bandages” (I’ve seen that one more than a few times). In fact, this is what one BN member had to say about it:

Its a nice fragrance. I can see people disliking it because it has a crushed smarties candy vibe to it. Masaki Matsushima M*C is a similar scent but a bit lighter and fresher. I like both.

Another analogy would include Muhammad Ali, ducking and dancing, not allowing his opponent to land any solid punches. And one reason why I decided to write this post is because this may be an excellent way to understand the newbie experience as opposed to the aficionado one.

The aficionado, by contrast, is like that boxer stalking Ali, trying to land that solid punch, meaning that he or she wants to be able to detect notes/accords with some clarity. Otherwise, the scent comes across as a “blob” that may be pleasant but does not warrant a place in a large rotation. Body and Soul seems to have BdC’s polymorphous quality, along with a similar smell, though I don’t detect any strong aroma chemicals, which I thought I did with BdC. What’s interesting is that some people will say that Pi by Givenchy is boring, “generic vanilla,” or something along those lines (and I may have said that at one time too!), but about a month ago I gave it another chance, and this time I was able to detect a little resinous complexity, as well as a mild but pleasant cedar note that eventually emerged (and I generally dislike cedar notes, especially in more recent scents). This may be another thing that is different about BdC, which is that it was designed to stay linear for a long time, and the just fade out, without much development. This was something else I noticed while reading the BdC reviews, that is, a claim about linearity.

Whatever the case may be, and indeed there is likely some variability, with some “fan boys” simply defending their favorite company, while others like the effects BdC offers, I am surprised that there are so many people rushing onto BN threads (or creating them!) to justify buying a bottle of it. I can’t remember anyone doing this with Armani’s Code, for example (or more recently, Guerlain Homme). In that case, there has never been nearly as much interest in it, positive or negative! I can understand the appeal of scents like Acqua di Gio because it seems to have a theme, and with Cool Water at least the notes are distinct, but BdC seems to be something quite different, which is a pleasant “blob” that gives off bits of this or that note in mild form here and there. Of course, this is just an idea, and it may instead be that it’s the Chanel name that is the “big draw,” and after investing in a bottle (or two or three or four…) a rapid “fan boy” base developed, but at the very least it has led to some interesting questions getting raised.

NOTE: After writing the above I went over to BN an read looked through the BdC reviews there, and I saw the same kind of thing one finds at Fragrantica. That is, there is talk about compliments, “safety,” etc., but not as much attention paid to the actual smell as I expected. This passage from one positive review may be the most interesting of them:

…Some comment about this cologne being boring, ordinary, nothing special and, most hilariously, that it doesn’t “challenge their noses”. Well, the “unique” and “nose-challenging” colognes are not for everybody; in fact I think most of the colognes that fall under that category stink. There’s something to be said about a cologne that can literally brighten your mood and make you feel confident when you wear it (all the compliments you’ll get will certainly help with that)…

For me the obvious problem with this kind of comment is that there are probably hundreds of other (and considerably less expensive) scents that would accomplish the same thing. For example, I’d rather wear Burberry’s Sport Ice for Men, among many others recent designer scents that may get called generic or boring, and that one at least smells pleasant to me. And of course, claims about a scent being a “compliment getter” are anecdotal. I have yet to see a scientific, sociological, or psychological paper on the subject. So, to me, there clearly seems to be an “irrational” element here, at least in the fact that more than a few of these reviewers aren’t able to detect the illogical asepct to their main points. Sadly, it reminds me of people who think they need to “defend” a specific religion when people criticize the leadership of that religion for doing something that is obviously wrong, or even illegal. In this case, there is nothing “wrong” with BdC, but for the aficionado who already owns a large number of bottles it’s quite possible he really has no use for it whatsoever.

Leave a comment

Filed under Criticizing the critics.

How “good” can a scent possibly be ?

Many if not most of you likely have already read a review that makes a scent sound too good to be true. These often include a poetic quality, and sometimes the words “holy grail.” I seem to be going in the opposite direction, which is that after a few wearings most scents sort of “flatten out,” and while they may still be enjoyable, they need to be worn sparingly or else I might not only come to find them boring, but irritating as well. My guess is that after sampling a large number of different combinations of notes/accords, one doesn’t experience uniqueness as easily as one once did.

Over at the FromPyrgos blog, there is a recent post about a scent called “Nature Boy” by Garner James. I haven’t been able to find information about this perfumer, and the author of this post does little to fill the void. However, it sounds like yet another attempt at indirectly criticizing those who point out how much more complex vintage designer scents tend to be when compared to recent niche offerings:

Nature Boy is evidence that niche perfumery can be every bit as complex, sophisticated, and memorable as the best examples of designer fragrances.

Putting aside the possibility that hardly anyone will actually smell Nature Boy, this author once again seems blissfully unaware of the old, and almost always apt saying, “the exception proves the rule.” In any case, before pursuing my major point, I’ll cite some passages from the FromPyrgos post that describe the smell this scent:

…it begins with the skankiest muck note, an odor Xacto-knived from a North American forest immediately after heavy summer rains, loaded with bittersweet damp greens, rich tree barks, stones, mosses, animal shit, and hints of white flowers. Applied liberally, Nature Boy is intimidating, a bit of a green Kouros. Its castoreum is full-throttle, and the labdanum is quite deep and sweaty. Testosterone incarnate.

Ninety minutes later, and a minty floral note emerges from the mud. It is demure, very much present, yet soft and sweet, lightened by something remotely similar to eucalyptus. An hour after that, and there’s the Choya Loban, resinous, an intense vegetal green with a spiced evergreen exhale. In conjunction with lavender, it takes on a mild lilac effect for a while, before it rounds out with woodier tones and becomes part of an immense, vetiver covered amber… the wearer can expect to enjoy a weaving in and out of two accords: sticky green incense and mossy, sweaty sandalwood, with just enough herbal freshness from the lavender on one end, and natural labdanum on the other to make it balanced and coherent…

This sounds like reviews that I’ve read that come across as written by friends of the perfumer, the reason being that it doesn’t ring true to how scents are actually experienced (to be clear, though, I’m not accusing this person of anything here, just providing an opinion based upon my experiences and reading of the experiences of others). For example, we are told about these powerful resins and how it’s like a “green Kouros, yet a “mild lilac effect” becomes obvious “for a while.” And then the wearer experiences “an immense, vetiver covered amber?” No, I don’t think think it’s possible for an “immense” accord to come roaring out of nowhere after more than an hour an a half, during which time there occurs a green Kouros and a lot of castoreum, and then the mild lilac. This sounds more like an hallucination than the experience of one of these olfactory concoctions (at least so long as one is not “high”).

However, one can reach whatever conclusions that one likes on that issue. My main focus involves the search for “great” scents, and in this case, can one help but ask, “if this description is accurate, more or less (hyperbole omitted, perhaps), is this a scent I should purchase?” I already own some vintage Kouros, as well as a few vintage scents with strong castoreum notes. Some of these are complex, such as Krizia Uomo, One Man Show, and the original Davidoff scent. I’m not much of a vetiver nor amber fan, though I think these can be great as supporting notes for some compositions. Moreover, as I’ve discussed in a recent post, over the last moth or so I’ve been doing more layering than I ever have before, which has allowed me to create very complex scents based upon what is consistent with my mood. My guess is that I might enjoy Nature Boy quite a bit for the first few wearings, and then simply view it as just “one of the boys,” pardon the pun! The main prolbm, though, is that I don’t want to spend $50 or more dollars for something I may not enjoy any more than my vintage Krizia Uomo, which cost me very little (100 ml bottle).

The author spends quite a bit of time telling readers about some of the supposedly “top quality” ingredients used in this scent. An obvious question here is, “can one tell the difference, at least between the ‘quality’ of this scent relative to the best of vintage designer?” And that assumes the ingredients used in Nature Boy are in fact “better.” Recently, I started a thread at Basenotes.net on the DIY forum, because I wanted to know whether it would be relatively easy to create a deep and rich, resinous base using several inexpensive essential oils; for example, a few months ago I bought some rosewood essential oil. I simply mixed it with vodka and the scent was quite good, though a bit too “rough around the edges” for me. I don’t think it would be that difficult to buy several other essential oils and make something much nicer, but what would be the point? Wouldn’t I just be back to thinking that if I combined two or more of my vintage scents that I’d achieve a similar if not superior effect?

A good example of not thinking any one scent is head and shoulders above all others can been seen when someone asks about the “ultimate” this or that scent, such as pine-oriented ones. This note can be handled in quite a few different ways, but it’s also rather piercing if it’s too strong, so for me the key question involves which notes should adorn it, so to speak. And what I’ve found is that even if I find such scents that I enjoy, I may come to think that the other notes just don’t work that well, and I begin to seek a different combination. At this point, I think that layering could be the solution, though lately I’ve found that some scents with a pine note, such as Bowling Green, seem to scratch my pine itch, which may occur once a month or thereabouts. The big advantage to layering is that incredible complexity can be generated; one recent example is Roadster and vintage Uomo? Moschino. My “MO” is that if I am enjoying it then I’ll just keep doing it, because I already spend enough time on this hobby as things stand now !

Instead of Nature Boy being “the greatest thing since sliced bread,” as one of my teachers liked to say, isn’t it much more likely to be a person perceiving a scent as incredible the first few wearings, and then coming to find it “okay” but not “special?” As one Basenotes member said in a recent post (about the complex scent, Carven Homme):

I used to have it. My initial reaction to it was quite similar to yours – I thought it was destined to become my top 10.

After a couple of initial wearings however, it ended up sitting in my closet for months. I still thought that the scent was great, but I simply could not find time for it. I just sort of became indifferent to it.

Eventually, my 50 ml bottle didnt make the weed out cut and was sold on Ebay.

http://www.basenotes.net/threads/382682-Carven-Homme-first-impressions

Leave a comment

Filed under Criticizing the critics., The basics.

Trying to make sense of “expert” reviews.

Luca Turin has received his share of both praise and criticism for his fragrance reviews over the last decade or so. And let’s not forget the obvious, which is that nobody is perfect. Moreover, what I’ve learned over the last several years is that what seems “crystal clear” one day can seem very murky the next, or completely wrong! As I’ve said before, my overall sensitivity to these olfactory concoctions can vary significantly, as has my sensitivity to various notes, accords, and aroma chemicals. This seems to be mostly what determines what I find enjoyable. While some may find this frustrating if not infuriating, to me it means that I don’t step into the same sillage twice in this hobby, as I’d guess Heraclitus would say.

This brings me to a recent review by Luca Turin:

When I first smelled it, the intense marine and woody-amber notes in the first couple of minutes of Opus VIII made me worry that Amouage had succumbed to a cut-rate macho style. Unexpectedly in view of the fact that those are drydown notes, the fragrance soon straightened up on my skin and flew right thereafter. In size and shape, it was reminiscent of Gucci Envy for men, but without the big ginger note, replaced by a complex resinous chord. When smelling it again after a few weeks, however, something unusual happened: out of the darkness now came a soft floral accord reminiscent of honeysuckle, lighting up the stark woody structure. This suggests to me that the sample sent had not completed proper maceration. The balance is now more interesting and the structure richer than when first opened. I assume by the time this reaches the shops the chemistry will have worked its magic. Neither particularly original nor particularly memorable, but a solid, compact, dusky unisex.

http://arabia.style.com/beauty/beauty-guide/message-in-a-bottle-luca-turin-reviews-opus-viii-amouage-and-florabotanica-balenciaga-summer-fragrances-2014/

I’m not interested in agreeing with or criticizing this assessment. Rather, it just doesn’t make sense to me. As I said in a Basenotes.net thread on this subject:

In the Opus Vlll review, it sounds like LT was “thrown off” by the ” intense marine and woody-amber note,” because I don’t see how he could have missed something that smelled like honeysuckle! However, I’ve never experienced intense marine and woody-amber as top notes, nor can I imagine that such chemicals would dissipate fairly quickly. Something seems very wrong here!

In situations like this, Turin has sometimes mentioned the aroma chemicals he thinks are responsible for certain effects. Others, however, have opined on this possibility:

My first spritz of this was intriguing – and completely counterintuitive to the actual notes (stick with me – you’ll see what I mean). I got a whiff of calone and a touch of aquatic …okay…that made sense to me…but then I got a big ol’ whallop of carnation (CARNATION?) I would’ve gone to the mat thinking there was carnation allllll up in this one.

Ha! no.

Instead, what I was smelling was a lot of jasmine sambac, front-loaded to the hilt. The combination of jasmine and orange flower combined to create a shiny little cousin to Dia…but that is quickly dispensed with by the introduction of the …not heavier, per se…let’s call them …deeper, more resinous..elements. Yes, resinous. Because halfway through the spritz the frankincense, benjoin and saffron start gently pulsing through the floral opening…

http://perfumeposse.com/2014/03/04/library-lover-amouage-opus-viii/

After reading a few reviews of Opus VIII, my thought is that this may be an example of perfumers who have plenty of “freedom” as well as the resources but who are running out of good ideas, and perhaps hope that oddness is enough:

It’s extremely difficult for me to know where to begin in discussing how Opus VIII manifests itself on my skin. The simple reason is the prismatic nature of the scent that I referenced up above. I’ve tested the fragrance about 5 times by now, using different quantities, and no two tests are completely alike. Opus VIII is a shape-shifter, throwing out different notes each time. The most noticeable thing is just how critical quantity seems to be. Depending on how much you apply, the notes manifest themselves quite differently in terms of prominence, potency, and order. Sometimes, you get entirely new elements, or things that are not even included on the list. As a whole, Opus VIII is a bit like entering into a house of mirrors, where you never know what is going to reflect back at you…

At the start of the 3rd hour, Opus VIII wears close to the skin, hovering just an inch above it in an increasingly sheer, weightless blend of jasmine and ylang-ylang with woody notes and an aromachemical dryness. It remains that way for quite a while, largely unchanged except for the prismatic reflections of the secondary and tertiary elements that pop up once in a while.

http://www.kafkaesqueblog.com/2014/03/16/amouage-opus-viii-optical-illusions/

Even if the price of Amouage scents mean nothing to you, do you really want this kind of strange opening, and then experience a somewhat generic base? Perhaps you do, though for me the retail price is a “deal breaker.” In any case, Turin seems to have been correct, at least in the abstract, about this scent. I’m now at a point where I say things to myself like, “I already have a scent with an animalic, leathery/incense-oriented base, so why should I even bother to sample something that has a note in it that I have found unpleasant?” In this case, I have yet to encounter a scent with guaiac wood listed that I enjoy, though it would be great if I lost my sensitivity to it. If I could tolerate it in Opus VIII, I doubt the scent would be of much interest anyway, though if I could get a bottle at the local dollar store (and that’s all it would ever be worth), I probably wouldn’t mind wearing it once a year or so. And isn’t that what we want our “experts” to tell us above all else, that is, when they encounter a scent that is truly special? If the scent is unique, then there is the hope that one can learn to enjoy it, whereas if the drydown is generic, I just don’t want another bottle to have to cram in one of my storage boxes! Here’s the note pyramid for Opus VIII:

Jasmine Sambac, Ylang Ylang, Orange Flower

Frankincense, Saffron, Ginger, Vetiver, Guaiac Wood

Balsam, Benzoin, Jamaican Bay

Several days after reading about this Amouage scent, however, a review of Emblem by Montblanc (written by Turin) appeared on arabaia.style.com. In terms of how this scent actually smells, LT only has this to say:

…the violet-leaf note in Emblem is both intense and durable…

Here is the description of Emblem, as it appears on Fragrantica.com:

…Emblem begins with a splash of aromatic clary sage and cardamom mixed with sparkling grapefruit, which, right from the start, give the impression of a strong and charismatic fragrance full of contrasts. Fresh, green and frozen violet leaves are wrapped in cinnamon to provide elegance to the composition. The base features intense woods and tonka bean.

From what I understand, LT is being paid to write these reviews, and yet this is the most he can provide readers? By contrast, a couple of Fragrantica.com reviews are much more helpful:

Emblem is another one semi-sweet, semi-fresh leathery fragrance that has been created to substitute for the popular Carolina Herrera CH Men. There is already a plenty of less thoughtful clones of CH Men: Pal Zileri Uomo, S. T. Dupont 58 Avenue Montaigne, Trussardi My Land. Did we need another one? From the list above Emblem is closer to My Land. Strongly watered down, with 1-Million-y vibe that makes the scent smell cheap…

…very disappointing. Has that same synthetic, aquatic colone molecule thing which comes on strong in the opening and settles to a creamy Tonka affair…not good. Similar to many recent releases Invictus, Eros, and Burberry Brit rhythm. Surely there is more interesting olfactory songs to sing? Lazy stuff designed purposefully to have mass appeal…

The key point here is that after reading the two Fragrantica reviews, I don’t have any interest in sampling Emblem. After reading LT’s review, I don’t know where to begin to think about this scent. If his intent is to create riddles wrapped in mysteries inside enigmas, I’m not sure anyone could ever be his equal! However, if you really want to help people understand these concoctions, you need to think about where they are at on their “journey.” For example, on that same BN thread about Emblem, I pointed out that LT doesn’t emphasize (if he has ever acknowledged) how our perceptions or sensitivities can change, which is important, because you don’t want to dismiss a scent too quickly if you take this hobby at all seriously. By contrast, LT seems to think he can disregard many scents within a few minutes, with little or no explanation –  how does this help his readers? Are they to simply obey him blindly?  Someone criticized this point, and I responded with:

Not denying something doesn’t even mean the person is aware of it! If you write a book called “Perfumes: The Guide,” and don’t explicitly state that sensitivities/perceptions can vary, you clearly are not placing much importance on it. LOL.

Moreover, LT has acknowledged that with some scents he reviewed there wasn’t what one would call a great deal of study, let alone a second wearing. And while it may be the case that LT is one of the few people who has a more or less entirely consistent perception of these complex concoctions, that isn’t likely to be helpful to most of his readers, I’d guess. I don’t mind if people disagree, but I would like them to weigh in so that we know where they stand, and some rationale for their positions would be nice as well.

In the early days of personal computers, I had access to a PC Junior, and was fiddling around with BASIC. I created a program called “The Guru.” You would ask it questions and it would flash colors and make some beeping noises for several seconds, then provide one of perhaps forty different responses, randomly chosen. These responses were along the lines of, “time will answer your question if you live an earnest life.” My point here is that while it may be acceptable to tell readers that you find some scents beneath contempt, if you explain why, of course, if you don’t give many if not most scents a “fair chance” aren’t you doing something similar? You don’t know what the reader is seeking, what his or her budget is, etc. It’s fine to “challenge” your readers to some degree, but if you are being paid to write reviews, shouldn’t you at least talk about your assessment of a scent in quite a bit of detail (or provide some sort of criteria that you use)? In my experience, it seems that some “experts” think they have “paid their dues” and so readers will have to try and understand their cryptic or esoteric ruminations as best they can. I doubt the ones who have this attitude are thinking this way consciously, but the best I can do is to point out my notion and hope it generates more self-awareness!

Of course, there’s a bit difference between someone being paid to write such reviews and someone with a free blog. If I suddenly became rich and decided to publish a fragrance magazine, for example, I would require the reviewers I hired to describe the scent in question in detail. If they were not willing to do that, they would not work for me for very long, that’s for sure. Perhaps there is a kind of “insider” element involved here, that is, certain kinds of reviews (in certain venues) are for well-to-do people who don’t really know much about scents but want to think that they do, and LT’s reviews might provide these people with the kind of linguistical patterns that reinforce their sense of specialness, without requiring them to actually study scents in detail. And this reminds me of a recent documentary/mockumentary called “Kumare.” I found it quite fascinating, and as I watched it, I was thinking that many people might seek this same kind of guru in the realm of “fine perfumery.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Criticizing the critics.

What are the “ingredient quality” changes in recent years?

A couple years ago I met a woman who worked in the fragrance industry two or three decades ago. She told me that the essential oil content is now much lower (she was speaking in general terms of course), and that the formulations are much cheaper. I asked her if she would agree to an interview for my blog, and while she initially agreed, after I sent her a list of questions I never heard back from her (I tried contacting her a couple more times, but never got any responses). “Fast forward” to about a week ago, when I acquired some “Aktuell” Cologne by Johann Maria Farina, which looks like it’s from the 1970s. I did some research but “came up empty,” though I did find this very interesting interview with this man (or one of his descendents, presumably):

http://www.basenotes.net/interviews/20090617.html

In that interview, a Basenotes.net member, Tom Clark, asked him questions that I think is worth exploring. The first is:

TC: How has buying essential oils changed through the years?

JMF: It used to be much more difficult. That’s why we can sell our cologne at a much lower price than in the past. Oils are much cheaper now, due to effective transportation and enhanced production and processing techniques. We have better information systems. I know what harvests will be like well in advance for bergamot or jasmine. Acreage has increased, too, though it is stagnant now or slightly shrinking, because big players like P&G or L’Oréal hesitate to use naturals in most cases. If they mass-produced a luxury product with, say, real bergamot oil, they would have to corner the market and prices would skyrocket – there will probably be 120 tons of bergamot oil this year. So they have had to switch to synthetics. Opium is a typical example – very high essential oil content at the outset, but as it became more and more successful, they had to increasingly replace the naturals with synthetics.

The second question concerned the use of “genunie Mysore sandalwood,” to which the response was

…We do not need much of it, of course. In terms of quantity, we primarily need citrus, some jasmine… but sandalwood is no problem, if you require, say five or ten kilograms. If you needed one, two hundred kilos, you’d be in trouble, you would overstrain the market. Same with jasmine, which costs between eight and 15,000 Euros a kilo. Even if you had the money, you could not buy 500 kilograms. In a way the market for essential oils has remained what it always was and should be – very exclusive, not suitable for mass products, and that’s what I like about it. Purchasing has become more direct – producers provide samples from the current harvests and I test which provenances and quantities of bergamot I will need to recreate our fragrance. It’s like with champagne – your Veuve Clicquot is supposed to taste the same from year to year, so we have to blend oils from different regions. This is why the formula as such wouldn’t enable you to recreate the perfume. You need to know which provenances to blend and the know-how of doing so. Like with coffee, tea,…

The most obvious conclusion one can draw from this, assuming it’s accurate (and I haven’t been provided with any reason to think otherwise), is that the vintage designer scents are not going to be replicated any time soon. Even if you found an independent perfumer and paid him or her a whole lot of money, you might not be satisfied with the attempt at replication. As perfumer Chris Bartlett has pointed out:

The bottom line though is that reformulating something is like trying to imitate a fragrance for which the formula is unknown – ten times harder than making one from scratch – no wonder many fragrances are just discontinued instead. Something I frequently have to explain to potential customers who imagine I’m going to be able to make them a version of Shalimar at a fraction of the price…

http://www.basenotes.net/t/292501/ifra-standards-a-summary

Instead, there is every reason for major fragrance companies to simply use as many synthetics as possible, generally-speaking, though I wonder if and how their sales people are taught to explain the differences between their niche-like line (for those that have marketed one, of course) and their more common and less expensive offerings. To be sure, there have been some new molecules developed in recent years that are quite pleasant, but it seems that these molecules are often used in excessive amounts or that even at low levels they begin to irritate within an hour or so. Perhaps this is less of an issue for those who have little or no experience with vintage, but I’m certainly not going to spend over $50 for a scent that becomes irritating within an hour or two – this is “dollar store” territory, IMO. And from of all places, there is this statement about Andy Tauer from the FromPyrgos blog:

Andy spent the better part of three years gathering the quality materials that make this fragrance so captivating, and he reissued it in March to critical acclaim. The density of its spices, the headiness of its floral notes, and the smoothness of its ambery base all reveal the unhurried commitment he has to the finished product, and I’m grateful that he has given the world another chance to enjoy this scent. When you work for yourself and create perfumes to fit exotic dreams and ideals and not a brand image, you have the power and freedom to create and sustain amazing things, and that is manifestly the case with L’eau d’épices.

In my experience, the use of synthetics today seems far more extensive than say thirty years ago, and even can be felt at what one might call the “true niche” level. Perhaps the biggest “problem” with designer level scents today is that too many share quite a bit in common with more “utilitarian” products, such as deodorant sticks. The old idea that you were spending more on a designer scent in order to experience a kind of olfactory elegance seems long gone, and that may be the harshest criticism one can level at “the industry.” Moreover, while only a small percentage of the population may know about niche, there is very little that I’d consider “elegant” among those kinds of offerings. However, my opinion at this point, consistent with my “near-sighted perfumer” notion, is that it’s not so much about synthetics ruining the vintage designer scents but rather the compositions. As Johann Maria Farina also said in the interview mentioned above:

When I’m not wearing our own, Eau Sauvage is number one – the most accomplished refinement of Eau de Cologne. And it’s only by virtue of that one iso jasmonate. Phenomenal. It’s powerful stuff. If you added it to our Eau de Cologne, you would get Eau Sauvage. Truly phenomenal.

I would add that the “next step” beyond Eau Sauvage is vintage Uomo? Moschino. Whether it is a step too far for you is of course your decision, but I’ve found that if I’m in the mood it too is “truly phenomenal,” and after doing some layering “experiments,” I’ve found that it layers well with Roadster by Cartier. So, if it starts to irritate me, I spray some Roadster above where I sprayed the Uomo? Moschino and that cuts down on the sharpness. So, while I am generally very disappointed in recent designer offerings, I do think one should keep one’s eyes open for such “hidden gems” (and try to get the first formulation!). And if you already have some scents that are good for layering, such as those that quickly dry down to a simple, natural-smelling amber, you might want to basically do what the best designer scents do, which is to combine synthetics and naturals that are complex, dynamic, rich, and deep.

UPDATE: There is a thread at Basenotes.net that those interested in this subject may want to read. My opinion, after reading this thread, is that all “oud scents” are likely dominated by synthetic oud “constructions” rather than actual oud. While the company may have used a tiny amount so that they can claim there is real oud in the concoction, it is not of olfactory significance. Moreover, if you want “real oud,” then you should buy oud, not an “oud scent.” One BN member claimed that vintage M7 did a good job of representing what a real oud might smell like, at least for a while (and it was also pointed out that oud varies greatly, so quality control would be a proverbial nightmare for any such product that is marketed to the public). And it was also claimed that using a reasonable amount of real oud to a scent with some other notes wouldn’t make any sense, because it is already “complete,” in a sense, and one would detract from the natural oud odor rather than enhance it in any positive way. Here is the link to that thread:

http://www.basenotes.net/threads/383152-Confirmed-Real-or-Synthetic-Oud

Leave a comment

Filed under The basics.

What does a “ruined” scent really smell like ?

I had written up a draft for a post that addresses a report about two very old perfume bottles, but then I read a post on another blog and thought that it would be best to combine it with another I was working on, because the same issues are examined. So, what you will find below are basically two posts, and in between is another picture, which is how you will know you are moving on to the second one. The first was tentatively titled “What do you say to a person who just doesn’t listen to you?” The reason for this will become clear as you read it.

Over at the FromPyrgos blog (in a post entitled “A Useful Bit Of Advice”), readers are told not to go into a “tizzy” about something the author says. How would he know if a reader became upset by what he said or not? Can he read the minds of people he doesn’t know? In any case, the statement in question is this one:

Air in the bottle will change things, ever so subtly at first, but given enough time and a combination of other natural factors, like temperature, humidity, and exposure to sunlight, will eventually ruin the perfumer’s idea, and create a fragrance very different from that which he formulated.

First of all, this is the same person who has claimed that some scents need to oxidize to some degree in order for them to mature, or some such notion for which I have yet to see scientific evidence. To be sure, there may be some very minor changes, but I doubt anyone would notice these, unless the person studied the scent in great detail or if the bottle was stored under the worst conditions imaginable. Secondly, he seems to think that because a “great perfumer” said something, that it is not only true, but that he has the right to distort that statement. Let’s look at what the perfumer, Guy Robert, actually said:

Once you have opened the bottle, a light oxidation process takes place inside. If you forget to close the bottle after you have used the perfume, this will only speed up the process. The fresh, fleeting top notes of the fragrance will tend to “calm down” a bit; it’s true that this will not completely ruin the fragrance, but it will change the initial impression you get from your perfume.

http://perfumeshrine.blogspot.com/2014/05/how-to-best-preserve-your-perfume.html

So we go from Robert saying that the scent won’t be ruined, and it sounds like he mostly thinks the top notes will change, to the FromPyrgos author saying the scent will be eventually ruined, or at least the “perfumer’s idea,” whatever that may mean (since, presumably, other perfumers are aware that changes can take place quickly). Has any perfumer ever demanded that his or her “creation” not be worn if it doesn’t smell ideal? And since top notes don’t last long and people usually don’t spray a scent on and leave their houses immediately, what would it matter in almost all cases?

It sounds to me like this author is in a “tizzy” because so many people clearly prefer vintage scents, and from what I’ve seen that is behind a sharp rise in ebay prices on these bottles (though one can still sometimes get a reasonably good deal with patience). And as some have said, they have no interest in the new formulations of many “classics” because the same materials are clearly not being used any more. In more than a few cases, I’ve noticed that some scents bear little resemblance to the original formulations, and there is often an excessive usage of “laundry musks” these days, both in new releases and reformulations.

If you want a generic, “laundry musk” scent, that’s perfectly fine with me, but the claim of “ruined” or “turned” scents is totally inconsistent with my several years of experience “vintage hunting,” and I couldn’t care less about the “perfumer’s idea.” Nor do I recall anyone other than this author suggesting that a person should not wear a scent if it is not in accord with exactly what the perfumer intended. I also think this is a ridiculous distortion of the fragrance industry reality, which includes perfumers being given a brief to follow and not having the “final say.” In situations where this may not be the case, we get scents like JC Ellena’s iso e super nightmares (IMO, of course), which I would not even consider wearing (and I try not to be near anyone who does)!

Robert does say that sunlight can “kill” a scent, which is not something I can recall the FromPyrgos author mentioning. But again, that’s not something anyone is disputing, that is, I certainly would not “blind buy” a bottle that I knew had been “abused” in that way, but when you “vintage hunt” you rarely have any idea what was done with that bottle for years, and the seller often does not either. You take a chance. And doing this, I have only experienced a couple of scents (in “splash” bottles) that smelled like varnish for several minutes, before the nice drydown emerged. Some may claim this is a “turned” or “ruined” scent, and so I ask those people to swap with me, because as I’ve said before, I’ll take a great vintage drydown over almost all new releases just about every time.

The Robert statement, “once you have opened the bottle,” is ambiguous. The book was apparently published in 2000, yet it sounds like he is referring to splash bottles. How do you “open” a sealed spray bottle? These bottles always leave some space for air, and even before they were sealed, they were exposed to air for some amount of time. Moreover, after you spray it, you can store it upside down, which I’ve heard at least one “expert” recommend (I’ve also heard this said about jars of sauce). If it is a splash bottle, though, what makes the first time one opens it so different from the time before it was sealed for retail sale, assuming the bottle is not defective?

Lastly, I think the most obvious point to make is that if all the vintage aficionados were wearing “ruined” scents, not only would they have to be unaware of it, but the people who were near them would have to never say anything to them about how bad the scent smelled. So, perhaps one day this author will clarify his claim, and tell us whether he thinks the vintage aficionado should hang his or her head in shame because the person has desecrated the “perfumer’s idea” or whether he thinks these people are walking around smelling like skunks (or both). And how about supplying readers with some evidence? The Old Spice study he cited at least once actually demonstrated the opposite! Whatever the case may be, I find these attempts to revisit a clearly ludicrous notion (or perhaps two) more humorous than anything else.

So, I doubt the author will refrain from fighting the usual “straw men” in the future, but I’ll make a few things clear here for others:

1. I don’t know anyone who claims that scents never change, and considering how few people .

2. I have yet to see scientific evidence that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that most vintage scents smell awful, unless perhaps the bottles were stored under the worst conditions imaginable.

3. Being concerned with the “perfumer’s idea” is clearly not something many people worry about if they buy a vintage scent. In fact, even when there are apparent bad formulations, I’ve read reviews in which the person said that it was still worth having because at least the general idea was present.

4. Whether the author likes it or not, some people totally disagree with him about the value of vintage scents and wear these on most days. I doubt any of them are in a tizzy because he thinks they are wearing “ruined” scents !

NOTE: “Browned” (oxidized) apples are not unhealthy and brown bread crust seems to have health benefits, for example:

http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/food-nutrition/facts/eating-bread-crust.htm

Over at Basenotes.net, someone posted this report:

http://www.bermudasun.bm/FTP/pdf/PF1406_Brackstone_CoverStory.pdf

I’ll get right to the point here: the conditions for preservation were claimed to be excellent, yet both bottles contained a scent that smelled strongly of rotten citrus. One also smelled strongly of hydrogen suflide, which many if not most people associate with rotten eggs! This certainly smells like a clearly “turned” scent, but some “experts” have argued that those who mostly enjoy vintage scents (especially 20 to 40 years old) are wearing “turned” scents! As I’ve pointed out in at least one previous post, this is a rather absurd claim, because if true, it would require a few things, none of them being very likely to occur.

First, a large number of people, many of whom enjoyed the scent when it was “fresh” (and who are aficionados), would spray on something that smelled terrible and think it smelled great. Next, they would have to receive few if any comments that the scent smelled quite bad. Finally, they would not be able to tell the difference between scents that had “turned” and those that were still well preserved, perhaps just missing some top notes or with a bit of note “shifting.” To date, i have seen no strong scientific evidence for this claim, and the evidence I have seen suggests the opposite !

This report about these two bottles that are about 150 years old may tell us something quite interesting about these mass-market concoctions of the last several decades, however, which is that if a scent is all natural or nearly so it is unlikely to “hold together” no matter what the conditions are like. By contrast, if a scent contains a large amount of synthetics, conditions may not need to be optimal in order for it to stay intact, at least to meet the standards of most vintage aficionados, who likely are more interested in the drydown/base as opposed to top notes. Another possibility is that natural citrus notes easily “turn” and that a scent with a large amount of it is not likely to last for decades in “good condition.”

Despite obtaining many old scents, often in splash bottles and with no idea of the conditions in which they existed for decades, the only thing I’ve encountered in the “turned” context is a kind of varnish odor, which dissipates within the first hour. I’m more concerned about the potency of such scents rather than the smell, actually. Some of these seem to be a bit weaker than I thought they’d be. However, whenever I decanted some into an atomizer they seemed to be stronger, so I’m not even sure this is something with which to concern oneself, even to a minor degree. One thing I have yet to experience is a scent with a rotten citrus smell, other than ones in which it was apparently intended, such as when I sprayed on some Terre d’Hermes at a Sephora several years ago!

Leave a comment

Filed under Criticizing the critics.

Why I decided (finally) to buy a bottle of Aspen.

Like British Sterling, this was another “cheapo” that I never knew anyone else to wear, nor sampled myself. Over the last several years, I’ve been tempted, because it was compared to Cool Water and Green Irish Tweed, but with a “cheap” drydown, I didn’t see the point. I also read that it had a “soapy” quality, and seeing that the list of notes included lavender, was concerned that it would be unbalanced, as is so often the case with lavender in “masculine” scents. However, the other day I wore 273 for Men by Fred Hayman, and a thought crossed my mind: this may be what Aspen is like, but with the addition of pine.

Because of my experience with awful reformulations, though, I was not going to buy a new formulation intentionally, so I began to scroll through ebay listings, looking for a bottle that appeared vintage. The one I found was a 100 ml splash bottle with a tag that said the MSRP was $29.95, but your price was $9.95, for some inexplicable reason. I remember that kind of marketing when I was young and figured these were good signs. Moreover, the bottle shape looked different from ones that have been sold in recent years, to my knowledge. When it arrived, I noticed a web site listed, so this probably can’t be older than the late 1990s. The URL, aspencologne.com, generated an “operation timed out” message when I tried to access it. The label on the bottom of the bottle was white paper and only contained the most basic information. My conclusions is that this is circa 2000 or a bit earlier, which is what the seller thought it was.

Fragrantica.com has the notes for this 1989 release as:

Top notes are bergamot, galbanum, green notes and lemon; middle notes are coriander, cyclamen, geranium, jasmine, lavender, juniper and orange blossom; base notes are amber, cedar, oakmoss, musk and balsam fir.

As to the scent, it first came across as a bit “blob”-like, with a clear and strong camphorous/mentholated quality (with “green” qualities underneath, so to speak), though some of the lavender/fougere element seemed to be present. It does not register as similar to Cool Water or GIT, other than in a very general way, at this point, though that could be due to the strong the mentholated quality, which might largely mask any elements in common. After perhaps an hour I began to get the same sweet element one finds in CW, but considerably toned down. It also became a bit powdery, and the “fresh” element, likely dihydromyrcenol, became more obvious too. Unlike CW and GIT, there isn’t good note separation here, but the drydwon smells pleasant enough, especially for the price (of course this may not be true for new formulations, if they aren’t the same as what I have).

After this, it gradually gets weaker, and four or five hours later smells similar to CW: it is musky, a little sweet/powdery, and with clear jasmine, along with amber and perhaps a hint of woods. I don’t get any distinct pine and I wouldn’t call it “soapy,” though the mild lavender could “spike out” for some people, presumably. It’s reasonably natural smelling, with no aroma chemical overload (less dihydromyrcenol than CW and GIT, I would guess), and very slightly animalic. I can’t help but think this could have been a “Holy Grail” pine scent if that mentholated quality had been omitted and pine substituted in its place (the green notes/galbanum probably don’t need to be as strong at first as well). Instead, I consider Bowling Green to be more of a “pine scent,” and this can’t touch Pino Silvestre. Instead, it’s rather complex, and sort of moves around in ways that don’t make much sense, at least relative to a scent like GIT, though I consider CW to possess unnecessary and unpleasant note clashes.

Unlike Aspen, 273 for Men has much clearer notes, but in any case I’ll have to try Aspen again to see if it’s less of a blob and/or if the mentholated quality seems less pronounced. It may work when you don’t want the violet leaf in GIT but would like something “in the same ballpark” though then you’ll get a CW type drydown after a few hours. At least for this formulation, there is nothing “cheap” about it, unless you think vintage CW is cheap. One thing that had led me to be highly skeptical of reviews, no matter whether an “expert” or newbie writes them, is how certain things I consider basic are rarely mentioned (or are outright wrong if they are mentioned). For example, Cool Water (vintage) has quite a bit of sweetness to it (as does Molto Smalto) but lacks a fougere accord, whereas GIT is not a sweet scent (if it is, then what scent is not?). For some reason, many if not most reviewers simply don’t detect sweetness, unless perhaps the scent is super-sweet (or very dry and lacking in sweetness). Also, I’d like to know if scents such as CW and GIT possess noticeable if not abundant dihydromyrcenol (they do), and I don’t think more than one review mentions whether Aspen does as well (and in that case I don’t agree with the reviewer, who thinks there is too much). In any case, for the price you can’t “go wrong” with vintage Aspen, so long as the opening doesn’t bother you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fragrance Reviews.