The Myth of the “Chameleon” Scent ?

There are more than a couple of iterations of what may best be referred to as a myth, and I certainly can’t say I have ever thought the claimant was insincere (stubborn, perhaps, yet not insincere), but the recent commentary about Dior’s Sauvage has brought these notions to new heights! One version I’ve addressed on a few occasions is something along the lines of “wow, I can’t believe how much stronger the scent became after I used up about half an ounce and it had a chance to mature over a few month’s time.” Another one, more or less the opposite, involves a person saying that the scent doesn’t seem as strong as it did on the first couple of wearings. I have experienced a scent appearing to be less interesting after the first few wearings, most likely due to becoming used to new dominant notes, accords or aroma chemicals.

In the case of Bleu de Chanel and now Sauvage, many have claimed that these are generic yet quite a few say that these don’t smell exactly like anything else. I disliked BdC so much I never cared to study it closely, and I have yet to sample the EdP or Sauvage. The thing I find most amusing is the claim that a scent must have “something going for it” if it seems to smell a little bit like a bunch of scents but yet not that much like any particular one. This is true for so many vintage scents it’s “common knowledge” to us vintage aficionados. For example, there is Boss Cologne/Number One and Tenere. To a lesser degree (IMO), one could add Iquitos to these. If you have smelled a few of these they may or may not smell very similar to you, or even “clones,” but if you are going to wear a scent every day you will likely be able to detect differences, not only among a few (or more) that smell the same, but also with the same scent.

The reason for this might involve what one Fragrantica member called “olfactory familiarity.” For example, as a newbie I had just about no perception of sweetness in a scent, but now it is a major factor for me, not that I must have a scent with a certain amount of it. Rather, the way it exists in the composition is crucial. For example, I might like Cool Water for Men if it wasn’t so sweet. On the other hand I might dislike Green Irish Tweed if it was “on the sweet side.” And I think that dihydromyrcenol irritated me as a newbie, whereas now I seem to enjoy it so long as the rest of the composition works for me. With Cool Water, for instance, the composition generates irritating note clashes.  However, Molto Smalto is somewhat similar (it’s also sweet), but is simpler, and possesses sandalwood and amber notes rather than Cool Water’s “woody/amber,” which I tend to find irritating if it’s too strong

Now it would be very easy to say of a whole bunch of scents that are at least somewhat similar to Cool Water what has been said about Sauvage. If someone said that Cool Water smells a little like GIT, Molto Smalto, Carlo Corinto Rouge, Aspen for Men, etc., but that nothing smelled exactly like it, for instance, that would be accurate (especially if the person was a newbie), but it would not be all that helpful unless the differences were also disclosed. I suppose if someone hated everything about CW then it might help someone who wants to avoid even the slightest trace of the “Cool Water vibe,” but even that may not be the case. My sense is that this claim has been made by people who either don’t have much experience with a wide range of scents or aren’t thinking the situation through properly. That is, one could say the same thing about perhaps 90% of the “masculines” released over the last forty or more years, but they don’t because they have been as fixated as so many appear to have become recently about Sauvage.

In Turin’s and Sanchez’ “Perfumes: The Guide,” Turin tells us that a friend of his (who was in the fragrance industry for many years) thought that Le Baiser du Dragon smelled like Old Spice from the early 1970s! Turin seemed to think this was at least somewhat accurate, and of course these share a little in common, but not a whole lot (IMO); again, can’t we say similar things about 90% or so of the “orientals” marketed over the last several decades? Moreover, I would estimate that I’ve read that perhaps thirty to forty scents smelled like Old Spice since I began reading reviews back in 2007. This is the kind of phenomenon I was taught to consider back in grad school, perhaps with the question: “but is it the case that this claim is true for many others, and if so, isn’t your claim thereby of no major significance?” If the person was thinking critically, he or she might then respond with, “yes, I am going to use this as an example of a general trend [or phenomenon].” Of course, in the case of Sauvage, a few ardent apologists stepped forward quickly, and seemed to be grasping at proverbial straws in their “defenses” of it. I don’t see why it matters, since there is already a huge variety from which to choose. It seems like quite a few people had “high expectations,” and were bitterly disappointed, but in light of recent trends, I don’t understand why they would be so surprised!

NOTE: There are a whole bunch of scents that one could claim are similar to Envy for Men, including Eryo, Devotion for Men, Carven Homme, Nemo, L’Occitane’s Vetyver, Heritage, Zino, Floris Santal (according to many online comments/reviews), and ST Dupont Signature Pour Homme (perhaps Witness too), and this is just in my experience (I’m not a huge fan of these but once every few months I find myself seeking to wear one of them). Zino and Heritage are further away from Envy than the others, IMO, with Carven Homme being in the middle, so to speak. Some might say that at times Rocabar, Bois du Portugal, New York by PdN, vintage Pierre Cardin Monsieur and others smell similar to Evny, or they might say that on Monday scent X smelled like Envy but on Tuesday they were thinking it smelled more like scent Y, then on Wednesday it smelled more like scent X than any other. I don’t see how this is especially helpful, at least for my purposes. If someone says something like, “this scent has a lot of dihydromercenol, isn’t sweet at all, and is citrus-oriented,” I know that this is one to avoid “blind-buying.” I might be wrong but I am basing my decision on my experiences and “track record.” Saying that a scent smells like some other scent on Monday, and a different one on Tuesday, then yet another on Wednesday only tells me that I probably should not place too much weight on those comments/reviews. As I’ve said before, when I correlate the reviews (assuming there are more than a few), notes, release date, and “house,” I can usually tell if I should “bargain hunt” or wait until I can sample or get a great deal, such as if it’s part of a lot of bottles I purchase at a major discount.

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The “modernization” of vintage scents.

You’ve likely heard this term used, and I’ve used it too, but I can’t remember anyone addressing it in any detail, so that’s the point of this post. There are too many examples of what one might call a modernized scent, including flankers, reformulations, and new scents that seem to have been inspired by older ones. So, Kouros Fraicheur could be viewed as a modernized version of Kouros. Even if most people would disagree with this notion, it certainly might serve this function for some people. And of course there are plenty of obvious reformulations, which some claim are better because they are more “modern.” For these, at least in some cases, what seems like dilution is being lauded, which makes no sense to me because I’d rather just use less of the original formulation!

But then there are those which change a basic idea into something that seems more wearable. Recently, I could have purchased a 4 ounce bottle of Passion for Men by Elizabeth Taylor for very little, so I sampled my vintage mini bottle of it, and at first I thought I’d go ahead with the purchase. However, as time went by, I found myself thinking that something is wrong, because it’s becoming irritating. Whether the lavender is too strong or the notes are clashing (or something else) I realized that if I bought it I would not wear it. Moreover, I have similar vintage scents that I can wear, including Pub Cologne, Witness, and Night Spice, though I rarely wear them. So, in recent days I’ve been buying mostly on the basis of price and notes/reviews that seem promising (in the case of “blind buys””). And that led me to Phoenix by Keith Urban.

I had no idea who Keith Urban is when I purchased the bottle, and it wouldn’t make any difference to me in any case, because I’ve found that I enjoy quite a few “celebuscents,” including Unbreakable, KISS Him, Rebelle, Elvis Cologne, and Fancy Nights. The notes for Phoenix are (from

…blackberry, cognac and suede; middle notes are musk, canadian balsam and mexican chocolate; base notes are woodsy notes, tonka bean, amber and leather.

The reviews suggested that the notes are “real” and not a figment of the perfumer’s imagination, though I can’t say I’ve detected any clear cognac note. During my first two wearings I got a strange varnish-like quality, which others mentioned, but that doesn’t last long – I assume it’s a combination of suede and cognac. The blackberry is quite strong at first as well, and then perhaps half an hour later I detected the chocolate note. A leathery/woody note appears later, but the tonka is quite strong, though amber makes it a bit heavier and slightly syrupy. On the third wearing I didn’t get much of the varnish-like quality, and instead the tonka with a bit of amber seemed quite strong, along with the blackberry (which is the kind of phenomenon I mention when people say their scents have changed after the first several wearings).

And after a few minutes I realized that there was something in this scent that was very familiar, followed by the scent in question: Bogart Pour Homme (2004). The notes for that one are:

…lavender and bergamot; middle notes are orange blossom, lily-of-the-valley and rose; base notes are tonka bean, patchouli, musk, oakmoss and cedar.

So, thinking about it further, my sense was that lily and rose were replaced by blackberry and chocolate (among the strongest note, and leaving aside the odd varniosh-like quality in Phoenix, since it doesn’t last long). And then I thought to myself that this is why I don’t wear BPH or Passion often (if at all in the case of the latter) – too many strong notes that seem to clash are present. In Phoenix, by contrast, the strong notes seem to provide a little contrast, but they complement each other. I can’t recall blackberry being used in any “mainstream” masculine scents more than ten years ago, and chocolate wasn’t common either, so I think calling Phoenix a sort of modernization of BPH may be a useful conceptualization. Obviously, some people might prefer BPH but the “masculine rose” was certainly not novel ten years after BPH was released, whereas Phoenix’s composition was when it was released, to my knowledge, at least for lower end designers and celebuscents. And unlike BPH, I get no “synthetic” qualities from Phoenix!

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Someone finally took me up on my “spoiled bottle” offer !

I had first made the offer to buy “spoiled” quite a long time ago, but had reiterated it a few times, IIRC. The last time I did was about a week ago, and finally someone took me up on it. The person said that the scent, Chocolat Mat;, smelled like “cat pee.” This person claimed to have had many scents “go off,” and so it was especially useful to get a supposedly spoiled bottle from such a claimant (as well as to have the scent said to smell so bad). My guess is that some people do smell something very bad, but it’s not the scent by itself. It may be related to things like what the person ate the night before, for example. I don’t know how many people have walked by me who have reeked of garlic, for instance, yet they seemed blissfully unaware! If such people were fragrance aficionados, and only ate such meals a few times a year, what would result? Would at least some spray a scent on, have it mix with their body’s garlic stench, and then blame the the contents of the bottle? That is my guess as to what often leads to such claims.

Moreover, it’s interesting to note how many such spoilage claims are about bottles that were produced within about a five year period, and none, to my recollection, involved all natural scents with notes that are more likely to “go bad” or be lost in such a period of time. Also, I don’t remember any such claimants mentioning that scents have smelled different to them from one wearing to another, whereas someone like myself, who has experienced this often, has yet to encounter a scent with a “spoiled” drydown, despite having a few hundred or more bottles of five years age or older pass through my hands since late 2007. My impression is that many are “newbies” who bought scents by companies like Creed and expected some sort of olfactory epiphany, which they may have (in their own way of thinking) the first time or two they wore it, but then after a while it just didn’t seem that “great” any longer. To them I say, “welcome to the club.” This is very common, and it’s why I try not to wear a scent again for at least about a month.

Now, on to this bottle of Chocolat Mat; I’ve been enjoying these kinds of scents lately. Those would include Phoenix by Keith Urban, A*Men, Rebelle, Jesus del Pozo in Black, and Evolution/Rocawear. However, I wore L’Instant Pour Homme recently and didn’t like it due to the strength of the musk, not due to the gourmand aspect nor the anise, patchouli, and wood. Chocolat Mat; begins with a great chocolate note, so good and strong I don’t get much else, perhaps a touch of powdery rose. However, after a minute or so it was almost all gone (2 sprays to the chest). After a couple hours I sprayed three more times to the same spot, and again it was very weak, though this time I detect something melon-like. lists the notes as:

Top notes are black currant, grapefruit, watermelon and rose; middle notes are dark chocolate and cacao; base notes are sandalwood, coconut and musk.

After an hour or so with hardly anything detectable I sprayed once with Jacomo Rouge underneath wear I sprayed the CH; and that helped “amp it up.” I detected nothing remotely resembling any kind of urine, kitty litter, etc., though the combination of chocolate and melon is weird in its own unique way. My guess is that the person who thought it smelled like cat urine has skin chemistry that she is not very aware of, perhaps due to her diet (I decided not to inquire further because she seemed so convinced that the scent is what smelled bad). I was surprised, though, that anyone could say this scent smelled in any way bad – a little odd, quite weak, etc., but not bad. I was able to detect a very mild musk hours later, even after placing heavy cloth over where I sprayed the Jacomo Rouge, just to see if the allegedly bad odor showed up at that point. Now one thing that everyone contemplating a blind buy should do is to read the reviews from the major sites. In the case of Chocolat Mat;, some people do seem to think it has a foul aspect, for example:

But on me the citrus opening is muddied, grapefruit and currant combine in a weird slurry to give the early drydown a bilious aspect. It’s even a little vomit-y at this point, the sharp tang of throwup in the background.

Smells like nail polish on me.

After the initial chocolate opening, this smells vaguely fishy and aquatic.

There are a lot more “loves” and “likes” than “dislikes” on Fragrantica, and one person may have figured out why some dislike it (that is, one has to wait for the melon/aquatic type thing to dissipate):

I can not imagine anyone not liking this after it settles and I certainly can not imagine preferring the chocolate shop opening to the final product.

So, isn’t there an obviously much more likely explanation for the “cat pee” perception? Some people may not wear scents with that salty/fishy/aquatic quality, so to them the element, perhaps in conjunction with a gourmand one (at least in this case), leads to these kinds of negative comments. Is there any good reason to think that there are many if any bottles of Chocolat Mat; (originally released in 2005) that have “spoiled” (the glass of the bottle is painted in medium brown)? Why such people rush to make the spoilage claim is an interesting question, but not the question of spoilage itself, which makes no sense. Even vintage scents are largely synthetic, generally-speaking, and it’s the “naturalness” (along with complexity, depth, dynamism, etc.) that they seem to possess that makes them special, not necessarily the reality (after all, you can just pour vanilla extract on yourself, but will that smell better than a vintage scent with a strong vanilla note in the base – and that vanilla note might be synthetic!). Today’s designers tend to smell horribly “synthetic” by contrast.

Interestingly, claims about a “cat pee” odor seem to be getting more and more common, just as are claims about how some smell “delicious” or “oily,” none of which are especially helpful, at least to me, unless there is more included, because none of these terms relate to molecules with specific odors. Here’s an example, from a review of Adam Levine’s scent for men:

Reading the comments making me laugh! I’ve had this and while I enjoy it. Way more than the ladies version which is horrible. I cannot get over the fact it smells like straight up armpit stank! Every time I spray it and wear it for a while I smel horrible BO body odor I forgot deodorant my pits stink gross! But nope! It’s just my Adam Levine perfume lmao. So funny it’s not just me. Someone else even noted the cat pee smell

In this instance, we get “armpit stink” and “cat pee,” but that is not helpful, especially in light of the fact that neither caraway nor cumin are listed as notes or are mentioned by any reviewers (at least this would be consistent with the “armpit” smell notion). This reviewer, unlike others, though, didn’t think it “spoiled.” Most likely, such perceptions occur because the person is used to recent designer scents, which rarely incorporate anything that comes across as unpleasant when they do their consumer testing. Also, it may be more likely to occur with scents that have a gourmand element, because one day the person might smell the gourmand element predominantly, whereas on another day the animalic/spicy/sour elements prevail for the person. This only has to happen once for some people to think the scent had spoiled, perhaps because they have heard what some may call spoilage hysteria (as my long-term readers know, however, I hate the use of the word hysteria unless the person is demonstrating strong and apparently inappropriate emotions, which of course one can’t determine from words on a web page alone).

On another blog, this was said about me: “This particular basenotes member seems hell-bent on proving to the world that I’m wrong in my assertion that perfumes spoil. The thread he participates in (link here) is full of firsthand testimonies by people whose perfumes have spoiled.”

First, I couldn’t care less about what one blogger thinks (nor do I think spoilage is impossible, just so rare as to be not worth worrying about, assuming you don’t care about top notes), nor one perfumer, nor one “expert” (such as Luca Turin or Chandler Burr), unless evidence is presented that is in accord with science, logic, reason, statistics, etc. I mention statistics because we all know that whoever runs for President this year, there is no statistically possible way the Republican or Democratic candidates will garner 10% or less of the popular vote (assuming there isn’t some major event that prevents the election), no matter who the candidates are or what they say or do (other than perhaps committing multiple murders that are caught on video). How different is it from someone being told that it’s very common for vintage scents to “spoil” when he has extensive experience over a course of several years (with hundreds of bottles) and has not found one “spoiled” drydown? How many old bottles that look like they have survived World War II (barely) has that blogger, or Luca Turin, or Chandler Burr acquired over the last several years? I’ve still got plenty of them, quite a few in splash bottles, and while a few have unpleasant or odd top notes, none have “spoiled” drydowns. This is simply not statistically possible if vintage fragrances “spoil” after about 20 years or thereabouts (or even if only perhaps half do) – ask a statistician!

The fact that I offered to buy “spoiled” scents on several occasions, and IIRC only once or twice has anyone ever responded to those posts (despite the large number of people who read the thread) is telling, and this is the first time I have actually acquired a bottle this way! Those who complained about their spoiled Creeds that were a few years old, etc., didn’t respond – it was people who held a belief that spoilage was common who felt the need to say something, one saying something like, “who is going to take the time to do that?” And that’s after I said I might pay $40 or so, such as for certain Creed bottles. If I was that person, I wouldn’t just want the money, I would also want to show the person who doesn’t believe it that in fact spoilage occurs. I would keep some of it and then if the person said it wasn’t spoiled I would challenge him to have it examined by a person who could do a GC/MS study on it (I would send that person my sample and he/she would have to subject both to GC/MS to make sure there was no fraud. The person who was wrong could pay for the study to be done. That is truly “putting your money where your mouth is!” Interestingly, when two bottles were found in a shipwreck recently that were well over 100 years old, the perfumers claimed there was spoilage but the others (non-“experts”) didn’t perceive a problem!

So, are we to believe that amateurs today can detect spoilage in a Creed bottle that is five or so years old, despite buying it new and storing in properly, yet the same kind of people can’t detect obvious spoilage in two bottles that were over 100 years old and smelled terrible to the perfumers who smelled the scents? It is beyond ludicrous, but some people seem to get an idea in their heads and then there’s no way of getting it out. How many Americans still think Obama was born in another country, or is a “secret Muslim?” When assessing evidence, one must consider the “quality” and not just the quantity, though in this case there is neither; again, taking into account how many comments/reviews there are about bottles that are at least 20 years old, there should be a huge amount of spoilage complaints. Instead, the claims are often about recent scents (that are highly – if not entirely – synthetic relative to just about all vintage) and there is hardly ever anything specific said about drydowns. That is indeed evidence, but it’s support for the notion that spoilage of vintage drydowns is quite uncommon. Here is a passage from a post of mine on a recent thread, which mentions some good possibilities in this context:

1. What’s in the tube can indeed smell horrible so that needs to be cleared.
2. One can’t speak to splash bottles, just sealed spray ones.
3. Discoloration does not mean spoilage, nor does flaking (I suspect many people see such things and spray what’s in the tube, and say to themselves, “oh wow this is horrible” without testing the liquid that isn’t in the tube).
4. Some people are more interested in top notes, which may indeed “go bad” in certain compositions (and when those ingredients are more natural)…

On that same thread, someone posted this, which suggests that many minds are already “primed” to seek any indicator of “spoilage,” when in fact it’s highly unlikely and much more likely is that the burrito they ate the night before is the “real culprit:”

We went shopping today as I got a text that Creed was having specials; I dropped by the Creed Boutique and there was a bottle of Aventus which was colored slightly green. I think it’s safe to say it has begun the process of going bad(we have very humid summers and the high-end dept stores don’t turn on the A/C during closed hours). I was so thankful to a fellow Basenoter who’d given a heads up and written a thread about niche colognes going bad if improperly stored.

Perhaps spoilage paranoia is the proper phrase to use in these cases, as their seems to be a belief that is not rooted in reality, but that comes to the surface whenever a person like this sees something that “doesn’t look right.” In this case, some manufacturers decide to change the dye they use for one reason or another. I have seen that in a few cases, and while there can be some color change over time, I’ve only seen an orange/brown color get darker. I have some bottles of the same the scent where the color is darker, but there is no change in the smell, but I doubt facts are going to make much of a difference to such people. And this doesn’t bother me at all, because I suspect it will lead to more bottles being on the market for sale or swap, and at lower prices! However, I am surprised that despite all the spoilage complaints that only one person so far was willing to sell me their “spoiled” bottles – this suggests (though of course I can’t know) that strong emotions are involved. That is, just as many seem to have experienced strong negative emotions when they wore Sauvage and it wasn’t what they thought it might be, so too do the spoilage claimants want to “vent” emotions initially, but then get a grip on themselves and perhaps give the scent a second chance (and some of them may indeed have thrown their “spoiled” Creed bottle in the garbage, but I doubt many did).

NOTE #1: I have owned the exact same scent in the same bottle and of the same formulation, and color differences do sometimes occur. It could be a manufacturer’s decision to try a different color (when it’s obviously not due to anything else), but in cases where color may have darkened due to light exposure, I have only found some problematic top notes (once or twice) but never a spoiled drydown. Interestingly, I had a bottle of Micallef #31 that was leaking when it arrived (supposedly sealed spray bottle), and some of it got on my fingers. I thought that it smelled like vinegar and I was anxious to see if I had found my first truly spoiled scent (see note #3 below). I sprayed it on my arm and within about half an hour it smelled rich and spicy, with no signs of anything I would consider unpleasant, let alone spoiled. I wasn’t handling food – my hands were clean at that point – so that was odd, for sure. If anyone wants to claim that my skin turns spoiled scents into very pleasant ones, go ahead and do it. I’m confident in my experiences and research, which have led to my conclusions (though I’m open to changing these – I am only interested in the truth of the matter). My guess is that the leaking Micallef #31 had some residue on it because it had leaked for quite some time (the bottle was about 75% full and there was no sign of major leakage during shipping). So, the foul odor was due to newly leaked liquid mixing with the somewhat viscous residue that might have been present underneath the cap for year. This is yet another possibility when someone claims that a scent from a sealed spray bottle has spoiled.

NOTE #2: I don’t think anyone has mentioned this, but in Chandler Burr’s book about launching a scent by Sara Jessica Parker (“The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York”), it was mentioned that she bought up a very large number of “old stock” bottles (the scent in question was not disclosed) – Burr did not say anything about these bottles “spoiling” over time – and it certainly sounded like it would take her decades to use up the stock!

UPDATE: After writing the above but not publishing it, someone created a thread on Basenotes:

So I just got my hands on a vintage Memphis style splash bottle [of YSL’s Jazz].
Although it came more used than advertised, it’s in overall great condition, and a great find for me.

Now for the scent….

It’s a fresh lemony-herbal scent. Doesn’t smell outdated at all.
Matter of a fact, when I smelled the la collection version, I thought immediately that it’s very outdated.
The vintage however seems timeless and ever fitting in my book.

I can see how it laid the foundations for Chanel Platinum egotiste for example.

I am a little bit concerned that maybe I got a “mistreated” bottle that gone a little bad.

I believe my batch is 4292

So here’s what I would like to do…

Who ever has the same bottle and would not mind testing the juice I have, I will send them a small sample of the one I have

He apparently thought that the liquid in his vintage/first formulation of Jazz had to be “spoiled” because it smelled too good! This has become some sort of delusional notion, it seems, among more than a few. My advice: if you can’t tell the difference then do not buy splash bottles, but if you are interested in vintage drydowns, the odds are so good in your favor if you buy a sealed spray bottle that you shouldn’t even give it a second thought. There is a much, much greater chance that you will drop it and break it than that it is spoiled, I’d guess.

And then there was this review of Ted Lapidus’ Silk Way on Fragrantica, which suggests that the person realizes scents can smell very different from one wearing to another (for whatever reason):

Okay, I really do love this scent. I have found that there are times of the month that my skin chemistry goes wacko, and nothing smells good on me.

UPDATE #2: Here is another good example of what may be occurring in this context:

I returned my bottle of Bleu de Chanel. First two wearings I liked it, but the last three I grew to hate it…

When I was a newbie this happened to me with more than a few scents, as certain notes or aroma chemicals seemed to become stronger and in some cases irritate me.  This also can explain those who claim that their scents grow stronger after they use up a bit of it  Some scents are either novel (to the person in question) or complex, which lead to different perceptions with at least the first several wearings.  This has recently happened to me with Phoenix by Keith Urban, which is quite good for a “celebuscent,” IMO.



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Has the fragrance as collectible market finally taken off ?

First, I’ll mention a recent observation, that prices for a scent that doesn’t seem to be all that special, Oud Black Vanilla Absolute by Perry Ellis, have gotten “crazy” (I saw one at $300 on ebay, for example, with no “reasonable” prices to be found anywhere). I tried to grab one on beautyspin but they had just sold out! I think it was less than $40 at the time for 100 ml. Am I disappointed? Well, I certainly would have liked to make some “easy money” there, but I doubt the scent would have been something I’d be impressed with, at least around or beyond the $40 level. It’s supposed to be similar to the very expensive Spiritueuse Double Vanille by Guerlain, so upon what do I base my notion? I tried SDV and didn’t think it was anything special, at least for me. Second, some have said it’s a bit heavier than Cologne of the Missions by Le Couvent des Minimes, but otherwise similar. One reviewer perceives it the way I think I would:

OBVA is a refined vanilla scent that gets to the very heart of what makes vanilla great–the bean without the caked-over, artificially-heavy vibe. It might be ever so slightly boozier than SDV, so it leans toward Tauerville Vanilla Flash in that respect. OBVA still is not as refined and strong (in terms of projection and longevity) as SDV, but it’s decently close in both respects. Certainly a reasonably-priced substitute if it becomes available again at under 20% of the cost of SDV.

However, I doubt I would buy it if it came back down to $40 because I already have so many gourmands that I enjoy, and also the rum with vanilla idea doesn’t sound all that great to me (I make my own “rum cake” and think of it more as something to eat than breathe in all day long). About a week ago I obtained a 100 ml bottle of In Black by Jesus Del Pozo and found the drydown to be exactly what I was seeking, and it cost a lot less than $40, and I’ll also mention that I don’t like scents where the vanilla really dominates. A few weeks back I bought 100 ml of Black Oud by Remy Latour (again, for a lot less than $40), which is more vanilla-centered but has just enough contrast with other elements to render it enjoyable. And currently I own A*Men, a few of the flankers, and a bunch of other vanilla-dominant scents, such as Bvlgari Black, for quite some time.

So, other than for the price rise, I doubt OBVA would do much for me, but now I want to turn my attention to what this rise likely represents. I’ve seen this before in other collectible markets, and it’s not at all unusual. However, the price rise only stays high for the most prized items, but that is after a peak has been reached. It’s not clear if that is the case yet with these olfactory concoctions – that is what is difficult to determine. And what’s really strange here is that you can sometimes get a great deal, for example, the other day I obtained a 1 ounce bottle of Keith Urban’s Phoenix for well under $10, and I find it to be the challenging yet pleasant scent that I though most niche would be like when I was a newbie. And one former favorite, at least at, L’Instant Homme Extreme, can be purchased new for less than $40 now (75 ml). Why wouldn’t Perry Ellis (actually, the company that owns the license) simply make more of a scent that seems simple and cheap to make, especially now that they already have their formula established)? This is clearly not the kind of scent that likely to be changed significantly any time soon, from what I understand.

But such markets don’t listen to reason, at least not until more than a bit of “craziness” has had it’s day. The “Dutch Tulip Craze” is one example often cited, and with OBVA, one has to ask if we are witnessing a similar kind of thing with vanilla-scented liquid. Clearly, many people have become caught up in notions of either obtaining a “masterpiece” or making “big profits.” Once enough people with these kinds of ideas have an object to fixate on, such as particular scents, it’s “off to the races” with the prices. Those who rail against the “hype machine” don’t seem to realize it is part of the process, and it’s best to just try to keep one’s common sense intact. It’s a bit irritating, of course, but it’s best to try and figure out how it works than to experience strong negative emotions. On a practical level, if you “missed out,” why not buy some samples and use them over a period of a few months. By the time you use it up, you might find yourself asking why there is hype, and thinking that you can get more or less the same kind of enjoyment from a bottle you already own.

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The “fanboy” and a point about “quality.”

On a thread, one person responded (the person who started the thread said he was “done with Creed”) with:

I know I’m probably getting more and more labeled as “that Creed fanboy” around here but I don’t care and will say it : out of the hundreds of colognes I’ve tried and the dozens I own, I could sell everything and just keep Aventus and GIT and rock those two and be perfectly happy. That’s how good I think they are…

First, it does seem to be the case that some people can wear one or two scents all the time, which is fine with me. However, many of these same people don’t seem to understand that some of us can’t wear any scent more than once every week or two My explanation for the former kind of people, generally-speaking of course, is that they are “top notes people,” who experience little if anything more than the first half hour or so. If you read many reviews, you have probably noticed that some people will say that a scent has great longevity (though not necessarily projection) while others claim it has terrible longevity – that, I believe, is perhaps the most obvious evidence for this phenomenon.

In fact, I know some people who prefer aftershaves because they say that after ten minutes or so they do not want to deal with any strong smells. If the “fanyboy” could perceive much of the drydown, he’d probably realize that there aren’t many unique bases, so it’s a waste of money to spend hundreds of dollars to get something that isn’t all that unique. Among those who do perceive a significant part of the drydown, they may be correct that it is “superior,” and then the question becomes whether it is worth the cost (assuming they are not simply convincing themselves of something that isn’t true). Others have argued that a smell can’t be high or low quality, though it can be irritating to one person but not to another. Thus, it’s reasonable to argue that some scents are less likely to become irritating over time, and that the ones that are more likely to become irritating are those which contain larger amounts of aroma chemicals. With scents that contain low amounts of aroma chemicals, I’ve found that it’s more likely I’ll just not wear it in the first place, if I’m not in the mood for that kind of scent on that particular day.

One can’t generalize too much, however, because not everyone becomes sensitive to any aroma chemicals, and some people are bothered by certain ones but not others. And this can change over time, in terms of specific sensitives or overall sensitivity. Luca Turin has spoken of a certain quality that is only found in scents that contain expensive ingredients., and when I first sampled Lorenzo Villoresi’s Teint de Neige that was my thought. However, I couldn’t imagine wearing that one more than once a month, or thereabouts. Why? Because it’s not a composition I find especially compelling, at least not more than a once or month kind of compelling. Do I wish every scent I owned possessed such “high quality ingredients?” Sure, but that’s just not the world we live in! In the real world, I can buy a bunch of “cheapos” with compositions I find compelling, and wait until my sensitivities are such that I will enjoy wearing those.

So yes, “quality” is something that some of us can perceive, and at least for a period of time, we may be compelled to only wear “high quality” scents due to sensitivities, but on the other hand we can’t tell others not to wear scents, even dollar store ones, because these are “low quality.” We could tell them that in a particular social context they may be perceived by others present in a negative light (which may or may not be accurate, or that person may not find himself in such situations, rendering the advice worthless at best), but that seems to be about as far as one can go (and I wouldn’t tell someone that unless he or she asked about it specifically). And as for “fanboys,” it makes sense that someone who has a “busy life” wants to simply buy from a company that produces “quality” scents. I may think they are missing out on all kinds of interesting and pleasant olfactory experiences, but if it’s someone’s “loss,” it’s theirs and not mine!

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When it does and doesn’t matter to be “technical.”

On a recent thread, someone began a thread lamenting the overuse of Iso E Super:

I’ve been thinking about it for a while, that almost every time I catch a whiff of something remotely woody, I get the same resinous, sirupy, slightly sickly note that we know as Iso-E. It is really synthetic to me and kind of make everything smells the same. I find it happens a lot with female scents…

The problem is that he seems to be referring to what Luca Turin has called “crap amber,” though several different molecules may be involved in creating this effect. And for those who don’t know, the person is likely correct about crap amber being used in a lot of recent “feminine” scents, whereas “Iso E Super Overload” is more likely in “masculines.” Some who responded pointed this out to the person, with one mentioning that synthetic “white musks” are considerably more irritating, at least to him, than Iso E Super.

Of course, sensitivities vary from one person to another, even to specific molecules, and in my case I’ve noticed that these sensitivities change over time, sometimes to the point where I hardly notice the offending note, accord, or aroma chemical a month or so after it was really irritating me. If you are any kind of aficionado, this represents a potential problem, obviously, unless you are such low sensitivity to everything that even bad reformulations don’t seem to smell any different to you, presumably. What is one to do about this? My solution is simply to have a great deal of options on any given day, the only problem then being that I might have to scrub off a scent that I thought wouldn’t be bothersome, but for whatever reason it was.

A related issue involves reformulations, with some suggesting that original formulations don’t smell the same as they once did. I have yet to see any study of this supposed phenomenon that seems all that useful. For example, if one were to use gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy to study a bunch of old bottles of the same scent, perhaps with about half being splash and half being sealed spray bottles, that would be very interesting. My position has been that if they smell great, often better than anything available today, why should I care if they are a bit different now? And if they lost some of their top notes, again, I’m in it for the several hours of drydown, not the first five minutes, so it’s about as irrelevant as anything I can imagine.

By contrast, some reformulations have caused me outright nausea, such as one bottle of Lapidus Pour Homme (vintage began in 1987), whereas I consider the original formulation to be one of the best scents of all time! That is how much things can vary, at least for me, and let’s face it – you don’t care about someone else’s perceptions if you are an aficionado who buys at least some bottles because you like the scent (and don’t mind if nobody else in the world does). For some reason, more than a few people seem to feel the need to denigrate those who point out the differences they perceive, even as ebay prices continue to rise for such scents over time! And I’ll mention that if someone is only or largely interested in top notes, that’s perfectly fine with me, and it would help to know that if the person writes reviews on the major sites.

But getting back to the title of this post, a point that I think is important involves the use of the technical names of aroma chemicals. It’s clear that some people simply have no idea what they’re saying, whereas others may be wrong but are on “the right track.” In the case of Iso E Super, it’s possible that the person may be referring to calone, dihydromyrcenol, some kind of synthetic musk, or even some sort of synthetic amber! This is why it’s so important to read a bunch of reviews, if available, and correlate those with other information, such as when the scent was released, whether it appears to have been reformulated (especially if badly), what scent it may have been meant to emulate, etc. Thinking that one (or a small number of ) reviewer can provide all the information you require for a blind buy is simply ridiculous, but every now and then someone makes a comment that suggests this is the case.

In the case of Iso E Super, it should be easy enough to sample Terre d’Hermes, even if one has to go to the Crystal Flacon site and find a person who can make up a sample. As to a really bad “white” musk, I think Lalique White is a great example. I didn’t mind LW when I first tried it but then something began to really bother me in it, and now I can’t stand it even if I just take the cap off the bottle! In this case it doesn’t matter if my perceptions change because I didn’t find it compelling enough to begin with, but other scents would be enjoyable if it weren’t for some sort of musk, an example being the original Michael Kors scent for me, which I have liked and disliked over the years, depending upon my sensitivity to that molecule or molecules. And this is what’s so great about vintage scents (that didn’t contain a large amount of one molecule, such as Cool Water did with dihydromyrcenol), that is, I know it’s just a matter of seeking out a note or accord combination on that day – there’s no need to fear being bombarded with a particular aroma chemical, which might irritate me greatly.

NOTE: There are some combinations that I don’t enjoy, no matter how “vintage” they are, one being cedar and a certain kind of leather, apparently, though that might need to include some patchouli and/or lavender. The good thing for me at this point is that I don’t feel the need to acquire any new vintage bottles, because I think I have a sense as to what was possible back then and have been able to determine my preferences.

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What to do about questionable recommendations on the major fragrance sites?

I’ve pointed out how ridiculous it is to do something like suggest a high school guy wear vintage Kouros to his prom, but there seems to be no end to these kinds of comments. So, my thought here is to write a post on the subject and hope that “word gets around.” Here is the latest thread of this type, which starts with this post:

Hey guys,

I’m searching for a nice sweet male scent containing Vanilla, Amber and Cinnamon. Sweet but not cloying.

My sister has this nice jummy fragrance from Yves Saint Laurent called Cinema and another one by Guess called Seductive so I wonder if you guys can recommend me at least 3 male fragrances that have this sweet vanilla/amber/cinnamon and floral vibe.

When I first read the thread, there were ten responses. The first suggestion included two very expensive scents (that I have yet to sample) and one that was not very good (Spicebomb, which doesn’t possess a “floral vibe” and isn’t particularly ambery – I don’t even remember vanilla being prominent if detectable at all). The second suggested another two very expensive scents, which seems unrealistic given what’s known. Another response was worse, in that the person recommended a “feminine” scent, when the person was seeking a “masculine.” Now I’m the first to tell people to reassess their perceptions of “gender” in this context, but in this case the person asked a very specific question, and it’s clear that if these distinctions didn’t mean anything to him he’d just buy a bottle of what his sister owned. How much more obvious could that be?

Later yet another person suggested:

Based on your wish for sweetness and florals I’d say try TF Black Orchid but probably much darker than Cinema.

Not only is this a lot more expensive than Guess Seductive, but the person likely would view it as “feminine,” again given what we know. My suggestion was:

Sounds like you want to keep it inexpensive. I’ve seen Corduroy sell for next to nothing lately and it comes across as a bit floral though only lavender is listed as such.

Not long after that post, I thought it would make sense to try and get more information from the person that would help with suggestions, so I then posted this:

It would help if the OP told us if he’s ever smelled Joop! Homme or Le Male, and if so, what his thoughts were about those.

Note that in my first response, I implicitly suggested that the person post again, to tell us if indeed he was seeking an inexpensive scent. And before I posted the above, someone else suggested Ambre Premier by Jovoy, which sells for $129 per 100 ml (that’s the least expensive price I saw with a basic google search). Now it’s possible that the person who created the thread is rich, but you certainly can’t assume that, given that it sounds like he lives with his parents and he thinks Guess Seductive smells great, but at the very least, why not offer a less expensive option along with an expensive one, if you want to suggest an expensive scent to such a person? It comes across as something like, “don’t bother with that garbage meant for the stupid masses – this is what you really want, and it will change your world. You will be among the great and sophisticated once you spray it on.”

Now I hope this is not the case, but it sure seems that way. I wouldn’t have this thought if the original post was something like this:

Hello Gentlemen, I’m new to the world of fragrance appreciation, but I’d prefer to start at the top, so to speak, and work my way down, if it ever comes to that. I’m seeking something along the lines of strong amber/vanilla and spice, I’m guessing cinnamon in particular. Price is no concern, so let me hear about the best of the best. Thanks!

It’s an interesting phenomenon, which may suggest a lack of self-awareness, considering how few niche aficionados there likely are in the world. I’d guess there may be a lack of empathy too, because how is this person going to feel about all the “great” scents he can’t afford, and can’t even imagine affording, if he’s a poor high school student? Perhaps this is just another manifestation of the “income inequality” we see widening, and not just in the USA. Whatever the case may be, this is probably what “gives BN a bad name” to those who claim it is full of “niche snobs” who do things like express extreme disappointment that Sauvage turned out to be “just a nice scent.” In fact, it seemed like it was the vintage and designer crowd who were most upset, the niche snobs viewing Sauvage as “beneath them,” but most Basenotes newbies probably don’t have enough understanding to recognize such distinctions.

UPDATE: After I finished the main draft of the above, the person who started the thread responded, but not to my request to give us some background on his experience level, and there were more recommendations that didn’t make much sense to me, including (and the first by a long-time veteran with over 5000 posts!):

Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur, definitely
Serge Lutens Five O’clock au Gingembre, sort of
Caron L’Anarchiste, maybe
L’Occitane Eau des Baux, give it a try

I concur with Musc Ravageur and 5 O’clock au Gingembre by Serge Lutens but you have to like ginger for that one.

Bogart Witness
Bogart Furyo
Aramis JHL
Versailles Pour Homme
Elizabeth Arden Passion

This last recommendation assumes the person is seeking an “old school” scent, though there is no reason to think this is the case, and Furyo in particular might be far too animalic for the person. It’s one thing to try and be helpful, but it’s another to make some of these suggestions to an apparent newbie, IMO. And most of the time the person does not identify themselves as a newbie, beginner, etc.

UPDATE #2: Yet another BN recommendations thread appeared after I put the finishing touches on the above, this one entitled “Opinions, thoughts needed:”

This person tells us that he’s “looking for something a little different, edgy yet timeless…” for about $100. He’s been a member since October, 2015 and this is his 43rd post – and he provides no clues as to what he might be seeking! This screams out “newbie with preconceptions that will likely cost him some money” to me. In grad school, a professor might respond, “you can’t make a claim about something being ‘different’ unless there is something to which you can compare it.” At this point, I don’t think I’ll do what I’ve done in the past with these kinds of threads, which is to ask the person to supply readers with a sense of his tastes/preference, because this seems to be a general phenomenon (not just asking for such advice but also not giving readers any important information they should have in order to respond reasonably).

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Filed under Criticizing the critics.