Is it time to take L’Air du Desert Marocain off of its pedestal?

One could argue that there are a ridiculous number of niche scents at this point (after all, how many releases are very similar to older ones, even in the niche world?), yet certain scents seem to be considered “must try” ones, at least in the minds of many online fragrance commenters/reviewers.  At or very near the top of this list is Andy Tauer’s L’Air du Desert Marocain.  I think it was released at the right time (2005), just when the niche samplers, as I call them, had seemed to reach an important plateau (from what I can tell).  Over the last few years I see that many newcomers to the hobby feel this is a scent that could be their “Holy Grail.”  There are a few questions I think are worth addressing here, the first being, is it worth the price?

Now if I were a billionaire of course it would be, since I’d be interested in seeing if my opinion changes and I’d have plenty of safe storage for hundreds if not thousands of fragrance bottles.  But even given my current situation it may be worth having a bottle around because not only could I sample it (probably on rare occasion) but I could make decants/samples for swapping, since so many want to try it.  That is one of the major positive aspects of this kind of scent (and because it is unisex there’s plenty of potential swap with women too!).  However, I really dislike keeping a bottle if I know I’m never going to wear it – I prefer to swap or sell it (usually keeping a small sample for reference purposes).

Another question is, does it evoke a landscape?  I wouldn’t bring this up if it weren’t for the many reviews that say it evokes some kind of dry landscape, even if not Morocco specifically.  I don’t find this to be the case, because it has no “transparent” quality that I think is required, but perhaps those who have never experienced a heavy yet dry scent would before trying it would be more likely to have this perception (prompted by the name of the scent, no doubt).  To me it is too dense and it’s too obviously a “personal fragrance.”  In fact, out of all the scents I’ve at least sampled once since late 2007 I can’t think of any that was especially evocative of a landscape.

And yet another question is, is its reputation a product of circumstances (one being already mentioned – the fortuitous year of its release)?  Often, there are “stars” simply because people tend to think along the lines of “the best.”  That is, with personal fragrances, a question some newbies ask is, what is the best scent I can buy?  Tauer’s scents, and especially this one, got a lot of good publicity/reviews at just the right time.  After that, it possessed a reputation, and perhaps it could be called the Mount Everest of personal fragrances (for those who don’t know, climbing Everest is not especially difficult, relative to a few other mountains – you have to be able to withstand a certain period of time in the “death zone,” which requires acclimation, and of course you have to be in at least fairly good health overall).  Perhaps one might call it the Everest of unisex niche fragrances, and considering how many scents have been marketed since 2005 that would be quite impressive, even if the scent itself is not.

Now I’m not claiming that it is a “bad” scent, and I’m sure it works for many, many hobbyists, perhaps on multiple levels.  However, as some have commented about Serge Lutens’ scents recently, these tend to be “too much of a good thing.”  I’ve often said one can dilute very strong scents, making them an excellent bargain in some cases, but I find L’AdDM to be a bit irritating, and without any element that is particularly appealing, so diluting wouldn’t help much if at all.  In fact, I swapped off my bottle of Ambre Sultan (by Lutens) not too long ago because I found a lighter and more interesting scent that is similar, Iceberg’s Amber for Men.  Amber adds a rum note yet is lighter, and since it cost me less than $10 for 100 ml new, I can just spray as much as I want (probably two or three to the chest, minimum) until it does what I want.

Some have said that L’AdDM is like a light, less interesting version of an Ambre Sultan type of scent, but what I think is quite revealing are all the neutral and negative reviews of L’AdDM at Basenotes.net.  I tend to be more interested in what BN members have to say about a niche scent (particularly when there are a lot of reviews) than a site like Fragrantica.com, one reason being they tend to be more specific and another being that the BN crowd has quite a few reviewers that I hold in higher regard than reviewers elsewhere.  Examining these non-positive BN reviews suggests more or less what I have said above (at least when taken as a whole).  Here are some that I think are especially worth considering, written by reviewers I think are more insightful than most others:

“A bit of a disappointment from the note pyramid and reviews I read. This opens with a blast of very dry powdered artificial orange drink mix from the Petitgrain. Coriander makes an appearance and as it dries down it takes on a vanilla and dry powder vibe…”

And:

“…I hate the fact that the guy ‘hijacked’ this climate and place, which I’m sure doesn’t smell sweet at all, to make me associate it with a smell that’s so sweet and overplayed I can’t stand it. It actually invades my beloved mental archetype of the desert, and tries to corrupt it with a hideous and totally incorrect scent. Not only is it completely different from ambient desert smells (even imaginary ones), but I don’t find it any more middle eastern than most other orientals; it’s just more of the dreaded ‘old lady perfume’. What a waste.”

And:

“…I could experience a similar aroma by donning a leather jacket and putting my nose into a bag of olibanum. Both are equally enjoyable, but they fall short of constituting an entire perfume. As a point of reference, Messe de Minuit is deeper, more complex, and accomplishes a greater range of contrasts, although it also can be difficult to wear. For use on the skin, I still prefer softer, sweeter, more traditional, skin-compatible scents.”

And:

“…The scent starts in a very promising way. Intriguing spices are haunting and peppery-dry. The wood notes are well done. I am starting to imagine the dry scirocco winds conveying the air of a distant bazaar.

Then the doggone vanilla bumbles in and, like an unwelcome guest, never entirely leaves. The good notes retreat into the background.”

While I don’t enjoy the top notes,  unlike the last reviewer, I can understand why someone would find it unique and a portent of wonderful or at least interesting things to come.  Consistent with this view, in my BN review, I state:

“…It just sort of lies there, being strange and perhaps hinting at something pleasant now and then, but never really getting there.  Was it meant to have this teasing quality?  I  don’t get clear cedar, vetiver, or citrus (I did try to avoid top notes, however).  Instead, the notes that stand out for me are: “dirty” jasmine, dried potato skin, spices, amber, and vanilla.  Perhaps a combination of vetiver, cedar, and incense comes across as dried potato skins to me.”

By contrast, most of the other non-positive reviews tend to be inconsistent with my experiences with L’AdDM (or are vague), for example (the most specific ones):

“I’m bemused by all the raves about this frag. I thought it was a sad, watery Timbuktu wannabe that disappeared in 30 minutes. I’m honestly shocked by all the talk of 12 hours longevity. Are we talking about the same fragrance…”

And:

“…To me, this scent isn’t about a Marocain desert; it is about spicy eggnog, fruitcake, and heavy wool turtleneck sweaters on an extremely cold Christmas evening.”

And:

“Isn’t the experience of scent subjective? This was to me an instant flashback to visiting the Honda Motorcycle Dealership on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco, in 1984 when my roommate worked there. The thick miasma was rubbery, oily, smoky, nasty, mysterious, high testosterone and quite intimidating…”

And:

“Um, OK… I’m a midwestern girl and this opening smells just like the pig barn at the county fair. Seriously. Nevertheless I gave it a go to see what the dry down would be like. Three hours later I see it never leaves the barn, it just opens the windows to let a fresh breeze blow through. I know this scent has it’s fans, but I’ll keep walking.”

Other non-positive reviewers said they didn’t know where they could go in public if they wore it, but that’s true for many niche scents, assuming you agree with them.  Those who consider buying niche scents should know that some are not “friendly” to the general public!  So, one thing I think can be said for certain is that there are plenty of reviews at BN alone that suggest this is only the “Holy Grail” scent for some people, and that blind buying isn’t a good idea.  Those who complain that they were misled by online hype are not being reasonable, IMO.  And I have never seen a bottle of this scent sell for very low prices (and the largest size is 50 ml), making it a really bad blind buy for those on a tight budget.  Yes, you might think it’s a great scent, and I’m glad for you, but the idea that this is a really special scent makes little sense to me, other than it being a dry oriental, which isn’t that common.  I’m not against dry orientals (though I couldn’t wear them often) but I already have 200 ml of Dark Flower (my cost was less  than $20 total for the 2 bottles), which has a dry, incense-dominant base.  I prefer it to L’AdDM by a wide margin, and I already mentioned Amber by Iceberg, so my proverbial bases are covered by the territory L’AdDM inhabits (and at a tiny fraction of the cost of it!).

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Thoughts on some “super-cheapo” compositions.

A few months back, I purchased two 100 ml bottles, one being Arno Sorel’s Magman at about $5.50 and the other being Club Intense by Sergio Tacchini for about $10 (at ScentedMonkey – I have no affiliation with them).  I had never heard or Arno Sorel before, but a large number of scents are listed at Fragrantica.com.  My guess is that this is another fake “designer fragrance,” such as the apparently mythical Jacques Bogart or Jean Louis Vermeil, but that doesn’t matter to me – sometimes these “brands” represent a great bargain.  I’ll begin with Magman – the notes for that one, at Fragrantica, are:

“…bergamot, pineapple, cumin, nutmeg, rosewood, prune, musk and amber.”

And this seems to be what you get.  Here’s my Fragrantica review of it:

This is nice, quite natural smelling considering the price range, and with fairly good note separation too! You get the prune, it’s certainly spicy, and there’s a touch of wood. The amber isn’t “niche quality,” but it softens things up and adds a bit of sweetness. Sort of a “mini-me” Lutens (perhaps Five O`Clock Au Gingembre without the tea note and weaker)! The longevity is good and the projection moderate, with two sprays to the chest. I’d certainly rather wear this than much more expensive recent designer ones, that’s for sure. It doesn’t go too far in any one direction, though, which might lead to some saying it is not distinct enough for their tastes. For example, I think I’d rather wear a scent like Night Time for stronger spice or Villain for Men for an added gourmand element. What different here is the cumin note. It’s not too strong but it’s there, and if you like it, this may be a great bargain (many seem to dislike cumin notes, and they are not common). Overall it has a kind of glaze effect, with the fruitiness sort of sitting on the outer surface, if that makes sense. It just goes to show that very little money is required to produce a very nice scent! The box is good quality too, though the bottle and cap are a bit of a joke (not that I really care about that).

If you can manage the olfactory equivalent of a squint (as Luca Turin might say), you might be able to imagine a “budget Lutens” here, so that’s certainly not too shabby for $5.50!  As to Club Intense, the notes for this 2015 release are: “bergamot, black pepper and basil; middle notes are nutmeg, cypress and tobacco; base notes are amber, patchouli and cedar.”

Here’s my Fragrantica review:

I saw the notes listed and the low prices so I went ahead with a blind buy – it looks like I may be the first online person to review this! First the good; it smells nice and it’s not “chemical.” It also has very good longevity (two sprays to the chest), and the sprayer works well. The bad is that it’s not strong and the blend is “tight” (so that you don’t get well-articulated notes) and a bit “synthetic” (meaning that I don’t think you’ll ever say something like, “wow that’s a really natural tobacco note” while wearing this one, unless it’s about someone else’s scent!). And don’t expect much depth here. I think with this kind of scent it’s best to spray more than usual but let it waft up (don’t smell it close up on the skin). I’ll wear it again and spray twice as much to see how that works out, then report back. You could certainly wear this one to the office or school, and it should work in all but very hot or very cold weather. Perhaps this is the best one can expect with what IFRA is “suggesting,” for this kind of scent, going forward!

The interesting thing, when comparing the two, is how different the compositions are.  CI reminds me of some recent CK “masculines” I’ve tried – those have a lingering synthetic element that really bothers me, I think because it’s so bare (the more natural-smelling elements dissipate, leaving only this).  Also, there’s a kind of totally unnatural texture to these; I guess it might be best described as lattice-work chemicals!  CL has a touch of that, but if not smelled up close on the skin it’s very mild.  The most disappointing thing to me about CL is that has almost no depth – everything is on the surface, so to speak.  Perhaps one can compare it to going to see a 3-D movie but not being able to discern any difference when compared to a “regular” 2-D movie.

However, I decided to layer it one day after first applying Pure Havane, as that one I found to be boring rather quickly.  This worked out very well, because the two seemed to “fix” the weaknesses in each other.  I’m still not sure about Magman and CL – I guess for $5.50 Magman is worth having just as a reference point, but I was hoping for more than a super-tight blend lacking (which lacks any kind of compelling quality) from CL.  Even at these prices there is competition from scents like “low end” as Cuba Prestige and Cuba Royal!   Then there are the “re-issues” such as Nicole Miller for Men, which was originally released in 1994 but you can find 75 ml bottles for less than $4 at some sites these days!  I bought one of these and after perhaps 45 minutes it came together very nicely, representing the not list rather well:

Top notes are honey and apple; middle notes are leather, vanilla and oakmoss; base notes are sandalwood, amber and musk.

So, at these prices, I probably should be thinking that they are already were worth the cost, in terms of having different compositions available (and sometimes one develops appreciation over time, after a few wearings).  On the other hand, some have argued that it’s better to just buy a scent like Avant Garde (2011), because these represent a big step up and the price is just a bit higher.  A 100 ml bottle of AG me less than $15 for 100 ml.  The notes for it are:

top notes combine Italian bergamot, Madagascar pepper, pink peppercorn and juniper. The heart is composed of lavender, nutmeg, cardamom and beeswax. Intensive vetiver blends with benzoin, tobacco and Georgywood molecule in the base.

“Objectively,” I would have to admit that AG is better than those other three, as it is strong and enjoyable all the way through (unlike NMfM), has good depth and complexity (unlike CI and Magman), and several notes are easy to detect (unlike CI).  But this does not mean that any specific person will like AG better than any of those three – it’s just too “subjective” to speak about personal preferences.  A good example is Sauvage; other than being strong, there’s really nothing “good” to say about it from a compositional/”art of perfumery” perspective – yet it will return huge profits, apparently.  But that takes us far from the “cheapos.”  The with these is that one can keep, “why not spend just a bit more and get ________” until you get up to some price point that most would view as too high for a “cheapo.”  But since it’s a near certainly that some people will call Magman cheap junk whereas others will view it as a budget Lutens, I think the key is to distinguish between what we perceive and what we enjoy on a personal level.  Even if we agree that a scent contains a “screechy” wood note, for example, some of us can overlook that whereas for others it’s a “dealbreaker.”

And then there are some who say that they acquired quite a few cheapos because they thought they’d wear those once in a while, but hardly ever do, and simply don’t want dozens of cheapo bottles lying around.  That makes sense, but it’s more about that person’s level of self-awareness than the scents themselves.  I do wear these fairly regularly, and I do enjoy them.  Some I didn’t like much at first but then came to really enjoy (such as KISS Him), whereas others fell out of favor for one reason or another.  With some cheapos, I find myself thinking that the “quality” is much higher than one would expect for the price I paid, but even with others that are clearly “low end,” there may be an occasional wearing that is pleasant.  I wish I could buy three or four 100 ml niche bottles and not think about any others (400 ml would last me for perhaps 20 years, assuming the scents are at least fairly strong), but I get bored with compositions quickly if I wear them often.  More than a few super-cheapos aid me in this task!

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How swap negotiations can get a bit heated !

A while back I was negotiating a swap with a Basenotes.net member, and I encountered something that I found strange, but that I have heard others say.  Basically, the idea is that if you “blind” swap for let’s say a 90% full 50 ml bottle, and if it’s quite expensive and you think it smells great, you’ll be very unhappy because you won’t be able to stop thinking that once it’s used up, you won’t be able to afford to buy a bottle.  First of all, this is a really negative way to go through life.  Why not just use the scent judiciously?  You can get several years of enjoyment that way!  During that period, there’s a good chance you’ll find another at a reasonable price, or arrange another swap.  The alternative is to keep scents that you think of as mediocre, so to me this is just a ridiculous way to talk yourself out of making a swap.  But “to each his own.”

I can “live” with a large decant of something I really want and I don’t worry at all about using it up and feeling like a great loss has occurred because I may not be able to find another decant or bottle at a reasonable price, if at all.  The reason is that while there may not be an identical scent available at much lower prices, I feel that I can layer what I’ve got to achieve an effect that is close enough, for me if .  Of course, it’s quite common to enjoy a scent the first few wearings and then think it’s fairly good but certainly not special or even great.  The issue of valuation is probably the one most likely to rear its head.  In one swap negotiation, for example, I told the person (because just such an issue arose) about an experience I had several months before:

When it comes to swapping, everyone has their own way to evaluate scents, and I have tried to explain that to many BNers, not always with success. A good example is a guy who wanted to swap his 80% full 100 ml bottle of V.O. by Jean-Marc Sinan. Now I have a sample of it and don’t think it’s anything special, but I was still willing to get rid of some things I didn’t want but that he did want. He insisted on using ebay sales prices as a guide, but in the case of V.O., at that time, there were a bunch of unsold items with a few that sold a fairly high amounts. So even though I didn’t value it highly, one could still make a case that it’s probably not that easy to sell at the amounts he was valuing it at. I certainly would have swapped him for a similar scent, that is, one that has a few high sales on ebay with mostly unsold auctions, but he wanted more popular ones that were selling with frequency at about the same price levels, and he got angry at me because I didn’t value the potential swap the same way he did.

Perhaps the most absurd thing to hear in this kind of negotiation is something along the lines of, “you can get around X dollars for it on ebay,” because if that were true the person should have sold it himself and then made offers on scents he wanted (or he  could try to find a good deal on ebay, perhaps waiting a bit). I have told such people to simply pay me what I want and then sell the supposedly expensive scent (that he wants to swap me) on ebay. If he doesn’t have the money I’m more than willing to wait a week or two, holding the bottle for him/her, to see if it sells on ebay.  The key point here is that you simply can’t tell other people how to evaluate a swap.  If you don’t agree, just “move on.”

A good example of this occurred when I offered someone a whole bunch of bottles (to choose from) for his 99% full 75 ml bottle of Dark Obsession.  He wasn’t interested in the list of  40 to 50 (IIRC) bottles I offered (and I said I’d go 2 for 1 or 3 for 1 if that made sense to me), but said he’d swap for a 100 ml Acqua di Gio bottle or a 15 ml bottle of an expensive niche scent.  Here, I could have said, “well what do you want for your Dark Obsession bottle,” but on his sales page that was already listed, at $30.  The “problem?”  There were quite a few selling on ebay for less than $19 total for 4 ounce bottles (new).  I also  read more reviews and thought twice about swapping it for some of the bottle I offered him, so even if he had wanted to swap at that point, I think I would have declined (I always ask for 24 hours to “sleep on it”)!

He said that he didn’t care what the bottles were selling for on ebay, but in this case one has to ask, “then aren’t you taking advantage of someone if he/she buys it from you?  He didn’t claim his bottle to be “vintage,” and I don’t think it’s old enough for that to be an issue, but considering the cost of shipping and what he wanted, I would at least question whether his attitude should be placed in the “rip off” category.  It’s certainly legal, but is it ethical?  This negotiation didn’t become hostile, like the one for V.O.; I thanked him for his time and then he did the same, but I do wonder what such a person is thinking.  By contrast, I don’t know how many times I’ve told a person, “I won’t even try to sell this to you because the ebay prices are now so low – just go buy it there.”  I don’t want to feel that I’ve “ripped someone off,” and in these cases the monetary gain is minimal, if there is any.

I could have said to him, “well, don’t you think you should adjust your price, or at least delete your listing until the stock on ebay dries up and it’s selling at about the level you want?”  After all, don’t most people check prices on ebay, if not on ebay and several other sites?  Do you want people to think you take advantage of those who respond to your BN sales page?  In this case, the difference is significant (and I checked back to see what he did but he didn’t lower his asking price after I told him about the ebay listings).  On quite a few occasions I’ve found that people don’t understand that it’s often the case that for the other person it’s a “take it or leave it” situation.  He or she has to pay for shipping and may be “blind swapping,” so it’s possible that he/she will dislike the new scent more than the one that was swapped!

Then there is possible loss during shipping or being “ripped off,” so the person might just decide it’s only worthwhile if he/she gets a “better” deal.  This was the case for me not long ago.  I swapped a 100 ml bottle of Force Majeure for a 50 ml bottle of vintage Furyo. At the time the ebay listings suggested my bottle was worth more, but I didn’t think I’d wear it often and I wanted a vintage Furyo bottle, so I was willing to pay for shipping and get something that seemed to be worth less (taking the other risks as well).  I didn’t complain or tell the person that he should include something else – if you really want something then I suggest not getting fixated on the “ebay value,” so long as it isn’t a big difference.  Be glad that you are getting something you really want (and if you don’t really want it, you can just decline).  No need to get “hot under the collar” and begin to think that the person is a crook or idiot – just make a “yes or no decision.”

Note that even if Dark Obsession’s prices rise substantially in the near future, that doesn’t mean anything to a swap at the time you are considering it.  I’ve seen prices go up and down on more than a few scents, and one certainly shouldn’t assume a price rise on a CK product, with the huge number of bottles that likely were produced (of a non-limited edition release).  Moreover, in this case at least, even if I really wanted his DO bottle, there would be no reason for  me to give him an Acqua di Gio bottle, which isn’t difficult to sell on ebay, nor a 15 ml bottle of an expensive niche scent.  I would buy the DO bottle on ebay now, and put the bottle he wanted up for sale on ebay.  That way, at the very least, the new 4 ounce DO bottle should cost me nothing once the other scent is sold.  He gave me absolutely no reason to swap with him, even if I had what he wanted and was willing to swap it!

NOTE:  The V.O. bottle referenced in the highlighted quote was splash and the one he wanted was spray, which is yet another consideration!  My general rule of thumb is that if I want a scent, then that pays for the shipping cost, but if I just swapping to get rid of something I don’t think I’ll ever like, I want the value to be tilted a bit in my direction if the person really wants what I have (and I can live with a “vice versa” situation).  And if I really want a scent I might give up quite a bit to obtain it, the issue again being if it would make more sense to sell what I’d be giving up on ebay and then just buying the bottle new from a retailer.  Most of the time, though, it’s just two people who want to get rid of some things and have some notion that the ones being obtained won’t be as unappealing.

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My interview with a fragrance industry chemist.

https://i1.wp.com/www.northeastern.edu/careers/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/art-of-interviewing.jpg

A while back I swapped with someone who mentioned he’s a fragrance industry chemist (after I asked why he was swapping it – he said he got it for free at work), so of course I had to ask if he didn’t mind answering some questions. At first he agreed, but then he spoke to someone at his company and was concerned about contract violations, so I told him I’d keep his identity anonymous, and I decided to wait as well, just in case someone in the company he works for decided to poke around after talking to him about this.  He did say that a sense of secrecy pervades the industry, and I got the impression that it might go into the realm of paranoia in some cases, just as it seemed to when I asked the former L’Oreal representative (from whom I bought a test bottle of KL Homme Lagerfeld) for an interview several years ago (she agreed at first, I submitted questions, telling her she could answer whichever ones she wanted, however she wanted, and then never heard from her again).  I had a few more questions, but I am glad this person was willing to answer quite a few, if not all.  Of course, just because someone worked in the industry or is a fragrance chemist doesn’t mean he/she is correct all the time, and it may be that there are differences from one “house” to another.  That’s why I used an identity checker web site (which I paid for) and asked probably the most well-known writer about fragrances (at least in English) to review this exchange, and I was told that there wasn’t anything that looked strange or inconsistent.  Nevertheless, I certainly would prefer to name the chemist, but I won’t renege on a promise, and my belief is that it’s worth “putting it out there” – readers can decide for themselves what to make of it.

B (Bigslyfragrance) indicates a question I asked and C (chemist) is his response.

________________________

B:  What does your job entail?

C:  My job is to create parfum within very specific parameters, the most important being PPK (Price per kilo.) You get a creative brief that tells you what it needs to do and what its for (product application) and you go from there.

B:  Do you have any preferences in terms of notes, genres, etc.?

C:  I tend to enjoy gourmands and classic leather compositions (think knize ten) for personal use, but I really enjoy just about everything when done well. Also, I wear what is categorized “women’s” about as often as I do men’s fragrance: sometimes you get a double take on the street if you’ve got a particularly floral scent on, but the overlap of notes (or long tail, rather) in modern fragrance application has created a really wide swath of what is considered socially acceptable for both men and women.

B:  How much thought is put into changes that might occur within the first year after someone purchases a fragrance in a bottle that is sealed (such as the typical bottles marketed these days)?

C:  Very little. This question brings up Perfumery 101 lessons about the nature of chemical composition and how smell works. At it’s very core, perfumery is about volatility, or the rate in which things evaporate. When sealed in an airtight container with compounds that extend shelf life (and inert gases are always used to make sure it it stays fresh) you’re going to get almost zero change in chemicals involved.

B:  Have you read anything online that you consider to be common misconceptions?

C:  Whenever I read about testers having different juice from retail bottles I tend to chuckle, as that would require an entire reformulation, and would cost an obscene amount to accomplish and would be very impractical. To be fair, that’s the view from a larger outfit, and smaller Niche companies might engage in that sort of thing, but I doubt it very much.

B:  Do you have any predictions/thoughts about where the fragrance industry is heading over the next five years or so?

C: Really hard to say, as the industry is extremely trend driven (notice how much Oud has shown up on the radar? Agarwood is not a new material) and companies spend huge amounts chasing trends over three year cycles.

B:  What do you look for in a fragrance?

C:  Tricky question to answer, but I suppose when it comes down to it I look for compositions that aren’t top heavy in extremely volatile compounds (generally used for top notes) as that’s sort of a cheap way to get someone at a fragrance counter to fall in love and purchase a bottle on the spot. Those tend to dissipate after a few hours, and that’s not really the idea behind fragrance (at least in a classical sense.)

B:  “Spoilage” in a major concern of some people, yet these seem to be people who either don’t buy many fragrances that are say, over ten years old, or who have conflicts of interest, while others (including myself) have a great deal of experience with vintage bottles, including splash ones, and have yet to encounter a “spoiled” drydown.  Do you have any experience and/or opinions on the subject?

C:  Spoilage is for the most part a non-issue. In general, the parfum in the juice has two main enemies: heat & light. Within your parfum there are a handful of highly volatile compounds that can be damaged most by heat and light (top notes) so worst case scenario is that your top notes burn off and you’re left with the rest of the composition. This will make the first few minutes smell like acetone (because the first to evaporate in the juice is the alcohol and some other chemicals) but after that goes away the rest of the composition will start to come out. Bottom line, keep them in cool, dark places and they’ll last for an extremely long time. I have 20 year old bottles that smell identical to when I bought them.

B:  If you had to guess, what do you think happens when a major company (Chanel, Dior, Guerlain) decides to do a “major’ launch, such as Sauvage, in terms of trying to figure out what the final scent will be?  In particular, I’m curious about how much decision-making power someone like Francois Demachy may have had, as opposed to the product testing that must have taken place.  Would he have likely produced several variations and then those were product tested?  Or can you imagine a different kind of process?

C:  I can’t really speak to corporate testing structure or procedure, but I can tell you that in pieces like Sauvage, Demachy acts more like a hands off director. Most designer level stuff for big companies are just cash cows, so they spend more time and money on marketing and design than making sure the juice is great. Most companies simply license out their names for use so that the big players (i.e. Estee Lauder) can launch various fragrances under different names to create the appearance of variation, and just keep a “nose” on hand to sign off on the final product and give the appearance of authenticity, while technicians and computer algorithms do most of the heavy lifting.

B:  According to the press release, Red for Men by Giorgio of Beverly Hills originally had 551 ingredients, over 35 of which are “naturals.”  Assuming this is accurate, how does this compare to fragrances today that you know about, whether or not you worked on them yourself or not?  If one wanted to do a “knockoff” of this kind of “old school” fragrance today, what would you estimate the number of ingredients to be?  And how many “naturals” might be used, if any?

C:  The claim of 551 ingredients is a well known piece of showmanship in the industry, because it’s not untrue in the strictest sense, but is somewhat dishonest in its application. The number of ingredients is easily padded when you use naturals in any formulae- a tomato contains a little over 200 aromatic chemicals, but the human nose can only detect 6 of them when isolated (a dog can smell nearly all of them) so using any sort of extract in its natural form is going to pad your numbers.

As far as trying to recreate “classic” style fragrances, you run into one major: regulation. Most older fragrances leaned heavily on a handful of natural ingredients to produce the classic chypre or fougere skeletons from which to build on. Strict regulations have crippled the reliance on the older style of perfumery, making it hard to copy out and out what was available in the past. Worse yet, it’s become much more costly to produce a lot of the older style juices, as synthetics (contrary to popular belief) tend to cost a great deal more to produce than naturals (however, this is a bit inverted when dealing with certain resins and tree based naturals.)

[Note here that one blogger has argued that the above is ridiculous because sandalwood essential oil is expensive – didn’t he read the entire statement?  The fragrance chemist did say this is “inverted” when dealing with particular essential oils, and used the phrase”tree based” to provide an example!  Obviously, there must be some that are not resins or “tree based” yet are very expensive, but the person is clearly talking in general terms, so I suggest reading my blog post about “semi-facts,” for those who want to ponder how to deal with “difficult people” – hardly anyone is going to say something like, “for all intents and purposes” after every other sentence!  Some people seem to enjoy making nonsensical statements – I’m just glad I don’t have to deal with them on a daily basis.]

B:  I’m still wondering how they decide to put out a release with a whole lot of ambroxan (Sauvage), for example.  Who probably had that thought?  Wouldn’t that have likely been based upon product testing?  Did you see that BBC perfume documentary?

C:  Stuff like Ambroxan and Iso E Super are the sugar of the perfumery world (they make everything more palatable to the vast majority of consumers), so they get jammed into stuff that they would like to ensure are big sellers (at least initially.)  And yes, I have seen that documentary, I liked it quite a bit!

B:  What about the issue of “cloning.”  As a chemist in general, would you say it’s rather easy to do a reasonably close job, so long as you have a MS/GC unit to test against the original.  Or is it actually a bit difficult to create a good “clone?”  Thanks.

C:  The ease of cloning is directly correlated to the passage of time- most competitors use a Mass Spectrometer (or “shoot the juice” as we say) the day something new comes out, but it takes time untangling how things are arranged, which is very tricky when using captives that were discovered by someone else. However, once they’ve cracked the code the market tends to get flooded with similar products (see Aqua di Gio/Coolwater and the flood of aquatics that came after).

B:  I’m curious about whether it would it be possible to market a scent such as “vintage” Pi now or does it have too much coumarin or something else that has gotten restricted significantly.

C:  It would be very easy to make something similar in today’s market: the restrictions on coumarin are a non-issue in that there are tons of options when trying to produce the scent of tonka bean (coumarin has been synthesized for a very long time, and we’ve had ample opportunity to replace it.)  A lot of people bemoan (myself included) the shift towards lighter, less persistent parfums, but blame it (mistakenly) on over zealous regulations. It’s really more a function of the market: people report wanting less invasive scents, and so the companies produce what they think will sell. We are more than capable of producing knock-out potency stuff, but there is very little demand for them in today’s market.

B:  The other day, I was thinking about the notion of complexity/simplicity, and wondering if you always can detect if a scent is a rather complex or simple composition, or are they almost all rather simple these days?

C:  Complexity is impossible to ascertain without having all the pertinent information (unless something is overloaded with a single ingredient, but even then it might have involved some technical wizardry to make the smaller end pop.)  Something might smell like a high quality rose oil and you think “simple” but it might have been done all synthetic, which takes a ton of work and troubleshooting when trying to match a natural accord flawlessly.

That said, you can often tell when corners have been cut when there has been a clone or when a reformulation is botched, so it’s not really a matter of complexity per se, but more a function of cheaping out.

B:  There’s someone who claims that many if not most cheap fragrances were made (or just happen) to smell rich, complex, etc. up close but smell bland, generic, nondescript, etc. from a distance at which others will likely be smelling the scent.  I’ve only encountered really cheap fragrances that smell “okay” up close, but they all need at least several inches to smell really good (for those that do), so I’m curious to know what you think of this idea.

C:  You’re absolutely correct: cheap fragrances aren’t made to smell different up close vs. from a distance, their whole function is just to provide a decent scent at a low cost, and his notion that there is some kind of conspiracy to trick people with scent duality is pretty far fetched.

And yes, I totally agree that they are playing fast and loose with the idea of blandness/general smells, because there are so many cultural factors and societal factors that go into the perception of a smell (like how in the North America we strongly associate lemons with cleaning products, while the French do the same with Lavender and the Japanese do the same with Roses) that it creates a subjectivity that can’t be easily explained away with the argument that “this fragrance is cheap.”

Conversely, I feel like you could make the argument just as easily in the other direction: so many expensive niche fragrances are made to smell bland in a general sense so as not to offend, and just smell “conventionally good” to please a wider audience (and justify their price point.) I find this to be the case with brands like Amouage, where they are vehemently opposed to stepping outside the formulas you learn in perfumery 101, so the idea that it’s a cheap perfume problem doesn’t wash.

NOTE:  I don’t necessarily agree with everything this person has said above, and one thing I find interesting is the idea that Red for Men’s supposed 551 ingredients is a marketing ploy, because I can’t remember any other scent where such a claim was made so overtly by the company.  Did they try this “ploy,” fail, and then nobody every tried it again?  That seems highly unlikely, but what I find so interesting about Red is that the synthetics seem to be used expertly, whereas in so many other compositions I find myself thinking about whether I’m going to be able to tolerate the synthetics (usually it varies from one wearing to another).  One could describe it as a wood and amber dominant scent, and a great lesson in perfumery is wearing it one day then wearing a “cheap” scent with a typical/generic “woody amber” the next.  This is the difference “quality” can make, even if it is largely the use of more synthetics in a more subtle way.  Whether or not they actually decided to use 551 distinct ingredients, it seems to have a certain quality one finds in a few designer scents in which there is a lot of complexity (but it’s clearly got strong synthetic elements), such as 24, Faubourg.  The thing is, this is quite uncommon in “masculines,” from what I can tell.  Kouros could be another, but in that scent there isn’t the balance I get in Red.  It would be nice if someone subjected these scents to a MS/GC test!

UPDATE:  One response by the chemist, responding to the notion of “sexiness” in a scent, was misplaced for a while, but since I found it I’ll post it here:

The whole idea of fragrance “sexiness” is so balkanized depending upon when (and where) you grew up. Most women over a certain age consider old school fougeres & musks to be the pinnacle of masculine sexiness (classics like old spice, Brut, jovan musk, etc.) but the younger generations brought up in modern, antiseptic environments are more drawn to the smell of cleanliness as a signifier of desirability (“he smells clean, so he must be doing well.”)…

UPDATE #2:  Another statement by the fragrance chemist, coming after the above and after publication of this post, may be of interest also:

…the IFRA has gone really draconian on many naturals for fine perfumery: the legal amount of citrus oil (for an entire 50 ml bottle) is less than you might get on your fingers peeling an orange, so the basic ingredients of perfumery are having to be replaced wholesale.

UPDATE #3:  After posting this. someone has argued (badly, IMO) that the above is fictional, and it certainly could be that someone is claiming to be a fragrance chemist, which is why I wrote a disclaimer in the first paragraph.  However, I feel I’ve done my “due diligence” in consulting an “expert” about it and using an identity checker web site, and just because someone is in the industry doesn’t mean he/she is always correct.  As my readers know, I have no reservations about making my opinions clear, and I also point out when I don’t know something but would guess that something is the case.  I have absolutely no need to invent a person and would never jeopardize my reputation doing something like that – I just wish it were possible for me to bet all my assets that this person does exist!  However, I remembered that something which speaks to this point was said, so I went back to our message exchanges and found this statement by the fragrance chemist:

…I’m on a obscenely strict NDA because I tend to work with captive molecules, and I’m not even allowed to list my place of business on social media because of corporate espionage, and can be sued for the smallest of infractions (and then you tend to get blackballed by all the firms.)…

UPDATE #4:  One blogger has questioned whether inert gas is used in the usual sealed sprayed bottles one finds at dept. stores, Sephora, etc.  Long-time/respected Basenotes and Fragrantica member, “lovingthealien,” had this to say (in 2013):

Many people do this already with their perfumes. This is how they are stored in the osmotheque. Many (most?) factory sealed parfums are already full of inert gas…

http://www.fragrantica.com/board/viewtopic.php?id=55512

Considering how incredibly synthetic most recent releases appear to be, especially designers, and how they use powerful preservatives (BHT seems to be listed on every box I’ve got), I was quite surprised that inert gases would be used.  Also, wouldn’t they be happy if the scent “went bad” after a few years (or less), as many in the industry seem to at least imply?  My guess here is that they want to make sure the scent is fine up until the time they sell it at retail (I doubt they care much about “gray market” sellers), especially with scents that are popular due to the top notes experience (which, again, seems to be especially true for recent designers).  But it seems to be the case that not everyone can “reason through” such things and instead they automatically see a “conspiracy” whenever they learn of something that contradicts their existing notions (does that remind you of anyone who has been in the news quite a bit lately?).

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No Need to Get Angry – Just Explain Your Point of View!

On Fragrantica.com’s review page for Armaf’s Club de Nuit for Men, there is this recent review:

As others have mentioned this opens with a slightly weird lemon and pine/fern note in place of the pineapple of Aventus. Some have said it reminds them of Pledge, I would say more like a car air freshener. The opening is only about 70% Aventus because of this.

Once the lemon/fern note has evaporated, it does begin to smell closer to Aventus BUT it still has this spicy thing going on that is not found in Aventus. The dry down I would say is about 80% Aventus, and for the price, that’s quite amazing.

If they replaced the lemon note with pineapple and removed the spice, this would almost be a 100% replica and no one would need to buy Aventus again.

For the money this is a quality fragrance, but like wearing a fake Rolex, it’s going to burn at your soul.

My advice; get a split of the real deal.

This reviewer did not explain his point of view, but I think it’s not difficult to discern it.  He thinks Aventus is the “real deal” and wants a “clone” that is perhaps 95% or even 99% similar (I don’t think along these lines because I know how much my sensitivities can vary, even from one day to the next, making it difficult to posit such a precise assessment).  He also is clearly concerned about the top notes experience.  As I’ve said several times in the past, I don’t take any one person’s review all that seriously,  unless it’s the only one available (and there’s an apparently good description of the actual smell) and the scent is inexpensive.  He says nothing about the drydown, other than it’s supposed to be 80% similar to Aventus, so this doesn’t help much in that context.

I’m more interested in the smell of the scent in question, and in that regard he does say it’s spicier than Aventus, which is fine with me and would likely be an improvement (in terms of my preferences).  Knowing that most who have tried this scent have also at least sampled Aventus, I wrote up this review of the Armaf:

I have forgotten exactly what Aventus smells like but this does seem very close, perhaps somewhere between the Lomani “clone” and Aventus (I haven’t tried the others). The Lomani is more smoothed out whereas this one is sharper and seems to have more dimension/complexity. However, it’s not a complex scent overall so for many the Lomani might be fine, if you want to save a few dollars. If someone wants to pay Creed prices that’s fine with me, but I can enjoy this one and don’t need another that’s quite similar, which is the way I usually judge scents when there is a vast price difference (I bought my bottle used so I paid even less than retail for it, making the difference between it and Aventus simply too wide to even consider paying Creed prices).

I could have mentioned the birch note specifically, which is quite noticeable, and has an almost burnt quality, but I just said “sharp” because my previous experience with birch notes has been a bit different, so there may be another aroma chemical at work here.  My 98% or so 100 ml bottle of the Armaf cost me well under $20 total; otherwise I would not have purchased it because I have 100 ml of the Lomani and I’m not a big fan of this type of composition.  It would be helpful if the reviewer said something like, “if you’re a huge Aventus fan I’m not sure this Armaf is going to get the job done for you, but if not, the only major issue might be the sharp top notes.”  I like that first half hour or so, actually, and I’m not a fan of strong pineapple notes (though I don’t dislike them; however, I can’t imagine wearing such a scent on a regular basis, as many seem to do with Aventus).

Moreover, a few weeks before buying the Armaf I purchased a 50 ml bottle of Fresh Pineapple, by Bath and Body Works.  The notes for that one (on Fragrantica) are:

Top notes are orange, coconut milk and lemon; middle notes are peony, pineapple, fruits and rose; base notes are sandalwood, vanilla and caramel.

This one is more of a lemon/pineapple blend, but it doesn’t have as much sharpness as the Armaf.  The drydown is rather different, though, but it might work for those who like the idea of Aventus except would prefer a sandalwood drydown with more sweetness.  In terms of what guys, especially young ones, are wearing these days, I’d certainly classify this 2007 release as “unisex.”

I’ve swapped off quite a few “fresh,” aquatic, “sport,” etc. scents over the years, and though I still have a few, I never seem to wear them.  Occasionally I’ll spray one on my ankle so that I can waft it up to my nose every once in a while yet don’t have to deal with it until I want to, and it seems that every time my thought is that it’s too “chemical” and there’s not much, if anything, to make up for it.  Sometimes I’ve sprayed these kinds of scents on the back of a coat/jacket (if the sprayer generates a nice mist effect), and I can appreciate the scent that way to some degree, but that’s only for when the weather is cooler.  The point is that I think the Aventus type scent is one that attracts the fresh/aquatic/sport scent crowd as well as at least a decent percentage of the niche/aficionado/tobacco/leather/”heavy” scent crowd, so when one reads reviews it’s important to consider this (I often point out that I’m mostly a gourmand, oriental, “heavy” scent fan).  Few will disclose their preferences in their reviews, and probably just as few will provide a good explanation about why they assess scents the way they do!

Another interesting example is a blogger’s comparison of Grey Flannel to Bowling Green.  His conclusion is that, “Grey Flannel, which is ten years older, is resoundingly superior in quality and composition.”  I have vintage (or perhaps “semi-vintage,” in the eyes of some) bottles of both these scents.  I have difficulty wearing GF, probably due to the aroma chemicals rendering the violet leaf note.  I have always enjoyed wearing BG, even though it is not as unique as GF, and this is another instance of the issue of personal enjoyment versus “artistic appreciation.”  I don’t disagree with the blogger’s general impression (other than claims about “quality,” since one would have to have “insider information” and I perceive both – that is, what’s in the bottles I possess – as being at least reasonably good quality), but not everyone is going to spray on a scent and then walk around thinking, “I really find this smell irritating but my appreciation of its artistic elements more than makes up for that!”

I think of BG as a pared down rendition of Parfum d’Homme by Claude Montana (sometimes called “red box” online), with less of a fougere accord in particular (I sampled Red before BG).  It’s still rather complex, which goes to show how “busy” the Montana is.  But the key point is that I do find myself in the mood, once in a while of course, for that BG, whereas that strong fougere accord in the Montana has led me to hardly ever wear it (over the last several years).  In the fine art world, “less is more” is not exactly an unknown sentiment!  The blogger has also called BG “cheap,” which is not my impression at all (suggesting, again, that there is a “quality issue”).  One thing I really like about it is that the pine note has been sort of tamed to just the right degree, whereas in many other “pine scents,” it’s either too weak or so strong that it’s irritating.  I’ve also found that while my preferences have changed a bit, so that I’m more drawn to sweet scents, BG has enough complexity  (and a hint of sweetness), so that boredom is preventede.  And since BG was released about three years before the Montana, it is a case where the original was not “overtaken” by later variations on this theme (Havana by Aramis was released in 1994), unlike many others!

 

 

 

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Has the “Sauvage riddle” been solved?

In a recent post I asked if there was any rational argument to make for buying a bottle of Savuage (this is/was during a time before bottles began/begin to sell at significant discounts, if that occurs any time soon).  The “problem” is that those who write positive reviews for it don’t seem to know a few potentially important things, such as that there are much cheaper alternatives.  They claim it’s a great “compliment getter,” yet people have and continue to say that about many inexpensive scents.  And these are usually often the same people who say they want to smell unique, which isn’t the case with Sauvage, since it has become very popular very quickly.  So, it’s not cheap, it’s not unique, and there are very cheap alternatives.  One reasonable argument would be, “I just want to go to the department store and buy something I like that’s there.  I don’t want to do any research, and $80 for a 100 ml bottle is not a financial issue to me.”  But nobody ever seems to make an argument like this!

However, since then I realized that there is at least one thing that should be added to this “riddle,” and this realization occurred when I read this Fragrantica.com review of Dylan Blue by Versace:

Finally got cool enough here today, for me to go ahead and do my first full wearing of Dylan Blue after sampling a couple times.

To me this is along the same lines as Sauvage, only MUCH better to my nose. Sweeter/fruitier and more youthful, instead of just a dusty ambroxan and pepper bomb after the Dior’s likable initial opening. Neither one really develops much IMO, but this one does a little bit more.

Jury is still out on performance as it’s only been 3hrs since putting it on, but it’s still chugging right along and I’m getting these glorious fruity citrus/ambrox wafts!:)

It’s not just this review, though, as I remembered people saying they had to use more than a few sprays of Sauvage or that it was weak.  I found one spray on a card to be overwhelming,  by contrast (and that was after at least an hour, which is when someone brought it into my house!).  And so I think people who enjoy these kinds of scents tend to have very low sensitivity to aroma chemicals (in the case of Sauvage I’d guess musk molecules are crucial to generate the overall effect, much as in some of the “old school” musky “masculines”), though the musks used today are generally different.  I sent the person a message, because I wanted to know how many sprays he used, and he said:

I used 4 from a 10ml travel atomizer…2 on my torso under 2 layers of clothing, one to the back of my neck/shirt collar and the final one to the front of my shirt:).

I don’t think I could handle four sprays of Sauvage – it might feel like a form of torture, and most seem to think others smell it even if they think it’s weak or gone (almost certainly olfactory fatigue in those cases).  The obvious possibility here is that those who don’t detect much of a base or who are satisfied with it (as in the way this person reviewed DB) in these kinds of scents are having a very different experience than I am, and this person’s sensitivity may be even higher than mine:

It’s a chemical nightmare for me. After smelling it, it gives the effect on my olfactory that bleach does, where for hours everything else I smell is unidentifiably awful. Even the fragrance itself smells like burnt tires and transmission fluid. No joke, that is what the chemical opening does to my sense of smell. Just like bleach alters everything I smell after exposure, this fragrance has that effect on my nose. Fresh citrus oranges smell AWFUL after exposure to this, just like bleach does to me. And, my sense of smell is largely paralyzed/blinded for many common smells. I MIGHT be able to identify something like cinnamon after exposure but citrus smells like toxic poison (indescribable).

Sauvage was a HORRIBLE experience for me. I ONLY get this effect from MODERN designer fragrances at Macy’s/JC Penney such as Invictus and other modern ones from YSL too, have the same effect. Old school designer scents are no problem. So, SOMETHING (chemical(s)) these designer fragrances are using are absolutely AWFUL for my nose. It’s depressing and I would like to volunteer my sensitive nose to these houses so they can reformulate these into acceptable levels of tolerance for sensitive people. And I’m not saying my nose is “sensitive” as in “snob”, but rather, vulnerable to being hurt by chemicals that are simply too strong. I’m not good at picking out notes or anything like that…

http://www.basenotes.net/threads/426785-Thoughts-on-Dior-Sauvage

And there is a scientific explanation.  For example, a person who lost his sight at age 3.5 and got it back about 40 years later has yet to adjust well (after a decade with sight)!  If you want other examples, you might be able to watch the documentary, “The Brain with Danny Eagleman: What is Reality?” on Youtube (I had to click on a few different links before I found one that worked).  It is pointed out that not everyone’s brain is “wired” the same way, and an obvious example are the people who have synesthesia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia

One thing I’ve found very interesting about scents is how my sensitivities have changed over the years, sometimes to particular molecules, presumably (“notes”) and sometimes in general.  My guess is that fragrance industry researchers not only product test but also are thinking about how to create a “new and special” perception among enough people to make their releases successful. Now an interesting thing to look for in the future is whether a lot of people start saying that a Sauvage smells “old,” “mature,” “out of date,” “played out,” etc.  It might take at least a few years, but my sense is that “the shock of the new,” as an art critic titled his book about “modern art” is the one of two key factors, for those who like scents such as Dylan Blue or Sauvage.  However, it’s more compelling with fragrances because the person not only enjoys the scent but gets compliments from others who also find the “newness” intriguing even if not something they’d want to smell all day long.

The other key factor would seem to be “house appeal” (some  might call it “snob appeal”), meaning that if a bottle has a name on it like Chanel or Dior many are looking for something “special,” which of course explains why so many in the aficionado crowd were disappointed with Sauvage.  If it’s a Playboy scent the “newness” is much more likely to be viewed as unpleasant, it would seem, but Playboy scents don’t have a presence in major department stores, Sephora/Ulta, etc., and beyond not being present, such scents don’t get the full salesperson “push” that scents like Sauvage get.  Going back to “fine art” for a moment, how many of you know about the (very expensive) paintings of Francis Bacon:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/13/who-is-francis-bacon_n_4267722.html

Probably most Americans have not seen any of his paintings (other than perhaps there being one illustrated in his or her college textbook, which they might not even read), but I doubt many would argue that if you asked Americans to tell you who painted one of these works, the minority would say Francis Bacon, despite these being obviously unique and “shocking.”  What most people definitely don’t know is why these kinds of paintings are considered “great” or “masterpieces.”  One reason is that very wealthy people decide to “back” an artist, and at some point a kind of threshold is reached and the artists is considered a “major” one.  You can ask yourself how similar this is to marketing fragrances, but one significant difference is that few scents are purchased for speculative purposes, and this is usually done with ones that are recent, like Perry Ellis’ Oud: Black Vanilla Absolute, which rose in price but then came back down after stores were restocked.  Because of this, most fragrance wearers buy what they like, though so many don’t seem to realize how they are being influenced.  By contrast, major art buyers often hire an “art advisor.”  If you are interested, this documentary explains the fine art market very well:

So, to “wrap it all up,” I’d say that Sauvage apologists, for the most part of course,  don’t know why they like it, and so they can’t put forth a reasonable explanation.  It wasn’t “online hype” that made it a bestseller, but rather a combination of factors that the good folks at the perfume companies must have known, perhaps in the way that certain Hollywood blockbuster sequels are almost certain to turn a profit, if not be outrageously profitable.  And that might be a better comparison, because most people don’t have the time (or want to use it) to do a lot of film research.  It’s easier to just decide on a movie based upon personal tastes (as is true with fragrance genres) and “buzz.”  It also doesn’t cost that much and serves a social function, though like fragrances, it’s not a social necessity.  But the buyers (presumably those with a low sensitivity to certain aroma chemicals) believe they are experiencing something special/unique, and like very strange-looking fine art, want to be part of it.  There’s a kind of excitement about it, and that is difficult for people to describe in these contexts (other than to say things like, “wow this scent just blew me away,” which doesn’t help readers much).  By contrast, when I “blind buy” a scent, I am only interested in the scent itself (other than rare occasions when I get such a great deal that I think I can sell/swap very profitably).

NOTE:  Some of those who really wanted to be part of the “excitement,” it seems, were also among those who may have high sensitivities to certain aroma chemicals, but there’s also another possibility, such as what might be illustrated in this comment about Bleu de Chanel:

Sold off all BDC and for the last time. It’s just not for me even though I like it, I just won’t wear it.

http://www.basenotes.net/threads/426754-Today-I-Sold-Swapped-Binned

BdC is supposed to be a great “all rounder,” so one wonders how someone could like it enough to buy multiple bottles over a period of time, yet can’t bring himself to ever actually wear it.  There seem to be strong emotions at work, which many people don’t recognize at all, it would appear!

 

 

 

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Are those Sauvage “compliments” really complimentary?

In yet another round of “discussion” about Sauvage recently (at least at Basenotes.net), I noticed that so many argued that it should be regarded as a great scent because it garnered so many compliments, particularly ones that at least suggested the women who made the statements thought they smelled “sexy.”  But then I watched some Youtube videos, one being a Sauvage review by “Jeremy Fragrance:”

and it occurred to me that the supposed compliments may not be what the guys in question think.  Even if these are legitimate compliments, what do they mean?  If we believe that there is some element of truth to the “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” idea, then this may be an excellent illustration of it!  That is, it seemed to me that at least most of the women were not communicating something like, “that is so sexy,” but rather, “that’s something a nice guy, like my brother, would wear” ‘(at best).  In some cases, it seemed like they found the scent to be unpleasant, but were being “polite” by saying what they thought the guy in question wanted to hear.

I should mention here that a few years ago I read some books about detecting lies.  One point was that you should look for “microexpressions” that occur right away, before the person can do anything to try and be deceptive (even in cases like this, where they may just want to be polite).  Watching just the JeremyFragrance Youtube review of Sauvage, I found a few possible examples of this:

Sauvage Photo

This is a universal display of disgust, but she claims it’s “sexy,” though that was after being asked if it’s sexy.  Then we have:

Sauvage Photo 2

This woman had just smelled it for the first time (holding the strip close to her nose).  She appears to be thinking about what to say, but not thinking anything especially positive – she eventually says it’s “refreshing,” “nice,” and “casual.”  Overall (taking “body language” into account), I’d say she thought it was “run of the mill.”  If she thought it was incredibly “sexy,” it’s highly likely that would have registered on her face by this point.

Sauvage Photo 3

This is a photo of a woman right after she pulled her head back after smelling the strip.  Then she said it was a sexy scent, but doesn’t register much excitement for it, though that could be due to cultural differences (it appears that she’s European), and we have no idea what he said to any of these women before providing the strip to smell.  My first guess is that she’s thinking about what to tell the guy to please him, because most of us adults register a “sexy” smell just about immediately – we don’t have to ask ourselves if something is “sexy” or not!  There were two other women with this one who were also asked, but of course after the first one said sexy and the guy seemed pleased, it was a tainted situation.  My sense is that if most “young” women find Sauvage appealing, it is more along the lines of what they would want a teacher, minister, boss, etc. to smell like (assuming she isn’t attracted to the “old” guy), but they know that’s not what the “young” guy wants to hear them say.

From watching the expressions of the women in this video, I do not think this was totally staged, though.  Instead, it looks to me like the women thought it was a “fresh” type of scent and were telling this guy what he wanted to hear when they got some “cues” to do so.  My guess is that if a guy who was very “nerdy,” shy, and not conventionally “attractive” asked them, they would say it was fresh, clean, nice, etc., because they would not find the guy to be especially “sexy” or think it would “seem weird.”  This “experiment” would be easy to do, of course, but one would have to use an actor who could play the part well.  In the reviews that claim “women find it sexy,” we can’t know if they were saying things to the women in question, such as, “this is really sexy, don’t you think?”  And any scent that is very strong, as Sauvage is, will generate more comments than a scent that is so weak the people near you don’t know it is yours or don’t detect it at all.  Of course, product testing much have been done with Sauvage (probably with a “young” crowd), but the idea that they tested for “sexiness” and found that Sauvage was by far the best they could offer in this context seems rather unlikely.

Keep in mind that these are possible examples, the reason being that it’s crucial to establish a “baseline” for every individual, so that you can see when patterns are broken.  For example, if you ask someone what his/her name is (and you know what it is), then there should be no microexpressions that suggest deception, but there might be, simply because of a quirk that is unique to this person.  However, if a heterosexual woman thought that a scent was head and shoulders above others in the “sexy” department, we should see her face really “light up” right after she smells it, but that never seems to be the case with Sauvage.  Moreover, guys claiming that a scent is a “panty dropper” is quite old at this point, and it has probably been claimed for over a hundred fragrances (just online) by now.  In fact, I was watching a documentary TV show about a jail and one of the prisoners said he had marketed a scent that could also accomplish this!  If women really thought that Sauvage was only a good scent for a guy they were going to buy a car from, for example, what would that do to the sales?

Usually, though, these “panty dropper” scents are rather sweet, sometimes with an obvious gourmand element (especially for the “younger” demographic), or a spicy one (probably more for the “thirty something” or older demographic).  And another claim made by many Sauvage “defenders” is that it’s a great “all around” scent.  So, you would need to believe that Sauvage, which doesn’t seem to possess any “special sauce” element (just the usual aroma chemicals, as a fragrance chemist told me not long ago), somehow can accomplish two things that up until now have been considered incompatible!  And if a lot of ambroxan is the key, then why hasn’t anyone (to my knowledge) claimed that Molecule 02 was the sexiest scent created to date?  Something is quite amiss here – what could it be?  I am working on a follow-up post that will address this, so “stay tuned,” but in the meantime, I decided to see how many reviewers at Fragrantica.com thought Invictus was the kind of scent “women love” (I searched for the word woman and then made sure the context was relevant).  I have yet to try Invictus, so I don’t have an opinion on it, but from what I’ve read it sounds like this is the kind of scent that would generate much more positive initial responses from young women (though the “panty dropper” type clams are sexist and crude, IMO, regardless of which scent is being referenced, and suggest there is a kind of switch in the minds of women that, once in the “on position,” turn them into sexual zombies).  Interestingly, the first reviewer I quote below claims that Invictus does generate an initial very positive response:

Watch a woman smell this, then watch her pupils dilate like I have seen on more than one occasion. Invictus appeals to women on a completely subconscious level

I’ve noticed that women LOVE invictus.

If you’re fishing for compliments definitely buy this — it might be a little too sweet for most guys, but you’ll receive plenty of compliments from women.

I Love and women too

If you want to attract women, this is one of the better choices in the mainstream market

women love it

women really like the smell.

Womens seems to love this…

women like it on men

every time I wear it I get compliments mostly by women

it does appeal to most women, may be not ALL but most of them.

let me tell you women love it

Compliment getter. I haven’t had women respond as strongly and positively to a fragrance since I can remember

will get compliments, especially from women

women like the darn thing.

ALLLLLL da women love it

Two quick sprays of Invictus to my jugular, and within fifteen minutes I’d received five compliments from random strangers–mostly women–while shopping in our mall!
you can get attention from women if you wear it

I work with alt of women and usualy i bring some samples so they can smell and vote for, the amazing thing is that all of them voted for Invictus.

women always immediately buy it for their man when they smell it

the fragrance makes the women go crazy

And I think one reviewer has the right idea about what the social reality is here:

I’m not sure if this is what men want to smell like, but it certainly is what women want their man to smell like!

My guess is that most women in the “younger” heterosexual demographic either think Sauvage is “nice” but too strong or think it’s a “clean,” “fresh,” etc., and possibly generic type scent, but see how excited young men get when talking about it and try to to “be polite” in their response, or just tell the guy what they think he wants them to hear.  I would not be surprised if “younger” women did think Invictus is sexy, though I would still want to see some studies about the social context.

When I searched for the word girl there were a dozen claims (as of this writing, of course) about them loving it, thinking it sexy, etc.  I then did similar searches for Aventus and 1 Million and the results were similar.  I would be interested to know just how many scents, quite different from each other, are viewed this way (by guys), but as things stand it appears that some young men tend to get obsessed with the notion that these concoctions can contain a “special sauce” for making females think they are “sexy.”  However, they also seem to move on, from one “panty dropper” scent to “the next big thing,” so it becomes a kind of “flavor of the month” situation.  Should this be any surprise, considering how many “pick up women” gurus there are, along with books along the same lines?  There is this Nightline (ABC News) segment about it, for instance, but do your own search on Youtube and you’ll find plenty more:

The “guru” telling some of his “secrets” did not mention anything about fragrances!  And I’d classify what I have “sketched out” above as a “working hypothesis.”  Interestingly, with Midnight in Paris, there are quite a few reviews saying it should lbe a unisex of “feminine” scent, and less about it being a “panty dropper,” but whether this is the social reality, or due to women not being cued in to say it is sexy is impossible to tell, of course.  At this point, social science studies should be done to determine if my tentative conclusions are functional for a certain percentage of the “young” male population in nations like the USA, and if so, approximately what that percentage is.

NOTE:  In the reviews of some scents, usually “old school” ones, you might read something like, “this fragrance announces that you are in charge; you are invading the space of others and there’s nothing they can do about it.  This is for those who hold positions of authority and make to make sure everyone knows it!”  Now this might be just as ridiculous as claims about how “sexy” Sauvage is appear to be, but the important point seems to be that nobody feels the need to “defend” a scent that “reeks of authority” (if that notion has any merit), yet so many rush to defend “sexy” Sauvage, which doesn’t make sense at all (and there are plenty of negative reviews of “old school” scents, that’s undeniable).  In fact, if you thought a mass-marketed scent was perceived as sexy by those who you were attracted to, why would you want to spread the word, so that every other guy in your demographic would want to buy it?  Perhaps it’s just another “Emperor’s New Clothes” situation, in this case a variation on a fresh/chemical “department store scent” theme, and few willing to admit to being manipulated by “ad men.”

UPDATE:  When I published the above I wrote up a thread on Basenotes.net on the subject, which included a poll:

http://www.basenotes.net/threads/427335-Have-you-ever-bought-a-scent-because-it-was-hyped-as-quot-sexy-quot/page3

After five days (by then it was no longer popular), about 65% (53) said no, but about 23% chose “a few times.”  The idea was that BN members were much less likely to buy a scent because a friend, a Youtube video (but not a “girlfriend,” wife, or lover) told them a scent was “sexy” (I didn’t mention “boyfriend” or husband because my sense is that heterosexual men are much more likely to believe such a claim, and since I have seen little if any evidence that gay men think along these lines, I thought it best to consider that subject at a later time).  It seems to be more or a Youtube reviewer phenomenon, from what I can tell, with a small amount of “hype” on Fragrantica and a tiny amount on BN.  The poll results, however, tell a different story, with about a third of respondents saying they fell for the sexy hype at least once.

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