Living in this new era of “fake facts.”

One thing I used to emphasize to students is the importance of learning to communicate clearly and concisely.   You begin with a statement of your purpose, for example.  You can then explain why you came to your conclusions, as mention the evidence to support it.  After that you could examine the evidence in detail.  In the conclusion, you could argue why other explanations are not sufficient.  A key element here is to always make distinctions whenever it seems helpful to do so.  So, in the case of fragrances, it’s important to distinguish between “modern perfumery” and other kinds of notions about generating odors designed to please. Modern perfumery includes aroma chemicals that extend the experience beyond a few minutes to up to several hours (compared to something like traditional “rose water”).

This brings me to a passage from a Fragrantica.com review of Sauvage:

It is expensive, like all Dior fragrances, but I’d say it is worth every cent because it is really high quality (I don’t mean that it is natural smelling, because it is not, but it smells like it has quality ingredients and it performs that way too).

Now the odd thing here is not that he is “wrong,” but that if he can be said to be “correct,” I don’t think he would realize why!  For instance, what could Sauvage have in it that is “high quality?”  Nothing, but it might have large amounts of some ingredient that isn’t especially cheap by the industry standards of today.  That’s not exactly high praise by any measure, but it may be accurate.  To me, this is a major problems with “mainstream” designer releases, that is, the aroma chemicals seem to be used in such large amounts that these soon become incredibly irritating, even if one could argue these are not objectively “strong” (perhaps to those walking by).  An analogy would be makeup.  If a woman puts on too much, she looks ridiculous, but there is a certain range of social acceptability, depending upon a number of factors.  Nobody looks at a woman who nearly everyone thinks applied too much makeup and thinks that the makeup is “high quality” because it doesn’t run off her face or do something that demonstrates a major quality control issue!

Of course we could criticize the reviewer by asking an obvious question, how do you know how much it cost Dior to create the fragrance portion?  The fragrance chemist I spoke to didn’t believe much thought went into Sauvage, and you don’t need to be a fragrance chemist to notice how “chemical” it is (as the reviewer himself does).  One could argue that it might have been tested to make sure it didn’t irritate the public so much it would soon garner a terrible reputation, but again, this is a low bar, and not exactly “the stuff of greatness.”  Instead, this kind of comment comes across to me as someone who, for whatever reason, experienced strong positive emotions when he tried Sauvage.  On some level it’s like the reviewer who said that nearly every scent he reviewed was “so fresh and warm.”  One of my main criticisms of Sauvage is that it basically shouts out, “I am totally chemical, now hear me roar!”  No, I can go get a bottle of Lysol and smell something better!  Why?  It’s just as “chemical” but I prefer the citrus/pine combination to whatever Sauvage wants to be when it grows up.  Would Green Irish Tweed be “better” if more dihydromyrcenol was included?

And to be clear, yet again, I don’t hold anything against a person who enjoys Sauvage (or who has a social use for it), but it’s time to stop talking about it being great or special or unique or a breakthrough or a masterpiece.  It is unique in the same way that the other 2000 or so releases last year were – it doesn’t smell exactly like another of these olfactory concoctions (though supposedly there is a now a Zara scent that is very close).  Another point argued is that Sauvage is “worth every cent,” which could lead to a very long discussion about how individuals value objects in a society like ours.  I’ve addressed this in the past, mentioning that some just go to the local department stores and buy what seems “new,” “fresh,” or whatever the conceptualization of the moment is.  And of course nobody is going to spend money of any kind on a smell product that makes them feel ill.  Here I’ll just say you can’t tell other people how to perceive “money well spent.”  Someone might go on a job interview reeking of Sauvage and get the job of his dreams, and so he might think it was worth a small fortune, but does the guy who didn’t get the job think that Sauvage cost him his opportunity to obtain the “American Dream?”  Don’t worry about trying to “take care of others” with your fragrance recommendations.  Just explain why you like or dislike it  I think this reviewer should have just said, “I feel fresh and invigorated when I spray it on, and I know almost everyone around me will think I smell good – that’s all I want.”  If you make claims that are clearly specious, though, you open yourself up to mockery, ridicule, etc.

Now as to the title of this post, suppose one were to encounter this:

The best of the vintage scents cannot be replicated today.  Niche is like a joke – imagine a bad version of a “Star Wars” type of film and the director says this is the best he or she can do under the circumstances, and that viewers should be very pleased with a what he/she considers a close approximation.  Who is going to take such a person seriously?  It’s a matter of probably something like $1.25 fragrance cost per 100 ml bottle versus $5, and they don’t want to pay that extra money, despite the retail price of a couple of hundred dollars or so.

Is is a fact, a fake fact, a likely notion, something that could be true in some cases but definitely is not in all?  This is the problem with the fragrance industry, and it’s why I was so glad to be able to speak to a fragrance chemist, even if he/she may not have all the information we’d like to know.  We have to constantly “play detective,” trying to fit the pieces that seem to be true together into a “big picture.”  Remember that this is the original “fake facts” industry, with various ludicrous historical claims being made by companies that only seem to become more popular as the apparent lies are discussed in more and more detail!  And then there are the fake facts being invented mostly by anonymous internet people, such as to decant a quarter ounce from your sealed bottle and in a few months it will smell the same but much stronger!  And not long ago we witnessed Andy Tauer complaining about bloggers and the cost of “free” samples – how am I to assess that?  The age of going to the local library and finding a book on a subject in order to develop some expertise is over – in this new age it seems like we need to first learn how to evaluate claims before we should think to study the actual subject.  And few are willing to spend time on “process” – they want to get to the “good stuff” quickly, even if it’s mostly false.  Perhaps the only positive element here is that as “fake facts” get more attention, there will be more interest in debunking these claims rather than spreading them.

UPDATE:  I just noticed a new review of Club de Nuit Intense for Men that includes the following:

This cologne doesn’t always smell great with the first few sprays out of the bottle, but it gets better after it’s been sprayed a few times. Check the YouTube reviewer impressions, it seems they’ve experienced this as well. Also, I mentioned this in my review below as well!

Is this a fake fact?  It is certainly true that with older scents that have been lying around for years, there may be some liquid in the tube that indeed smells very bad, and so that needs to be sprayed out in order to avoid the unpleasantness.  Could that be what this person is referencing?  It’s highly unlikely in a recently-marketed scent that is obviously almost all synthetic, especially if the claim is being made by several people, but it’s certainly not impossible.  Moreover, the reviewer implies that it goes from mediocre to good or excellent, not from rancid/spoiled to at least good, which is further support of perceptual changes that being mistaken for physical ones, presumably because the person is lacking in self-awareness in this context (which is very common – as I’ve said before, just watch one episode of “Brain Games” to get a sense of the “games” the mind can “play” on one!).  In this case of this scent in particular, I think that the strong “chemical” element can be off-putting to those who are not used to it, and so their minds need time to “process” it as potentially pleasant in the context of the overall composition.

UPDATE #2:  On another fragrance blog, this post was heavily criticized, in ways that are incomprehensible to me (for example, I never claimed that my site was “news,” bur have always said it is my opinion), and therefore I’m not going to address it in detail.  I will mention that a few commenters made equally bizarre claims, this being one:

Let’s even assume for a second that the “fragrance chemist” and his quote are real, then we can safely assume that this chemist was taking the proverbial piss out. I mean: chemist notes the composition is chemical?!

I don’t know what “taking the piss out” means here, but the chemist didn’t say Sauvage was “chemical.”  The reviewer himself did, as I stated explicitly (and I agree that it smells highly “chemical” – is there anyone with just a bit of experience who would say otherwise?).  Instead, the chemist thought the perfumer more or less just “signed off” on the composition after it was made by others.  This blogger seems obsessed with the notion that he is some sort of gatekeeper (I’m not sure of what) but then he encourages readers when they state obviously wrong things!  I guess it’s fun to have an “echo chamber,” but I’d rather listen to constructive criticism and try to improve my understanding of a subject.

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Why does “small house” niche smell different?

If you have read quite a few fragrance reviews, even on major blogs, this question is not even raised, let alone addressed.  That is, they usually talk in generalizations and often there is some appeal to emotions.  As I mentioned a while back, there was a member of Basenotes.net some years ago who wrote more than a few reviews.  In all or nearly all of them, the scent was described as “so fresh and warm,” even in cases where I thought this was not at all the case.  My guess is that he was thinking with his heart, so to speak.  In fact, the only scent I can imaging being “fresh” and “warm” at the same time would be one involving chili pepper, and that note makes me feel ill for some reason.

One thing I was thinking, by contrast, as I tried a few Andy Tauer scents and a couple of Kerosene ones recently, is that there seems to a major difference between these and ones released by the “big guys.”  These tend to be heavy, simple/crude, straightforward, etc., whereas those by major perfumers often don’t.  If we compare Kerosene’s Copper Skies or Tauer’s Lonestat Memories or Incense Extreme (which I’ve sampled recently) to something like Olivier Durbano’s Black Tourmaline, for example, the difference is striking, as BT has a transparent quality and I kind of fluidity missing in those others.  It also has a kind of shifting dynamism, whereas those others feel leaden to me.  I have also felt this leaden quality with other “smaller” niche companies such as Eva Luxe, though I have enjoyed her scents a bit more, especially Kretek.  And while reading BN reviews of Elixir by Penhaligon, I encountered this one, which is along the lines I have been thinking in some cases:

Light oriental. Those two words aren’t mentioned that often when talking about mens’ frags. Contrary to some of the negative reviews here, I find this lightness very bearable and even refreshing. In fact, I think that Giacobetti did an excellent job to meld the spices, florals and sweet notes into a very interesting fragrance. Could Lutens or Malle ever put something like this out? I think not!

I was starting to ask myself, why have so few have suggested that there seems to be an “amateurish” quality to certain niche “housese.”  And let me make clear that I don’t think this is necessarily bad (I have a Kretek decant and wouldn’t mind have more, for example), but I think the difference should be discussed more on the major fragrance sites.  It would save more than a few people a lot of money, for example, if they wanted to avoid the “amateur” type of compositions.  Then I was thinking about why this was the case.  Of course, some do not have the extensive perfumery school training, but I was thinking that there was likely “more to the story,” so I asked the fragrance chemist I interviewed several months ago what he thought, and this was his response:

You’re right to have picked out the less smooth compositions of indie/niche fomulae vs. larger outfits, which is due to something we call fixatives or blenders. These aren’t the main accords used, but rather, are added after the bulk of the work is done to smooth out the edges of a parfum and add technical properties.

Most big companies have a catalog of blender formulae that you can pick and choose from depending on the end result you’re looking for (an eau de cologne will have a different blender than an oriental, etc.) and these tend to be pretty standard amongst the larger outfits. Because of the ubiquity of the blender ingredients, you often see them printed on the back of the retail packaging as a faux attempt at transparency (as you otherwise only get to hear about the “notes” which are very much open to interpretation.)

That said, little companies can buy these from the big guys ready made, but they are not cheap and have to be purchased in huge quantities, which doesn’t always work for independent perfumers, which is to say that these folks tend to have to work a lot harder to make an idea come together, because you kind of have to use the brute force method to figure out if something is going to work, rather than slapping something together, adding a blender and then tweaking accordingly.

This also might explain why some of us, including myself, tend to prefer “cheapos” made by “big companies” to many scents I’ll call amateur niche.  However, I’ll be the first person to admit that I like more than a few of these amateur niche scents, such as some by Smell Bent.  And I certainly dislike quite a few professional niche ones, such as those that seem to contain a lot of iso e super.  Speaking of which, the SJP scent, Stash, is one such scent.  Yes it seems “professional,” but I don’t enjoy anything about it.

I posed a similar question on the Basenotes DIY Forum and these were a couple of the the responses (apparently by those who create their own fragrances):

Access to captives, lab assistants, large databases, evaluators, formal training.

… and time, experience (from the formal training), deeper knowledge of the materials, a vending and promoting structure around them, and maybe even a set of family heritage accords. Still they use a lot of Hedione, Iso E Super and Galaxolide.

http://www.basenotes.net/threads/432482-What-do-the-quot-big-guys-quot-have-that-you-don-t?p=4023091#post4023091

Note that this doesn’t mean the “pros” put more effort into a new creation; if anything it seems as though the opposite may be the case!  However, it might help to understand this apparent distinction not just for “blind buys” but also to get a sense of how the scent was composed, which is certainly of interest to some aficionados.  And for all I know Lutens and Malle might be seeking a certain “heavy” quality for stylistic reasons rather than practical ones – the scents I’ve tried from these “houses” seem more “pro” than “amateur” to me.

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Why I usually don’t respond to recommendations posts.

These kinds of posts seem to be quite popular, in terms of the number of responses that are usually generated (at least on Basenotes.net), yet I am often confounded by many of those responses.  Some seem to have the “subtext” of, “welcome to our exclusive club – you must buy this $200 scent or else you are not worthy.”  I’ve addressed that kind of thing in other posts, saying that when a high school student asks about what he should wear during his Prom, suggesting vintage Kouros makes no sense, for example.

Of course, those who create such posts are often at least partially to blame,  because it’s common for not enough information to be furnished, and so they get so many different kinds of recommendations – usually, they would be better off just going to whatever local store has some testers available.  Often, they don’t even provide a general price range.  One such thread was created not long ago, with the title of, “Fragrances similar to LDDM that are more wearable?”  The original post to that thread is:

“I really like the dry down to LDDM, but I feel like the dryness before then precludes me from wearing it more/as on office scent. What are some fragrances that are similar but more wearable that I could add to my wardrobe instead?”

http://www.basenotes.net/threads/419675-Fragrances-similar-to-LDDM-that-are-more-wearable

I decided to try and “probe” the person into supplying more information with this post:

“Perhaps vintage Acteur? I’m not sure what kind of scent you are seeking, as I found it to be quite dry all the way through.”

Someone else then wrote this post:

“Please no offense Bigsly, but LDDM is one of my favorites and Azzaro’s Acteur is a total scrubber for me.
It would take someone with far more catholic tastes than I to like both.”

First, whether this person enjoys one but dislikes the other is totally irrelevant here.  Second, there is  a substantial difference between vintage and recent Acteur, the recent one having a kind of “sticky” quality that does not possess the note separation or “naturalness” of the vintage formulation.  Thus, this person did not address my recommendation – we do not know which formulation to which he refers!  His claim about “catholic tastes” suggests an attempt at being offensive after saying “no offense,” but I really don’t care – I don’t have to interact with this individual in “real life” and he can be as ridiculous as he likes in this context, AFAIC.

However, let’s get back to the person who wanted the advice.   The notes for “LDDM” are:

“The top is combined of coriander, cumin with a hint of petitgrain. The heart features rock rose and jasmine. The base includes cedar, vetiver and ambergris.”

And for Acteur these are the notes (both taken from Fragrantica.com):

“Top notes are fruity notes, nutmeg flower, bergamot and cardamom; middle notes are carnation, patchouli, jasmine, vetiver, cedar and rose; base notes are leather, amber, musk and oakmoss.”

Comments about the drydown in reviews vary, with some talking about woodiness or incense while others talk about amber.  The person who created the post seems to think that LDDM becomes less dry and presumably at least a bit softer/ambery, but the key point here is that he said he wanted something that he could recognize as similar but solved the issues he had with LDDM.  In the past I had suggested Black Tourmaline, and I would have done that here if the question was along these lines.  I asked him about vintage Acteur because there are some similarities, and IMO it’s not nearly as dry as LDDM, but it is spicy and woody.  After 24 hours, this person did not respond again to his own thread, so I just “closed the book,” but I wish others would be more mindful of what is actually being asked!

And the reality is that so often we see posts such as this very recent one:

“So i am a 22 year old college student. I’ve been looking to get some kind of fragrance just because im not a fan of scented body washes and i want to at least smell good and be a bit different. I have done a lot of research and i think ive done way too much because now i dont know what the hell to get. its like once you enter the black hole of fragrance you cant find your way out lol. For now since its winter i want something that is better for colder weather. I know i want something a little more mature than something like 1 million but i still want to retain that slightly sweeter vibe since i am in college and the girls around are in the 18-24 age range. I want something thats sexy but not a clubbing scent and still has that masculine mature vibe but has that sweetness to it that girls in my age range will like. I really lean towards D&G the one as it seems to encompass all of that and is something the girls love, but im aware its performance sucks and i do want something thats going to preform since i am a busy college student running around all day. I also obviously dont want something that everyone else is wearing like ADG and so on. I know its cheap but perry ellis 360 black is catching my eye simply due to the notes and appearing very similar to D&Gs the one based on reviews. Ed hardy villain is supposed to be close but i saw it doesnt have the tobacco which seems like it would take away that mature masculinity The one has. Anyway i would appreciate it if anyone could at least guide me in the direction i should be going because after all my research, i am all over the place.”

http://www.basenotes.net/threads/431783-Beginner-who-is-lost-in-the-black-hole-of-fragrances

Someone suggested Egoiste, which seems entirely inappropriate, but at least there were mostly reasonable suggestions.  One that was not was Pure Malt, which doesn’t seem appropriate for mature/school environments.  I think it would be best for such a person to sample at a local mall/Ulta/Sephora, but otherwise (if blinding buying is going to be done) I’d say there couldn’t be a better example of someone who should be looking for excellent “cheapos.”  I decided to not just give some advice but to also try to get my point across about inappropriate recommendations – this is my post to that thread:

“First, asking this kind of question here is bound to make you more confused, and might get a bunch of suggestions for $200+ scents that are not at all appropriate for your demographic (assuming you care about that – not everyone does). There are plenty of great and inexpensive scents, but it seems like people who come here as newbies and ask such questions usually want to think they are getting something ‘special,’ as if there were such a thing as a special smell (it’s good to see you may not be one of them!). To be sure, some smell more complex, unique, etc., but at this point the difference between the best ‘cheapos’ and really expensive scents is not vast, and personal preference of course matters to most people. So, my advice would be Police Gold Wings if you like absinthe/licorice notes (was about $10 at Notino not long ago, for 50 ml) and Magnet for Men by Eclectic Collections ($8/100 ml at Perfume Emporium not long ago).

NOTE: I have Villain but I’d be concerned about reformulations. If you can get the one made by New Wave it might work for you, though the strong sandalwood note might be too ‘old’ for your demographic.”

I’m not sure why sandalwood notes are considered “old,” but I’ve read that so many times I thought I should mention it.  I remember that when I was a newbie I created this kind of thread at least once, asking about scents with a strong cinnamon note.  I’m not sure I could even distinguish a strong cinnamon note from a strong spice note of a different type at that time, but I can’t assume someone who creates a post like this is in that same position.  To me there’s a kind of “first, do no harm” to these kinds of recommendations.  A low cost scent that seems to be much higher in “quality” than one would expect and that meets the person’s criteria is an obvious candidate.  Egoiste and Pure Malt are much more “risky,” by comparison, and such recommendations appear to be based upon that person’s preferences rather than a thoughtful consideration of what the person is seeking.

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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!).

NOTE:  As of late I’ve been thinking more about the “wisdom” of the “average person” in these matters.  That is, they will often say, “if it smells good I’ll wear it,” but of course they tend to be incredibly ignorant of the variety available.  I’ve been wearing lots of “cheapos” lately, and the reason is that I really enjoy so many of cheapos I own.  By contrast, I have worn few niche scents, despite having access to probably close tto 200 (well over half being samples or decants).  I intend to investigate more niche scents in the near future, because I have had many samples for a long time that I have yet to wear, and it will be interesting to see if I prefer the cheapos after doing so.

 

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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.

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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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