Are standards necessary for fragrance reviews ?

I realize that anyone (like me) can start a blog these days and say just about anything he or she wishes about just about any subject, but let’s take an example from the field of fine art. Suppose a critic wrote up a review of an oil painting, but there was no photo of the painting with the review, nor was there any indication of what the painting actually looked like? Instead, the critic told us that the title of the painting is absurd, but didn’t explain why. This is the case with Luca Turin’s review of Python by Trussardi (the “women’s” version):

“The absurdly named Python is a poverty-stricken sweet-powdery affair, a very distant relative of the wonderful Habanita (Molinard). It belongs in a tree shaped diffuser dangling from the rearview mirror of a Moscow taxi.”

Also, Turin has given very favorable reviews of fragrances that are quite simple (or “poverty-stricken”), such as Bois d’Encens, which leads the informed reader to question what is wrong with such a quality (assuming he is correct about this characterization). I won’t comment upon what Moscow taxis should smell like, except to say that I don’t mind this kind of humor at all, but that there is no “setup” for it, which means it “falls flat” and comes across as petty and mean. If we were told that the company that produced this fragrance had been cutting corners recently, for example, then there would be a “setup” for the joke and the review would make sense, though of course it still might not be accurate.

A*Men, unlike Python, received a very good review from Mr. Turin, though it is very sweet too. It includes a very strong tar note, which leads to many disliking it, apparently (that includes me). There is also strong mint, chocolate, and lavender in A*Men. If one were to give it an excellent review because it is “daring” or “innovative,” that’s fine with me, so long as the reviewer also mentioned that the reader might find it unwearable for this same reason (as any reasonable person would consider possible if not probable). Mr. Turin thinks A*Men is more suited to women than men, and so comparing A*Men to Python seems to be reasonable, at least in Mr. Turin’s view (I agree with him on this point).

My contention here is that Python is much more wearable than A*Men for most people, men or women (assuming that they like this kind of fragrance, obviously), and also that is actually smells good! Of course, this is clearly a matter of personal preference, but it is a fact that there is no “oddball” note, such as tar. It does smell a bit medicinal, but this is not uncommon, especially in expensive “niche” fragrances (that often get very favorable reviews by people like Mr. Turin – Arabie is one example). Moreover, I don’t understand how Python can be viewed as especially simple or “poverty-stricken.” Here are the notes, which I found at basenotes.net:

Top Notes:
* Bergamot, Mandarin, Plum.
Middle Notes:
* Chocolate, Rose, Jasmine, Cardamom, Nutmeg .
Base Notes:
* Sandalwood, Benzoin, Vanilla .

For me, the plum is strong, the chocolate noticeable, and the spices medicinal, especially at first. There is clearly a sandalwood note, but not much benzoin or vanilla (though one or both of these may help to generate the powdery sandalwood quality the fragrance possesses). I get no strong floral note, but it is more of a “blended” fragrance than one that has strong articulation of notes. Once it settles down, it is very pleasant, but does not remind me of an “air freshener” in any way. I wish Mr. Turin had explained how he came to this conclusion, and this is something I wish all critics would do. That is, if you make a strong statement, explain it to the reader. I don’t know how many times a teacher told me that when I wrote an essay I had to assume that the reader was not a teacher who already knew the subject, but instead a person of “normal” intelligence who was interested in the subject but not yet very knowledgeable about it.

Another fragrance Python can be compared to is Jacomo de Jacomo’s Rouge. It also has that medicinal quality up top, with a powdery and somewhat dry vanillic sandalwood base. It is harsher and doesn’t have the balance of Python, but I’m not suggesting that it is unpleasant or that this was unintentional. Nor am I claiming that it is an inferior fragrance; rather, it is a matter of personal preference. It is certainly not technically deficient in any way either. I wish critics would explain why they do things like give Rouge an excellent review while giving Python a poor one, or vice versa. Because they rarely do, there is the potential for a great deal of confusion in the minds of the people who comprise their audience!

The name may not be especially relevant, but a reasonable person probably could make this claim about half of the fragrances now on the market, if not more! Anyway, I’ll move on to another point, which I think is very important, and perhaps the most important, which is that when your write a review of a fragrance you must tell the reader what it smells like. In his review of Polo Double Black (and others, such as Obsession for Men), Mr. Turin tells us that young men in the “trash neighborhood” he was living in at the time, presumably, seemed to really like it, and that he didn’t want to be associated with that “tribe.” I don’t really care if Mr. Turin likes Polo Double Black, but I really would like to know what he thinks of it as a fragrance, not as a social statement. I don’t mind being told about that information, assuming it is true, but I need to know what it actually smells like, if it is technically sound, how it progresses over time, etc.

I’ve come to include that I enjoy Polo Double Black, at least once in a while. The drydown is a very nice combination of coffee, nutmeg, and vanilla. The balance is excellent, with the longevity and projection being good if not very good. I don’t understand the mango top note, and don’t like it, but since I avoid top notes as much as possible, it doesn’t bother me much. Half an hour of weirdness is followed by several hours of olfactory pleasure. I can understand the claim that is lacks “artistry,” though I’m not all that concerned about such a “failing,” but otherwise, as a personal fragrance, I consider it to be at least a decent accomplishment. If Mr. Turin thinks that a lack of artistry condemns a fragrance to the lowest possible ranking on his assessment scale, that is fine with me, so long as he discloses this to his readers. Otherwise, he is not being fair to the fragrance companies, or more importantly (as far as I’m concerned), to his readers. Moreover, in this case, there is what I believe to be a direct contradiction, because he writes positively about Armani’s Attitude for men, pointing out that it is not unique or artistic, but that the notes get along very well together. This is exactly how I feel about Polo Double Black, and I wish Mr. Turin could explain to his readers why his view of Attitude is valid but that the same view is not applicable to Polo Double Black (and why isn’t Attitude a strange name for a fragrance he considers rather mundane?).

When I’ve reviewed fragrances, I’ve made it clear over and over again that I’m not especially interested in top notes and that wearability over a period of several hours is the most important criterion for me. I don’t understand how so many critics/reviewers (in the fragrance field as well as others) act as if the criteria they are using are not only understood by their audiences (even though they never disclose their ideas), but are also not subject to any criticism (in other words, there is an implicit notion that their method of criticism is not flawed in any way). With fragrances, there are many obvious points that should be disclosed to the reader, such as whether the critic is focused mostly on top notes or the drydown, but this is rarely done, in my experience. Keep the poetic phrasing and dark humor coming, Mr. Turin, but please don’t forget that people want to know what the fragrance actually smells like!

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2 Comments

Filed under Criticizing the critics.

2 responses to “Are standards necessary for fragrance reviews ?

  1. I love Python by Trussardi. I love its name too. I find Python to be a nice, soft and cuddly perfume. It starts out with nose tickling citrus notes and gives way to a velvety base of balsamic vanilla and sweet sandalwood. It also has what I call a “fuzzy” note, which makes me think of burying my face into a soft cashmere sweater. The way the silken fibres brush against my skin, makes me feel warm and comfortable. Spraying Python on my skin envelopes my body in a warm, fuzzy cocoon. I find that after the inital citric blast, the perfume remains more of a skin scent rather than a huge sillage bomb. Other “fuzzy” perfumes in my wardrobe are: Cashmere Mist by Donna Karan, Ambre Gris by Balmain and Cruel Gardenia by Guerlain.

    • Yacht Man Chocolate is kind of the masculine version of Python, but it’s considerably weaker and has a touch of that “laundry musk” quality. For the price of that one, though, it’s hard to criticize! LOL.

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