Amateur versus Professional Fragrances.

The following is my opinion, which is based upon my experience sampling since late 2007.  Let me make clear what I mean by sampling.  Most of the time, this means trying not to breathe in too much of the top notes and wearing the fragrance for at least five hours before applying another one.  I did that for at least two years but lately I just wear one fragrance per day.  Sometimes I’ll spray a different fragrance on the top blanket before I got to bed.  I call that a cloth sampling.  If I get a new fragrance and I’m concerned about hating it, I’ll spray once to the area just above the sock line (I usually wear crew length socks).  I can then use my hand to waft up it up the nose every so often to check on it.  That allows me to appreciate the fragrance I’m wearing (usually one or two sprays to the chest, with no undershirt).

Now on to the topic of this post.  It dawned on me not long ago that there is a kind of amateur signature to some fragrances.  It involves creating a central accord that is pleasant but has little note distinction.  It may be obvious that vanilla or lavender are present, for example, but some of the other notes are not recognizable at all and overall there is a “blob”-like quality, as I call it.  I fist noticed this when I sampled vintage Paul Sebastian PS Fine Cologne (I think that’s what it’s called).  I can understand why many find it pleasant, and there’s nothing “wrong” with it, but there is definitely something different about it, relative to the fragrances I enjoy most (which are also from two or three decades ago).  Another fragrance I noticed this with is Fierce, by Abercrombie & Fitch.  In this case, there’s a green mossy quality, along with amber, and several other notes that are part of the “blob.”

The problem for me is the lack of counterbalance and the density.  Tobacco Vanille works for me because the tobacco and vanilla balance each other, and while it is dense, it never feels like a “blob” to me.  It seems to dissipate, in a sense, whereas “blob” fragrances just stay dense and the notes seem balled up.  Note that I’ve also tried some niche fragrances from the smallest companies and noticed that some of those fragrances also have this amateurish quality.  I call it amateurish because my guess is that the perfumer does not know how to “loosen up” the fragrance over time.  To me these fragrances are more of a scent than a perfume.  There is minimal dynamism and they can get cloying quickly.  Professional fragrances, by contrast, seem like more of a web to me, and that allows the wearer to feel like he or she can focus on an accord or note for a moment, whereas this is impossible in a “blob” fragrance.

It seems to be the case that many like these amateurish fragrances because they have a “statement making” quality, and I am certainly not going to tell anyone to avoid trying to do this.  I just don’t think such a fragrance is going to hold much interest to the aficionado.  In the case of Fierce, for example, there was a short period of time when the “blob” seemed to be loosening up, but then it became very weak.  I could apply more, but the problem is the “blob” would then likely become cloying.  As Luca Turin said in his “Perfumes: The Guide” book (co-authored by Tania Sanchez): “”The difficulty with this kind of composition is that it works only if the raw materials are of exquisite quality. Nothing is harder to do on the cheap than diffuse, soft-focus luxury.”

While it may be that some compositions are more sensitive to higher-quality ingredients, the point is that the “diffuse, soft-focus” effect is so compelling (at least to me) that fragrances which go in the other direction, so to speak, come across as crude and unpleasant, even if the scent itself is pleasant.  Of course, if the “blob” loosens up fairly quickly all may be forgiven.  But when there is just a “blob,” for hours, I find myself asking what the perfumer had intended.  Does this person not know how to do any better?  Unfortunately, perfumers rarely tell us what they are thinking in this context.  In a recent documentary, perhaps the most famous perfumer alive, Jean-Claude Ellena, stated that he liked to think of smells in terms of colors, but when pressed to explain further, he clearly didn’t know what to say, and the logical conclusion is that he didn’t put enough thought into this notion (I think in terms of texture rather than color).  It may be that perfumery is more of a craft than anything else, and just like Picasso and other “modernists” who never learned the academic way to paint naturalistically, there are many perfumers who didn’t learn how to create the diffuse, soft-focus effect.  I wish I knew for sure!

Here is my review of Fierce: This begins as a green, mossy “blob” (beyond the top notes), and that persists for a few hours before it begins to loosen up. Unfortunately, just when I thought it would become more of an aficionado fragrance, it became very weak. If I sprayed more, I have no doubt the “blob” quality would result in a cloying quality. It smells nice, no doubt, but it gets boring very quickly, with the notes staying bundled up and providing minimal dynamism. For this kind of thing, I prefer several fragrances, including vintage Ma Griffe, which begins with an odd but interesting fenugreek-dominated quality. If Fierce developed into a similar base as Ma Griffe (a powdery, green chypre with a clear but subtle vetiver note), I would consider it a very good fragrance, but as it stands it seems a bit too amateurish for me.

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