Thoughts about reformulations and “wardrobe” size.

If you can’t tell the difference between the new versions of recent fragrances and the original ones, don’t panic.  The key, I think, is to just keep sampling different fragrances (as many different kinds as possible) and let it come to you.  You may end up with a whole lot of bottles, but I really enjoy having 100 or more that I “rotate” (so that I usually wear a particular fragrance no more than about four or five times a year).  At another fragrance blog (I don’t want to mention which one), the blogger said that he once had 26 fragrances that he occasionally used but that he is now down to 16 and that number will soon be 15.  That’s fine with me, but it’s not consistent with my experience, nor with a recent study:

“Consumers enjoy products more in the long run if they don’t overuse them when first purchased, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research…”


This seems to be the opposite of what many “wannabe” fragrance aficionados do, and I’ve seen several of them “burn out” within a year or so.  I took my time, mainly because I realized how much I didn’t know and how much there seemed to learn (and appreciate), and that worked out very well for me.  However, when I heard “veterans” talk about terrible reformulations in my first year of this “hobby,” I thought they were being too picky.  Somewhere between my second and third years I realized the difference ingredient quality can make.  This is not “something debatable.”  You either can detect the difference or you can’t, but the difference is there.  How else could fragrances that sold for so much in the 1980s be sold now for next to nothing?

I was fortunate to meet a woman who worked in the fragrance industry back then (she sold me a rare test edition bottle of KL Homme), and this is one of the things she told me: “I worked in the fragrance department at Arden. I always loved this perfume [KL Homme]. This oil was very expensive for the company to buy. It was nearly $100/lb. Most of the fine fragrances today are very cheap, without the expensive natural raw materials, around $10/lb.”

Yet some bloggers and reviewers claim they can’t tell there is any difference at all or that it is so minor as to not be noteworthy.  This might be true for them but all that means is that they are speaking when they should instead be sampling, at least until they can detect the vast difference. At that point, if they don’t mind the difference (or like the new one better), that’s fine with me.  I am only in this for olfactory enjoyment, and if the fragrance is made with very cheap ingredients and ends up in the bargain bin at Marshalls, that’s great (for me, at least)!  I even like recent fragrances that just about everybody else seems to dislike (at, such as the aftershave version of Challenge by Lacoste (I dislike the EdT formulation, to be clear).

One of the reasons may be that this is not my favorite type of fragrance, so I can’t tell that there are others which are clearly superior.  However, I can tell that it does not contain a large amount of “naturals.”  The reason is that such fragrances have a richness or depth to them that fragrances such as Challenge lack.  I have even thought of mixing such fragrances with a good-quality amber-dominant fragrance (such as Ambra by Etro) but I’ve been so busy with all the fragrances I have that I haven’t gotten around to it yet.  The first one I want to try with this “experiment” is Burberry’s Sport Ice for Men, which seems to need a little “softening” and is lacking in depth to me.  If and when I do that I intend to update this blog post.  Reformulations can get complicated, and it’s not always clear which fragrance a reviewer is discussing (I believe there are at least three distinct versions of Quorum, for example, the second one being the most floral of them), so always keep that in mind.

Note that the major reason why I don’t want to mention the name of that blog is because the blogger seems to have a great deal of enthusiasm (and does have some interesting insights), but unfortunately has not developed his “nose” to a sufficient degree to make most of his claims relevant to me.  This person also seems to think there is some kind of “objective” reality to fragrances, whereas my experience is that there is little or no “rhyme or reason” to fragrance appreciation, and that your tastes can change significantly and in a short period of time.  I think that frustrates or even frightens some people (perhaps not on an entirely conscious level), but to me it’s more like a mystery that I want to try and solve.  And in this case, if I never solve that mystery, it may be better, because that might keep me interested in this “hobby” for many years to come !

UPDATE: The blogger I mentioned above created a new post on his blog about reformulations. He makes the point that most people aren’t going to hunt down vintage and that vintage may be very difficult to find. This is true for some fragrances, for example, I’ve tried to obtain a bottle of vintage Yatagan at a reasonable price but have yet to achieve success. Fortunately, I recently acquired some Les Copains Homme, which seems to be very similar to vintage Yatagan (from all the information I’ve been able to gather). For me, many of the new formulations are not worth wearing at all whereas many of the originals are among my favorites. The difference is so vast that if I didn’t mention it, I probably shouldn’t be talking about fragrances at all! Of course, for those who can’t detect much if any difference the situation is the exact opposite, presumably. That’s why my conclusion is that we should “consider the source” when we do things like read fragrance reviews, rather than assume that there is some sort of objective standard to which we all must adhere.

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