I’m all in favor of making suggestions, especially in terms of advice such as not to wear heavy, amber-dominant fragrances on hot, humid days. However, when a reviewer or blogger tells readers to think of a fragrance as horrible but doesn’t explain why, that suggests a rather immature mentality at work, though I think most of us can agree on that point. What I’ve seen that I think is more insidious is the claim that a fragrance “lacks artistry” or is derivative or is poorly constructed, often with little explanation. Thus, the person sounds more credible or knowledgeable, yet is essentially doing the same thing as the guy who tells you “dis ding stinks.”
I was thinking I should write up a post about this after reading a review of Brooks Brothers’ New York Gentleman over at http://frompyrgos.blogspot.com. First, we are told that it is a “a mediocre song played very well,” and then that it’s a “rehash of a tired masculine formula: the citrus-floral chypre.” A bit later we hear that it’s “a stripped-down and hastily-assembled redux of Eau Sauvage.” One undeniably useful piece of information (to me), if accurate, is the following:
“According to Richard Herpin, Brooks Bros. insisted on several expensive aroma chemicals and raw materials,” though that is immediately followed by “presumably to make up for a lack of content in the formula.”
This blogger then claims that calone replaces hedione in this Eau Sauvage type of fragrance, going on to say “…it’s a damned good execution, but significantly clunkier, cheaper, and less compelling than Eau Sauvage.” How is it “cheaper?” The blogger tells us about all the high quality ingredients but then says it smells cheaper than Eau Sauvage? I find Eau Sauvage to be so overloaded with hedione that it comes across as “synthetic” to me. I like how hedione in handled in Acqua di Gio much more than in Eau Sauvage, and that gets to the heart of the matter, at least as far as I’m concerned. And to make this clear yet again, I wouldn’t care who this bloggger is, because I’m going to wear fragrances I find pleasant, and I don’t care about someone else’s idea that he or she has some sort of objective understanding of fragrances, and so my nose must be somehow broken if I disagree.
In this case, the argument being made is self-contradictory. I suggest this person have someone else read his blog post before posting it, but I’ve seen similar reviews in the past from others. One can agree or disagree with me here, but does anyone agree with the social reality of how fragrances are sold?. Most people seeking a fragrance today do not have a great deal of knowledge of historical fragrances, and are not going to think in terms of which ones may be “rehashes” and which ones are “originals” or “classics.” How do most people know which is which? And why should one care? Does this blogger go around telling people things like, “I’m wearing Eau Sauvage today, which was created by…” and recite a historical essay on the subject?
The blogger’s last claim seems to sum things up well. He states that Eau Sauvage “sees no threat from this one,” meaning New York Gentleman. Though creative license can be entertaining, this statement suggests that the perfumer of NYG was trying to do something similar yet superior to ES, which would require verification. Another point of contention, which is not uncommon, is the idea that these kinds of fragrances are chypres. Let’s take a look at the listed notes (according to Fragrantica.com):
ES: “…lemon, basil, bergamot, cumin, lavender and fruit. A heart blooms with jasmine, rose, carnation, iris root, coriander, patchouli and sandalwood. Base notes bring us oak moss, vetiver, musk and amber.”
NYG: “…bergamot, verbena, petit grain oil, mandarin, carnation, iris root, cumin, oak moss, vetiver and musk.”
So what we see here is that ES appears to be more complex, with wood and patchouli notes that NYG does not possess. The blogger claims (and I agree with him here) that ES has plenty of hedione but that NYG does not. There are also claims that ES has been reformulated badly but all I can say is that the ES I tried a few years ago seemed rather light, and I didn’t get very strong notes other than hedione once the drydown came. NYG, by contrast, is rather severe, especially at first. It comes together nicely but is quite rigid all the way through. Chypres require oakmoss and a softening element, labdanum. Let’s take a look at how another blogger describes it:
“The classical amber in perfumery is a sweet, rich accord of labdanum and vanilla. In contrast to the marine and animalic ambergris, it is a pure fantasy accord like fougère or chypre, and despite the fact that its name evokes the fabled material, ambergris, it does not attempt to reproduce this animalic marine scent. Perfumery amber is so called, because the golden color of the blend resembles the semi-precious amber jewel. Sweet and voluptuous, perfumery amber is quite versatile, and whenever one encounters a fragrance named Amber or Ambre, it is likely to be a warm, vanilla and labdanum based blend.
Labdanum, a resinous material obtained from the Mediterranean species of rockrose (Cistus ladanifer or Cistus creticus,) smells rich, leathery, smoky and sweet…”
You can find the rest of this post at: http://boisdejasmin.com/2011/09/amber-sweet-labdanum-perfume-notes-and-fragrance-materials.html
ES lists amber but NYG does not. The soft, sort of spongy chypre accord is not present in NYG, and I don’t understand why anyone would call it a chypre. Nor do I detect any calone in NYG, as he claims exists in it. Both ES and NYG may open with strong citrus softened a bit by floral notes, but they then go on paths that aren’t particularly similar. NYG offers me note clarity and an olfactory experience that few fragrances can, in my experience, characterized by uncompromising severity. ES, by contrast, is a hedione-laden muddle that is of no interest, though again, this may be due to reformulations for all I know. And if that’s the case, it’s all the more reason to seek out fragrances like NYG (which feature high quality ingredients) and to avoid “reformulation disasters.”
For me, Acqua di Gio does what I would have liked ES to do, which is to incorporate hedione in a fragrance successfully. And as I have said in a post about fougeres, a fragrance with a mild, barely detectable chypre accord should not be called a chypre fragrance. Now it may be true that this person’s blog post represents an obvious example of not allowing others to tell you what fragrance you should wear, but what’s good about it is that it contains some of the major claims made by self-proclaimed experts (if you want to see a lot more of it, read “Perfumes: The Guide,” ‘by Turin and Sanchez), such as:
1. “Classics” are better than fragrances that seem to be “imitations” (I’ve found that the imitators often “fix the problems” of the originals).
2. The “reshash” of masculine cliches claim, but again it may be a successful “rehash,” so who cares even if this is true?
3. There is a “lack of content” or “poor construction,” which could only be true if there is an objective standard for fragrances, something that is clearly not the case (sometimes a fragrance is like one big accord on drydown, which I think of as “amateurish,” though I always explain this in my reviews, pointing out that some people seem to like the effect even though I don’t).
I think my major issue with this kind of post is that it seems to be an attempt to make a fragrance the blogger likes seem superior to others. In this case, I don’t think the two fragrances in question are even that similar. Why not just explain how you experience the fragrances and then let others think about which one is right for him or her? Why the strained attempts to make one fragrance seem noble or a “work of art” while making another seem like the work of a plagiaristic hack? Imagine someone driving around in a 1979 Ford Fairmont who is constantly telling you why his car is superior to your 2010 Hyundai Excel! Please, just wear what you enjoy, and if you want to write a review, keep in mind that there is no set of objective standards and that not everyone’s brain is “wired” the way yours is when it comes to fragrances.
UPDATE: I did a dab sampling of New York Gentleman to see if my opinion changed, since I haven’t worn in it several months. I detect nothing that should be lead to this being classified as a chypyre here. If your understanding of chypres come from Mitsouko, as mine does, my guess is that you will scratch you head at the notion that NYG is a chypre. Smelling it up close on the skin does reveal a mild marine-like quality, so I did some research on calone. From my experience with fragrances that supposedly have calone, I’ve thought of it as having a melon-like quality as well as a weird vibrational aspect that is perhaps suggestive of rippling water. The major factor may be the amount used. In any case, some claim that it’s quite a complicated subject, with other chemicals being used to produce different effects, such that there is no one calone smell or quality. You might want to read this if the subject interests you: