Should you be reading this (or any) fragrance blog?

I’ve been reading fragrance blogs for quite a while now, and one thing I realized quickly is that what you get is one person’s opinion, nothing more. It seems as though some people do not understand this point, but more about that later. What I’ve tried to do on this blog is to write about a topic when I feel I understand it, so that the reader will get more than one finds on so many fragrance blogs these days, which are often reviews that simply aren’t very good (for one reason or another). On one (http://pourmonsieurblog.blogspot.com), the blogger has written several reconsideration reviews, in which he explains how he has changed his mind “180 degrees” on certain fragrances. This is consistent with my experience, that is, one really needs to take a lot of time to properly assess a fragrance. And that can be a problem when you either don’t like a fragrance or wear it once or twice a year. However some people seem to think that if you change your mind over time there is something wrong with your sense of smell. How anyone could come to that conclusion is beyond my comprehension.

Let’s take the popular Green Irish Tweed as an example. The first review I did of it was at basenotes.net. This is what I wrote in February of 2010 (I gave it a “negative” rating):

“I’m with foetidus on this one. The violet leaf note ruins it for me. If you want a much gentler violet leaf note, try Paul Smith’s London for men. It’s got a soft base with a brandy note that’s quite nice, though certainly nothing “extraordinary.” GIT is just downright unpleasant to me. Sample first, unless you enjoy strong violet leaf and plenty of money to spend.”

I don’t know when I wrote up a review for it on Fragrantica.com. but the first one was (and it was after my BN review):

“I tried this years ago, as a newbie, and didn’t like the top notes, which overwhelmed me. Now I can tolerate them, though they are not my favorite accord. Beyond that, it is quite similar to Cool Water. CW may be a bit metallic and certainly seems a bit harsher, but it does have a detectable tobacco note (perhaps the only thing I really like in it). GIT is certainly a high quality fragrance for those who like the dominant accord. I prefer Molto Smalto, because that one is along the same lines but there a nice sandalwood note that seems to “cut” the aspects I don’t like much, leading to a pleasant experience. GIT is a bit too one-dimensional for me, and if price is considered (which it is for me) I can’t give it a second thought.”

I then updated it with the following (again not sure of the date, though I’d guess within the last few months):

“UPDATE: After wearing GIT again I can see the reason for its appeal. Basically, you get a gentle, long-lasting lavender and violet leaf (somewhat grassy), which is not easy to attain (in my experience). I’ve found that the base notes often seem cheap/synthetic or the violet leaf is too harsh, etc. in similar scents, but GIT gets it just right, with a subtle sandalwood/ambergris in the base. The opening blends into the base without any seams, so to speak. Olympios is great too, but more complex. The excellent Molto Smalto is closer to Cool Water but has a more obvious sandalwood note in any case. GIT is for someone who knows exactly what he wants, though it’s very nice for the non-aficionado as well. It’s just complex/dynamic enough and it has no flaws. Unlike the overly complex/muddled Cool Water, there is no major neroli and no tobacco; for me, GIT comes together quickly and is a great olfactory exprerience that lasts for hours. If you think it’s too expensive, I agree, but I don’t take that into account in my reviews.”

What I try to show is my developing understanding, and in some cases a change of opinion, which is why I add to my old reviews instead of deleting them. The author of http://frompyrgos.blogspot.com contacted me, apparently thinking he was going to play “gotcha politics,” because I now don’t think CW should be compared to GIT. However, that is for the me of today, and it might not make sense to you, as it probably wouldn’t for the me of some point in the past. To make things clear I added the following to my Fragrantica review:

“UPDATE #2: I want to thank karlovonamesti for reminding me of my first, and now very old review (the first paragraph above), and how I no longer view GIT as being similar to CW (other than perhaps both possessing quite a bit of dihydromyrcenol, along with lavender, which is true for many “men’s” fragrances). Over the years, my ability to detect notes has increased considerably, so my guess is that if you have good note detection ability then you will perceive a significant difference whereas if you do not they will smell similar to you. My sense of smell seems to continue to develop, which I enjoy, but it’s also something you should consider when you read my reviews, or anyone else’s for that matter !”

By contrast, what I’ve often found on fragrance blogs I follow are superficial reviews (which are rarely if ever updated). I’ll take an example from a blog I’ve been reading for many years now, nstperfume.com:

“Amyris [Femme, by Maison Francis Kurkdjian] starts off bright, with sophisticated citrus notes, and it never really darkens as much as I expected it to. ‘Luminous’ is definitely a good description: its notes of fruit and balsam and iris and woods are all seamlessly blended and burnished to a glow. On my first wearing, I thought I noticed a more prominent dusty-gray iris, but on repeated wearings I’m ending up with a heart and drydown of citrus-tinged amber and transparent, feminine woods. Amyris has average sillage and somewhat light staying power for an Eau de Parfum…

Amyris smells ‘expensive’ but not overwhelming, and it’s very versatile (day-to-night, etc.)…”

So, what we see here is difficulty with a basic understanding of the fragrance (certainly not unusual, in my experience), which might be due to skin chemistry, weather, or some other factor that may be difficult to manipulate for the purposes of reviews. And we see a superficial review as well. Now if this is the best this person can do, that’s fine, and I’ll take it for what it is worth and be glad there are such people in our world, who share their thoughts and don’t charge me for it. However, to be honest, I prefer to read reviews by those who are more specific. I also prefer reviews in which fragrances are compared to others, though I am very wary of the assessments, having found that I disagree as much as I agree with them, it seems. If several people agree, especially if they’ve written a bunch of reviews I think are fairly good, I may attach considerably more weigh to the comparison.

And that brings us back to Green Irish Tweed and Cool Water. I suppose one of us could pay a scientist to analyze the two. For our money, we would get a graph showing us that there are some shared molecules and some different ones. My guess is that those who think these fragrances are very similar would argue that the similarities are “proof enough,” or something along those lines. Even using the latest technology there is no way to know that two fragrances smell very similar unless they are identical (though if a group of perfumers said that for all intents and purposes they should be regarded as the same, I would guess that I’d agree). And while it may be possible (and I have no doubts about it) to find a third fragrance that is much closer to CW than GIT is (using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry?), if that was the case, would that make me “right” on this point? And what about possible reformulations (meaning that we don’t know for sure what someone is smelling when they write a review)?

The author of http://frompyrgos.blogspot.com seems to want to “right fight,” as TV’s Dr. Phil might say. He seems to think that he has an objective, unchanging, complete understanding of fragrances. How that is consistent with his claim that his blog is “no bullshit” is puzzling to me, because the idea that one is right and that those who disagree must be wrong strikes me as 100% “bullshit” when it comes to something as subjective as fragrances. Clearly, we see things very differently, but as with my fragrance reviews, I continue to reconsider and try to be as detailed as I can. I know that a few people appreciate my reviews, in light of messages I’ve gotten over the years, and I will continue to write at least for them. Thus, when you read fragrance blogs, I ask you to consider the limitations of the reviewer (and not necessarily because the reviewer is doing anything “wrong,” but rather due to difficulties involved). Enjoy the reviews for what they are, rather than for what you would like them to be !

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