Is it too soon to declare the online “Perfume Renaissance” DOA ?

Over at http://frompyrgos.blogspot.com, I read an interesting blog post entitled, “The Slow Death Of Basenotes and The End Of The Perfume Renaissance.” I’m not interested in being the contrarian here, and I do think there is something to be said for the author’s notion. On the other hand, a well known political commentator once declared the “death of history” not all that long ago (before the 9/11 terrorist attacks). To sum up my position, this sort of observation is likely mistaking ebbs and flows for births and deaths. This reminds me of something I heard not long ago, when I turned on BookTV and witnessed a female author talking about her book, which argued that allowing women into the military was going to do serious damage to the nation’s fighting capabilities (or something along those lines). Her “evidence” was talking to some men on an aircraft carrier, it seemed. What she was mistaking, IMO of course, is that when something new is introduced into society, there is often a period of adjustment, which I consider part of the ebbs and flows, if and when it occurs.

For me, this was the case with scents. I had worn some Aramis back in the 1980s and some Francesco Smalto Pour Homme back in the early to mid 1990s, but never really thought much about them. On the other hand, by around 2000, I was interested in developing some new recipes for my notions about a healthy diet, so I was working with herbs, spices, etc. The point is that I was not at all unfamiliar with all kinds of aromatic items many Americans do not use when they cook (fenugreek, coriander, curry powder, masala powder, cardamom, cumin, marjoram, etc.), yet I didn’t think about perfumery at all. Then I was giving a gift in 2007 (Adidas Moves) and was curious if there was any information about it online. That idea led to the discovery of various perfumery blogs, basenotes.net, makupalley.com, etc.

For one reason or another, this seems to have been true for a large number of people, perhaps beginning around 2000 or a bit later. Remember in the late 1960s when San Francisco was the place for young non-conformists to congregate? Obviously you may only “remember” from a history class, but one can think of various historical examples of this kind of phenomenon. Turning to scents, I have been surprised by how many apparently enthusiastic “perfumista” types came and went, often rather quickly. Actually, I wrote up a partial blog post about it a couple months ago but it is still patiently waiting in draft mode for orders to move out. One question I addressed in that post was, why does this happen? Now I’m asking myself if this happens in similar areas, such as wine connoisseurship, at least to the degree it seems to with scents.

I think it may not, mainly because scents are easy to just ignore, even if you continue to wear them (meaning that the bottles one acquires need not “go to waste”). Moreover, I’ve found that I really need to “rotate” my scents so that I may only wear one that I like two or three times a year! Not many others have the choices I do in that respect, so boredom seems like a strong possibility. It may be that for many if not most, the “divine madness” one experiences with a scent at first only lasts for a few wearings, if one tries to wear the scent too frequently. There is a often tension in my thoughts when I first wake up about whether I should wear an “old favorite” or try something new that I think I might like, but I like having this kind of “problem.” In any case, one thing I said in that draft of a similar idea for a post is the following:

“The person writes more reviews that I do within the same period of time, with these musings becoming more and more ‘poetic’ and ‘philosophical.’ Then, all of a sudden, the person is gone. In some cases he or she deletes all his/her reviews, while in other instances, he or she bids farewell to his/her ‘fans’ and explains how he/she must ‘move on.’ In still others, we simply see a slow withdrawal over weeks or months. Of course this is not always the case; some reviewers with these tendencies persevere, perhaps slowing down significantly, though in some cases I’ve noticed a bit of bitterness seeping into their ruminations.”

This is just an impression of mine, of course, though I could provide some examples (our friend at http://frompyrgos.blogspot.com has already done that, so you can just read his post if you want some). When I first realized how many scents are available to me and how much they varied, I knew it would take me quite a bit of time to just begin to get a handle on things. I didn’t think trying to rush things would make sense, and in fact, I still have no sense of urgency. With others, I’ve noticed things I consider counter-productive, such as writing long invectives against Chanel because of disappointment over their latest men’s releases. My guess is that in some cases, such people are looking for someone to blame for the bell curve that represents their enjoyment of scents. After all, there are plenty of great vintage ones that still cost less than the average designer scent. I’ve been on a bit of a “vintage hunt” for over two years now and there are plenty of them I’ve yet to sample, for example.

On this blog, I have only written up a new post when I felt I had “something to say,” and I guess I view myself as a scent tortoise as opposed to all the hares that have come and gone over the years. Also, I agree with the author of “The Slow Death Of Basenotes and The End Of The Perfume Renaissance” on his commentary about basenotes.net, in that I wish the owner of that site would figure out how to straighten it out once and for all. If this is very difficult for some reason, why not be “transparent” with members and tell us exactly what the problem is? No matter, I know that I too have moved on to some degree from basenotes, in that I don’t mind nearly as much when it is down as I did a few years ago. There are lots of other things to do, and that’s just online! For those who find themselves thinking that they need to bow out of the perfumery scene, why not ask yourself if you can just slow down and let it come to you, so to speak, rather than pursuing it aggressively? That’s what I’ve done with various interests and hobbies, and it’s worked out very well.

My guess is that what we have witnessed is a kind of first wave of “internet age” interest in scents. There may be a lull and various kinds of consolidation, but I think we’ll see just as many new people (if not more) becoming aficionados as there have been aficionados dropping out of the scene over a longer course of time (perhaps a few years). The reason is self-evident: the departing aficionados became enthusiastic about scents in the first place because of the enjoyment they provide. It may be true that for most people this enjoyment occurs on a “bell curve,” but with all the resources now online (and growing every day), there’s no reason to think that it won’t continue to grow. I think that when one first experiences a scent he or she really likes, there is the assumption that will be the case during every subsequent wearing, and not everyone reacts the same way when it becomes clear this is not the reality. Without a large rotation, the “magic” may indeed evaporate rather quickly. Many of those who departed the scene in a notable appear to have been what one might call chronic samplers who seemed intent on testing boundaries rather than enjoying what they already had. I wish such folk would comment here and provide some insights but if they are truly gone from the scene for good, I can only wish them the best.

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4 Comments

Filed under Criticizing the critics.

4 responses to “Is it too soon to declare the online “Perfume Renaissance” DOA ?

  1. Thank you for this optimistic post. Like you, I also really enjoyed reading “The Slow Death Of Basenotes and The End Of The Perfume Renaissance” and appreciated your response to it.

    One thing occurred to me while reading both posts and that is the following: Do you think there is a correlation between the “ebb and flow” of online fragrance enthusiasm, and the degree to which we depend on the internet overall? I have noticed that the more I feel bound to the internet as an outlet for energies that cannot be otherwise realized, the more I feel preoccupied with fragrance and the need to chronicle my appreciation of it.

    It is almost as if fragrance is my salvation from too much internet, but that in turn becomes a cycle of sorts, because the more I concentrate on fragrances, the more I pursue my interest via the internet. When circumstances enable me to step back from the virtual world I frequently take for granted, I become more relaxed about everything including my relationship with fragrance.

    My guess is that if you look at the larger arc happening here, people will always look to fragrance as consolation in a world in where we are increasingly disconnected from our bodies. Sometimes that estrangement evolves into mania, which given our internet-stunted attention spans is bound to fizzle out into a consequent lull, only to be followed by another rush.

    Unlike the ambient scents we encounter in our lives, we can use fragrance as a controlled means of uniting with our Dionysian selves while entrapped in the Apollonian confines of a predominantly analytical approach to life.

    I agree with your recommendation of taking the slow route, in theory, but it’s easier said that done when most of the tools at our disposal are pre-programmed to the ‘automatic’ setting. This is one of the many reasons I don’t have Facebook. I need to stop in order to smell the roses.

    • Yes, I too find that scents help provide a bit more of a “three dimensional” life, so to speak, to me as I find myself spending more and more time online. Not only that, but scents seem to possess a calming quality as I do a lot of online “busy work” that I wish I could avoid. A good example is doing my taxes! LOL.

  2. Ok, slightly late to the party, but I’ll jump into the fray. Compared to others, I’ll consider myself a relative “newcomer” to the space, and it doesn’t occupy countless hours of my time. Things like “life” and a career and other responsibilities tend to cover that space quite nicely.

    I also had an opinion on the topic shortly after FromPyrgos’ views on this and Basenotes were published, and my conclusion was slightly different, summarized in the view of “evolve or die”. While that seems fairly Darwinesque, here’s the basis for why I think it’s the case.

    1. Basenotes. The bottom-line is that it hasn’t adapted for years, relies in a creaky platform that appears cobbled along, needs the Internet equivalent of “Queer Eye” to give it a user-experience makeover so it updates its broader appeal, but sadly I think it’s already too late.
    2. YouTube. I routinely review my YouTube counterparts and keep a list of them. It, too, ebbs and flows with a number of them simply stopping and not updating. Others emerge and take over with new perspectives. That’s also an evolution.
    3. Blogosphere. People either have it in them to make this a routine pursuit and really do outreach and cross-promote or broaden the community (the extroversion factor), or they’ll lament how things aren’t what they once were when it’s simply the ongoing evolution and transformation. There are certain sites that I’ve simply stopped reading either because they’ve simply become stale, unoriginal, resorted to pandering via giveaways, or are so cluttered with junk (superfluous ads everywhere, horrible design) that you know they’ve just started to “phone it in”. I’ll stop short of naming and shaming, but we know them. Let’s hope they continue to set the bar higher for everyone.

    The newer participants in the conversation are actually helping to step up the game, and in many cases, showing what else might be possible. And inevitably, some of them will go away too because life marches on and the schedule can get very crowded for what is really just a labor of love for most.

    The problem, though, with “slowing it down” is that something that doesn’t receive regular attention and updating becomes nothing more than a footnote and quickly lost amidst the other chatter. Going back to my YouTube example, I have a list on my own site of YouTube reviews (my “blogroll” of their channels), and each month or two, I ultimately edit more and more out because I keep a 3-month rule: If there isn’t any new content for the past 3 months, it’s highly likely there won’t be for the foreseeable future as well, and their channel comes off my list because it loses relevance and currency. No one wants to scroll through a long list of reviewers that have stopped updating to find something recent.

    • The Youtube reviews just took too long for me to watch relative to the amount of information I found useful. By comparison, in less than a minute I can almost always either read a review or determine that I don’t need to read more. For me there are two major issues. One is how much information I would like at this point. The other is the overall trend, which isn’t going to affect my fragrance appreciation.

      With the former, Basenotes.net is very important because I often want to know things like how to tell different formulations of a scent. However, I also like to read reviews, which I usually do at Fragrantica.com. It seems they have more and there is more of a gender balance. And let’s not forget swapping or selling of ones you don’t want. That may be a “growth area” even if many of the “hard core” aficionados of the early days (first several years after the turn of the century) have exited the scene. Basically, I’ll take what I can get, so if BN is down for a few days that’s just “the cost of doing business” right now.

      With the latter, who knows where things will go? Something I know for sure is my own personal experience. Without sites like BN I doubt I would have pursued this “hobby” in the first place! Can’t scent appreciation “go viral?” I’ve told more than a few people who were at least somewhat interested in scents about several sites and all of them seemed very interested. One woman told me that could see herself spending a lot of time on Fragrantica, for example. So, while there may have been a lull among the aficionados, my guess is that the trend among the more casual-minded will be a steady rise. It may not be a dramatic rise and it may flatten out at times, but I doubt we will see a sharp decline unless something happens like a meteor striking the planet and wiping out a large chunk of the human population !

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