“Great” scents, the sandalwood note, niche snobs, “cutting,” and reformulations.

I decided that such a wide-ranging yet somewhat “messy” post should be reflected in a similar kind of title. Scents do not come with any kind of “user’s manual,” and people (women especially, it seems) have been “layering” scents to suit their desires for years (actor Sarah Jessica Parker revealed that she likes to layer three specific scents, for example, and apparently has for quite a while; see the book, “The Perfect Scent” by Chandler Burr). In short, you can use them any way you wish, though if you wear them to do things like irritate other people then I hope you won’t be offended when I declare that your use does not qualify as something an aficionado would do. However, if you use scents in certain ways it does appear that you may not be able to comprehend why some others perceive them the way they do. And this brings up the question about why some recognize reformulations easily (several times I just took the cap off the bottle and knew it was a different formulation, for example), while others don’t detect any differences at all !

As a newbie, I was mostly responding to the top notes or the first hour or so, which I call the “opening” of a scent. This led to disappointment with scents that have strong openings but relatively weak drydowns (or drydowns that go in a different direction). It had become so frustrating that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue this “hobby” any further! At some point, I decided to try and avoid most of the top notes and get to the drydown quickly, to see if that would help. Fortunately, it worked very well, and I still employ this technique to the present day. It involved holding my breath when I spray to the chest, then blowing down on that area to dry it while moving to another room. I then turn my head when I breath in for a while, exhaling onto the area sprayed. Then I button my shirt up and let the scent rise up and through the shirt. I don’t wear an undershirt, so I can’t say what effect that might have.

The specific example I mentioned above is Lapidus Pour Homme (1987). I first acquired a bottle of the new formulation and have never liked it, despite wearing it a few times. Then I saw a bottle of the vintage version on ebay and the price was reasonable so I decided to take a chance. Sure enough, this was the same sort of thing I had first seen with Zino and Bijan for Men. In fact, I recently wrote up a thread at Basenotes.net about reformulations and referred to what they did as “Zinoization,” which means that the scent is made heavier/denser, but fuzzier or more muddled, and the sandalwood note is missing or greatly diminished. Note separation is also diminished, leading to not enough note contrast and a lack of dynamism. I’ve noticed this with Grey Flannel, Cool Water, and some others, but in those two cases sandalwood was not an issue, and in fact I think the new Grey Flannel is acceptable, but I wish they would call such concoctions something like Grey Flannel Modern, or something along those lines.

In the case of scents like vintage Lapidus Pour Homme, a very heavy element is “cut” by a dry sandalwood note (incense-like), which actually makes the other elements more vibrant. With LPH, there is an amber/honey and floral//powdery quality, but also a “wet” and uplifting element (see my recent post about “directionality”) that seems to be mostly the juniper and pineapple, which in the new version become muddled together into an obnoxious olfactory soup. In vintage LPH, the sandalwood/incense quality seem to separate these other two elements and make them “play off” each other, creating great dynamism. It never goes too far in any direction, though it seems like it might at any moment. It is true that vintage LPH begins with an odd vinegar-like quality, which may be due to age, but it doesn’t last too long and I actually get used to it after perhaps ten minutes, so that it no longer feels “wrong.”

So where do “niche snobs” figure into all this? I don’t really assess much blame to them, because many if not most probably smelled the new formulations of scents like LPH and rightly considered them to be vastly inferior to their niche samples. And if I hadn’t heard of the reformulation issue at Basenotes.net, I might now possess dozens of niche scents, with my bank account definitely “worse for wear.” Unlike many others, I also have some extra time to devote to doing some research to figure out what is vintage and what is not. In the case of LPH, for example, I believe the vintage version has “90% Vol” printed on the front of the bottle (towards the bottom) whereas the new one does not indicate volume (Vol). My only issue with “niche snobs” is that many seem to be unwilling to accept that the vintage greats might be superior to what they are spending a couple hundred dollars to own, especially in terms of balance, complexity, and dynamism. I often hear them complain about a niche scent becoming boring or making them feel ill after a few wearings, and wish they would look into the vintage greats to see if those scents solve those kinds of problems.

Over at Basenotes, a thread included this comment by a long-time and well-respected member about an attempt at reconstructing Patou Pour Homme (1980):

I have smelled Jean Kerleo’s own effort at reconstruction of PPH which he did in 2011. In his words, there are many many ingredients which cannot be used or are not available anymore. Oakmoss and sandalwood are not real problems, however as the current “safer” oakmoss smells pretty good (in my opinion one of the reasons that the latest batch of guerlain’s are superior to their immediate predecessors) and sandalwood is present in very small quantity.

The reconstruction is definitely recognisable as PPH and is a very good fragrance but it lacks the smooth richness at the beginning and particularly down below in the base. The vintage is much superior.

See: http://www.basenotes.net/threads/346568-Patou-Pour-Homme-to-be-reissued

Note that the author of this passage perceived very little sandalwood but the vintage doesn’t have a strong sandalwood note so I’m not sure if it would make much difference. For me, the key thing is for there to be a note that “cuts” heavy/dense/fuzzy/muddled compositions enough to prevent an irritating quality. Of course, some of the greats had excellent note separation anyway, and so “cutting” may not be necessary for many of those. In such cases, note contrast can lead to wonderful dynamism. I’ve found that oriental bases tend to be much more enjoyable if the scent is “cut” with a note that furnishes contrast. Otherwise, they may bore or irritate within a short period of time.

My last point here involves different ways that scents seem to be reformulated. To me Zinoizaton is the most egregious, because the scent is changed drastically yet most “casual” users don’t really know what to make of it. I’ve read comments like, “it doesn’t seem to be exactly the same but I’m not sure what’s going on. I guess I have no choice but I probably won’t wear it that often.” In the case of Nicole Miller for Men, the sandalwood note seems to have been removed and a pleasant but rather generic base put in place of the original. The opening, however, is still quite good, not muddled, heavy, or fuzzy. In some cases, a “synthetic mess” is created, such as with Claiborne for Men (1989). In fact, the author of the FromPyrgos blog described this scent as: “One of those cheap-smelling laundry detergent musk scents… Everything is thin, artificial, and poorly-balanced…” (Fragrantica.com review). I recently obtained a vintage bottle and could not believe how good it was, and entirely natural smelling; I’ve never sampled a niche scent I considered superior to it, that’s for sure!

In still other cases a very different scent was created. I view Perry Ellis for Men (1985) as a good example of this kind of reformulation. Here, a complex “masculine floral” was replaced by a simple scent with obvious notes (to me) of oakmoss, leather, rose, carnation, vanilla, and galbanum (beragmot is also listed). Again, why not just call it something like, Perry Ellis for Men Today? By contrast, Red for Men by Giorgio of Beverly was was an attempt to recreate the original, apparently, and this is a good example of why one can’t do those complex vintage scents “on the cheap,” in my opinion. The new Red isn’t bad, but it’s about as generic and uninspiring as one could imagine, with a bit of a “synthetic” quality that leads me to view it on the level of the Cuba line of scents. Perfumers who did a great job should not have their work modified at all, let alone in the unsophisticated ways many have been. Call the scent something else: Homage Zino or what have you. Keep the same bottle and packaging if you must, but don’t think word won’t get out in this “internet age.” And if you like the reformulation, there’s no shame in that, but if you buy a bunch of bottles and then begin to notice the difference and subsequently want vintage only, you’ve clearly wasted some of your hard-earned cash !

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