I remember a long time ago, I think in the 1980s, I read a letter to the editor in a local paper. The writer was a self-described “conservative” who didn’t think government should pay for artwork. Instead, he thought the art should be sold to fund truly necessary tasks (such as maintaining roads and bridges), but the museums could be kept open. His “genius solution” was to make high-quality reproductions of the paintings and sculpture and simply put them in place of the originals. In a sense, the museums would become similar to poster stores that one finds (or used to find) in local malls.
Leaving aside the amount of money generated by museums as they are currently and the questionable amount of money a reproduction gallery might generate, it is undeniable that one could replace the originals with well-rendered reproductions and few would notice. I remember an article in the local newspaper about a painting that had hung in a major museum for years until it was finally determined that the real one had been stolen and replaced with a forgery. I was unable to find this story (or my copy of the article) but I did come across some pages that discuss similar instances or talk about the subject more generally:
Scents are in a different situation, because there are no “experts” with the same influence as major museum curators, for example. And the one who is most well known as a quasi-expert (I can’t think of a better way of describing him at the moment), Luca Turin, seems to have very little influence in the industry. Moreover, those who talk about him on the major relevant sites tend to disagree with his evaluations as much as they disagree, I’d guess. With scents, a company can change a formulation as much as they want and still use the exact same packaging, bottle, and name.
This is not confined to the world of scents. In the food industry, claims have been made that well-known food items have been cheapened considerably over the years, usually a little at a time. However, these kinds of food items are largely “functional,” whereas scents are clearly not, with some outright bans in effect on the use of them by employees and others. Scents possess some aesthetic quality for most users, not matter how crude this may be. Of course, we live in an age where “culinary artists” have their own television shows, unlike perfumers; the most famous perfumers are only known by a tiny percentage of the population.
Perhaps the best way to think about scents that have been altered significantly is to consider the art of someone like Allan McCollum, in particular, his “surrogates.” One work in particular, “Five Perfect Vehicles” (1985-1987), may best represent my idea here (search google images for allan mccollum five perfect vehicles if you haven’t seen this work). The objects don’t represent something, but rather nothing, that is, an “empty” quality we often find ourselves confronted with, especially our experiences involving mass consumer items. So many reformulated scents strike me as little more than such meaningless vessels, the only difference being that what’s inside the bottles is another kind of simulacrum. Thus, it’s sort of a “double dose” of “Five Perfect Vessels.”
This brings me to YSL’s Jazz. The new version features a clear glass bottle whereas the vintage is all plastic (AFAICT), with a black and white design. The one is not a “bad” scent at all, but it lacks the delicate intricacy of the original, and that’s the problem (for me), because it negates the whole point of the original (my guess is that the perfumer was trying to capture the essence of the “80s power” type scent while toning it down to contemporary sensibilities). Renaming it something like “Jazz Now !” would provide the proverbial fig leaf of credibility, IMO, but at least with scents sometimes the reformulation is wearable and worthy of a spot in a large rotation. For me, the perfect balance between natural and synthetic ingredients was achieved in the 1980s, at least in some scents (along with superb dynamism, note contrast, etc.). Marketing simulacra is nothing new, of course, but the same is true for “muckrakers!” If you need advice on whether or not a bottle is vintage, feel free to send me a message. I’ll give you my best guess, if I think there is anything noteworthy about the box, bottle design, liquid color, etc. And remember, if you have some vintage and hate it, feel free to let me know and I may be able to swap you for something that is a better fit to your current olfactory aesthetic, to which everyone is entitled !
NOTE: For those of you who think reformulation issues are minor, and just read the recent blog post at http://frompyrgos.blogspot.com (“The Reformulation Of Old Spice Gets Analyzed”), I think it’s important to point out that many of us who do perceive drastic differences in many of the 80s designer scents that were reintroduced by another company years later do not think much of scents like Old Spice in any formulation (within the last 30-40 years, at least). In fact, a while back I wrote up a blog post about vintage Royal Copenhagen, suggesting it wasn’t even as good (to me) as something like Burberry’s Brit for Men (which I certainly don’t view as a “great” scent). Not long after that post, I swapped my bottle of RC off for Oscar for Men (1999). Thus, gas chromatography needs to be done for scents like Red for Men, Lagerfled Cologne, Oscar Pour Lui, Acteur, and Lapidus Pour Homme 1987 (IMO, but a GC would tell us how accurate the opinion likely is). I am willing and able to provide vintage samples of these to someone who can test them, and may have reformulated samples as well.
However, some scents, like Boss Cologne/#1 I do not think will register a particularly different result with the GC test (I can supply both samples of that one). So, it’s crucial to get the facts straight about what is being argued here, and not debate “straw men.” Moreover, if someone is claiming that a sandalwood note is missing and is necessary to “hold” the scent together, so to speak (as I have at times) I’m not sure the GS would appear that much different to those who don’t think there is a major difference. It would be important (at least to me) to get the opinion of someone like Luca Turin on this idea. And what about “richness?” Will that show a significant difference on a GC test? Again, for all I know it may be the molecules that are not responsible for most of the smell of the scent that generate this perception when I evaluate them. Lastly, remember that all this is leaving aside cases like Halston’s 1-12, which several years ago listed both oakmoss and tree moss, but now neither ingredient is listed (I have the boxes to prove it, both made by EA Fragrances) !
NOTE #2: Sometimes people overlook the obvious, even when it’s “staring them iAre Fragrance “Aficionados” Lost in Time? n the face” (I pride myself on eventually “getting things right,” but often have overlooked the obvious at first). In the case of a Lagerfeld Cologne and some others, different names in fact have been used. In this instance, it is now called Lagerfeld Classic. Of course, there is nothing on or in the packaging indicating that it smells different, though for all I know those who marketed it this way believe the smell is identical.
UPDATE: Over at frompyrgos.blogspot.com there is this rather interesting statement in a new post (entitled Are Fragrance “Aficionados” Lost in Time?):
I encourage some “aficionados” to re-think their approach to their community. Do not turn your noses up at video reviewers and their chosen media. They are the future. Do not take a default position that reformulations, with naturals replaced by synthetics, are automatically “bad.” Reformulations are progress, the preservation of a commercial identity (a fragrance) using products wrought by a better understanding of science, all in the name of commerce. In the fragrance world, we are enthusiasts, first and foremost. Enthusiasm is a state of looking forward, for it is impossible to be enthusiastic about the past.
First of all, as I’ve pointed out before on this blog, there is no one kind of aficionado in the fragrance world, which in fact led me to write that I thought different words should be used. For example, those who wear scents (the most generic term) for others and not for themselves are seeking perfumes, whereas those who seek personal enjoyment are seeking fragrances (or personal fragrances). Some may be aficionados of “drug store dreck,” and I say more power to them. I have said (om Basenotes.net if not elsewhere) that I thought dollar store “knockoffs” are the “best” scents available, if price to quality is the only criteria.
Second, one can argue that at some point the vintage scents will all be gone. However, I’ll be long dead by then so I don’t see how that is applicable to me or anyone alive right now! Moreover, one could buy ingredients and make up one’s own scents if that were the case. I would certainly do that (or just buy dollar store scents) if the only alternatives were the many unappealing reformulations that have flooded the market. And if one sees this as “progress,” I wish that person luck, but I’ll just go back to enjoying my vintage scents.
Third, I don’t really care about “science” or “commerce” in some sort of abstract way when I spray on a scent. I am only interested in if it supplies olfactory pleasure or not. We all know about wine aficionados, so why do some think this concept is abhorrent if applied to perfumes/personal fragrances? If I were a wine aficionado and bought a bottle of Bordeaux decades old for thousands of dollars, how many people would claim that “two buck chuck” wines (or wines sold in a bag) are “progress” and that we should all forget about that expensive bottle for this reason? Would the wine aficionado even talk to such a person about “fine wine?” This blogger seems to be flirting with the absurd at this point, apparently in an attempt to be some sort of contrarian, but I don’t understand the logic involved, because this is clearly an area of human endeavor where personal preference should rule. And when someone can articulate why they possess certain preferences, we should be thankful, and not tell them that they are in some way “wrong.” When did “to each his own” become “I have a blog and I’m going to tell you what you should do?”