The poetic charm of the iso e super molecule, seriously ?

Over at Fragrantica.com is a review of Encre Noire by Lalique by a member named LaPoesieDesSe. I’ll begin the quote from where this person describes the actual smell of this scent:

At first it comes off as acrid and dense with a sour top note. I was skeptical. But the magic starts once it melds with your skin’s own chemistry, after which the more subtle characteristics slowly unfold – dry wood, vetiver, minerals, musk, incense.

This is a scent of contrasts: sophisticated but not stuffy – classic but not dated – natural but avant-garde. People will notice but it exudes in a subtle way. The dry down is warm and lingers for quite a while. And over all there is something familiar and inviting about it yet it is mysterious and fleeting.

EN has a relatively similar feel, in my experience, as ‘Terre D’Hermes’, ‘comme des garcons 2’ and ‘cdg 2 Man’, but without the bitter citrus of Hermes, less metallic than cdg 2, and without cdg 2 Man’s “pencil shavings” notes and not so monolithic.

I find Encre Noire to be a good balance of intrigue and simplicity. This definitely is not for everyone, but if you want something poetic and elegant as an extension of your style, this might be the right composition for you…

There are a number of things that are worthy of discussion here, IMO, but I want to first address the notion of a “poetic” scent. Though I’m not sure I understand this claim, I realize that many people like to say this, or something similar. Rarely do they explain exactly what they mean by it. Let’s consider the basic definition of poetry, as given by the Wikipedia.org article on it:

Poetry (from the Greek poiesis — ποίησις — with a broad meaning of a “making”, seen also in such terms as “hemopoiesis”; more narrowly, the making of poetry) is a form of literary art which uses aesthetic and rhythmic[1][2][3] qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning.

Basically (to put it “prosaically), poetry is a way to “spice up” language, perhaps in more than one way, while putting forth some sort of idea, though its meaning may be shrouded in symbolism. I’ve always been of a more pragmatic and “down to earth” mindset, so I’d like others to comment if they are of a more poetic bent, but the point is that you can’t just say a scent is poetic and leave it there. You have to tell the reader if you mean that it has a flowing quality while it changes over time, for example, while you find other scents to be “choppy” or harsh. As I said, I don’t know what is meant by this, and it seems to me to mean that the person really enjoyed the scent, found it different from many others he or she tried in the past, and so not knowing what else to say, called it poetic.

Another idea is that a scent is evocative of certain emotions. I think most would agree, however, that this is a “culturally-conditioned” situation, meaning that in our society certain scents have become associated with “cheap aftershave” while others are perceived as unusual, for example. The cheap aftershave ones do not evoke anything “poetic,” but by poetic the person may just mean certain emotions are generated, perhaps a longing to go to exotic places and not be tied down to the nine to five “rat race.” Again, I don’t know, and the reason is that they don’t tell us! Rather it seems like this word is used so that they don’t have to get specific, though I’m not claiming they are doing this intentionally. Instead, they probably just don’t have the understanding to first be prosaic and tell us what it smells like, and only after doing that tell us why they enjoy it and what it evokes for them, if anything.

Secondly, the “magic” skin melding he mentions is what iso e super is supposed to do, from what I understand, and so he seems to be reiterating the obvious (without telling the readers about iso e super). I can’t get past the irritation caused mostly by the iso e super (in large amounts, as is the case here), apparently, but he clearly can and enjoys the other elements of this scent. As with “poetic,” claims about EN being sophisticated, classic, and avant-garde are open to interpretation, so once again explanation is required (and don’t most people think that classic things are the opposite of avant-garde ones?). The claim that it is “natural” smelling, however, seems to be far-fetched. I don’t know anyone who I think would say Encre Noire smells “natural,” other than to say it smell like a fire at a garbage dump site, for instance, and I don’t think that is consistent with what most people think of in the context of something they would describe as poetic. Now a poem about a fire at a garbage dump might indeed be evocative and successful, but I would argue that this supports my notion that it is problematic to call a scent poetic !

We are also told that EN is not for everyone. Why not? We are told the scent begins with harshness, but that is quite common, and doesn’t seem to be related to the claim. Instead, it sounds like the person wants us to think this is an “exclusive” or “insider” scent. Perhaps the Oracle at Delphi wore something similar! Seriously, if you are going to make such a claim, shouldn’t you mention other unusual scents, such as Secretions Magnifiques, and supply the reader with more specific information? The “good balance of intrigue and simplicity” sounds like a slogan, and suggests that the person is just unfamiliar with such scents, though others are mentioned that possess quite a bit of iso e super as well. This inconsistency makes the review sound somewhat like something the company itself might write about the scent !

However, my guess here is that this is not the work of a “shill,” but rather an honest opinion by someone who may have been able to relive a pleasant aspect of his or her youth while wearing Encre Noire, and what I want to point out is that any scent can do that for you. In fact, not long ago, I decanted some vintage Brut 33 for someone and was reminded of how my grandfather smelled on Sunday mornings, several decades ago. Scents certainly can evoke emotions, but I find claims about their “poetic” qualities to be at least somewhat elitist, as if what a niche, “top designer,” or highly-touted scent evokes for one person is somehow superior to what a “cheapo” scent evokes for someone else. The lack of specificity only enhances my suspicions. In my experience, a scent can evoke memories, landscapes/natural environments, food items, or various scented products, but to say that one is essentially a work of poetry is a bit too facile for me, especially without ever furnishing the reader a prosaic explanation that contains some context for your lofty pronouncements.

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3 Comments

Filed under Criticizing the critics.

3 responses to “The poetic charm of the iso e super molecule, seriously ?

  1. lilybelle

    I do get your point about specificity in writing fragrance reviews, but I feel badly for that Fragrantica reviewer being made the example of how not to write. :-/ Fragrance is so emotionally evocative, so affective and wrapped up with our memories, both conscious and subconscious, that I think it is very difficult to write well on the subject. I hope you don’t make an example of my reviews on Fragrantica! I often delete them all and start anew…mostly because my thoughts and feelings about them change.

    • I’m hoping that people will read this post and reconsider how they write their reviews, but I’m just providing my opinion about how certain reviews come across to me. After reading the Turin and Sanchez “Perfumes: The Guide” book I had plenty of things to say, especially critical ones. I am a firm believer in “constructive criticism” and also the notion that people can “agree to disagree” on just about everything. The internet can be a cruel place, and I think I was straightforward in this post and didn’t make anything “personal,” so my feeling is that if you post a review, no matter what it says someone may criticize you; so you have to keep that in mind before you click on that submit button! Moreover, I think it’s important to speak your mind and let others decide if you’ve got anything of value to say; learn from what others say about your writings and be open to the possibility that even if he or she is overly harsh or outright nasty, you still might find something of value in the comment. It may be that too many of us allow negative emotions to come forward instead of just thinking about whether there is valid criticism. Failure can seed success if one learns from those failures, right?

  2. lilybelle

    Yes, I agree that we need to be receptive to criticism. Of our works, our ideas. You make a valid point. 🙂 I took a drawing class once with a group of quite talented people, and at the beginning of each class we were required to post our work at the front of the room for an informal group critique. I couldn’t have been more nervous if I’d been asked to pose nude in front of them all (I’m rather shy). BUT it wound up being the best part of the class. We learned from the experience, loosened up, and forged a bond among us all. What I most detested and feared became what I valued most. It is important to explore those uncomfortable places. We learn so much. I do feel that the operative word is “constructive”. Kindness is so important. And it costs nothing, except a little mindfulness. I’m still not too sure I’d want my own reviews critiqued by you, lol! 🙂

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