“There’s nothing so easy to invent as a tradition.”

I wonder which Creed scent Sir Walter Scott preferred? Seriously, many of you have read thread on Basenotes.net or elsewhere about whether Creed or some other company is making spurious historical claims about their businesses. My thoughts on the subject have been that this is a highly pretentious industry even if there were no such claims and that what matters is the scent itself (perhaps along with the price). That doesn’t mean I have absolutely no interest in the subject, but I’m certainly not going to waste much time on it. I’ll let others do the “grunt work” and then I’ll take a look at what they’ve got to say if I find it intriguing.

One thing I want to mention here is that I don’t find the claims to be compelling even if true. How do I know if a particular king or celebrity had good taste in this area, for example? The person’s nickname to his or her inner circle may have been “the big stinker” for all I know! Clearly, there are more than a few people who think that if so-and-so wears (or wore) a particular scent, then it’s important for him or her to own. For the most part, that is what I attribute this phenomenon to, and if a company can keep costs low by relying on such folk, that’s fine with me (I’d rather this be the case than pay higher prices, though of course I’m not arguing that it works this way in practice).

And this brings me to a point that is most important to me on this topic, which is that the notion of “tradition” in the world of scents probably should be regarded as more of a “negative” than a “positive.” The reason is that aficionados most likely have already sampled the greats of each genre and already own at least one bottle of the ones they like the most. And aficionados are going to recognize it if and when you reformulate with considerably less compelling ingredients. so you can’t just claim to be producing something the company did two hundred years ago but use large amounts of synthetics. In his context, tradition has to mean a at least a commitment to high-quality ingredients if it is to mean anything at all.

So, when you hear about a scent company’s great “tradition” that may just mean that they are “played out.” If they produced some great ones in the distant past, you’d have formed an opinion about them long ago (I’m assuming you are not a “newbie”), and there wouldn’t be anything to ponder at this point. Of course, a company like Creed can produce a scent like Aventus (apparently, a response to the success of ones like Black XS or 1 Million by Paco Rabanne), which is about as nontraditional as one can imagine (other than the “tradition” of trying to “stay current”). Perhaps the idea is that many people associate the use of the word tradition in this context with “quality.” I wouldn’t be surprised, but then the younger crowd may associate it with “old” and “out of fashion,” if not the “geezer crowd.”

I like the motto of Czech & Speake, which was established in 1978. If you go to their web site, the first statement you encounter is:

Czech & Speake is the product of an unusual idea: the creation of a tradition.

From what I understand, at first they sold bathroom and kitchen items. In any case, if you have sampled some of their scents, you might agree with my assessment, which is that they seem to have wanted to recreate an olfactory image of the past, regardless of how accurate their scents are, historically. For example, I doubt many scents from the early days of “modern perfumery” had the kind of projection (“sillage”) and longevity of the Czech & Speake scents I’ve sampled. I also have the feeling that many today would find the Czech & Speake scents to smell more “natural” than many of those early ones. Regardless, my point here is that Czech & Speake scents are like the kind of historical recreation one might see in a Hollywood movie about Colonial era (or later, when sugar consumption was much higher than at any other time in human history), with every actor possessing the most perfect, glistening white teeth you have ever seen.

However, while I find it laughable to see this kind of thing in a film, I like the idea of a more fictional version of “old time” scents, even leaving aside the health concerns one might have about some substances used back then. Why? I don’t feel the need to smell like some people did a hundred years ago – that’s not the satisfying element of this “hobby” to me. By contrast, if I go to see a film about a historical period, I don’t want to see things that are clearly historically unrealistic. What Czech & Speake has supplied is a sense of direction; I know what to expect from their scents. On the other hand, what has Guerlain signified by releasing scents like Guerlain Homme or some of the Shalimar flankers? For me, the answer is, “I don’t know and I don’t care, just keep them away from me !”

NOTE: Someone wanted to leave a snide comment (one sentence) but whatever this person’s position was is unclear. My guess is that this person is a Guerlain “fan boy,” so I will clarify my last sentence to this post. Whatever “Guerlain” is at this point is difficult to say, if we view all their scents as coming from one “house.” I can only judge by what was marketed under this name in the past versus now. If they want to become a youth-oriented “house” that’s fine, but the brand no longer means anything to me. Instead, I have to consider each scent on its own, unlike other “houses,” where you almost always get what you expect, in terms of composition, ingredient quality, listed notes, etc.

1 Comment

Filed under Criticizing the critics.

One response to ““There’s nothing so easy to invent as a tradition.”

  1. Thank you so much for pointing out the fundamental problem with the “Creed legacy debate”. Who in the hell cares what famous dead people scented themselves with?! Honestly, when I look at today’s leaders and celebrities, I ask myself: would I want to share their taste? 😉

    By the way, I read somewhere that Floris claims to be the official perfumer of British Royalty. Why does no one engage in these sorts of debates about that house? So many people get exercised over Creed, but I rarely read anything about Floris or Penhaligon’s or Pecksniff’s or any other British house, although the haute niche conglomerate (Boadicea the Victorious, Illuminum, and now some other brand new house with dozens of launches) created by Michael Boadi seems to get a bit of attention these days.

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