Eau Sauvage EdT: Masterpiece or piece of crap (literally)?

I wanted to be blunt in the title because some reviewers (ones I have respect for!) have been quite unabashed in their negative views of this 1965. And I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t like ES at first; I had to “warm up” to it over time. At least for me, it was the kind of scent I could only appreciate after doing a lot of sampling. However, in the early days of this hobby, I generally did not like “fresh” or citrus scents, preferring gourmands and orientals. It’s only after I came to appreciate dynamism that I could appreciate what ES has to offer, it seems.

First, I want to consider Luca Turin’s review. It certainly seems that he places ES in the “masterpiece” category. He likens it to an early Prokofiev symphony, actually, but as I’ll mention later, I think ES does something not possible in the world of what one might call “conventional” music. Turin does say “…take the familiar and, as if it were one of those Transformers my son plays with, turn the horse-drawn carriage into a spaceship,”and I think this is more appropriate. However, he doesn’t think there is much hedione in ES (“so little hedione… that attributing ES’s success to it was a bit like attributing Jascha Heifetz’s skill to the Guareri he played”), which is where I would certainly disagree with him. Of course, many if not most who wear it could tell you that they detect hedione in ES, but for me it is like new materials that make space flight possible. Obviously, space flight is not for everyone, but almost everyone can at least feel marvel at this human accomplishment.

And now on to the detractors for a while. Over at Basenotes.net, “the_good_life” has this to say about ES:

Here’s my theory. A certain percentage of the human population still carries a miniscule amount of Neanderthal genes. And there’s a really simple way of distinguishing them from the rest – spray liberally with Eau Sauvage: a wonderful masculine citrus means your pure Cro-magnon. A nice citrus topnote, followed by an atrocious “smelly old man”/fecal/body odor scent, sorry, you’re part Neanderthal. The government eugenics people posing as createurs des parfums at Dior knew this of course and tongue-in-cheekly titled their project Eau Sauvage.
Unfortunately, my genes are clearly contaminated. Thank god the stuff fades so quickly.

Keep in mind that I have as much respect for this person’s opinion as anyone’s, but here there is a lack of detail and no attempt at comparison, two things I find highly problematic. Of course, I’ve written reviews like this, though I think over the last few years I’ve either gone into some detail or made comparisons (unless I simply couldn’t stand the scent and washed it off, which this person may have done if he didn’t think ES faded quickly). Anyway, there is a claim that ES has an incredibly bad “dirty” quality, but it’s clearly not in the same league as Kouros i that department. Instead, I think what happened for him (and perhaps many others) is that something about the other notes/molecules accentuated the “dirty” qualities. For the record, I have never found ES to be animalic.

Another reviewer whose opinions I respect, Jack Hunter, had this to say about ES:

It opens with a aromatic candy type fragrance that is quite pleasant then it makes a turn for the worse. The midnotes start to smell fecal, and it starts to smell like someone has used a toilet and flushed. Then sprayed a musky air freshener in the air. The basenotes get better and leave you with a muskyness without the vibe of the midnotes. I just wished I had not experienced those midnotes as I had high hopes for this one.

At the BN directory, ES has 73% positives, 14% neutral, and 13% negative. 1% is at the four star out of five level, which is a new choice. The old rating system apparently converts positives to five stars, neutrals to three stars, and negatives to one star. The point here is that for an old scent that is clearly not “in fashion,” ES has been viewed at least moderately favorably over the last dozen years or so (since BN has existed). Another important thing to bring up is how it may have been reformulated. Some claim the original formulation did in fact have a strong animalic quality. I have a bottle from 2011, and can only comment about this formulation at present. I have read that the bottles from 2012 are a pale copy, basically a generic and weak citrus-oriented scent. Another idea is that some find cumin notes to be absolutely disgusting, whereas others, including myself, find it almost nutty along with being a bit spicy. ES lists cumin as a note but I’m not sure I even detect it; don’t think that you will get the kind of strong cumin note in Declaration, for example.

I find that many recent scents have a “synthetic” or “chemical” feel because there is an apparent attempt to use the molecules to simulate the “natural,” but that is not the case for ES. Instead, hedione is front in center, though it never dominates. One is asked to accept hedione as something that should exist in our natural world, and because of the excellent dynamism, it works (just as it works in Acqua di Gio, which appears to have been inspired by ES, based upon what I view as the theme they share). Isn’t everything in the universe “natural,” after all (I’m certainly aware of practical reasons for using the word “synthetic” and use it when describing some scents due to social convention)? Isn’t use of the concept of natural dependent upon our experiences, at least in the realm of what we smell? Now if I were asked for a musical analogy for ES, I might suggest Sonic Youth’s “Bull in the Heather.”

Lastly, if in fact ES possessed a strong animalic note originally, it’s impossible to say if those who dislike it now would have also disliked it back then. One simply can’t assume such things, other than for a few people who have disliked certain kinds of things since they were children and have always been “set in their ways.” In any case, I think the animalic quality derives from the jasmine used. This floral note can be “wet” and heavy or somewhat dry and diffuse, so perhaps the original formulation of ES was made with the heavier/wetter type of jasmine presentation in mind. Newer formulations may have been “modernized” with a more subdued jasmine note. It certainly doesn’t try to dominate the composition for me. If anyone has tried the original formulation as well as a recent one, please leave a comment and let us know what you think.

NOTE: Soon after I wrote the above I came upon the following report, which suggests to me that these two reviewers (who perceived a strong animalic quality to ES) may have a genetic predisposition for doing so:

There are some smells we all find revolting. But toward a handful of odors, different people display different sensitivities—some can smell them, while some can’t, or some find them appealing, while others don’t. A pair of studies appearing online on August 1 in the journal Current Biology now identifies the genetic differences that underpin the differences in smell sensitivity and perception in different individuals…

“We were surprised how many odors had genes associated with them. If this extends to other odors, then we might expect everyone to have their own unique set of smells that they are sensitive to. These smells are found in foods and drinks that people encounter every day, such as tomatoes and apples. This might mean that when people sit down to eat a meal, they each experience it in their own personalized way,” says Jeremy McRae…

In the case of ?-ionone, the smell associated with violets, McRae and colleagues managed to pinpoint the exact mutation (a change in the DNA sequence) in the odorant receptor gene OR5A1 that underlies the sensitivity to smell the compound and to perceive it as a floral note—people who are less good at smelling ?-ionone also describe the smell differently, as sour or pungent, and are less likely to find it pleasant…


Note that I certainly don’t agree with these researchers entirely, because what I’ve found in the world of scents is that I can get accustomed to and even enjoy notes or accords that I originally disliked, but that ingredient quality seems to be crucial. Without that, I can’t seem to like the scent, no matter the notes it possesses. Beyond that is dynamism, without which I get bored of the scent quickly, though I may enjoy the scent for a short while. So, while some of us may be predisposed to like a note more than most people (some of whom may hate it), it doesn’t necessarily affect the aficionado, other than it taking more time to “warm up” to certain scents as opposed to others.

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