Chaps and Kouros: the case for compositional similarity.

Recently on Basenotes.net, a person wanted to know about a scent still quite available that is “similar” to vintage Kouros. In a recent post, I talked about how scents might be said to be “similar.” It seems that a note or accord may “spike out” for one person (at least during one wearing), leading the person to conclude that it is “similar” to another scent that generates the same kind of experience. However, my point is that while a strong note may be responsible, it’s also possible that two scents can have different notes (especially for the first several minutes) but still be similar “compositions.” An example I provided was Laguna by Dali (the “feminine” version) and Chanel’s Egoiste (especially the latest EdT formulation).

Let me take a step back for a moment. Two scents can possess a strong central accord, an obvious example being the fougere. One can clearly smell that accord and yet view the scents as “different,” even if the same kind of fougere accord is present (as Luca Turin and others have pointed out, fougeres can have significantly different personifications; herbal or “biscuit-like”/gourmand). The reason is that the other notes used can take the scent in a different direction, for example a chypre one, an aromatic one, or an oriental one. Some (including myself) have used terms like Fougypre or Fougeriental to describe such “hybrids,” but here the subject concerns how two scents are perceived as similar or different.

So, for me, if two scents begin with a strong fougere accord (of the same kind) but then go in very different directions, they are clearly compositional distinct. However, someone (most likely “newbies”) may focus on the fougere accord and pronounce them similar (I’m sure I’ve done this kind of thing at some point in the past), and that may indeed be a helpful thing to point out (to others who perceive scents the same way), but when you study scents in detail that sort of comment is of limited use. Indeed, it may be the case that two formulations of the same scent are compositionally distinct! I would argue this is the case for Vermeil, which appears to have been significantly reformulated recently.

I first obtained a bottle of this scent in 2008, but at the time I didn’t know much about ingredients and didn’t even detect the tobacco note during my first wearing, probably because the top notes are outrageously strong. The musky citrus and animalic qualities generate a “clean/dirty” presentation, which gradually gives way to strong tobacco and amber (the animalics, especially castoreum, persist with force as well). Florals and spices seem to round it off, so to speak, and ingredient quality seems quite high, especially for the prices it sold for at the time and to the present. In some ways, one can compare this scent to Kouros, compositionally, but it is simpler and a few notes are very obvious, unlike in Kouros.

The new Vermeil, which features a similar bottle, has a more linear design than the first bottle I purchased, but otherwise they look identical (including the box), AFAICT. The powerful opening is gone, with much less citrus and musk. It is not nearly as sweet/syrupy in the drydown, and little if any tobacco is present. The animalic quality is still strong, however, though there seems to be the addition of a modern wood note (which I perceive as “synthetic”), though it’s not strong. In some ways this might be more wearable because the sweetness in the original could become cloying to me. I’d like to sample a reformulation of the original that included less amber, actually, though that would take it into “niche” territory, compositionally. Presumably, too many people would find it bare or harsh if that had been done.

Now it’s time to address Chaps (vintage) and Kouros (not the latest version with white “shoulders”). Both settle down into a rather soft, animalic (“urinous” especially), musky scent that is rather complex, or at least gives that impression. Note-wise, there are clear differences, as Kouros possesses honey whereas Chaps has a touch of an ambery/vanillic quality. Moreover, Chaps is drier and gives a leathery impression whereas Kouros has more of a “live” animalic quality. Of course, these days the fresh/aquatic/sport crowd would run screaming at the tiniest whiff of either of these, claiming they smell like “old man” or something along those lines, but I could understand a claim (made by those with quite a bit of sampling experience) that these two scents are either “similar” or “different.” In the former case, the issue is composition, where in the latter it’s probably the result of the notes used. Because of this, as I’ve said before, one really needs to be very specific in one’s reviews. The more sophisticated version of “dis ding stinks,” and one finds in more than a few reviews by many, including Luca Turin, is no longer acceptable, IMO, unless one doesn’t mind opening oneself to plenty of deserved criticism, IMO.

Lastly, I want to mention Cool Water, especially since Bryan Ross over at his FromPyros blog recently wrote up a post about people comparing other scents to it. There are a number of good points to be made here, I think. One is that I find Cool Water to feature an intolerable note clash, and the other is that I dislike the aroma chemicals used in it (or the amount used). Thus, I’m not going to subject myself to several days of unpleasant olfactory experiences just so that I can feel entirely confident in my assessment. In the book, “Perfumes: The Guide,” for example, it was clear that Luca Turin especially did not spend the same amount of time studying each scent he reviewed, and I have no issue with doing that, so long as the reader is informed. However, wearability is crucial to someone like myself, whereas to others (not just Turin, but also Chandler Burr) it seems as though novelty, especially in the top notes, is more prized.

Because Cool Water contains so many notes, it’s easy for people to see it reflected in other “masculine” scents, especially since it was very popular. Some perfumers seem to have decided upon going with a simpler yet “fresher” (meaning even more dihydromyrcenol) approach, while others went with clearly different top notes but a similar base, for instance. And of course skin chemistry can play a role in these situations, even if none of the people involved try to avoid most of the top notes, as I do. So, if certain notes in CW “spike out” for you, then it makes sense that you would compare it to others with that note. An example is the neroli, with some people calling it “sour” in CW (perhaps the tobacco note enhances this effect as well).

This post, however, is focused on compositional similarity. This is where I take issue with Mr. Ross’ notion that Green Irish Tweed should be considered similar to CW, at least among aficionados (unless it is in an historical rather than olfactory context). The dihydromyrcenol haze that both possess is not enough to say these are “similar,” IMO (meaning not at the aficionado level). GIT goes in a dry, “green”/violet leaf direction with clear muskiness. The idea seems to have been a softer version of Grey Flannel, which might explain the name it was given. CW has a candy-like sweetness and features half of a perfumer’s organ of notes bouncing in every direction possible. In a sense, there is little compositional value to CW. It reminds me of when I was a child and tried putting food items together that featured one of everything. The result, as you might predict, was not pleasant. If you have difficulty with the notion of composition, I suggest asking yourself what the theme of the scent appears to be. CW does not evoke lakes, an ocean voyage, the seaside, or just a glass of cold water; it is a dismal failure on every level, and thinking of how popular it is/was reminds me of how I felt when I heard that the overblown mess, “Gladiator,” had won the “Oscar” for Best Picture.

NOTE: I’m referring to an older Lancaster formulation of CW, not the Coty one, which I regard as a pleasant muddle that is not worthy of much if any aficionado attention.

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