The aftermath of the aftermath of the aftermath…

Mr. Ross over at the FromPyrgos blog thought it necessary to write up another post about his interview with Mr. Dame, apparently mostly because Mr. Ross has difficulty with reasonable criticism (more about this in a subsequent post). That post is no longer there and I didn’t get a change to read more than a few sentences when it was deleted, but the title was something like, “The Aftermath of the Interview with Jeffrey Dame…” and a critic of mine told me harsh comments were made against me in it (which is fine with me, so long as there were no personal attacks). This is one reason why I prefer to remain anonymous, that is, I want the focus to be on the scents, not my personal life, because I am basing my opinions on this blog on my olfactory explorations and nothing else. Whatever the case may be, I thought I’d add a few more points on this subject that I think are worth making. Over at Basenotes.net there is a long thread about it, so you might also want to read that as well:

http://www.basenotes.net/t/380644/perfumer-says-vintage-is-basically-waste-of

However, the first order of business is a comment of Luca Turin’s on this subject (in response to an email I sent him, asking him about what Mr. Dame said), which is not consistent with Mr. Dame’s view, but is also a bit vague:

Thanks for your email. Jeffrey Dame’s general statement is wrong. I’ve seen 100 year old fragrances, kept in darkness at reasonable temperatures and with no volume loss, that came out as fresh as the day they were made. And I’ve seen things go bad in weeks in the wrong conditions, esp. strong light.

Perhaps Mr. Turin means that top notes may be lost quickly, but I have to be honest here and point out that other than that, I do not have any old scents that seem like dreck, and considering how many I now have, it’s not reasonable to think that the various owners all stored these bottles properly for decades (though I don’t know anyone who stores their bottles in direct sunlight)! Now on to my points. The first is the most obvious, which is that prices for vintage scents (and when I think vintage I generally think more than twenty years old, not the “dreck” Mr. Dame thinks eight year old scents become). Note that he didn’t mention if scents turn into dreck quickly or if there are degrees of dreckiness, which suggests a lack of knowledge on this subject. In any case, regardless of what world Mr. Ross and Mr. Dame would like to live in, there exists what seems to be a market on the rise here, which I wish were not the case, because I’ve found it more difficult to obtain vintage scents at the prices I could a couple years ago! If you have watched the show “Oddities,” you will see that there are markets for all kinds of objects that many if not most of us would simply throw in the garbage, so in this case I feel the onus is on a person like Mr. Dame to explain exactly what happens when one wears a “dreck” scent. Is it as bad as being “sprayed” by a skunk?

Some have compared “turned” scents to spoiled fruit, but this is simply ridiculous. Why does fruit “go bad?”

Most fruits and vegetables go bad because of damage caused by microorganisms such as bacteria and mold, enzymatic processes or bruising. Microorganisms speed produce deterioration through structural decay. Microorganisms such as bacteria and molds release their own enzymes as they grow, speeding up the spoiling process. Enzymes, which occur naturally in live fruits and vegetables, are part of the natural aging process. Enzymatic browning leads to discoloration and, later, spoilage. Bruising physically alters the exterior of your fruits and vegetables, which trigger enzymatic reactions.

http://www.livestrong.com/article/508935-why-do-fruits-vegetables-go-bad/

Note that strong light is not mentioned, and I don’t know anyone who claims that bacteria, fungus, and/or enzymes degrade scents. And this brings me to what I think is the most important point to be made here, which is that “expertise” in the traditional sense is not relevant in this situation, because if it were it would be like someone saying that we all should enjoy eating whatever Dr. Andrew Weil tells us because he claims it is best for us and that we will get used to that food and come to enjoy it more than what we are eating currently (and that is assuming he is correct!). Here again, even if one views scent as “fine art” it’s undeniable that many if not most people hang paintings and other “art” in their houses that museum directors deplore. Thus, just as when one decorates one’s house, there is no need for a “scent expert” to tell us what we should want to smell or smell like. Another example is chess, which one might think entirely objective. However, one can take lessons from a highly rated player but he or she may not be a good teacher, and the student may want to know how to defeat players with very low ratings without too much “investment” in studying; that is something a non-expert may be able to provide just as well if not better than the expert player !

In fact, the dreck claim is ludicrous because “experts” like Mr. Dame must be telling us that we are smelling something awful when we spray on scents that are twenty or more years old; otherwise, it would seem that his claim is logically faulty. So, do we literally smell at least somewhat like skunks when we wear these scents? I’ve only received compliments when I’ve worn vintage scents in public, so does he think that we must all develop our “noses” to his level of olfactory greatness? If so, he can believe that, but the rest of us can consider it beyond ridiculous, since probably hardly anyone has even heard of him, let alone will totally change their minds about what they smell because he tells them they should. The only other possible claim is that we are somehow insulting the perfumer, which in this industry is even less reasonable! Moreover, how would the perfumer know what we are doing? Most people have no idea what we are wearing, let alone that we are wearing something an “expert” thinks has “turned.”

And I’ve criticized Mr. Ross on this point before but it appears I think it is important to mention in this context: you can’t create your own standard, then hold people up to your own standards, and then claim they are “wrong” when they disagree with you. Now if you have a scientific claim, then you can cite evidence for your point, and in this case we do have some evidence (cited by Mr. Ross in a different blog post), which contradicts Mr. Dame’s assertion:

Conclusions: The current Shulton and vintage Shulton products, overall, are very similar. What small differences exist between them may possibly be attributed to the age of the sample or point to a natural variation in components in some essential oil. It is the author’s opinion that Shulton is using the same recipe in India that was used to manufacture the vintage sample. The P & G Old Spice appears to be significantly different from the other two Old Spice samples. I believe that there may be some evidence here for a change in recipe sometime between when the vintage Old Spice was produced and the current recipe. Whether that supposed change occurred before or after P & G obtained the product line is impossible to say. Finally, it appears that the Vijon flavors and fragrances chemists have done an admirable job at reproducing the current P & G product.

http://badgerandblade.com/vb/archive/index.php/t-279212.html

Apparently, Mr. Ross can’t accept that a certain percentage of the population are vintage aficionados, and also that none of us (with a few exceptions perhaps) agree with Mr. Dame. He is no “expert” to us, just as the Pope’s words may mean nothing to a Lutheran. We have little if any interest in buying what Mr. Dame is selling, literally as well as figuratively, but some of us will opine and point out the glaring inconsistencies if not outright bizarre claims such people make from time to time. Mr. Ross is going to have to learn to live with this reality, because even if I passed away tomorrow, it’s clear that quite a few people are buying and wearing vintage scents on a regular if not daily basis. Neither Mr. Ross nor Mr. Dame can tell us what we are smelling, and judging by reactions I have gotten, the general public also disagrees with the notion of scents becoming dreck in a decade or so; either that or he possesses a very different understanding of the word dreck than I, and I’d guess just about everyone else does !

Mr. Dame didn’t mention how the LLP company could reformulate “classics” in a “faithful” way in light of new IFRA guidelines, but I’m not surprised Mr. Ross also didn’t think to ask him such a crucial question. And this may be the most important point to make, which concerns why people decide to “vintage hunt” in the first place. In my case, there were plenty of old scents available to me (mostly from older female relatives who no longer used their old bottles but had kept them in the back of dresser drawers for decades), yet for the first few months of this “hobby” I didn’t think they offered anything to my olfactory pursuits (and in some cases I just didn’t ask). When I began to realize the value of vintage (to me, not the ebay prices), I asked around and acquired perhaps twenty old bottles from them. Anyway, the point is that I value the quality of ingredients used, which seems to create a great sense of “depth.” Recent designer scents simply don’t seem to posses this quality (other than to a relatively tiny degree), even though I like more than a few of these and wear them once in a while (niche is often too simple, leading to boredom quickly, so I can’t wear those scents often either). When a scent has depth, it’s like a cavernous olfactory landscape opens up, and I can enjoy the richness, complexity, dynamism, etc. fully, and it doesn’t seem like “deterioration with age” affects this, or does so to any significant degree. My guess is that people like Mr. Dame (as well as “top notes people,” in general) have never experienced this, because for me this quality is far more important that loss of some top notes or other kinds of slight deterioration/modification over time.

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2 Comments

Filed under Criticizing the critics.

2 responses to “The aftermath of the aftermath of the aftermath…

  1. sh

    Hello, Bigsly!

    I have been thoroughly enjoying your contentious altercation (or is that too strong?) with Bryan Ross, and I thought that I’d drop by and let you know that tonight I am wearing Houbigant Quelques Fleurs eau de toilette in a bottle which looks as though it dates from the 1980s. I received it in a multi-swap with a wonderful woman in the Netherlands who appears to own thousands of bottles. So I’d first just like to observe that I do understand what you are saying when you reject the sweeping “dreck” claim. This stuff smells great, and is well described by your lovely phrase, above:

    “When a scent has depth, it’s like a cavernous olfactory landscape opens up, and I can enjoy the richness, complexity, dynamism, etc. fully, and it doesn’t seem like “deterioration with age” affects this, or does so to any significant degree.”

    I think that the problem in this debate is the tendency to make sweeping generalizations in either direction. My skepticism about vintage hunting has always been based on the unpredictability of the whole enterprise, since you really have no idea what the juice is going to smell like until you get it, and you cannot really have meaningful conversations with anyone else, since everyone has a bottle from a different batch, all of which have aged and degraded to various different degrees. This is just a matter of chemistry, pure and simple. Anyone who denies the reality of these processes is simply ignorant of chemistry. If vintage lovers have 100% success rates, with no turned bottles, then they are either very lucky or incapable of assessing when a perfume has turned.

    Wearability is the main criterion, of course, so if all of one’s vintage bottles contain wearable perfume, that’s great, but it does not mean that they smell as they did when they were launched. In a way, of course, it does not matter. It’s like arguing about how the ancient Romans pronounced “veni, vidi, vici.” We don’t have a tape recorder of their pronunciation!!!! 😉

    Setting my concerns about the ineluctable and variable processes of chemical degradation to one side, I appreciate the sentiments expressed by vintage lovers, because there is absolutely a difference between a perfume which features lots of rich natural materials, and a “mall juice”, as I believe Patty it put it so aptly over at From Pyrgos. The age of abstraction and Twitter perfumery is upon us, and it would be irrational to expect from the designer houses today anything approximating the perfumes which they used to launch back in the twentieth century. Go down the list, you will find that all of the designers are going the way of vat-sourced chemical soup–or as I sometimes describe it: “no plant life was sacrificed in the production of this juice”.

    What I did not understand was the anger over at Dnotes. All of the ad hominem attacks against Jeffrey Dame seemed to me quite out of place. I suppose that those same people might accuse the winemakers who claim to prefer “new” to “old” wine of trying to promote their just-produced juice. But then there are plenty of people (myself included) who have no horse in this race and yet can understand where such people are coming from.

    Everything is complicated in perfumery right now because of so many forces operating simultaneously: abstraction, IFRA restrictions, flanker madness (and Twitter launches), and corporate take-overs which are really sapping some of the once-original designer houses of what little creativity remains possible in the post-IFRA period.

    You vintage lovers cling to the golden age of perfumery because you prefer the sort of perfume which used be made by virtually all of the designer houses. These days, in order to get fresh perfume along those lines it is necessary to turn to the niche houses, though that is no guarantee, since many of them are simply putting out mall juice in fancy packaging and backed by serious hype.

    The natural houses produce the sort of perfume which I favor today, but sometimes those creations are a bit roughhewn and not as nice as the designer house launches from the twentieth century. I do have some of those bottles, and some of them definitely have turned, for example, a bottle of Ralph Lauren Safari, which used to smell splendid but not anymore.

    In the end, I am quite sympathetic with vintage lovers, as I do appreciate the sacrifice of plant life in any juice which I intend to apply to my skin. But I think that each bottle must be judged on its olfactory merits. Quasi-religious zealotry about all things “vintage” seems to me to be irrational, and categorical denials that any juice produced more than a few years ago is automatically “dreck” just seem false.

    • I don’t feel that responding to a sweeping claim by pointing out my experience should be characterized as a sweeping claim, not that I’m suggesting that is what you are doing. If I had only a few “dreck” scents then I would think that I just got lucky, but I have none, which suggests it is 99.9% (or thereabouts) fiction. If Mr. Dame would have said that the base notes can weaken or that the notes could shift a bit or that top notes could be largely lost, I would not have commented at all, because as you said, it would be very difficult for those of us who don’t have access to archived bottles of scents to know the differences, if any. And if someone doesn’t like vintage, that’s fine with me; more competition for existing stocks is not something I welcome !

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