Over at the FromPyrgos blog, Mr. Ross recently wrote up a post (titled “Written Into The Light: The Blog-Driven Rise of The Zombie Perfumes”) that suggests fragrance bloggers have the influence (on the industry) to resurrect long-forgotten scents. He claims there is strong circumstantial evidence to support his position. Before I address this issue, I’ll point out, as I have in the past, that Mr. Ross seems to want to “have it both ways.” That is, when he dislikes something said on a blog or on a site like Basenotes.net, he is dismissive of their “relevance,” but if he wants such people to be influential, then he makes that claim, as is the case here. If he has changed his position, and wants to say that he was wrong about how “unimportant” such sites are, I wish he would have done that, because I’m still unclear about where he stands. Does he think my blog and Basenotes have little if any influence, but all or most other such sites do? He recently opined that there was an “online renaissance” but that it had ended, and I pointed out that many of the people I call ” chronic samplers” (especially of niche) had either left the hobby or at least decided not to post online any longer (or do so only on rare occasion). However, what I’ve also seen are prices rise on ebay for all kinds of “rare,” “discontinued,” or “hard to find” bottles.
As to the claim at hand, Mr. Ross points out how some bloggers or reviewers have spoken about wanting to try a discontinued scent because Luca Turin said it was excellent in his “Perfumes: The Guide” book (or the subsequent, expanded version with a slightly different title). Thus, one could argue that this book seems to be the major reason for the re-releases of scents such as Yohji Homme and Patou Pour Homme. On the other hand, some scents sell for quite a bit of money on ebay yet garner hardly any attention on any of the major sites or fragrance blogs I read. What are we to make of this? Moreover, over the last few years, the price rise I’ve witnessed on ebay is not just for the “big” ones but also for scents that nobody seems to talk about (and that Turin has not mentioned), even when some, including myself, have tried to bring them to the attention of fellow hobbyists on Basenotes, Fragrantica, etc. The only difference I’ve seen is that the “big names” never seem to sell for reasonable prices, other than if someone doesn’t realize the value and lists it as a “buy it now” auction for a low price.
As some of you probably already know, I’m not one to buy scents for even a hundred dollars a bottle, let alone hundreds. I simply have not come across any that I thought were worth it, particularly in terms of uniqueness and my enjoyment of them (relative to a very large rotation). For example, I like having a decant of Creed’s Vintage Tabarome, as the sandalwood and tobacco are nicely done, are notes I enjoy, and most importantly, I can’t think of another scent similar enough to satisfy in the exact same way. However, I have quite a few tobacco scents and that twice a year thrill is something I can forgo (if and when the decant is gone). Why others value certain combinations of notes so much that they are willing to pay a proverbial King’s ransom is a question only they can answer. My guess is that it largely is due to how we come to value objects in the kind of society in which we live.
In any case, I’ll turn my attention to the re-releases. My experience has been quite disappointing, and because of it I don’t understand why anyone would think these reformulations could be anywhere near the originals! Sure, some people may not have the same extensive experience I do, but most (who write online blogs or reviews) probably have some, and with the latest round of IFRA guidelines, why would anyone want to “blind buy” a bottle? Also, I’ve said that with Patou Pour Homme and Yohji Homme in particular, the originals aren’t really special. On a recent Basenotes.net thread entitled, “Patou pour homme reissue,” I challenged fans of this scent by posting:
It isn’t for me, and nobody has ever made any claim about it that makes it sound special, to my knowledge. it’s a well-behaved “80s power” scent, but I can’t remember ever thinking that I’d rather wear it than another one I have that is similar but more interesting. I think this is a situation where mythic status somehow developed over the course of years, with the Emperor wearing less and less clothing over that time period. if you’ve got vintage Bijan for Men, for example, what are you going to get from PPH that is so much “better?”
Someone apparently took me up on this “challenge” and wrote up a post on that thread that included the following:
I would personally describe vintage PpH as the best mens floral ever created – and it carries Patou’s characteristic seal of highest quality ingredients. The perfect balance of woods and florals with no accord dominating makes Patou pour Homme the masterpiece that it is.
And I responded to that with:
This is the kind of thing I don’t understand. It’s not especially floral, and pales in comparison to VC&A PH, Leonard Pour Homme, Perry Ellis for Men (1985), Ho Hang Club, Zino, Boss Cologne, etc. on that score. And ingredient quality is fine with all of them, other than reformulations of course. If someone just happens to like PPH a bit more than the others and has plenty of extra cash, I won’t criticize them, but as I said, I don’t see it as deserving of any kind of mythic status.
As to Yohji Homme, I once owned a bottle of the original, but came to enjoy Lolita Lempicka au Masculin more. A couple years later and I found myself enjoying the absinthe note more than the licorice one, so now I prefer Ungaro I or Smalto (1998) instead. Again, I wish those who claim this to be an extraordinary scent would explain exactly why, as well as what other licorice-dominant scents they have tried. I remember an incident when I was teaching a class and a student was critical of a particular film (I don’t remember which one), and instead claimed that “Rocky” was basically the best film of all time. This student had very little experience with anything other than “Hollywood blockbusters,” and I wonder how much experience the people who make claims about greatness of Patou Pour Homme and a few others possess!
As to what companies that own the rights to these scents are doing, we all probably know that the actual liquid inside the bottles doesn’t cost much except in very rare circumstances, and with the newest IFRA guidelines, I doubt any of these kinds of reformulations cost more than $2 per 100 ml (I’m erring on the high side, I think). Thus, why wouldn’t they try to make money in this way? However, did EA Fragrances think there was money to be made by reissuing Red for Men by Giorgio of Beverly Hills? Do you think they would have done it for some other reason? My point is that more than a few scents that get nearly no online attention are reissued. They may have had a fan base at one time, and it seems that this is mostly what’s motivating the companies. The people who own the rights to Patou Pour Homme may just be “late to the party, ” and one Basenotes member had a possible explanation (I doubt EA would have waited so long if they owned the rights to it!):
It is not the sales rep’s blame nor Bergdorf’s, blame it on Procter & Gamble.
They specialized in convenience-product markets, they know how to make a deal with Wal Mart and the sorts, they can handle a mass market brand like Old Spice, but when it comes to the specialty product market they lack competitive advantages.
For instance, observe how they are missmanaging traditional high-end brands like Rochas, and when I say “missmanaging”, I mean minimal presence in key markets and / or either licensing the brands without much coherence as the original brand proposal – you can get Rochas clothes in here, it was licensed to a local manufacturer which sells Banana Republic-style men’s clothes in the mid – upper local price point.
So chances are they are bargaining with high end department stores in the same fashion they do with Wal Mart: they just can’t, it is not what they are used to, plus learning is highly cost demanding (time and money) – you know managers are not patient people.
As to competitive advantages, they are champions when it comes to cost: low production costs, high rotation thanks to deals with big supermarket chains and massive distribution, meaning huge profits in a market that is quite inelastic…
So I think P&G buys these prestigious brands, let them sleep with the idea in mind selling them after some key strategic movements, like launching a long cherished EdT sold at a hefty price just to discontinue it or restricting its distribution to a flagship in order to keep the brand alive at minimum costs. After all, they want the brand to increase its equity in order to sell it to LVMH or PPR or any new luxury-market company for a hefty price.
…Unilever tried with a prestige line of cosmetics, they gave up. Axe is a total hit, why the need of complicating things with Calvin?
What drives people to become part of a herd mentality? Perhaps it is related to the general notion in our society that we (the “general public”) only have a tiny fund of personal knowledge, and must rely on “experts” for so many things. Some, apparently, respond to this belief by positing that all kinds of “conspiracies” exist, while others want to “jump onto the train before it leaves the station.” Finally, what does it matter if LT and/or the major online fragrance sites are influential? My guess is that many if not all major companies employ trend detectors, but again, that doesn’t mean some won’t be “late to the party.” Or it may be that there was an intentional strategy to build up “excitement.” I don’t really see the appeal of such speculation, but for some reason I do find myself interested in the psychology of people who like to speculate (I’ve been interested in psychology since the late 70s!), which is also why I am interested in how certain scents attain a kind of mythic status yet certainly don’t seem to deserve it !