Monthly Archives: January 2014

Should you “test” scents on smelling strips?

On a recent thread, a person stated:

I always prefered testing on skin, but sometimes you just want to try more than 4 scents, so i end up taking test cards with me.

Well this time, i learned the hard way not to do it : A montale scent that i bought last month ( Montale Aoud Mayyas) which has Orange and Cedar, smelled absolutely divine on paper and the orange lasted a good couple hours on the card. I bought it based on the card test because i didn’t think my skin will end up devouring the orange note completely, but it did.

On my skin, the orange disappears literally in 10 seconds (!) and i’m greeted and left with heavy cedar and a large dose of ISO E . I don’t like it at all…

This is yet another one of those situations in this hobby that probably drive the “OCD” people away in droves! There is no “right answer” here, and there isn’t enough time in one lifetime to test every scent released in a year fully, let alone in different ways. Then there is the possibility of layering, creating your own scents, trying to determine differences in formulations (if any), and of course if there is something about you that is different, such as if you are beginning to get a cold, though I’ve found that sensitivity, either to the scent in general or to certain notes/accords, can vary for no apparent reason. So, all I can do here is to provide some ideas, and you can decide what worth these may possess.

This Basenotes member found himself in a situation that I have, that is, there are a bunch of testers in a store and you’d like to try more than a few. You can spray them on various parts of your body, but even if you don’t mind the possibility that some people may stare at you when you are spraying your ankle, the major problem is that the scents can interfere with each other (and you might also forget which one you sprayed where!). Of course, you can ask if they have small sample bottles, as some Sephora stores do, to my knowledge, but if that is not the case then you need to decide how to handle the situation.

My “solution” (if you can’t get samples made up by the clerks) is to bring small, zip lock bags with pieces of paper in them. I was able to get a hundred bags on ebay for less than two dollars total, for instance. The paper I use is from unbleached coffee filters. This thin paper seems ideal for my technique, and you can write the name of the scent on the paper if you know which ones you will be sampling. It may be best to store them in the refrigerator, in another zip lock bag, such as a sandwich style one, and I try to get the air out of the bag before zipping it up. When you are read to sample it, you then use a common funnel, which you can usually get at dollar stores, last time I looked.

Just stick the paper in the “neck” of the funnel and hold it up to your face. Then use your other hand to waft air through the neck of the funnel. I have found that the scent is quite well represented this way, but I have yet to try it with ones that have a high iso e super content. It may be that the more synthetic scents smell very good on paper strips, but soon become irritating to people (like me) who dislike such compositions. In fact, that would explain why these scents seem to be popular, such as Terre d’Hermes, though I think top notes play a more important role in this context.

There was also a recent thread at the Badger and Blade site, which concerned the best way to apply a scent. My opinion here is that you never know, but if a scent seems to “heavy,” and you dabbed or splashed it on, then you should try a fine mist atomizer application. In general, I’d suggest a fine mist application, unless you already know you don’t like it that way, of course. Even so, I might try it again that way if I thought my sensitivity might be the problem rather than the application technique. In many cases, such as with vintage Kouros, I lightly tap on the sprayer button because I want less than one spray, due to the strength of such scents. Just don’t get discouraged, because it seems almost all of us are trying to figure these things out, and it’s not “just you.”


Filed under The basics.

Don’t talk behind the Boss’s back (about “fresh fougeres”) !

I generally take scent reviews with at least a grain (if not a tablespoonful) of salt, and often am amused by the “dis ding stinks” ones. Obviously, in many cases we are reading “newbie nose” impressions, and I’ve certainly written my share of those kinds of reviews several years ago (though I have gone back and changed many if not most of them when I thought I should). Something many of us have encountered is the claim that a scent is a “fougere,” though the way it seems to be conceptualized by most reviewers and commentators would mean that perhaps eighty percent or more of “men’s” scents would be classified as some sort of fougere, and logic dictates that at some point the word loses it’s usefulness.

Beyond this, there is the more specific (apparently) notion of a “fresh fougere.” I’ve heard this phrased used to describe scents like Nautica Voyage. Unfortunately, people who use these kinds of phrases rarely explain what they mean. For example, does a “fresh fougere” dial back the lavender/coumarin, remove the oakmoss, and add some aquatic aroma chemicals (such as calone)? What I’ve seen is that many people call a scent a fougere (of one kind or another) if it’s got a lavender note in it (even if it’s a mild one). This is clearly not a reasonable thing to do, as the fougere accord is supposed to be the fantasy fern smell (since ferns don’t have a scent), and that is created by using the combination of lavender and coumarin. Why can’t people just say something like “complex lavender scent” rather than fougere? My guess is that some think it’s “sophisticated” to use such language, because other explanations don’t seem to make much sense (to me, at least).

And this brings me to the latest post at the FromPyrgos blog, which is entitled simply “Boss Number One (Hugo Boss).” In this post, we are told, “Boss Number One is a sadly overlooked fresh fougère.” First I’ll address formulations, because I have two different kinds of bottles (one I know was made in the early 90s or earlier). My older bottle just says Boss Cologne whereas the newer one is Boss Number One. I don’t detect any major differences, though the older one may be a touch richer and deeper. Also, this is a scent I am quite familiar with, as I have worn it as often as just about any other one, which means perhaps eight times a year, if not more (over the last three or four years). If nothing else, I support the idea that our impressions of a scent can vary significantly (unlike the author of FromPyrgos, apparently, judging from some of his past blog posts). However, some of the claims made in his latest post scream out to be scrutinized !

First we are told about the “greatest fresh fougères of all time,” by which he means Kouros, Cool Water; Drakkar Noir, and Boss Number One. DN is clearly a fougere (of the “soapy” variety), though it is “amped up” with “fresh” aroma chemicals (I prefer vintage Caesars World for Men to DN because it seems less “chemical,” truth be told here). By contrast, Cool Water features a mild lavender note and is not “soapy” (at least not in the way DN is), but does not have coumarin, and therefore I consider this a clear misuse of the fougere claim, though the FromPyrgos author is not the first person to make such a statement. Note that if you read a note pyramid for DN, you might see that it does not list coumarin. However if you read the box, you might see the following (keep in mind that I have no idea if the company just released a box with different information):

Ingredients: Alcohol, Aqua/Water, Parfum/Fragrance, Benzyl Salicylate, Linalool, Limonene, Hydroxyisohexyl 3 Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde, Hydroxycitronellal, BHT, Citral, Evernia Furfuracea Extract (Treemoss), Coumarin, Geraniol, Eugenol, Citronellol, Benzyl Benzoate, Cinnamyl Alcohol, Benzyl Alcohol, FIL (B8789/1)

For Cool Water I found this list of ingredients:

Alcohol Denat., Aqua/Water, Parfum/Fragrance, Acrylates/Octylacrylamide Copolymer, Alpha Isomethyl Ionone, Citral, Citronellol, Geraniol, Hydrolyzed Jojoba Esters, Hydroxycitronellal, Hydroxyisohexyl 3 Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde, Limonene, Linalool.

Here is the note list for the Boss scent:

Top notes are artemisia, green apple, juniper, basil, grapefruit, caraway, bergamot and lemon; middle notes are honey, lavender, orris root, jasmine, sage, lily-of-the-valley, rose and geranium; base notes are sandalwood, amber, patchouli, cinnamon, musk, oakmoss, cedar and tobacco.

And for Boss Number One there is this list of ingredients:

Alcohol Denat, Aqua/Water, Parfum/Fragrance, Caramel, Lactic Acid, Benzophenone 2, Dipropylene Glycol, Benzyl Benzoate, Benzyl Salicylate, Cinnamyl Alcohol, Citral. Citronellol, Eugenol, Geraniol, Hexyl Cinnamal, Hydroxycitronellal, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Limonene, Linalool, Hydroxyisohexyl 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone. Evernia Furfuracea.

Notice that linalool is much higher in the list in DN relative to CW and Boss. This, along with the absence of coumarin and my experience, leads me to only one conclusion: calling CW or the Boss scent fougeres has no basis in reality (in terms of how it has been defined for over a hundred years, from what I understand).

In the Boss scent, the FromPyrgos author thinks he smells “in its heart a considerable hit of dimethyl anthranilate, that fruity-floral molecule residing somewhere between mandarin orange and Concord grape,” and I agree that it seems like there is one or more aroma chemicals that helps generate a unique quality (to my knowledge), but I don’t think many people would perceive the composition as especially fresh, if fresh at all. And while it’s clearly not a fougere, it’s also the case that lavender plays no role, other than perhaps in the most minor, “supporting” one imaginable! So, again, if you are going to call this Boss release a fougere you should be willing to admit that probably well over fifty percent of the “men’s” scents marketed over the last thirty years would have to be classified as fougeres too (and also that you don’t care about the official definition, so to speak).

For the most part, this Boss is the opposite of “fresh,” with a heavy honey note and an obvious animalic quality (“dirty jasmine”), along with clear tobacco, patchouli, and wood notes. Over time, the wood notes seem to dry it out a bit and help balance it. The aroma chemicals he views as fresh come across more like dried fruit to me, along with having a diffusing quality to the overall composition. If he had claimed that these chemicals create a kind of fresh versus heavy/animalic/earthy dynamic, I would consider that a bit of a stretch, but reasonable. In some ways, this Boss scent is like Polo diluted (and with most or all of the amber removed), but then with these aroma chemicals, along with wood and a honey notes added. And anyone who thinks that Kouros is “fresh” needs to explain what the opposite of Kouros would be in this context! The only explanation here is that this person uses many sprays per application and his mind focuses on notes such as lemon, lime, orange, or juniper berry, along with certain aroma chemicals, perhaps. Once these largely dissipate, such people may call it a “skin scent” or say they can’t really smell anything at all. If one wants to do this, that’s fine with me (so long as I don’t have to sit next to you!), but it’s important to tell readers about your application, because claiming Kouros is “fresh” could lead a “newbie” to think you might be insane !

His last statement about this idea is: “This fougère adopts an affecting soapiness, a pureness and simplicity that makes it one of the least pretentious colognes of the European New Wave. If you like classic freshies, this one really is Boss.”

I have no idea how anyone can view the Boss as soapy, pure, or simple, and one idea is that the person sprayed a smelling strip, took a “quick whiff,” and then didn’t think much more about it (before writing up the post), though that seems unlikely based upon past posts I’ve read. At the very least, if one is going to make such a claim, wouldn’t it be necessary (if one didn’t want to confuse a whole lot of people) to explain what is meant by “soapiness?” I have pointed out, for example, that aside from the soapy fougere accord, there are at least two others I perceive as soapy in some general way: one that features strong spices and one that features powdery rose or iris. And just as with the “fresh” claim about Kouros, if the Boss scent is simple and pure, what could the opposite of that possibly be?

Lastly, I thought I’d mention that there was member who wrote more than a few reviews for that site (years ago). He would often describe a scent as “fresh and warm,” with statements like “it’s so fresh and warm.” The only kinds of scents I have encountered that might be appropriately described as such are ones like Live Jazz and Taste of Fragrance. That is, they feature a hot pepper or chili type of note. I find this note to be outright nauseating, but of course many seem to like the idea. In general, “warm” usually refers to a spices and amber type of combination, whereas “fresh” is often used these days to describe the abundant use of certain aroma chemicals. It’s possible for a scent to be ‘fresh” and then “warm,” for example, but again, I think you should mention this point to readers. In the case of this person in particular, I think this phrase was meant to convey his positive emotions towards the scent, but as a newbie I found it quite confusing !

UPDATE: Within hours after I published the above, a new post appeared on the FromPyrgos blog (a review of Eternity for Men) which contains the following statement about Boss Number One (I assume he has not tried Boss Cologne): “indeed, it is one of the soapiest fougères I’ve encountered.” I don’t know what kind of soap this individual has been using, but apparently it is one that contains clear notes of honey, patchouli, tobacco, and wood. At least this blogger is making it obvious that he does not subscribe to the original notion of what a fougere is supposed to be, so that confusing newbies is perhaps a bit less likely. And to reiterate my position in terms as clear as I can imagine: Boss Cologne/Number One is not a fougere of any kind. The lavender note in it is very mild, relative to scents like DN, and it doesn’t contain coumarin. There is nothing “soapy” about it, in my experience with soaps, either in a “fresh/chemical/laundry musk” way or in any kind of traditional lavender-dominant way. I have no idea how this author can make such a claim, but it does explain some of his other strange perceptions over the years, IMO. Perhaps any “nice scent” can be confused with a “soapy” smell, but up to now I’ve found that this is the realm of the newbie nose.


Filed under Criticizing the critics.

Pure Havane, Pure Leather, or Purely Unnecessary ?

If Andy Warhol were still alive and painting, I can imagine him creating one that depicts these Mugler rubber flask units lined up, just like his famous Campbell’s Soup works. In any case, some have claimed that Mugler has produced unnecessary flankers to A*Men, and now that I have tried all the ones I consider “major,” I thought I’d weigh in here. The scents in question are A*Men, Pure Coffee, Pure Malt, Pure Leather, and Pure Havane. I’ve also tried B*Men but consider that to be so different as to not be worth discussing in this context. The main issue seems to be that the base is the same for all of these, so that one is simply getting different top notes with the flankers.

One problem in trying to assess such a claim is that if you are like me, and have a few hundred bottles to choose from each day, you don’t want to waste several days wearing similar if not very similar scents. Moreover, I’ve also got some samples I want to try, and if I think I’m in the mood, I generally give preference to them. The other problem, which is even more significant, involves how much perception can change, even from one wearing to another. Thus, if I wear Pure Havane and then Pure Coffee the next day, that might lead to different impressions than if I had done this in the reverse order. And it’s also possible that it would be best to wait a few days before wearing the second one, and during those days I should wear very different kinds of scents.

And as Ive said before, my sensitivity seems to vary quite a bit, though I can usually tell where it’s at, so to speak. Yet another issue is how the scent is applied. Because of all this, I no longer think that any assessment should be viewed as anything more than tentative, so I’d prefer the reader think in terms of sharing experiences rather than learning “the truth” from some sort of “expert.” In this case, I tried A*Men and Pure Coffee several year ago. With A*Men, I found myself liking it one wearing then disliking it the next. I’m still not sure if I “need” a bottle but I’m just going to put off making a decision about that for quite a while, I think, though I am leaning towards keeping it (especially since it seems to be “vintage,” with newer formulations being weaker, according to some members).

By contrast, I wore Pure Coffee two or three times and strongly disliked it each time. My guess is that the “vetiver” note listed is what I found irritating (though it could be what they call cedar as well as the vetiver), and I view Pure Coffee as being distinct enough so that it should not be considered part of the A*Men flanker group (it had no tar or mint notes either). A*Men and Pure Leather are much more similar than the others, with PL having the clear tar and mint, along with similar gourmand qualities. Those who dislike PL and say it is quite different seem to be reacting to the leather note(s) used, at least one of which has an “old school” quality (which has been described, in other scents, as “sweaty,” “dirty,” or like a hippie’s old sandals, for example).

I happen to enjoy most if not all kinds of leather notes, but I still haven’t decided if the toned down mint and tar make PL a better scent for me than A*Men. My guess is that it will just depend upon what I’m in the mood for on a particular day. I tried Pure Malt more than a year into this “hobby,” I think in early 2009, and found the malt quality to be strange and somewhat irritating. It reminded me of friends who had spilled beer on themselves, and the base seemed to be less challenging than A*Men’s, though for some that may be an asset. I can understand this one being considered a “true flanker,” as it’s easy to see how those who liked A*Men might like Pure Malt too, but it’s different enough to lead them to want both.

Pure Havane is the one that I find to be “on the fence.” It doesn’t have the tar or mint, but it does have a similar gourmand base. My first couple of samplings with PH, done with a dab vial, led me to dismiss it because I found the base to be generic and the tobacco note(s) to be fleeting. However, the other day I acquired a bottle and used two full sprays. Doing this, I experienced much stronger tobacco, especially of a cherry flavored variety. And while the cherry-like quality didn’t last for hours, a dry tobacco note persisted for a very long time. Now I view PH as a “rotation worthy” tobacco scent, and instead of there being a positive connection, so to speak, there is only a negative one with A*Men (or PL), which is that I wouldn’t wear any of these if I wasn’t in the mood for a gourmand base. Otherwise, I view PH as distinct.

Some have mentioned that there are quite a few scents being sold (by other companies) that are very similar to A*Men or one of the flankers. I have only tried one that I would say is similar (to Pure Malt), which is called Enrico Sebastiano Fine Cologne. ESFC does not have the malt note, and instead goes with some more conventional, though “old school.” However, I find the drydown to be quite similar, and I’m mentioning ESFC because some might like the idea of PM without the malt and instead with a more traditional, aromatic opening. This is the case for me, and is the reason I haven’t pursued trying to obtain a PM bottle on ebay for a good price. I think that for many people, a few wearings is a good idea (spaced out over time) because these are the kinds of scents to which you may need to acclimate yourself, other than perhaps Pure Havane, which I’d guess a lot more people find enjoyable instantly (assuming they like tobacco notes, obviously).

Note that I’m not sure the photo above depicts the five scents I mentioned (the one on the viewer’s right looks like Taste of Fragrance to me), but I thought it was the best visual for this post. Also, if you are asking about other flankers, here’s the scoop: I didn’t mention Taste of Fragrance because I got the impression that it was a “flash in the pan” release that was closer to B*Men than A*Men. I tried it once or twice but found the chili or red pepper type note to be nearly nauseating. I didn’t get mint or tar and the gourmand base was quite weak, relative to what I would expect from a “true” A*Men flanker. And lastly (I think), Pure Shot seems to be the one that is only liked by those who want a “fresh” scent; I’ll just say that if you think A*Men is very similar to Pure Shot, stop reading my blog immediately (a joke, I hope everyone realizes) !

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Filed under Fragrance Reviews.

What is an “intellectual” fragrance blog ?

Over the last few months I’ve received messages from people who have stumbled upon my blog and used this phrase (that is, telling me that they like my blog because it is intellectual). Because I’ve pointed out recently that I didn’t find the Now Smell This blog to be especially useful much of the time (and certainly a lot less “controversial” than it could be, not that I want to read a blog that tries to be), other than to announce some new releases, I thought I should address the kind of qualities I seek when I read reviews or blog posts. And just so you don’t think there’s something about the NST blog that has “stuck in my craw,” I’ll examine their latest review, which is of Chergui. On the contrary, I appreciate the effort they put into their site and understand that the way they appreciate scents may differ from the way I do.

The review begins with promise, as we are told in the first paragraph that: “today Chergui to me smells much more complete and complex than I’d remembered.” This is consistent with my experience, and I’ve said such things in the past now and then. In any case, we are then told that for Chergui: “notes include honey, musk, incense, tobacco leaf, hay, amber, iris, rose and sandalwood.” Then there is a specific statement about the top notes, which I’ll refrain from commenting upon because I have little interest in top notes and try to avoid most of the potent initial blast. Beyond the top notes, this is the crux of the review:

…Unlike Serge Lutens Fumerie Turque, which is all about the humidor, Chergui’s heart is cooled and lightened with flowers — iris stands out the most to me, although it’s subtle — and sweetened just a touch. It’s cooler and drier than I remembered. Also, I didn’t remember Chergui’s musk, but it’s definitely present as a clean, refreshing thread woven through the fragrance’s thick, dry body. After fifteen minutes, though, what stands out most is dried, unsmoked tobacco leaf (the plant and not the processed cigarette or pipe tobacco) and sweet hay.

As Chergui settles over its six or eight hour quiet life on my skin, the tobacco eventually burns away, and soft sandalwood and spicy amber — the stamp of an oriental fragrance — eases Chergui to its last breath.

I certainly like the idea of comparing Chergui to Fumerie Turque, but to me this is too superficial. And it sounds like after fifteen minutes this person had a “spiky” experience and should have worn it on more time before writing up a blog post review (“tentative” reviews are good for sites like Fragrantica and Basenotes, IMO). After writing the above, I decided to wear Chergui (on 1/7/14) and discuss my impressions of it. I hadn’t worn it in such a long time that I can’t say I have any clear recollections, other than I didn’t think it was worth the cost. I agree that there is something at first that comes across as “cool;” I’d call it mint with the flavor missing, so to speak.

Where I disagree somewhat is with the notion that there is a focus on tobacco here. Moreover, I don’t get much hay, at least not the way it’s been presented in other scents that claim to possess a hay note (and that I’ve tried). There is nothing especially animalic or green or dry about Chergui. There is a slightly powdery quality (otherwise, just a little floral) and I’d call it at least a semi-gourmand, with the honey being obvious if not overwhelming. If you want a strong gourmand scent that sort of goes in this direction, try Keiko Mecheri’s Loukhoum. If you are looking for something along the lines of Michael for Men by Kors, I don’t think you will get enough tobacco here. And if you like the idea of having that “cool” quality persist for a lot longer, there is vintage Lapidus Pour Homme (1987). Far into the drydown (perhaps two hours in), the “cool” quality seems to reemerge a little, as a kind of “clean” though vanillic musk, and it also seems a bit more floral than it did in earlier stages. I’d call it a hybrid now, a kind of mild “floriental,” with a hint of tobacco and a clear but weaker gourmand element. Honestly, I think most aficionados would prefer something like Elvis Cologne (which I reviewed on 11/30/13) at this point, especially men (even if they have just a little “gender” sense in this context). Longevity is great but I find it lacking in dynamism after perhaps five hours.

One statement in this NST review I found to be over the top, in a sense masquerading as intellectual, is: “Lots of perfume writers have pointed to Morocco in their Chergui reviews. To me, Chergui smells dreamy and vaguely Victorian.” The Victorian age was too long ago for anyone to know what it smelled like, and we are given no background information about how the author may have tried to reconstruct Victorian odors, which would at least provide some credibility to this notion. This is the kind of thing I really don’t like to see in reviews, because it may have the effect of playing on the emotions of some people. Let’s remember that the Victorian age could be called “the great age of the workhouse” too! The people forced to live in those “houses” must have smelled plenty of interesting things, though perhaps few of them pleasant!

Of course, romanticizing the past is something that probably everyone does to some degree at some point in their lives, but talking like this about a period in which you (and nobody you knew) ever lived leaves you open to criticism. Overall, Chergui is a “neither here nor there” scent to me, though perhaps a good “starter niche scent” for many. It’s not very strong, but it’s certainly different enough (along with being natural smelling) from most of today’s designer offerings to make the first-time niche buyer feel that he or she is wearing something “unique.” Note that some have claimed there are different formulations of Chergui and that the color of the liquid is one way to tell. I received a decanted sample years ago and can only say the liquid is a deep, dark red. The NST review of Chergui isn’t “bad,” IMO, but I prefer to write blog reviews when I think there is something particularly interesting about a scent. Otherwise, I usually write up a “basic” review on Fragrantica or Basenotes.

Lastly, I want to speak to the notion of “intellectual.” I remember in graduate school one professor said something like, “we aren’t here to make you intellectuals but to teach you a methodology.” Some of the things I learned were to question any assumption that seemed problematic, to put forth clear and concise hypotheses, to cite evidence both for and apparently against my hypothesis (and to examine the evidence in detail), and to always consider what is the “exception” and what is the “rule.” One thing I came to learn is that one often has to “deconstruct” in order to “reconstruct,” which I think is related to Einstein’s quote. In this context, you need to understand a scent on a “fundamental” level before you can be “intellectual” about it, and to me the best way to be “intellectual” about these olfactory concoctions is to consider the history of the industry and to compare the scent in question to others that are similar in some significant way.

NOTE: I used up the last of my Chergui sample so I didn’t see any reason to hold off writing up what is likely my final review of it. Also, it may be a good idea to make it clear that I do not view myself as an “intellectual,” and I can even understand that some people would regard my worldview as at least somewhat “anti-intellectual.” If I had to describe myself in these kinds of matters it would be as an investigator who is trying to determine what is likely the case. Notice that I did not say the truth, because in many instances that cannot be determined. Instead, I examine what I view as credible evidence and then come to a tentative conclusion about what seems most likely.


Filed under Criticizing the critics., Fragrance Reviews.

The New Internet Market and the Old Avon One.

This post began as an “update” to my last one. However, I thought it deserved it’s own “place in the sun” because it contains some new ideas. Here it is:

Mr. Ross has quickly written up an apparent reply to this post, in a new post on his FromPyrgos blog entitled, “Fumbling Through Darkness: A Quick Tutorial On Economics, And How It Applies To The Vintage Fragrance Market.” In that post, he writes:

…In reality, very few of these extremely expensive vintages are selling to real buyers. If they were, there would still be sizable quantities of “vintage” Red for Men by Giorgio on Ebay today. There would also be far fewer vintage bottles of Fendi Donna on Ebay – demand would have snapped them all up years ago. There is no real market for these fragrances, at least not at their asking prices. A fan base for these fragrances does exist, but they’re watching wistfully, waiting for prices to become realistic. Because the Ebay market is contrived, they wind up waiting forever.

Apparently, Mr. Ross still thinks he can make such claims, without evidence to support them, and get his readers to believe them! As I pointed in a previous post, Red for Men bottles are nearly identical, the main difference being the label on the bottom of the bottle (most of the vintage Reds I’ve purchased were without boxes but all had caps). What seems to be the case is that most sellers on ebay are not very savvy about vintage scents; some do a little searching to see if they have something of “major value” while a minority does not. When there were very few Red bottles, it seems that more savvy (and one might say more capitalist-minded or just greedier) sellers thought they could cash in on the scarcity. Most of the less savvy sellers thought they had “struck gold” when they did their basic searching, and prices were set at high levels for the most part.

But as I’ve said in this and other posts, Mr. Ross is “cherry picking” examples, and even then his arguments are not very convincing! For example, is there a “contrived market” for Patou Pour Homme, PPH Prive, Egosiste Cologne Concentree, Derby, Macassar, Vintage Tabarome, etc.? He even admits that his notion of a contrived vintage market does not fit into major categories for “economic markets,” yet he goes on to say: “No economics major worth his salt would find any fault with this article, but then again there are suckers in all walks of life!” Fine, go ahead and get an economics professor to weigh in here, but in the meantime, your claims have been refuted with actual sales on ebay (many more than a few in his recent example, KL Homme). However one wants to classify what is occurring on ebay, there is a reality her that can be described, as I have done (in terms of experience and actual sales). And how many threads have there been lamenting the sharp rise in a scent that used to sell for very little?

Here’s an example I just came across, Valentino’s V for Men. What we see are very high prices being asked, just under $100 for 50 ml, and up from there. When we do a completed auction search (as of about 3 AM EST on January 2, 2014) we see for bottles are a a few “reasonable” prices, apparently because the sellers did not realize they could get more (these were buy it now listings), as well as quite a few sales at much higher prices, from around $150 for 50 ml bottles to over $250 for 100 ml ones). A 100 ml new tester sold for $106.95 total with 14 bids, while another such tester sold for $105 total. Two new 50 ml bottles sold for $96.98 and $94.99. A one ounce bottle sold for $75! And there were many items, 77 in total, some were samples or tubes of aftershave balm but about 60 were bottles (a small number of aftershaves, but they sold for high prices too). How can this be a “contrived market?” Isn’t it obviously a market sorting itself out, so to speak, on the “high side,” price-wise?

But this is not even the “high end” these days. If we look at the sold items for older, scarcer bottles, such as for Macassar, we find three EdT bottles that sold for well over $200 (a 100 ml one sold for $339!). Three Vintage Tabarome bottles (by Creed) sold for $650, $950, and $950 (the latter two were described as “7-8” ounces). The prices for Egoiste Cologne Concentree aren’t too far behind, and a lot more bottles sold than was the case for VT or Macassar! Even Jules by Dior, which I never thought much of (and had the chance to buy at fairly low prices) is selling for “big money” now. For example, a set of EdT, A/S, and bar of soap sold for $69.95, and the two bottles were only .3 ounce each! The three 100 ml bottles of EdT all sold for well over $150 each. And keep in mind that I haven’t done nearly as much research into scents marketed to women. Isn’t it obvious that while there certainly may be a “few dummies” out there, the items sold on ebay alone make it clear that this cannot be called a “contrived market?”

An obvious question here is, how can the KL Homme “market” on ebay be contrived in light of these “high end” ones? Doesn’t that happen in “capitalist” economies all the time, especially recently with internet markets? Mr. Ross mentioned a pawn shop TV show, and isn’t it interesting how on these shows the owners sometimes use the internet to try and determine a price to offer a person who wants to sell an item? It’s true that I’ve never heard one of these people tell the owner, “why don’t you do an ebay sold item search,” but again, there are probably still plenty of non-savvy people in the world when it comes to these kinds of things. If you are a bit savvy in these matters, you’re probably saying to yourself, “those shows are not what they appear to be.” And indeed from my research it appears that all the “negotiating” is done before the show is aired, so it may be that the customers who want to sell an item are told not to mention ebay or other sites. In short, using what happens on a show like this as evidence is very odd, and suggests either naivete or an attempt to mislead, IMO.

Here’s a statement of Mr. Ross’ that suggests to me this is the case:

Anyone who watches Pawn Stars sees this happen regularly. Inevitably the seller gets his item appraised by an expert in whatever he’s trying to push, be it a gun, a piece of artwork, a Civil War relic, or whatever it is, and then Rick comes in a few hundred dollars under whatever value the expert cites, so he can make a profit in resale. The fragrance merchants on the internet are operating like the clueless people who wander into Rick’s pawn shop. They peruse Ebay and try to cull asking prices, sometimes attempting an average, sometimes just hoping they can stick the highest number on their lot and get lucky. They’re all operating “in the dark.”

I watch this show and I doubt that even half of these people have had a previous appraisal done, but putting that aside, Mr. Ross doesn’t seem to understand the difference between retail and wholesale! Rick makes it clear that he needs to buy at wholesale whereas some ebay sellers are trying to get top retail. Why is that a problem? Getting high retail is usually a lot more difficult, but much easier if the market for that item is rising quickly, as seems to be the case for many vintage or discontinued scents. And for all we know the people on that show are paid some amount of money to appear, or just want to be on television. If any market is “contrived,” it is what we see on a show like that one! Again, Mr. Ross, you need to address the reality that is undeniable, such as all these sales on ebay. If you want to argue that all these sold listing are somehow phoney, go ahead and make that claim (with evidence that demonstrates this is true rather than a story about a local perfume store owner), but please stop citing such poor “sources” as pawn shop TV shows!

In a recent post, I talked about the strange case of Avon. I asked some older, female relatives about what Avon was like several decades ago, when I was too young to know about it (the “menfolk” didn’t use any of their products). Though almost all of my older relatives are “working class,” none apparently bought much from Avon, and they didn’t live in areas that weren’t exposed to the “Avon lady” either. My mother said she used some Avon lipsticks but couldn’t remember anything else, though she does use some of their products now (that’s been the case for about a decade). None of them apparently had any interest in Avon scents. However, one thing that is clear is that they had a “door to door” approach that was not common (relative to how most scents were sold in the 60s through 80s) and that there was a period of time that they tried to market their bottles as collectibles (I think that was from the late 60s to early 80s).

Unlike Mr. Ross, I am not going to claim that I am the ultimate source of knowledge on this or any subject. My guess is that because they produced so many bottles, garnered a reputation for “cheap” products, and also produced so many different scents, not much of a “fan base” ever developed for these old scents. So, for a popular one like Wild Country, they just kept producing more, meaning that there would be no scarcity issue, real or “contrived.” It’s also possible that people who bought the old Avon ones that have been discontinued for a long time are the same kinds of people who want to buy at garage sales or from locals through Craigslist. They don’t want to pay $8 for shipping on a bottle that has a starting price of $4 on ebay. Whatever the reality here is, the prices for these scents on ebay are still low, though if it were easy to create a “contrived market” this would be the one company that could make someone a “small fortune” (because of the number of bottles they produced and how easy they are to obtain from yard sales, thrift shops, etc.).

By contrast, there is clearly a thriving, “real” vintage market, which one can see on the forum and, for example, not just ebay (I’ve sold quite a few vintage bottles through Basenotes). I could do sold item searches all day for a month, list the results here, and I doubt Mr. Ross would change his mind – for whatever reason, he has the mindset of the “right fighter,” as “Dr. Phil” would say, apparently. However, isn’t it obvious to perhaps everyone else that the internet has “changed the rules of the game?” Sure, sometimes a person who doesn’t want to do any research lists an item as a buy it now auction for a very low price and it gets “snapped up,” but that only supports my argument, not Mr. Ross’, though it’s not clear that he even understands this much!

One major “game changer,” it seems to me, is that people can list on ebay at no cost, other than the couple of minutes it takes to list the item. This may be what appears “contrived” to some people, and is unlike just about all attempts to sell in the past, but what I think I’m seeing on ebay (at least for vintage/discontinued scents) is a “sorting out” process for prices, and that “is as old as the sun.” As I said in the last post, this seems to be best described as an idiosyncratic market, meaning that some view a bottle as “old expired cologne” whereas others view the same item as a rare “work of art” that may never exist again. However, after seeing large numbers of bottles “snapped up” within a few days, even at prices of $300+ per 90 ml (in the case of Patou Pour Homme), it’s clear that at some point “a few oddball collectors” became an economic force, though likely a very minor one, at least by fragrance industry standards (and there’s no reason to believe they are spending “big money” because of what a blogger or two had to say).

Interestingly, none of my older relatives “collected” anything, and in fact many liked to throw things away as soon as they could! And when I was collecting a few works on paper (“fine art”) back in the early 90s, some of them thought I was crazy (even though I wasn’t paying all that much, relative to what that market became). They simply couldn’t image that what was regarded as a kind of “glorified poster” up to that point could rise so much in value so quickly! These days I know a bunch of people who have “collections” of more than one kind of item, and they get most of it from online sources. And some follow markets , such as for “collectible cars,” even though they can’t presently afford to buy. What Mr. Ross views as “contrived” is probably similar to how many people viewed coal power, railroads, electricity, radio, television, etc., and the money being made by entrepreneurs who were able to “read the handwriting on the walls.”

NOTE: I have a lot of respect for Avon’s scents, both old and new, though I’m not suggesting they are as “good” as vintage designer. I recently acquired a bottle of Imari for $2 total and at that price it “blows the doors” off just about everything else. However, this may be a vintage formulation for all I know. If you like Cinnabar you might want to try this one!

UPDATE: I just noticed something on that reminded me of what I saw years ago when looking for books on that site. A scent called Tawanna (a company named Regency Cosmetics sells it) is priced at $7 plus $9.95 shipping (2 ounce bottle); Regency itself appears to have listed it. However, there is another listing for the same item, but that is at $500! The person asking $500 may deserve a “worst capitalist of the year award,” but is that relevant to actual sales on ebay for scents that seem to have a relatively large fan base? And were the markets for the many books I saw with such divergent prices “contrived?” My guess is that there are still more than a few listings for books just like this one for Tawanna, but again, what’s the point of presenting evidence to a person who ignores it and instead mentions anecdotal incidents that are at best exceptions to the rule?

UPDATE #2: I haven’t done much price research since posting the above, but even so, I have come across two scents that surprised me, more in terms of items sold (at what I consider to be at least somewhat high prices) than how much was paid. One is Bobby Jones Cologne, which has received very little attention from anyone, it seems – just do an ebay sold item search for this and see what you think. In the other case, 25 out of 31 new 100 ml Ferre EdT bottles sold for $135.99 each (with $13.99 shipping added on). The ebay item number for that one is 350763761750.

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Filed under Criticizing the critics.

Is Mr. Ross “clueless” about basic economic realities ?

Yes, he’s at it again (IMO), trying to make reality fit into his preconceptions. In a recent blog post entitled, “KL Homme And The Contrived Market For Vintage Fragrances (Not a Fragrance Review),” he tells us that he purchased a two ounce bottle of KL Homme at a local (Connecticut) store for $36.33. He then proceeds to talk about how much he apparently hates many ebay sellers (note that I have hardly ever sold fragrances on ebay and that was years ago, in an attempt to clear out the “low end” stuff that was accumulating, so I do not feel any personal offense here). By contrast, if you have been reading my blog lately, you know that my contention is that the best explanation for sales on ebay involves a “fan base” being established for these kinds of scents many years ago.

Now in the case of KL Homme, it may be that it was never all that popular – I certainly have no idea. However, having followed prices on ebay for these kinds of scents for a long time now, I can say the “masculine” Lagerfelds seem to have really lagged behind many others, though as I also said in a recent post, prices on vintage seem to have risen quite a bit, generally-speaking, over the last couple of years. The original “masculine” Lagerfeld (now called “Classic”) and Photo seem to have been reformulated for the “drug store” market, whereas KL Homme apparently was not, which certainly suggests that it was never very popular (and may at least partially explain the prices for it these days). In his post, Mr. Ross claims that the owner of that local shop in question told him that if he could sell KL Homme for twice the price, he certainly would. Apparently, Mr. Ross did not follow up with the obvious question, “do you try to sell these kinds of fragrances on ebay?”

A local used book store I used to enjoy visiting closed a few years back, but not before I was able to ask the owner why. He said that it made a lot more sense for him to sell the building, which he owned (it was in a town where real estate prices had risen quite a bit), and sell his books online instead. Clearly, not everyone has this opportunity (most rent the stores), and this owner may not be able to get enough “old stock” to “make a living” selling it online. However, this person does not even seem aware of the possibilities that exist! Specifically, and again as I’ve posted not long ago, all one has to do is to use ebay’s “completed auction” feature. Doing this for KL Homme is quite revealing !

I conducted just such a search as of about 4:30 PM EST on December 30, 2013, and the results show that 28 bottles sold recently (and only a few minis were listed), but the prices vary significantly (I only searched for sold items). For example, a 125 ml spray bottle that appears to be around 97-98% of original amount sold for just a bit more than $31 total (a new 1 ounce bottle sold for a little more than this one)! However, a sealed, splash 125 ml bottle sold for $118.99 total. A two ounce new spray bottle sold for $39.95 total. If Mr. Ross paid sales tax on his purchase the difference would be a dollar or two. In short, why can’t Mr. Ross use the completed auction feature and why doesn’t he have patience with ebay listings? That’s how I am able to get excellent deals on these vintage greats !

Mr. Ross’ notion of a “contrived market” seems to be a kind of inadvertent attack on “capitalism.” If he wants to do that, he’s entitled to his opinion of course, but is he entitled to his own facts? In this system, or in economies that are at least largely capitalistic, sellers can set the prices they wish (other than in a small number of regulated markets), and in particular, when one encounters such a small, idiosyncratic market as appears to exist for vintage designer scents, one is likely to encounter all kinds of things that may appear strange to those who don’t follow it closely. For example, some sellers seem to have an idea in their minds about what their bottles should sell for, and they won’t take a penny less. Others seem to be trying to sell at “can’t resist” prices in order to clear out their inventory. Others, like myself (though as I said, not on ebay) are in no hurry to sell and will simply wait in order not to take a loss – we are not doing this to “make a living.”

I remember back around 1990 when a similar kind of market came into existence for signed and numbered works on paper by well-known contemporary fine artists. Some people thought the price rise was ridiculous, but it was still possible to obtain “lesser” works (probably equivalent to KL Homme in this analogy) for low prices (relative to what was occurring for “better” works) at the many small auction houses that existed at the time (I have no idea how many of them survived the internet age). We don’t know what is going to happen to the market for these kinds of scents, but we do know it’s unlikely we’ll be able to buy new ones that are like them any time soon (due to IFRA guidelines). With people like Chandler Burr telling everyone that these concoctions are “works of art” in some significant way, isn’t “the handwriting on the wall,” though? And is $80, for example, so much more for a “luxury item” than $30 or $40? To many buyers of these scents, who are older and doing well financially, the answer is highly likely to be a resounding no.

I never seriously became involved in the art market because I saw that all kinds of manipulations were involved, such as one private art dealer telling a potential client not to buy a work being sold by another art dealer for one or another reason that truly seemed “contrived.” However, trying to sell an item for a price you want is not contrived. There are people who don’t have fragrance shops nearby or who simply don’t care about paying an extra twenty dollars or so – they may not even own a car and find that shopping online saves them a lot of money, relative to buying a car, paying for gas, insurance, maintenance, etc. There is nothing “contrived” about these situations, and in this instance, Mr. Ross chose quite a poor example for his notion with KL Homme. I wonder what he will be claiming if prices for vintage do “go through the roof” soon and we begin to see them in the catalogs of major auction houses !

Lastly, and this is directed to Mr. Ross in particular: I don’t know where or how you were educated, but I guess I need point out something very important about “credibility” as a researcher. The researcher does not get to “cherry pick” examples he or she thinks fits his or her notions, while ignoring other evidence. Instead, you must examine the available evidence and put forth an explanation that fits all the “real” evidence, not just the evidence you want to discuss. In this case, unless you are contending that the sales of some or all of the 28 bottles of KL Homme I found on that ebay search are fraudulent (and if so, you had better have strong evidence), the only thing you are doing is destroying your credibility in these matters. I have no ill will towards you but I truly do not understand why you don’t want to investigate such things in a reasonable way. Not only isn’t it fair to your readers, but you are not being fair to yourself either! Do you only want to impress those who are easy to mislead ?

UPDATE: I originally wrote up a few paragraphs to respond to Mr. Ross’ response to this post, though he is apparently adhering to what I regard as an infantile promise not to name my blog (or the site) on his blog any longer. However, because it contained some new ideas, I decided to create a new post for it, which is entitled, “The New Internet Market and the Old Avon One,” for those who are interested.


Filed under Criticizing the critics.