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.