What does a “ruined” scent really smell like ?

I had written up a draft for a post that addresses a report about two very old perfume bottles, but then I read a post on another blog and thought that it would be best to combine it with another I was working on, because the same issues are examined. So, what you will find below are basically two posts, and in between is another picture, which is how you will know you are moving on to the second one. The first was tentatively titled “What do you say to a person who just doesn’t listen to you?” The reason for this will become clear as you read it.

Over at the FromPyrgos blog (in a post entitled “A Useful Bit Of Advice”), readers are told not to go into a “tizzy” about something the author says. How would he know if a reader became upset by what he said or not? Can he read the minds of people he doesn’t know? In any case, the statement in question is this one:

Air in the bottle will change things, ever so subtly at first, but given enough time and a combination of other natural factors, like temperature, humidity, and exposure to sunlight, will eventually ruin the perfumer’s idea, and create a fragrance very different from that which he formulated.

First of all, this is the same person who has claimed that some scents need to oxidize to some degree in order for them to mature, or some such notion for which I have yet to see scientific evidence. To be sure, there may be some very minor changes, but I doubt anyone would notice these, unless the person studied the scent in great detail or if the bottle was stored under the worst conditions imaginable. Secondly, he seems to think that because a “great perfumer” said something, that it is not only true, but that he has the right to distort that statement. Let’s look at what the perfumer, Guy Robert, actually said:

Once you have opened the bottle, a light oxidation process takes place inside. If you forget to close the bottle after you have used the perfume, this will only speed up the process. The fresh, fleeting top notes of the fragrance will tend to “calm down” a bit; it’s true that this will not completely ruin the fragrance, but it will change the initial impression you get from your perfume.


So we go from Robert saying that the scent won’t be ruined, and it sounds like he mostly thinks the top notes will change, to the FromPyrgos author saying the scent will be eventually ruined, or at least the “perfumer’s idea,” whatever that may mean (since, presumably, other perfumers are aware that changes can take place quickly). Has any perfumer ever demanded that his or her “creation” not be worn if it doesn’t smell ideal? And since top notes don’t last long and people usually don’t spray a scent on and leave their houses immediately, what would it matter in almost all cases?

It sounds to me like this author is in a “tizzy” because so many people clearly prefer vintage scents, and from what I’ve seen that is behind a sharp rise in ebay prices on these bottles (though one can still sometimes get a reasonably good deal with patience). And as some have said, they have no interest in the new formulations of many “classics” because the same materials are clearly not being used any more. In more than a few cases, I’ve noticed that some scents bear little resemblance to the original formulations, and there is often an excessive usage of “laundry musks” these days, both in new releases and reformulations.

If you want a generic, “laundry musk” scent, that’s perfectly fine with me, but the claim of “ruined” or “turned” scents is totally inconsistent with my several years of experience “vintage hunting,” and I couldn’t care less about the “perfumer’s idea.” Nor do I recall anyone other than this author suggesting that a person should not wear a scent if it is not in accord with exactly what the perfumer intended. I also think this is a ridiculous distortion of the fragrance industry reality, which includes perfumers being given a brief to follow and not having the “final say.” In situations where this may not be the case, we get scents like JC Ellena’s iso e super nightmares (IMO, of course), which I would not even consider wearing (and I try not to be near anyone who does)!

Robert does say that sunlight can “kill” a scent, which is not something I can recall the FromPyrgos author mentioning. But again, that’s not something anyone is disputing, that is, I certainly would not “blind buy” a bottle that I knew had been “abused” in that way, but when you “vintage hunt” you rarely have any idea what was done with that bottle for years, and the seller often does not either. You take a chance. And doing this, I have only experienced a couple of scents (in “splash” bottles) that smelled like varnish for several minutes, before the nice drydown emerged. Some may claim this is a “turned” or “ruined” scent, and so I ask those people to swap with me, because as I’ve said before, I’ll take a great vintage drydown over almost all new releases just about every time.

The Robert statement, “once you have opened the bottle,” is ambiguous. The book was apparently published in 2000, yet it sounds like he is referring to splash bottles. How do you “open” a sealed spray bottle? These bottles always leave some space for air, and even before they were sealed, they were exposed to air for some amount of time. Moreover, after you spray it, you can store it upside down, which I’ve heard at least one “expert” recommend (I’ve also heard this said about jars of sauce). If it is a splash bottle, though, what makes the first time one opens it so different from the time before it was sealed for retail sale, assuming the bottle is not defective?

Lastly, I think the most obvious point to make is that if all the vintage aficionados were wearing “ruined” scents, not only would they have to be unaware of it, but the people who were near them would have to never say anything to them about how bad the scent smelled. So, perhaps one day this author will clarify his claim, and tell us whether he thinks the vintage aficionado should hang his or her head in shame because the person has desecrated the “perfumer’s idea” or whether he thinks these people are walking around smelling like skunks (or both). And how about supplying readers with some evidence? The Old Spice study he cited at least once actually demonstrated the opposite! Whatever the case may be, I find these attempts to revisit a clearly ludicrous notion (or perhaps two) more humorous than anything else.

So, I doubt the author will refrain from fighting the usual “straw men” in the future, but I’ll make a few things clear here for others:

1. I don’t know anyone who claims that scents never change.

2. I have yet to see scientific evidence that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that most vintage scents smell awful, unless perhaps the bottles were stored under the worst conditions imaginable.

3. Being concerned with the “perfumer’s idea” is clearly not something many people worry about if they buy a vintage scent. In fact, even when there are apparent bad formulations, I’ve read reviews in which the person said that it was still worth having because at least the general idea was present.

4. Whether the author likes it or not, some people totally disagree with him about the value of vintage scents and wear these on most days. I doubt any of them are in a tizzy because he thinks they are wearing “ruined” scents !

NOTE: “Browned” (oxidized) apples are not unhealthy and brown bread crust seems to have health benefits, for example:


Over at Basenotes.net, someone posted this report:


I’ll get right to the point here: the conditions for preservation were claimed to be excellent, yet both bottles contained a scent that smelled strongly of rotten citrus. One also smelled strongly of hydrogen suflide, which many if not most people associate with rotten eggs! This certainly smells like a clearly “turned” scent, but some “experts” have argued that those who mostly enjoy vintage scents (especially 20 to 40 years old) are wearing “turned” scents! As I’ve pointed out in at least one previous post, this is a rather absurd claim, because if true, it would require a few things, none of them being very likely to occur.

First, a large number of people, many of whom enjoyed the scent when it was “fresh” (and who are aficionados), would spray on something that smelled terrible and think it smelled great. Next, they would have to receive few if any comments that the scent smelled quite bad. Finally, they would not be able to tell the difference between scents that had “turned” and those that were still well preserved, perhaps just missing some top notes or with a bit of note “shifting.” To date, i have seen no strong scientific evidence for this claim, and the evidence I have seen suggests the opposite !

This report about these two bottles that are about 150 years old may tell us something quite interesting about these mass-market concoctions of the last several decades, however, which is that if a scent is all natural or nearly so it is unlikely to “hold together” no matter what the conditions are like. By contrast, if a scent contains a large amount of synthetics, conditions may not need to be optimal in order for it to stay intact, at least to meet the standards of most vintage aficionados, who likely are more interested in the drydown/base as opposed to top notes. Another possibility is that natural citrus notes easily “turn” and that a scent with a large amount of it is not likely to last for decades in “good condition.”

Despite obtaining many old scents, often in splash bottles and with no idea of the conditions in which they existed for decades, the only thing I’ve encountered in the “turned” context is a kind of varnish odor, which dissipates within the first hour. I’m more concerned about the potency of such scents rather than the smell, actually. Some of these seem to be a bit weaker than I thought they’d be. However, whenever I decanted some into an atomizer they seemed to be stronger, so I’m not even sure this is something with which to concern oneself, even to a minor degree. One thing I have yet to experience is a scent with a rotten citrus smell, other than ones in which it was apparently intended, such as when I sprayed on some Terre d’Hermes at a Sephora several years ago!


Filed under Criticizing the critics.

2 responses to “What does a “ruined” scent really smell like ?

  1. I found this blog after the recent BN thread. Well said. Ask me for samplea anytime. Mumsy.

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