How “good” can a scent possibly be ?

Many if not most of you likely have already read a review that makes a scent sound too good to be true. These often include a poetic quality, and sometimes the words “holy grail.” I seem to be going in the opposite direction, which is that after a few wearings most scents sort of “flatten out,” and while they may still be enjoyable, they need to be worn sparingly or else I might not only come to find them boring, but irritating as well. My guess is that after sampling a large number of different combinations of notes/accords, one doesn’t experience uniqueness as easily as one once did.

Over at the FromPyrgos blog, there is a recent post about a scent called “Nature Boy” by Garner James. I haven’t been able to find information about this perfumer, and the author of this post does little to fill the void. However, it sounds like yet another attempt at indirectly criticizing those who point out how much more complex vintage designer scents tend to be when compared to recent niche offerings:

Nature Boy is evidence that niche perfumery can be every bit as complex, sophisticated, and memorable as the best examples of designer fragrances.

Putting aside the possibility that hardly anyone will actually smell Nature Boy, this author once again seems blissfully unaware of the old, and almost always apt saying, “the exception proves the rule.” In any case, before pursuing my major point, I’ll cite some passages from the FromPyrgos post that describe the smell this scent:

…it begins with the skankiest muck note, an odor Xacto-knived from a North American forest immediately after heavy summer rains, loaded with bittersweet damp greens, rich tree barks, stones, mosses, animal shit, and hints of white flowers. Applied liberally, Nature Boy is intimidating, a bit of a green Kouros. Its castoreum is full-throttle, and the labdanum is quite deep and sweaty. Testosterone incarnate.

Ninety minutes later, and a minty floral note emerges from the mud. It is demure, very much present, yet soft and sweet, lightened by something remotely similar to eucalyptus. An hour after that, and there’s the Choya Loban, resinous, an intense vegetal green with a spiced evergreen exhale. In conjunction with lavender, it takes on a mild lilac effect for a while, before it rounds out with woodier tones and becomes part of an immense, vetiver covered amber… the wearer can expect to enjoy a weaving in and out of two accords: sticky green incense and mossy, sweaty sandalwood, with just enough herbal freshness from the lavender on one end, and natural labdanum on the other to make it balanced and coherent…

This sounds like reviews that I’ve read that come across as written by friends of the perfumer, the reason being that it doesn’t ring true to how scents are actually experienced (to be clear, though, I’m not accusing this person of anything here, just providing an opinion based upon my experiences and reading of the experiences of others). For example, we are told about these powerful resins and how it’s like a “green Kouros, yet a “mild lilac effect” becomes obvious “for a while.” And then the wearer experiences “an immense, vetiver covered amber?” No, I don’t think think it’s possible for an “immense” accord to come roaring out of nowhere after more than an hour an a half, during which time there occurs a green Kouros and a lot of castoreum, and then the mild lilac. This sounds more like an hallucination than the experience of one of these olfactory concoctions (at least so long as one is not “high”).

However, one can reach whatever conclusions that one likes on that issue. My main focus involves the search for “great” scents, and in this case, can one help but ask, “if this description is accurate, more or less (hyperbole omitted, perhaps), is this a scent I should purchase?” I already own some vintage Kouros, as well as a few vintage scents with strong castoreum notes. Some of these are complex, such as Krizia Uomo, One Man Show, and the original Davidoff scent. I’m not much of a vetiver nor amber fan, though I think these can be great as supporting notes for some compositions. Moreover, as I’ve discussed in a recent post, over the last moth or so I’ve been doing more layering than I ever have before, which has allowed me to create very complex scents based upon what is consistent with my mood. My guess is that I might enjoy Nature Boy quite a bit for the first few wearings, and then simply view it as just “one of the boys,” pardon the pun! The main prolbm, though, is that I don’t want to spend $50 or more dollars for something I may not enjoy any more than my vintage Krizia Uomo, which cost me very little (100 ml bottle).

The author spends quite a bit of time telling readers about some of the supposedly “top quality” ingredients used in this scent. An obvious question here is, “can one tell the difference, at least between the ‘quality’ of this scent relative to the best of vintage designer?” And that assumes the ingredients used in Nature Boy are in fact “better.” Recently, I started a thread at on the DIY forum, because I wanted to know whether it would be relatively easy to create a deep and rich, resinous base using several inexpensive essential oils; for example, a few months ago I bought some rosewood essential oil. I simply mixed it with vodka and the scent was quite good, though a bit too “rough around the edges” for me. I don’t think it would be that difficult to buy several other essential oils and make something much nicer, but what would be the point? Wouldn’t I just be back to thinking that if I combined two or more of my vintage scents that I’d achieve a similar if not superior effect?

A good example of not thinking any one scent is head and shoulders above all others can been seen when someone asks about the “ultimate” this or that scent, such as pine-oriented ones. This note can be handled in quite a few different ways, but it’s also rather piercing if it’s too strong, so for me the key question involves which notes should adorn it, so to speak. And what I’ve found is that even if I find such scents that I enjoy, I may come to think that the other notes just don’t work that well, and I begin to seek a different combination. At this point, I think that layering could be the solution, though lately I’ve found that some scents with a pine note, such as Bowling Green, seem to scratch my pine itch, which may occur once a month or thereabouts. The big advantage to layering is that incredible complexity can be generated; one recent example is Roadster and vintage Uomo? Moschino. My “MO” is that if I am enjoying it then I’ll just keep doing it, because I already spend enough time on this hobby as things stand now !

Instead of Nature Boy being “the greatest thing since sliced bread,” as one of my teachers liked to say, isn’t it much more likely to be a person perceiving a scent as incredible the first few wearings, and then coming to find it “okay” but not “special?” As one Basenotes member said in a recent post (about the complex scent, Carven Homme):

I used to have it. My initial reaction to it was quite similar to yours – I thought it was destined to become my top 10.

After a couple of initial wearings however, it ended up sitting in my closet for months. I still thought that the scent was great, but I simply could not find time for it. I just sort of became indifferent to it.

Eventually, my 50 ml bottle didnt make the weed out cut and was sold on Ebay.


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Filed under Criticizing the critics., The basics.

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