So, now the claim is “spoiled base notes” ?

Over at the FromPyrgos blog, there is yet another strange claim (in a post entitled “Joint Pour Homme (Roccobarocco),” this one being about a scent from 1993 (my review of it is at the end of this post, in the addendum):

It begins with a gorgeous array of accords, but it’s obvious from the very first moment that it’s a clone of Zino by Davidoff…

My enlightenment occurs at the forty-five minute mark, when something interesting occurs: Joint suddenly loses focus and balance. It’s as if someone suddenly deflated its big red balloon. The woods begin to fuzz out, rather severely, and the tobacco slips away. The vanillic castoreum, which smells like the processed food flavoring in high concentration, suddenly defines the amber, and a semisweet blush of nondescript earthiness is washed out by a honey-like white musk. At this point it’s clear that two things have influenced past assessments of Joint. One, the fragrance is shockingly top heavy, to the point where it’s almost as if the top notes are the fragrance in full…

The second issue is that time has effected the balance of the fragrance. Joint has been out of production for twenty years, and my bottle is likely that old, if not older. For anyone to say that this fragrance is a good example of how rich and natural and powerful vintage designer masculines can be negates the prime effect of degradation that has obviously occurred here. Does my bottle of Joint smell very good? Yes. As such, one could argue that it has not “turned” or “gone bad,” but there’s a better definition of those terms – the fragrance is no longer balanced, and no longer smells exactly as it should. In this case, the drydown was effected instead of the top notes, which is certainly atypical of vintage degradation, but is still degradation nonetheless. Also there’s the question of whether this weakened, somewhat off balance drydown and sub-par longevity can be excused by the brilliance of the first few minutes. Although it’s clear that Joint is a lovely composition, it’s also clear that it’s derivative, and doesn’t add much to the genre of burly tobacco-themed scents from its period. Zino is better, in my opinion, and can still be had for much less money. Vermeil is also better, and also much cheaper, and it’s arguably the best of the three.

Based on my experience with Joint, I continue to believe that lovers of vintage perfumes live in a deeply-rooted and psychologically complex state of denial about the true quality and value of vintage fragrances. I can’t help but wonder if their noses are simply not attuned to detecting when notes have gone stale, or when whole accords have flattened and weakened and ruined structural balance and longevity. These changes are often subtle and can perhaps be intentionally overlooked in favor of enjoying whatever remains, but as with other vintages, such deterioration is clearly present in this fragrance. It’s still wearable, and still performs fairly well considering its age, but it definitely doesn’t smell the way it did fifteen years ago.

First, and most obviously, if he has just worn it for the first time in his life, how does he know what it smelled like 15 or more years ago? And why should we trust his judgment about a drydown “falling apart” and not smelling “as it should” (especially considering what he’s written on his blog over the last few years)? In order for his claim to possibly be useful to most people, it must mean that his bottle is incredibly bad-smelling, such as like smelling milk that has clearly “gone bad,” but his description does not sound like this is the case, other than the claim that it smells intensely of an artificial food flavoring (which is the last thing Joint’s drydown seems like to me). In fact, the first time I sampled Balenciaga Pour Homme, I didn’t think much of the drydown. That came from a vial someone sent me in a swap. However, not long ago I saw a good deal on a one ounce bottle and decided it was worth taking a chance, because I like this sort of composition (it’s similar to Laipidus Pour Homme, 1987), and sure enough the drydown was fabulous. It’s quite common, however, for one to enjoy a scent for first few wearings and then to find it “flat,” because from what I can tell, the mind no longer recognizes the notes/accords/construction as unique. I still enjoy the scent but it doesn’t have that same kind of “wow factor” unless I put it aside for a month or so, and even then it never seems to be quite as “special” as the first wearing or two.

Second, this blogger used an awful lot of words but there isn’t much substance, and what there is of that doesn’t make much sense (which is why I quoted more than I usually do in this kind of situation). Instead, this sounds like someone who mostly appreciates top notes, which is something I have thought (and mentioned on my blog) for quite a while now. On another level his claim of a “turned” or “bad” drydown makes no sense because there, the strongest ingredients are at work, and as one famous perfumer has said, the notion of top, middle, and base notes is largely a fiction. In this context. the relevant point is that you aren’t going to smell “good” notes for 45 minutes and then smell something very “bad.” If there is something “bad” present, you would likely smell it as soon as you took the cap of the bottle, unless your nose is stuffed up or your sensitivity is abnormally low for some reason. Moreover, his claim is not consistent with what anyone else has described about this scent, and we are again at a “dog that didn’t bark” type of situation, meaning if that it was common for 20+ year old scents to be “bad” then we would have read about it by now on the relevant sites and blogs.

Interestingly, this is the same blogger who cited the GC/MS study of four different Old Spice formulations, including vintage. Why would a clearly “high-quality” scent always “go bad” while a “cheapo” like Old Spice apparently retains its integrity very well? This could be true for some oddball concoction (no matter how unlikely), but keeping in mind how he thinks it shares quite a bit with Zino (as well as Kouros, Lapidus Pour Homme, and Vermeil, to a lesser extent) where are all the claims that there are “bad” bottles of those, considering how many more bottles of those two must have been produced (plenty of which were bottled well before 1993)? He is not a scientist specializing in this field, nor a perfumer, nor, apparently, someone who has collected a large number of vintage bottles, and the best thing to do under such circumstances, if one believes that a “great insight” has occurred, is to find some actual evidence to support it! Instead, he thinks that one wearing is enough to make such strange claims, and shows no awareness that his apparent experience is entirely consistent with “newbie olfactory fatigue,” as I’ve called it in the past.

Now he may indeed have a “turned” bottle, though the way he described the experience is not something I have ever experienced and I can’t remember reading about this before (and I don’t find it similar to Zino, so there is clearly some sort of perceptual issue involved on someone’s part; to me it’s much closer to Kouros, but with more noticeable dry woods and tobacco). The opposite is rarely the case (“turned” top notes), and you can read plenty of those kinds of claims, especially, it seems, from “Creed fan boys.” In two recent Basenotes.net threads, in fact, there were a few of those claims, as well as people talking about how they threw their bottles in the garbage or gave them away for free. I posted in both that instead of doing that they should send me a message because I would offer them money for their “turned” bottles, so long as they were sealed spray bottles (since I don’t want scammers sending me messages about splash bottles they want to sell). And obviously, even if his Joint bottle has “turned,” why is assuming that everyone else’s has? He doesn’t even tell us if his bottle came in a box (mine did), which might help readers who share the concern about “turned” scents, considering how his assessment of Joint is inconsistent with all the other reviews I’ve read and that one can simply refrain from buying bottles that are not boxed.

A recent Basenotes thread that readers may want to view on this subject can be found at:

http://www.basenotes.net/threads/386914-Anyone-ever-experience-a-fragrance-going-bad

I tried as best I could to elicit descriptions of exactly what a “bad” scent was like, and it seemed as though some valuable insights/information was garnered. One is that many of the claims seem to be coming from “Creed fan boys” who own Creed bottles they think have “spoiled” even though these are less than ten years old, some five years old or less! Another person pointed out that an old scent smelled like burnt sugar and I mentioned a review of the first Guess “masculine” scent, which was described by the person as beginning with “hot vinyl and overheated electronics.” I then said that I had recently obtained an old Chanel No. 5 EdC bottle that seemed to have this same issue, though in the case of the Guess scent I’m not sure about if the harsh opening was intended or not. With the No. 5, however, the aldehyes were clearly missing (or largely missing) and instead there was that “burnt sugar” quality. However, after several minutes it was gone and I actually preferred it without those strong aldehydes! One person who posted to that thread, a woman,, said that this happened to the aldehydes in a bottle she owns. And it seemed that many of them didn’t realize that old spray bottles seem to have “spoiled” liquid trapped in the tubes, so the first spray or two may smell very bad (vinegar-like) but that the rest may be fine (and even the liquid in tube eventually goes into the same drydown anyway, in my experience).

If anyone seems to be psychologically grasping at proverbial straws, it would seem to be him! However, if he wants to believe in some sort of olfactory derangement syndrome, I think he is missing the point, which is that there are aficionados who enjoy such vintage scents much more than niche or current designer, and it’s not like this enjoyment is causing any harm to the person or to society, nor is it particularly expensive (if one has patience), so why should that be any kind of problem? Do people near these aficionados run for the proverbial hills because the person smells like a skunk but doesn’t know it? Again, we would know about that at this point, because there are just too many reviews and posts on this subject by now. If this blogger does believe he has discovered some sort of measurable phenomenon, perhaps he should contact some universities to see if any scientist or social scientist is interested in pursuing the matter, but as things stand now, there is no evidence to suggest his notion is correct, and considering all the strange claims he has made in the past about vintage, this just comes across as a “sour grapes” situation.

For those who have had experiences similar to mine, there seems to be a consensus opinion that vintage scents are clearly superior to everything else (or at least worth wearing fairly regularly), except perhaps compared to some sort of “bespoke” scent that would cost you thousands of dollars. Even if the notes have “shifted” a bit or the first few minutes are “not right” in some way, the experience these scents generate is not something I have found anywhere else. A good example of the problem with today’s scents can be found in Dior’s Escale a Portofino, which is certainly no “cheapo.” It smells great for a while, with strong bergamot and caraway, but after a couple hours or so I begin to detect what seems to be a “cheap” wood note (based upon what perfumer Chris Bartlett has told me about such notes). This is not something I have experiences in any vintage scents, and so the superiority of vintage is that one doesn’t have to be concerned with irritating “chemical” or “synthetic” type qualities (at least I have yet to experience it in the dozens that I consider vintage greats).

ADDENDUM: The lavender in Zino is very strong, and it’s much more floral overall than Joint is. Joint’s note listing at Fragrantica does not include lavender and I do not smell any (the Estonian site doesn’t list it either). Before I published this post, I decided I should wear Joint and then write about any new insights in this note section, especially since my sensitivity has been low for at least a few months now. The last time I wore it, when my sensitivity was significantly higher, it came across as similar to Kouros, but drier and with tobacco. With this wearing, however, I seem to be picking up more citrus and aldehydes (it has a kind of “sparkling” quality I have never perceived in any of my four bottles of vintage Zino), and a bit of a green/herbal aspect (at first). The Kouros quality is sort of lurking beneath the surface at this point, but it is most reminiscent of some older “feminine” chypres at this point (perhaps inspired by vintage Coriandre). There is absolutely nothing about it that seems “off.”

It never “falls apart” for me, and there is no “synthetic” quality of any kind. In fact, more than an hour in, and I wish there was a more vanillic element for balance, but instead it becomes awfully camphorous, which is something that didn’t register to this degree in previous wearings. The opening dissipates a bit but it’s still clearly present. The woody/patchouli aspect, however, asserts itself, and it’s a bit musky and floral (no lavender). Interestingly, now I would compare it to vintage Givenchy Gentleman at a similar point in development, and quite far from Zino, though the Kouros quality is there too. I’m getting only a little tobacco, unfortunately (one of my favorite notes). Am I more sensitive to camphorous qualities than I was a few years ago? It certainly may be the case, but it’s really obvious here, which suggests to me that it is a “major player,” though you may find that another note/accord/aroma chemical “spikes out” if and when you sample it. And all I can do is to “call them as I see them” when I wear them and decide to write about the experience, but there is nothing here that would lead me to think this drydown is somehow wrong, spoiled, turned, or such.

More than four hours in, and I’ve decided to wipe it off (as much as possible with a damp paper towel. I used one and a half sprays to the chest. And now an hour later and it’s more tolerable – it certainly has no “issues.” A few hours after this and it finally works a lot better for me. The opening actually is persisting with reasonable strength! It is now closer to Kouros than GG but with that Coriandre opening quality playing off of it – very interesting. This scent held up very well during this time, with a smooth opening to drydown transition, but I would not recommend it to those who do not like camphorous patchouli. The FromPyrogs author’s opinion of this scent is so different than mine that it’s difficult for me to believe that it reflects what he actually smelled, even if we assume that my preferences are “polar opposite” his. And intriguingly, a new Basenotes member (June 2014) named “HankHarvey,” who sounds an awful lot like Mr. Ross to me, wrote up some posts for the Basenotes thread I cited above. After he was bested on this thread (IMO of course), he wrote up the Joint post on his blog, which seems to be mostly an attempt to assail vintage aficionados from a new and bizarre direction, as discussed above. I’ll write up another post here about the evidence for “HankHarvey” being Mr. Ross and you can decide for yourself, if he doesn’t admit to this being the case by then. This may not have much to do with these olfactory concoctions, but I do find it interesting from a psychological perspective, which is another interest of mine.

The Fragrantica.com notes for Joint are:

Top notes: aldehydes, basil, bergamot, artemisia, lemon, green notes, coriander and cumin. Heart: cardamom, honey, geranium, carnation, rose, jasmine, orris root and tobacco. Base: amber, leather, civet, labdanum, cedar, musk, patchouli, vetiver and tonka bea

UPDATE: A woman wrote up a post on the Basenotes’ thread I cited above and talked about how her perception of “spoilage” might have been due to a newbie lack of understanding. What’s interesting is how I might have thought my Joint bottle had spoiled if I didn’t understand that heavy camphorous quality that might be most obvious in vintage Givenchy Gentleman. I don’t have the expertise to say whether that quality could get a lot stronger after a decade or two, but it may be that nobody has studied this possible phenomenon, and so as I’ve said before in similar contexts, the best you can often get, it seems, is an “educated guess” (and I would be very surprised if that quality had become very powerful, even if relative to the other ingredients).

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1 Comment

Filed under Criticizing the critics.

One response to “So, now the claim is “spoiled base notes” ?

  1. Thom

    Hi Bigly, I totally agree with you on the value of this exceptional cologne. I suspect that this bad review you are talking about is arbitrary and made in bad faith, only beacause Joint is a vintage fragrance. Keep on the good work!

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