When it does and doesn’t matter to be “technical.”

On a recent Basenotes.net thread, someone began a thread lamenting the overuse of Iso E Super:

I’ve been thinking about it for a while, that almost every time I catch a whiff of something remotely woody, I get the same resinous, sirupy, slightly sickly note that we know as Iso-E. It is really synthetic to me and kind of make everything smells the same. I find it happens a lot with female scents…

The problem is that he seems to be referring to what Luca Turin has called “crap amber,” though several different molecules may be involved in creating this effect. And for those who don’t know, the person is likely correct about crap amber being used in a lot of recent “feminine” scents, whereas “Iso E Super Overload” is more likely in “masculines.” Some who responded pointed this out to the person, with one mentioning that synthetic “white musks” are considerably more irritating, at least to him, than Iso E Super.

Of course, sensitivities vary from one person to another, even to specific molecules, and in my case I’ve noticed that these sensitivities change over time, sometimes to the point where I hardly notice the offending note, accord, or aroma chemical a month or so after it was really irritating me. If you are any kind of aficionado, this represents a potential problem, obviously, unless you are such low sensitivity to everything that even bad reformulations don’t seem to smell any different to you, presumably. What is one to do about this? My solution is simply to have a great deal of options on any given day, the only problem then being that I might have to scrub off a scent that I thought wouldn’t be bothersome, but for whatever reason it was.

A related issue involves reformulations, with some suggesting that original formulations don’t smell the same as they once did. I have yet to see any study of this supposed phenomenon that seems all that useful. For example, if one were to use gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy to study a bunch of old bottles of the same scent, perhaps with about half being splash and half being sealed spray bottles, that would be very interesting. My position has been that if they smell great, often better than anything available today, why should I care if they are a bit different now? And if they lost some of their top notes, again, I’m in it for the several hours of drydown, not the first five minutes, so it’s about as irrelevant as anything I can imagine.

By contrast, some reformulations have caused me outright nausea, such as one bottle of Lapidus Pour Homme (vintage began in 1987), whereas I consider the original formulation to be one of the best scents of all time! That is how much things can vary, at least for me, and let’s face it – you don’t care about someone else’s perceptions if you are an aficionado who buys at least some bottles because you like the scent (and don’t mind if nobody else in the world does). For some reason, more than a few people seem to feel the need to denigrate those who point out the differences they perceive, even as ebay prices continue to rise for such scents over time! And I’ll mention that if someone is only or largely interested in top notes, that’s perfectly fine with me, and it would help to know that if the person writes reviews on the major sites.

But getting back to the title of this post, a point that I think is important involves the use of the technical names of aroma chemicals. It’s clear that some people simply have no idea what they’re saying, whereas others may be wrong but are on “the right track.” In the case of Iso E Super, it’s possible that the person may be referring to calone, dihydromyrcenol, some kind of synthetic musk, or even some sort of synthetic amber! This is why it’s so important to read a bunch of reviews, if available, and correlate those with other information, such as when the scent was released, whether it appears to have been reformulated (especially if badly), what scent it may have been meant to emulate, etc. Thinking that one (or a small number of ) reviewer can provide all the information you require for a blind buy is simply ridiculous, but every now and then someone makes a comment that suggests this is the case.

In the case of Iso E Super, it should be easy enough to sample Terre d’Hermes, even if one has to go to the Crystal Flacon site and find a person who can make up a sample. As to a really bad “white” musk, I think Lalique White is a great example. I didn’t mind LW when I first tried it but then something began to really bother me in it, and now I can’t stand it even if I just take the cap off the bottle! In this case it doesn’t matter if my perceptions change because I didn’t find it compelling enough to begin with, but other scents would be enjoyable if it weren’t for some sort of musk, an example being the original Michael Kors scent for me, which I have liked and disliked over the years, depending upon my sensitivity to that molecule or molecules. And this is what’s so great about vintage scents (that didn’t contain a large amount of one molecule, such as Cool Water did with dihydromyrcenol), that is, I know it’s just a matter of seeking out a note or accord combination on that day – there’s no need to fear being bombarded with a particular aroma chemical, which might irritate me greatly.

NOTE: There are some combinations that I don’t enjoy, no matter how “vintage” they are, one being cedar and a certain kind of leather, apparently, though that might need to include some patchouli and/or lavender. The good thing for me at this point is that I don’t feel the need to acquire any new vintage bottles, because I think I have a sense as to what was possible back then and have been able to determine my preferences.


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