The Myth of the “Chameleon” Scent ?


There are more than a couple of iterations of what may best be referred to as a myth, and I certainly can’t say I have ever thought the claimant was insincere (stubborn, perhaps, yet not insincere), but the recent commentary about Dior’s Sauvage has brought these notions to new heights! One version I’ve addressed on a few occasions is something along the lines of “wow, I can’t believe how much stronger the scent became after I used up about half an ounce and it had a chance to mature over a few month’s time.” Another one, more or less the opposite, involves a person saying that the scent doesn’t seem as strong as it did on the first couple of wearings. I have experienced a scent appearing to be less interesting after the first few wearings, most likely due to becoming used to new dominant notes, accords or aroma chemicals.

In the case of Bleu de Chanel and now Sauvage, many have claimed that these are generic yet quite a few say that these don’t smell exactly like anything else. I disliked BdC so much I never cared to study it closely, and I have yet to sample the EdP or Sauvage. The thing I find most amusing is the claim that a scent must have “something going for it” if it seems to smell a little bit like a bunch of scents but yet not that much like any particular one. This is true for so many vintage scents it’s “common knowledge” to us vintage aficionados. For example, there is Boss Cologne/Number One and Tenere. To a lesser degree (IMO), one could add Iquitos to these. If you have smelled a few of these they may or may not smell very similar to you, or even “clones,” but if you are going to wear a scent every day you will likely be able to detect differences, not only among a few (or more) that smell the same, but also with the same scent.

The reason for this might involve what one Fragrantica member called “olfactory familiarity.” For example, as a newbie I had just about no perception of sweetness in a scent, but now it is a major factor for me, not that I must have a scent with a certain amount of it. Rather, the way it exists in the composition is crucial. For example, I might like Cool Water for Men if it wasn’t so sweet. On the other hand I might dislike Green Irish Tweed if it was “on the sweet side.” And I think that dihydromyrcenol irritated me as a newbie, whereas now I seem to enjoy it so long as the rest of the composition works for me. With Cool Water, for instance, the composition generates irritating note clashes.  However, Molto Smalto is somewhat similar (it’s also sweet), but is simpler, and possesses sandalwood and amber notes rather than Cool Water’s “woody/amber,” which I tend to find irritating if it’s too strong

Now it would be very easy to say of a whole bunch of scents that are at least somewhat similar to Cool Water what has been said about Sauvage. If someone said that Cool Water smells a little like GIT, Molto Smalto, Carlo Corinto Rouge, Aspen for Men, etc., but that nothing smelled exactly like it, for instance, that would be accurate (especially if the person was a newbie), but it would not be all that helpful unless the differences were also disclosed. I suppose if someone hated everything about CW then it might help someone who wants to avoid even the slightest trace of the “Cool Water vibe,” but even that may not be the case. My sense is that this claim has been made by people who either don’t have much experience with a wide range of scents or aren’t thinking the situation through properly. That is, one could say the same thing about perhaps 90% of the “masculines” released over the last forty or more years, but they don’t because they have been as fixated as so many appear to have become recently about Sauvage.

In Turin’s and Sanchez’ “Perfumes: The Guide,” Turin tells us that a friend of his (who was in the fragrance industry for many years) thought that Le Baiser du Dragon smelled like Old Spice from the early 1970s! Turin seemed to think this was at least somewhat accurate, and of course these share a little in common, but not a whole lot (IMO); again, can’t we say similar things about 90% or so of the “orientals” marketed over the last several decades? Moreover, I would estimate that I’ve read that perhaps thirty to forty scents smelled like Old Spice since I began reading reviews back in 2007. This is the kind of phenomenon I was taught to consider back in grad school, perhaps with the question: “but is it the case that this claim is true for many others, and if so, isn’t your claim thereby of no major significance?” If the person was thinking critically, he or she might then respond with, “yes, I am going to use this as an example of a general trend [or phenomenon].” Of course, in the case of Sauvage, a few ardent apologists stepped forward quickly, and seemed to be grasping at proverbial straws in their “defenses” of it. I don’t see why it matters, since there is already a huge variety from which to choose. It seems like quite a few people had “high expectations,” and were bitterly disappointed, but in light of recent trends, I don’t understand why they would be so surprised!

NOTE: There are a whole bunch of scents that one could claim are similar to Envy for Men, including Eryo, Devotion for Men, Carven Homme, Nemo, L’Occitane’s Vetyver, Heritage, Zino, Floris Santal (according to many online comments/reviews), and ST Dupont Signature Pour Homme (perhaps Witness too), and this is just in my experience (I’m not a huge fan of these but once every few months I find myself seeking to wear one of them). Zino and Heritage are further away from Envy than the others, IMO, with Carven Homme being in the middle, so to speak. Some might say that at times Rocabar, Bois du Portugal, New York by PdN, vintage Pierre Cardin Monsieur and others smell similar to Evny, or they might say that on Monday scent X smelled like Envy but on Tuesday they were thinking it smelled more like scent Y, then on Wednesday it smelled more like scent X than any other. I don’t see how this is especially helpful, at least for my purposes. If someone says something like, “this scent has a lot of dihydromercenol, isn’t sweet at all, and is citrus-oriented,” I know that this is one to avoid “blind-buying.” I might be wrong but I am basing my decision on my experiences and “track record.” Saying that a scent smells like some other scent on Monday, and a different one on Tuesday, then yet another on Wednesday only tells me that I probably should not place too much weight on those comments/reviews. As I’ve said before, when I correlate the reviews (assuming there are more than a few), notes, release date, and “house,” I can usually tell if I should “bargain hunt” or wait until I can sample or get a great deal, such as if it’s part of a lot of bottles I purchase at a major discount.

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Filed under Criticizing the critics.

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