The “semi-facts” that dominate the fragrance industry.

In one of my other posts, I introduced the concept of the “semi-fact,” which I’d say is the opposite of Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness.” That is, instead of sounding true but not being true, the semi-fact is something that the “contrarian” (or “stick in the mud”) might argue against, but is otherwise clearly functional to the rest of us (though many may not have investigated the matter).  The example I used was the argument against my point that there are thousands of much less expensive scents than Sauvage one can find at the discounters and on ebay.  A critic said that Sauvage will be discounted at some point, which may be true, but even then we don’t know if it will be as drastically discounted as so many others have been.  Whatever may happen, it has nothing to do with my point, as I was talking about people who had already written reviews and stated that they had purchased a bottle (or made it sound like they had).  Some may have used an online coupon and gotten a small discount, for instance, but when one considers the prices at the time I was writing, there was no comparison between Sauvage prices and those of some I mentioned, such as Playboy’s Berlin or Eau de Iceberg Amber for Men.

If you aren’t the type to do much research before purchasing and just buy the “top names,” then you probably aren’t one to read blogs such as this one, nor check the prices on a few sites where the great deals often appear.  Such people may find it irritating to read that a Playboy scent was selling for around $5/100 ml but is now considerably more, for example, but it still may be a “better buy” for that person than Sauvage was a few months back (or today as well, in terms of price alone).  If I really like a scent that is $20/100 ml, and to me, it’s clearly better than one at $70/100 ml, I’m going to buy the former and think that I got a great bargain (this was the case recently, for Black Oud by Remy Latour at $15 versus Perry Ellis Oud: Black Vanilla Absolute at around $50).  Not everyone seems to think this way, for some reason.  The critic mentioned above, in fact, suggests this in his review of Sauvage at, which includes the following:

“…If you’re going to the mall to buy a good designer masculine scent, and you’ve narrowed the choices down to Sauvage or Bleu, buy the Chanel and call it a day.”

Why would anyone go to the mall – and pay “mall prices?”  Indeed, there must be far more than a few such people who indeed pay more than they probably should have (this is the majority of men who buy such scents, isn’t it?).  Such people may not even know that Playboy has their name on any fragrance nor that there is such a fragrance brand as Iceberg!  A small percentage of these people go to Fragrantica and write up glowing reviews of this “great new fresh scent.”  Use your browser’s find feature and see how many times the word fresh is used in a Fragrantica review of Sauvage!  So, we have another semi-fact here, because it’s beyond obvious that there are some significantly different ways that people perceive the value of these  concoctions (including the very existence of many of the brands).  Moreover, a common  complaint is that a scent like Kouros is too strong, for example, yet the same people seem to be quick to dismiss claims that a Playboy scent may be like a weak version of a scent from Dior, Chanel, etc., which suggests a fair amount of bias in line with the mentality of the guy who is “going to the mall to buy a good designer masculine scent.”

In a sense, the semi-fact is designed to deal with those who think that the exception is the rule rather than it proving the rule.  It also used to be said that “for all intents and purposes” this or that was the case, but again, the semi-fact is more economical and more importantly it will prompt many people to think about those with “contrarian” type personalities wasting their time with ridiculous arguments.  Now I’d like to turn to other semi-facts in the fragrance industry that are significant in the context of reviews.  Perhaps the most “debated” is the concept of natural.  At least a few people don’t seem to realize that “modern perfumery” is based upon the heavy use of synthetic substances.  In some instances, though, it doesn’t matter much (except in terms of cost); for example, from what I understand vanillin is an exact or near exact substitute for vanilla extract, in terms of the smell if not everything else.

However, in other cases something might smell clearly “un-natural” to many of us, even if the scent is just as synthetic as another scent that smells “totally natural” to most of us.  Thus, the natural claim is one of perception only.  Another interesting example involves sandalwood notes.  Some are all natural, others are entirely synthetic, and some are a combination.  Moreover, there are substances that are called sandalwood oil (derived from similar kinds of trees), but smell a bit different, to the point that some people would pay quite a bit for one type but have no interest in another.  When one claims that a scent has a natural-smelling sandalwood note, it may smell natural to him/her but nobody else.  Unless someone is willing to go into quite a bit of detail (and/or has “insider knowledge”), therefore, the natural claim should always be thought of as perceptual.  However, there are a small number of “all natural” scents (or so they claim!) and ones that include considerably less synthetics, so saying that all scents (marketed as we have come to expect) are largely synthetic (let’s say for the last 20 years) seems like another excellent example of a semi-fact.

One semi-fact is that crops up now and then is these concoctions don’t “spoil,” because there undoubtedly must be a few examples of this in modern perfumery (I have yet to encounter one “spoiled” drydown in all my “vintage hunting”).  And of course citrus top notes are subject to degradation over a relatively short period of time, though even this varies tremendously, it would seem.  A major problem here is that the people who usually make the claim, at least online, are the same kinds of people (that is, non-perfumer amateurs) who found the 100+ year old shipwreck fragrances (which were truly all natural) to be fine, whereas perfumers perceived obvious spoilage!  And as I’ve said before, whenever I asked those who made the claim to send me the bottles (stating that I was willing to pay a non-insignificant amount for them) I have received no replies or scents that seemed fine, with a bit of strangeness for the first few minutes in a couple of cases.  Thus, it appears that one is more likely to be struck by lightning on a sunny day than experience a “spoiled” drydown in a scent released over the last few decades, if not more!

There are lesser semi-facts, such as that testers are the same as the retail boxed scents (rarely, one might buy a reformulated scent after testing a “vintage” one), but my point in this post is to provoke thought about what is worth thinking about and what is not, because while one is more likely to be killed in a car accident than sitting on one’s living room sofa (though I’m sure there must be an exception or two), for instance, one doesn’t use one’s car only for necessary driving due to such statistics.  So, let’s say someone tells you that a new scent (one produced within a year’s time) smells different after he’s worn it for a month or two.  You can say, “its a semi-fact that one becomes familiar with scents after they have been exposed to the various components for at least a short while, with some seeming to be stronger or weaker, so you likely have what one might call olfactory familiarity.”

Another idea of this type is “thick description,” which I learned about while in graduate school in the 1980s:

This notion had its critics, to be sure, and I remember at least one Professor saying something like, “that’s what many of us have been doing for years before Geertz introduced the concept!”  But sometimes a new term is very useful – for those who have not been adhering to it in particular.  As to the semi-fact, I think it’s especially useful when dealing with people who just want to argue – they tend to go off on any tangent they can dredge up, no matter how ridiculous it is in the context of the main point.  Thus, with the semi-fact, one can say to them, “you can compose a detailed argument if you like, and I’ll take a look at it when I get a chance, but as things stand I’m going to stick with the semi-facts here.  If someone wants to believe otherwise, I think it will be to his or her detriment.”

It may be that most people are quite concerned about what others think, but I think that because I entered graduate school at such a young age and the overriding notion there was to construct a strong argument, rather than to concern oneself with what “non-experts” thought, I can’t imagine “social pressure” in this context.  In our society, we largely “vote with our feet,” but that doesn’t mean there aren’t powerful interests trying to herd us in certain directions!  Reconsidering how language is used can be an important step towards trying to prevent the powerful from trying to lead us to act against our own self interest.  This is especially true when it comes to elections, with candidates trying to gets people to believe things that are ridiculous or at least disproportionate.  They will say such things because they know those who have yet to decide (or “lean” strongly towards one candidate) are usually the least knowledgeable voters, and are also least likely to do research on the issues raised (and least likely to know how to research without bias).  That’s a “semi-fact,” or is it?  Perhaps you should investigate this claim and see where your research leads you!

NOTE:  After writing the above I came across this report:

Here is one relevant excerpt:

“A ProPublica story published in March found that doctors who took payments from the pharmaceutical and medical device industries prescribed a higher proportion of brand-name medications than those who didn’t. It also found that the more money a doctor received, the higher the percentage of brand-name drugs he or she prescribed, on average.”

If this is the case for doctors, supposed “objective scientists” (or at least that’s what many seem to believe), it suggests that the more money a person spends on a scent (and perhaps how much “good publicity” he/she hears about it) the more likely it is that the person will “defend” it, ignoring facts and semi-facts that seem to diminish his or her opinion of that scent in some way.









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Filed under Criticizing the critics., The basics.

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