Has the “Sauvage riddle” been solved?

In a recent post I asked if there was any rational argument to make for buying a bottle of Savuage (this is/was during a time before bottles began/begin to sell at significant discounts, if that occurs any time soon).  The “problem” is that those who write positive reviews for it don’t seem to know a few potentially important things, such as that there are much cheaper alternatives.  They claim it’s a great “compliment getter,” yet people have and continue to say that about many inexpensive scents.  And these are usually often the same people who say they want to smell unique, which isn’t the case with Sauvage, since it has become very popular very quickly.  So, it’s not cheap, it’s not unique, and there are very cheap alternatives.  One reasonable argument would be, “I just want to go to the department store and buy something I like that’s there.  I don’t want to do any research, and $80 for a 100 ml bottle is not a financial issue to me.”  But nobody ever seems to make an argument like this!

However, since then I realized that there is at least one thing that should be added to this “riddle,” and this realization occurred when I read this Fragrantica.com review of Dylan Blue by Versace:

Finally got cool enough here today, for me to go ahead and do my first full wearing of Dylan Blue after sampling a couple times.

To me this is along the same lines as Sauvage, only MUCH better to my nose. Sweeter/fruitier and more youthful, instead of just a dusty ambroxan and pepper bomb after the Dior’s likable initial opening. Neither one really develops much IMO, but this one does a little bit more.

Jury is still out on performance as it’s only been 3hrs since putting it on, but it’s still chugging right along and I’m getting these glorious fruity citrus/ambrox wafts!:)

It’s not just this review, though, as I remembered people saying they had to use more than a few sprays of Sauvage or that it was weak.  I found one spray on a card to be overwhelming,  by contrast (and that was after at least an hour, which is when someone brought it into my house!).  And so I think people who enjoy these kinds of scents tend to have very low sensitivity to aroma chemicals (in the case of Sauvage I’d guess musk molecules are crucial to generate the overall effect, much as in some of the “old school” musky “masculines”), though the musks used today are generally different.  I sent the person a message, because I wanted to know how many sprays he used, and he said:

I used 4 from a 10ml travel atomizer…2 on my torso under 2 layers of clothing, one to the back of my neck/shirt collar and the final one to the front of my shirt:).

I don’t think I could handle four sprays of Sauvage – it might feel like a form of torture, and most seem to think others smell it even if they think it’s weak or gone (almost certainly olfactory fatigue in those cases).  The obvious possibility here is that those who don’t detect much of a base or who are satisfied with it (as in the way this person reviewed DB) in these kinds of scents are having a very different experience than I am, and this person’s sensitivity may be even higher than mine:

It’s a chemical nightmare for me. After smelling it, it gives the effect on my olfactory that bleach does, where for hours everything else I smell is unidentifiably awful. Even the fragrance itself smells like burnt tires and transmission fluid. No joke, that is what the chemical opening does to my sense of smell. Just like bleach alters everything I smell after exposure, this fragrance has that effect on my nose. Fresh citrus oranges smell AWFUL after exposure to this, just like bleach does to me. And, my sense of smell is largely paralyzed/blinded for many common smells. I MIGHT be able to identify something like cinnamon after exposure but citrus smells like toxic poison (indescribable).

Sauvage was a HORRIBLE experience for me. I ONLY get this effect from MODERN designer fragrances at Macy’s/JC Penney such as Invictus and other modern ones from YSL too, have the same effect. Old school designer scents are no problem. So, SOMETHING (chemical(s)) these designer fragrances are using are absolutely AWFUL for my nose. It’s depressing and I would like to volunteer my sensitive nose to these houses so they can reformulate these into acceptable levels of tolerance for sensitive people. And I’m not saying my nose is “sensitive” as in “snob”, but rather, vulnerable to being hurt by chemicals that are simply too strong. I’m not good at picking out notes or anything like that…


And there is a scientific explanation.  For example, a person who lost his sight at age 3.5 and got it back about 40 years later has yet to adjust well (after a decade with sight)!  If you want other examples, you might be able to watch the documentary, “The Brain with Danny Eagleman: What is Reality?” on Youtube (I had to click on a few different links before I found one that worked).  It is pointed out that not everyone’s brain is “wired” the same way, and an obvious example are the people who have synesthesia:


One thing I’ve found very interesting about scents is how my sensitivities have changed over the years, sometimes to particular molecules, presumably (“notes”) and sometimes in general.  My guess is that fragrance industry researchers not only product test but also are thinking about how to create a “new and special” perception among enough people to make their releases successful. Now an interesting thing to look for in the future is whether a lot of people start saying that a Sauvage smells “old,” “mature,” “out of date,” “played out,” etc.  It might take at least a few years, but my sense is that “the shock of the new,” as an art critic titled his book about “modern art” is the one of two key factors, for those who like scents such as Dylan Blue or Sauvage.  However, it’s more compelling with fragrances because the person not only enjoys the scent but gets compliments from others who also find the “newness” intriguing even if not something they’d want to smell all day long.

The other key factor would seem to be “house appeal” (some  might call it “snob appeal”), meaning that if a bottle has a name on it like Chanel or Dior many are looking for something “special,” which of course explains why so many in the aficionado crowd were disappointed with Sauvage.  If it’s a Playboy scent the “newness” is much more likely to be viewed as unpleasant, it would seem, but Playboy scents don’t have a presence in major department stores, Sephora/Ulta, etc., and beyond not being present, such scents don’t get the full salesperson “push” that scents like Sauvage get.  Going back to “fine art” for a moment, how many of you know about the (very expensive) paintings of Francis Bacon:


Probably most Americans have not seen any of his paintings (other than perhaps there being one illustrated in his or her college textbook, which they might not even read), but I doubt many would argue that if you asked Americans to tell you who painted one of these works, the minority would say Francis Bacon, despite these being obviously unique and “shocking.”  What most people definitely don’t know is why these kinds of paintings are considered “great” or “masterpieces.”  One reason is that very wealthy people decide to “back” an artist, and at some point a kind of threshold is reached and the artists is considered a “major” one.  You can ask yourself how similar this is to marketing fragrances, but one significant difference is that few scents are purchased for speculative purposes, and this is usually done with ones that are recent, like Perry Ellis’ Oud: Black Vanilla Absolute, which rose in price but then came back down after stores were restocked.  Because of this, most fragrance wearers buy what they like, though so many don’t seem to realize how they are being influenced.  By contrast, major art buyers often hire an “art advisor.”  If you are interested, this documentary explains the fine art market very well:

So, to “wrap it all up,” I’d say that Sauvage apologists, for the most part of course,  don’t know why they like it, and so they can’t put forth a reasonable explanation.  It wasn’t “online hype” that made it a bestseller, but rather a combination of factors that the good folks at the perfume companies must have known, perhaps in the way that certain Hollywood blockbuster sequels are almost certain to turn a profit, if not be outrageously profitable.  And that might be a better comparison, because most people don’t have the time (or want to use it) to do a lot of film research.  It’s easier to just decide on a movie based upon personal tastes (as is true with fragrance genres) and “buzz.”  It also doesn’t cost that much and serves a social function, though like fragrances, it’s not a social necessity.  But the buyers (presumably those with a low sensitivity to certain aroma chemicals) believe they are experiencing something special/unique, and like very strange-looking fine art, want to be part of it.  There’s a kind of excitement about it, and that is difficult for people to describe in these contexts (other than to say things like, “wow this scent just blew me away,” which doesn’t help readers much).  By contrast, when I “blind buy” a scent, I am only interested in the scent itself (other than rare occasions when I get such a great deal that I think I can sell/swap very profitably).

NOTE:  Some of those who really wanted to be part of the “excitement,” it seems, were also among those who may have high sensitivities to certain aroma chemicals, but there’s also another possibility, such as what might be illustrated in this comment about Bleu de Chanel:

Sold off all BDC and for the last time. It’s just not for me even though I like it, I just won’t wear it.


BdC is supposed to be a great “all rounder,” so one wonders how someone could like it enough to buy multiple bottles over a period of time, yet can’t bring himself to ever actually wear it.  There seem to be strong emotions at work, which many people don’t recognize at all, it would appear!





Filed under The basics.

6 responses to “Has the “Sauvage riddle” been solved?

  1. Matt

    You know..I used to enjoy reading your blog but this obsession with Sauvage is ponderous. Unsubscribing

    • In grad school, the professors I studied with said they had never encountered someone as intellectually tenacious as I am, so I understand your thought but I think this falls under “a leopard can’t change its spots.” When I want to understand something and feel that I’m making progress that motivates me to delve even deeper. However, I don’t personalize things, and in fact if Sauvage brings more people into this “hobby,” then I’m glad they released it! And I don’t have any plans for more posts about Sauvage. Best wishes to you, Mr. Depp, and the good people at Dior.

  2. Johnathan

    Sauvage smelled ok to me at first. Nothing special as I already had about 25 fragrances in my collection. But then I smelled it on someone else and it smelled really good. I recognized the scent and said, you smell really good, is that Dior Savage? The guy responded, thanks, yes it is, good nose.
    I then purchased a bottle and I have received more complements with this fragrance than any other and I now have about 35. I’ve heard so many women say you smell so good. One woman followed me to ask me what I was wearing and then said, it’s worth it.
    I have also asked many women to compare scents on my arms and from adult women, Sauvage almost always wins. The most common response is, this smells manly. So Sauvage is my signature. I rotate a lot as well because I like variety but generally Sauvage is my centerpiece simply for the reactions it brings. I am not affiliated with any fragrance company and I don’t have a favorite brand or anything. I just go with what I like and what the women around me think. So for a mid range priced fragrance, I find that Dior Sauvage is a real winner. Judging by the comparisons I have seen on YouTube I would argue that Dior Sauvage is a real winner compared to any priced fragrance.
    As far as sprays go, I usually go one on each side of the neck, half a spray on the rear of neck, and half a spray around each wrist. So about 3.5 sprays and it lasts about all workday. I don’t spray this one on the front of the neck as this juice tastes nasty. The Dior sprayers are phenomenal also.

    • You are likely restating my argument, just using different phrasing (and not being as specific), which is fine, but I want to point this out to other readers. It goes something like this, “I want to just go to a department store and find a scent that is good for compliments [from a specific demographic, presumably] and smells at least okay; I don’t mind paying the $80 or so for a 100 ml bottle. I don’t want to do a lot of research and I don’t care about smelling unique. When Sauvage gets ‘played out’ I’ll go back to that department store and try to find the new scent that achieves the same goal.” The difference is that you don’t address certain issues that are very important to many of us in this “hobby,” such as how much we are willing to spend on any one bottle, and because of that, the arguments I’ve read don’t register as “rational.”

  3. Lincoln

    I understand your point and your so called “obsession” with the topic…because it states questions on multiple levels – cultural, psychological, economic…in the end – and that is my explanation coming from a background in social science – the product works by a mixture of marketing, quality – primarily regarding its staying power and diffusion – and finally, a reduction in complexity for the male consumer. They pretty much think – if I put this on, it will last all day, it will smell pretty much the same all the time – so no unwanted variations here – and the girls will probably/potentially love it.

    It manages to pose a solution for a certain demographic, that craves gratification through compliments and needs positive feedback on virtually every step they take during their day. Sauvage basically consists of overdosed ambroxan – that is it pretty much. It is a simple product with a simple goal for people with simple needs – or one need that is: gratification from the opposite/same sex. A crowd pleaser. By being a one-trick pony with utterly simple structure, it amplifies its own appreciation and applicability. But, of course, it is dreadful none the less.

    • Thanks for the comment. I guess I should point out that I’m not against “dreadful” scents, at least ones people like Luca Turin might call cheap, crude, etc., apparently because I enjoy variety more than most people (not in general, but with these olfactory concoctions). However, I don’t want to pay much for these scents (and rarely pay more than about $15 per 100 ml, such as with Black Oud by Remy Latour), and if I have one I like better but I perceive as similar, there’s no reason to buy it. With Sauvage, I get a marine element in the drydown, but prefer Horizon’s rendition (and I’ve got enough Horizon to last a few lifetimes!). What I try to point out to others is that if they want to spend a bit of time, they can get scents that are much cheaper and “do” the same thing; in the case of Sauvage, it is now apparently so popular that the uniqueness factor is gone, so it would make sense to explore other scents that are clearly different.

      Also, I’m not sure Sauvage “does” what they claim, and even if it does, I’m not sure they are interpreting the reactions accurately (as I’ve pointed out on my latest post about “panty dropper” scents). On some level, it seems that “modern man” still believes in “magical love potions,” which is an interesting phenomenon deserving of serious study, IMO. One humorous example is when I was at a relative’s house and he was watching a “Cops” type of show. One of the people arrested was trying to sell his fragrance, which he said “worked wonders with the ladies.” Perhaps the internet is simply exposing how “weird” humanity is!

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