Living in this new era of “fake facts.”

One thing I used to emphasize to students is the importance of learning to communicate clearly and concisely.   You begin with a statement of your purpose, for example.  You can then explain why you came to your conclusions, as mention the evidence to support it.  After that you could examine the evidence in detail.  In the conclusion, you could argue why other explanations are not sufficient.  A key element here is to always make distinctions whenever it seems helpful to do so.  So, in the case of fragrances, it’s important to distinguish between “modern perfumery” and other kinds of notions about generating odors designed to please. Modern perfumery includes aroma chemicals that extend the experience beyond a few minutes to up to several hours (compared to something like traditional “rose water”).

This brings me to a passage from a Fragrantica.com review of Sauvage:

It is expensive, like all Dior fragrances, but I’d say it is worth every cent because it is really high quality (I don’t mean that it is natural smelling, because it is not, but it smells like it has quality ingredients and it performs that way too).

Now the odd thing here is not that he is “wrong,” but that if he can be said to be “correct,” I don’t think he would realize why!  For instance, what could Sauvage have in it that is “high quality?”  Nothing, but it might have large amounts of some ingredient that isn’t especially cheap by the industry standards of today.  That’s not exactly high praise by any measure, but it may be accurate.  To me, this is a major problems with “mainstream” designer releases, that is, the aroma chemicals seem to be used in such large amounts that these soon become incredibly irritating, even if one could argue these are not objectively “strong” (perhaps to those walking by).  An analogy would be makeup.  If a woman puts on too much, she looks ridiculous, but there is a certain range of social acceptability, depending upon a number of factors.  Nobody looks at a woman who nearly everyone thinks applied too much makeup and thinks that the makeup is “high quality” because it doesn’t run off her face or do something that demonstrates a major quality control issue!

Of course we could criticize the reviewer by asking an obvious question, how do you know how much it cost Dior to create the fragrance portion?  The fragrance chemist I spoke to didn’t believe much thought went into Sauvage, and you don’t need to be a fragrance chemist to notice how “chemical” it is (as the reviewer himself does) – more than a few have pointed out how deodorant-like it is, for example.  One could argue that it might have been tested to make sure it didn’t irritate the public so much it would soon garner a terrible reputation, but again, this is a low bar, and not exactly “the stuff of greatness.”  Instead, this kind of comment comes across to me as someone who, for whatever reason, experienced strong positive emotions when he tried Sauvage.  On some level it’s like the reviewer who said that nearly every scent he reviewed was “so fresh and warm.”  One of my main criticisms of Sauvage is that it basically shouts out, “I am totally chemical, now hear me roar!”  No, I can go get a bottle of Lysol and smell something better!  Why?  It’s just as “chemical” but I prefer the citrus/pine combination to whatever Sauvage wants to be when it grows up.  Would Green Irish Tweed be “better” if more dihydromyrcenol was included?

And to be clear, yet again, I don’t hold anything against a person who enjoys Sauvage (or who has a social use for it), but it’s time to stop talking about it being great or special or unique or a breakthrough or a masterpiece.  It is unique in the same way that the other 2000 or so releases last year were – it doesn’t smell exactly like another of these olfactory concoctions (though supposedly there is a now a Zara scent that is very close).  Another point argued is that Sauvage is “worth every cent,” which could lead to a very long discussion about how individuals value objects in a society like ours.  I’ve addressed this in the past, mentioning that some just go to the local department stores and buy what seems “new,” “fresh,” or whatever the conceptualization of the moment is.  And of course nobody is going to spend money of any kind on a smell product that makes them feel ill.  Here I’ll just say you can’t tell other people how to perceive “money well spent.”  Someone might go on a job interview reeking of Sauvage and get the job of his dreams, and so he might think it was worth a small fortune, but does the guy who didn’t get the job think that Sauvage cost him his opportunity to obtain the “American Dream?”  Don’t worry about trying to “take care of others” with your fragrance recommendations.  Just explain why you like or dislike it  I think this reviewer should have just said, “I feel fresh and invigorated when I spray it on, and I know almost everyone around me will think I smell good – that’s all I want.”  If you make claims that are clearly specious, though, you open yourself up to mockery, ridicule, etc.

Now as to the title of this post, suppose one were to encounter this:

The best of the vintage scents cannot be replicated today.  Niche is like a joke – imagine a bad version of a “Star Wars” type of film and the director says this is the best he or she can do under the circumstances, and that viewers should be very pleased with a what he/she considers a close approximation.  Who is going to take such a person seriously?  It’s a matter of probably something like $1.25 fragrance cost per 100 ml bottle versus $5, and they don’t want to pay that extra money, despite the retail price of a couple of hundred dollars or so.

Is is a fact, a fake fact, a likely notion, something that could be true in some cases but definitely is not in all?  This is the problem with the fragrance industry, and it’s why I was so glad to be able to speak to a fragrance chemist, even if he/she may not have all the information we’d like to know.  We have to constantly “play detective,” trying to fit the pieces that seem to be true together into a “big picture.”  Remember that this is the original “fake facts” industry, with various ludicrous historical claims being made by companies that only seem to become more popular as the apparent lies are discussed in more and more detail!  And then there are the fake facts being invented mostly by anonymous internet people, such as to decant a quarter ounce from your sealed bottle and in a few months it will smell the same but much stronger!  And not long ago we witnessed Andy Tauer complaining about bloggers and the cost of “free” samples – how am I to assess that?  The age of going to the local library and finding a book on a subject in order to develop some expertise is over – in this new age it seems like we need to first learn how to evaluate claims before we should think to study the actual subject.  And few are willing to spend time on “process” – they want to get to the “good stuff” quickly, even if it’s mostly false.  Perhaps the only positive element here is that as “fake facts” get more attention, there will be more interest in debunking these claims rather than spreading them.

UPDATE:  I just noticed a new review of Club de Nuit Intense for Men that includes the following:

This cologne doesn’t always smell great with the first few sprays out of the bottle, but it gets better after it’s been sprayed a few times. Check the YouTube reviewer impressions, it seems they’ve experienced this as well. Also, I mentioned this in my review below as well!

Is this a fake fact?  It is certainly true that with older scents that have been lying around for years, there may be some liquid in the tube that indeed smells very bad, and so that needs to be sprayed out in order to avoid the unpleasantness.  Could that be what this person is referencing?  It’s highly unlikely in a recently-marketed scent that is obviously almost all synthetic, especially if the claim is being made by several people, but it’s certainly not impossible.  Moreover, the reviewer implies that it goes from mediocre to good or excellent, not from rancid/spoiled to at least good, which is further support of perceptual changes that are being mistaken for physical ones, presumably because the person is lacking in self-awareness in this context (which is very common – as I’ve said before, just watch one episode of “Brain Games” to get a sense of the “games” the mind can “play” on one!).  In this case of this scent in particular, I think that the strong “chemical” element can be off-putting to those who are not used to it, and so their minds need time to “process” it as potentially pleasant in the context of the overall composition.

UPDATE #2:  On another fragrance blog, this post was heavily criticized, in ways that are incomprehensible to me (for example, I never claimed that my site was “news,” but have always said it is my opinion), and therefore I’m not going to address it in detail.  I will mention that a few commenters made equally bizarre claims, this being one:

Let’s even assume for a second that the “fragrance chemist” and his quote are real, then we can safely assume that this chemist was taking the proverbial piss out. I mean: chemist notes the composition is chemical?!

I don’t know what “taking the piss out” means here, but the chemist didn’t say Sauvage was “chemical.”  The reviewer himself did, as I stated explicitly (and I agree that it smells highly “chemical” – is there anyone with just a bit of experience who would say otherwise?).  Instead, the chemist thought the perfumer more or less just “signed off” on the composition after it was made by others.  This blogger seems obsessed with the notion that he is some sort of gatekeeper (I’m not sure of what) but then he encourages readers when they state obviously wrong things!  I guess it’s fun to have an “echo chamber,” but I’d rather listen to constructive criticism and try to improve my understanding of a subject.

UPDATE #3:  Chuck Todd speaking to Kellyanne Conway on “Meet the Press,” 1/22/17:

…Four of the five facts he uttered were just not true. Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.

…you sent the press secretary out there to utter a falsehood on the smallest, pettiest thing.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Living in this new era of “fake facts.”

  1. The fragrance chemist I spoke to didn’t believe much thought went into Sauvage, and you don’t need to be a fragrance chemist to notice how “chemical” it is (as the reviewer himself does).

    What does ‘chemical’ smell like? Bleach, ammonia, formaldehyde, sulphur, nitrogen, ???? All of those are chemicals and they all smell quite different.
    I’m a chemist. I have a BS in Organic Chemistry from Stanford & a doctorate from UCSF. I have never heard any chemist describe anything as smelling “chemical.” Especially not my Givaudan & Firmenich trained friends. Anyone who describes a scent as “chemical” does not have a very well developed palate.

    What is your obsession with Sauvage?
    We all know you don’t like Sauvage.
    Do you not realize all fragrances were not made specifically for you?
    I just bought a bottle of Sauvage for the teen son of one of my wealthy Japanese clients (I have an art gallery specializing in Buddhist art.) He loved it! Hermes & Dior are very popular in Asia. Sauvage screams luxe to my palate because after you get past that lovely initial spiky, brash, lemony, peppery, Szechuan pepper blast (Szechuan pepper is a familiar & much loved flavor/scent in Asia: geraniol, linalool, cineol, citronellal; also di­pentene) there’s a ‘cleaned up’ ambergris note that’s quite intriguing. Real $$$ ambergris is a bit nauseating and smells a bit like rancid fat and unwashed human to my nose. I don’t like the smell of real, quality ambergris alone but when I smell it my brain screams EXPENSIVE! Again, ambergris is another scent familiar & linked with luxury to the Asian palate. Ever think that these big design houses make scents to appeal to non western palates? Of course they do. Look at all the perfumes made specifically for the Arab market.

    PS –
    That Jovan Intense Oud you’re so fond of?
    Poor quality oud smells like band aids. That phenolic, slightly camphoric, terpenoid scent with a touch of latex and mothballs is the cheap oud Arabs hate. That’s what JIO reeks of. That’s why Arab’s won’t buy JIO but dumb westerners will.

    • Your comment is an excellent example of the subject of this post! It seems that you have been badly misled, despite being “highly educated,” by just such a “deceiver” (it’s not clear how conscious this person is in his deceptive claims, though – I can’t read minds, obviously). So, where to begin on this “web of lies?”
      1. Even though I have pointed out numerous times in the past that these concoctions are largely synthetic chemicals (though the smell may be the same, or so close nobody can tell, since the molecules are identical), and that this is the very definition of “modern perfumery,” I did so in the first paragraph to this post! Nobody I know is doubting this, but there’s no question that if one has some experience sampling these concoctions, some of them are going to come across as “chemical” to the vast majority whereas others will come across as “natural.” The “trick” of modern perfumery is to use such large amounts of synthetics and yet make most people think it smells “natural.” Sauvage comes across as “chemical” even to many who think it’s a great scent, and that includes the review of the person I quoted! You are making an argument against something nobody, apparently, is contesting, except perhaps a few “newbies” who claim that Sauvage is the most natural thing they’ve ever smelled.
      2. I never said the fragrance chemist I interviewed claimed Sauvage smells “chemical.” I’m guessing you experienced strong negative emotions and then your reading comprehension skills slipped badly. As I said, the chemist said that it’s likely the perfumer who “signed” it did little else, in terms of creating the composition. If you think I should not have published my interview with this person, despite the background check I did and having an “expert” review it first to see if there appeared to be any “red flags,” then you can just state that, but making up “false facts” (or lies, as I used to prefer to say) is unacceptable, especially from someone with an advanced degree!
      3. Bringing up a scent by Jovan is totally irrelevant here, as it might smell natural to me and most people but not to many others. However, in this case I never said this scent smelled natural, so all you do by bringing this up is discrediting yourself. I have said it reminds me of a smoother, lighter Black Aoud by Montale, which comes across to me as a “chemical mess” (or at least it did last time I tried it), but here is what I said about Intense Oud in this context (from Fragrantica):
      “The oud note is excellent at this price point, and there is no iso e super overload or any other use of synthetics that I find to be excessive.”
      I don’t know how clear I can make things – I noted the use of synthetics but said they were within my levels of acceptability; obviously (and as I’ve said many times) not everyone has the same threshold for particular aroma chemicals. I’ve mentioned dihydromyrcenol with Green Irish Tweed and other scents, for example – sometimes I find its use acceptable and other times it’s too much, and I’ve stated this. I knew some would think Intense Oud smelled “synthetic” because it’s a low price point, which will lead some who don’t have experience with “oud notes” to think it’s smells like a chemical mess, as I did when I was a newbie and tried Black Aoud. By contrast, many don’t seem to detect dihydromyrcenol as “chemical” and instead interpret it as “natural and fresh.” Also, I have stated explicitly that the “oud note” in “Western oud scents” does not smell like what I sampled that was supposed to be “real oud.” If Intense Oud is “too chemical” for you, I totally understand, and in fact I find the top notes to be too much, but if I use my top notes avoidance technique, I get to the drydown quickly and can enjoy it at that point, but then you can’t criticize others for thinking that a scent is too “chemical” or “synthetic!” Note that I wore vintage Lagerfeld Cologne today and one thought I had was, “this smells totally natural to me.” It sounds to me like you are simply taking a deceiver’s words at face value, but there is a price to pay for this, as you can make yourself look very foolish very quickly!
      4. Not mentioning that the blogger you seem to feel you need to defend believes that in typical sealed fragrance bottles, one can decant 1/4 to 1/2 an ounce, let it sit for a few months, and then lo and behold it becomes much stronger but smells the same is what I think “Dr. Phil” would call a “lie by omission.” You are an organic chemist and yet you don’t mention this incredible bit of nonsense that is clearly a “fake fact” now circulating online? I have a Ph.D. too, and if someone with “credentials” were to make an outrageous claim in my field of expertise, you can bet I’d be “calling out” that person at the first opportunity!
      5. I think you need to reassess your thought process. Blogs are for stating opinions – if you don’t believe in free speech, then why not let us know? If you do, then you need to be careful about making accusations that are false – you just discredit yourself that way, as the blogger in question has many times, IMO. If you are not sure what someone is trying to communicate, why not just ask – why simply assume that a deceiver’s interpretation must be accurate? Being a scholar, don’t you feel you should live up to a higher standard here? I certainly feel I should!
      6. And why won’t you address what the reviewer said? He claimed, without any evidence, that Dior’s scents cost a lot to create and that they (or at least Sauvage) smells “high quality.” Do you agree or disagree that Sauvage must have cost a lot more to make that scents marketed by similar companies at a similar price point? If so, what is your evidence for this? Do you think Sauvage should be considered especially “high quality” relative to others in the same class? If so, why? If you think my criticism of this person’s claims are inappropriate, then you are obliged to explain exactly why, or again, you lose whatever credibility you may possess in the minds of many people.
      7. What do you hope to accomplish? Do you think there is a way of convincing people that they are wrong because something smells “synthetic” to them? This is something with which the deceiver seems to be afflicted, and I hope you are not as well. That is, the inability to recognize that not everyone has the same opinion, especially with these concoctions. Why do you care if I find the drydown of Intense Oud tolerable and even pleasant (though undeniably “chemical”), whereas I dislike Sauvage because it is so irritating to me? It doesn’t matter to me if you find the opposite to be the case. Why do you care if I prefer vintage to recent designer (I’m not saying you do, but he seems to think he needs to convince people of such things)? Why do you care if I try to avoid most of the top notes, and that leads to hours of enjoyment to me?
      8. Assuming that people are “obsessed” with something suggests you can read minds, and if you think you can you are probably delusional. If not, then you need to stop being histrionic and ground your comments in reality. Otherwise, people like myself will “call you out” on such nonsense. As I said in the post, I have no problem with those who enjoy the scent, nor do I like many recent designer scents, as I have mentioned many times in the past. I just happened to come upon the reviewer’s comment and thought it was useful in the context of how people tend to say things these days in an authoritative tone, yet they clearly cannot know if they are correct (they would have to be Dior “insiders”) or are outright ridiculous. The comment in question contained both elements, and so I thought it was worth a new post. You are free not to read my blog, and in the past you said you would not do so any longer. It looks like you should have just stuck to your original inclination (see 7.).
      9. If you want to make a claim, then do it, but don’t make some sort of half claim. Here, if you think Sauvage was marketed primarily to the Asian market, go ahead and say it. There aren’t different formulations for different markets of this scent, and if you think Sauvage was composed with the Asian market in mind then it shows that you don’t understand the Asian market, which is known to prefer lighter/milder type scents. Sauvage is the opposite of light or mild, with powerful musk that is definitely not appreciated in most if not all Asian nations. A little bit of searching with google would reveal this, for example:

      “Those preferences seem to be on the milder, traditional side. Zhao Peng, a perfume consultant with ADE China Co Ltd, a distributor of foreign brands like Bvlgari, Hugo Boss, and Davidoff, said Chinese consumers choose light, flowery fragrances that conform with Chinese emotional reserve.”

      http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:-kSiln4sgRsJ:red-luxury.com/beauty/why-chinese-dont-fancy-fragrance-yet%3Futm_source%3Dfeedburner%26utm_medium%3Dfeed%26utm_campaign%3DFeed%253A%2520RedLuxury%2520(Red%2520Luxury)+&cd=19&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

      “With their sense of mild body odor, Japanese generally frown at the idea of splashing themselves with strong fragrances.”

      http://www.kafkaesqueblog.com/2014/05/28/china-japans-fragrance-markets-culture/

      You may want to rethink using obviously “fake facts” in a post entitled, “Living in this new era of ‘fake facts'” !
      10. The “deceiver” himself has said that some scents smell “chemical” or “synthetic,” so if you disagree with me as well as the reviewer I quoted, what do you have to say to, “ELDO’s Antiheros is a frustrating scent. I want to like it because I’m generally a lavender lover, and this is supposed to be all about lavender. It’s a lavender of the synthetic-chemical variety, a far cry from the naturalistic herbal bite of Caron Pour un Homme’s lavender, which smells much, much better for roughly one-third the price…”?
      And just today (1/24/17), he writes about KL Homme: “Lately it’s been giving me a strong synthetic-musk…”
      UPDATE: In a comment on another blog, this commenter said, on 2/11/17: “How come no one ever complains about that gawdawful Bath & Body Works crap? I can’t think of any line of fragrance that’s more overtly obnoxious in terms of being synthetic smelling…”

  2. J.Gango

    Found this latest blog entry extremely boring.

    • It’s seems to have stirred up the proverbial hornet’s nest among other readers! In any case, if you have a subject that you would like to see addressed, by all means go ahead and respond with a request. I find it fascinating that at least in the USA so many people want to “debate” facts or make up lies and say something like, “these are my facts.” This could lead to all kinds of disastrous situations, so if it’s not “important” I don’t know what is, beyond the most obvious things. It may be boring to some, but if/when it affects you in a negative way, will it still be boring? Or will you be outraged?

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