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.