Category Archives: Criticizing the critics.

Posts in this category will examine statements about fragrances made by all manner of reviewers/critics/”experts.”

Is a newbie “spontaneous fragrance modification” myth very common these days?

Image result for molecules

First, I’ll mention what led to my thought about a possible myth, which began with a review I posted on the Yatagan/Caron page on

I obtained a recent formulation (batch 402114), and it definitely is different from my 2010 bottle. The base is weaker and overall it seems simpler. However, that does make it more wearable for “modern sensibilities,” as they say. In this way it reminds me of my recent formulation of Kouros (as compared to vintage Kouros). It’s certainly still Yatagan (of perhaps 10 years ago), with that celery quality (which is not present in “deep vintage”), but it’s clearly less “macho.” The major “problem” for me is that I prefer deep vintage and so there’s no good reason for me to wear this.

Another reviewer, in 2012, said this about it:

…And by the way the reformulation is still quite strong and just as good, and this scent could easily become somebodies signature scent.

I respect this point of view, and my 2010 Yatagan bottle might be perceived as “better”‘ by a vast majority of people who compare it to “deep vintage,” which is fine with me.  There is nothing “bad” about the 2010 formulation, and I’m glad Caron didn’t try to “modernize” it.  The March, 2014 formulation (batch code 402114), however, does strike me as an attempt to save some money, though without tinkering too much with the composition (such as occurred with the huge cinnamon note in “modern” Z-14).  For me, deep vintage is great, whereas 2010 is unbalanced and therefore unwearable, with a bit of tweaking to the formula too.  In any case, not long after I posted that review, this one appeared:

@Bigsly: the difference of smell between a current bottle and an old one is not due to formulation differences, but to the fact that the old bottle has oxidized slightly, allowing the fragrance to develop and “open”.
If you smell your current bottle compared to one open since 10 or 20 years, it’s no surprise that the smell is slightly different, but nothing related to hypothetical reformulations. (a different batch doesn’t mean they changed anything in the formula, although here it may be possible in regard to oakmoss, because of the new 2014 IFRA regulations- but it’s not automatic).

After reading this, I added the following to my review:

Note that I disagree with Andy the Frenchy’s statement above this review and in fact consulted a fragrance chemist, who has this to say:

“This question brings up Perfumery 101 lessons about the nature of chemical composition and how smell works. At it’s very core, perfumery is about volatility, or the rate in which things evaporate. When sealed in an airtight container with compounds that extend shelf life (and inert gases are always used to make sure it it stays fresh) you’re going to get almost zero change in chemicals involved.”

Oxidation makes such concoctions smell worse not better, and can lead to skin rashes, as this abstract makes clear:

“Terpenes are widely used fragrance compounds in fine fragrances, but also in domestic and occupational products. Terpenes oxidize easily due to autoxidation on air exposure. Previous studies have shown that limonene, linalool and caryophyllene are not allergenic themselves but readily form allergenic products on air-exposure…”

The source is Contact Dermatitis. 2005 Jun;52(6):320-8.

Limonene and linalool are among the most common ingredients, so anyone who wants their fragrance oxidized has no idea what they are talking about, IMO, but perceptions can be rather odd. For example, there was a shipwreck found a few years back – it was over 100 years old! There were two perfume splash bottles in it. Non-perfumers questioned thought it smelled fine but the perfumers said it was clearly “spoiled.” Not many years ago, when I said that I had never encountered a vintage bottle that had a “spoiled” drydown, at least one blogger and a perfumer (who had an obvious conflict of interest) disagreed. If the scent has volatile top notes, especially citrus, those might be “lost” over the years, but the problem for those who claim that their fragrances got considerably stronger or the smell got better don’t seem to realize that it would mean more of the same molecules were created in that sealed bottle or new molecules were created that smelled better, which is something fragrance chemists and perfumers would already know and incorporate into their compositions! Now if you think you “reinvented the wheel” then go ahead and try to demonstrate it scientifically so that you can be the next Einstein. Today’s fragrances are nearly all or entirely synthetic, so for anything that isn’t special (and really expensive), the only change will be for the worse. Of course, to save money sometimes the formula is cheapened, as people like Luca Turin have pointed out a long time ago. In any case, you can do your own research and decide for yourself.

Then a few days later, this review appeared:

This is not a forum about perfume composition, it’s a series of reviews about Yatagan, but I’d like to address a couple of points.
– Old bottles of fragrance will undergo a process of oxidization once they are used, so Andy the Frenchy’s comment as posted is likely to be accurate in the majority of situations (assuming the majority of vintage bottles on the market have been used at least once.)
– Oxidization and its effect on odour is hardly limited to whether some terpenes become catalyzed! And…. Just because oxidization results in a perfume material become a potential irritant hardly means that it does not smell good (or even better) for it. Plenty of wonderful materials are potential irritants, as anyone can find out by googling most of the ingredients on the back of any box of perfume (IFRA regulated or not). Time to reread Paracelsus on that one.

Anyway, I post too much about things I like but now I feel guilty for not respecting the purpose of this space so I will say (about Yatagan) –

Certain fragrances seem to ‘open up’ once opened, oxidized and aged a little. Speaking anecdotally (I’m no chemist), I’d say that with some bottles I have owned, aging and intermittent usage over several months helps to produce the ‘fuller’, ’rounder’ and ‘more natural’ experience many people look for from a composition like Yatagan… If your bottle feels a bit thin, try shelving it for a little while (:

Putting aside this person’s lack of understanding of the term “composition” in this context, it seems to me that something quite odd has taken hold in the “online fragrance community,” perhaps especially among “newbies, and perhaps mostly due to claims made by the major Youtube reviewers.  That is, many seem to think that there is no such thing as a reformulation, but rather that molecules in a sealed spray bottle interact significantly with air even after just a few sprays and the composition is magically transformed into something much better or much stronger.  Fortunately there is a test to determine this, though unfortunately, it’s expensive (for us non-1% people).  However, if you want to make this kind of incredible claim, perhaps you should be willing to “put your money where your mouth is.”

In this situation, that would mean the claimant is willing to pay for a GC/MS study done by a competent technician, if that person cannot detect any significant change in either the number of molecules or the “spikes” that denote the strongest aroma chemicals on the resulting graph.  I certainly would pay if I bought a new fragrance (100 ml) from a major company (in a sealed spray bottle), had the GC/MS study done, then stored it properly for a couple months and used a quarter ounce of it, then had another GC/MS study done and the technician found that the concoction had become much stronger or had changed and smelled much different (yet had not “spoiled”).  If you are not an expert, you should either do some research and/or try to consult one, before making claims that suggest something that would violate the “laws of nature!”

Interestingly, one doesn’t hear much about all the skin rashes one would expect if these extraordinary claims were true.  One of the mysteries of chemistry is that two molecules might be very similar yet have different scents, no scent, or other properties that are quite distinct.  Or two molecules can be structured very differently yet smell quite similar.  However, this is a major area studied by people who become professional perfumers!  If what is being claimed by these apparent newbies were true, fragrance chemists and professional perfumers would know this and they would incorporate these properties into the final product.  They would certainly let the person or company employing them know that there was a simple and inexpensive procedure (that only took a few weeks or so) that could make the finished product much stronger or smell much better.  But of course this is something that would likely have become well known long ago, perhaps in the nineteenth century!



Filed under Criticizing the critics., The basics.

Another “angle” on the “niche sampler” phenomenon?

Euphoria Gold Men Calvin Klein for men

Not long ago there was a discussion of Calvin Klein’s Amber Gold for Men fragrance at  I have only tried Gold for Men (2014), the original for men, and Intense, the latter two I find not to my tastes.  The notes for Gold seem accurate; those are (from

…ginger and lemon. The heart is dominated by honey, cinnamon and basil, resting on a deep, warm base of amber, patchouli and vanilla

I got quite a bit of honey the first couple of wearings, and a bit of basil to offer contrast, then the third or fourth time I got more of the vanilla.  Each time I enjoyed it, though the first half hour may strike some as slightly chaotic.  I paid $15 for my first 99% full bottle (part of a 3 bottle lot for $45; each was worth at least $15, IMO), and I bought a back up for about $25, as I noticed the prices rising and I don’t have a honey-dominant scent that I really enjoy (months later, I acquired a partial bottle of Floris’ Honey Oud, which I also like – for me it’s different enough to possess both, though).  For those who don’t know, CK doesn’t exactly have a good reputation in the online fragrance hobbyist community, and some have pointed out that this may mean fragrances like Gold tend to get ignored or given poor reviews, though if marketed under a different name those reviews might have been positive!

As to the Basenotes thread, this is what someone said about Amber Gold for Men:

I’ve seen a couple bottles of this come and go at Marshall’s and TJ’s locally. It sounds intriguing but at $45 it’s not a comfortable blind buy. I own Liquid Gold and I believe both are Middle East exclusives; they’re miles away from the usual freshie snoozefests like Euphoria Gold.!

As you see, he used it as an opportunity to dismiss Gold for Men as a “fresshie snoozefest.”  I’m wondering what such a comment represents.  Clearly, Gold is not like Chrome Azzaro, Nautica Voyage, etc.  My guess is that such a person thought Gold should smell like something along the lines of “vintage” Ambra by Etro, with it’s dominant powerful and rich vanillic amber (perhaps with a touch of honey).  Or he might have thought it was going to be like Ambre Sultan, with it’s herbal note offering contrast to the strong amber.  However, if you like those scents, why are you seeking a slightly different version of it?  Perhaps more importantly, why are you not wearing those scents and ignoring all that is released under the CK name (all made by Coty now, from what I understand)?

It seems as though we are back to what I’ve called the niche sampler phenomenon in previous posts.  That is, there seem to be a percentage of the “fragrance hobbyist community” who claim that at least several scents are “masterpieces,” but then they continue sampling, apparently rarely wearing their “masterpieces.”  For such people, few new releases compare favorably to these scents, and so they write up one negative review after another, often talking about “cheapening,” “cutting corners,” “letting the accountants make the decisions,” etc.  If you want a scent to smell heavily of natural items like honey and vanilla, why not go to the natural perfumers?  Why are you seeking that in a CK scent?  This strikes me as at least somewhat absurd.

Sometimes a person will say that such a scent as Gold “lacks quality,” but again, it’s a relative issue, not an objective one, unless perhaps the only scents you’ve ever tried in the past are 100% natural.  I seem to know what aroma chemicals bother me and which ones I can tolerate in larger amounts, so that’s a key issue for me.  I also have yet to discover a vintage scent that is similar to Gold, and doubt there is one.  Moreover, even some recent releases that smell “high quality” and “totally natural” to me, such as 2012’s “Enchanted Forest: The Vagabond Price,” are a bit too much for me!  I’ve notice this with other niche type fragrances, and in some cases I actually prefer the inexpensive “clone” because these are often less “in your face,” regardless of whether the strong notes are synthetic or natural (meaning the balance is superior).  If you disagree, that’s fine, of course, but if you just dismiss fragrances without explaining exactly why, you aren’t helping to advance your point of view.

NOTE:  Obviously, some of us don’t want (or can’t) to spend “niche money” on fragrances, especially if one only wears the scent once a month or more (as is the case for me).  Halston’s Amber Woman is in the same general area as Enchanted Forest, to my way of perceiving, and a 100 ml new bottle cost me $12 total, as opposed to the high prices EF has always commanded.  Armaf’s Club de Nuit Intetnse (the one marketed to women) is yet another similar scent, which cost me around $18/100 ml, but that one has been too strong for me at times.  Some might say EF is clearly “higher quality,” but I mostly assess fragrances in terms of how enjoyable they are to me over a course of several hours, and I’ve found that the perception of “naturalness”/richness may be impressive at first, but after an hour or so that element if of much less important, due to the scent weakening.  If the scent does not weak, I’ve found many become cloying to me, including the expensive, “natural,” rich niche scents.  By contrast, this does not seem to happen with fragrances that I enjoy that were released in the early 1990s or earlier – those great perfumers apparently knew how to get the balance right (or else they were given more time to “perfect” the composition).


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Filed under Criticizing the critics.

The “big turn” away from niche?

Image result for sharp turn

The title of this post is the same title to a thread I created at the site not long ago.  First, let me quote my first post to that thread:

I’m wondering how many others have made such a “big turn,” especially in light of the 2018 “Guide’s” main focus on obscure niche scents. For years, I sought out, mainly through swaps, specific ones, and I would go through swap lists to see if someone was willing to swap one that I thought might be of interest. Now I have very little interest in either endeavor. I think the main factor is that I think I have a good grasp on what I’m seeking, and today’s niche tend to be unsatisfactory for one reason or another, such as how “chemical” so many come across to me. Then there are so many “clone” type scents. A good example is Craze by Armaf (cost me less than $23 total for 100 ml). I haven’t tried Pegasus, but I enjoy Craze, and even if I would perceive Pegasus as a bit better, it’s not worth me actually knowing this (because there’s nothing to be gained, and only money to lose)! The other day I acquired some “vintage” Rochas Man, and my thought was, “this is certainly good enough for me – now I can swap/sell my bottle of New Haarlem!”

What can niche do for me at this point? What smell or combination of smells, assuming that they are rendered well in the composition (again, one factor being “naturalness”), could I find so compelling that I would even want a sample? I can’t fit the bottles I own (let alone the samples and decants) into a yearly “rotation” at this point, and I find myself mostly gravitating towards several fragrances, with the others being useful for the days I want something different. There’s probably a reason why scents like Old Spice are still around and selling, while so many oddball compositions have joined the dinosaurs, the key point being that while much if not most niche might be interesting, I question the “wearability” of them over the course of several hours. Yes, if sprayed on a small piece of cardboard, they might seem quite compelling for seconds or minutes, but that’s not why I buy a bottle. I wonder how many who are buying today’s niche are buying bottles based upon such a “test.”

My attitude towards niche now is mostly indifference, and if that market indirectly hikes up the prices on my many vintage bottles, that’s not a gift horse I’m going to look in the mouth. But I can sum up this attitude with the statement, “you had your chance and you didn’t get the job done.” Several years ago, more than a few BN members had apparently become disillusioned with niche, and at least a few “disappeared,”‘ never to return. I called them “niche samplers because they wrote reviews, and there were plenty of good/excellent reviews, at least for a while, but then the reviews took a turn towards the negative. What I didn’t understand is why they weren’t satisfied with all the niche they enjoyed/praised? How many bottles do you “need?” Of course, it likely wasn’t about how many bottles they wanted to own, but some abstract notion of “the art of perfumery” (I tend to see it more as a “craft”). And I think the “big name reviewers” also possess this view (as opposed to “wearability” over the course of several hours).

So, I’m wondering how many others are quite pleased with non-niche/non-designer exclusive offerings (including the vintage they can still obtain at non-ridiculous prices, which means the vast majority) that are available these days. Another good question would seem to involve variety. How much do you want and how much of it “needs” be niche? Also, do you feel “deprived,” in that you think there should be compositions that don’t exist or only exist at high prices (let’s say around $100 per 50 ml)?

Perhaps people like myself, that is, those who are going to spend a lot of time thinking and sampling, have satisfied themselves (or left the hobby due to disappointment), and over the last five years or so there are a lot more less thoughtful people who are likely to be quite influenced by “herd mentality.”  But whatever the case may be, I think at least a few interesting ideas were generated on this thread.  One of those is the question of why niche is “better” beyond generally possessing more unique, but possibly less wearable compositions, for those who believe this.  A person who posted on the thread claimed that niche is more “nuanced,” while another said niche used better materials.  The problem with the former claim is that vintage is more complex, nuanced, dynamic, and natural-smelling, so why not just buy the best of those fragrances?

Now the latter claim may be accurate, generally-speaking of course, but again, if that’s the main issue for you, aren’t you better off with vintage?  But let’s say the person is concerned about buying vintage for one reason or another, does this mean niche is therefore the materially-superior way to go, if that’s the best way to phrase it?  My first response would be, even if that were true, who cares?  People aren’t going to know how much the fragrance you are wearing cost to compose, and if you prefer a materially less expensive fragrance, why wouldn’t you wear it?  In some responses there were at least intimations that the hobbyist should know which fragrances are the most expensive to compose and then wear those because… I have no idea! I pointed out that much of the recent niche I tried was too “chemical” for me (iso e super and cashmeran dominant, in many cases) and even when it seemed rich and natural-smelling (such as with ambery/syrupy compositions), these fragrances tended to be too simple/boring, and lacking in compositional balance.

In short, I don’t think most niche perfumers  understand the point of “modern perfumery,” which differed from older endeavors in being long-lasting but “smooth” (not pungent).  Of course there is room for new compositions, but because almost all companies comply with IFRA now, it’s difficult to compete with the vintage greats, and so some to seem to think that the best approach is to “go on the offense,” using large amounts of aroma chemicals!  This is why I have come to conclude that many “cheapos” and “clones” do a better job in the context of “modern perfumery” than expensive niche fragrances – and if you are only going to smell a fragrance on a card for a few minutes (as it seems many reviewers, including Luca Turin, do for at least most of their reviews), then you aren’t really helping those who want a “modern perfume.”  Instead, there seems to have developed some “fine perfumery art” notion, which is mostly about oddball top notes compositions, and if that’s your “cup of tea,” fine, but I will contest that this should be classified as “modern perfumery.”  Call it post-modern fine perfume art, or whatever, but it’s something else.

One Basenotes member who is a scholar (I believe a historian) has argued that these post-modern releases are basically for the new wealthy (CEOs, “kleptocrats,” trust fund kids, etc.), and that it’s basically a scam, or similar to “modern art,” which has become a hot speculation-oriented market (there was a recent HBO documentary about it) more than any kind of traditional notion of “fine art.”  As I said on the thread, if I were a billionaire, I might buy a huge number of samples and have a personal assistant spray a card and bring me a new one every 10 minutes or so – that’s the only way one could sample all the new releases!  But that would have nothing to do with wearability.  I’d still probably have a few hundred that I’d want to wear in the usual way, but if I did that, how could I wear the fragrance that I know I enjoy?  And as to “clones,” it may be that some of these are made to be a big more wearable, such as to use less iso e super and more vanillin, which would likely fit my preferences better!

Now whatever is occurring is good for me, so I’m certainly not complaining, but it does seem like a lot of people are rushing into niche these days without an idea as to why.  Perhaps it’s a great example of “herd mentality,” though I certainly wouldn’t doubt that there is a percentage of the hobbyist population that does prefer many new niche offerings.  But it does seem like most are buying the sizzle rather than the steak, as the old saying goes.  And how does one even decide what to sample?  One person told me to do more sampling and less reading about fragrances, not realizing that he wanted me to do what he said!  The situation is therefore untenable for those who have some sort of facile notion of “doing some sampling” and deciding upon “what’s best for me.”  If you already enjoy quite a few scents on at least a fairly regular basis, you can’t sample a whole lot of new releases in the usual way, let alone all those that you think you might possibly enjoy.

However, if you have patience, and wait for the proverbial smoke to clear, you might find one or two that are unique and wearable (or even a really cheap “clone” of it that works for you, as was the case for me with Craze – and the fragrance company that made the “original” is said by some to be little better than designer, with clearly “synthetic” qualities to their releases, though I have yet to try any).  There are two other things I factors I think are worth mentioning here, the first being a change to one’s sensitivities.  In my case, I’m still quite sensitive to iso e super, calone, cashmeran, and dihydromyrcenol, though I usually can handle the latter two in reasonably large amounts if the composition is right.  Oddly, though, I seem to have lower sensitivity to other typical elements/ingredients.  For example, I used to have difficulty with one spray of Cadillac, but the other day I used three full sprays to the chest and kept my shirt open for a few hours, as an “experiment,” but it never became strong, let alone too strong!  If you say you only like niche today, that could change by tomorrow!

The other possible factor is what one Fragrantica member called “olfactory familiarity,” and I’d like to propose an expansion of that notion.  The basic idea is that as you become familiar with certain notes and/or aroma chemicals, you start to perceive other elements, while the ones you originally perceived as strong you may perceive as much weaker in subsequent wearings, if you perceive these at all!  I think there may be a kind of “bell curve” effect, in that the first time or two you wear the fragrance (in the “normal” way), it may seem unique, but then the next two or three times you perceive more, and this may be where you maximum appreciation for it exists.  Then, around the fourth or fifth wearing, you may still think it’s excellent, but no longer “special;” you may even think that another fragrance that you already own is “good enough.”  I have experienced that quite a few times, and I’m not the only one – here is just one example I’ve encountered (a Fragrantica review of Montale’s Red Flowers):

Well I’m glad I did not bought this blind!
It is lovely but it reminds me so much of l’heure blue (especially the edp) so that I dont need this one
It is a lovely fragrance but more powdery than I thougt, becomes a skin scent, but has good staying power, and no synthetic feel.
With l’heure blue in my wardrobe I don’t need this one, so I look further for another Montale…….

Another aspect to olfactory familiarity is that after a while, you “settle in” with a scent (or decide you don’t want to wear it any more, assuming you gave it a few wearings to make sure), and know when you are in the mood for it.  And the key point here is that if  you sample a very similar scent that in some way can be said to be “objectively superior,” you might still prefer the one you’ve worn many times in the past.  On the other hand, if you haven’t worn a fragrance in years, such as vintage Red for Men by Giorgio of Beverly Hills, then Preferred Stock might be good enough for you (at least the formulation I tried a few years back), whereas the new EA formulation of Red is an entirely different fragrance, IMO.

I suspect that may people who claim to think niche, especially recent releases, are producing the greatest scents these days have rarely worn those several times.  Many say they have a lot of decants and samples to keep the cost down, which suggests they might only wear them on rare occasion.  And I agree (and have suggested) that one not wear a scent for a couple months or so in order to keep the “magic” alive.  But that’s true of “drug store dreck” and all other fragrances!  I suspect that many who are entering into today’s niche world are not very experienced in fragrances other than the most common and available ones, so I can see why it might seem like a whole new olfactory universe has been opened up for them.  But that doesn’t mean that my perceptions make no sense for me (in terms of my experiences).  Another aspect to “olfactory familiarity” seems to be that a “clone” works just as well as the “original” most if not all of the time (especially when you wear vintage often, because then you wear the newer, less “natural-smelling” fragrances when you are in the mood for that particular composition).

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Is it “burnout” or something else?

Image result for snuffed candle

These kinds of dramatic statements are nothing new, to this or other hobbies, but I’ve seen a few of them lately, and since I’ve experienced a change in attitude as well, I though it would be a good time to post about it (probably for at least the second time).  Here is a recent example:

The extent to which EO No 2 impacted me was both a surprise and a major relief. If you’ll forgive a personal digression, I’ll explain why. For me, it’s been an exceedingly difficult three months in an equally difficult year and I’ve struggled extensively with both a disinterest in perfumery and in writing, in addition to some other personal issues. In fact, fragrance has provided little interest, comfort, or distraction. Reviewing even less so. I approached analyzing a fragrance with the same enthusiasm I would feel for a root canal. Neither new releases nor my personal old vintage favourites motivated me to put pen to paper…

And there is this post:

which began with:

…why do you continue to come here to Basenotes, even after it’s clear that no one (outside of those of us who continue to come here) cares about fragrances, outside of us?

…Do you also agree that the reason for the slowdown in the traffic on this website, and in this hobby in general, is due to IFRA regulations, and poor reformulations by “respected” houses?

A bunch of posts followed that brought up various issues about hobby “fatigue” of one kind or another.  But perhaps it’s just about change that were likely to occur, short of some sort of cataclysmic event.  And how many would be unhappy with the hobby if you got free samples of any scent that is available and then the most you would have to pay is $15 total for a 50 ml bottle?  I’m at the point where I would rather layer existing fragrances to get a novel effect than pay even $50 for anything new, but I don’t feel like I’m missing out on something special, or “deprived” in any way.  In fact, because I only buy or swap if it’s a “no brainer” I feel a lot less “burdened” by the hobby.  Regrets are unlikely and if there are any, they will be too minor to ponder for long.

What I see happening on ebay is that a few fragrances (such as Caesar’s Man, which is discussed in a recent FromPyrgos blog post) go into the “hype zone,” at least temporarily, which others sell for a lot less.  For example, I’ve seen a whole lot of Jo Malone, Etat Libre d’Orange, and Penhaligons bottles selling for great prices recently.  Perhaps a store closed and some stock was liquidated (for example, a couple years ago I bought three different partial Floris 100 ml bottles, as a lot, probably about 180 ml or more in total, for less than $30 total), but at least a few times per week a great deal seems to “pop up” (and I certainly don’t buy most of them; I’d guess  no more than 10%).  It’s the kind of fragrance I wish I would have encountered when I began to appreciate “oud scents,” but now I just think of it mostly as “swap bait,” because I have so many of these kinds of fragrances and actually like some “super cheapos” better (such as Classic Match’s version of Polo Supreme Oud).

And I purchased a lot of a few vintage scents, one of which was Canyon Cologne by Bath & Body Works.  It reminds me of somewhere between vintage Polo and L’Occitane’s Eau des 4 Voleurs, so that’s a “new discovery” that involved very little cost and I really like it.  With designer exclusives and niche, though, the prices are too high and so it raises my expectations too high.  Moreover, even if I like the fragrance, I usually think that it’s not “necessary.”  That is, I have something similar, can layer to create something similar, or I’m rarely going to wear it.  This is one reason why I don’t do much swapping any longer.  Perhaps it would be best for those who feel some sort of “burnout” to look inward rather than outward (especially if you own more than a few vintage bottles).  Do you really think some sort of incredible and unique composition is going to be released, with ingredients of the “quality” you think it at least good, so that you feel compelled to buy a bottle, more or less regardless of cost?  To me the answer it, I don’t even want to think about this stuff any more!

The author of the kafkaesque blog tells us that:

The Pure Parfum is, as you might expect, a lot more expensive. It is $795 for a 50 ml bottle as opposed to $395 for the EDP…

Having said that, I won’t lie to you: I could never afford to buy a bottle of the parfum… But would I buy a bottle for myself if I hadn’t been sent one by the company and if I had disposable income for scent indulgences? Yes, absolutely.

It’s easy to say this when you get free bottles sent to you, I’d guess.  The reason is that in my experience, after the first two or three wearings, the “magic” seems to diminish, sometimes considerably.  Then you ask yourself, “what was I thinking?”  But when you get the bottle for free, you can just put it aside and think that you just “need a break” and the magic will be back soon.  And indeed it sometimes does come back, but if it’s a very expensive scent, you might be thinking that a 5 ml decant could last you the rest of your life!  Could that be where so many mostly full niche bottles we see on ebay originate?  In the case of a seller who has listed a lot of different bottles, I wouldn’t be surprised (if they are listing a lot of Penhaligons bottles, for example, I’d guess it was a store closing or a store no longer offering a specific line).  But whatever the case, why not be happy that you explored modern perfumery and now you can “rest on your laurels” (in a good way), perhaps pursuing other things?




Filed under Criticizing the critics.

Some thoughts about a few brief reviews in the 2018 Turin/Sanchez “Guide” book.

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I thought it might be useful to some readers if I provided my impressions of some of the short reviews in the 2018 “Guide,” now that I received a copy of it as a gift (I’m having difficulty motivating myself to read the longer ones at this point).  Let’s begin with The Hedonist by Cult of Scent, which was given three stars by Turin (and described as “holy smoke,” which doesn’t help me much, other than to conjure up the smell of a Catholic Mass):

I love smoky perfumes, usually mostly the smoky part. The rest often seems like lipstick on bacon. This one wears no makeup.

My first thought is a question, what does he mean by smoky fragrances?  I’ve experienced ones that I think of as a kind of “clean” smoke (which I tend to like), but then there are ones like Encre Noire, which I think of as an “iso e super nightmare.”  There are also some scents with really harsh “white musk,” which I tend to detest.  Or is it like the incense at a Catholic Mass?  We may never know for sure, and then there’s the “lipstick on bacon” comment.  I guess I have some sense of the bacon aspect, but bacon and lipstick?  I wish he had furnished us with an example!  And then we’re told, presumably, that it’s a smoky bacon scent.  Does he like it?  At three stars it’s right in the middle of the five star classification scheme.  I find this review puzzling, and I’d be frustrated by it, except that since I read their first “Guide,” I expect reviews of this type and just “shrug it off.”

But we get yet another (Journeyman by Soivohle), which is described by Turin as smoky wood.  He reviews it as, “The obligatory smoky woody fragrance every niche line must have, for the bearded dude in a lumberjack shirt,” only in this case the scent only gets two stars!  The several Fragrantica reviews for it are quite positive, and this sounds like one I’d like to sample.  Apparently, it was fairly limited and the owner stated there are issues with re-releasing it, but it sounds a bit like As Sawira by Penhaligon’s (I recently obtained a 100 ml bottle of that one at a great price), except that AS doesn’t have much of a smoky quality, which often doesn’t work out well for me (it can become irritating rather quickly).  But the main point is that for someone who says he enjoys smoky fragrances, one has to question exactly what he means by this!  Does it have too much of a lipstick and bacon quality?  I wonder what is the point of such a review, considering the difficulty almost every read will have in sampling it?  My guess is that he thinks this brief review will amuse readers (or enough of them), but it just makes me question if he generally has issues with being consistent with the criteria he uses to assess things.

Next up is Hedonist, by Viktoria Minya).  It it is described as a tobacco vanilla and given one star (by Turin).  The review is simply, “Smells to me like spray furniture polish.”  I looked up the reviews at for this scent, and they are “all over the map.”  Did he spray it on a card and just take a quick sniff?   It seems like there’s more to it than how he describes it, even if it’s not well composed.  Another that gets one star, by Turin, is Hedonist Iris by Viktoria Minya.  He calls it a scitrus musk; the review is the short sentence, “Iris? Now you’ve pissed me off.”  It’s not uncommon for a fragrance to have something like lavender, vetiver, santal, etc. ion the name, but to not have that note in the fragrance (at least not to the degree that many can smell it).  Turin “called out” a Creed scent or two for this issue in the first “Guide,” so one has to wonder why he would think it surprising, let alone why he would become angered by it.  And in this edition, he says, “If any oud at all is used here, it’s wasted,” about Incense Oud by By Kilian (and other similar things are said about others, such as Iris Fauve and Iris Homme).

Next up is In the Woods by Cult of Scent, which was given three stars (by Turin) and described as cedarwood neroli.  The review is, “Lovely simple cedarwood accord.”  My problem here is twofold.  It’s not “readily available,” and on the company site the price is $130 for 30 ml.  The other problem is that if Turin is correct, why not buy cedar essential oil from a site like Bulk Apothecary (half an ounce for about $5), with a bunch of great reviews?  You can also buy inexpensive citrus type essential oils from them and combine these (in the reviews on the site you will sometimes find simple recipes, but you can just do some quick google searches to find plenty).  At the very least, a “perfume expert” should mention this possibility for those who aren’t going to spend $130 on a 30 ml bottle of a very simple scent, IMO.

Then there’s Indigo by Thorn & Bloom, which gets a sole star (by Turin) and is called “caraway lavender,” the review being, “Truly awful from beginning to end, a perfect instance of a natural perfumery fail.”  This was a great opportunity for him to use an example of what he tends to dislike with “natural perfumery” fragrances, but it is squandered.  Another missed opportunity (IMO) for Turin occurs with Itasca by Lubin, which received three stars and is described as a citrus fougère,” the review being, “Nice lemony vetiver, very presentable.”  It seems to sell for over $100 for 75 ml, so an obvious question is, can I save money by purchasing a similar scent that isn’t “lacking” in any major way?  But as Turin said in the first “Guide,” there are different kinds of fougeres, so why not tell us which one this is?  And this is a good example of a situation where Turin could be quite helpful, in that a couple of Fragrantica reviews talk of the aroma chemicals they think are used in a clumsy way (one claims there’s obvious iso e super present and the other says, “…the heavy hand in the use of some deodorant aroma chemicals started causing me headaches after a while).  These kinds of scents often have this issue, in my experience.  Thus, if Turin thinks the aroma chemical are barely detectable, at best, why not tell us?  It’s not like his review will then become too long!

The thought seems to keep entering my mind that people like Turin are “missing the forest for the trees” by focusing on “edgy” niche scents.  Yes, there are endless possibilities for minor variations on a bunch of themes, but especially if you are mostly concerned with drydowns, how much “better” do you expect a niche scent to be?  For example, tobacco scents are popular among many hobbyists (compared to the general public, at least in the USA), or perhaps the general public just can’t detect it unless it’s a really obvious note.  In any case, there are some excellent “cheapo” tobacco scents (or ones that were for a while), such as Lanvin’s Avant Garde.  Yes, you might be able to get one that is a bit more this or that, but if you bought AG for around $12 (as I did a while back, 100 ml new), do you really want to waste a lot of time and money chasing after the “niche version” of it?  There’s also Samba Skin for Men, which is a solid “pipe tobacco” scent (like Pure Havane), which cost me about $9 for 100 ml new.  However, I might have some interest in the “niche versions” if my experiences led me to think that would lead to me obtaining a “better” fragrance, but that rarely occurred!  Why not enjoy what you have, even if you only have a tenth of what Turin does?  That’s probably enough to keep you busy for decades, at least.

And it’s not like Turin never takes issue with some of today’s prices.  For example, his review of Kingdom of Bahrain is, “Decent citrus-woody with a well-judged touch of rose in the heart. Yours for £425 per 50 milliliters.”  Moreover, as was the case for the 2008 “Guide,” I don’t’ understand the mentality behind the reviews, other than these being an expression of his sense of humor.  I know some people have a tendency to leave things “half finished,” but many of his reviews aren’t even 10% finished, AFAICT.  And after he tells readers he enjoys smoky scents, they get the impression (I think) that he will spend a bit of time on the reviews of those, but in some cases we don’t get much of anything!  Is Journeyman or The Hedonist a good “beginner smoky scent?”  Or is he deliberately trying to frustrate readers, perhaps with the thought that will compel them to get a bunch of samples?  I know that I’ve encountered some teachers when I was younger who seemed to have this kind of attitude.  However, I think if that were the case all the reviews would have this quality.  Is this supposed to be a whimsical guide?  It often doesn’t sound that way, but why not call it that if it’s the case?  To me, it may be most interesting as a kind of mystery, trying to figure out how the mind of Mr. Turin functions!

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A review of reviews: Les Heures de Cartier: L’Heure Perdue XI Cartier (2015).

Les Heures de Cartier: L'Heure Perdue XI Cartier for women and men

This fragrance was one of two in the free preview of the 2018 edition of “Perfumes: The Guide” to receive a 5 star rating (from Luca Turin), and since I probably enjoy fragrances with a noticeable vanilla note as much as anyone, I thought this is one I needed to write about, though buying a bottle is a different matter (Cartier web site price is $275; on ebay I saw one for $179, both 75 ml).  And with this one, you don’t get a list of notes, but instead (on the Cartier site and elsewhere):

…powdered with HELIOTROPIN elegance, from someone else’s desire? Voluptuous and intimate MUSCENONE like the scent of knowledge. Perhaps because everything is ruled by science, so clever in posing as natural when in fact it is a feat of alchemy, exploring the artificial through a precipitate of large synthetic molecules, particularly VANILLIN. This aldehyde with sensual aromas and a silky aura floating over the 11th hour, the lost and progressive hour, demystifying the conventional idea that beauty is only worthwhile if it is NATURAL.

First I want to address Luca Turin’s review.  As you might expect, it was composed by a perfumer he has high regard for (Mathilde Laurent), and was recommended to sample by a reader of LT’s blog.  This person used evocative language when describing it, including “most evocative” and, “like a memory you can’t quite place, but are certain to have lived.”  How could such a scent not be magnificent (sarcasm alert!)?  LT tells us that it’s “heaven-scent and disquieting in equal parts,” and this reminds me of his review of Bvlgari Black (I liked the idea of BB, but found it just a bit too simplistic).  We are told it has an oriental drydown featuring vanilla, labdanum, and praline.  He says the praline is fresh, but I’ve never encountered such a thing; perhaps he means that some of the top notes persist, such as what he claims is grapefruit.

Now this is a fragrance I wouldn’t mind sampling; I might think it’s worth buying (if the price ever comes way down) or I might dislike it (heliotrope notes are not my favorite unless they are subordinate).  However, let’s take a look at the Fragrantica reviews, beginning with a negative one:

L’Heure Perdue opens both acidic and vanillic and a bit cardboardy musty. The scent alters between sour and cardboardy vanilla…  Not my thing, had to scrub it off due to the acidic notes underneath.

The review of another could be positive, if you like the smell of Dove soap:

This smells a bit like Dove soap. If you’ve been dying for the perfume version of this classic, give it a sniff.

One that is positive actually doesn’t begin with a description that sounds all that laudatory:

Generally, I can’t stand anything that smells too heavily of vanilla. But while L’Heure Perdue does smell sweet and vanillic, it also smells really weird. Like glue or rubber. But powdery. The parts are familiar, but they’ve been reconfigured in totally new ways…

Now to be fair the idea behind it seems to have been to use synthetics to create an “abstract” but not “synthetic” or “chemical” fragrance.  The problem there is that some are very sensitive to certain aroma chemicals, and so I would like the company to disclose if particular ones were used in large amounts (I’m not going to hold my breath on that happening, as you might guess).  But LT compares it to Jicky and Habit Rouge!  It sounds to me like it could be similar, in terms of the general idea, to Reveal by CK (the “feminine”), where there’s something familiar (vanilla and sandalwood) with something odd added (a marine type note, clearly an aroma chemical or chemials).  Spending more time/effort and money on such a composition might indeed result in something quite interesting, though I think for me if there are some strong aroma chemical elements to it (which seems to be the case) it might be an unpleasant experience.

This is also an example of the “disconnect” between people like LT and myself. From what he has written, it doesn’t seem like he will wear this scent at least a few times a year, if he ever wears it again, but he probably got at least a free sample of it.  If this scent was priced lower, I would likely try to swap for a bottle, and if that didn’t work out, I’d wait for it to get to that point where it was at its lowest and buy one.  But given the pricing, I might never be able to acquire a bottle reasonably, and so I would not be interested in sampling, because I already have so many vanillic fragrances I can’t imagine thinking that I “need” another, even if it is different.  The reviews do not sound good to me.  I’m not a fan of “oddball” fragrances, and I’ve already got a few of those, such as Perry Ellis for Men (2008), which lists notes of, “grapefruit, woody accords, resins, iris root, leather and musk.”  The drydown, however, features an ambery/vanillic element along with some sort of marine type chemical (reviewers have called it blood-like or copper-ish, as in an old penny).  It cost me about $8 for a nearly full 100 ml bottle.

Is L’Heure Perdue XI better than this Perry Ellis scent?  That’s where I have major problems with fragrance reviews.  Does anyone doubt that LT would say yes?  But to me what matters is whether I find the drydown to be pleasant (assuming they all have at least decent strength).  If I like both, and they aren’t similar to something I’ve already got, then I’ll try to obtain a bottle in what I consider a reasonable way.  If I could only buy the PE scent for around $12 or more I would not own it now.  I simply have too many at this point to place much emotional (or other) investment in any one.  If offered enough money (within reason, though) I don’t think I’d have a problem selling any or a bunch of my bottles.  By contrast, some people (apparently LT), sample a fragrance, find it to be “artistic” and then talk about how great it is, but do they wear it on any kind of regular basis?  I think we are back to my old post about the “niche sampler” phenomenon, which I believe I observed on Basenotes.  That involved people doing a lot of sampling of less common, more expensive scents, talking about how great they were, but over time a bitter tone to their reviews emerged, along with claims about the “death” of the “art of perfumery.”  My question to them would be, since you’ve claimed to enjoy so many fragrances in past reviews, why don’t you just wear them and stop sampling/complaining?  Clearly, they were not thinking about or using these olfactory concoctions the way I do, nor in a way I suspect most people do!






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Should a guy get insensate if sprayed with a “feminine” scent ?

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I’ve found it interesting how some “veteran” members of Basenotes seem to think there is a sharp “gender line” with these olfactory concoctions and that the friendly people in control of multinational corporation X, Y, or Z know exactly where that line is drawn! Some others, such as Luca Turin, argue that these gender distinctions mostly involve top notes. And of course, most aficionados know that if you toss in a lavender note that is quite noticeable, you can turn a “feminine” into a “masculine,” especially these days, with so many super-sweet “masculine” scents on the market. I have come to conclude that while such generalizations are interesting to ponder on an abstract level, these aren’t all that useful in practice.

Instead, I prefer to think about actual scents, and one that immediately comes to mind is the 1993 release, Insense, by Givenchy (I’ve only worn the original formulation, I believe on three occasions separated by more than a month) . Turin and others seem to think this was too “daring” for its time, but is it less daring today? And is it daring in terms of the actual smell or the marketing? After all, plenty of aficionados will buy a “feminine” scent with a strong leather note, such as Cabochard, for instance. Another notion is that a “masculine floral” is highly problematic, though plenty of aficionados seem quite positive about Amouage’s Lyric Man. Is it the case that if a scent is clothed in the garment of “niche” it’s acceptable to be “floral?”

I could not understand the appeal of Insense. The florals are strong and sharp, as is a fruity/citrusy quality, which I don’t enjoy either. After that it slowly dissipates over time, with a resinous quality becoming more and more obvious, though it never distinguishes itself. lists thse notes for it:

Top notes are aldehydes, black currant, lavender, mandarin orange, bergamot, lemon and basil; middle notes are magnolia, lily-of-the-valley and iris; base note is fir.

The reviews for it on Fragrantica are quite interesting. Few mention the “feminine” element, at least one person calls it “delicous” (this is the opposite of delicious to me!), and most talk in abstract terms. This one is interesting:

Top notes are horrible. Acrid. But after 10 minutes, it transform into a floral for men. Strong sillage, longevity is also good (around 5 hours). I was actually imagined I was taking a nap under a shady tree beyond the yellow meadow field…

What is a “floral for men?” Is it that there is a fir/resinous quality that is a bit stronger than it might be in a similar, yet “feminine” scent? If so, that is strong evidence for the claim that these notions are entirely due to “cultural conditioning” (including marketing efforts). In any case, fifteen years later David Yurman’s first scent is released, with these notes:

…mandarin, and fresh green notes of black currant leaf and petals, followed by floral notes of peony, water lily, rose otto, patchouli, exotic woods and musk.

To me, though the compositions are not the same, the underlying idea is. That is, you get the fruity quality that is not especially “feminine” and the sharp florals, though these are not as sharp in Yurman (which is an improvement, IMO)., to begin the proceedings. Then over time a base that is at least “unisex” comes forward. In Yurman, this is a woody/oudy and somewhat chemical-smelling accord. Yurman has more of a watery than fruity texture at first, but what I dislike in both is the strength of the lily-of-the-valley type notes. Also, if I want that fir/resinous quality, I can opt for vintage Ferre for Men or Nino Cerruti’s 1979 “masculine” offering without having to deal with strong florals (I generally like florals as supporting notes or to counterbalance another strong note or accord).

In Yurman, the florals eventually are balanced by the woody/oudy element, but I can’t say I enjoy this combination all that much. It’s interesting, but not all that enjoyable to me. However, I do look forward to wearing the Yurman scent again, when I think I am really in the mood for it. I don’t intend to wear Insense again (I have a small decant right now), but since my preferences have changed multiple times, I’ll keep an open mind. There are quite a few reviews of Yurman at Fragrantica, but other than mine, I’m not sure if any others were written by men! And this is just one “feminine” scent that I happen to come across at a big discout – I have no idea how many others might be similar, at least in some significant way, to Insense! In other cases, I have found some scents one might consider clearly “feminine,” such as the 2010 Mariah Carey release, Lollipop Splash Vision of Love, to be more “masculine” than Insense. Here are the notes for that one:

Top Notes: juicy mandarin, coconut and star neroli. Heart: French macaroon, purple jasmine and white peach. Base: sandalwood, vanilla infusion and creme de musk.

I’m not sure if I’d wear any of these in public, but that’s simply because I have so many to choose from there’s really no reason to do so, as I’m not a “statement-making” kind of person, at least when it comes to things like clothing, hairstyle, and fragrance. I’ll conclude here by saying that it’s likely the case that those who have convinced themselves that the good folks at multinational corporation X, Y, or Z know what they should smell like, at least in terms of “gender” (has there been a scent released that was marketed to the “trans” community yet?), are not going to sample a scent like Yurman or the Carey, but that won’t stop me from trying to “open some minds” with this blog !

NOTE: For those who don’t know, the general idea behind Insense may be said to date back at least to a number of mid/late 1970s scents: Halston’s 1-12, Devin by Aramis, and Nino Cerruti’s 1979’s “masculine.” All feature some sort of strong “green” element (galbanum and/or fr/pine), along with citrus up front and obvious florals (usually jasmine and carnation), with the usual lavender as well. And in 1992 Salvador by Salvador Dali was released, again with a similar idea. Yes, Insense goes further than those, but it’s certain not a composition one should associate with a perfumer who lost his mind! For me the problem is “wearability,” not taking “gender issues” into account, as Insense is harsh at first but really doesn’t do anything better than the others mentioned (and it’s not especially complex, which doesn’t help).

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