Category Archives: Criticizing the critics.

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

My favorite scents are masterpieces, but yours are not!

A few years back, a Basesnotes.net member kept creating new posts, with titles such as, “Is Egoiste a masterpiece?”  After doing this a number of times, the person “disappeared.”  Clearly, it was likely a case of “trolling.”  Not long ago, someone (for whom English did not appear to be his/her native tongue) created a similar post about Terre d’Hermes.  There are a few interesting aspects to such a post, one being the question about whether these olfactory concoctions should be considered a craft rather than “fine art” (though, ironically, the concept of a masterpiece derives from the Western craft tradition).  Should a slightly innovative composition be considered for this status (assuming one accepts the application of the masterpiece concept in this context)?  Then there is this statement, from a response on that thread:

…I agree that contemporary is also a good description for Dior Homme Parfum, and that it is indeed the better masterpiece, or pièce de résistance, if one prefers.

That’s the first time I’ve ever heard someone say that a scent is a “better masterpiece,” but it goes to show how much confusion such claims can generate.  However, the aspect I want to address here is what creating a thread of this sort implies to readers.  And yes, I understand that many people tend to get “carried away” when they first experience a new scent that is very different and that they enjoyed.  That does not, however, explain why a small number of them create new threads about their experience on a site like BN.  And if you suggest this is the case, many will apparently get angry.  How dare you rain on their parades!  Do such people ever ask themselves, “what about the people who don’t think it’s a masterpiece – how will they feel – am I essentially calling them fragrance plebeians?”  By contrast, I either like a scent enough to want to own quite a bit of it (let’s say at least 50 ml of a strong one) or I don’t.  So, why do some people feel the need to “defend” the scents they view as masterpieces?

Coincidentally, I was reading a book at the same time that this TdH thread was created on BN.  It’s called “Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents” (by psychologist Lindsay C. Gibson).  I heard it referenced and my first thought was, “my parents were about as emotionally immature as I could imagine,” so I read some reviews and decided to acquire a copy.  It is very good.  It’s concise, provides plenty of professional references (many that I encountered in the past), and “hits the nail on the head” time and again.  For those interested, I think I was spared some of the worst effects of this situation because my parents were so over-the-top immature that even as a young child I could only take them so seriously.  Thus, I didn’t develop the guilt that many others apparently do (many such parents are rigid, stern, uncompromising, etc., but mine were literally like selfish, obnoxious teenagers much of the time!).

In any case, in this book, the author brings up a concept she called role coercion:

Role coercion occurs when people insist that someone live out a role because they want them to. As parents, they try to force their children into acting a certain way by not speaking to them, threatening to reject them, or getting other family members to gang up against them. Role coercion often involves a heavy dose of shame and guilt, such as telling a child that he or she is a bad person for wanting something the parent disapproves of.

I think this is what happened, at least to some degree, on that TdH thread.  And I was wondering how many who behaved in a way consistent with this quote were raised by emotionally immature parents!  Of course, it’s clearly immature to want someone to share your tastes, but that is what emotionally immature parents tend to expect of their children.  And that would seem to be what emotionally immature people do in their interactions with others, in general.  I think the fragrance hobby is a great place to see the differences in the emotional maturity of people.  Some have become quite upset by the undeniable reality that these are just smells, for example.  And this brings me to what seems to be a major distinction, which is that some people don’t seem to have much of a concept of the self.  They use the reactions of others to provide clues about who they are or what they should think or do.  In the book, Gibson articulates the concept of mirroring:

…emotionally immature parents expect their children to know and mirror them. They can get highly upset if their children don’t act the way they want them to. Their fragile self-esteem rides on things going their way every time.

It’s funny on some level that some people care so much about what anonymous internet people think.  The more mature approach, it would seem, is to state your case and not worry about it, but many if not most seem to need a sense of engagement, as if they belong to a kind of virtual family (one wonders how much of a role this played in the last Presidential election!).  In that thread, I made the point that it’s important to respect the opinions of others as opinions, even if one did not agree with it, but that is not the way the world is seen by emotionally immature people.  They also tend to think that they can read minds, whereas since I suspected the person who created the thread might have been a “troll,” I raised the issue but did not argue that he/she must be one.

Of course I can’t say this is what the creator of the BN thread was thinking, but the thread didn’t make a lot of sense.  If he wanted to know of a scent like TdH but that many thought was superior, he could has simply asked that question!  There’s no need to make the masterpiece claim without even explaining why you think that is the case!  At least the BN member from a few years ago asked if this or that scent was a masterpiece, rather than announcing it as if he she were some sort of unquestioned authority (as emotionally immature parents view themselves relative to their children).  So, I hope that this post will help others think about what might be going on in the minds of people who make odd claims, but it also might help some recognize that their parents are emotionally immature, and so there’s no reason to blame yourself or allow them to “guilt trip” you.  That would be a much greater accomplishment than criticizing yet another “masterpiece” thread posted to BN!

And it’s not just one’s parents who might be immature.  Your boss, friend, teacher, religious leader, “significant other,” etc. might possess some of these qualities, obviously.  In fact, in that BN thread (and also on an old post of mine here), I used an analogy that upset some people, which is not common; usually people simply agree or disagree that an analogy is useful).  The context was being asked to keep trying a “masterpiece” scent until I finally “got it” (which I did with Cool Water, at least five wearing spaced across years, and never liked it, though I do like some similar ones), and so I said something like, “we don’t ask people who are heterosexual to try gay sex until they enjoy it, do we?”  Of course, the opposite would apply to gay people, though unfortunately there are still more than a few people, apparently, who actually believe gay people just need to try heterosexual sex until they finally enjoy it!  The point is that there is no reason for a mature person to react with horror at such an analogy; you either think it makes sense or you don’t.  I think it’s a great analogy because I actually tried Cool Water several times whereas I simply have no intention of trying gay sex, as is probably the case for most people who think of themselves as heterosexuals.  I guess these people can’t stop themselves from imagining certain sex acts, and if that is the case, then it’s a clear indication the person has some maturity issues to work through.

On a side note, I have been asked how it was possible for someone like myself to exist after being raised the way I was, and Gibson has a statement in her book that again seems to be spot on:

If you had an independent, self-reliant personality, your parent wouldn’t have seen you as a needy child for whom he or she could play the role of rescuing parent. Instead, you may have been pegged as the child without needs, the little grown-up. It wasn’t some sort of insufficiency in you that made your parent pay more attention to your sibling; rather, it’s likely that you weren’t dependent enough to trigger your parent’s enmeshment instincts.
Interestingly, self-sufficient children who don’t spur their parents to become enmeshed are often left alone to create a more independent and self-determined life (Bowen 1978). Therefore, they can achieve a level of self-development exceeding that of their parents. In this way, not getting attention can actually pay off in the long run.

Leave a comment

Filed under Criticizing the critics., The basics.

Why I usually don’t respond to recommendations posts.

These kinds of posts seem to be quite popular, in terms of the number of responses that are usually generated (at least on Basenotes.net), yet I am often confounded by many of those responses.  Some seem to have the “subtext” of, “welcome to our exclusive club – you must buy this $200 scent or else you are not worthy.”  I’ve addressed that kind of thing in other posts, saying that when a high school student asks about what he should wear during his Prom, suggesting vintage Kouros makes no sense, for example.

Of course, those who create such posts are often at least partially to blame,  because it’s common for not enough information to be furnished, and so they get so many different kinds of recommendations – usually, they would be better off just going to whatever local store has some testers available.  Often, they don’t even provide a general price range.  One such thread was created not long ago, with the title of, “Fragrances similar to LDDM that are more wearable?”  The original post to that thread is:

“I really like the dry down to LDDM, but I feel like the dryness before then precludes me from wearing it more/as on office scent. What are some fragrances that are similar but more wearable that I could add to my wardrobe instead?”

http://www.basenotes.net/threads/419675-Fragrances-similar-to-LDDM-that-are-more-wearable

I decided to try and “probe” the person into supplying more information with this post:

“Perhaps vintage Acteur? I’m not sure what kind of scent you are seeking, as I found it to be quite dry all the way through.”

Someone else then wrote this post:

“Please no offense Bigsly, but LDDM is one of my favorites and Azzaro’s Acteur is a total scrubber for me.
It would take someone with far more catholic tastes than I to like both.”

First, whether this person enjoys one but dislikes the other is totally irrelevant here.  Second, there is  a substantial difference between vintage and recent Acteur, the recent one having a kind of “sticky” quality that does not possess the note separation or “naturalness” of the vintage formulation.  Thus, this person did not address my recommendation – we do not know which formulation to which he refers!  His claim about “catholic tastes” suggests an attempt at being offensive after saying “no offense,” but I really don’t care – I don’t have to interact with this individual in “real life” and he can be as ridiculous as he likes in this context, AFAIC.

However, let’s get back to the person who wanted the advice.   The notes for “LDDM” are:

“The top is combined of coriander, cumin with a hint of petitgrain. The heart features rock rose and jasmine. The base includes cedar, vetiver and ambergris.”

And for Acteur these are the notes (both taken from Fragrantica.com):

“Top notes are fruity notes, nutmeg flower, bergamot and cardamom; middle notes are carnation, patchouli, jasmine, vetiver, cedar and rose; base notes are leather, amber, musk and oakmoss.”

Comments about the drydown in reviews vary, with some talking about woodiness or incense while others talk about amber.  The person who created the post seems to think that LDDM becomes less dry and presumably at least a bit softer/ambery, but the key point here is that he said he wanted something that he could recognize as similar but solved the issues he had with LDDM.  In the past I had suggested Black Tourmaline, and I would have done that here if the question was along these lines.  I asked him about vintage Acteur because there are some similarities, and IMO it’s not nearly as dry as LDDM, but it is spicy and woody.  After 24 hours, this person did not respond again to his own thread, so I just “closed the book,” but I wish others would be more mindful of what is actually being asked!

And the reality is that so often we see posts such as this very recent one:

“So i am a 22 year old college student. I’ve been looking to get some kind of fragrance just because im not a fan of scented body washes and i want to at least smell good and be a bit different. I have done a lot of research and i think ive done way too much because now i dont know what the hell to get. its like once you enter the black hole of fragrance you cant find your way out lol. For now since its winter i want something that is better for colder weather. I know i want something a little more mature than something like 1 million but i still want to retain that slightly sweeter vibe since i am in college and the girls around are in the 18-24 age range. I want something thats sexy but not a clubbing scent and still has that masculine mature vibe but has that sweetness to it that girls in my age range will like. I really lean towards D&G the one as it seems to encompass all of that and is something the girls love, but im aware its performance sucks and i do want something thats going to preform since i am a busy college student running around all day. I also obviously dont want something that everyone else is wearing like ADG and so on. I know its cheap but perry ellis 360 black is catching my eye simply due to the notes and appearing very similar to D&Gs the one based on reviews. Ed hardy villain is supposed to be close but i saw it doesnt have the tobacco which seems like it would take away that mature masculinity The one has. Anyway i would appreciate it if anyone could at least guide me in the direction i should be going because after all my research, i am all over the place.”

http://www.basenotes.net/threads/431783-Beginner-who-is-lost-in-the-black-hole-of-fragrances

Someone suggested Egoiste, which seems entirely inappropriate, but at least there were mostly reasonable suggestions.  One that was not was Pure Malt, which doesn’t seem appropriate for mature/school environments.  I think it would be best for such a person to sample at a local mall/Ulta/Sephora, but otherwise (if blinding buying is going to be done) I’d say there couldn’t be a better example of someone who should be looking for excellent “cheapos.”  I decided to not just give some advice but to also try to get my point across about inappropriate recommendations – this is my post to that thread:

“First, asking this kind of question here is bound to make you more confused, and might get a bunch of suggestions for $200+ scents that are not at all appropriate for your demographic (assuming you care about that – not everyone does). There are plenty of great and inexpensive scents, but it seems like people who come here as newbies and ask such questions usually want to think they are getting something ‘special,’ as if there were such a thing as a special smell (it’s good to see you may not be one of them!). To be sure, some smell more complex, unique, etc., but at this point the difference between the best ‘cheapos’ and really expensive scents is not vast, and personal preference of course matters to most people. So, my advice would be Police Gold Wings if you like absinthe/licorice notes (was about $10 at Notino not long ago, for 50 ml) and Magnet for Men by Eclectic Collections ($8/100 ml at Perfume Emporium not long ago).

NOTE: I have Villain but I’d be concerned about reformulations. If you can get the one made by New Wave it might work for you, though the strong sandalwood note might be too ‘old’ for your demographic.”

I’m not sure why sandalwood notes are considered “old,” but I’ve read that so many times I thought I should mention it.  I remember that when I was a newbie I created this kind of thread at least once, asking about scents with a strong cinnamon note.  I’m not sure I could even distinguish a strong cinnamon note from a strong spice note of a different type at that time, but I can’t assume someone who creates a post like this is in that same position.  To me there’s a kind of “first, do no harm” to these kinds of recommendations.  A low cost scent that seems to be much higher in “quality” than one would expect and that meets the person’s criteria is an obvious candidate.  Egoiste and Pure Malt are much more “risky,” by comparison, and such recommendations appear to be based upon that person’s preferences rather than a thoughtful consideration of what the person is seeking.

Leave a comment

Filed under Criticizing the critics., Uncategorized

No Need to Get Angry – Just Explain Your Point of View!

On Fragrantica.com’s review page for Armaf’s Club de Nuit for Men, there is this recent review:

As others have mentioned this opens with a slightly weird lemon and pine/fern note in place of the pineapple of Aventus. Some have said it reminds them of Pledge, I would say more like a car air freshener. The opening is only about 70% Aventus because of this.

Once the lemon/fern note has evaporated, it does begin to smell closer to Aventus BUT it still has this spicy thing going on that is not found in Aventus. The dry down I would say is about 80% Aventus, and for the price, that’s quite amazing.

If they replaced the lemon note with pineapple and removed the spice, this would almost be a 100% replica and no one would need to buy Aventus again.

For the money this is a quality fragrance, but like wearing a fake Rolex, it’s going to burn at your soul.

My advice; get a split of the real deal.

This reviewer did not explain his point of view, but I think it’s not difficult to discern it.  He thinks Aventus is the “real deal” and wants a “clone” that is perhaps 95% or even 99% similar (I don’t think along these lines because I know how much my sensitivities can vary, even from one day to the next, making it difficult to posit such a precise assessment).  He also is clearly concerned about the top notes experience.  As I’ve said several times in the past, I don’t take any one person’s review all that seriously,  unless it’s the only one available (and there’s an apparently good description of the actual smell) and the scent is inexpensive.  He says nothing about the drydown, other than it’s supposed to be 80% similar to Aventus, so this doesn’t help much in that context.

I’m more interested in the smell of the scent in question, and in that regard he does say it’s spicier than Aventus, which is fine with me and would likely be an improvement (in terms of my preferences).  Knowing that most who have tried this scent have also at least sampled Aventus, I wrote up this review of the Armaf:

I have forgotten exactly what Aventus smells like but this does seem very close, perhaps somewhere between the Lomani “clone” and Aventus (I haven’t tried the others). The Lomani is more smoothed out whereas this one is sharper and seems to have more dimension/complexity. However, it’s not a complex scent overall so for many the Lomani might be fine, if you want to save a few dollars. If someone wants to pay Creed prices that’s fine with me, but I can enjoy this one and don’t need another that’s quite similar, which is the way I usually judge scents when there is a vast price difference (I bought my bottle used so I paid even less than retail for it, making the difference between it and Aventus simply too wide to even consider paying Creed prices).

I could have mentioned the birch note specifically, which is quite noticeable, and has an almost burnt quality, but I just said “sharp” because my previous experience with birch notes has been a bit different, so there may be another aroma chemical at work here.  My 98% or so 100 ml bottle of the Armaf cost me well under $20 total; otherwise I would not have purchased it because I have 100 ml of the Lomani and I’m not a big fan of this type of composition.  It would be helpful if the reviewer said something like, “if you’re a huge Aventus fan I’m not sure this Armaf is going to get the job done for you, but if not, the only major issue might be the sharp top notes.”  I like that first half hour or so, actually, and I’m not a fan of strong pineapple notes (though I don’t dislike them; however, I can’t imagine wearing such a scent on a regular basis, as many seem to do with Aventus).

Moreover, a few weeks before buying the Armaf I purchased a 50 ml bottle of Fresh Pineapple, by Bath and Body Works.  The notes for that one (on Fragrantica) are:

Top notes are orange, coconut milk and lemon; middle notes are peony, pineapple, fruits and rose; base notes are sandalwood, vanilla and caramel.

This one is more of a lemon/pineapple blend, but it doesn’t have as much sharpness as the Armaf.  The drydown is rather different, though, but it might work for those who like the idea of Aventus except would prefer a sandalwood drydown with more sweetness.  In terms of what guys, especially young ones, are wearing these days, I’d certainly classify this 2007 release as “unisex.”

I’ve swapped off quite a few “fresh,” aquatic, “sport,” etc. scents over the years, and though I still have a few, I never seem to wear them.  Occasionally I’ll spray one on my ankle so that I can waft it up to my nose every once in a while yet don’t have to deal with it until I want to, and it seems that every time my thought is that it’s too “chemical” and there’s not much, if anything, to make up for it.  Sometimes I’ve sprayed these kinds of scents on the back of a coat/jacket (if the sprayer generates a nice mist effect), and I can appreciate the scent that way to some degree, but that’s only for when the weather is cooler.  The point is that I think the Aventus type scent is one that attracts the fresh/aquatic/sport scent crowd as well as at least a decent percentage of the niche/aficionado/tobacco/leather/”heavy” scent crowd, so when one reads reviews it’s important to consider this (I often point out that I’m mostly a gourmand, oriental, “heavy” scent fan).  Few will disclose their preferences in their reviews, and probably just as few will provide a good explanation about why they assess scents the way they do!

Another interesting example is a blogger’s comparison of Grey Flannel to Bowling Green.  His conclusion is that, “Grey Flannel, which is ten years older, is resoundingly superior in quality and composition.”  I have vintage (or perhaps “semi-vintage,” in the eyes of some) bottles of both these scents.  I have difficulty wearing GF, probably due to the aroma chemicals rendering the violet leaf note.  I have always enjoyed wearing BG, even though it is not as unique as GF, and this is another instance of the issue of personal enjoyment versus “artistic appreciation.”  I don’t disagree with the blogger’s general impression (other than claims about “quality,” since one would have to have “insider information” and I perceive both – that is, what’s in the bottles I possess – as being at least reasonably good quality), but not everyone is going to spray on a scent and then walk around thinking, “I really find this smell irritating but my appreciation of its artistic elements more than makes up for that!”

I think of BG as a pared down rendition of Parfum d’Homme by Claude Montana (sometimes called “red box” online), with less of a fougere accord in particular (I sampled Red before BG).  It’s still rather complex, which goes to show how “busy” the Montana is.  But the key point is that I do find myself in the mood, once in a while of course, for that BG, whereas that strong fougere accord in the Montana has led me to hardly ever wear it (over the last several years).  In the fine art world, “less is more” is not exactly an unknown sentiment!  The blogger has also called BG “cheap,” which is not my impression at all (suggesting, again, that there is a “quality issue”).  One thing I really like about it is that the pine note has been sort of tamed to just the right degree, whereas in many other “pine scents,” it’s either too weak or so strong that it’s irritating.  I’ve also found that while my preferences have changed a bit, so that I’m more drawn to sweet scents, BG has enough complexity  (and a hint of sweetness), so that boredom is preventede.  And since BG was released about three years before the Montana, it is a case where the original was not “overtaken” by later variations on this theme (Havana by Aramis was released in 1994), unlike many others!

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Criticizing the critics., Uncategorized

The High Cost of Getting a Great Deal ?

Well, I have to admit that I thought claims about these olfactory concoctions couldn’t get much stranger,  but I encountered a new one that may be the “winner” here:

We wear the frag and enjoy it, but in the back of our minds wonder, what’s the catch? Did I really just get a fresh-fruity cheapie that I like? Or am I paying for its cheapness somehow, in some manner less obvious to me, but not others?

First, I’ll point out that I’ve read on several occasions (and experienced it myself) that many of the “cheapos” from several decades ago were known to have no real top notes, and in fact to sometimes smell unpleasant for a minute or two – that was the “catch” with these, and I certainly have no problem “paying” what to me is a nearly non-existent price (since I’m not like a “Creed fanboy” who is mostly buying the scent for the top notes, which is his right and I hope he enjoys the experience).  Now the new “cheapos” vary considerably, and it’s not even clear what one should call a “cheapo” because some were selling at non-cheapo prices at places like Sephora or Ulta (an example being Everlast Original 1910), yet then had a long run (years) of selling for very low prices.  Then there are the Cuba scents, for example, that apparently were meant to sell at low prices from the outset.

In both cases, however, I would not agree with this blogger, who thinks that:

With very cheap fragrances, there’s a higher chance that the headspace off the fruit will emit something bland, clean, and nondescript. Close up, with your nose mere millimeters from where you sprayed, you may get a very complex blend of lucid accords and individual notes.

Note that “headspace” usually refers to a test that was used to construct the scent, but this person seems to be saying that if you wear some “cheapos” they will smell “bland, clean, and nondescript” to others who might walk by you and smell it, for instance.  I find this humorous because I thought that is what most people were seeking!  Moreover, I can’t remember a “cheapo” that struck me as a “very complex blend of lucid accords and individual notes” when smelled at any distance, though smelling any scent very close to the skin is generally a bad idea because perfumers construct their scents to be smelled at a distance of more than “mere millimeters.”  Of course, this kind of claim screams out for a couple of examples, but this person simply mentions a few companies, not the scents in question.  If you have a complaint about a large number of scents, why can’t you name just one or two?  I’d really like to buy that “cheapo” that smelled like a “very complex blend of lucid accords and individual notes” close up or from some other close distance!

I wonder if any perfumer would say that he/she could construct a scent that smelled like a “very complex blend of lucid accords and individual notes” up close but “bland, clean, and nondescript” from a few feet away (or whatever the claimant is suggesting).  What I have found is that some “cheapos” seem reasonably natural, reasonably complex, etc., and I’ll provide an interesting example, Magman by someone I’m guessing is fictional in this context, Arno Sorel.  The notes are listed (at Fragrantica.com) as:

…bergamot, pineapple, cumin, nutmeg, rosewood, prune, musk and amber.

In my review I said, among other things:

Sort of a “mini-me” Lutens (perhaps Five O`Clock Au Gingembre without the tea note and weaker)!

I mention this one because the blogger said “fresh-fruity cheapie,” yet later in the post states:

Cheapies like Caron Yatagan and Krizia Uomo don’t suffer this fate because their profit margin is modest.

First, how does this person know about the profit margins from these two scents relative to “cheapos” in general?  One would have to at least mention a “cheapo” in question and then provide evidence demonstrating a significant profit margin difference!  Second, why bring in two non-“freshies” in this context (and the bottles of KU I’ve had seemed to possess quite a bit of castoreum!)?  If it hadn’t been for this claim, I wouldn’t have written this post, because I have little interest in “freshies” and to me they all smell “bland, clean, and nondescript” and/or “chemical,” “synthetic,” harsh, etc. to some degree, though it depends upon how the person is using the term “freshie.”  Again, this is where some examples are crucial.  Do Creed “freshies” have nicer top notes that Playboy “freshies?”  I’d be very surprised if that wasn’t the case, but who would argue otherwise?  And so many complain about poor Creed longevity (apparently this being the case mostly for the “freshies”) that one might ask if it’s a question of smelling something versus smelling nearly nothing!  Such people are clearly buying the scent for their own enjoyment or else they would be more concerned about whether other people could smell it, and if so, what those people were perceiving.

But back to Yatagan and scents of that sort.  I’d probably rather wear Jovan’s Intense Oud or Magman, simply because to me those smell better.  I’m not wearing them for others and I wouldn’t mind it if such scents smelled  “bland, clean, and nondescript” (to other people), because most people don’t like cumin notes, Yatagan in general, and the kind of “oud scent” that is Intense Oud (I’ve called that one something like a mini-me Black Aoud by Montale)!  There is no “price to be paid” here, other than the very cheap one to buy a large bottle of these “cheapos,” assuming you like them, obviously.  Now if I didn’t like Intense Oud, for instance, and really liked Black Aoud (I dislike that one because it’s too strong/harsh) then I would have to decide whether it was worth the price.

Fortunately, I can’t remember being in a position to make that kind of decision, because I’ve been able to acquire the expensive scents I’ve sought through swapping.  There seems to be a notion in the minds of some individuals which assumes that people like myself think along the lines of, “gee, I really like scent X but I’ll settle for cheapo X clone and save some money, even though I know I’ll almost certainly regret it.”  That doesn’t happen, at least with me.  I genuinely enjoy many “cheapos” I’ve purchased, in some cases more than very similar ones that are a lot more expensive.  Then there is an example like Cuba Prestige, which is similar to A*Men.  I have bottles of both.  There’s no reason to swap Prestige because I wouldn’t get much in return and would have to pay for shipping, but if I could swap A*Men for something I wanted that cost let’s say at least $50,. then I would not hesitate to do it because Prestige satisfies my interest in this kind of scent, when it arises (perhaps once a month).

I never think that I’d rather wear A*Men instead, and can appreciate them both roughly in the same way.  This isn’t true in all such cases, of course, an example being Preferred Stock, which is a good “cheapo” version of vintage Red for Men, but it doesn’t provide what I seeking when I want to wear Red (the company claimed it contained over 550 ingredients, so it would seem to be unreasonable to expect it to).  In other cases I prefer the “cheapo” because it’s not as harsh or “chemical,” an excellent example being Dorall Collection’s Mankind Bravo, which was apparently meant to be a Kokorico clone.  Kokorico is difficult for me to wear at times because it can come across as “synthetic/chemical,” but Mankind Bravo is just right (I think I paid $6.35 total for 100 ml).  Sure, not everyone is going to devote that much time to figuring out such things, and that is what the major companies are likely “banking on” with new releases that cost $80 or more per 100 ml bottle, yet don’t seem all that unique (but can smell quite harsh, “chemical,” etc., Sauvage being an obvious example).  Of course if you are more concerned about what others think, go ahead and ask them!  I hope this blogger adds an update and clarifies his position (and offers a few examples).

In the meantime, I noticed that a Fragrantica member seems to have the opposite notion:

It is a fragrance you spray to get “Oh, you smell nice” or “Oh, you smell good.” You do not wear this fragrance to show off it’s complexity or quality of notes. It just a good cheapie to garner compliments, and with that said it is a good cheapie!!!

This is a review for Karen Low’s Pure Blanc, which I haven’t tried, but at the very least this shows that you should think things through for yourself and try to give any scent you sample a chance to impress you (or others), without assuming that the price is going to be a major factor, one way or the other.

NOTE:  One person who commented on this individual’s blog post said:

I agree with you completely on this. A few days ago, I tested Adidas Victory League. It smells nice at first but develops into a cheap and headache inducing mess. I would never wear this, but I’d use it as laundry freshener.

Again, AVL is not a “freshie;” perhaps fruity masculine oriental would be as far as one could go in a “fresh” direction with that one, but much more importantly, the blogger was not addressing “headache in a bottle” type scents!  The post was supposedly about “freshies” that smell a lot less impressive from a distance than more expensive “freshies” (with no price range nor any other guidance given).  If one reads the reviews of AVL, one does not get the impression that it is a “headache in a bottle” type of scent, but who would wear such a scent in the first place?  One wouldn’t care if it was less impressive from a distance to others if was making one ill – one would simply avoid wearing it!  And get this, the blogger had a fairly positive review of it back in 2013:

…it does remind me of Allure Homme (original), except lighter and less dimensional, sort of an Allure Lite. It’s a nice fragrance with a pleasant orange-citrus lift on top, followed by a vanillic amber, affectingly soft and clean. Again, Adidas proves that inexpensive “sport fragrance” need not be cheap-smelling and trite. If you like sporty ambers (there aren’t many), you could do much worse than this.

I more or less agree with this view, though I’m not sure what “clean” would mean here other than it doesn’t have any animalic notes.  In fact, if he used my language he might have called it a “mini-me Allure Homme!”  But the key question is, how does AVL support his claim, particularly in light of his own review (since he provided no examples, it was quite helpful that one of his readers did)?  The commenter didn’t say the scent developed into a “bland, clean, and nondescript” scent!  And the blogger didn’t say anything about highly irritating, “headache inducing” drydowns.  Thus, the blogger was not successful in conveying what it was he was trying to communicate, apparently.

And it’s also interesting to ask what the better alternative is if others think you smell “bland, clean, and nondescript” while you are wearing a “freshie.”  Would it be, “wow, you smell fresh, clean, and distinctive?”  I have never read anything online other than comments like, “you smell very nice (or very good)”or “you smell sexy” when a scent is described as a “compliment-getter,” and I have yet to get compliments of any kind, other than when I ask someone about a scent (and so they say they like or don’t like the scent itself), perhaps because I don’t use many sprays, often just one.  The point is that I find it unlikely that more than a tiny percentage of the population would make such linguistic distinctions in their commentary (assuming they say anything at all).  In any case, there is no such thing as a “cheap smell.”  Whether or not the vast majority of people in the area you inhabit think you are wearing something “cheap,” something “classy,” something “sexy,” something “generic,” etc. would require quite rigorous study.  When those results are published, I’d be very interested to see them, but in the meantime, views about what “smells good” seem to vary significantly, and the possibility that one blogger knows everything there is to know about such things seems rather remote.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Criticizing the critics., The basics.

Will somebody please make a rational argument for Sauvage?

On another fragrance blog, I was criticized (harshly; basically called stupid) for a statement I made in the Sauvage review page over at Fragrantica.com, so I’ll copy and paste that first, to provide the information necessary to go forward:

I can understand how some would enjoy this, or how they noticed many compliments (though those who tried it who I know personally said they didn’t like it at all), but you have to make a logical argument! Is this the only scent that garners compliments? The other day someone said that Mambo for Men was a great compliment-getter, for example, and buying that one instead of Sauvage will save you quite a bit of money. But let’s put money aside for a moment. ConsumerThis said: “Let’s just say it’s been a pleasure to watch that love bar pass up everything over the time…” If you enjoy Sauvage for whatever reason, why would you want to see a whole bunch of other people buying it? Do you want to smell like every other guy in your demographic? I think most people want to at least smell a bit unique when they spray on a scent. Instead, it seems like some people want to feel vindicated, as if when enough people online (and anonymous) say Sauvage is great, then that justifies paying more than you would have for Mambo, Berlin by Playboy, or any number of other “cheapos” that would make you smell more unique and might garner as many if not more compliments! And this leads me to think that many “Sauvage lovers” don’t have all that much experience, either will less expensive (non-department store) scents or with scents in general. If you disagree with me, please make a reasonable argument – I’m really interested to hear one at this point. Thanks.

I’m not sure what there is to criticize in this comment, but I have a feeling that some people have at least somewhat “lost their minds” with Sauvage, even those people who may not like it much, if at all!  Why?  At this point, all I can think of doing is listing relevant things that are facts or “semi-facts” (see my recent post about that, if you don’t know what I mean):

1.  It can’t be argued that there is nothing like Sauvage because one can say that about any of these concoctions.  What one can say is that a particular scent is quite odd, such as Secretions Magnifiques, but there are few such examples among designers.  From what I can tell, Sauvage may have more ambroxan than any other scent marketed to the general public that also reaches a huge number of people (compared to say an obscure niche company).  However, that’s not something the apologists seem to be highlighting in their “defense” of it.

2. It can’t be argued that Sauvage is less expensive than niche, making it some sort of bargain, because A. that’s not even true (50 ml Smell Bent scents are $50, last time I checked, for instance), and B. that would only matter to those who want a huge amount of ambroxan in a scent, and again, I can’t remember anyone making that argument (if there is one, that is obviously an “exception proving the rule” situation).

3. There are a huge number of scents that are very inexpensive and seem to have a similar construction and purpose, Berlin by Playboy being an obvious example.  I don’t like Berlin much, which cost me around $5 for 100 ml, but I do think the very different Magnet for Men is quite enjoyable and an obvious “crowd pleaser,” with no “chemical overload” aspects  – quite “natural smelling,” IMO, and that cost me around $7 for 100 ml.  When it comes to the Sauvage type of scent (that is, with a clear marine quality), I’d rather wear Horizon, so that I at least get some vintage complexity and naturalness, for those interested.

4.  If you enjoy Sauvage, that’s great, but it’s just one scent among perhaps 2,000 released just this last year alone!  If you claim that you want to smell unique, how can you not consider several of the other hundreds of “masculines” released recently?  You have to be content to “smell like every other guy.”  That doesn’t bother me at all, though I just happen to rarely wear those kinds of scents.  However, this does eliminate one major reason why people say they want to spend $80 or so (or more!) on a 100 ml bottle, rather than just using a deodorant and/or body spray (or “cheapo” EdT like Berlin) that “smells nice.”

5. If you don’t mind “smelling like every other guy,” that’s fine, but then why spend so much?  Why not just get a scent that is an excellent “compliment getter” but is a lot cheaper?  One reasonable response is that the person doesn’t want to spend the time doing the research, going to stores that might or might not have testers, etc., but again, I can’t remember one person saying something like, “I’ve heard all the online commentary, so I really wanted to try Sauvage, and when I did, I found that I liked it, and I really didn’t want to do any more testing or research at that point.”  As things stand, it seems that “online hype,” or whatever one wants to call it (along with ignorance in many cases), is determinative for nearly all of the positive reviews, directly or indirectly.

Let’s face it, if you are the kind of person who reads/writes reviews or posts about these olfactory concoctions, then you have bought into “hype” to some degree (including myself), in some way, but that doesn’t mean at least some of these scents don’t deserve the hype!  How many movies were you “hyped up” to see but then were quite disappointed?  Or lived up to it?  And for how many other things does this apply?  This is a normal part of humanity, it seems.  There’s nothing to be ashamed of here, unless you become obstinate and make claims that are clearly unsupportable.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to just go to the local mall and buy a scent at the department store fragrance counter – why not just leave it at that?  Why feel that you need to go online and “defend” the scent?  Dior must be making huge profits on it, so you don’t need to “help” them (so many seem to think that by praising Sauvage they are doing the equivalent of standing up to a bully!).  Why not just let the scent speak for itself?  Some people spend hundreds on a 100 ml (or less!) bottle and think it’s a great deal while others don’t want to spend more than perhaps $15 or $20 on such a bottle – if someone tells you that you might like a $5 bottle of Berlin, why not say something like, “thanks for the tip – if I can find a tester I will?”  If Berlin is likely to “accomplish” more or less the same thing that Sauvage does, shouldn’t you be glad?  Why reduce everything to some sort of illogical “zero sum game?”  And if you took the time to write a review, you can take the time to  explain your decision-making process!

If you haven’t read many of my recent posts, I’d like to mention here that it will be interesting to see what happens in the fragrance industry, because there are so many companies marketing inexpensive scents that are very similar to expensive ones (meaning around $80 or more at the local department stores) and are “good quality” (at least in the drydowns) one has to wonder if this all falls apart for the “major” companies.  Of course, the success of Sauvage would seem to be evidence to the contrary and perhaps another variation on the old saying, “nobody ever went broke overestimating the stupidity of the American public.” It may be that the top notes are what closes the deal, so to speak, especially at department store counters (as some have said for a while now), but these days (with the internet resources available), the only thing stopping someone from most likely getting a great bargain is their desire to do something else instead of a bit of research.

NOTE:  For an example of someone who seems to be the kind of person who would think that spending $80 on a 100 ml bottle of fragrance is ridiculous, there is this review of Trump’s Success on Amazon.com:

OK I’m not a huge fan of Trump ego but boy boy boy I know this fragrance here will get me alot of compliments from the ladies. I’m a huge cologne fan own over a 100 bottle this will most definitely be a signature scent. To put it bluntly it have a citrus blast of Nautica Discovery when you sniff yourself and then a crossover of Avon Driven Black if your familiar with those scents it’s in one here. I smell successful when you leave the room people will definitely know you been there…

I tried Driven Black a long time ago and didn’t think much of it, but in any case it sounds like Success might be similar to Cuba’s Silver Blue, which is selling for about $4 for 100 ml now at ScentedMonkey.  I would have bought it but I can’t just buy every “cheapo” at this point or else I’d be tripping over these bottles!  But even on this “cheapo” level there may be better deals – the “super cheapos” – it’s all about how much effort you want to put into it, and also there may be no testers available locally, meaning that you need to decide if you want to “risk” a blind buy.  And so, as I’ve said before, you should just make your own decisions.  Don’t think you need to justify your preferences or motivations when you buy a bottle.  But if you feel the need to do this, consider making an argument that can withstand some scrutiny.  Don’t assume everyone else shares your decision-making process.  I know I’m likely “preaching to the converted,” but I’d like to make sure my views are clear on the subject.

UPDATE:  Since my last post on the Sauvage review page at Fragrantica, nobody has written a review there that addresses my points.  This review, written after my comment, is a good example of a “thoughtful” one that is worth examining:

There is nothing wrong with this fragrance but there is not groundbreaking either. it smell good but kind of generic after the initial blast calms down. Longevity and projection are both good which is a plus. However i think most people are disappointed with this fragrance because they expected more from a house that came out with the Fahrenheit and Dior Homme series. At the end of the day it serves it purpose though; an easy wearing fragrance that can be mass marketed. It has become quiet popular here in toronto as every department store i walk into is really pushing this one.

Of course I don’t agree that it is “easy wearing,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case for most of the “younger generation.”  However, most importantly (in my view) is the notion that it “serves its purpose,” because that can be said of deodorants, body sprays, and much less expensive EdTs.  So, again we encounter yet another  reviewer who does not address the issue of price.  Is he rich?  Does he not have the time and/or motivation to do some research?  We don’t know, but it’s really his responsibility to tell us if he’s going to make such statements.

 

 

10 Comments

Filed under Criticizing the critics.

Science and claims about “modern perfumery.”

As a non-science teacher/professor I was surprised that so many students, including ones with majors in a scientific discipline, were more or less “clueless” about the scientific method.  Of course, scientists are not legally bound by it, and I’ve come across a few who really didn’t understand it, so it’s not surprising that students didn’t!  Moreover, one can argue that science is whatever gets into a science textbook that is used at a major secular university, but when one crosses a river by bridge or is considering a surgical operation, one hopes that there is more to it than that!

A book by Thomas S. Kuhn is (or was) considered to be the seminal work on this subject:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Structure_of_Scientific_Revolutions

I’ll sum it up here.  First, there is a hypothesis, generally put forth by someone with “credentials” (though of course this was not the case before there were any institutions that could provide such credentials).  It should not be put forth on a whim, but after examining all the evidence available.  The person tests the hypothesis, and if there is any inconsistency it must be reworked or abandoned.  If it passes this test, it can be presented to other scientists, at least some of whom should do their own testing to see if indeed it doesn’t appear to be refutable.  Even if it passes that test (and then likely would be regarded as a theory), it can always be refuted at some point in the future.  Thus, there is no certainty in science.  Note that the world being spherical is not a scientific theory, but an empirical observation, which might be used to construct a hypothesis.  The reason why it is spherical requires a scientific hypothesis, assuming you are not guided by some kind of magical/supernatural belief rather than science.

One problem is that many claims cannot be tested, and today many notions regarded as “settled science” are based upon computer modelling and other lines of evidence (such as mostly human-driven global climate change).  In fact, the modelling for climate change includes a small percentage possibility of “existential disaster,” meaning an end to most if not all human life on the planet.  That’s not something, for whatever reason, one hears in the “mainstream media.”  In such situations, the “conservative” position would seem to be not to take such chances, since there is little to gain from it (other that perhaps more profits for those millionaires and billionaires in the fossil fuel industry).   Another important point is that experiments must be properly controlled, meaning one needs to test for any variable that could possibly be at work.  Sadly, I’ve seen situations where this was not done, even though it was inexpensive and easy to do, because the researchers assumed that those variables couldn’t possibly be relevant (they seem to do this because they tend not to question “textbook dogma”)!

Turning to “modern perfumery,” there are some interesting claims that exist in the online community.  One is that some of these olfactory concoctions (in sealed bottles), created by professional perfumers and almost always highly synthetic, could change within less than a year’s time and become much stronger, yet still smell the same!  In this instance, it’s a scientific claim, as all the variables can be measured.  Those who have asserted this claim have provided no evidence for it other than personal experience, which of course is why the scientific method is so important in the first place (that is, people tend to believe things about their perceptions that are simply false – Aristotle, for example, made various and rather simple claims that turned out to be false, such as why certain objects float in water while others sink).  At least one person mumbled something about “maceration,” but this is done by the perfume companies so that there is little if any change once the bottles are put up for sale to the public (certainly within the first couple of years!) – and that’s almost entirely about the smell rather than the strength.

There certainly can be very minor changes within the first couple of years, but nothing that would lead to a much stronger smell that is also perceived by most to be similar if not identical to what the scent smelled like originally.  Now the chemicals and naturals used to make nearly all of these concoctions are well-known and it’s mostly about variations on a theme at this point in history.  Just read the ingredients on a bunch of boxes and you’ll see the same ones, over and over again, listed.  Thus, if someone thinks that linalool, vanillin, and this or that essential oil are going to produce this effect, let him/her go ahead and make that claim.  You can’t say something like, “I predict something bad is going to happen this year,” and then when something does, as it certainly will, claim that it was a scientific prediction.  Your hypothesis must be precise.  In this case, one should be able to identify exactly what is going to occur within the first year that will lead to a stronger but otherwise identical scent.  And remember, it is the aroma chemicals that are nearly always responsible for the strength of a scent, at least beyond the top notes (and naturals being the main strength factor in a scent’s top notes is likely true for very few), so if you are smelling the usual molecules like linalool and vanillin when you first buy the scent there would have to be more of those to produce a stronger scent.  Where would these molecules originate?  What process could possibly create more of those in a sealed bottle?

Science has a technology to measure these molecules, MS/GC, which provides researchers with a graph showing the amounts of these molecules.  One simply can perform the test before and after the perceived significant strength increase.  It’s neither difficult nor expensive, in terms of scientific testing.  If the claim were accurate, in fact, it would be of especial interest to perfume companies, because it would mean they could save quite a bit of money, just as if you could put gold flakes in a sealed container (with some perfumer’s alcohol, linalool, etc.) and come back less than a year later, then lo and behold, you have more gold!  Instead of thinking such things through, though, some people prefer to mock those who point out how ridiculous (and truly worthy of mockery, presumably) this kind of claim is!  Even with wine, where the product is largely if not entirely natural and more chemical reactions occur after the bottle is sealed, the winemaker has a good idea about when to put the product on the market and how long it should be “aged” before opened.  For example:

http://www.extension.iastate.edu/wine/w-aging

Imagine if you could buy an expensive wine and figure out how to make it stronger over time without any other changes occurring (sealing it yourself with one of those vacuum devices that are cheap and effective)?  You could then dilute it with water and save a lot of money!  Isn’t it likely that winemakers would have figured this out already?  Perhaps this largely “boils down” to self-awareness.  That is, some people simply can’t seem to imagine that their sense of smell is so malleable, even if those whom they criticize have cited scientific evidence on that point!  New research suggests the opposite is true, that is, we are much less aware of “reality” than we’d like to think.  One book on this subject is “The Master and His Emissary” by Ian McGilchrist, for example.  And this is quite interesting:

According to Morsella’s framework, the “free will” that people typically attribute to their conscious mind — the idea that our consciousness, as a “decider,” guides us to a course of action — does not exist. Instead, consciousness only relays information to control “voluntary” action, or goal-oriented movement involving the skeletal muscle system.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150623141911.htm or

http://news.sfsu.edu/consciousness-has-less-control-believed-according-new-theory

Perhaps a major issue in this context involves emotions, which aren’t well understood either (one example I use is the guy who gets angry at how “emotional” his wife supposedly is, but he fails to recognize that anger is a strong emotion!).  For example:

“If you get a warm, fuzzy feeling after watching cute cat videos online, the effect may be more profound than you think, according to research. The Internet phenomenon of watching cat videos, from Lil Bub to Grumpy Cat, does more than simply entertain; it boosts viewers’ energy and positive emotions and decreases negative feelings, investigators say.”

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150616093357.htm

So it may be that believing in all kinds of apparently magical notions about fragrances makes people feel “warm and fuzzy,” whereas thinking that their sense of smell may be may be like Heraclitus’ river (“one cannot step in the same river twice”), generating negative emotions, perhaps rather strong ones!  Thus,magical notions certainly may be psychologically helpful, but science can’t help you understand the world if you allow emotions to rule the day!

NOTE:  Le Labo has a statement about maceration:

All our perfume concentrates are maturated for more than 2 months, enabling each raw ingredient to fully equilibrate within the formula. This is an important step in assuring that the fragrance has settled into the olfactive perception desired by the perfumer. Maceration usually follows maturation and begins when the essential oil is mixed to alcohol. Raw ingredients need to equilibrate with its new host. Le Labo products are freshly weighed at order, in front of you for you. The oil will macerate over a product specific period that can last as long as 2 weeks. Slight olfactive evolution can occur within this period.

As is pointed out, this process is mostly about how blended the scent will be, not about how strong it will be.  Moreover, almost all of these concoctions are largely perfumer’s alcohol (about 90% or more is common).  However, some people seem to prefer living in a magical kind of world, presumably, and so they make up silly arguments.  Notice how when challenged they have no interest in doing the obvious things they could do to demonstrate scientifically that they are correct!

UPDATE:  A recent review of Aventus (at Fragrantica.com) is yet another example of this alchemical notion:

…all this talk about reformulation and longevity i ll give you my personal experience with my 2015 batch. honestly when i first got it i thought it was a fake bottle because i was getting 2 hours of longevity and zero projection. it was also all vanilla pineapple with no birch. fast forward 5 months i have about 85 percent of this juice left and let me tell you even two spray is too much with this stuff. i get the nice fruity top with the ashy smoky woods in the drydown. i can smell this stuff even after a shower. dont know exactly what happened but i ve read others with similar experiences.

At least in this case the person realizes he wasn’t smelling the notes in the same way, but the notion of a magical change to make it much stronger remains.  When I was a newbie, this was the experience I had with Jacomo Rouge. I couldn’t smell much of anything beyond the top notes but then some months later I was able to detect the sweet sandalwood drydown.  As the old saying goes, “you mind might be playing tricks on you!”

UPDATE #2:  One blogger who has argued that these concoctions (in sealed bottles) can get much stronger, claiming that oxidation is the cause (though a fragrance chemist I spoke to recently told me that was ridiculous) has continued to advance this belief:

…I’m going to go ahead and say that no, this isn’t my imagination. My Kouros got stronger – much stronger. And that’s a good thing, especially with less than an ounce left until I’m spritzing fumes.

Here is a scientific paper on the subject which sheds some light on the chemical reality:

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…

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15932583

If you aren’t aware, limonene and linalool may be the most common components of the kinds of scents most aficionados wear, and they are not used in tiny amounts most of the time either!  However, preservatives are used (BHT is common, and quite strong) to prevent deterioration of the scent.  Moreover, there is always a little air in the common sealed bottles (so that if air exposure was a major issue, all scents would “spoil” quickly), and using even an ounce in a three ounce bottle is not going to make any major difference in this context.  The researchers did not disclose in the abstract if preservatives were used in their study, but it would have been counter-productive for them to use any (and it would have been academically inappropriate not to mention it).  Evaporation can make a scent a little stronger, if that evaporation is extreme, which would mean something like a three ounce bottle containing perhaps a couple of ml, nearly all three ounces evaporating.  However, the fragrant portion also evaporates, so where is this extra strength supposed to originate?  The evaporation in a sealed three ounce bottle of Kouros, for example, even if it amounted to a few ml with two and half ounces remaining, would be insignificant (and in most modern, sealed bottles evaporation will be nearly nothing), in terms of making the scent significantly stronger.

Certain scents could change due to poor storage and smell “off,” but that is almost always just a top notes phenomenon (I’ve got a few bottles with this issue – they smell like varnish for a little while – all are splash bottles, IIRC).  Perhaps the most interesting implication for this blogger’s claim is that one could more or less turn lead into gold!  That is, you could buy bottles of Chanel No. 5, Shalimar, etc., then decant them into bottles without putting the top on (you could use coffee filter paper and a rubber band to keep dust out).  After a few months or so, you would have something much closer to a Pure Parfum, Extrait, etc. formulation, which costs a whole lot more!  And according to him, you’d only have to give up something like a quarter or half ounce of your three ounce bottle (even if it was a 1.5 ounce bottle you would be getting quite a good deal, especially with vintage formulations, presumably – due to “better” ingredients with many of these).  So, whether he wants to admit it or not, in the fragrance market, his claim is “alchemical,” for all intents and purposes!  Note that in all the Kouros bottles I’ve had since 2008 (at least 7, and all with”chrome shoulders”), one spray to the chest was either strong or incredibly strong, depending upon my sensitivities at the time (some where half full 100 ml, 80% of 50 ml, nearly full 50 and 100 ml, etc.).

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Criticizing the critics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thick_description

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

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

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

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/06/21/482922838/even-a-small-meal-for-a-doctor-can-tip-the-balance-for-a-brand-name-drug

Here is one relevant excerpt:

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Criticizing the critics., The basics.