Category Archives: The basics.

This is where general information about personal fragrances is to be found.

Do we need to be discreet when discussing discreet scents?

On a recent Basenotes.net thread, a question was asked about “discreet” scents:

http://www.basenotes.net/threads/433269-Discreet-subtle-modern

The title was simply “Discreet/subtle modern.”  As one might expect, there were some rather questionable recommendations, such as Eau Sauvage, which is not only non-subtle, but it’s certainly not “modern.”  One person even suggested Pi, which is about as far from discreet as one can get!  I mentioned this, which seemed to offend him, and then I pointed out that if you are going to make such a suggestion you might want to ask yourself how that scent would fare if the opposite question were to be asked.  In this case, Pi would likely be suggested by many if the question involved the loudest scents that are widely available!

But the point I tried to make to the OP (and anyone who hadn’t thought of it previously) is that if you are like most people, and have a limited budget, then you might want to spend very little on a discreet scent that is “modern.”  I mentioned the $4 bottle of Cuba’s Silver/Blue (100 ml) I purchased recently.  It reminds me a bit of Allure Homme Sport, but simpler and more subtle, though of course one could spray more to achieve the desired effect (a major advantage of “super cheapos,” again, if you are on any kind of budget).  Someone took issue with my comment, at one point saying:

You’re not really asking why somebody would buy something nice for himself, are you? Yikes.

I guess some people see ‘discreet’ as being a bad thing. Not me. Not at all.

I never said it was “bad” to spend $80 or more on a scent that one likes, just that it might cause problems if another scent subsequently was desired but the budget had been “broken” on that discreet scent!  As most others might, I can go on a spending spree whenever I like, at least until the credit card is declined, but is that the standard for all such recommendation threads?  It sounds ridiculous to me, and what this person did was to set up a “straw man” argument, but he only made himself look desperate, for those who still respect logic to a large degree.  After all, if I could get a Lutens type scent at the dollar store, you can bet I’d stock up on them.  I wouldn’t say to myself, “I should buy something nice for myself, and there’s nothing nice at the dollar store.”  These are just smells.  You can either get what you want for let’s say $10 or less or you can’t.  If you can but you don’t you are wasting your money – at least admit it, for goodness sake!

My favorite approach lately to this “discreet scent” idea is to spray the back of my jacket with a scent that I think will be interpreted as “nice” by most people while I spray what I want to smell on my chest (when I go out in public), because to me the issue is the scent, not the strength.  One can always do things like spray into the air and walk through the mist to substantially lessen the strength – why not just wear what you want?  Just figure out how to make it subtle?  This brings me back to the Pi suggestion.  The person later claimed that one could simply wear Pi discreetly, which is true, but it’s not what the OP asked.  By contrast, my argument is that if one can barely smell a scent, why not spend very little on a “super cheapo” that gets the job done?  I can’t imagine that a subtle citrus/vanilla-dominant scent that is barely detectable is going to smell that much “better” if Lutens rather than Cuba released it (assuming Lutens would release such a scent)!  If it’s a tobacco-dominant scent, then by definition it would have to be quite subtle or else it would not be “discreet,” and again, Cuba has several scents that would function quite well in this context.

If one encounters an expensive, discreet scent that smells unique (and pleasant) then I think most of us would spray more, because we would not want to barely be able to spray it on rare occasion throughout the day.  Thus, it would no longer be “discreet!”  On the other hand, there are plenty of gourmand, oriental, etc. niche scents that people say are too weak, but it seems clear that the OP was seeking something like Prada’s Amber Pour Homme rather than something like Muscs Koublai Khan, and I’d guess this is the “modern” part of the request.  But this brings up another point I have made in the past, which is that if you want to ask for suggestions you should tell people what your experiences are – this person only mentioned two scents, and the obvious question is, if you found two that work for you, why not just wear those?  The OP’s question was actually:

What’s your preference in this area?

But everyone seems to have taken his post to mean what would they recommend to the OP.  For me, the suggestion would be the same.  In any case, I think there is often “subtext” to these kinds of threads, something along the lines of, “what do the people who really know great fragrances reach for when they are thinking they should smell modern but discreet?”  They don’t seem to want to know that there are really cheap alternatives, because when smells are really light not much is going to be detected – a musky vanilla is common, for example.  You don’t need to spend $400 per 50 ml bottle for that effect!  However, I do think there are more than a few people who do believe that there is a major difference between this and that very light scent of the same genre, as they may have been convinced by the marketing.  Nobody wants to admit this, though, and I’d guess that in most cases, once you have “bought the hype” it’s psychologically difficult to say to yourself, “you know, this Cuba scent would serve the same purpose and nobody’s going to be able to tell the difference, if they smell it at all.”  In many ways, life can be a constant struggle against self-deception.  For others, though, there is a preference to live in that happy land of nonsense businesses market to us all the time.  For those who have plenty of money, this may be less of an issue, but for those who don’t things can get bad in a hurry!

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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.

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Filed under Criticizing the critics., The basics.

Fake Niche versus Real Niche.

As I said in the last post, I’m not all that interested in debating the concept of niche with others.  I have my notions about what it should mean, and then there are several common concepts about it that others hold.  Here, I want to provide my sense of what niche, or at least niche-like, should mean.  It’s very simple (in my mind), because we all know there are quite a few scents that are widely available, starting (at the low end) with “drug store” scents (some of which are bad reformulations of great vintage ones), and going up to the “top” designers.  In order to compete with better-known niche companies, some designer brands decided to create “exclusive” lines, which to me should be considered niche, in terms of the marketing if not the smell itself.  By contrast, there are some “amateur outfits” like Andy Tauer or Smell Bent (as I call them), which tend to do a better job of being niche than the many of the more “professional” niche companies, in my opinion, of course.

If you read my last post you have a sense of what I think “fake niche” is.  Basically, it’s throwing a lot of iso e super, cashmeran, “white” musk” and or some other obvious aroma chemicals together with something that sounds like it should be in a niche scent, such as leather, oud, tobacco, or pistachio.  The problem, at least for me, is that the aroma chemicals overwhelm whatever “good” there is in it.  What I want from niche is a scent that is novel and enjoyable, and of course one that is not like any designer (or even “drug store”) that came before it.  I don’t want a niche version of Old Spice (I have the previous incarnation of it, Early American Old Spice) or English Leather (I have a pre-Dana version of that one), though some “authorities” speak glowingly about some niche scents that were apparently meant to be just this sort of thing (I devoted a post to that development, which I found rather strange)!

By contrast, I don’t mind if a scent does something different than vintage and is a little “synthetic” in some way.  And that brings me to another “celebuscent,” Unbreakable, which possesses notes of (from Parfumo.net):

Top Notes Top Notes Bergamot, Clementine, Green apple, Saffron
Heart Notes Heart Notes Geranium, Jasmine, Lily-of-the-valley, Red fruits
Base Notes Base Notes Dark chocolate, Tonka bean, Vanilla, Cedarwood

 

My bottle cost $11 or $12 total (100 ml with cap), and was a blind buy.  I don’t think of it as “niche quality,” but I do consider it “niche-like.”  The reason is that I do detect a slight “laundry musk” element, but because it is mild I find that it adds some complexity to the composition, whereas so much niche that I think of as “fake” contains irritating amounts of iso e super, etc.  And after a long time (I’d guess at least 10 hours), I do detect a “cheap” wood note in Unbreakable, though I’m quite surprised at how long the composition holds together (unlike some recent CK scents I’ve tried, where after half an hour or so a bare aroma chemical quality dominates everything).  On the other hand, there is a nice orange/apple element, along with some mild but detectable chocolate note.  Otherwise, I find it to be rather “tight,” which is not unexpected and fine here, since the notes that I wanted to smell are not a figment of the perfumer’s imagination.

The key point, for me if no one else, is to ask yourself what you are seeking.  You may never find a “niche version” of Unbreakable, for example (as newbies often ask about with quite a few designer scents), so are you willing to “settle” for one that is not quite “niche quality” (meaning something you’d expect from a Lutens)?  And if a niche scent with a load of iso e super is acceptable to you, why is a little laundry musk in Unbreakable a “dealbreaker?”  If the reason involves social perceptions, that’s fine with me, but then why bother to wear niche?  Most people either won’t recognize it as such or will dislike it?  The “crowd pleasing” niche scents are often mistaken for much cheaper designer ones, and ones that I’ll grant are unique (hypothetically, for the sake of the argument) are soon “cloned,” the most obvious case being Aventus.  Iso e super is not a “better” aroma chemical than dihydromyrcenol (which is found in large amounts in many “masculines,” including Cool Water) or various “laundry musks;” should people who think along these lines be called “niche snobs?”

Another example of a “cheapo” with a chocolate/cocoa note is 125 Years by Victorinox.  This one does not have any aroma chemical that could come across as “cheap,” AFAICT, and it’s composition is surely “niche-like:”

Top Notes Top Notes Grapefruit, Cardamom
Heart Notes Heart Notes Cocoa, Larch wood
Base Notes Base Notes Hay, Tonka bean

 

It’s not as strong as many niche scents of this type but at this price level (my 100 ml bottle cost less than $15 total), one can just spray more to make up for it (I don’t get much tonka, for those who dislike this note).  In some cases that may be an issue (bringing out a “chemical” quality), but that’s not the case here or in most if not all of my favorite “super cheapos.”  Yet how many who think Stash SJP is niche-like (if not outright niche) would say that about 125 Years?  Obviously, at least in the USA Stash has gotten much more publicity than 125 Years, so that might be a major reason.  However, I think another reason for some if not most who try it (and say it’s niche-like) is that the aroma chemicals in it (used in certain amounts) are now perceived as “niche” by enough people to make it something companies now know they can market as niche-like.

It almost seems as if these kinds of niche/niche-like scents were made with the notion that the vintage greats should be recreated using certain aroma chemicals rather than the typical naturals used in vintage.  That’s a huge problem, at least for me, because the reason why I have an interest in niche in the first place is because I want something simpler and without the melange of notes found in vintage (and often I often would like the lavender removed from vintage).  I don’t know how many times I’ve thought that a vintage scent would be outstanding if only the lavender was removed.  With the lavender present, it smells too much like dozens of other vintage ones!  A good example is the first Ungaro “masculine,” which I wore recently.  It’s got a whole lot of notes, but as usual, there’s that lavender note acting like it owns everything.  Replacing strong lavender with strong iso e super, for example, is a terrible idea, though of course I can’t speak for others.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t find “fake niche” to be an issue with all releases that seem to aspire to being part of the niche world (to me Lutens’ scents are “real niche,” though that doesn’t mean all that I’ve sampled are for me), but other niche companies seem to have gone in the opposite direction.  Clearly, some people agree with me, for example:

Pegasus was a scrubber for me. I agree that the almond note is nice (see also HdP 1725), but the base screams of chemicals. Pegasus smells very niche to me when first prayed, but the base smells like something I’d get at Ross or TJ Maxx, and no amount of scrubbing could get it off my skin. I was stuck with that nastiness for hours. I love the top, but the base is pure yuck. The base of Reflection is magic.

PdM tends to be heavy handed with synthetics in their bases, and that’s a shame. They seem to be only interested in top notes and performance, which leads to scents that smell amazing for a while but end up leaving you with chemical funk for hours. Well, maybe not you. But those with a ” with a superior olfactive sensibility” know what I’m talking about (sarcasm). I get that everybody uses chemicals, but I don’t ever want to smell like chemicals. Once the top notes of Pegasus wear off… Pegasus was just chemicals. Bummer. Scrubber.

http://www.basenotes.net/threads/435681-Amouage-Reflection-Man

NOTE:  I do not think it is right to cut down trees to “celebrate” anything (even putting the ecological consequences aside), but I think the picture does work for the content of this post.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Fragrance Reviews., The basics.

A Quick Note on the “Panty Dropper” scents.

So yet again, I encounter a review of Sauvage that I consider to be largely ridiculous:

I find this one hard to wear myself, maybe it’s just my skin. But when I smell this one on other people, god[darn]! I can’t stop sniffing (and yes I’m a straight guy hahaha)!
That being said, this juice only smells nice when it lingers in the air. Don’t smell to close!

Scent: 9,5/10
Projection and longevity: 10/10
Compliments: 10/10

There’s even some fat less attractive guy at my uni who wears this, and even he pulls tons of compliments from the ladies!

I agree with the lingering in the air/smells nice opinion, which is why I’d use it as a room spray for rooms, sheds, garages, basements, etc. (if I had a bottle) that I don’t stay in for too long, because it does get irritating to me quickly.  And I do use these kinds of scents, such as to spray the back of a winter coat (and I also spray a scent that I enjoy to the chest). I’ve already got so many of those scents that I certainly wouldn’t spend Sauvage money on yet another one.  Again, it seems that so many of the positive reviews are written by guys who don’t have a lot of experience with fragrances, and perhaps not with women either.  One person said she bought it for her teenage son because it smelled so good – would you want your teenage son to be approached by women who wanted to have sex with him because of the fragrance he was wearing?  I know I certainly would not (if I had a son, obviously)!

None of these people ever seem to talk about anything but “compliments” or “panty dropper” possibilities (some of the latter talk about their perception that they “get more sex” with Sauvage – make of that what you will – when I was in my late teens and early twenties there was a lot of talk but there didn’t seem to be nearly as much “action”).  There’s another issue here, which I have yet to see anyone write about, and that is what the compliment means.  Are they complimenting you for having “good taste” or are they complimenting the fragrance itself, and perhaps they are thinking that you are wearing it because the salespeople at the local mall got you to buy it?  And another question that’s worth asking is, would the women who complimented you on Sauvage give you a similar compliment if you dressed like the Austin Powers character?  Would that “get you action?”  Why not give that a shot and see what happens?

I don’t doubt that the people at Dior did their proverbial homework and formulated a scent that was targeted in its appeal, most likely the under 35 or 30 crowd, and so far it seems they have been very successful, if this is the case.  People of my “middle-aged” generation (who I know) seem to either wear too much of whatever fragrance they like (and they tend to like one, or a small number), or they not only don’t wear any, but dislike any that they can smell on other people (and none who smelled Sauvage liked it).  I don’t know what the “younger generation” is like in this context, but if commentary on just Sauvage is any indication, they really like to spray strong fragrances on with abandon (or enough of them do to make it a “social phenomenon”).  It could be that certain demographics are more interested in these concoctions, as well as their supposed “panty dropping” properties, but I think it would make more sense to get a sample, see if it “drops panties” like nothing ever has for you in the past, and then make a decision to buy a bottle, or not.  If it doesn’t, you could always try a change in attire!

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Why does “small house” niche smell different?

If you have read quite a few fragrance reviews, even on major blogs, this question is not even raised, let alone addressed.  That is, they usually talk in generalizations and often there is some appeal to emotions.  As I mentioned a while back, there was a member of Basenotes.net some years ago who wrote more than a few reviews.  In all or nearly all of them, the scent was described as “so fresh and warm,” even in cases where I thought this was not at all the case.  My guess is that he was thinking with his heart, so to speak.  In fact, the only scent I can imaging being “fresh” and “warm” at the same time would be one involving chili pepper, and that note makes me feel ill for some reason.

One thing I was thinking, by contrast, as I tried a few Andy Tauer scents and a couple of Kerosene ones recently, is that there seems to a major difference between these and ones released by the “big guys.”  These tend to be heavy, simple/crude, straightforward, etc., whereas those by major perfumers often don’t.  If we compare Kerosene’s Copper Skies or Tauer’s Lonestat Memories or Incense Extreme (which I’ve sampled recently) to something like Olivier Durbano’s Black Tourmaline, for example, the difference is striking, as BT has a transparent quality and I kind of fluidity missing in those others.  It also has a kind of shifting dynamism, whereas those others feel leaden to me.  I have also felt this leaden quality with other “smaller” niche companies such as Eva Luxe, though I have enjoyed her scents a bit more, especially Kretek.  And while reading BN reviews of Elixir by Penhaligon, I encountered this one, which is along the lines I have been thinking in some cases:

Light oriental. Those two words aren’t mentioned that often when talking about mens’ frags. Contrary to some of the negative reviews here, I find this lightness very bearable and even refreshing. In fact, I think that Giacobetti did an excellent job to meld the spices, florals and sweet notes into a very interesting fragrance. Could Lutens or Malle ever put something like this out? I think not!

I was starting to ask myself, why have so few have suggested that there seems to be an “amateurish” quality to certain niche “housese.”  And let me make clear that I don’t think this is necessarily bad (I have a Kretek decant and wouldn’t mind have more, for example), but I think the difference should be discussed more on the major fragrance sites.  It would save more than a few people a lot of money, for example, if they wanted to avoid the “amateur” type of compositions.  Then I was thinking about why this was the case.  Of course, some do not have the extensive perfumery school training, but I was thinking that there was likely “more to the story,” so I asked the fragrance chemist I interviewed several months ago what he thought, and this was his response:

You’re right to have picked out the less smooth compositions of indie/niche fomulae vs. larger outfits, which is due to something we call fixatives or blenders. These aren’t the main accords used, but rather, are added after the bulk of the work is done to smooth out the edges of a parfum and add technical properties.

Most big companies have a catalog of blender formulae that you can pick and choose from depending on the end result you’re looking for (an eau de cologne will have a different blender than an oriental, etc.) and these tend to be pretty standard amongst the larger outfits. Because of the ubiquity of the blender ingredients, you often see them printed on the back of the retail packaging as a faux attempt at transparency (as you otherwise only get to hear about the “notes” which are very much open to interpretation.)

That said, little companies can buy these from the big guys ready made, but they are not cheap and have to be purchased in huge quantities, which doesn’t always work for independent perfumers, which is to say that these folks tend to have to work a lot harder to make an idea come together, because you kind of have to use the brute force method to figure out if something is going to work, rather than slapping something together, adding a blender and then tweaking accordingly.

This also might explain why some of us, including myself, tend to prefer “cheapos” made by “big companies” to many scents I’ll call amateur niche.  However, I’ll be the first person to admit that I like more than a few of these amateur niche scents, such as some by Smell Bent.  And I certainly dislike quite a few professional niche ones, such as those that seem to contain a lot of iso e super.  Speaking of which, the SJP scent, Stash, is one such scent.  Yes it seems “professional,” but I don’t enjoy anything about it.

I posed a similar question on the Basenotes DIY Forum and these were a couple of the the responses (apparently by those who create their own fragrances):

Access to captives, lab assistants, large databases, evaluators, formal training.

… and time, experience (from the formal training), deeper knowledge of the materials, a vending and promoting structure around them, and maybe even a set of family heritage accords. Still they use a lot of Hedione, Iso E Super and Galaxolide.

http://www.basenotes.net/threads/432482-What-do-the-quot-big-guys-quot-have-that-you-don-t?p=4023091#post4023091

Note that this doesn’t mean the “pros” put more effort into a new creation; if anything it seems as though the opposite may be the case!  However, it might help to understand this apparent distinction not just for “blind buys” but also to get a sense of how the scent was composed, which is certainly of interest to some aficionados.  And for all I know Lutens and Malle might be seeking a certain “heavy” quality for stylistic reasons rather than practical ones – the scents I’ve tried from these “houses” seem more “pro” than “amateur” to me.

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Thoughts on some “super-cheapo” compositions.

A few months back, I purchased two 100 ml bottles, one being Arno Sorel’s Magman at about $5.50 and the other being Club Intense by Sergio Tacchini for about $10 (at ScentedMonkey – I have no affiliation with them).  I had never heard or Arno Sorel before, but a large number of scents are listed at Fragrantica.com.  My guess is that this is another fake “designer fragrance,” such as the apparently mythical Jacques Bogart or Jean Louis Vermeil, but that doesn’t matter to me – sometimes these “brands” represent a great bargain.  I’ll begin with Magman – the notes for that one, at Fragrantica, are:

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

And this seems to be what you get.  Here’s my Fragrantica review of it:

This is nice, quite natural smelling considering the price range, and with fairly good note separation too! You get the prune, it’s certainly spicy, and there’s a touch of wood. The amber isn’t “niche quality,” but it softens things up and adds a bit of sweetness. Sort of a “mini-me” Lutens (perhaps Five O`Clock Au Gingembre without the tea note and weaker)! The longevity is good and the projection moderate, with two sprays to the chest. I’d certainly rather wear this than much more expensive recent designer ones, that’s for sure. It doesn’t go too far in any one direction, though, which might lead to some saying it is not distinct enough for their tastes. For example, I think I’d rather wear a scent like Night Time for stronger spice or Villain for Men for an added gourmand element. What different here is the cumin note. It’s not too strong but it’s there, and if you like it, this may be a great bargain (many seem to dislike cumin notes, and they are not common). Overall it has a kind of glaze effect, with the fruitiness sort of sitting on the outer surface, if that makes sense. It just goes to show that very little money is required to produce a very nice scent! The box is good quality too, though the bottle and cap are a bit of a joke (not that I really care about that).

If you can manage the olfactory equivalent of a squint (as Luca Turin might say), you might be able to imagine a “budget Lutens” here, so that’s certainly not too shabby for $5.50!  As to Club Intense, the notes for this 2015 release are: “bergamot, black pepper and basil; middle notes are nutmeg, cypress and tobacco; base notes are amber, patchouli and cedar.”

Here’s my Fragrantica review:

I saw the notes listed and the low prices so I went ahead with a blind buy – it looks like I may be the first online person to review this! First the good; it smells nice and it’s not “chemical.” It also has very good longevity (two sprays to the chest), and the sprayer works well. The bad is that it’s not strong and the blend is “tight” (so that you don’t get well-articulated notes) and a bit “synthetic” (meaning that I don’t think you’ll ever say something like, “wow that’s a really natural tobacco note” while wearing this one, unless it’s about someone else’s scent!). And don’t expect much depth here. I think with this kind of scent it’s best to spray more than usual but let it waft up (don’t smell it close up on the skin). I’ll wear it again and spray twice as much to see how that works out, then report back. You could certainly wear this one to the office or school, and it should work in all but very hot or very cold weather. Perhaps this is the best one can expect with what IFRA is “suggesting,” for this kind of scent, going forward!

The interesting thing, when comparing the two, is how different the compositions are.  CI reminds me of some recent CK “masculines” I’ve tried – those have a lingering synthetic element that really bothers me, I think because it’s so bare (the more natural-smelling elements dissipate, leaving only this).  Also, there’s a kind of totally unnatural texture to these; I guess it might be best described as lattice-work chemicals!  CL has a touch of that, but if not smelled up close on the skin it’s very mild.  The most disappointing thing to me about CL is that has almost no depth – everything is on the surface, so to speak.  Perhaps one can compare it to going to see a 3-D movie but not being able to discern any difference when compared to a “regular” 2-D movie.

However, I decided to layer it one day after first applying Pure Havane, as that one I found to be boring rather quickly.  This worked out very well, because the two seemed to “fix” the weaknesses in each other.  I’m still not sure about Magman and CL – I guess for $5.50 Magman is worth having just as a reference point, but I was hoping for more than a super-tight blend lacking (which lacks any kind of compelling quality) from CL.  Even at these prices there is competition from scents like “low end” as Cuba Prestige and Cuba Royal!   Then there are the “re-issues” such as Nicole Miller for Men, which was originally released in 1994 but you can find 75 ml bottles for less than $4 at some sites these days!  I bought one of these and after perhaps 45 minutes it came together very nicely, representing the not list rather well:

Top notes are honey and apple; middle notes are leather, vanilla and oakmoss; base notes are sandalwood, amber and musk.

So, at these prices, I probably should be thinking that they are already were worth the cost, in terms of having different compositions available (and sometimes one develops appreciation over time, after a few wearings).  On the other hand, some have argued that it’s better to just buy a scent like Avant Garde (2011), because these represent a big step up and the price is just a bit higher.  A 100 ml bottle of AG me less than $15 for 100 ml.  The notes for it are:

top notes combine Italian bergamot, Madagascar pepper, pink peppercorn and juniper. The heart is composed of lavender, nutmeg, cardamom and beeswax. Intensive vetiver blends with benzoin, tobacco and Georgywood molecule in the base.

“Objectively,” I would have to admit that AG is better than those other three, as it is strong and enjoyable all the way through (unlike NMfM), has good depth and complexity (unlike CI and Magman), and several notes are easy to detect (unlike CI).  But this does not mean that any specific person will like AG better than any of those three – it’s just too “subjective” to speak about personal preferences.  A good example is Sauvage; other than being strong, there’s really nothing “good” to say about it from a compositional/”art of perfumery” perspective – yet it will return huge profits, apparently.  But that takes us far from the “cheapos.”  The with these is that one can keep, “why not spend just a bit more and get ________” until you get up to some price point that most would view as too high for a “cheapo.”  But since it’s a near certainly that some people will call Magman cheap junk whereas others will view it as a budget Lutens, I think the key is to distinguish between what we perceive and what we enjoy on a personal level.  Even if we agree that a scent contains a “screechy” wood note, for example, some of us can overlook that whereas for others it’s a “dealbreaker.”

And then there are some who say that they acquired quite a few cheapos because they thought they’d wear those once in a while, but hardly ever do, and simply don’t want dozens of cheapo bottles lying around.  That makes sense, but it’s more about that person’s level of self-awareness than the scents themselves.  I do wear these fairly regularly, and I do enjoy them.  Some I didn’t like much at first but then came to really enjoy (such as KISS Him), whereas others fell out of favor for one reason or another.  With some cheapos, I find myself thinking that the “quality” is much higher than one would expect for the price I paid, but even with others that are clearly “low end,” there may be an occasional wearing that is pleasant.  I wish I could buy three or four 100 ml niche bottles and not think about any others (400 ml would last me for perhaps 20 years, assuming the scents are at least fairly strong), but I get bored with compositions quickly if I wear them often.  More than a few super-cheapos aid me in this task!

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How swap negotiations can get a bit heated !

A while back I was negotiating a swap with a Basenotes.net member, and I encountered something that I found strange, but that I have heard others say.  Basically, the idea is that if you “blind” swap for let’s say a 90% full 50 ml bottle, and if it’s quite expensive and you think it smells great, you’ll be very unhappy because you won’t be able to stop thinking that once it’s used up, you won’t be able to afford to buy a bottle.  First of all, this is a really negative way to go through life.  Why not just use the scent judiciously?  You can get several years of enjoyment that way!  During that period, there’s a good chance you’ll find another at a reasonable price, or arrange another swap.  The alternative is to keep scents that you think of as mediocre, so to me this is just a ridiculous way to talk yourself out of making a swap.  But “to each his own.”

I can “live” with a large decant of something I really want and I don’t worry at all about using it up and feeling like a great loss has occurred because I may not be able to find another decant or bottle at a reasonable price, if at all.  The reason is that while there may not be an identical scent available at much lower prices, I feel that I can layer what I’ve got to achieve an effect that is close enough, for me if .  Of course, it’s quite common to enjoy a scent the first few wearings and then think it’s fairly good but certainly not special or even great.  The issue of valuation is probably the one most likely to rear its head.  In one swap negotiation, for example, I told the person (because just such an issue arose) about an experience I had several months before:

When it comes to swapping, everyone has their own way to evaluate scents, and I have tried to explain that to many BNers, not always with success. A good example is a guy who wanted to swap his 80% full 100 ml bottle of V.O. by Jean-Marc Sinan. Now I have a sample of it and don’t think it’s anything special, but I was still willing to get rid of some things I didn’t want but that he did want. He insisted on using ebay sales prices as a guide, but in the case of V.O., at that time, there were a bunch of unsold items with a few that sold a fairly high amounts. So even though I didn’t value it highly, one could still make a case that it’s probably not that easy to sell at the amounts he was valuing it at. I certainly would have swapped him for a similar scent, that is, one that has a few high sales on ebay with mostly unsold auctions, but he wanted more popular ones that were selling with frequency at about the same price levels, and he got angry at me because I didn’t value the potential swap the same way he did.

Perhaps the most absurd thing to hear in this kind of negotiation is something along the lines of, “you can get around X dollars for it on ebay,” because if that were true the person should have sold it himself and then made offers on scents he wanted (or he  could try to find a good deal on ebay, perhaps waiting a bit). I have told such people to simply pay me what I want and then sell the supposedly expensive scent (that he wants to swap me) on ebay. If he doesn’t have the money I’m more than willing to wait a week or two, holding the bottle for him/her, to see if it sells on ebay.  The key point here is that you simply can’t tell other people how to evaluate a swap.  If you don’t agree, just “move on.”

A good example of this occurred when I offered someone a whole bunch of bottles (to choose from) for his 99% full 75 ml bottle of Dark Obsession.  He wasn’t interested in the list of  40 to 50 (IIRC) bottles I offered (and I said I’d go 2 for 1 or 3 for 1 if that made sense to me), but said he’d swap for a 100 ml Acqua di Gio bottle or a 15 ml bottle of an expensive niche scent.  Here, I could have said, “well what do you want for your Dark Obsession bottle,” but on his sales page that was already listed, at $30.  The “problem?”  There were quite a few selling on ebay for less than $19 total for 4 ounce bottles (new).  I also  read more reviews and thought twice about swapping it for some of the bottle I offered him, so even if he had wanted to swap at that point, I think I would have declined (I always ask for 24 hours to “sleep on it”)!

He said that he didn’t care what the bottles were selling for on ebay, but in this case one has to ask, “then aren’t you taking advantage of someone if he/she buys it from you?  He didn’t claim his bottle to be “vintage,” and I don’t think it’s old enough for that to be an issue, but considering the cost of shipping and what he wanted, I would at least question whether his attitude should be placed in the “rip off” category.  It’s certainly legal, but is it ethical?  This negotiation didn’t become hostile, like the one for V.O.; I thanked him for his time and then he did the same, but I do wonder what such a person is thinking.  By contrast, I don’t know how many times I’ve told a person, “I won’t even try to sell this to you because the ebay prices are now so low – just go buy it there.”  I don’t want to feel that I’ve “ripped someone off,” and in these cases the monetary gain is minimal, if there is any.

I could have said to him, “well, don’t you think you should adjust your price, or at least delete your listing until the stock on ebay dries up and it’s selling at about the level you want?”  After all, don’t most people check prices on ebay, if not on ebay and several other sites?  Do you want people to think you take advantage of those who respond to your BN sales page?  In this case, the difference is significant (and I checked back to see what he did but he didn’t lower his asking price after I told him about the ebay listings).  On quite a few occasions I’ve found that people don’t understand that it’s often the case that for the other person it’s a “take it or leave it” situation.  He or she has to pay for shipping and may be “blind swapping,” so it’s possible that he/she will dislike the new scent more than the one that was swapped!

Then there is possible loss during shipping or being “ripped off,” so the person might just decide it’s only worthwhile if he/she gets a “better” deal.  This was the case for me not long ago.  I swapped a 100 ml bottle of Force Majeure for a 50 ml bottle of vintage Furyo. At the time the ebay listings suggested my bottle was worth more, but I didn’t think I’d wear it often and I wanted a vintage Furyo bottle, so I was willing to pay for shipping and get something that seemed to be worth less (taking the other risks as well).  I didn’t complain or tell the person that he should include something else – if you really want something then I suggest not getting fixated on the “ebay value,” so long as it isn’t a big difference.  Be glad that you are getting something you really want (and if you don’t really want it, you can just decline).  No need to get “hot under the collar” and begin to think that the person is a crook or idiot – just make a “yes or no decision.”

Note that even if Dark Obsession’s prices rise substantially in the near future, that doesn’t mean anything to a swap at the time you are considering it.  I’ve seen prices go up and down on more than a few scents, and one certainly shouldn’t assume a price rise on a CK product, with the huge number of bottles that likely were produced (of a non-limited edition release).  Moreover, in this case at least, even if I really wanted his DO bottle, there would be no reason for  me to give him an Acqua di Gio bottle, which isn’t difficult to sell on ebay, nor a 15 ml bottle of an expensive niche scent.  I would buy the DO bottle on ebay now, and put the bottle he wanted up for sale on ebay.  That way, at the very least, the new 4 ounce DO bottle should cost me nothing once the other scent is sold.  He gave me absolutely no reason to swap with him, even if I had what he wanted and was willing to swap it!

NOTE:  The V.O. bottle referenced in the highlighted quote was splash and the one he wanted was spray, which is yet another consideration!  My general rule of thumb is that if I want a scent, then that pays for the shipping cost, but if I just swapping to get rid of something I don’t think I’ll ever like, I want the value to be tilted a bit in my direction if the person really wants what I have (and I can live with a “vice versa” situation).  And if I really want a scent I might give up quite a bit to obtain it, the issue again being if it would make more sense to sell what I’d be giving up on ebay and then just buying the bottle new from a retailer.  Most of the time, though, it’s just two people who want to get rid of some things and have some notion that the ones being obtained won’t be as unappealing.

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