Tag Archives: luca turin

A Status Report: Time for some wine?

Image result for red wine

Since the last post, nothing has changed, other than learning how to better deal with my olfactory situation.  Back in 2008, I was dealing with severe hypersensitivity, so it’s not like these kinds of odd issues are new to me.  I can still smell (for more than a short period of time) and appreciate some scents, vintage Kouros being one of them  (and the other day Marbert Homme wasn’t bad).  The main issue now is that most of the scents I can smell for a while are coming across as too crude or “chemical.”  I wore Mitsouko EdP today (a recent formulation) and was able to catch some wafts on rare occasion, but my main response is, “yes, that’s somewhat nice, but I’ve smelled it before and it’s not doing much for me.”

Perhaps it’s just a “natural” progression with most hobbies of this sort.  I have had other that I no longer pursue, and I can find interest or amusement in discussing those once in a long while.  Fragrances aren’t that “far gone” for me at this point, but I do feel that to some degree it’s a “been there, done that” perception most of the time.  This led me to pursue a somewhat similar hobby, red wine.  In the mid-1990s I became interested in it due to the claims about the health aspects to drinking it.  I didn’t want to drink too much, though, because the claims seemed to be “all over the map” (which seems to still be largely true today!), so I would drink a few tablespoons of an organic red wine with one or two meals a day.  By about 2000, I had tired of it, and instead, drank white tea (other than water), though I “experimented” with other “teas,” such as Rooibos.

This time around, I had an idea in mind.  I don’t think drinking more than small amounts of alcohol are healthy, so that was one criteria.  One option is non-alcoholic beers or wines.  The beers seem to be fairly close to the “real thing,” but that doesn’t seem to be the consensus on wine.  Moreover, non-alcoholic wine isn’t cheap relative to alcoholic wine that isn’t “box wine bilge water.”  Of course, I could drink fruit juice, or a combination, but I find them too sweet, too “thin,” and/or something else that is not appealing.  I also don’t mind drinking filtered water.  The key thing is that I was curious to learn about red wines and see what my perceptions would be like, given the situation with fragrances.  So, I started doing research and watching Youtube videos on the subject, along with doing some tasting.

To make a long story short, as they say, I discovered that I enjoy dry red wine that have at least fairly strong tannins.  As with tea, tannins generate a dry sensation, but there was a context.  I found that there is evidence that such wine can be healthy, but for the alcohol:

A study conducted on a group men with heart disease tested the effects of regular wine, non alcoholic wine and gin (as a control) for a period of time. Of the three drinks tested, the men showed measurable improvement when they drank non-alcoholic wines…

The Surprising Potential of Non-Alcoholic Wine

Now when I said I like dry red wine high in tannins, I didn’t mean to drink “straight,” but rather to mix in with fruit juice (cranberry and orange, along with the dry red, seems to be one of the better combinations).  In this way, the wine prevents the juices or juices from being too sweet and also imparts a “finish” to the beverage, which means the pleasant quality lingers for quite a while.  The red wine makes up perhaps 25% of this beverage, and I can drink an ounce or so throughout the day.  The wine contains around 12-14% alcohol, so if you “do the math,” you can see that very little alcohol is consumed this way.  I plan on doing more such “experimentation,” and this has replaced my fragrance interest to some degree, though there is some overlap.  For example, while it doesn’t mean much to me in the traditional wine connoisseur context, swirling the wine around and then smelling can be interesting.  One time I got what seemed to be a violet note.

There are a lot of similarities between the two “online communities,” as you may have guessed.  In both, you can spend a small fortune or find “super cheapo” deals that work for you (or me, at least).  There are “experts” who people like to talk about, as well as arguments about quality deterioration, mega-corporations trying to buy everything they can, regulations, which Youtube reviewers are worth watching, etc.  Fakes are also a major issue, though not for the “low end” wines the vast majority buy.  And just as some use “bad” fragrances as room sprays, wine is often used in cooking.  I found, for example, that combining ketchup, mustard, ground rosemary, salt, and dry red wine makes quite a nice dip (I usually dip cheese in it).  On the other hand, I can’t remember when it was I last read about a fragrance that seemed like it would be of interest to me – with wines, though, it seems to be more about assessing them relative to notions of certain qualities.

By contrast, those buying fragrances often seem to be seeking something novel, and to some degree this does occur (new aroma chemicals are invented or used in much larger amounts).  On a positive note, because I have so many fragrances (including plenty of samples I have yet to try), I do find it satisfying to see what my latest perceptions are, even if I don’t get the hours of enjoyment I used to on most days.  Could this be a kind of expected “evolution.”  After all, didn’t Luca Turin say that he mostly wears New York by Parfums de Nicolai?  From his writings, I don’t get the sense that he wants to wear many other fragrances, but instead that he prefers to sample on paper.  I don’t know if I would enjoy wearing vintage Kouros every day, but there could be personal variations, and I think I would enjoy wearing it every few days, if not more often.  Of course, if someone paid me to sample a few fragrances on paper each day, I would be more than happy to accept that offer!



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A reviews of reviews: I Puredistance.

Image result for i puredistance

My idea for this “review of reviews” (and I might do more of them – let me know what you think) is to give readers a sense of how I try to determine if I should try to obtain at least a decant of a scent I’ve never sampled.  However, I think there will be more interesting insights to come of it; you can just for yourself.  On another level, though, I think that I may have gotten to the point where I find how people perceive these olfactory concoctions to be more interesting than the scents themselves, with perhaps a few exceptions.  I want to start with I by Puredistance because it’s the first fragrance reviewed in the 2018 edition of “Perfumes: The Guide,” and it was given a 4 star review (by Luca Turn).  In that review, what he learn of the actual smell is that it’s a smooth, fresh powdery, abstract floral.  We also learn that the ingredients probably cost a lot, it is of a “classical” style, and that the perfumer was Annie Buzantian, whom LT considers one of today’s best perfumers.

What we don’t learn is if he will wear it sometimes, if he thinks it has “unisex potential,” at least for some male demographics, and what fragrances that cost a lot less it is similar to (and I’m sure more than a few readers would like to know these things!).  Over at Fragrantica.com, we can learn a few more things about this 2007 release:

The perfume opens as top note with a fresh, ozone-tangerine blossom blend with a hint of cassis, complemented with neroli bigarade and crisp watery nuances.

The heart of the fragrance warms to a sophisticated, modern blend of magnolia, rose wardia & jasmine; parmenthia & natural mimosa, before finally settling softly into the rich classical notes of sweet amber, vetiver and white musk.
The perfume extract contains 32 % perfume oil.

So, does LT want to smell this himself on at least a fairly regular basis?  What about on his wife?  Or other women?  Or children?  Or pets?  Could it be used as a room spray?  How about spraying it on a card, putting that card in a zip lock sandwich bag, and taking it out now and then, if you like it so much?  But my first question to him might be, who is going to want to buy a very expensive “late-sixties” type green floral scent who doesn’t already own one that is “good enough?”  But for the moment, let’s now turn out attention to the Fragrantica reviews, one of which provides us with a sense of the rationale for it (if you aren’t poor):

This perfume is definitely perfect for any special occasion. I would suggest this perfume for wedding, opera, ballet, meeting with important persons, etc. And this perfume is not just really nice, but it also lasts all day.

“Soapy” seems to be a popular way of describing it, for example:

…opening with its bright, fresh combination of neroli, orange and other white flowers: very natural and uplifting! It dries down a little more soapy…

Now what’s interesting about this to me is that the other day I was wearing Jaguar’s Excellence (the EdT), thinking (again) that the drydown is something I would expect from a niche scent.  The notes for that one are:

…grapefruit and mandarin combined with pink pepper. A heart provides floral notes of lily of the valley, iris and orange blossom, to warm you up and to enrich warm and cuddly base notes of vanilla, amber and tonka.

So what could I get from the Puredistance scent that I couldn’t get from Excellence (which cost me around $7 for a 100 ml bottle)?  There could be a touch of galbanum to create a green quality, though I might not like Excellence that way (and I could buy some galbanun, which isn’t expensive, and add a bit to a decant of Excellence).  What about Halston’s 1-12?  if you have patience you can get a vintage bottle on ebay for very little (as I did a few months back), and then you’ll get a green floral scent of a “classic” style.  If you are male, you might prefer these more “masculine” compositions.  Speaking of male perceptions, one Fragrantica reviewer who is also a long time Basenotes member said this about the Puredistance scent:

High-end anti-aging cream type of smell. Inoffensive watery/ozonic floral that’s nowhere close being even barely distinctive or interesting. Not to talk about the overall ozonic vibe.. Is this what you’d expect from an over 2000 bucks fragrance?

Do you like this smell? Get a Carita face cream. It’s cheaper and, at least, it moisturizes.

Now I’ve also got vintage White Shoulders, and White Linen (not that I wear them), along with Teint de Neige, along with a “masculine” that possesses this floral creamy/lotion with citrus type quality (Yang, by Jacques Fath), but I rarely wear them.  Why would I even bother to try a free sample of I?  And even if I liked the composition and thought it was unique relative to what I already own, it’s likely I could use layering to create a similar effect (does LT talk about layering at all in the book?).  And then when I look at the other reviews in the free Amazon preview for this book, I see that most were given 3 stars or less (5 is the highest rating).  My biggest criticism of this review, though, is that if this is a “classic” scent, then why can’t LT which ones form the 1960s (or 1970s, or 1980s, etc.) that it is similar to?  That would really help those who might want such a scent and also have the patience to look for a bargain on ebay or at a local garage sale or thrift shop.  Again, I get the sense that he and his wife are not considering the fact that most fragrance hobbyists are not millionaires.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






Filed under Criticizing the critics.

“Tools” you can use to understand a fragrance.

Luca Turin has used the word raspy to describe a certain quality that some fragrances possess. Reading such descriptions, as well as trying to understand fragrances on my own terms, I’ve developed my own terminology. The basic idea is to think of the effect a fragrance has on your “mind’s nose,” or however you want to describe how we perceive fragrances, rather than thinking about how you think it smells. When we think of how it smells, we are really thinking in our own world of olfactory experience. It’s not at all objective. When I read reviews in which the person states that a fragrance smells like nail polish, hair spray, “perfumey,” a men’s room, etc., it’s clear that this person has yet to overcome this obstacle (unless it’s meant as a joke, of course).

When I smell a fragrance for the first time, I first want to know what the dominant notes are. If there is a note pyramid you can find, that might help, but it’s good to read some reviews as well, because sometimes listed notes are very weak. If you are a “newbie,” you may not know many notes, so the note pyramid can only help after you study the fragrance. You do this by considering the effects that are produced. Open a bottle of ground cinnamon, for example, and think about what it feels like when you breathe it in. I describe this as richness and verticality (it’s also dry). It feels like the scent is “thin,” but it goes right up your nose, almost like being stabbed, though in a nice way, if you can imagine that. Some fragrances start off this way, but are not nearly as pleasant. In that case, you might not like the particular notes, or else it might be that it’s so vertical that it almost feels like really being stabbed !

Now think of a very musky scent. Is that rich or vertical? No, but it is full, it has “body.” It may be a little vertical and a little horizontal, but not to the point of being irritating. Floral notes often have quite a bit of body. Some aren’t very vertical, but they may be quite horizontal, which means that it feels like your nose is being pushed open on the sides. Amber-dominant fragrances (often with amber in the name, such as Ambre Sultan) possess a great deal of body, though they may not be especially horizontal. On the other hand, molecules that generate sweetness generally lack body, as well as richness, but do have verticality.

Lastly, there is texture. Notes such as oakmoss, leather (certain kinds), iris/orris, orange blossom, etc. possess strong texture. Some also possess at least a bit of richness or body, but they can contain a lot of texture. Generally, theses kinds of notes are horizontal, but some can be vertical too (“raspy” orange blossom is a good example). Lavender is very common in “masculine” fragrances, as are strong herbal notes, and my guess is that this is because they furnish the “rough” texture many perfumers think of as a masculine trait in personal fragrances. The fougere accord (lavender and coumarin) possesses reasonable body and texture, though not much richness. Often, this accord is buttressed by geranium, which provides more body and texture, and a bit of richness. Usually, some spice is added for richness (as well as citrus, in the top notes).

The main thing to understand is that you can ask yourself questions when you first sample a fragrance. This works best if you know the most commonly-used notes, but you can try to correlate what you are smelling with note pyramids, if you can find them (fragrantica.com is probably the place to start). Once you start thinking this way, you can quickly focus on certain effects you feel, and then ask yourself what notes may be responsible. Unless it’s an usual note, you should be able to identify it fairly quickly after you try this technique a few times. You might want to write down your general ideas about very common notes, just to force yourself to think about the effects you experience. For example, you might write: “Vanilla is rich but has little body or texture, which is why it’s often combined with something “ambery.” It has some verticality but not much horizontality.”

An “advanced concept” that you may or may not want to consider, is separation (note separation). Some have it and some do not. Generally, the ones that do not are cheap or poorly made, for whatever reason. Why is this important? Because the whole point of a personal fragrance to me (and the only reason I can think of to pay the high prices some companies are asking) is that it is not just a smell but a complex interaction that can keep you entertained for hours. Does your laundry detergent do this for you? If so, then you can just pour a little on a piece of cloth and place it in a breast pocket of your shirt/blouse. Some fragrances are more blended than others, and this does not mean they are low quality in any way. In fact, I find it a bit of a challenge to try and determine the notes when they are never clear.

The key is dynamism. Can you envision the notes swirling around in a mixture, such as if you are in the process of mixing cocoa powder in milk? If so, then the blending is not an issue. The “problem” arises when you just smell what I call a “blob.” The effect is irritating to the nose, as if it is being expanded to an extreme degree in all directions. Good note separation allows for what I call complex horizontality. I’m not sure if you can only do this once you develop your “mind’s nose,” but that is my guess at this point. Think of artist’s palette with many different pigments on it. However, with fragrances, this perception usually doesn’t last long, and the notes collapse back into a whole. Now the whole may be greater than the sum of the parts when it comes to excellent fragrances, but if you can perceive both the whole and the parts, your experience may be enhanced considerably, which is the case for me. Don’t worry if many fragrances smell like blobs to you at first; it takes time to develop this skill, and hopefully what I’ve written above will help you get there as quickly as possible (but be sure to sample as much as possible). Also, if you think a fragrance has a metallic or synthetic quality, you might be right. Not all fragrances are meant to smell “natural,” and some are just poor quality.

Additional note (added later): If you think you don’t understand most of what you’ve read so far here, that just means you have some work to do. I suggest you get at least one fragrance from each genre. This need not be expensive. For example, the original Lomani men’s fragrance costs $10 or less for 100 ml and is a good example of a traditional fougere. Wear a fragrance from a different genre each day. Think about the note pyramid. Ask yourself what kinds of effects you are experiencing. I tend to avoid fragrances that I consider “blob”-like, which means the notes seem to be all bunched up so that they are like one big accord. These are usually cheap fragrances and usually not of interest to the aficionado. You might enjoy wearing them but they may not help you much in your attempt to understand fragrance construction and content. Of course, you are free to create your own fragrance language, if you find mine lacking in significant ways. Just be sure to find a way to get at the fragrance that allows your mind/brain to create categories and generalizations that match the notes/accords, so that you can then “deconstruct” them.

Happy sniffing !

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Ikon vs. Mambo: A side-by-side comparison.

Over on basenotes.net, there was a bit of a debate (mostly between myself and another BNer) over the similarity between Mambo for Men and Ikon (for men), two inexpensive fragrances that are widely available in the USA these days. I found them to be quite similar whereas the other person didn’t think there was much similarity at all. Therefore, I decided to do a side-by-side test, and then I posted this over there:

QUOTE. Note that I do not think these two are identical or nearly so.

Today I sprayed Mambo on one ankle and Ikon on the other. I do this so that I can cross my legs and waft the scent towards my nose every once in a while, to see how it’s progressing, yet I don’t have to worry about “cross contamination,” which can occur if you do such a test on your wrists.

Mambo is drier and not as sweet, with a slightly soapy quality. Ikon is softer yet thicker/creamier. There is a “hard” note in Mambo, probably the pine, but this is relative to Ikon, and overall it’s not an especially harsh frag. Ikon has a bit of a syrupy quality, again, relative to Mambo. If there were a “synthetic” note in Mambo that is horrendous, I didn’t detect it this time, though I just sprayed and walked away, avoiding the top notes almost entirely. After this sampling, I have more respect for Mambo than I did yesterday, though by no means do I think it’s something that will impress an aficionado. As to claims of a horrendous stench, if a person who doesn’t have experience with older frags says that a frag like Youth Dew has a dirty diaper quality, I can understand that idea, but I don’t really detect anything especially unpleasant about Mambo (though it may be in the top notes). I’m not itching to wear it, and I would have no problem swapping it off, but it’s wearable, at least for some occasions. I personally prefer Ikon, perhaps because Mambo seems a bit confused and unfocused, but I don’t think there is a massive difference in ingredient quality. Rather, my guess is that the perfumer who created Ikon is probably a bit more talented, at least when working with these kinds of “low end” budgets.

The predominant notes that the two frags have in common probably are enough, for me, to classify these as “similar,” if not very similar. Here are the notes listed (from fragrantica.com):

Mambo: Top notes are lime, lavender, bergamot and lemon verbena; middle notes are rose, caraway, orange blossom, patchouli, cinnamon, lily-of-the-valley, cedar and geranium; base notes are sandalwood, patchouli, musk and balsam fir.

Ikon: It is created as a spicy blend of cardamom, ginger, Davano flowers and lemon, the heart of black cinnamon, cloves, iris root and French labdanum and the base notes are incense, cedar, patchouli, vetiver and liquid amber. UNQUOTE.

What’s interesting is that the major difference is “textural,” meaning that one is a bit dry and hard whereas the other is softer and has a bit of a syrupy quality. Otherwise, Ikon is sweeter whereas Mambo is a bit soapy. In any case, a question is, is it possible to say that two fragrances are similar or different? If I show you color chips from a paint store, we can disagree about how close two colors are, but almost everyone will agree that a chip has some amount of a particular color in it (I think). This is especially interesting because scientist and perfume critic Luca Turin has put forth a hypothesis about olfaction, and another scientist did an experiment that he though refuted this hypothesis. However, he used “untrained noses” (college students, IIRC) to determine if two molecules smelled similar, something I would never do, mainly because when I ask people what the dominant notes are in fragrances with clear, strong notes, they often can’t tell what those notes are.

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Are standards necessary for fragrance reviews ?

I realize that anyone (like me) can start a blog these days and say just about anything he or she wishes about just about any subject, but let’s take an example from the field of fine art. Suppose a critic wrote up a review of an oil painting, but there was no photo of the painting with the review, nor was there any indication of what the painting actually looked like? Instead, the critic told us that the title of the painting is absurd, but didn’t explain why. This is the case with Luca Turin’s review of Python by Trussardi (the “women’s” version):

“The absurdly named Python is a poverty-stricken sweet-powdery affair, a very distant relative of the wonderful Habanita (Molinard). It belongs in a tree shaped diffuser dangling from the rearview mirror of a Moscow taxi.”

Also, Turin has given very favorable reviews of fragrances that are quite simple (or “poverty-stricken”), such as Bois d’Encens, which leads the informed reader to question what is wrong with such a quality (assuming he is correct about this characterization). I won’t comment upon what Moscow taxis should smell like, except to say that I don’t mind this kind of humor at all, but that there is no “setup” for it, which means it “falls flat” and comes across as petty and mean. If we were told that the company that produced this fragrance had been cutting corners recently, for example, then there would be a “setup” for the joke and the review would make sense, though of course it still might not be accurate.

A*Men, unlike Python, received a very good review from Mr. Turin, though it is very sweet too. It includes a very strong tar note, which leads to many disliking it, apparently (that includes me). There is also strong mint, chocolate, and lavender in A*Men. If one were to give it an excellent review because it is “daring” or “innovative,” that’s fine with me, so long as the reviewer also mentioned that the reader might find it unwearable for this same reason (as any reasonable person would consider possible if not probable). Mr. Turin thinks A*Men is more suited to women than men, and so comparing A*Men to Python seems to be reasonable, at least in Mr. Turin’s view (I agree with him on this point).

My contention here is that Python is much more wearable than A*Men for most people, men or women (assuming that they like this kind of fragrance, obviously), and also that is actually smells good! Of course, this is clearly a matter of personal preference, but it is a fact that there is no “oddball” note, such as tar. It does smell a bit medicinal, but this is not uncommon, especially in expensive “niche” fragrances (that often get very favorable reviews by people like Mr. Turin – Arabie is one example). Moreover, I don’t understand how Python can be viewed as especially simple or “poverty-stricken.” Here are the notes, which I found at basenotes.net:

Top Notes:
* Bergamot, Mandarin, Plum.
Middle Notes:
* Chocolate, Rose, Jasmine, Cardamom, Nutmeg .
Base Notes:
* Sandalwood, Benzoin, Vanilla .

For me, the plum is strong, the chocolate noticeable, and the spices medicinal, especially at first. There is clearly a sandalwood note, but not much benzoin or vanilla (though one or both of these may help to generate the powdery sandalwood quality the fragrance possesses). I get no strong floral note, but it is more of a “blended” fragrance than one that has strong articulation of notes. Once it settles down, it is very pleasant, but does not remind me of an “air freshener” in any way. I wish Mr. Turin had explained how he came to this conclusion, and this is something I wish all critics would do. That is, if you make a strong statement, explain it to the reader. I don’t know how many times a teacher told me that when I wrote an essay I had to assume that the reader was not a teacher who already knew the subject, but instead a person of “normal” intelligence who was interested in the subject but not yet very knowledgeable about it.

Another fragrance Python can be compared to is Jacomo de Jacomo’s Rouge. It also has that medicinal quality up top, with a powdery and somewhat dry vanillic sandalwood base. It is harsher and doesn’t have the balance of Python, but I’m not suggesting that it is unpleasant or that this was unintentional. Nor am I claiming that it is an inferior fragrance; rather, it is a matter of personal preference. It is certainly not technically deficient in any way either. I wish critics would explain why they do things like give Rouge an excellent review while giving Python a poor one, or vice versa. Because they rarely do, there is the potential for a great deal of confusion in the minds of the people who comprise their audience!

The name may not be especially relevant, but a reasonable person probably could make this claim about half of the fragrances now on the market, if not more! Anyway, I’ll move on to another point, which I think is very important, and perhaps the most important, which is that when your write a review of a fragrance you must tell the reader what it smells like. In his review of Polo Double Black (and others, such as Obsession for Men), Mr. Turin tells us that young men in the “trash neighborhood” he was living in at the time, presumably, seemed to really like it, and that he didn’t want to be associated with that “tribe.” I don’t really care if Mr. Turin likes Polo Double Black, but I really would like to know what he thinks of it as a fragrance, not as a social statement. I don’t mind being told about that information, assuming it is true, but I need to know what it actually smells like, if it is technically sound, how it progresses over time, etc.

I’ve come to include that I enjoy Polo Double Black, at least once in a while. The drydown is a very nice combination of coffee, nutmeg, and vanilla. The balance is excellent, with the longevity and projection being good if not very good. I don’t understand the mango top note, and don’t like it, but since I avoid top notes as much as possible, it doesn’t bother me much. Half an hour of weirdness is followed by several hours of olfactory pleasure. I can understand the claim that is lacks “artistry,” though I’m not all that concerned about such a “failing,” but otherwise, as a personal fragrance, I consider it to be at least a decent accomplishment. If Mr. Turin thinks that a lack of artistry condemns a fragrance to the lowest possible ranking on his assessment scale, that is fine with me, so long as he discloses this to his readers. Otherwise, he is not being fair to the fragrance companies, or more importantly (as far as I’m concerned), to his readers. Moreover, in this case, there is what I believe to be a direct contradiction, because he writes positively about Armani’s Attitude for men, pointing out that it is not unique or artistic, but that the notes get along very well together. This is exactly how I feel about Polo Double Black, and I wish Mr. Turin could explain to his readers why his view of Attitude is valid but that the same view is not applicable to Polo Double Black (and why isn’t Attitude a strange name for a fragrance he considers rather mundane?).

When I’ve reviewed fragrances, I’ve made it clear over and over again that I’m not especially interested in top notes and that wearability over a period of several hours is the most important criterion for me. I don’t understand how so many critics/reviewers (in the fragrance field as well as others) act as if the criteria they are using are not only understood by their audiences (even though they never disclose their ideas), but are also not subject to any criticism (in other words, there is an implicit notion that their method of criticism is not flawed in any way). With fragrances, there are many obvious points that should be disclosed to the reader, such as whether the critic is focused mostly on top notes or the drydown, but this is rarely done, in my experience. Keep the poetic phrasing and dark humor coming, Mr. Turin, but please don’t forget that people want to know what the fragrance actually smells like!


Filed under Criticizing the critics.