Touch For Men (Fred Hayman)

My bottle of Touch. On my coffee table,
Which apparently I need to dust.

I have to admit that I only have the vintage Parlux version of Touch for Men, as the reformulated version by Victory International was unavailable to me. I understand that the newer stuff has a bottle with a silver cap instead of Parlux's matte black, and the color of the fragrance is a slightly lighter amber than the original. Some voices have complained online that it smells like fruity-synthetic crap. Big surprise, right? If there's any truth to that, then it should be considered a completely different scent altogether, and not a reformulation. There's nothing "fruity" or "synthetic" about the Parlux version. And for the record, Jeffrey Dame has stated on Fragrantica that he doubts the reformulation smells bad. Given how obviously dirt cheap the original formula is, I think he's probably right, although I can't confirm it at this time.

I also can't say exactly how old my vintage is. It's impossible to track Parlux's batch code, and probably just as hard to trace anything from Victory International. I suspect it's rather recent, as the bottle markings seem fairly contemporary, and I'd guess that the changes happened sometime in the last eight years. Touch was released in 1995, and that's very surprising to me, because it's nothing like the super-sweet, aquatic, Hedione-laden powerhouses of that decade. Touch is very easy to describe: it smells almost completely like vintage Brut. A late seventies vintage of Brut, to be precise, when you could enjoy the last of its musk ambrette base. Don't expect to smell the burly brutishness of musk ambrette in Touch, but its top-to-base musk notes are still impressive. They're dense and a bit animalic, with subtle undertones of honey and vanilla. They make Touch better than Brut Classic, in my opinion.

This was one of the sleeper hits that Mr. Dame helped to develop with Parlux in the early nineties, an homage to masculine simplicity in an era when Kate Moss' androgyny and pretentious urban hip-hop styles were becoming the rage in the world of perfumery. Touch is the opposite of all that. This fragrance is as masculine and unpretentious as it gets. Hell, according to Mr. Dame, the brief for Touch was simply, "Take Brut and enrich it, make it stronger, more bold and Brutish." When I spray it on, I half expect a young Peter Fonda to walk into the room, an issue of Car and Driver tucked under his armpit, and hand me an ice-cold Rolling Rock. I can only imagine that it was brought into being with the fullest intention of changing the fashion subject to one of romantic and rather patriotic traditionalism, a bid that in retrospect clearly (and unfortunately) failed. Still, somehow this fragrance survived, a testament to its quality and appeal, particularly to the over-thirty crowd.

There's some question as to whether Touch is an oriental or a fougère, but with such a striking resemblance to one of the best-selling fougères of all time, it's hard to call it an oriental. If someone were to ask me to identify the two fragrances in a blind test, I couldn't do it. Touch is only different from Brut in that it has a noticeable coriander top note, mated very closely to its smooth lavender. It's possible the blending in Touch is a bit smoother, but depending on the bottle of Brut you get, this could be a very tough claim to verify. I've also read that this scent strongly resembles Neutrogena's laid back, seventies-styled "Rainbath" soap, but regrettably I've never tried that product.

I would only add that Touch's lavender note isn't quite as herbal and minty as Brut's. It's a bit softer and warmer. The "herbal" aspect in Faberge's cologne is primarily mint and anise, and neither note is outwardly detectable in Touch, but its coriander note seems to fill in that gap pretty neatly. I also get much better longevity out of Touch - around ten hours. Aside from that, I can't think of much else to say about this little gem. It's a straightforward traditional fougère accord of powdery lavender, ambery coumarin, vanilla, and mossy, talc-like musk. I can't recommend it enough. Any guy who shaves with a razor blade and soap will appreciate it for what it is: a precise, timeless, masculine marvel.


The "Goodness" Of Good Scents

The quote pictured above is ironic and daft to me. Rand was wrong in her assertion, or at least she was not thorough enough; she fell shy of the truth. I agree instead with a philosophical view which Elizabeth Warren recently put forth. She contended that we all step into the world as people who have benefitted from the labor of our neighbors, with their combined efforts making our forward trajectory not only possible, but also bound to the dual responsibilities of upholding their work while paving new roads for future generations. Men and women are armed with more than their own visions; they carry the advantages bestowed upon them by their communities, and are also armed with the self-aware acculturations from which their visions can be enacted.

Rand suggested that some men are genuinely "self made," and that they alone were the pavers of their own "new roads," but this is a fiction. She re-crafted a bit of a mythology, one that has always been very popular with right-wingers (and extreme right-wingers). As with all things political, such thought processes punctuate the mindsets of different people with different interests, and the fragrance world is no exception. There has recently been a bit of "Randian" thinking on basenotes.net, in which a couple of members suggested that "perception" of a scent is the only thing that matters in moving forward with personal preferences - which I find to be, like Rand's quote, an example of incomplete thinking and faulty logic.

One member posited the following sentiment, which is entirely true:

"Now some may say, 'But i have a pre-reformulation bottle, and it smells nothing like the new one.' Fair enough, but one thing that can and does happen many times is a scent will degrade over time. Slowly. Slow enough that changes may not register as they are so gradual. The bottle you buy today will not smell identical in ten years. There are so many factors at play."

I smiled while reading this. I thought: Yes! People are finally getting it! The real world context of vintage and discontinued classics is being thoroughly weighed by noses with brains - and this one is a newbie!

The quoted sentiment was received with a statement that was entirely subjective and perhaps honest, but also intellectually limited:

"It's important not to bring in another issue which serves to obfuscate the discussion in favor of the 'pro reformulation' side of things. That is, I'd be the first to mention that I used to wear vintage more often, and that some vintage I don't like as much as I used to, whereas others I like more. This, however, has nothing to do with my perception of the 'quality' of the scent. Now sometimes I don't feel the need to wear a quality scent, and I often reach for a 'super cheapo,' but if I'm in the mood for vintage Zino, for example, that's what I want. I have no interest in wearing what I believe to be reformulated Zino, ever. Others can't detect any difference, or claim it is negligible . . . so the best you can do is read the relevant information online and try to make the right decision (but it will only be the right decision for you, not necessarily for anyone else).

First, I have to say as an aside that I wonder if this basenotes member frequently uses Zino as an example in these discussions precisely because its reformulation is indiscernible from a well-preserved vintage? It’s like he’s counter-intuitively using a perfume that blatantly contradicts his argument as a distraction, with which he can claim that there’s some special “quality” in the original formulation that correlates with a “cheapness” in the new stuff - an assertion that nobody can convincingly corroborate for obvious reasons. This would then seem to fortify his position that only “perceptive” noses - an implicitly rare kind of human, according to him - can detect the discrepancy, when in fact no such discrepancy exists. Unfortunately, I can only commit to my own opinions on the general issue of reformulations, and the more specific case of Zino.

On the surface, this seems to be the whole thrust of his comment, and I take issue with it. It suggests that if someone points out the deleterious effects of time on perfume, they are "obfuscating" the issue for a "pro-reformulation side of things," which is completely absurd. It's absurd because the smells of most perfumes will absolutely change over time, beyond a doubt, with the exception of a small percentage of extremely synthetic compositions. It's also absurd because whenever anyone points this out, they're merely acknowledging the existence of time's effect on matter, which in the case of perfume is usually not very positive.* To mention this is to clarify, not obfuscate. It may be an inconvenient truth for the "pro-vintage" crowd, and they might want people to believe it is an obfuscation, but cherry-picking facts is never a good way to respond in these kinds of discussions. Here it just re-crafts another mythology.

If you're coming to this as a newbie, you might wonder why it matters. So a perfume changes, but still smells good - so what? The "what" here is how a perfume smells within the years of its peak shelf life, otherwise known as "what the perfumer intends for you to smell." Some perfumers labor for months on formulas, but all of their work is an effort to discover where designs function best, and preserve them for as long as possible, before the inexorable march of days alters their compositions into liquids that are no longer pristine specimens of talent.

Perfumers know that the creation of their perfume, after weeks and weeks of toiling in a lab, happens in but a moment, that priceless instant when they sniff the strip and realize the synchronization of their assembled parts has quite suddenly been perfected. This moment is then temporarily frozen for us to enjoy. It's what perfumers want you to experience, and therefore is, quite paradoxically, the nexus and event horizon of a perfume. No perfume lasts forever, but forever truly resides in perfume.

Now, getting back to that comment I dislike so much - I wrote, "On the surface, this seems . . . " because later in the thread, the same author wrote the following:

"Those who can't smell the difference [between vintage and new] appear to get irritated that such threads exist, which makes no sense to me."

This revealed to me, reader and reluctant non-participant, the real message: "You can't smell it, BUT I CAN! Nah, nah, nah-nah naaaah!" (Raspberry noises.) How this person could possibly know what people can smell is a mystery. It would take a certain level of paranormal ability to develop such knowledge. Mind reading, perhaps? I'll let you decide.

I also dislike that the initial response is naked speculation, cloaked in intricately-woven airs of fact, and made semi-acceptable to some functioning minds by its appealingly subjective form. The writer uses "I" and "My" throughout, which is very attractive, winning, and wise, but also dangerously misleading. The scent that he mentions is a curious one. I happen to own vintage eighties "script font" Zino, and brand-new "block font" Zino. I am also acutely aware of how exhaustively this fragrance has been discussed on basenotes and fragrantica. There are several people out there who agree with me that it's not even clear if Zino was reformulated. In fact, I have read respectable people write that they doubt there was ever a reformulation at all. If ever there is a perfume not to hold up in an honest argument for vintage, it's Zino.

I personally believe Zino was reformulated, but I strongly feel, based on all the note comparisons that I can possibly make for myself, that the reformulation is just as great as the original formula. I am speculating, and I am honest about it, but my guess is educated, based on background information I dug up on Michel Almairac's career trajectory, and how it coincided with some remarkable advances in chemistry. I learned that he went to the Roure School in the early 1970s, and that he began making a name for himself when Givaudan (which was associated with Roure) invented "Sandalore." This synthetically-made molecule was patented to cut costs on natural sandalwood oil, without sacrificing the sensations of real sandalwood's texture and richness. For cheap scents like Zino, its implementation makes as much sense then as it does now.

In making the formula comparisons, there was something I had to overcome: the degradation of the vintage. And by "degradation," I don't just mean the loss of top notes. Ninety-nine percent of my vintage experiences have revealed problems with all stages of development. The loss of top notes is the least of it. With vintage Zino, the fragrance is intact and legible, and each note is basically where it belongs. Yet it suffers from potency issues, balance issues, and the typical "fuzz-out" effect that seems to occur frequently with woody classics. In short, the potency seems attenuated, down three or four hours compared to the recent stuff; the zesty bergamot and lavender head notes smell like they've separated from each other, where once they were blended (both notes are a little too strident); the precious wood notes in the base "fuzz" into a gentle, sandalwood-like blob that fails to yield individual tones (the bergamot goes on, amazingly).

At stake here is not the perception of "quality" in the vintage fragrance. I can smell that the composition is comprised of "quality" materials. For the record, I can't recall anyone ever announcing that they couldn't smell the "goodness" of something that smelled good to them. Therefore, the suggestion that those wary of vintage can't detect their "quality" rests on the fallacious idea that the perception a wearer has of a fragrance can parallel, and even diverge from the recognition of its effect on his mood. What is more likely to occur in the minds of anyone studying fragrances in-depth is the surprising realization that the durability of a beautiful perfume is just as important as its beauty.

To make sense of this, I had to "read" my two Zinos carefully. This means that I took note of what I smelled in vintage Zino, and then had to readjust my impression afterward against what I know about degradation, and the smell of current Zino. Industry veteran Jeffrey Dame made it clear to me and my readers that the shelf-life of most fragrances, with the exception of orientals, is to be taken seriously; with Zino, I had to acknowledge that what I smelled matched his assessment of the time/quality factor, and then set the information he gave me aside to better judge whether the olfactory impressions of vintage Zino's somewhat degraded accords correlated with the current juice.

In other words, I had to ask myself, "Is what I'm smelling in the old stuff the same as what I'm smelling in the new stuff, only degraded?" There's something a bit archeological about doing this. You have to dust off what exists, and use what you know to imagine what used to exist. Except here you must use your nose, not your eyes. And the "dusting off" process is really just accepting the irreversible and quirky nature of aged perfume.

I'm telling you this because it requires a sensitive nose to figure these things out. Having a feeble nose will do you no good if you're really interested in determining whether vintages are for you. Those who survey the field of classics and make a focused effort to familiarize themselves with specific olfactory structures, such as the aromatic fern, the ambery oriental, the mossy chypre, and specific notes, such as bergamot, lavender, labdanum, vanilla, sandalwood, oakmoss, musk, are bound to develop better noses. Once developed, they can use their heightened sense to pick apart the true quality differences that abound between the worlds of "vintage" perfume and "new" perfume.

But those differences in quality will have to be weighed against degradation. In most cases, I'd say the degradation will be relatively minor. In other cases, however, it will certainly be overwhelming. Recognizing how notes and accords degrade is a skill which takes that of simple note identification quite a bit further.

I've long suspected that the person who made the Zino comment quoted above actually has tremendous difficulty with this level of recognition. I believe this to be true because this person has stated on more than one occasion that he has never encountered a vintage fragrance that smelled like it had gone bad, or gone off. I won't call this person a liar. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, and suggest that this is representative of what might be a true deficit in his olfactory abilities. I suspect that instead of acknowledging and admitting this shortcoming, he and others like him pretend the exact opposite: that they possess remarkable abilities of incredible "quality" discernment.

If your nose is good, you'll have no problem admitting that many vintage perfumes don't smell quite right - in fact, most will seem a bit "off." It's important to recognize that this doesn't mean the perfumes will smell bad, or unwearable, or offensive in any way. There's often a good chance that they'll smell appealing. But the key is to determine if what you're smelling is an accurate representation of itself, as it was intended to smell. Only then can you really decide whether or not this matters to you. With some perfumes, the accuracy of what you smell might matter; with others it might not. You must ask yourself, "How has this changed?" And once that is answered, you must follow up with, "Has anyone fucked with the formula?"

These are very different questions. Don't get them confused.

* This refers to time in the long term, beyond what may be construed as in-bottle maceration, or any other maceration process that gradually allows the volatilities of naturals to synchronize.


"My Old Spice Is Better Than Yours!" How A Classic Drugstore Scent Became The Most Contentious Reformulation Of All Time

The Ship Grand Turk

On February 22nd of this year, I stopped at a store and picked up a few things. On a whim, I grabbed some shaving items, and noticed they had P&G's Old Spice cologne in stock. It was the version with an atomizer. I'd never experienced this scent in spray form, so I bought it, also on a whim. One of the nice things about its plastic bottle is that it hearkens back to the mid 1950s, when Shulton first started exploring plastic for packaging, selling smaller travel bottles and ancillary grooming products in this material.

February was the coldest month for Connecticut in recent memory, and that day happened to be the coldest of the year, with evening temperatures dipping to around ten degrees below zero. It was eight o'clock at night, and I had to get gas, so I pulled into the station and mentally prepared to freeze to death at the pump. I imagined they'd find me there the next morning, my blue claw of a hand still clutching the metal pump handle, my frostbitten ass still leaning casually against the haunches of an icicle-encrusted Pontiac, my body a suburbanized version of Jack Nicholson's corpse in The Shining.

As the bitter cold attacked my face and hands, I realized that a good diversion would be to try the Old Spice spray. It's an excellent way to distract the mind away from black patches of dying flesh. Shivering, I primed the atomizer, and gave myself two sprays to the chest. The cologne practically crystallized in the air, but I gave my wrist an extra puff for good measure.

A stunning accord hit my nose, a beautiful blend of orange aldehydes, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It was so clean and clear and cheerful that I wondered why I'd been wearing KL Homme all winter. The tank was filled, and I was on my way, still marveling at what I was smelling. By the time I reached my house, the car was full of musky cloves with hints of powdery, slightly vanillic amber wafting in the background.

This got me thinking about Proctor & Gamble's version of Old Spice, a formula much maligned in the wet shaver community as being the utter ruination of grandpa's only cologne. It is indeed a bit different from the "Shulton formula," but I'll get to that in a minute. The past few months have seen me ruminating on the strange dilemma facing today's Old Spice fan, as my experience with the current fragrance could not be more different from what many men on fragrance boards are claiming to smell. If you're someone who likes Old Spice, or is interested in trying it for the first time, you have to figure out which version is best to track down: the Shulton version, the "Shulton" version, the "Indian Shulton" version, or the Proctor & Gamble version.

You may be wondering why I keep putting "Shulton" in quotation marks. Shulton stopped manufacturing and formulating Old Spice when it sold the brand to American Cyanamid, a chemical manufacturing conglomerate, in 1970. This little factoid seems to elude many of the guys who complain about Proctor & Gamble's formula. They act as though the formula was sacred and untouched for seventy years, like the ultimate gesture of all-natural perfumery for the undiscerning male, until those evil assholes at P&G came along and cheapened it with their plastic bottles and vile synthetics. But this is simply not true.

In 2012 a man came forward on Badger & Blade with a headspace gas chromatography analysis of three Old Spices, a vintage Shulton, "current Shulton" (actually a generic, Indian-made aftershave), P&G's version, and the North American generic version of this scent, primarily made by Vi-Jon, with results clearly posted for everyone to see (click image to enlarge):

This analysis suggested four things about this fragrance:
1. An Indian reformulation of Shulton's Old Spice changed the formula, making it spicier (with far more variegated peak activity).

2. The volatility and balance of the oldest Old Spice is possibly a bit degraded after years of storage.

3. P&G's version of Old Spice is only notably different from vintage Shulton's in the tippy-top notes, possibly four chemicals in the early drydown phase, and apparently one base note (where one P&G chemical is noticeably stronger, probably eugenol).

4. Vi-Jon "Spice" aftershave is only mildly different from P&G's, and the significance of those differences is hard to fathom. (It shares more in common with P&G's formula than either of the earlier Shultons.)

Again, "Shulton" is in quotation marks, because the "current Shulton" was actually a Menezes Cosmetics formula, manufactured in India. Many people don't really understand what Menezes Cosmetics did with Old Spice. Let me clear that up.

"Old Spice" was a generic name for aftershave in India. In 1968, Menezes introduced the brand in India as a licensee of Shulton, and continued to manufacture and sell Old Spice for the better part of the seventies and eighties. They officially sold the license to P&G in 1993. Old Spice changed hands four times in twenty years through the eighties and nineties (Menezes, Godrej, Marico, Menezes), most notably to Marico Industries in 1999, until P&G returned licensing to Menezes in 2002, giving them a ten year contract to manufacture Old Spice. Until 2012, P&G permitted several corporate entities, including Rubicon Formulations, Colfax pvt (Menezes' original founding company), and MCPL India pvt ltd (the most recent incarnation of P&G's partnership with Menezes), to sell their aftershaves in India as Old Spice. Again, in India, Old Spice was the generic term for aftershave. ALL aftershave. Hence, several Indian companies made it under the watchful eye of Menezes, and eventually P&G, and were given permission to market it with "Shulton" printed on the bottles, which happen to closely resemble the original bottles.

In December of 2012, P&G reigned it all in when MCPL India's license expired, which means that, as of 2013, these smaller Indian subsidiaries aren't manufacturing and distributing their generic aftershave formula as Old Spice anymore - not legally, at least. Native Indians are now getting the same stuff we get here in North America. So much for Indian Old Spice.

This explains why there's so much confusion regarding Indian Old Spice, and who manufactures and distributes it. Guys are always getting bottles that look and smell different from each other, and with different markings. Yet they rarely investigate why this is. Well guys, now you know why. One word: "Generic." And in India, of all places, the outsourcing of a formula to a half dozen competing companies with access to a wide-ranging variety of raw materials would yield very strange, subtly different, and virtually untraceable formulas, some even coming in questionable plastic bottles, painted white to resemble Egyptian ceramic.

But I digress. My corresponding takeaway from the analysis results are as follows:
1. This is an excellent example of a reformulation that made a scent more complex and dynamic, not less, which refutes the notion that all reformulations are bad. The Indian version sampled is quite a bit more volatile than the vintage Shulton formula.

2. This is yet another fragrance that exhibits some degradation with age.

3. The differences between vintage Shulton and P&G are evident but negligible, clearly showing that the newer formula has better longevity via an added base note.

4. The difference between Vi-Jon and vintage Shulton is far greater than between Vi-Jon and P&G. It even has similar longevity to P&G's, exhibiting the same peak in the base (which is absent in Shulton's). To suggest using Vi-Jon's formula as a substitute for Shulton's version is misleading.

You would think that people who dislike P&G's version would read the gas chromatography charts posted in that thread and seriously question their assumptions about Old Spice. In 2012 (and for several years prior), Old Spice by P&G was lamented as being far inferior to "vintage Shulton." Yet the images of the analysis show a different story. The delicate citrus and spice accord of the top-heavy vintage is barely different from P&G's; the spicy heart accords are quite similar, and the base of P&G's formula is more complex than the nonexistent base of vintage.

Yet the fallacy remains: "P&G ruined Old Spice."

Not one single soul has ever offered a clear definition of those terms. In what way specifically has the scent been diminished? Which notes specifically were removed? Which notes specifically were replaced by nasty synthetics? In what way specifically has the drydown arch of the scent been degraded into something unworthy of eight or nine dollars at a drugstore? Examples are never given. Here is a typical complaint:
"Suffice to say, P&G destroyed Old Spice. It was so disappointing, I used the rest of the bottle while bathing my dogs. Thankfully we can still get the Shulton India Old Spice, which to me is the same as the original before P&G took over the USA operations."

Aside from being a grossly inaccurate statement, this comment reveals nothing about why this person thinks P&G destroyed Old Spice. Now imagine a hundred of these, all from men with the same level of ignorance. No wonder P&G has a bad rep.

We can see from the "headspace" gas chromatography analysis that the formulas have some basic similarities and differences, but unfortunately the analysis given isn't complete in its cataloguing of volatile elements. Had the poster given results of a gas chromatography/mass spectrometry analysis, a clearer understanding of how exact notes and accords differed might have been reached. As one member said,
"In examining the tracings closely, it appears that the current Shulton has 4 strong spikes (at 10.4, 11.3, 13.2, 13.7) that are either absent or much weaker in the vintage. The spike at 14.0 is much stronger in the vintage than in the current Shulton. The spikes at 14.1 are strong in both, but much stronger in the current. In addition there are other minor variations. The current and vintage do not appear to be the same formulation, and the observed differences could account for differences in odor. Such differences would also depend on the potency of those components, the identity of which are not known. This is not my area of expertise, but I'd like to know why do you feel that the formulations are identical. It might be worth doing a gas chromatography/mass spectrometry to actually identify those components that differ between the two, as they might be quite important parts of the overall aromas."

The gas chromatography charts clearly show that the Indian sample of Old Spice has more volatility than any other sample. There are more spikes in chemical activity at shorter intervals in the Indian version compared to the Shulton version. One might surmise that the Shulton version would match the activity shown in the Indian chart if it had been the same age, but according to the poster, this was an "older" sample. I attribute the wider and more numerous valleys in the vintage Shulton to its age.

The charts also clearly show that there is only a small difference in the top notes of Shulton/Indian OS and P&G OS, as the former reveal three small peaks, while the latter shows none. What is unclear is what those little peaks mean in the non P&G formulas. Are they showing us a difference in volatility between active, or inactive ingredients?

The poster made the crucial mistake of analyzing aftershaves, and not colognes. Thus, not all candidates for olfactory analysis are perfume odorants. There may be some skin conditioning esters with tertiary odorant effects in the formulas, and in P&G's formula those effects may have been intentionally eliminated, marking the absence of those three little peaks.

Or it could just be that the castor oil in the P&G version wasn't sitting as long as in the other samples, which again makes sense with a newer product. Castor oil gets funkier the longer it sits. Since this is "headspace" chromatography, one has to wonder whether the slightly ashy funk of old castor oil was taken into consideration with the older samples. I know that the presence of this oil in OS accounts for why the aftershave smells a bit different than the cologne. Yet nobody mentions this element in the thread.

In the heartnotes drydown stage, about twenty minutes into development, it's clear that P&G's formula has a couple of spikes that vintage Shulton's lacks, and vintage Shulton's has a few spikes that P&G's lacks. However, the general "flow" of the drydowns are very, very similar. I can't help but wonder if comparing the two is splitting hairs. The pictures don't lie. Different formulas? Yes.

VASTLY different formulas? Not even close. P&G's formula is blatantly recognizable as Old Spice.

The P&G formula has the most complex base of the three, which oddly doesn't get mentioned. I guess having a simplistic powder base with no real "spice" to it is preferred by members of B&B, because that's how Shulton's version actually smells. What the charts really show is that P&G's formula has longevity, a trait seriously lacking in Shulton's formula.

Yet many members of the board lament P&G's formula as having "no longevity." The claim is that the new stuff is gone in minutes, while the vintage Shulton lasts and lasts.

Which is complete, utter, totally unadulterated hogwash.

The exact opposite is true. I have owned and worn vintage eighties Old Spice cologne by Shulton. It lasted all of five minutes on skin before vanishing completely. It really was all about top notes, that stuff. Smelled great, but gone in a flash.

P&G's version? Hours. With liberal application, the rich clove note in the base, combined with a few whispery resins, really maintains a presence throughout the day. I honestly doubt that any of the naysayers on Badger & Blade have actually bothered to give the stuff a full wearing. They're too busy assuming it sucks. They are apparently a group of "Feelers," not "Tasters."

But the most ridiculous and perhaps intellectually damning little tidbit to the analysis is that it reveals a major fallacy perpetuated by people online regarding Vi-Jon "Spice Scent" aftershave - that it is more like vintage Shulton Old Spice than P&G's formula. The analysis shows the opposite is true. There is a closer match between Vi-Jon's development and P&G OS's development, and aside from perhaps an airier spice accord in Vi-Jon's top, the two are basically cut from the same cloth. Even their drydowns are a closer match, although again, P&G's has more complexity and hold.

Amazingly, this has been a subject of debate for not weeks, or months, but years. The analysis thread is still active. Three years after it was posted, and about twenty pages later, guys are still talking about the reformulation of Old Spice. Isn't it time to just say "enough," and move on? All of the griping about P&G ruining Old Spice isn't borne out by fact, but by opinion only, and that's not enough to give it real legs. It just fuels endless, pointless conjecture.

I've noticed that "vintage lovers" like to exclude a certain consideration from their thinking, and use its absence to explain why their world is so unpleasant. They foam at the mouth about the destruction wreaked upon their favorite formulas by contemporary manufacturers, but dismiss without a second thought any suggestion that the differences detected between samples could be attributable to age. Refreshingly, one B&B member named "Hank Corbett" wrote in 2010 the following about Old Spice:
"I am one of the few who have changed their position on the OS 'recipe tinkering.' I had, until recently, been convinced that the new stuff was not the same water we all know and love. I now am on the side of P&G on the issue. I think it's a matter of 'freshness,' as it has been stated. A bottle of 30 year old after-shave or cologne is not going to smell the same as a bottle of juice manufactured last week. The Shulton stuff ages well and still smells fantastic after prolonged storage and I do enjoy wearing it. I am of the opinion that the P&G stuff will age just as gracefully. I have been wearing P&G Old Spice cologne exclusively for the past week find it to be the same stuff I wore back in pre-P&G days (but certainly 'different' than Shulton only because it has not aged for years and years). After a few hours of wear, it smells like Old Spice. And as I mentioned in an earlier post, one must actually wear the stuff; not smell from the bottle at the store. But I did sprinkle some in my baseball cap and the next day, it reeked of Shulton."

Is it possible that older aftershaves preserve better than colognes? Perhaps Old Spice has a generous maturation period of several decades, and not years? I couldn't tell you. But this post at least acknowledges the reality of the situation - you can't expect to make an accurate comparison between something made thirty years ago, and something put on store shelves yesterday.

A member named "Goss" responded in kind to Hank's comment:
"I agree and have changed my position on this subject also. I believe it has to do with aging of the 'recipe.' I have a brand new bottle of Old Spice AS and plan on tucking it away for the next 20 years. I'm sure it will age just like the Shulton O/S."

An even more prescient sentiment was shared by someone going by the moniker "WastedResources" -
"The average shelf life for a bottle of cologne or aftershave is about two years. After that, the ingredients break down, and the scent is no longer its original form, but it may still smell pleasant. This has nothing to do with evaporation. It has everything to do with the aging of chemicals in a bottle. It doesn't mean that the ingredients in the 70 year old bottle aren't different than what's in the new bottles. It just means that the 70 year old bottle doesn't smell the same as it did when it came off of the shelf."

It's possible that an older fragrance may smell somewhat pleasant, and certainly wearable, but as I've always said about this subject, would you really want to experience a fragrance that way? Wouldn't it bother you that you're not really smelling the composition the way it was meant to be smelled? That you're experiencing a faded, simplified, and relatively stale version of whatever scent you enjoy? Isn't it better to get a fresh bottle and, if maturation is a plus for you, let it sit for two years or so, and then enjoy, rather than letting it sit twenty or thirty years past its peak? And most importantly with this scent, isn't it a serious miscalculation to assume that Proctor & Gamble "destroyed" your favorite cologne if you've never had an issue with early nineties P&G Old Spice, back when they still bottled it in glass?

I often feel this way about my bottle of Furyo by Bogart. I love the stuff with a passion, and it still smells good and quite wearable, but I always wish I'd found it back when it was still on the market, new. I wish to God that I'd worn it in the early nineties, and experienced what it actually smelled like when it was fresh.

If you dislike Proctor & Gamble as a company for some specific reason, state that reason when you complain about them as being some sort of "evil empire" that kills good products. Otherwise I'm left reading your thoughts in suspended animation. I have no idea why you hate them; you just do, and they don't give a shit how you feel anyway.

If you dislike P&G's formula for Old Spice, state why, exactly. Saying that they replaced the spices with "synthetic floral and powder notes" isn't saying anything. Yes, there's a synthetic carnation note in Old Spice. Guess what? There was always a synthetic carnation note in Old Spice. And you know what else? Old Spice always smelled like it was made with synthetics. There's no shame in that. That's what perfumery is. Recent batches have a very natural-smelling clove note in the base, which is unsurprising given that eugenol is a readily available, naturally-derived perfume ingredient that smells terrific, if you like the smell of clove. Actually nothing synthetic there, although to read people's thoughts on it, you'd think they distilled "eau de plastic" into the base. Hey, it's in a plastic bottle, so it automatically smells like plastic, right?

I can't help but wonder why nobody mentions this incredibly clear and potent clove note on any of the boards. Do they not know what eugenol smells like? Are they incapable of identifying clove in a composition? Are they even wearing this stuff long enough to smell it? Are they wearing it at all? The fact that clove is never mentioned as a prominent note in the drydown of the new formula makes me think that most of the complainers aren't really giving P&G OS a fair shake.

If you have a real beef with Old Spice as it stands today, I can only make one suggestion. Try it on the coldest day of the year. They say that a rock song's quality is measured by how good it sounds unplugged. The "Perfume-In-The-Cold Test" is a similar metric for fragrances. If it's really shit, it'll literally collapse under the weight of frigid air. But if it's a masterpiece, the cold can do nothing but enhance its beauty further.

I feel sorry for people who believe that Proctor & Gamble destroyed Old Spice. They're "vintage lovers," and are, unfortunately, their own worst enemy. They nix the potential of any new product, based on its association with an equally (and arbitrarily) maligned manufacturer, and deprive themselves of easy enjoyment by seeking out pricier and rarer vintages. Most insidiously, they spread misinformation about new products on the internet, discouraging people from buying them, putting products that the rest of us enjoy on the line. When confronted about it, some will even reject their own culpability in the commercial stakes, saying their words bear no influence on the fate of a fragrance.

But recent reissues of internet stars like Acteur and Red for Men suggest that the internet is very influential to industry decision makers, perhaps second only to sales. And while those are success stories, it's a two-way street; negative press, if repeated for years on countless threads, will eventually jeopardize the subject's commercial prospects.

Meanwhile, there's nothing stopping "vintage lovers" from just dropping the bullshit and accepting that a little change here or there isn't worth throwing an endless tantrum over. With Old Spice, it would behoove them to just enjoy the reformulation and move on, rather than dwell on an ever-dwindling past.

But I suspect this will never happen. It's tragic, really.


Dirty English (Juicy Couture)

Orange you glad I'm reviewing this scent?

My memory of the original fails me, suffice it to say I know it was "dirty." Given that the current EA version comports with most of the "dirty" and "fresh" characteristics of the original that have been discussed online, I think Jacques Polge could have thrown this together and called it "Bronzé de Chanel," or "Brun de Chanel," and swam into retirement on an unwavering stream of accolades similar to those garnered by his beloved Bleu. The current formula for Dirty English smells suspiciously similar to Bleu, but warmer and more diffuse, with far more mandarin orange and far less bergamot. And oh yeah, oud. DE contains more than a trace of synthetic, medicinal oud. But they really focused on the "fresh" aspect of the older formula, the part that resembled generic aftershave, and tuned it into an eerie likeness of Polge's citrus/vetiver/iso E theme.

However, there are several reports on Fragrantica that this still smells like good 'ol Dirty English, and what I read about it on basenotes also matches what I smell. And yet, despite its having a prominent and postmodern "fruits 'n woods" element, there isn't nearly as much love for this fragrance as there is for Bleu. Consider it an object lesson in the power of packaging and commercial image over public opinion. Again, if it were in blue glass with the double "C" logo on the cap, there'd be scores of positive feedback. But Juicy Couture opted for a swaggering, leather jacket-wearing "dude" vibe with DE, coloring the stuff the darkest reddish brown they could find, and giving the box and bottle that fuck-all look. If you toss the bottle three feet to your friend and miss, you could kill him. They went whole hog on this thing.

Except the fragrance itself reminds me of both new and old metrosexual masculines. Aside from its Bleu comparison, DE possesses semisweet agarwood, carefully mated to mandarin orange, an accord that is just deep and oily enough to resemble the sweetened citrus amber of vintage MEM Co. English Leather (which was the same color, btw). Like Bleu, EL was too groomed for its time. It was a smooth, super-dry woody citrus thing with a "buzzy" amber accord that was the precursor to today's over-used iso E-super, but much louder and more overtly feminine. It wasn't far removed from feminines of the forties and fifties. Wind Song is English Leather, only more honest.

Dirty English is good for anyone who wants a hybrid of Bleu de Chanel and a modernized English Leather, with the added element of synthetic oudy funk. I don't love it, but I like it. Its bergamot, mandarin, oud, vetiver, labdanum, and cedar are all very good, and work well together. It's very comfortable, skillfully balanced, and quite contemporary, a relevant designer scent through and through. There's nothing to complain about here. October is a good month for it. But if you want more of everything (except oud), wear Bleu de Chanel. If you want a better powdery, resinous amber with orange and musk, wear Lagerfeld Classic, or its balsamic brother, KL Homme. For more dimensional incensey cedar, try L'Occitane's Eau des Baux. And for a truly bad-ass leather scent, it's hard to top Parfums Retro's Grand Cuir. That stuff will put hair on your chest. As an aside, some comparisons have been made between DE and Gucci PH I, but I really don't smell it. Gucci has very strong pink pepper, herbal sage, and incense elements that DE completely lacks.


Perfume and the Interminable

To be as intrinsically valuable as art is, perfume must
exploit every known variable of time and space.

Perfume is more than a manufactured olfactory experience. Like the Modernist movement before it, postmodern perfumery is an intellectual and sensory exploration of human culture. We understand the social norms of wearing perfume within the various cultural contexts of our lives, yet contemporary perfumery employs methods of self-critical discipline aligned more closely with De Stijl than style.

The relatively recent rise of niche products has given us alternatives to the mainstream, creating rifts in ideology for perfumers, and in taste among buyers. As counterparts, these two commercial bodies are ecliptic, with financial gain the sole center of gravity. Yet the products themselves are dialogues in an internalized language of self-subordination, designed to place the medium more securely in its area of competence.

Paul Parquet and Francois Coty soldered their demarcations between the masculine and the feminine into our consciousness, elevating natural essences via synthetics. Nearly a century later, Ramon Monegal meditates on a contemporary rendition of oud, while Andy Tauer contemplates neroli, and Frank Voelkl explores iris. The language evolved from a series of broad, objective statements with spare accords into an expository, inescapably referential ponderance of subjective specifics, right down to the last (and sometimes only) note.

One fundamental difference between perfume and art is found at the mutual vanishing point of the two: the utilization of space. In pictorial art, particularly in Modernist painting, flatness is emphasized first; viewers are to consider the physical limitations of a canvas before absorbing what is represented within them. Perfume suffers no such constraint. It exists as an extension of one's presence, and as an extension of self perception. The former condition relies on space to convey itself to others; the latter favors the immediacy of self awareness, needing only the space occupied by one's self to be enjoyed.

Perfume is irreproducible, another trait which separates it from art. Therefore it can not experientially transcend the present, and chances of generational appreciation are virtually nonexistent. If the Mona Lisa burned tomorrow, my children could enjoy accurate reproductions of the image thirty years from now. Once my bottle of Furyo is empty, no one will ever know what it smelled like, unless they're lucky enough to encounter their own perfectly preserved bottle of the original formula. Perfume exists in the present, with no promise for the future.

Art endures. Art is shark-like, continually moving along the currents of time, thrashing through time in bursts of tangible and material expressions. It is a celebration of confusion. The twenty-first century has advanced this state of confusion more efficiently than anything else, sending barriers between fine art and popular culture crashing to the ground. But as Clement Greenberg pointed out in his essay, Avant Garde Attitudes, "Artistic value is one, not many."

There are varying degrees of quality in art, which Greenberg calls "goodness," but we measure one singular value: the "goodness" of good art. Lesser examples elicit commensurate levels of appreciation, but only from those savvy enough to recognize the difference between good and bad art. To someone who is ignorant of what constitutes good art, the pictures in a comic book are the world. The same metric can not be applied to perfumery, because there is no qualitative standard. There is only the perceptual standard, or the ability to perceive perfume, and therein lies the rub. If we are to consider perfume valuable, it must offer an ineluctable condition of its own value.

Such a condition can only be recognized if perfume is allowed to exploit the variables of time and space in the same manner as art. If an art object is thousands of miles away, it can still be experienced in a photograph; if a perfume is a thousand miles away, it can not be experienced at all. Perfume in space is finite.

If one wishes to enjoy an art object five years from now, the preservation of the object is of secondary importance, as long as its existence was effectively documented via reproduction. If one seeks to enjoy a perfume five years after it is sprayed, it is best to use the entire bottle, and never shower. Perfume, given only a short time, is finite.

So far the only emphasis in the search for empirical value in perfume resides with how it exploits space. Here it holds an advantage over art, even sculptural art, because its interaction with space is dynamic and indefinite. One spray may yield a favorable result at four feet, or ten. Two may make an impact at fifteen feet. The drawbacks become evident when we try to determine the relationship between space, perfume, and time. Indeed, perfume may be beautiful at any number of feet from the source, but for how long? By the seventh or eighth hour, whatever molecular activity remains is fractional, with the experience proportionate to quantity and proximity. You may need to be smelling more sprays from mere inches away.

But even so, the wearer subverts these conditions by simply existing with the perfume. This is markedly different from being in the same room as perfume. Wearing perfume collapses the time/space continuum in on itself, at least temporarily. The wearer flaunts the immediacy of being with the perfume, enjoys the sensory experience without needing to be downwind, and never requires any relative experience to appreciate it. The light may need to be right for art to be enjoyed, but not so with perfume.

With so many divergences from art, it is a wonder these questions persist with perfume. Perhaps there is a reason for them, one which resides in our broad recognition of how we value perfume. Perfume is to be smelled. We can only bring its smell along with us throughout our day, but somehow its bottle, the color of its fluid, its box design, and even its name embellish our focus on the smell. Perfume manufacturers commission these ancillary design details to profit in a competitive market, but our embrace of them exposes how collectively fallow our intellectual probity is in appreciating the true product.

Just as art styles deteriorate with time, the perception of a perfume deteriorates with subsequent bottles, usually due to reformulation. Inversely, our opinion of the first bottle usually improves with time and memory, despite our perception of the fragrance remaining the same. Our noses do not smell the aroma chemicals differently; our emotional connections to these smells recontextualize and reconfigure around subsequent experiences, essentially assuming different forms.

This can be likened to the idea of feeling less satisfied by an art reproduction than by the original piece, except that people do not honestly have this reaction to quality reproductions of artworks. My friend owns an original print of a piece by Joan Miró, and is very proud to have it on his wall. In thirty-four years, I have not known him to lament the absence of the original piece. A good, frameable reproduction is usually considered worthy of constant appreciation. A reproduction of scent by reformulation (or "cloning") is a different story.

My explanation for this is directly applied to labeling, and our postmodernist acculturation toward labels; perfume labeled "Art" is difficult to penetrate, while perfume labeled "Design" makes sense. Design is disposable; art is, for better or worse, indispensable. If we call perfume "Art," we are claiming it is indispensable, but when does the actual art experience begin? Is it "Art" in the bottle, or only after it has been sprayed? If we call it "Design," the question answers itself: the experience begins when perfume is used.

I mention this because a perfume's use is its termination point. However, as with all designed objects, the desire to use, and the need to use, plods on interminably. We used forks five hundred years ago, and will continue using modified iterations of the fork five hundred years from now. The fork itself will likely cycle through at least a dozen modifications, with specific forks seeing only several years of use, mere incremental fragments of its time. Perfume will endure in similar fashion, unless our sense of smell devolves as a result of an unfortunate biological twist of fate.

Five years ago, Juliette Has A Gun released a perfume named "Not A Perfume." Ironically, they were correct; until the first customer bought and used it, the product was merely liquid in a bottle.


The Semantics of Perfume Description: How Not To Claim Authorship Of A Phrase

This is embarrassing.

One of the problems with the internet is that people regularly do sloppy work and pass it off as "finished." It used to be that you opened a newspaper or magazine and read a well written, well edited article about something, with the occasional typo, grammatical error, or fact-check error an anomaly, but not anymore. Ever read Salon.com? It's a popular editorial site, very leftist, that blogs about current events. Unfortunately for them, their content is frequently posted before even the most cursory of spell checks or grammatical edits. This results in the publication of ostensibly serious articles that appear to be written by eighth graders. It's very sad.

Some of my readers have made comments recently that ponder the technicalities of perfume writing. Novices often feel intimidated by the prospect of putting their experiences into words for the public to read. It's a bit daunting to say the least. By writing about perfume, your experiences are generalized in ways that may not connect with every reader. It's impossible to get the syntax right all of the time, and semantics are often an issue. Semantics became an issue for me yesterday, as I read a relatively obscure fragrance blog and was abruptly perplexed by what was posted there.

One of the things you have to be careful about in perfume writing is to not be too ambitious about technique. It's tempting to use interesting terms and phrases when describing smells, and equally tempting to cherry-pick the more unusual phrases and pass them off as being your own - to essentially "declare" the phrase as yours. If you do this, chances are you will be gravely mistaken. To help you avoid the embarrassment that might ensue, I've included an excerpt, linked to above, as an example of what not to do.

In it, the blogger writes:

"Fast forward to 2007/2008, when I became interested in fragrances . . . when I began to write reviews I sometimes would say 'the opening' rather than 'this opens with,' and a few years later I noticed that many people were using this same phrasing . . . I did some research and couldn’t find any other use of the word opening in this way before I did, and I mentioned this a couple of times, mostly because I found it amusing. One blogger apparently thinks that I believe myself to be some sort of 'genius' because of this notion, and has implied that I am lying or otherwise incorrect in thinking that I was the first to use the term in this way. I find it quite fascinating that anyone would care, one way or the other. I certainly don’t care, though I’d be curious to know for sure. If I were to imply what he did, I would find some evidence first, and this brings me to the rebel/contrarian issue, because it seems to me that people like this 'shoot their mouths off' before actually doing any 'fact checking' far too often."

This is an interesting statement. He is saying that he could not find any use of the phrase "the opening" prior to when he began using it in 2007 or 2008. He also claims he did "research" on this. Let's get to the "fact checking." The above quotation is an example of someone actively delving into the semantics of perfume description, choosing to use a specific phrase, and inexplicably suggesting (though not definitively stating) that he invented the phrase, or at least that he put it into widespread use. This may seem innocent enough, but it's the sort of thing I'd strongly caution against if you're an aspiring fragrance writer. "Fact checking" by readers is pretty easy. It will expose your errors, and your credibility as a writer could get seriously dented up as a result.

In this instance, one can see that the phrase "the opening" as applied to fragrance reviews and descriptions is used many times prior to 2007, by serious bloggers and casual reviewers alike. In July of 2005, the popular fragrance blog "Now Smell This" posted the following review of Versace's The Dreamer:

"The opening of the juniper and lily really help temper and develop the tobacco notes, and it is this lily note that I find most intriguing (lily? in a men's scent?) as it brings a cool freshness to the edges of the fragrance. Looking at the notes, I wonder where the iris is, as it's virtually undetectable to my nose. As the scent relaxes on the skin, the tobacco mellows and merges with the amber and the almost coconut-y tarragon note becomes apparent."

In October of 2002, reviewer "hirondelle" had this to say about Le Parfum de Therese on art-et-parfum:

"The citrus at the opening of this perfume is a little sour-smelling for me. But the sourness fades rapidly and as soon as the jasmine starts to emerge I'm ready to enjoy this lovely scent."

Mild variances of the phrase were also used in 2006 by two different reviewers of Etro's Royal Pavillion:

"Interesting opening but it turns a way too sharp on my skin. I have a mixed feelings about it, like something is missing here in its composition." - alice_alix

"The beautiful opening 30 minutes of this honeysuckle/gardenia scent is simple enough to get someone to associate fresh flowers with your presence. However, I don't care for the generic sharp, perfumey drydown." - jlea

I found yet another example in a comment posted in 2006 on Luckyscent.com's page for Gothic II Perfume Oil by Loree Rodkin:

"Not a particularly sophisticated composition, but pleasant enough. Alison's black cat is probably 'fascinated' with this scent because of the civet note! If you like incense-y head shop smells, this could be your holy grail. BEWARE though, and do not apply immediately before going out, lest you bowl your companions over with the overwhelmingly sour 'cat musk odor' in the opening of this perfume!"

Another example can be found in a 2005 review by Victoria for Tubereuse Criminelle on Bois de Jasmin:

"If one judges fragrances by the top notes, this is a perfect example of the need to rectify that practice. Weathering the initial opening is worthwhile, since the ugly duckling can turn into a beautiful swan."

And check out this 2005 comment by "Laura" on the same blog under Hermes Un Jardin Sur Le Nil:

"I bought a bottle of this and have worn it often enough this summer, but I don’t love, I finally admit. There is an odd bready or doughy note that spoils the opening of the fragrance for me. I guess it is the mango, but for me, as I said, the note smells like bread. The drydown is nice."

I could go on citing specific examples of people using the phrase "the opening" in comments and fragrance reviews prior to 2007, but I think at this point you can see that the term was most certainly widely used before it ever appeared on this blog, or in reviews by this blogger. The evidence compiled above raises the question as to what sort of "research" the blogger did before publishing his latest post on the subject. Perhaps our friend at Wordpress is the one "shooting off his mouth" before doing his "fact checking," but I'll let you decide. What is telling about him though is that he contradicts himself in his personal presentation, another thing writers should avoid. This is a clue to readers that his material is on unsteady ground; if your tone is uneven, it's likely your arguments aren't on the level, either. He wants to qualify his points by suggesting that any enlightenment regarding the usage of "the opening" is welcome, while also suggesting in a noncommittal, non-competitive way that he isn't seeking any critique from readers, supposedly because he doesn't care about being wrong:

"I certainly don’t care, though I’d be curious to know for sure . . . 'right fighting' with a rebel/contrarian personality is futile. There isn’t going to be any kind of 'final showdown,' or even a world championship match."

Yet only a few lines later, having read in my post the information he claimed to be curious about, his persona shifts abruptly to one of a "right-fighter," expressing frustration and competitiveness, as if a "final showdown" chess match is occurring after all:

"The key question seems to be, why was this an 'issue' in the first place? This episode seems to be an excellent example of how the mind of the rebel/contrarian functions, so is this 'check and mate?'"

It took exactly three minutes and eight seconds to cull these excerpts from fragrance sites, and it will likely take even less time for readers to uncover your errors when you make them. Of course, exercising humility as a writer reduces the likelihood that anyone would want to "expose" your errors, so I advise keeping a good slice of humble pie on the desk beside your computer. Reviewing perfumes isn't as easy as it looks. Writing is a craft, and using the written word to cogently express perfume experiences puts you directly into the abstract and invariably subjective realm of scent perception. Try not to make your job even harder by making bizarre linguistic ownership claims and blithely throwing the word "research" around in the age of search engines and internet archives. I'd add that if you don't want something to be an issue, don't bring it up. I sincerely hope the blogger I mentioned here is better at backgammon than he is at chess!


A Noseful Of Ghosts: Beware Of Phantom Notes!

Whatever you do, don't inhale!

Typically when people enter the world of fine fragrance, their initial exposure to its technical aspects involves the concept of "notes." Anyone who has seen the movie Perfume: The Story of a Murderer recalls Dustin Hoffman mentioning notes to his criminal protégé. They are the fundamental building blocks with which the complex accords and dynamics of perfumes are made. One would think that those building blocks are actually "aroma chemicals," but that depends on your orthodoxy. If you're staying true to the "Perfume Is Art" narrative, you don't want to hear about aroma chemicals. You want to spend hours whittling away with the tired old saw that perfume is, by default, artifice. Therefore, mentioning the artificial materials used to compose perfumes is redundant.

Likewise, those who subscribe to the "Perfume Is Design" school of thought are primarily interested in avoiding the tedious parsing of chemical lists, favoring instead the more enlightening descriptions of what such lists are intended to impart. But unlike the first group, the "design" crowd isn't averse to acknowledging important and innovative steps using specific synthetics, like Hedione, Musk Ambrette, Dihydromyrcenol. Recognizing and naming raw materials is part of understanding the function of perfume, for design is merely a functional aesthetic.

And so the newcomer ventures into the tangled forest of purported notes, usually listed by cosmetic companies as advertising copy for their products, or on Fragrantica, which has a note pyramid feature that is democratically voted upon by members. Some can go their whole lives without ever questioning these things, and perhaps are all the better for it, but others express skepticism, confusion, and concern. Reading about notes is not inherently troubling, but forming expectations can be, especially if investments are made for the sole purpose of experiencing something later found to be absent.

How does this problem manifest? It usually begins with reading reviews. A fragrance is sought after, so people read about it. Perhaps it isn't sought after by many, but at least a few read about it. Then the purchase is made, and the perfume is worn, and hey, what gives? Where's the sandalwood? Where's the pineapple? Where's the civet? And that's when things get ugly. Instead of entertaining the possibility that these notes were being misidentified by prior noses, people begin to chant the mantra: "reformulation . . . reformulation . . . reformulation . . . "

There is a simple way to avoid becoming this sort of mindless zombie. Instead of endlessly repeating the "R" word and staggering through overgrown fields with your arms out in front of you, you might try considering the true source of your ire. Hint: it ain't the perfume. More than likely it's the guy or gal who wrote about the perfume. Either their nose is touched, or there's something wrong with their bottle in particular, but the likelihood that a reformulation has zeroed out the desired notes is very slim (though certainly a possibility). I can tell you from personal experience that I get very annoyed with people who claim to literally smell expensive materials like sandalwood in blatantly cheap fragrances - and I say "literally" as opposed to "figuratively," because claiming to smell a sandalwood note is not the same thing. Saying you smell a "sandalwood note" isn't troubling in itself, unless the note is nonexistent. In many cases though, readers expect a level of quality in a fragrance that never existed in the first place.

When a reviewer claims there's sandalwood in a composition that couldn't possibly have any real sandalwood in it, and there really isn't any in there, that results in people seeking the "vintage formula" of the scent, in the hopes that they will experience the supposedly high quality materials of yesteryear that have theoretically been replaced by unimpressive synthetics in subsequent releases. Consider how sandalwood is described in this excerpt from a review of vintage Zino by "ericrico" on Fragrantica:

"A huge blast of patchouli, warm vanilla, great wood (more prominent, rich sandalwood and dusty rosewood) along with a great cedar note strengthens the deep, dark and dank base of 'stewed' florals."

In this case, "ericrico" is describing what this perfume exudes, neglecting to use the word "notes" in the description of anything except cedar, and implying that the composition actually contains these things. Now consider this excerpt from a review of Aubusson Pour Homme, also on Fragrantica:

"This smells natural and it's somewhat dry; it's definitely not too sweet. Over time a nice sandalwood note emerges. Don't expect heavy patchouli, moss, or leather notes; this is more of a warm weather scent."

In the excerpt for Zino, readers are being led by the use of the adjective "rich" to believe that sandalwood inhabits the chemical structure. Sandalwood oil is rich. If the sandalwood in Zino is rich, there must be sandalwood oil in Zino. But in the excerpt for Aubusson PH, we're told "A sandalwood note emerges." Sandalwood, even synthetic sandalwood, is typically a basenote, and rich by default. Rich notes don't emerge; rich notes are laid bare with time. They're there to begin with, and subtler, hungrier impressions emerge from and exist around them. For example, from natural Indian sandalwood come hints of pepper, amber, cream, incense, and rose. These are more usefully called "facets," which I'll get to in a bit. Here I'll just say that a good, prominent sandalwood oil, when it is infusing a sandalwood profile in a scent, allows other subtler scent impressions to come forth. Richness is the forest from which wolves wander.

These scent descriptions are unintentionally deceptive to readers. In the case of the Zino review, the writer suggests that there is a certain kind of "richness" to Zino, a quality that exists in a far different form than the one described. As I mentioned in February, there were some clever and relatively new synthetics being used when this fragrance was made, and the scent seems to possess at least one of them. While by no means a "mild" or "weak" scent, Zino is not an expensive and luxurious composition, although it certainly exhibits a level of sophistication that makes it a terrific value. To suggest to readers that it contains "rich sandalwood" is to lead them astray, for no such richness exists. Zino merely has a smooth blend of woody notes, those abstract accents of wood-like smells that together form a coherent impression of wood. Discerning noses know there are no lucid wood oils to be found.

In the excerpt for Aubusson PH, readers are led to believe that a "sandalwood note" exists in the scent. This is a sin of a different kind. While the Zino reviewer was wrong to suggest that natural sandalwood inhabited Zino, namely because it doesn't, this reviewer is wrong to assert that the possibly synthetic analog of the same note exists in Aubusson, for the same reason. There is no sandalwood note in Aubusson PH. That is to say specifically, there is no detectable synthetic analog of sandalwood in the composition!

I smell a clearly synthetic, nondescript, and very smooth woody musk note in the far drydown of Aubusson PH, for the record. Now, one could surmise that there is a sandalwood note, and that readers might not smell it for other reasons, but that blames the victim. Aubusson is actually a better scent than Zino on a few levels; while the Davidoff scent does possess a sprightly fern element with eerie lavender special effects of rosewood and sandalwood analogs, Aubusson spins fruity and musky notes into a more interesting cinnamon-spiced amber for even less money, and at the same level of quality. It contains the suggestion of Krizia Uomo's dense cedar and castoreum notes, but there is no impression of sandalwood, real or fake, to be gleaned from it.

Readers seeking sandalwood might read the aforementioned review, buy Aubusson, and be sorely disappointed that there isn't this facet to the composition, particularly if they're fans of sandalwood. There's no doubt the reviewer smelled what they thought was sandalwood in this composition, but I'm afraid it must be classified as a "phantom note" in this context.

Often "phantom notes" are pushed by companies and impartial reviewers as being confounding elements in simple compositions. Consider Caron Pour un Homme, one of the simplest fougères ever made. It is primarily lavender, vanilla, and musk, with very little else. Indeed, these are the only notes listed on Fragrantica. The top note of Caron PuH is mostly lavender, but basenotes mentions notes of lavender, rosemary, bergamot, and lemon. I smell the rosemary and the slightest twinge of bergamot, and will concede that although I don't smell it, lemon essence may be used as well. My bottle is a vintage from the nineties, by the way.

Once we get into the heart notes, I smell only a high quality vanilla touched with slightly urinous musk, and nothing else. Basenotes claims there is "clary sage, rose, rosewood, cedarwood," but no. Now the pyramid has gone from being descriptive to being sensational. I think this has happened because vanilla is not simple. Vanilla is a rather complex note. It's isn't the sugary sweetness found in many contemporary designer scents. Good vanilla has facets. And facets aren't the same as notes.

I remember when my nose became good at detecting notes. I realized that notes aren't the end of the road, because individual notes, when rendered with good materials, can be very complex. A good vanilla note has a bit of a crisp bourbon characteristic, a little dried fruitiness, a warm tonka edge, and a spicy twinge to it.

High quality lavender is also complex. It has a fruity quality, a metallic mint quality, and a warm-biscuit quality, a natural extension of its coumarin content. If you account for the boozy spiced warmth of vanilla, with all facets identified, and mate it to the fried ice cream of lavender, two notes suddenly seem like seven. You can pretend there are seven in the fragrance, but five of them are phantoms, and it behooves you to clarify your impressions to naïve readers. I was recently told that there's a bit of a sage note in Caron. Honestly, I never smelled sage in any iteration of the scent. And I'm particularly sensitive to sage, so I'd say its presence in Caron is also phantom-like.

One more thing to understand with notes is that no fragrance can be reduced to its notes and retain its identity. Fragrances are compositions, not stacks of notes. Some notes may poke out at you more than others, and some notes may possess complexities and facets that add yet more depth to a composition, but none of these things can be usefully separated from the overall abstract impression of the perfume itself. Most perfume companies know this, which is maybe why they don't take their own note pyramids very seriously, often resorting to descriptions that are pure fantasy (any of the Mugler or Dior pyramids, for example). It's not advised to read advertising and consider it a useful description of a fragrance. I've seen notes pyramids for mainstream perfumes that are phantoms from top to bottom.

Lastly I'll mention that none of the "notes" that I or any other reviewer mention actually exist as natural representations of the material they smell of. In Halston Z-14 there are prominent pine and moss notes, but they exist because of synthetics. I've said before that Z-14 smells like one of the most natural perfumes in existence (certainly in my collection), but that doesn't mean it's a natural composition. It's purely synthetic, with a small amount of natural materials mated to a larger quantity of lab-made chemicals that serve as representatives for smells in nature. Approach reviews with an understanding of this, and you'll never be led astray.