2/15/15

Zino's Reformulation Is Just As Great: The "Zinoization" Canard, and Some Information About Sandal Ore



Vintage fragrances tend to exhibit similar characteristics, at least to me. They possess abbreviated top notes, or no top notes at all. Their heart accords usually show up early and smell unbalanced, lacking a certain degree of note separation that I prefer in compositions. Most of the notes in them are dulled a bit with age, an effect of murky, muddled simplification where there was once texture and complexity. Their base accords are either a great big smoosh of several notes into one super-smooth "cologney" wood note, or a small handful of feeble, out of focus notes that further fade into the sunset a few hours after application. To date I have not encountered a vintage scent that smelled any differently, although Ocean Rain seems to be an exception, a living testament to the power of the genius behind its purely synthetic form, and even there it is hard for me to underscore my sentiment without prior knowledge of how Ocean Rain smelled when new. Things like Grey Flannel, Bleu Marine de Cardin, Feeling Man by Jil Sander, Davidoff's Relax, Dali Pour Homme, and Venezia Uomo did not fare as well. They typify all the issues described above.

This isn't to say that I don't like how most of these vintages smell. I love how my vintage Grey Flannel smells, and also enjoy Bleu Marine. I like the synthetically lucid sandalwood-like "smooshed wood note" of Feeling Man's heart and base, although it could use more texture and contrast. I also like Relax's miniature Zino base accord, and the darkness of Dali PH is terrific. I currently consider my Venezia Uomo to be borderline unwearable, unfortunately. It's that far gone.

My bottle of vintage Zino is no different from the rest in that it smells like current Zino, but simplified to a small degree. It's like someone went into the formula with a wet paintbrush and smeared notes of lavender, sage, patchouli, cedar, rosewood, sandalwood, vanilla, and musk, condensing the entire scent's dynamism into two or three accords. The "someone" in question here is Father Time. Many years in a closet will predictably smooth out a scent's rougher edges and leave it very close to the same as it was, but slightly different. In Zino's case, the only difference between vintage and current is that a bit of the former's complexity is lost, while the latter shows me how it used to smell, boasting better note separation, an increase in the tonality and balance of notes, and a more rewarding experience in general.

When I approach vintage Zino from a subjective standpoint, I have the expectation that it will smell 95% the same as current Zino, so I'm not surprised by how my vintage smells. The 5% change is attributable to some staleness from age, and not to any significant difference in the chemical formula itself. Well, maybe .01% is a formula divergence: the bergamot note in vintage smells microscopically fresher than the top note of current, but I waffle a bit on that. In low doses the bergamot jumps out at me, but if I do a full wearing of vintage the day after a wearing of the reformulation, there is no perceptible difference. It's still a lovely scent.

The longevity in my vintage is compromised, as I get only two hours out of the base before it becomes a skin scent, but that doesn't surprise me, either. I get four or five hours out of current Zino. This was never a "powerhouse" masculine, it's more a gentleman's scent. The bottom line here is that my Parfums Davidoff, "Made in France" bottling of Zino with a modified Edwardian script logo and moderately lighter reddish-brown glass is indistinguishable from my more current Lancaster block-font formula, save for a little weakness and staleness. Owning juice from thirty years ago makes no major difference with this scent.

Refer to basenotes threads on this to find that my impression must be mistaken. Vintage enthusiasts feel that vintage Zino boasts a beautiful sandalwood note. According to one of them, that sandalwood note was removed from the newer formula entirely, and its melange of remaining synthetics were made denser to compensate for that extraction. They were "amped up," apparently in an attempt to disguise the removal of that precious sandalwood. This has been coined the "Zinoization" of Zino, a term that its author applies to many reformulated classics.

The majority of posters in the thread linked to above find little to no difference between the vintage and current formulas, and one person even questions if it was even reformulated at all. He challenges the assertion that a change in packaging automatically signals a change in formula. Only a select few feel they can detect major differences between the two. What I find amusing about their chief complaint is the notion that sandalwood was removed, and that it was really good sandalwood. Despite this, no one has ever come forward to contend that natural sandalwood was definitely used in vintage Zino, but it is strongly implied.

What is contended is that Zino's sandalwood note disappeared. Yet most find the current formula to be unchanged, or changed to a barely perceptible degree. Is it possible to remove a good and possibly natural sandalwood note from a formula and leave it changed to a degree so small that most would argue about it? I say no. In my opinion, the contention that Zino suffered a "Zinoization" at the hands of shrewd accountants is illogical. Let's take a brief look at what Davidoff's release was to the world back in 1986.

At that time, Zino was a middle-shelf designer masculine at lower middle-shelf prices. This was never a "pricey" perfume. It wasn't a "luxe" fragrance in the same league as products by Chanel and Guerlain. The likelihood that it contained natural sandalwood at its price-point is not especially good. Certainly natural sandalwood materials were not as expensive as they became in the nineties, but they were still quite expensive, and Zino never warranted that sort of expenditure. Remember, this is a Davidoff scent from before Davidoff became a household name, pre-Cool Water. As a purveyor of fine tobacco products, the brand had the money to spend on its perfumes, yet it didn't use much of that money to advertise them, which suggests the perfume division was on a tight budget, probably to minimize risk.

There are two or three print ads, and one television commercial from Zino's release. As a graphic design major I can tell you that most of the print ads are retreaded "comps," the same images in subtly different juxtapositions, a super-cheap way in the world of advertising to wring the most out of very little. I can practically see the Scotch tape and thumbtacks holding X-Acto knived prints against bristol boards.

The commercial is from the early Coty years, when its Lancaster division took over production in the nineties. Enough sales revenue had been generated to justify a TV spot, and those sales were from Cool Water. I used to catch it between shows when I was in middle school, interspersed with those weird black and white Obsession commercials, and those equally-weird Kate Moss CK commercials. Davidoff had the comparatively "normal" commercial.

So far I have not been able to find a commercial from the eighties, and doubt that one exists. Judging by its continued availability at absurdly low prices, I suspect that Coty Prestige continues to manufacture Zino under the pretense of still being Lancaster, in the same way that Colgate-Palmolive continues to print "By Mennen" on labels for Skin Bracer, a sly and well-advised commercial maneuver to keep finicky fans of certain "classics" coming back for more.

It is therefore relatively difficult to figure that Davidoff executives were willing to inject significant (i.e., "noticeable") doses of natural sandalwood oil into perfumes that had not yet been internationally successful, and which the brand seemed unwilling to aggressively market in the first place. The original Davidoff scent was hardly a hot seller, and was discontinued only a few years after its release. Zino came on its heels. This doesn't mean that the company wasn't interested in finding the best and most practical synthetics available, or that it wouldn't hire top talent to formulate their scents - to do so were smart uses of their cash, far smarter than dropping bundles on natural wood oils that are difficult to use. It just means that claims of smelling a "natural" sandalwood note in Zino smack of ignorance about the general importance of naturals vs synthetics in fragrance formulas, and the limits that were obviously being imposed on Davidoff perfumes in the eighties.

Even the worldwide renown of Guerlain didn't generate enough cache to justify using natural sandalwood in Samsara, a sandalwood perfume from the same era. Why would anyone with any comprehensive understanding of the industry imagine Davidoff thought differently about their fragrances?

There are really only two kinds of natural sandalwood that were ever used to great effect in classic twentieth century perfumes: Mysore sandalwood from India and Australian sandalwood from the country's southwestern region, both of which are very potent fixatives with unmistakable scent profiles. I'm familiar with their respective scents because Jim Gehr, a very talented perfumer and founder of Garner James, sent me generous samples of both oil types, although the Australian oil is from New Caledonia, an outlying island province.

Mysore sandalwood is deep, rich, buttery, and incredibly complex. New Caldedonian sandalwood is also rich and buttery, but it is significantly brighter and airier than its Indian counterpart. It has a more herbal and urinous quality to it, while the Indian sandalwood is earthier and smoother. Both smell very, very similar after two hours on skin, but those first two hours show remarkable differences. Mysore seems better suited for pungent, earthy notes like patchouli, while Australian would work better with strident animalic musks.

Zino in both formulations does have a sandalwood note to my nose, but it's the same sandalwood note. The note performs identically in both. It lends smoothness and a woody backbone to the intense patchouli note in the heart and base, and also supports a strong rosewood note. The fact that the performance of this note is interchangeable in these formulas suggests that it's a synthetic molecule, which means it is just one molecule. I think it is Sandal ore, otherwise known as molecule CI4H260, which Givaudan trademarked in the summer of 1977. The molecule seems to be used very sparingly in Zino's original formula, and in the reformulation. Sandal ore was used in several other eighties perfumes, including Samsara, and yes, that's where Samsara got its sandalwood from, although with Guerlain being Guerlain, it's not implausible to suppose a smidgen of the real stuff was used in early Samsara formulas. Synthetic sandalwood's use in Zino would explain why its two formulas smell virtually identical to each other. With a synthetic molecule, the only variable to its performance is the degree to which it is used.

Contrast this to natural sandalwood oil, which is comprised of hundreds of different molecules. Using this material in a formula like Zino would certainly enhance its performance, but with distinct variations in smell. Since the wood notes in Zino are strong, one might deduce that the concentration of wood molecules is high. But if natural oils were used at high concentration (in this case it would probably have to be Mysore sandalwood, given the intensity of patchouli in Zino and lack of animalic elements), the perfume would smell different bottle-to-bottle, due to the variables of natural sandalwood. Different oil grades would slip in now and then, sources would vary, and the natural changeability of the wood would shade Zino as being noticeably "inconsistent" from batch to batch. We've all seen how guys perk up when Creed issues perfumes that smell inconsistent between batches. The boards fill up constantly with threads about it. No such hysteria exists with Zino. Not even close.

Now take into account that the nose for Zino is Michel Almairac, a man who studied perfumery at the Roure School in the early 1970s, and whose career took off around the time that Givaudan trademarked "Sandalore," and you begin to see why it might have been used by Almairac in 1986. Roure was a subsidiary of Givaudan; Almairac was probably exposed to Sandal ore's potential during his apprenticeship, and inspired to use it in his own creations.

The claims that the reformulation of Zino smells "busier on top" and "denser" can be attributed to the fresher perfume having more texture and dynamism in its top notes than older batches, while the suggestion that vintage lasts longer can be attributed to the possible use of oakmoss, which may have been reduced and/or eliminated in the reformulation, or possibly supplemented with treemoss (moss is not a prominent note in this composition). I find that the vintage actually lasts a shorter amount of time than the reformulation, so I can't endorse any of these longevity claims. And if any of my readers feel a contradiction between my positions on counterfeit vintages and the divergences between my experiences with vintage and those of others, proceed with caution. The majority of my vintages were bought in person from trusted shops (not anonymous internet sellers) with cosmetic codes intact, usually on the boxes and on stickers glued to the bottles, all carefully checked on checkcosmetic.net.

So was Zino ever really "Zinoized?" Was a natural sandalwood material removed from its formula and then disguised with the "amping-up" of several cheaper synthetics? This is unlikely. What is more plausible is that many of the textured patchouli and woody-herbal notes of vintage Zino fused together with time to form a quieter and somewhat blotted precious wood effect that some people mistake for better balanced top notes and natural sandalwood base notes. Meanwhile a very effective sandalwood synthetic pokes through, perhaps bolstering an illusion of "naturalness."

The older and newer formulas are so similar that I believe the Sandal ore molecule is present in both, and serves the same purpose in both. I also believe that the "amping up" theory, which is the backbone of the "Zinoization" claim, is nonsense. Zino's reformulation doesn't have "amped up" notes. Zino's vintage has "amped down" notes, due to age. The intense lavender and clary sage combination doesn't punch the nostrils as hard in the vintage, because those materials have waned a bit. Some folks argue that something like a "spiced vanilla note" is used to replace the sandalwood, but no such effect registers to my nose at all.

I don't understand why some people insist that two identical formulas are different, when they plainly are not. I also don't know where the paranoid "Zinoization" concept comes from, but I find it ludicrous to extrapolate its theory to other fragrances when the logic behind it is so dubious, and so obviously erroneous from the outset. I have to wonder if the vintage enthusiasts who claim that Zino's older formula is superior have ever really owned and worn the reformulation, or if they merely sniffed spritzes in perfume shops somewhere and allowed their collective "Feeler" bias to do the work that their noses should have been doing instead. In any case, I'm glad I didn't spend much money for my bottle of vintage Zino when I bought it. The newer stuff is just as beautiful, if not more so, and I recommend it. Heck, the only reason to own the vintage is to have a bottle with that cool Davidoff script logo on it. I think it's the finest logo in the business, and it's a damn shame it was reformulated.






2/8/15

XS "Excess" Pour Homme (Paco Rabanne)




Every few years a novel accord is introduced and explored by a handful of perfumers with mainstream influence, and they either catch on and are expounded upon, or die an early death. Contrary to popular belief on Fragrantica and basenotes, XS Pour Homme never really caught on, and wasn't exactly a hum-drum, unoriginal clone. I held off for a while on investigating this one because I never really loved its comparatives, Platinum Égoïste and Himalaya, but I came so close to loving Himalaya (and just couldn't manage it) that I wondered if good 'ol Paco had done a better job with the "gunpowder" note of its niche brethren.

Platinum Égoïste also had an arresting fougère effect that was a biscuit away from perfection to me, but alas, I couldn't warm to it, probably because it was so resolutely chilly from top to bottom. There is a charmlessly wan, bloodless, listless nature to PE, yet it smells brisk, fresh, a little soapy, and well composed. I could occasionally abide it. It also has a bit of a "cold gunpowder" note, like some sort of frozen charcoal that resembles galbanum, minus the brightness. One thing about PE and Himalaya though - they're both reminiscent of soap. They smell like hi-res deodorant. Their negligibly warmer heart accords also have a Green Irish Tweedy feel, Himalaya more so in its base, which is unsurprising given the common "Creed water" base accord used in Olivier's line.

XS has been described in many ways, with all sorts of supposedly organic notes mentioned by reviewers: juniper, mint, lavender, coriander, sandalwood, rosewood, mandarin, etc, etc. Many of those notes are in fact lucid and easily detectable, and its top note of fizzy bergamot and lavender is strikingly pleasant. Gerard Anthony wasn't copying Creed when he designed this formula, but by coincidence his fougère wound up being Green Irish Tweed dressed in gunpowder grey. Its heart and base is about 70% similar to GIT, and at the end of the day we can't really pretend the notes are different, because both frags are incredibly synthetic and soapy-fresh. The only thing that stands apart in XS is a light, gunpowder-like note in its heart and base, a flinty, slightly charred aroma, very crisp and quite enjoyable.

Still, the juniper, precious woods, herbal twang, and freshly-cut fruit notes of XS are a welcome departure from the staid floral arrangement of more conventional dihydromyrcenol fougères, and that hint of dry darkness that lurks behind the brighter "fresh" elements is lovely. Too bad there weren't more masculines that tried to emulate the burnt aura of airborne ionic salts. Also a shame that so many people missed the point of the fragrance to begin with. XS was never meant to be groundbreaking or starkly different from its contemporaries. It was intended to show us that established concepts could still be tweaked in new and interesting ways.

Is there anything sexier than the smell of a clean, well-groomed guy who just fired his musket into the enemy's ranks? Ladies, you tell me.



2/7/15

Perfume Econ 101 (The Not-For-Dummies Version): Max Factor Signature for Men - And It Doesn't Even Have Your Name On It.




My belief is that many vintage fragrance buyers are being ripped off. There are some fragrances that are worth paying top dollar for, but most are egregiously over-priced. When you consider the number of high-quality fakes saturating the market, and couple that with whatever true historical context certain vintages inhabit, it becomes very difficult to discern the bargains.

Here's a good example of a vintage rip-off: current prices for Max Factor Signature for Men, an American toiletry line released in 1950. There were Signature colognes, aftershaves, aftershave talcs, and deodorants, until the line was discontinued in the eighties, probably around the time Proctor & Gamble took over. Take a look at this LIFE Magazine advertisement from 1963, in which the version of Max Factor cologne that I own was priced at two dollars and fifty cents. Now adjust that price for inflation, and view it in 2015 dollars. The same bottle should now cost twenty dollars. If you're selling it and want to double your money, you could ask forty dollars for it, no problem. The stuff is fifty years old, after all.

Let's be generous and say you want to triple your money and get sixty dollars for it. That's not completely unreasonable either, for a long discontinued fragrance that most people have never heard of before. It was a somewhat successful fragrance, surviving thirty years in several iterations, and I certainly would agree with anyone who said it smelled good, although it's not my taste. When I reviewed it in 2011 I said it smelled a lot like Aqua Velva Musk, a cologne I happen to dislike, but I've been testing it more in recent days, and now feel it has much in common with Royal Copenhagen. Still not my thing, although certainly a decent scent. It's very musky, very powdery, very old-world barbershoppy. Every once in a while it hits the spot.

Now take a look at this recent Ebay listing for the exact same bottle of Signature. The seller, a Mr. Goldstar972, is asking $100 for it. What the fuck?

This guy isn't looking to double, or even triple his money. He wants to quadruple it! Now if this were something by Yves Saint Laurent or Chanel, I'd say maybe that's reasonable, given the product's pedigree. It's an old, forgotten cologne by downmarket Max Factor. Why would anyone price it at a hundred dollars? One answer: greed.

I can tell you that if you're in the market for Signature, but are discouraged by Ebay prices, you're better off just getting a new bottle of Royal Copenhagen. It smells a little better (fresher herbal notes up top) and costs around ten dollars for a three ounce bottle, and maybe twenty bucks for eight ounces. Now there are a couple five ounce Max Factors on Ebay that are going for under fifty dollars, but they're all "splash" bottles that have probably been tampered with. One is not full, and the other is an aftershave. The same size is also being sold by other sellers for over one hundred dollars, which should also raise eyebrows. None of these prices reflect what the stuff is worth now in 2015 dollars, relative to what it was originally worth in 1963.

Contrary to what some might think, perfume is not a design product that becomes more valuable with time. Perfume is "perishable." It goes bad, it goes stale. It doesn't last forever. Even if it does last, it changes. It becomes distorted. Time is usually not very kind to it. In the rare cases where it survives time's ravages (Ocean Rain is one), it's a crapshoot hardly worth taking unless you simply don't care about the money.

I've had some conversations in the past about collecting vintage signs. Some people don't understand why a large metal Coca-Cola sign from 1950 is worth a thousand dollars. They say stuff like, "It's just a rusty old sign for soda." Well, yes. It is a rusty old sign, true. But guess what? That rusty old sign still does exactly the same thing that it did in 1950 when it rolled off the press and was hung over a gas station somewhere: it sells Coca-Cola. It has no moving parts. It cannot break. It has not deteriorated to the point where you cannot read it and understand its message, and it now has the advantage of being over half a century old, which makes it a vintage item, and most likely very rare.

That bottle of perfume from sixty years ago? The chances that it does now what it did then are slim to none. Sure, it still does something, and probably possesses enough chutzpah to make its wearer feel more confident on a Saturday night, but it was definitely MORE effective within three or four years of its release. The biochemical materials that comprise its formula have changed, degraded, lost their strength, their balance, and while they are still detectable and perhaps pleasurable to the nose, they are not performing nearly as well as they used to. Therefore unlike the Coca-Cola sign that continues to perform just as well now as it did then, a vintage perfume's true value has barely kept up with inflation. The jerk on Ebay who is asking $100 for a used bottle from the sixties should really be pricing it at twenty to forty dollars. That is its fair value.

Design elements only appreciate in value when they retain their functionality. When that functionality declines, so does the price (just look at old cars). Would I pay a hundred dollars or more for Max Factor Signature? Maybe, if I didn't know better. But I do know better, and so should you. Besides, I already own the stuff. I found it when I was helping my friend clean his house, and he gave it to me. I can tell you that it's in the best shape it could possibly be in given its age, and I sure as hell wouldn't sell it for more than fifteen dollars.


2/1/15

Ocean Rain (Mario Valentino)



Do you believe in the paranormal? Recently I tallied up the number of international miles I've traveled in my lifetime, and found the number to be 76,864. That's about three trips around the circumference of Earth, plus two thousand miles. It's a modest number, but the cosmos take notice; you can't go that far without something from much further going for you. At some point a person slips briefly but unwittingly into another dimension, and is marked by The Energies. Mankind has done this dance for tens of thousands of years, and sometimes we are the ones who leave traces of ourselves behind, which cyclically attach to those in our wake.

I think about this whenever I wear Ocean Rain, or perhaps it's more accurate to say that Ocean Rain confirms it. This fragrance is exceptionally rare, not because it is discontinued for more than two decades, but because it is more than just a perfume. First, and if you didn't already know, it is the last fragrance composed by Edmond Roudnitska, who was one of the greatest perfumers to ever live. Mario Valentino, a small Italian luxury brand, pulled Mr. Roudnitska out of retirement at the sprightly age of ninety to compose their one and only masculine, and judging from the result, I'd say they got more than they bargained for.

This is one of the few reviews that I've had to rewrite before publication. It was written twice, with the first draft belaboring a more pedestrian point about the fragrance - its unusual timing in a post-eighties marketplace that hovered between total acceptance of transparent dihydromyrcenol and hedione aquatics, and stubborn loyalty to opaque woody fougerientals in the Red for Men, Balenciaga PH, Heritage, Globe, and Anthracite axis - but there's something far more interesting to talk about here. This perfume makes me wonder if Roudnitska made a pact with some mysterious cosmic force to leave his love for perfumery, essentially a piece of his heart, in the chemical formula. If so, it would have been the one and only natural material in the composition, for the rest smells entirely synthetic, yet irresistibly beautiful.

There is an extra little touch of magic in Ocean Rain, which the H&R cites as being a "fresh chypre." To me it seems more like an "oriental aquatic," which only further enhances its rareness. The amber at its core is unparalleled. It smells of a profound knowledge and wisdom accumulated over decades of work, years and years of tinkering away at how best to convey smooth woods, indolic florals, overripe fruits, and dry green Earth. Ocean Rain is perhaps the only assignment that would have been fitting for Mr. Roudnitska at that point in his life, the task of creating something entirely new and pure, while drawing on all that came before it.

Yes, it smells of petrichor on a clean beach, but the impression I get is of a passionate moment in the sand with a woman, many decades earlier, a memory embedded in scent. Ocean Rain conveys beach, sun, and water, but also sweaty skin, the taste of someone's mouth, an inhalation of soft, sweet, floral perfume on a faceless woman's breast, and that familiar, faintly metallic exhilaration of air and white noise that fills the lungs during the little death. Pretty spooky. It's pointless to break this fragrance down into notes and accords. It is, always and all at once, the whole picture, an olfactory paradox. It's a deeply personal experience, encoded in a flawless design. Despite his being long gone, I'm able to see snatches of what Roudnitska saw, smell what he smelled, down to the iron in his blood, and experience in full an exact personal moment that is not my own, but now mine.

I encourage you to seek this fragrance out if you haven't already done so, and experience how a perfume can be possessed by its maker, a man who understood that his final vision's longevity would be best preserved by cheap synthetics that may never turn. Ocean Rain is a masterpiece. There has never been anything like it before, nor will there ever be anything like it again.


1/28/15

Fake Vintage Showcase: Climat Parfum by Lancôme (1967)


Looks Real. Is Fake. Currently $334.31, Plus Shipping.


I've taken some heat in the past for claiming that vintages are faked on auction sites, as if this idea is batshit crazy instead of an obvious fact of life. In my prior post I talked about vintage enthusiasts a bit, stating that they are generally well-informed people with an in-depth appreciation of perfume history. Yet there is a pallor of informational hubris on this population, in that some folks think they know what a specific vintage should look like, without ever actually checking and cross-referencing their sources (if they have any) to verify.

From what I've read, I think that there have been hundreds of people suckered by clever counterfeiters into thinking their vintage is the genuine article, a tragi-comic situation. Imagine spending $300 on a "rare" bottle of something ostensibly forty or fifty years old, and taking it to your grave thinking you've been its proud owner, when in fact you were bilked and simply never knew it. Not a pleasant thought. Ignorance may be bliss, but then again why wonder if you've done something stupid? Better to know.

Take Climat Parfum by Lancôme, for instance. This was a popular fragrance in the eighties and nineties, though it was originally released in the mid sixties. The nineties version in the blue box has become quite a seller on Ebay in recent years, commanding impressive triple-digit prices, but also some fairly affordable numbers in the $40 - $80 range. It's one of those off-the-beaten-path feminines that few talk about anymore, originally made by a prestigious French firm, and long since discontinued, something that has its fans perpetually upset, I'm sure. One would think that it's wonderful that conscientious Ebay sellers have unlimited access to dusty stashes of the stuff, because how else can a chic girl get her pretty manicured hands on it? All she has to do is hop on the internet, click "Buy It Now," and she's the proud owner of a vintage bottle. Thank you, technology!

Except that she's almost guaranteed to get a fake. How do I know this? There's a blogger who has compared Ebay "vintages" to her own original, store-bought vintages. Amazing how simple that is. She kept the old stuff for years, and eventually held it up against photos on Ebay to compare. If they match, the seller is honest. If they don't, look out. Apparently there are some tricky things to look out for with Lancôme perfumes from the eighties and nineties. The accent mark over the "o" in their name as printed in ads may not match the mark on the perfume bottle. The little ribbon around the neck of the Climat bottle will be specific colors, likely a bit discolored by time. Letters will match up to each other, line by line. The perfume itself will be a specific color. The box will likely have certain features. Everything needs to add up here. Ultimately, your bottle of Climat should look like this:


And not the worthless piece of cheese nestled here:


It's hard to get too angry at the seller of the bottle above, because he or she is only asking $45 for it, but what about the same kind of counterfeit at the top of the page, going for over three hundred bucks? Some unfortunate sap will pick it up eventually, thinking she's (a) lucky to be wealthy enough to drop hundreds of bucks on vintage crap, and (b) she's lucky enough to have found an old favorite on Ebay. Now some have argued that those wealthy enough to drop this kind of money on perfume wouldn't really care if they took a loss on an accidental fake vintage purchase, but I beg to differ. I've known some wealthy people in my time. They're usually penny pinchers who only spend when they absolutely must, and even then they do it begrudgingly. With Climat, that leaves people with some disposable income who are not actually rich, but who desperately want that vintage bottle. So they splurge and buy it, and they're the real victims. To the guy who could afford a $300 lunch, losing on a counterfeit is no biggie. But to the average working person who makes $45K a year with partial benefits, it's highway robbery.

I encourage you to read that blog post I linked here. Then visit Ebay and type in "Climat" or "Vintage Climat." You'll find that most of the parfums listed are either hard to discern (the 'ol "unopened box" trick), or blatantly not the genuine article. Some are so poorly counterfeited that you can see specks of black ink smattered across the bottle. Others are very good attempts, but are a little too pristine to be up to snuff.

About five years ago, perfumeshrine.blogspot.com published a piece warning about vintage counterfeits, which is something more writers should be doing, and highlighted one especially nefarious crook who goes to great lengths to replicate vintage Chanels. Take a look at this "vintage" N°22:


Looks pretty real, right? Yet it's fake, fake, fake. The technique in question? Pretty much everything I've ever said is done to fake this shit - a carefully replicated label stuck on a pour bottle, carefully colored liquid placed a few centimeters down to create that "naturally evaporated" look, and all sorts of other shenanigans. His feedback as reported on perfumeshrine was 100%, and according to the post's author, he has:
". . . an endless supply of specific rare things, especially Carons (Farnesiana and Tabac Blond extraits are his specialty, as well as older classic Guerlains in a pleiad of incarnations and coveted Cuir de Russie, No.22, Bois des Iles and super rare No.46 Chanel extraits in collectable bottles)."
This makes me wonder if anything on Ebay can be trusted. Naturally there are real vintages on there, but it's the weeding through process that's so tricky. In this example we have someone who is clearly a criminal attempting to make a living through sales of extremely expensive counterfeits, preying on people who think they know what they're getting, or who perhaps have their heads too far up their own asses to even care.

It's noted that most scammers aren't as meticulous about it as the one mentioned on perfumeshrine, but my belief is that there's a whole league of scammers out there who buy up empty vintage bottles and fill them with home-made perfumes that are then put up for sale on Ebay as being "rare" specimens of vintage. How hard is that to do, really? All you need is some busy, old-fashioned drugstore perfume, food coloring, maybe a few inexpensive essential oils from one of those health-nut sites, and you have something that approximates what a vintage might have smelled like. Most vintage buyers can't remember what the original formulas smelled like, if those formulas were released in their lifetime, and even if they do, they often don't have any on hand to use as a guide when purchasing. They are reading notes pyramids and reviews online, and whatever they receive in the mail will be accepted if it comes close to what they had in their head. For vintage counterfeiters, it's a fool's paradise.






1/27/15

The "Tasters" And The "Feelers"



"What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it."

Mr. Warhol's famous quote about Coca-Cola is perhaps one of the most prescient statements about the American condition. It encapsulates the reality behind our national pride: we cherish the symbolism of "sameness," and hold it up as a democratic ideal. Naturally the wealthy and the poor must inhabit different spheres of living, and of course those spheres spin in different universes, but lookey here! We've connected them with sugar water. The multi-billionaire and the back-alley bum can both experience the sameness of a Coke. When it comes to this beverage, all the money in the world, all the influence and power is not enough to make it taste better. It is what it is for everyone. It is the same for everyone. No one Coke is better than another.

Unless you ask Mexican Coke enthusiasts. Ever hear of Mexican Coke? I'm sure you have, and if you haven't, let me fill you in on the viewpoint held by its ardent fans. They claim Mexican Coke is much better than American Coke. It tastes better. It's better for you. It's undeniably a different formula. It's spicier. It's sweeter. It's more floral. It's richer, deeper, more nuanced. The claims go on and on. Oh, and it comes in an old-fashioned green glass bottle with sixties-styled ACL labeling. What could be cooler? Just the packaging alone should elevate the worth of Mexican Coke head and shoulders above the drab, plastic-bottled American swill we Yanks suffer with.

As a consumer of Mexican Coca-Cola, I can confirm that the soda does taste a bit better in regards to how its sweetness is handled, due to its containing regular cane sugar instead of hi-fructose corn syrup. And I also agree that the bottle is awesome. It's heavy glass, nicely curved to fit your hand. Put simply, drinking Mexican Coke is fun because you get to see what the soda tastes like with sugar instead of corn syrup, and the bottle is retro and really cool. However, that's where the novelty ends. When I first started drinking this south-of-the-border product several years ago, I was struck by how disappointing its flavor was. Sure, the tongue knows real sugar from corn syrup. That's all fine and well.

But the actual flavor of Mex Coke was not quite as fizzy and fresh tasting as American Coke. Something seemed wrong, either with the product, or my own taste buds. Or maybe I just had unrealistic expectations because of the hype. I'd been led to believe there was something special about the formula that did not bear out when I finally wrapped my lips around the bottle. In truth, it tasted like slightly flat Coke with a slightly flat "Coke flavor" that was pleasant and familiar, but nothing remotely close to being the dream elixir people made it out to be. All the chatter I'd heard in high school was just hot air. But hey, kids talk, right?

So do fragrance enthusiasts. It never ceases to amaze me how persistently threads about the value of vintage fragrances pop up on basenotes and other forums, people going on and on about how this fragrance or that has been ruined, how one should try to find certain labeling to ensure their perfume is the "real deal," and how shitty reformulations are. As with anything that isn't standardized the way soda production is, there are shades of truth to these claims. Unlike Coke manufacturing, fragrance production isn't a black and white issue. There are some very subjective and very sensitive shades of grey. But like the Mexican Coke debacle, the notion that something older is automatically better, just because it's made with something natural and housed in the original package, is inherently flawed.

Loving vintage because it's always "better" than a current formula is a joke. I like jokes. I like to laugh. The notion that something older is better just because it's older flies in the face of human nature. The best of anything need never be changed. Yet we change most things, most of the time. With vintage fragrances, I've had the Mexican Coke experience far more often than not. It's true, occasionally I find a vintage that surpasses current things in quality and wearability, and sometimes ingredient quality is truly head and shoulders above anything new. My last review was of Furyo by Jacques Bogart, a lovely fougère with exotic floral notes and a smart incense reconstruction. The lavender was all but dead in it, but at least I got thirteen hours of beautiful heart and base notes.

Contrast that experience to something like Relax by Davidoff, for example. For years I read about how criminal it was that Davidoff discontinued Relax, how wonderful it was, how much better than Zino it was, how unique it smelled, how I had to have it. When I finally got my hands on a small bottle, I found the fragrance to be pretty mediocre. Sure, it didn't deserve to be dc'd based on smell alone, but I didn't get what all the fuss was about. Zino and Cool Water are both far superior. Relax didn't smell unique at all - it smelled like a cross between Brut, Zino, and Skin Bracer. Its discontinuation was utterly understandable to me. This frag had been Mexican Coked in the blogosphere. And I'd been punked.

Look at Joint by Roccobarocco. Another one that got soaringly good reviews by a few prolific reviewers online. I couldn't help but wonder if the enthusiasm was more Luca Turin-like than sincere. Turin is notorious for heaping adulation on fragrances that are nearly impossible to find because they're in extremely limited distribution, or discontinued for decades, like Blue Stratos, Givenchy III, and Caldey Island Lavender. This only flies as long as the fragrance is out of reach. Once acquired and tested, all bets are off. When I bought my bottle of Joint and began wearing it for a week, I found the reality didn't match the myth. This fragrance was also very mediocre, derivative, and synthetic. It belongs in the graveyard with Relax.

There's some science to the idea that people favor things because of their novelty. J. Kenji López-Alt, the managing director of the site seriouseats.com, conducted a double-blind experiment three years ago with Mexican Coke and American Coke. He has discovered several times in his esteemed career that the mind plays tricks on us when it comes to our taste buds (our noses and taste buds are interdependent), and this example further bolstered his case. I'll let you read for yourself, but the bottom line was that despite the preconceived idea that Mexican Coke was exotically superior to American Coke, people overwhelmingly preferred the flavor of American Coke in blind tests. Mr. López-Alt was able to discern two different populations in his tests, the "Tasters" and the "Feelers."

The "Tasters" were the people who preferred the flavor of American Coke over Mexican Coke, regardless of what container it was served in. So even when Mexican Coke was served in a plastic American bottle, they weren't fooled. The American Coke delivered in a glass bottle was identified as different from and preferable to the Mexican formula in the same bottle. The "Tasters" preferred the flavor of American Coke seven times out of eight.

The "Feelers" on the other hand were influenced overwhelmingly by the glass bottle the Coke was served in, preferring it over the stuff in plastic and cans. It didn't matter whether it was American or Mexican coke. The "Feelers" were more about the tactile feeling of glass against their lips, and the taste was secondary, if it mattered at all. That didn't stop the "Feelers" from saying the Coke in glass tasted better, of course. In their minds, the flavor of something from an old-fashioned package had to be better by default, because that's how they always felt about it.

My belief is that vintage enthusiasts are very knowledgeable about perfume in general. They understand perfume history better than the average person, maybe even a bit better than the above-average person, and they value that history. I believe vintage enthusiasts also have a dim view of most contemporary perfumes, generally feeling that current releases are crap, perfumers are now beholden to accountants like never before, and big corporations are ruining the world and people's enjoyment of it. Vintage enthusiasts are the "Feelers" of the fragrance world, those who would rather pick up an old bottle of semi-spoiled Habit Rouge and spritz themselves with it than grab a brand-new, totally fresh bottle and wear that instead. The old bottle looks better, the color of the perfume is deeper and more promising, and the fact that top notes and some heart notes are spoiled doesn't always register.

There are among us some true "Tasters," however. I call it like I smell it, pulling no punches when it comes to the true value of vintage. If I smell notes that are spoiled, accords that are unbalanced, bases that are prematurely appearing mere minutes after application, I tell you about it. I don't go on the internet and say things about really old perfumes like, "Other than a few seconds of flat top notes, the heart and base is beautiful," unless it's really true, and guess what? Sometimes it's not true. My mission in life is not to ruin the fun for vintage enthusiasts. My mission is to be more honest. Sometimes vintages smell gorgeous, and when that happens I'll tell you. But very often vintages smell a bit spoiled. I can abide some spoilage, if there's something good left behind to redeem it, but I'll never tell you that a vintage perfume is better than its newest incarnation.

There was a basenotes thread a while back in which the OP touted the notion that he's never encountered a spoiled vintage, or that at least the number of times he'd smelled a spoiled scent were far outnumbered by the times he'd smelled perfectly preserved vintages. He kept asking people to send him their spoiled scents, I guess to prove the point that people were lying about their claims of encountering spoilage, which seemed downright strange, if you ask me. It didn't occur to him that people usually toss their spoiled fragrances shortly after purchase, nor did it seem reasonable to him to suppose that nobody would want to be bothered to go to the trouble of packaging and mailing a bottle of skunked juice to god knows where. What would that prove? He would likely receive the package and either (a) claim the fragrance wasn't really spoiled and the sender was mistaken about it, or (b) agree it was spoiled but then question the honesty of the sender, wondering whether he did something to it prior to mailing it. In either case, his assessment of the spoiled scent would prove nothing. What he was asking was bizarre, and to my knowledge nobody humored him.

Towards the end of the discussion, one disgusted thread participant said flat-out that he wouldn't trust the OP, a vintage perfume peddler, to send him quality vintage perfume. The OP's contention that virtually ALL vintages he'd encountered smelled fine was not credible. It wasn't credible to me, either. My guess is this person is a "Feeler," someone who sees a vintage bottle, holds it, reads about it, and just "feels" that it must be better than its reformulation, or a current comparative. That feeling is self-reinforcing once the fragrance is smelled, because a very old perfume is guaranteed to smell different from a new one. Different is all that matters, not a "better" smell. Different to him is better. He's interested in the unique sensory experience that comes with owning a vintage, especially a rare vintage.

Like I said earlier, it's tricky comparing Coke to perfume. Coke is a mass-produced, one-size-fits-all product. Perfume is a design aesthetic and is not the least bit uniform. Subjectivity plays a huge part. The guy with the vintage thread is not necessarily wrong in his belief - but he is also not significantly right, either. Perception varies by person, and there are billions of people, and billions of perceptions. With variables judging variables, the number of rulings is endless.



1/22/15

Furyo (Jacques Bogart)



More Perfume Economics 101: when in doubt about the value of a discontinued scent found online, visit your local hole-in-the-wall brick and mortar store and find out what it's really worth. I'm not talking Perfumania chain stores or even your typical mall island kiosk. I'm talking an independently owned and operated shop that carries a wide range of fragrances in both gender categories. I'm lucky enough to have two near my house, and when one comes up short, the other invariably delivers. The fragrance in question today is Furyo by Jacques Bogart, another lovely ambery fougère from the late eighties. It was wisely placed just under Lapidus Pour Homme on the Leffingwell chart, although to me it calls to mind Joint by Roccobarocco. It definitely shares the same vibe as Joint, smelling of rich musks and spiced woods.

Ebay sellers are attempting to get no less than $100 for three ounces, with the cheapest bottle (one ounce) currently up for $66.99. I've been parsing Ebay for a few weeks now, hoping a three ouncer would show up for less than seventy bucks, but no luck. Fortunately I was able to snag that same size here in CT for $34.97, and yes, it's "vintage," with a slightly tattered box and an ingredients list naming only SD Alcohol, fragrance, and water. My receipt is something I should try to sell on Ebay, particularly to the jerks who want to get $100+ for Furyo.


Let's not beat around the bush here - Jacques Bogart is not an upscale fragrance brand. Their scents are lower middle shelf, generally cheaply made, but made with love. I expected Furyo to be boisterous and fairly well balanced, but also expected to encounter some degradation in quality, as I did with Joint, and as I have with pretty much every vintage scent that I've smelled. Furyo is indeed boisterous at first. There are rich cinnamon, honey, musk (possibly real civet), and wormwood notes that hit the nose, but I sense there was once a stronger lavender and some distinct citrus, both missing from my juice. Within thirty seconds its floral heart, velvety and bittersweet, emerges and wows me. I can tell Furyo has become a bit condensed with age, its heart phase making a premature appearance, but at least it smells smooth and elegant, a truly stunning musky fern.

Like Joint, Furyo is a very focused fougère. It's not linear, but after drydown it doesn't make any sudden moves. I definitely like it much better than Joint, although I do like Joint. Unfortunately Roccobarocco's fougère possesses a strange mustiness that threatens its balance a bit before everything deflates into a disappointingly cheap laundry musk of sorts, but Furyo never smells musty, cheap, or deflated, although it does become pretty tame and even a little soapy the longer it sits on skin. Several reviewers have commented that they smell a similarity to Kouros in Furyo, as in Joint, but I don't get the comparison in either scent. I'm beginning to think that the similarity exists in a certain type of musk that I must be anosmic to. If there is a family resemblance, I simply can't smell it. If I had to link it to something else from its era, I'd say that like Joint, Furyo smells strongly similar to Zino by Davidoff.

I think Furyo is a lovely fragrance, and definitely worth seeking out for fans of old-school musky fougères from the eighties and early nineties. It broadly fits into the same category as Kouros, Balenciaga PH, Zino, Vermeil for Men, and even Aubusson PH, as Furyo has a very noticeable touch of sweet red apple. I'll add that I enjoy smelling this on myself, but I would enjoy it even more on a beautiful woman in her late twenties or early to mid thirties. Of all the brusque "manly" ferns, this one is the most gender neutral, with rose, jasmine, and carnation comprising its core structure. This is a casual but dignified perfume that I'm very happy to own and wear, especially because I was fortunate enough to find it for less than forty dollars.

If I can do that, so can you. Get off the internet and get back into brick and mortar stores if you're looking for discontinued frags. You have nothing to lose, and potentially quite a bit of money to save.