Shooting From The Hip, Hitting Empty Bottles

Expended Art?

"All art must lie by definition, but in the best possible sense." - Chandler Burr, "A Fragrance Critic on the Problem With Perfume," by Kathleen Hou, nymag.com, October 22, 2014

My boss recently said, "It amazes me how often people come to me with problems that they have not thought all the way through." He is an intellectual person, a doctorate with a few decades of experience in his field, and his message was multi-faceted. In one sense, people do not think their arguments through, and when they approach him with something that they perceive to be a problem, they are usually not prepared to answer his questions as to why they feel it is a problem. That sounds stupid, but I believe him when he says it happens all the time. Usually people don't think things from their cranium to their corns - they're content to stop at their gut and just spout off from there. Feelings, not ideas, reign supreme.

The other sense of his statement is where its genius rests: people must consider an issue very carefully before they can declare it a problem. Usually our perceived problems bite us in the nose, and there is little need to stand around rubbing our chins about them, because their deleterious qualities are readily identifiable. However, we should ask ourselves if we've considered the issues at hand thoroughly enough to actually define them as "problems." With enough careful thought, solutions are generated. The birth of a solution marks the death of a problem. A person who stops to ask himself if he or she really has a problem is likely to weigh its importance against other factors, and consider strategies for dealing with the issue at hand before it can ever actually manifest in the outside world as a definite "problem."

Reading some of the press for Chandler Burr's new book about Dior's perfumes has me believing that Mr. Burr is continuing to behave in a way motivated by gut instincts more than the whole self (mind, body, spirit, etc), and it's troubling, because he is one of a paltry few people who tries, again and again, to generate honest dialogues about perfume, and its place in our post-postmodern world. The problem here, as I have carefully considered it, is that Burr continues to insist that perfume is art, when it is in fact design. That one of the few contemporary voices to define perfume could be so wrong is almost as distressing as the fact that there are hardly any other voices to counter his opinions. The man's logic exists in a vacuum, not entirely of its own making.

The quote that precedes this blog post establishes that Burr believes perfume is art, and thus he also believes that perfumers are artists, their works are "lies in the best possible sense." Does this idea have any intrinsic value, any sturdy basis in fact?

I detected a hint of incredulity in Ms. Hou's tone when she asked Burr about his opinion on perfume as a part of fashion, "You don't think there is a link between fashion and perfume? That is a bold statement coming from the author of a book about Dior."

Burr answers this in the predictable manner, one that supports his Perfume As Art philosophy, which is only remotely tenable if we establish that Perfume Is Not Design, which he attempts to do, rather brusquely, when he answers, "there is no link between fashion and perfume."

It only takes one sentence to destroy Burr's logic: Christian Dior's fashion designs, when presented to the twentieth century fashion world, grew in popularity, which led to his branching into the perfume industry, producing works like Diorling, Diorella, Poison, Fahrenheit, and Dune, all of which irrevocably strengthened our appreciation for modern perfumes with their beauty, in turn creating another way in which people could appreciate the Dior brand.

There. In one run-on sentence, I have established a clear link between perfume and fashion. It is a link any thinking person can make. Except Chandler Burr, apparently.

But Burr's opinion on fashion is not what irks me. I get annoyed whenever I read his canned candy-cane answer, a seemingly stock answer, to the implied question, "What is art?" He constantly spews the same nonsense. Art, according to him, is "artifice." Art is artificial, a sort of intellectual white lie people tell each other to enrich their minds, if that could possibly make any sense. "All art must lie by definition."

First question - where exactly did he get this definition from?

Second question, why doesn't Burr mention specific artists who corroborate his view with their own? Contrast Burr's view of art with Jonathan Fineberg's definition of both art and artists, from the second edition of his book, Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being. Fineberg writes,
"For all sincere artists, their art is an evolving perspective on events, and it is who they are. 'I realized that I had things in my head not like what I had been taught,' Georgia O'Keefe wrote to her friend Anita Pollitzer, 'not like what I had seen - shapes and ideas so familiar to me that it hadn't occurred to me to put them down. I decided to stop painting, to put away everything I had done, and to start to say the things that were my own.'"

Can an "evolving perspective on events" be a lie? Can it be packaged in a lie? Are all messages inherently lies? Even good lies?

By including the quote from Georgia O'Keefe, Fineberg gets to the heart of the matter very succinctly. Some art is a lie. The lies are those that fail to express the self. They are academic still lives, illustrations for children's books, attempts to mimic style and content using similar styles and subject matter. Even great artists like Georgia O'Keefe go through periods of their lives where they literally live a lie, drawing, painting, sculpting things that are in no way attached to the hand that makes them.

A true intellectual sees past these works, to the very different works that express the self of the artist. This is the "A-Ha!" moment O'Keefe refers to in her own artistic development. It is at this tier of artistic comprehension that the fallacy in Burr's logic is exposed, for if art is a lie, then those telling the lie and perceiving it must be susceptible to something other than the truth, a state which no thinking person finds himself in when he confronts artworks. We do not approach paintings and sculptures and installation pieces with blank slate, filterless minds, absorbing their content through a literal lens, and walking away believing untruths, nor do artists seek to manipulate viewers with their work. Art is an extension of being, and to simply be is profoundly at odds with even the most well-intentioned deception. Art is an expression of self that is also an extension of self, taking the inside and placing it in an outer context, "to say the things that are one's own."

What does perfume say? Perfume says nothing. How do we know? Because perfume, unlike the self, is finite. Great works of art exist on a spectrum of historical space that extends indefinitely into a potentially unending future (several thousand years from now, man will leave Earth, colonize other worlds, and take art and creative impulses with him). Perfume, on the other hand, can be used up, and there must be a conscious and usually commercially-driven decision to replenish it, if we are to continue experiencing it. Words and images about ourselves, once expressed, can not be taken back. Perfume, once made, can be used up. Recalled. Spilled. Forgotten under a medicine cabinet somewhere. Discovered under a medicine cabinet, tested for freshness, and thrown out.

Burr's account of art and artists is very pedestrian, very piecemeal and one dimensional, and what irritates me is that he attempts to elevate perfume to the status of fine art without actually understanding what fine art is in the first place. A rudimentary art history course, conducted by a decent professor with the guidance of a good textbook, is enough to shatter Burr's entire philosophy like an empty perfume bottle. I fear that unless someone speaks up and argues against his nonsense, we'll be subjected to more of it in the years to come. And that, my friends, is a problem.


Thoughts From Me, To November, To You

So I just read Luca Turin's latest review, this one for Amouage Sunshine, entitled "Chemical Floral," an attribute given to any floral composition he dislikes, it seems (Amirage and Cabotine spring to mind). I've been enjoying the Good Doctor's reviews lately, probably for two simple reasons above all others: (1) he has been missed, as it's been a few years since his last major publication, and (2), he seems to be getting less poetic and more cantankerous in his old age, letting the ivory tower invectives fly with more abandon than I recall.

Take this sentence, for example:
"Sunshine feels like the sort of 'safe' white flowers fragrance that bean counters demand to replenish coffers depleted by artistic license."
Translated, that's saying something like, "This perfume is unfortunately designed to save Amouage from the dire financial straits it has found itself in after years of foisting borderline unwearable, buy-once-for-prestige, faux pas orientals on women who would rather just smell good." Kinda makes me want to run out and try Sunshine for myself. It can't be any worse than Epic Man.

Anyway, it's November, one of the drabbest months of the year, that block of rainy grey sandwiched between the fiery opulence of October and the electrical festivities of December. Boredom rules here in Connecticut. The only thing I'm doing is starting work on my kitchen, which will eventually look exactly like this:

I'm not even that enthused about Thanksgiving this year, not because I can't muster an appetite, but because the holiday has been inadvertently hijacked by invisible forces beyond my already tiny cosmic purview.

If Thanksgiving existed to do my bidding, I'd have family and only the closest of close family friends for dinner, but reality dictates that people I've never even met before can come to the table, all in the name of "giving thanks together," which is better in theory than in practice. Hell, I'd sooner have Bigsly over for dinner than total strangers.

My folks used to entertain friends of theirs, a very pleasant (and sadly childless) middle-aged couple, having them over for Thanksgiving every year for about ten or eleven years, until they retired and moved to Florida last year. My parents thought their "goodwill" and "sharing" would at least buy them occasional social contact from the Sunshine State, but their investment has not once reached out, nary a single phone call, and it has them feeling a bit bitter, if you know what I mean. Out of sight, out of mind, apparently. This year a couple that my brother's partner knows from sometime way back in his past will visit us, and I can't say I'm very sure what to think of it. I'm all for sharing and being friendly, open, communal, whatever, but when you toil in the kitchen for a combined total of eighty hours cooking, basting, table setting, the least a person could do is call once in a while and ask how life's been treating you. And just popping up randomly as friends of a friend? That's already one degree of Kevin Bacon too far removed for me to do much more than nod and grin as I sit down to eat. If I were calling the holiday shots, these people would be better off ordering Chinese takeout.

One little tidbit from all the November boredom involves my recent infatuation with an old fifties classic, Wind Song by Prince Matchabelli, which I've already given a complete review on this blog. I've never owned a bottle, but I saw the stuff at Walmart the other day going for $14, and figured it might make a good aftershave for a certain feminine I've been wearing lately. That's the difficulty with wearing feminine fragrances, really - there are no shave sets for them. The scent in question is Guerlain's Mitsouko, which puts me in a Catherine Deneuve, Belle du Jour, rolling in the leaves state of mind every time I wear it. The stuff is gorgeous, but I don't have anything to complement it on my shave days. Enter Wind Song.

The trick is to shave with either the citrus or the original Gillette shaving cream and then spritz Wind Song on my freshly-shorn skin, followed by a copious cold water wash, to literally remove 95% of the Wind Song from the equation. The remaining five percent of the fragrance is basically a dry, woody citrus afterglow that blends beautifully with the rich bergamot/iris/labadnum accord in Mitsy. Would I just full on wear Wind Song in lieu of Mitsouko? Actually no. It smells great, but without utilitarian application it smells a bit dowdy, frumpy, grandmotherly. In this manner, however, with the hot razor resting nearby, Wind Song has a very specific, very Francophile-icious purpose.

While I'm talking about shaving creams, I just want to devote a few words to the original Barbasol. I don't know if any of you wetshavers out there are Barbasol users like I once was, but after buying and using the original the other day, I must state for the record that the fragrance of Barbasol shaving cream has been reformulated, and reformulated badly. I haven't the slightest idea what they were thinking, but the product now smells like some sort of makeup creme. It stinks. It in no way resembles the anisic, spicy sparkle of old-school manliness that I knew and loved. I am now using Gillette cream exclusively - the original Gillette in the red can is a dead ringer for Old Spice - although Burt's Bees may get a fair shake. I gave it a sniff this morning at Stop & Shop and really liked it. (Very expensive, though.)

Looking forward to wearing Garner James' Cathedral in Flames in December, a month when I shall deck my halls with all sorts of things that people thought went out of production thirty or forty years ago.


Cool Water Coral Reef (Davidoff)

I'd say that I don't understand Davidoff's need to issue annual Cool Water "summer" flankers, but it's not really true, because I know exactly why they do it: Cool Water, like other classic eighties masculines, has a fan club. A very LARGE fan club. Fragrances like Cool Water, Eternity for Men, Joop! Homme, all have yearly reissues in some new style to cater to the hundreds of thousands of hardcore, sales statistically verifiable fans, those guys and girls who repurchase the namesake again and again. This stands in stark contrast to those perfumes that are discontinued after just one release, yet appear on Ebay at wildly inflated prices. Fan clubs, like any buying demographic, should inject the commercial shelf-life of a product with numerous spin-offs and continued success.

This is the second Cool Water flanker I've put my good money down on, and I don't regret it. The first was Cool Water Into The Ocean, which is a very pleasant, somewhat briny, Calone-infused aquatic variant of the original. I won't get into purchasing all the summer flankers, nor will I adopt the mindset of a "Cool Water completist" who must have every single bottle ever made, but I thought it would be interesting to delve a little further into this seemingly endless commercial phenomenon. Cool Water Coral Reef is an odd one, not because of how it smells, but because it continues to perpetuate the false notion that this fragrance is first and foremost an aquatic. It's really a green and somewhat woody fresh fougère, with a few clever aromatics in play, dihydromyrcenol and Calone among them.

Coral Reef is in no way representative of an aquatic, but is actually a near exact replica of Coty Aspen for Men, itself a bit of a Cool Water clone, although lately it's more often compared to Green Irish Tweed. I respect the collective opinion of those who smell GIT in Aspen, but I've never been one to see the connection, mainly because Aspen is far woodier than its Creed and Davidoff progenitors, boasting a sizable wintergreen mint note, a brusque pine sap effect, and a warm, cedary amber that is more reminiscent of lumberjacking in the woods than drinking martinis on a gorgeous woman's veranda. Coral Reef possesses the exact same mint-heavy top, charmingly fresh pine notes, and a slightly more textured woody amber drydown, with strong hits of lavender, jasmine, and violet. Other than those extra florals, it's Aspen through and through.

Why own Coral Reef when you can own Aspen for fifteen dollars less? There's no great reason, except that Davidoff's scent uses slightly higher quality synthetics that don't fuzz out after thirty minutes on skin, which helps it retain its complexity and minty nuances for an extra ninety minutes or so. Also, Coral Reef has some of the original Cool Water's lavender and neroli lurking under all the mint and pine. To smell it is to experience the cold mountain air freshness of a postmodern fougère, filtered through a Russian forest. Ironically, it's also a good choice for the autumn and winter seasons, thanks to its evergreen elements. Nothing original, not going to turn heads, but timeless, very masculine, and very nice.


Brut Actif Blue (Fabergé / Helen Of Troy)

This fragrance is still in production, but is labeled simply "Brut Blue" now, for whatever reason. I don't fully understand the marketing behind any of the Brut products, if you can even call it marketing, and I suppose that when Idelle Labs finally sells the line to someone else, we'll see a big change-up in advertising. The current marketing strategy is an almost comical attempt to bury the brand six feet under. It's a shame, because I see the Brut line as something that possesses incredible sex appeal. These fragrances are the sort of thing that women and men are drawn to.

I vaguely remember Actif Blue in the mid nineties, probably shortly before it was discontinued. It was in drugstores next to regular Brut, and my local CVS had it going for around nine or ten dollars, even back then. In retrospect that was expensive, but I've realized that Blue was Fabergé's one and only attempt to copy Davidoff Cool Water. It was one of the earliest clones, having been released in 1994. What else can I say? It smelled fairly pedestrian (still does - I gave it another whirl the other day), but not bad, fresh, but not "aquatic," masculine, but not butch, and rather sweet, which put it squarely in sync with the zeitgeist of its era.

You really have to be cash-strapped (or careless) to spring for Brut Blue today, when Cool Water is only ten dollars more, and of considerably better quality. Nevertheless, some men really don't care, and there are plenty of high school and college dudes who would rather drop that Hamilton on a case of beer than a cologne. Financial circumstances aside, buying, owning, and wearing Actif Blue or its current glass bottle incarnation doesn't hurt anyone. Despite its cheapness, it smells good. Sure, if fuzzes out after forty-five minutes into a nondescript green apple and white musk accord of little distinction, and you'll never win an award for originality wearing it, but it smells crisp, clean, masculine, and approachable. It's pretty good stuff for the money.

Another congener for the same price is Aspen for Men by Coty, which I personally prefer for its clever use of wintergreen and pine sap notes, but I guess there are reasons to favor the more lavender-forward Blue. When you look at what's available to women in the ten dollar range, you find that most of their "body sprays" are awful in comparison, sloppy syrups of shrill floral aldehydes, ethyl-maltol, and fake fruit esters that I wouldn't give to anyone over the age of ten. While thrifty guys may sacrifice uniqueness in the fragrance department, our options are considerably better, and Actif Blue remains a respectable one.


Armani Code Ultimate (Giorgio Armani)

The German brand, Joop!, is known for infusing its masculine range with a very synthetic heliotrope note that is equal parts rich and fresh, like having an over-ripe bouquet shoved in your face. It's hard to manage in Joop! Homme, somewhat easier to use in Joop! Homme Wild, and given true artistic treatment in Joop! Jump (my favorite Joop! frag). It's a very late eighties and nineties style, that tonka-heavy breeze of plastic-flower sweetness, something that filled the halls of my high school and wafted off every girl and guy at my prom. Hindsight is twenty twenty: had I known then what I know now, I might've enjoyed myself more. I always took the nineties to be a wussy follow-up to the eighties, a decade of neutered rock (Goo Goo Dolls, Collective Soul), piss-poor pop (Puff Daddy, Madonna's ill-advised comeback), and unforgivably stupid styles (oversized flannels, baggy jeans, the Ceasar haircut).

Turns out the decade was actually better than I gave it credit for. As I reference the landmark scents of the decade, I find that it was another powerhouse era, only this time the fragrances were more overtly synthetic, less representative of anything in nature, disarmingly affable, and very, very sweet. It was a time where sweet was done LOUD. Le Male, A*Men, and for the Joop! fans, Joop! Homme (original), along with my beloved Tommy, these are just a few of the trendsetters of the era, and all shared a common trait - sweetness. For some reason Armani figured men hadn't had enough sugar, and released the first Code in 2004, by which time I'd become a disciple of Allure Homme. I never wore Code, but I remember smelling it here and there, in malls, perhaps on the occasional bloke, and it reminded me of the nineties. It was cut from that cloth, a sweet, powdery, friendly scent with good sillage, and a remarkable tendency to remain in the room several minutes after its wearer had left.

Armani Code Ultimate is merely Code with a massive heliotrope note, and a heavier, tonka-rich amber. The heliotrope is sweet, synthetic, in your face, but there are some crisp fougère elements in the mix as well, with a brusque lavender on top, and a subtler woody amber lurking under the sweetness. As a whole, the fragrance resembles Joop! Jump the closest, which by a few degrees of separation makes it somewhat similar to Allure Homme, though I'd rather wear Jump and Allure than Code. Armani's take on this genre is a little too faceless and "safe," and feels rather tired. It's a faded rerun of sweet fougèrientals, and many of the originals were better. Even the original Code handles powdery amber in a more full-throated, unconventional manner. Comparatives like Jump and Allure Homme have much more memorable accords also, like the coriander/vodka notes in the former, and the labdanum/rosewood bit in the latter.

Despite my personal preference, I recommend Code Ultimate as a middle-shelf, everyday work scent for the young man (or woman) who admired its more daring nineties progenitors, but never found one tame enough to wear. You'll certainly smell good wearing this. Just don't expect to smell exciting, or original.


Play (Givenchy)

It might look like 1953, but it's really just two hours ago.

Work on my living room is, after four months, finally nearing completion. My classic wingback got reupholstered and delivered on Saturday, I finally found time to add the third bookshelf (and my books), and a fern was gifted to me, an unexpected but somehow totally appropriate addition to the space. On Saturday I did some wandering through antique stores in Seymour, CT, which is actually a little mecca for antique collectors, as there are literally ten or eleven shops within a two block radius. In one of them I stumbled upon a decorative bowl (sort of a cross between a plate and a bowl, seen above on the coffee table), and was told it was heavily discounted because it had some kiln damage, which honestly wasn't very noticeable. It was eerie how well it complemented the room. When I bought it, I had my fingers crossed that it would at least look good on the bookshelf, but it turned out to have all the colors in the room swirled together into one piece. Really fun stuff.

When you look at the picture above, you're looking at my living room, and I hope it evokes the fifties, a bygone era. That was my goal. Bringing that time period back to life is a lot more difficult than you might think. I know it was harder than I thought it would be, and frankly I didn't do that good of a job, but it's at least in the ballpark. There was plenty of cheating, of course. The wingback chair, now dark reddish-brown leather, is actually an eighties piece directly from the Reagan years, and those aren't real Stiffel lamps in the corners, but that didn't matter to me as much as capturing a certain feel of the time, something that could be put into a few simple words. After extensive research, the words that came to mind were, "Classy as shit." The fifties were years with a polarized aesthetic, as there were either very campy colors (bright pinks, seafoam greens, platinum blondes), or very stuffy schemes (greys and taupes, rough-hewn wicker, Tom Ewell's apartment in The Seven Year Itch). I decided to go for stuffy, simply because it's easier to live with than campy. At least stuffiness, if done with attention to detail, can slip quietly into the realm of a classiness reserved for people with limited means, but good taste.

Givenchy's mall offerings are usually not my thing, but Play is, to me at least, a bit of a throwback scent. It took me three months to figure out what it smelled like, and then it hit me: Cotton Club. Play has the exact same fancy aftershave vibe, something only a wetshaver can truly appreciate for what it is (and what it isn't). The ergonomics of perfumers is hard to understand, but I don't think it's unrealistic to suppose that many of them resort to imitation to save time, and in this case Emilie Coppermann and Lucas Sieuzac were turning to the old-fashioned alchemical pizzaz of Barbasol-and-Styptic. Someone was thinking of their dad when they threw this together, and I say "threw" because it smells like an intentionally hackneyed scent, a handful of musky aroma chemicals with requisite notes of saccharine citrus, simplistic florals, and thin woods that were incrementally measured, mixed together by hand, and left to sit for forty-eight hours before being pushed off to the marketing department.

With Play, try to ignore the blurbs about its notes, and tune out the salesman. Ignore even the Basenotes and Fragrantica pyramids. There's no serious coffee note in this scent, nor is there "tobacco blossom," or "amyris." There's linalool (or something like it), literally a half dozen musks, a very faint woody amber, just enough citrus aldehyde to give it lift, and not much else. Its overall tonality is a couple shades darker than Cotton Club's, but otherwise they're both colors on the same paint strip. Despite its casual airiness, the old-school aftershave approach is always an unpretentious, no-bullshit, classy direction for a fragrance to go in, and I have to award a major thumbs up to Play for keeping it real. The only problem of course is that this sort of fragrance costs ten times as much as your average aftershave, but in this case you're paying for better longevity, and hopefully a firmer presence in this shameless world we live in.


The Dust Collectors: Why No Sales?

In the previous post, I wrote at length about the odd nature of Patou Pour Homme's "legacy" among collectors and would-be collectors. My thesis here is simple: if people didn't buy it then, there's no reason to believe they'll buy it now. Defenders of those astronomical Ebay prices like to roll out the usual arguments about the normalcy of capitalism in these matters, and how "fans" of discontinued fragrances are the ones contributing to their posthumus commercial success. But as I pointed out, those arguments, while semantically feasible, are purely examples of stupidity in action. These arguments, when transposed upon the filaments of 2014's fragrance economics, simply don't align. The "Capitalism Explains The Price" argument is a "one size fits all" contention that is entirely impossible to generalize into all markets.

To recap what I mean by this, just look at the car market. Remember the Yugo, also known as the Zastava Koral? When it was first released in 1978, it was handmade by the classier brand Fiat as the Fiat 127, and was intended to be a bold new low-cost, low-maintenance town car (with sport potential). The joke was on Fiat; Americans created their own catchphrase for it: "Yugo Nowhere." This was followed by, "It's a good hand-warmer." Yugos broke down a lot and had to be pushed, but hey, at least the rear windows were heated! Despite its many commercial issues, the Fiat namesake had a following, the car sold just well enough to survive in the American market until 1991 or 1992, and it even has an actual fan club. Like perfume, cars are a technologically designed commodity, a product of commercial innovation, with most of their working parts invisible, yet their benefits serving a specific social function.

Although foreign production is still in progress, Yugo ceased being imported into the United States over twenty years ago, and Western models are no longer manufactured. The car we knew back then is essentially extinct. If we apply some of the false tenets of perfume economics to the Yugo, we immediately see problems. First, and like Patou PH, the car came from an esteemed lineage, a very competent background of means. It had commercial viability. It was released. It was briefly embraced by Westerners as something that might be worthy of use, but they tried it, disliked it, and rejected it. It was discontinued. It now has a fanclub. There's even talk by its manufacturers of bringing it back someday.

Yet old Yugos do not command even a 100% price increase, not even by dollar inflation standards (1987 - 2010). This article is a beautiful example of how people react to a lame attempt at tripling the inflationary value of a 1987 Yugo. The writer posits that "America's cult love-affair with the cheapest car in the market quickly dried out after customers realized that they got what they paid for with sales plundering to just under 4,000 units in 1991, the last year the Yugo was imported to the States." He also points out that this model could be purchased new back in '87 for $3,990, but now the asking price is $14,500!

As you can see in the comments, there are some reluctant defenders of this sort of price inflation, but they don't even bother to come right out and state their position clearly. They simply try to cut through the backlash, and the backlash is pretty succinct in its overall tone. One person writes:
"The dude is asking $14500! That awful garbage is worth $800 at most. Not the price of a brand new Chrysler."
That's an interesting point, because here the quality of the car can be clearly seen in the pictures, and yet this person is seeing past them, recalling that the vehicle's quality was far below average. Another person writes:
"Owned an 85 Yugo GV. First car right out of college. Had it 4 years, took care of it, and did the maintenance when it was due. Had 56000 miles on it and it never broke down. Other than tires and brakes I had no issues. Would love to find one I can work on with my son. But not for $14,000!"
This is an even better perspective, because it's clear this person owned and really liked the vehicle, and would actually purchase it again if he had the chance. Yet he feels the asking price is not reasonable in this instance. This is sanity talking. And then there's this comment:
"I want to buy this car, but it's nowhere near worth $14,500, my older brother had one brand new and only payed $1000 for it. So now I wouldn't even pay that, I would only pay like $300 for it, maybe $500.
This comment gets to the core of the issue. When a designed article is appropriated by society, and then recycled through its shelf-life, its value should remain relative to its usefulness. There is sizable depreciation. That is, of course, based on usability, being that these are DESIGNED products.

This is why chairs, plates, silverware, some articles of furniture and houseware, all appreciate in value over the years. Few moving parts. Often very little wear and tear. Sometimes repairs on things like broken plates are so adequate that the damage is invisible. So time is, literally, on their side. But things like cars, which have two hundred thousand moving parts, and perfumes, with millions of volatile molecules in perpetual motion, suffer with age, and rightly their value should depreciate. If the value does increase, it should be at pace with inflation alone - the '87 Yugo in 2010 dollars would have been $7,658 new, half of what the Vegas dealer in the article was asking. Search for Yugos on Craigslist, and you'll see that the average asking price is around $1,000. Those prices are well explained by everything we know about Yugos. The Vegas dealer's $14,500 price? Inexplicable.

I find that the notion that vintage perfumes should be privy to price inflations by hundreds of percentage points contradicts two aspects of classic capitalism, the first being supply and demand, and the second being product value. In the first instance, discontinued perfumes went largely unsold, as their audience failed to warm to them, hence the supply should be inordinately large compared to the demand, which would be relatively small. In the second instance, with perfume being a volatile example of product design, the quality should dictate diminishing returns with every passing year, in any commercial setting, be it internet or brick and mortar sales. Obviously a citrus fragrance that is forty-three years old is not going to have the same quality and performance as a citrus fragrance that is three years old. So why pay three times as much for the forty-three year-old scent? Its usability is highly questionable, and its collectibility only extends to the cosmetic preservation of the bottle the fragrance is housed in (a skunked bottle can be refilled with colored water).

My questions here are, why were people not buying certain perfumes to begin with? What was the reason that people rejected them? What drove them to discontinuation? What made them rare in the first place? And why are people assigning absurd values to them now?

Examining possible answers to these questions is not an exact science by any means, and probably isn't a science at all. This just comes down to being brutally frank with what we're smelling, and not romanticizing things and blowing them out of proportion. I've comprised a short list of discontinued fragrances that have become very expensive on Ebay and elsewhere, yet have never been brought back by their manufacturer, and remain extinct. Here's my take on them.

1. Relax, Davidoff (1990) This is my favorite discontinued posher, a fragrance which today only the well-funded are allowed to enjoy, it seems. Released 24 years ago, it was an almost instant commercial failure, and in some ways that actually pulls its current high prices closer to the breast of reason. One can argue that Relax never had a chance for people to embrace its beauty, as it was pulled too soon. Sometimes brands do that, pull a product because they didn't do adequate market research on it, and can no longer justify the distribution costs. Unfortunately though I think Relax was out long enough to catch on, simply because there's such a preponderance of bottles out there still, which tells me that the world's stock was extensive enough for at least one or two large countries to shine to it. That simply did not happen. It was not moving units. But why? The answer is in the scent itself. Davidoff, like Joop! and many other designer brands, has a signature synthetic accord that is reminiscent of rosewood and pipe tobacco, a very burly little number that is quite nice. Zino has it, even Cool Water has a hint of it. Relax had it too, but that was all Relax had, the basic two-chord aroma wafting gently from under a sweet mint top. What does that amount to? A good perfume, certainly, but rather like an overdone Skin Bracer. Was it worth $20 an ounce back then? Not to consumers. So should it be worth $125 an ounce now? Regrettably not. Pretty bottle, though.

2. Zino, Davidoff (1986) Davidoff discontinued most of their older scents, and Zino may have been a victim of overproduction. I would guess that what happened in the middle of the 1980s, here in the States and in Europe, was symptomatic of most problems with these oldies. Zino was an excellent fragrance in its own right, a very brisk lavender/rosewood extravaganza that smelled dark, mysterious, sexy, a little dirty. All good things, but look out! Here it comes: it's dated. I wore Zino on a weekend in Prague with a woman very dear to my heart, and she hated it. She didn't have the heart to tell me. She wasn't one of these "I Love Pink" bubbleheads, either. She loved the darker things in life, and she was extremely intelligent, and a very modest dresser. But this fragrance made her wrinkle her nose and walk out of the room every time I put it on. One has to wonder what she would have said if she hadn't been more polite, but I think it would have gone something like this: "Bryan, your cologne is not good. I mean, okay, it smells like maybe good for an older cologne, but today? No. Just wanted to tell you that, dear." Ouch. I've included Zino in this list not as an example of a perfume that now commands ridiculous prices, but to show that even a decent, inexpensive oldie had a reason for being axed, and that reason applies to many of the old ones that are now gone.

3. Derby, Guerlain (1985) Maybe it's my opinion of Derby. Maybe it's the fact that I don't cow to other people's bullshit when it comes to how "great" certain perfumes supposedly are. Maybe it's just that Derby really doesn't smell all that good. To this day, I'm mystified by how anyone could think this perfume is worth hundreds of today's dollars. There's one on Ebay right now, a 3.4 ounce square-bottle, for $800. This is an okay perfume. It smells fine, in a very safe, conventional, no-frills guy sort of way. The nutmeg was done before by Cacharel. The woody citrus thing? Done by many others, and most of them better. Guerlain's own Vetiver, in the older formulation, is but one example. But it's Guerlain, so shouldn't it be worth a gazillion dollars? Guerlain is notorious for having been mismanaged over the decades, as many of these older French concerns seem to be. Perhaps the discontinuation of Derby was one of those bad managerial decisions, but I think people really didn't like it. I'm amenable to this sort of breezy, Warren Beatty-esque old-school masculine, but I don't like Derby. Why don't I like it? I don't think it's very good. If I had to guess - and with its discontinuation in my corner - I'd say I wasn't alone in my assessment. Even the reissued version smells better. If not enough people were buying it in the eighties, and old stock doesn't smell very good now, why in the living fuck would I shell out $800 for it? You tell me.

4. Jules, Dior (1980) Reading the reviews of this one tells me all I need to know (I've never smelled it). People can't mention Jules without mentioning Kouros by YSL. A common meme in the world of vintage perfume fantasy is that the extinct species closely resembles a living specimen. In this case, the survivor was clearly the better perfume. Why does the world need a proto-Kouros? Every pre-war wetshaver masculine had already filled those shoes, but Jules tried and failed to win hearts with nostalgia. The Kouros family resemblance continues to bear out in the survivors with the lowest price tags, things like Lapidus PH and even smaller bottles of Balenciaga PH. Jules was always pricy, originally just under Kouros' price-point, before Ebayers ratcheted the costs up to $270, $350, and $500, as can be seen on there today. You'd be better off buying vintage Kouros for the same amount. At least you're getting the genes that nature perfected in that one, all of which are traceable to Creed's Orange Spice, if Bourdon is the author of that scent as well.

5. KL Homme, Karl Lagerfeld (1986) Prices for this one have been steadily rising over the last twelve months, which tells me that people are beginning to weed through their perfume collections to find things they can "bank" on, and make room for the shit they'll actually wear on a regular basis. I paid less than $40 for my 2 oz bottle a little while ago at a store here in CT, but the same size is going for around $75 now on that awful Bay, and larger bottles are over $100. This is a clear case of a perfume existing for no reason, other than to make money. KL Homme is a very well made, very likable powdery oriental, with a robust amber accord and very competent citrus elements on top. Yet it does nothing new, truly adds nothing to conversations about orientals, and isn't very memorable. It's just a nice fragrance to wear. But $75 - $100 nice? No. There's no doubt in my mind that KL Homme lost market share to Calvin Klein's Obsession for Men, which used to be a very rich citrus/incense fragrance, made with materials that I find to be of equal, if not better quality. I still have my vintage bottle of Obsession, and though its notes are no longer separable (time has ravaged it), the basic premise serves memory well: exciting, sexy, worth owning. KL Homme? Smells nice, but not as complex, and more than a little dull. Did guys agree back in the day? Without a doubt. Does it smell more complex and interesting in 2014? Only barely. Hey, if you want to spend three or four times more than the perfume is worth because you think it's "aged well," I can't stop you. Personally I'd wait until I spot it at a real market price ($25 - $35) in a brick and mortar, but that's just me.

6. Joint Pour Homme, Roccobarocco (1993) I almost forgot to mention Joint! Funny story: once upon a time, as in a year ago, Joint was on Ebay for astronomical prices. You couldn't get an ounce without spending at least $100, and 3.4 ounces were priced at $200, easy. At least, that's what they were asking. Then a funny thing happened - nobody bought it. Why? Because nobody's ever fucking heard of Joint, that's why. So in round six of dumbass perfume economics, let's break it down. A perfume is made. A perfume is barely marketed, if at all, and then nobody buys it because nobody knows it exists, and the few who do only buy it once because once they wear it, they realize it's just another eighties clone holdover, this time mimicking Zino, but with civet and heavy, vanillic castoreum. It has an impressive dusky, burly, animalic/woody structure for about three hours, and then the cash runs out and it fuzzes into nothing, a surprising and disappointing end, even for a clone. Come full circle twenty years later, and for whatever reason a few guys on Ebay decide to try to put the chicken before the egg, and jack the prices on Joint. They hope that people will happen upon it, find it to be very expensive, research it, and think, "Okay, this one is for 'aficionados,' and I am an aficionado, because I will spend two hundred dollars on a three ounce bottle." But no, it doesn't happen. Why doesn't it happen? Because people in 1993 didn't know Joint existed, so why the hell would they know it exists in 2013? A year later, all those greedy buggers on the Bay realized that it's better to make a little money than no money at all, and the prices were corrected down to $38 an ounce, something that only happens with discontinued perfumes that LITERALLY NOBODY HAS EVER HEARD OF BEFORE, EXCEPT MAYBE SEVEN OR EIGHT GUYS ON BASENOTES. One or two of those guys might argue, "But Bryan, don't you think that what really happened is that a 'secret stash' of Joint was discovered and disseminated to the Ebay merchants somehow, and that's the reason for the price reductions?" My very wordy, drawn-out, Woody Allen-esquely intellectually stimulating answer? No. See the above.

7. Red for Men, Giorgio Beverly Hills (1991) Last but not least is my favorite old-school frag to criticize, and for good reason, as it's a very mediocre offering. Some have said they think it's a marvel, beautifully complex, relatively natural, and one of a kind. "Better than Niche." Yeah, right. First of all, the same people who say this often follow it by saying something like, "If you want something similar to vintage Red but without the synthetic aspect of the reformulation, try Preferred Stock by Coty." This comparison cracks me up. Actually, it's the statement that "Preferred Stock smells like vintage Red for Men" that cracks me up, to be specific. Why is that funny? Because it's exactly backwards: Red was released AFTER Preferred Stock. If anything, vintage Red smells like Preferred Stock, not the other way around. So why even bother with Red? Okay, I'll be fair enough and say that Red's older formula apparently smelled a bit more complex and textured than Preferred Stock ever did, but then why was it discontinued? This brings me back to the Jules/Kouros problem - fragrances competing with themselves. When two frags smell very similar, the better smell is bound to survive, even if it came second, as Kouros did. Red for Men was never worth any more than its standard retail price, but somewhere along the way people started thinking that its demand was sizable enough to warrant doubling, even tripling the asking price for 3.4 oz bottles. In recent years there was quite a bit of conversation about it on Fragrantica and Basenotes, and indeed I believe that there was a pool of consumers who remembered Red and wanted it back. Nostalgic pinings, one might say. That was enough for manufacturers to reissue the fragrance, but only at the hilariously discounted price of $20, roughly $6 an ounce. This makes it cheaper than its template, the still going, going, going energizer bunny Preferred Stock! The irony. In the end, I think the original Red was probably very nice, because Preferred Stock is very nice, and I'm sure it warrants its reissue, although the new version is not as nice as Preferred Stock ever was. The guy on Ebay right now asking $99 for a 3.4 oz bottle of the original formula can sit and spin, although I applaud him for taking a $50 fragrance and only trying to double his money, unlike the merchant blitz that went on five years ago, with guys trying to jack prices up to $500. Unlike Patou PH, you don't see those insanely-priced bottles of Red on Ebay anymore. Why? People bought the reissued Red, remembered why they stopped buying it in the nineties, and were "Reality-Checked." The fan club learned that it doesn't pay to view the past through Red-rosy colored glasses.

Before I close, I want to add one more thing. A friend of mine likes to point out that I'm unreasonable if I think that everyone values objects the same way, and therefore I should make concessions for those who actually do feel that the frags listed above are worth what they're being priced at. That's fair enough, and I concede that people are within the bounds of reason to spend whatever they want on whatever they want. But there's a name for the type of people who spend two, three, four, even five or six hundred percent more on something that was originally not valued enough to remain on the market. They're called suckers. I wouldn't be surprised if one was out there right now, wearing Patou Pour Homme while driving his $14,500 Yugo.