A Note To "Newbies"

If you're new to fragrance and interested in exploring all that the fragrance world has to offer, I suggest you secure a steady confidence in yourself first, because there are dangers.

One danger, perhaps the least of them, is the issue of finances. This is in every form a pricy pursuit. There are certainly a few thousand "cheap" scents that can be had by the bottle for anywhere from $5 to $25, and running through them won't necessarily break the bank. But bear in mind that there are literally thousands of these "cheapies" out there, and if you're set on amassing a thorough collection of all of them, $5 a bottle suddenly takes on a different meaning.

Which brings me to the next danger: addiction. Yes, you're smiling. You're thinking I'm being an alarmist. Take it from someone who felt as you do; entertaining my interest in olfactory exploration seemed entirely innocent at the outset, but before long I found myself needing to own things I wasn't completely prepared to buy. I couldn't help myself. If I liked something, I wanted it, and eventually bought it. The feeling is not unlike that of "needing" a cigarette. You think you're in control by abstaining, but all the while you can't get it out of your head.

Another danger is what I call "collection confirmation bias." You have a fully formed opinion of a certain type of fragrance, and only partially formed opinions of others, and your collection is limited to your bias, and you automatically assume you smell terrific. Chances are only 50/50 that you're right. I see this all the time on Badger & Blade. That community is full of guys who collect cheaper "wetshaver" fragrances. Their bias is typically for things that are inexpensive and old-school. Many of these fellows wear this stuff exclusively, and they think they smell terrific. But do others agree? With such a limited range in their collections, it's likely they appeal to other people half of the time, and the other half they're actually annoying everyone around them. They've stopped on the one kind of fragrance they enjoy, and failed to diversify. A stopped clock is only right twice a day.

This brings me to the final and most relevant danger that you face. As a "newbie," you're hungry for information, for guidance, and you're impressionable. You scour the boards for tips, and take advice from others seriously. Most people are out to help you, but some have their heads up their asses. These are the people who imply that there are "wrong" fragrances and "right" fragrances, and that wearing and liking the "wrongs" makes you "inexperienced" and/or "naive."

In the fragrance exploration business, the "rights" and "wrongs" come in groups, not as individual scents. For example, liking and wearing Tuscany by Aramis is automatically "right." If you like it, you should wear it and enjoy it. But only pursuing aromatic fougeres, and strictly wearing those kinds of compositions is not the most open-minded and enlightening approach. You're better off branching out into other realms also, because who knows what else you'll discover and come to love? There are some excellent chypres and orientals out there as well.

Don't let anyone tell you that liking something specific is "wrong." Don't let people attach any meaning to your preference that strays beyond "you like it, and that's all that matters." If you like a specific designer frag, and many in the community do not share the sentiment, you're still "right," because what your nose appreciates is all that matters - your nose is the only one you have! There are no external social forces, no ideologies or beliefs that can outweigh your own feelings. There is no cost-to-value ratio that supersedes the priceless sense of pleasure gleaned from something you enjoy.

Why should anyone else dictate what you like? Why should you have to explain yourself? There are no reasons to entertain that audience, because there are no authorities in the community. Don't let anyone tell you that they know more about fragrance because they've smelled thousands of fragrances. A man with five thousand reviews under his belt has still only experienced 1% of what's out there. In 2016 there are as many perfumes in the world as there are stars in the sky. No man has experienced enough of them to claim the title of "expert."

Now go forth, and enjoy your new passion. A brave new world stretches yonder.


Stupidity Is Like A Car Wreck: Despite Your Best Efforts, You Can't Look Away


I'm fully aware that at this point, Bigsly is just trolling me and everyone he mentions in his continuing one-man dialogue with "unreasonable" people who enjoy Dior Sauvage. He's "Trumping" me, knowing I'll respond aggressively to his pointless comments, all of which play like a broken record, and I suspect he enjoys it. My answer: who cares?

If Bigsly wrote a successful blog, and had any influence in the community, I'd be more circumspect in responding, but given that he rarely gets any comments from anyone, has half the readership of my (admittedly tiny) publication, and is generally ignored on the boards, it's almost like I'm posing hypothetical arguments when I quote his positions here. And to his credit, I think they're worth mentioning.

His latest beauty on Fragrantica's Sauvage page reads (in summary):

"I can understand how some would enjoy this, or how they noticed many compliments (though those who tried it who I know personally said they didn't like it at all), but you have to make a logical argument! Is this the only scent that garners compliments? . . . think most people want to at least smell a bit unique when they spray on a scent. Instead, it seems like some people want to feel vindicated, as if when enough people online (and anonymous) say Sauvage is great, then that justifies paying more than you would have for Mambo, Berlin by Playboy, or any number of other 'cheapos' that would make you smell more unique and might garner as many if not more compliments! And this leads me to think that many 'Sauvage lovers' don't have all that much experience, either will less expensive (non-department store) scents or with scents in general. If you disagree with me, please make a reasonable argument - I'm really interested to hear one at this point."

The humorous thing here is that it almost seems like Bigsly is offended by the public's enjoyment of an unremarkable designer fragrance. Anytime a person expresses a solid thumbs-up for Sauvage, it's only a matter of days before Bigsly pretends to be the "seasoned nose" who must hold their hands and guide them toward whatever realm of perfumery he deems to be of greater benefit and importance to them.

With absolutely no evidence, he claims that people who enjoy Sauvage "don't have all that much experience." How does he deduce this? What "smoking gun" does he offer to suggest that pro-Sauvage commentators are "newbies?" There is none.

He also says that if you enjoy it and receive compliments on it, you "have to make logical argument(s)!" But why, exactly? When did Bigsly write the rules for how you can enjoy something, and how to express your enjoyment? Thus far he has utterly failed to make a "logical argument" for his own position on Sauvage, so why should anyone else qualify their opinions for him?

Sandwiched between these two baseless claims, he tosses out his latest and greatest canard about "cheaper" fragrances. According to him, people who enjoy their sample of Sauvage and purchase a bottle are attempting to justify their purchase by talking it up online. Bizarrely, he imagines they're doing this to negate the benefits of buying cheaper fragrances that are supposedly just as good (or better) because they lack the experience of smelling these cheaper fragrances, and want to bypass the whole "cheap" category altogether via Sauvage. So in other words, they're newbies, they don't want to be bothered with exploring cheaper fragrances, so they buy Sauvage and then head straight to the boards to "feel vindicated" about spending $80 for something they enjoy.

You know what I'd find refreshing? If Bigsly could actually articulate why he believes anyone's enjoyment of Sauvage has any bearing on their personal opinions of fragrances that are not Sauvage. How does a positive review of Sauvage directly correlate with a broader negative worldview toward "cheapies?" Can he ever convincingly make that connection? I seriously doubt it.

His latest comment is the stupidest thing I've ever read online. It's the definition of "unreasonable argument." And it's like a bad car wreck - I just can't look away.

Edit 8/13/16:

Our friend responded by listing reasons why one cannot "defend" liking Sauvage, and every reason he's given is demonstrably false. For example, he claims:

"It can't be argued that there is nothing like Sauvage because one can say that about any of these concoctions."

Rubbish. Of course you can argue that, because the conversations on basenotes about Sauvage support the argument entirely. When a perfume is truly one of a kind, an interesting thing happens - it gets compared to everything under the sun. Such is the case with this Dior. By my last count there were over twenty different scents Sauvage was compared to on basenotes, and at least the same number on Fragrantica. None of the comparatives smell anything like Sauvage, really. Contrast that with something like Green Irish Tweed, which has three easy and accurate comparatives, and you see how quickly Bigsly's point sinks. Why would he say something so obviously wrong?

"It can't be argued that Sauvage is less expensive than niche . . ."

This is funny. When I have made the argument in the past that vintage fragrances being listed on eBay are grossly overpriced, Bigsly's response was that price is always relative. He likes to claim that for some (presumably wealthy) people out there, spending $750 on something like Patou Pour Homme is no biggie, so why am I making a stink about it? Yet all of a sudden Bigsly is about "reasonable" prices. Sauvage's price at $25 an ounce plus tax is very concerning and perplexing to him. How do I know this? You don't have to be a mind reader. Just count the words in his posts until you reach the part about how he can spend anywhere from $5 - $7 on a "cheapie" that he prefers to Sauvage. If I were Bigsly I'd be more concerned with outrageous prices for my beloved vintage favs than with whatever sticker shock accompanies a designer frag that I don't even want to buy.

"If you claim that you want to smell unique, how can you not consider several of the other hundreds of 'masculines' released recently?"

Bigsly makes the unsupported argument that total strangers on the internet who have chosen to own and wear Sauvage have made their choice without considering other options. How and why he comes to this point is a mystery, although I suspect that what he follows it with is part and parcel to a classic straw man:

"If you don't mind 'smelling like every other guy,' that's fine, but then why spend so much? . . . One reasonable response is that the person doesn't want to spend the time doing the research . . ."

Bigsly has set up a false scenario by generating the assumption that Sauvage fans wish to smell like everyone else. He then clinches it with the straw-filled claim that these folks don't want to be bothered finding cheaper and more unique scents. The reality is that Sauvage is a unique fragrance, less than a quarter of the public purchases and wears perfume of any kind, so there's little danger of ever "smelling like every other guy" no matter what you wear, and there is absolutely no reason to assume that people who enjoy Sauvage want to smell like anything other than Sauvage when they wear it. There is also no clear basis on which to assume that Sauvage wearers have made an uninformed choice. Again, this is an argument Bigsly makes that nobody else brings up when discussing this scent.

He brings it all home with a strange set of points:

"There's nothing wrong with wanting to just go to the local mall and buy a scent at the department store fragrance counter - why not just leave it at that?"

Gee, dunno Bigs. Why not? Maybe because every week you pollute the review thread on Fragrantica with non-reviews about Sauvage and its fans. You're the one who can't "just leave it at that."

"Why feel that you need to go online and 'defend' the scent?"

How one could perceive positive reviews of a new Dior fragrance as being "defense" is a better question.

"If Berlin [by Playboy] is likely to 'accomplish' the same thing that Sauvage does, shouldn't you be glad?"

How is a dirt-cheap drugstore frag that has nothing to do with Sauvage, that shares none of its notes, likely to accomplish what Sauvage accomplishes? This needs to be clearly answered in a plausible way that accounts for my recent note on cheap scents and the headspace test before I or anyone else could be bothered with Bigsly's query. For one thing, most fragrances in Berlin's price range are unlikely to match anything in Dior's range because of concentration issues alone. Two sprays of Sauvage will last ten hours. You'd be lucky to get three hours from the same amount of a Playboy scent. And then there's the fact that Bigsly is the only one to ever compare Sauvage to Berlin. I fail to see how the comparison holds any more water than when Sauvage was compared to Aventus.

As Bibi said in her comment below, stupid people really don't know they're stupid.


The Rise Of Niche May Be A Curse

Painting By Bruce Pennington

In the last ten years, the world has seen a proliferation of niche perfumes unlike any in history, with literally tens of thousands of independent and luxury perfume makers flooding the market. I won't go on and on about the nature of the industry in this post (this will not be a long post), as I'd rather ponder the implications that this phenomenon holds for society. In my view, things look grim.

Perfume is without question a luxury item, an unnecessary accoutrement to one's grooming routine that usually costs more money than it's worth. Yes, it's wonderful stuff, and sure, we're all the better for having it, but personal fragrance is the sort of thing that enters dead last on the list of Shit You Must Have. Food, shelter, steady work, transportation, all are infinitely more important.

What do we know about the fragrance industry as it parallels the global economy? We have seen in the last decade the formation of an incredible economic divide. In America, the top one percent of the population holds almost forty percent of the nation's wealth, while the middle class flounders at less than a quarter percent. The average niche perfume costs about $140 per 100 ml bottle. Which demographic do you think is buying these fragrances? Clue: the majority of middle class American families aren't blowing their money on niche perfumes.

The middle class makes up the majority of the population.

With this basic knowledge in hand, we must heuristically conclude that the majority of niche buyers are people in the upper class. They are a small subset of the population, but they are the drivers of the burgeoning luxury market, which sees continuing growth.

This bodes ill for society as a whole. While the majority of the American people (and European people, for that matter) struggle on a day-to-day basis to make ends meet, and an astonishing 43% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, a tiny subset of anywhere from 5% to 15% of the population is making enough money to fuel an industry. Part of that industry is niche perfumery.

Of course there are outliers. Some who firmly inhabit the middle of the middle class will be tangential spenders who are either (a) bad with money, or (b) so obsessed, they don't care how they spend every last penny of disposable income. These people will buy niche at any cost and accumulate bottles as collectors, or as investors looking to re-sell. You can't tell me Dan "My Mickers" on Youtube is a one percenter - although he may be upper middle class for all I know. There are certainly many Dans out there.

But their numbers aren't enough to keep the insanely expensive niche perfume industry alive and well. Someone else is doing that. It's no coincidence that the niche market exploded after the crash of 2008. In the ensuing eight years, the economy stagnated for the majority of the population, but boomed at unprecedented levels for the already rich.

The chickens may be coming home to roost. The rise of niche may be a curse.

This election season has been many things to many people, but one thing I've noticed is that everybody is very, very scared. Everybody. Not just the lower and middle classes. Even the rich are terrified. The Koch brothers are scratching their heads, trying to fathom how we got to this point, with Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton the two major candidates. Two terrible choices. And if you know anything about the Koch brothers, you know they usually aren't scratching their heads during an election. They're usually rigging the shit out of our make-believe democracy. The fact that even they don't know what's going on has me, quite ironically, a little worried.

If Hillary wins, America's relationship with Russia will deteriorate further than it already has. A new Cold War will begin, which will be a gateway to WWIII. President Putin has already expressed rankling concern with America's missile defense system, stationed in Romania and several other remote outposts flanking his country. He astutely holds our "democracy" in low esteem, and considers anti-American foreign policy justifiable not only in bureaucratic terms, but also on moral grounds.

It's also reasonable to suppose that a Hillary victory would do little to stem the tide of ISIS attacks in Europe and the Middle East. And I'm a firm believer that we're headed for another catastrophic recession, possibly even a depression, with our fundamentally unsound stock market sitting a little too pretty.

A Trump presidency would guarantee a recession, triggered by evaporated investor confidence alone, and an emboldened Russia would simply go ahead with whatever plans it has to retake annexed Soviet territories, spurring all kinds of conflict. North Korea would grow the stones to act on its fantasies, our domestic economy would crater those tidy jobs numbers Obama's been bragging about, social politics would mudslide back to the fifties (in the last two years we've managed to make it as far back as the sixties), and the world would soon label America's vacationing travelers "refugees."

This all falls shy of being apocalyptic, but consider that at near negative interest rates on bonds, and certain commodities holding on by a thread, the Federal Reserve has no bullets left in its gun. Another crisis means we're on our own.

What does this have to do with perfume? Nothing and everything.

I'm not suggesting that these bad political choices are directly related to the world of niche fragrance. But I am suggesting that the burgeoning luxury market of niche is a symptom of a greater problem. It's nice that the wealthy have so much money that they can finance these start-ups and buy their overpriced compositions. It's wonderful that brands like Memo and Byredo and Clive Christian and Creed have sprung from the loins of Europe and found homes on the napes of lily-white necks across the continent. There's nothing wrong with it on an objective business level.

But the fact that there are so many of these niche fragrances, thousands of them priced at $250, $300, $500 a bottle (or more), signals danger on a social level. As Nick Hanauer said two years ago, "The pitchforks are coming." He couldn't be more right about that.

Don't let your scent trail lead them to you.


A Quick Note On Cheap Scents

Sometimes I get asked about whether a "cheap" scent that by all measures smells good is worth buying in the place of something similar but more expensive.

Ninety-nine percent of the time I recommend the better fragrance. I know, you're wondering what I mean by "better." It's not difficult to define the term: the fragrance that smells better is the one you should consider first. If cost is a concern but not a deal-breaker, why not wait and save for it? A few weeks, or even months can't hurt. I firmly believe that price should only be factored in when there's indisputable parity in both quality of construction and legibility of performance.

Many cheap fragrances that can be purchased for fifteen dollars or less per 100 ml are solidly constructed and very good performers. But beware. Always keep this phrase in the back of your mind: "cologney baloney."

We've all done it. We spot a cheapie, 50 or 100 ml bottles of some obscure drugstore thing that samples nicely and seems to be an apt addition to the wardrobe as a "novelty purchase."

We wear the frag and enjoy it, but in the back of our minds wonder, what's the catch? Did I really just get a fresh-fruity cheapie that I like? Or am I paying for its cheapness somehow, in some manner less obvious to me, but not others?

It's what I call the "headspace test."

Always have a large fruit handy, like a smooth melon or even just a large apple. Spritz it with your new find, and let its skin simulate yours. Sit several feet away from it. Walk past it quickly.

Is what you're smelling on the fruit the same as what was on your hand in the store?

With very cheap fragrances, there's a higher chance that the headspace off the fruit will emit something bland, clean, and nondescript. Close up, with your nose mere millimeters from where you sprayed, you may get a very complex blend of lucid accords and individual notes.

But from a natural social distance of four to six feet, you may get a very blobby, washed-out "cologney baloney" chemical smell, as faceless as a Swedish guy at the Winter Olympics. All of those perky green-woods and musk notes may become Bounce dryer sheets. A few ounces of extra air between the scent and your nose may reveal where the fragrance company's budget fell short.

Cheapies like Caron Yatagan and Krizia Uomo don't suffer this fate because their profit margin is modest. In fairness though, Caron charges premium prices for their scents at retail, and only grey market prices are reasonable. Ditto for Krizia.

This fact makes typical internet sales for them excellent deals, and the kind of "cheapie" one can buy without second guessing their judgment.

Stuff by Jovan, Playboy, Nautica, and Avon are not as likely to fare well in the headspace test. This isn't to say that all scents by these brands are "cologney baloney" in nature. But some are. If you want a super cheap "cologney" effect, and don't mind smelling like ivory-white laundry, you may as well just wear 4711. For that effect, the fault is exclusively found in any and all pretense.


On Aging Computers And Perfumes (Updated)

This post is a heads-up to my regular readers. Unfortunately my computer crapped out on me earlier this month, about a week after posting the tobacco piece, and for a few weeks at least my content will be written on my iPad (which lacks a proper keyboard), so posts will be short, sweet, Luca Turin-like, and probably a little less frequent until I get a new machine. It's not a surprising development for me because the computer was ten years old, downright ancient in computer years, which I think are similar to dog years, at least as far as Acer laptops are concerned.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to decide if I want to get something new or just refurbish the old, and haven't made up my mind yet. Don't worry, this blog will stay alive, and will pick up steam again when the technology is updated, but until then you can expect a bit of a slowdown. Oh, and no images, either. I can't get the iPad to cooperate with blogger and post images. Total bummer. Please bear with me.

Anyway, I wanted to post my thoughts - my updated thoughts - on maceration, and what claims about maceration mean in the community these days. There's currently a fifteen page thread on Basenotes about a new indie perfume brand, with several members complaining that the fragrances aren't strong enough, and are therefore a bit of a ripoff. This prompted other members to discuss the merits of an oft-disputed subject: in-bottle maceration, or "aging."

People dispute that perfume can age in its bottle, and some have come up with bizarre theories about the idea. At least one person has offered the Russian logic argument that perfumes will seem to get stronger because our "sensitivities" will be enhanced as they're exposed to something over time, but every scientifically researched article about this (that I've read) says the exact opposite is true. Why do people feel that something as simple as a few aroma chemicals "meshing" over time is so far-fetched?

My guess is that this is not something that is easy to accept if you hold certain rigid opinions about perfume, and interestingly this topic encompasses a very broad orthodoxy. But I notice that only one kind of person acts threatened by the bottle maceration theory - the vintage enthusiast.

If you don't believe that mathematical time can exert a meaningful force upon volatile mixtures of natural and unnatural chemicals, then you're the perfect candidate for loving vintage perfume while unconditionally disliking their newer, reformulated counterparts.

This kind of person would claim that perfume can last a century buried at the bottom of the sea without spoiling, and in the same breath say that new fragrances, reformulated items they've only tried once or twice out of brand-new bottles, are cheap and unworthy. They're comfortable with the idea that the stuff in the ancient bottle hasn't changed, and that the stuff in the new bottle won't change.

This kind of person would be, I would guess, the sort of individual that has faith in mystical things, like the Jesus story. The Problem of Evil would be a foreign concept to him. But at least he's consistent.

Update (7/28/16):

In a humorously convoluted effort to "prove a negative" and convince his readers that perfumes can't become stronger in their bottles over time, the B Man has lectured everyone on the scientific method, saying with characteristic aplomb that:

"Turning to 'modern perfumery,' there are some interesting claims that exist in the online community. One is that some of these olfactory concoctions (in sealed bottles), created by professional perfumers and almost always highly synthetic, could change in less than a year's time and become much stronger, yet still smell the same! In this instance, it's a scientific claim, as all the variables can be measured."

Because our friend is the master of straw man arguments, I'll bypass the irrelevant excercise of attempting to use the scientific method to support this foregone conclusion. Does anyone doubt that alcohol and water evaporate much faster than certain oils and aroma chemicals? Is there any question that leaving, say, a bottle of balsamic vinegar slightly open would result in its liquids gradually reducing to a concentration of its solids (leaving a very strong and pungent salad dressing behind)? In the year 2016, do we need more scientific analysis of the different ways that fluids of varying densities, viscosities, and chemical volatilities might evaporate to understand that an air leak in a perfume bottle may, over a span of several months at least, lead to a reduction in fluid, and a slight increase in oil concentration?

Not in the least. Of course this happens, and of course it isn't an issue in "highly synthetic" perfumes, because such products rarely have any oils in their formulas. To my knowledge, this in-bottle maceration phenomenon occurs more frequently in Creeds, which are typically not highly synthetic, and in older fragrances that contain measurable quantities of base oils, like oakmoss and sandalwood. Things like Kouros and Grey Flannel have been known to "reduce" as their bottles are used. You will find many anecdotal accounts of this on the boards. The men who comment on them are not wrong.

To suggest that we need the scientific method to exact answers on this issue is like saying evaporation itself is just a theory. What I'd be interested in seeing from scientists are experiments on whether people who continually use straw man arguments lack a key part of their cerebral cortex that the rest of us naturally possess, and should thus be considered candidates for broader psychological testing.


What Does Tobacco Smell Like? And Would A Great Tobacco Perfume Change Our Uptight World For The Better?

Tobacco, or 90% dark chocolate?

Tobacco has been justifiably under attack in most developed nations for a while now, for obvious reasons that directly relate to nicotine addiction and various types of cancer. I can’t help but feel though that there comes a point during the anti-smoking spiels being rattled off by health advocates where you have to shrug a lot of the histrionic condemnation off, and reassess the actual danger quotient for yourself.

We all know whatever feels, tastes, or smells good carries health risks. That chocolate cake you lust after can clog your arteries pretty quickly if you eat too much of it too often. Casual sex can bring all sorts of unexpected and unpleasant consequences if you’re not careful, and even sometimes when you are careful. Playing video games for hours on end can degrade your body’s stamina and circulatory system, raising the risk of heart attack and stroke. Too many brewskies can kill your liver. And smoking can lead to lung cancer and a handful of other health problems. Is it wise to completely eliminate these things, or is the enjoyment of the occasional vice a vital part of living life to the fullest?

I often think of this when I wear Versace’s The Dreamer. Here’s a fragrance that took a type of person and bottled him, representing him as a perfume. He's someone we’ve all known. He's artistic, a little flaky, prone to wanting “quiet time,” or even “alone time.” You’ll sometimes catch him out back smoking a cigarette and gazing off at nothing in particular. He's literally a dreamer, and Gianni Versace knew this guy well – perhaps he was a dreamer himself. America is losing this facet of its culture, its league of dreamers, as we incrementally chip away at the casual carelessness we used to live by, and replace it with hollow platitudes about how to be “successful” and “healthy.” As always, moderation is key. We shouldn’t demonize the occasional cigarette, because some of the best things can happen in someone’s imagination when they’re able to detach from reality in a puff of smoke.

I spent half a year in Prague, Czech Republic, back in 2007. People ask me what living there was like. I often tell them that traveling to Prague was more like traveling to a different time than to a different place. People there smoke and drink a lot. I mean, a lot. Restaurants, bars, clubs, and even people’s homes are usually filled with cigarette smoke and the clink clink of beer mugs and shot glasses. I indirectly worked for a major tobacco company there by providing educational services to its staff, and I recall my student being a very friendly, mild-mannered, almost innocuous young woman, who seemed oblivious to any moral implications that her position at the firm held.

Looking back at it, I now realize that there was no concrete reason for her to be worried about where she worked. When she went out at night with friends, every other person had a cigarette in their hand. In Prague, people aren’t as worried about cancer and death as Americans are. They believe in living life, and living it hard. Work hard, play hard. They work fourteen hour days, commute four hours round trip, consume liters of alcohol and packs of cigarettes a day, and some solicit prostitutes, some spend hours in hazy underground nightclubs, and they sleep fine, because Prague, in many incredible ways, still lives in the 1950s. The girl I went with chain-smoked Djarum Blacks. My friends frequented Hookah bars. People drank beer and wine and vodka and whiskey like it was water. I was experiencing a portal to the past.

Say what you will about tobacco, but it has its charms. Yes, it’s a nicotine bomb, and yes, there’s nothing beneficial to your health about indulging in any tobacco product, but reality check: few things on the planet smell or taste as good as tobacco. I have some experience with this. When I was in high school, I occasionally smoked cigars. These ranged from cheap Swisher Sweets (what a morally reprehensible company Swisher is, by the way, with their flavored cigarillos clearly aimed at youngsters, and I’m not being sarcastic here), to Cuban Partagas cigars, which would drip tobacco tar down my shirt and take hours to finish. Both ends of the quality spectrum were olfactory treats, although cigar tobacco is admittedly the most difficult to appreciate. I smell its analog in Quorum, which has the same growly Clint Eastwood personality found in Cubans, all via an incredibly deep tobacco note.

Then there’s cigarettes. I don’t smoke cigarettes, and never really smoked them in the past, mainly because I never inhaled them. Cigarettes are a smell/taste experience for me. An unlit, midgrade, Virginia-cut cigarette, like any of the Marlboros, has a dry, semi-sweet, raisin-like aroma. It's the scent that Versace captured beautifully in The Dreamer, which showcases a lucid analog of a freshly-opened pack of Marlboro Lights, although come to think of it, Marlboro Lights have probably been discontinued.

Things change a bit when you shift to a slightly higher quality cigarette, like the original unfiltered Camels pictured above, which are nicknamed “studs.” This is Humphrey Bogart stuff. These have a markedly better, richer aroma out of the pack. They smell very dry, woody, and rather like unsweetened dark chocolate. The blend of Turkish and American tobacco is responsible for the scent, with Turkish cuts being a bit richer and mellower than standard Virginian fare. All cigarette tobaccos are “treated,” and laced with wildly unhealthy additives, so if you’re interested in experiencing the smell and a bit of the flavor of these things, I can only recommend proceeding with caution. Don’t get into the habit of “enjoying” them. Just have them around for reference and the rare toke for a flavor idea. If you like the smell of cigarette smoke as much as I do, you can appreciate it by lighting up and just letting the thing burn itself out.

Unsurprisingly though, most fragrances bypass cigar and cigarette tobaccos, and take the pipe tobacco route instead. This is a double-edged sword. Yeah, pipe tobacco arguably smells the best out of all the varieties, mainly because it’s treated like potpourri by its manufacturers, with a number of flavors infused in the blends. And yeah, pipe tobacco’s aroma usually works in tandem with the naturally woody, bitter flavor of an old-fashioned wood pipe. My grandfather had a wood pipe, and he passed it down to my dad, who let me play with it as a kid. By the time it got to me, it had been retired for a decade. I’d stick it in my mouth and pretend to smoke, and all the years of dry tobacco particles that had crumbled and powdered into the thing would gradually filter through the old cherry stem and into my taste buds, registering as a weirdly serene, smoky flavor.

In college, two of my professors had handlebar moustaches and smoked pipes. I shit you not. They’d stand outside on their lunch break and puff away, looking like a pair of Edwardian politicians. It was pretty anachronistic and surreal. The smell was incredible. Very rich, mellow, with a papery quality adjacent to a light sweetness that no other tobacco cut replicates. These guys were probably packing cheaper blends, and that familiar “cherry” nuance that often accompanies pipe smoke was present, but I can’t deny that pipe tobacco, lit and unlit, smells good.

But there’s one problem with all of this, at least in my opinion. The smell of pipe tobacco is a holistic olfactory meditation on both the treated tobacco, AND the pipe it gets smoked in, with too many non-tobacco elements in the mix. The flavorings that usually accompany pipe tobacco have nothing to do with tobacco. The materials of pipes also have nothing to do with tobacco. And you really can’t get a good sense of how pipe tobacco smells unless you’re smoking it through a high-quality wood pipe. So sure, it’s a great smell, but for a tobacco purist, there are some red flags. Of all the tobacco aromas, pipe tobacco is the most embellished. (Cigar tobacco is the least.) It’s also the strongest, and in many cases the most complex.

I guess this is why it’s so popular in perfumes. I have one fragrance in my collection that seems to be a close-up study of pipe tobacco, and that’s Vermeil for Men. Here’s a list of the rest of the tobacco scents in my collection, along with some descriptions of their tobacco notes. If you notice, most of them eschew the pipe tobacco theme and opt for less conventional cigarette and cigar motifs:

Ungaro Pour L’Homme II – ashy cigarette tobacco, very noticeable

Cigarillo (Rémy Latour) – fruity pipe tobacco, easy to miss

Lagerfeld Classic (Karl Lagerfeld) – smooth unlit cigar, noticeable

Joint Pour Homme (Roccobarocco) – musty pipe tobacco, blatant

VC&A Pour Homme – burnt tobacco, a lit cigarillo, easy to miss

Boss Number One (Hugo Boss) – light cigarette tobacco, easy to miss

Furyo (Jacques Bogart) – pipe tobacco, closely blended with patchouli

Sung Homme (Alfred Sung) – cigarette ash, very noticeable

Cool Water (Davidoff) – “blonde” cigarillo tobacco, easy to miss

Versace L’Homme – miniature of The Dreamer, noticeable

The Dreamer (Versace) – standard cigarette tobacco, blatant

Some of you might be wondering why Tabac cologne isn't on the list. I have a bottle, but I've honestly never detected a tobacco note in its composition. I have an older bottle that dates back at least six or seven years, and it's the eau de cologne concentration, which I sometimes use as an aftershave. It's beautiful stuff, but I get no tobacco out of it. Instead it smells like talc, dried herbs and flowers, and animalic musks, with a huge aldehyde and citrus top note introducing everything.

In closing, I’d like to say that I was inspired to write this post by a recent basenotes thread, in which members ponder the varying scents of tobacco. There were some interesting points made. I think member "Tmoran" summed it up best:

"It really depends on whether its pipe tobacco, flavored pipe tobacco, blonde tobacco or any other of the endless varieties. It would be impossible for me to sit and describe the smell of something to you without you having ever smelled it or something similar. It would be like trying to explain color to a blind man who has always been blind. I think your ability to like it may hinge on whether the scent is intending to portray smoked tobacco or unburned tobacco. Some scents do try and mimic the smell of a burnt cigar or cigarette but most of the mainstream tobacco scents are mimicking the smell of processed pipe tobacco. Which many find extremely pleasant."

This really describes the situation well. Right now we’re faced with a fragrance market that is seldom attracted to tobacco notes, and when it is, it focuses on pipe tobacco, and sometimes on fruity Hookah tobacco. It’s likely that many perfume brands have boardroom meetings where some uptight suit invariably shoots down the rare suggestion of a tobacco-themed scent on the absurd grounds that it would "negatively influence brand image and consumer market share." Yes, I can literally hear these corporate-speak phrases being tossed around blithely by people who have never touched a pack of cigarettes in their lives.

It would be nice for a brand, niche or designer, to give us a tobacco scent as a comprehensive celebration of every variety of tobacco I’ve discussed here. Perhaps something with a top note of fresh green tobacco leaf, followed by the raisin-like mellowing of sun-cured leaves, treated cigarette tobacco, the dark chocolatey nature of high-grade studs, the floral spiciness of a lit pipe, the sophistication of a cigar, ending on an ashy base. Maybe not in that exact order, but something like it. I'd name it "Bogart's Break" for fun. Seriously, how awesome would that be? I'm stumped as to why it hasn't been done yet.

My takeaway with tobacco in perfumery is that the note is very difficult to render, and even harder to use in a composition. Perfumers can't use straight absolutes in their formulas because of the nicotine issue (nicotine seeps through skin, which is why the patch exists). They can use certain tobacco molecules in isolation, and they can "reconstruct" tobacco by other means, and sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. Lately, with fragrances like Tom Ford's Tobacco Vanille, the note is rendered as a semi-gourmand element, very sweet and aromatic, with light hints of vanilla and other edibles. The burlier, woodier, smokier nature of real tobacco seems relegated to the forgotten classics found in discount bins, and that’s a shame.


Kouros Silver (Yves Saint Laurent)

Himalaya wants its packaging back.

Roughly one year after its release, I finally find the time to convey my definitive impressions of Kouros Silver. I say "definitive" because it's taken me a long time to decide how I feel about this fragrance, and why I feel the way I do. There has been some waffling, some head-scratching, some more waffling, some chin rubbing, and I may have ground a millimeter from my molars trying to put this into words, but as the Bee Gees once said, "words are all I have," so here it goes. Bear with me.

I want to hate this fragrance without any reason for it, other than a personal dislike for the scent alone, but it's more complicated than that. You see, when you smell and wear as many fragrances as I have, you reach a point where your response to things can't be summed up by the Yes/No sign behind Robert De Niro in Casino, but not because a simple "yes" or "no" fails for you personally. It just gets, well, a little deeper than that, or maybe a better way to put it is to say it gets a little more technical.

Kouros Silver, in my personal opinion, is a terrible fragrance, but if we're going to dwell on the personal for more than a sentence or two, I'd add that I dislike this "type" of fragrance more than any individual scent representing it. I can't stand the "sweet," the "sticky," the blatantly "chemical," and all the motherfucking Aryan Nations musks that are both front AND backloaded into these things. What scares me is that the lineage for Kouros Silver traces back in the short term to equally terrible fragrances, which is bad enough, but when you continue to follow the bloodline, you actually get to some truly great perfumes that every hardcore enthusiast loves, and that's what changes the tone from a Sesame Street bedtime story into something the Brothers Grimm crept themselves out with and didn't even want to publish.

In the short term, the fragrance that started this madness was Versace's Eros, back in 2012, when someone decided to sweeten a stock formula woody amber accord with some vaguely fruity ester, and called it "apple." Between Eros and Silver are minor travesties like Joop! Homme Wild (which I actually don't dislike), Man.Aubusson Intense, and Cool Water Night Dive, with the latter two being circular reasonings on why vaguely synthy-fruity woody ambers buttressed between shitloads of laundry musks are "youthful" and "contemporary," as if these terms mean the same thing.

So yeah, a big yawn. And if we go back further than Eros, we touch on - oh hey, wait, WAIT A MINUTE HERE! Wait just ONE FUCKING MINUTE. Fruit? Woody ambers? White musks? Weird, synthy, gourmand-ish olfactory illusions using wood notes and musks that are so sweet they almost smell edible? Individuel? Witness? Aubusson Pour Homme? Feeling Man? Joop! Homme? Balenciaga Pour Homme? SKIN BRACER???? How did we get here? This can't be right. No, break out the map again, we gotta double-check. There must be a mistake. I must've - wait, no, no, no, no, no. No. STFU. WTF? And any other letter combo that annoyingly turns a foul-language phrase into an awkward acronym.

Eventually, the realization crystallizes: yes, unfortunately yes, there are classic underpinnings to these grotesque chemical designers. From deep within terpene-laden green-woods accords, found in things like Yatagan and Quorum, were coumarin-tinged musks that whispered sweet whimsies on winds that grew ever muskier with time. By the late eighties and early nineties, the musks had become so animalic and multi-faceted that their interaction with piney notes, incense, and woods developed illusory fruity aspects, with apple and pineapple effects in Balenciaga and Feeling Man, apple pie hallucinations in Aubusson PH and Witness, and sweeter, violet-like heliotrope in Joop! Homme and Individuel, all perfumes that smell incredible on their own terms.

This is how my mind shifted through its gears with Kouros Silver wafting from my collar. All of my personal experiences with fragrances, both new and old, somehow connected to this oddball contemporary style of masculine perfumery that I've grown to detest. It's as if, after all the wonderful experiments with truly skanky musk molecules ceased, the perfumers decided to pare everything down to two adjectives, "sweet," and "clean." The result is something that smells, to me anyway, very thick, unpleasant, blob-like, chemical, and unbearable after five minutes.

And yet, despite that, some objectivity kicks in. I consider the qualities of this style, gleaned from various frags, that appeal to me in even the most fleeting way. The clarity of the green apple in Man.aubusson Intense. The synthetic, Skin-Bracery fougères in Joop! Homme Wild and Night Dive. The ghost of animalism in that extra layer of musk that baaarely makes it into the first ten seconds of Kouros Silver. Despite all its repulsiveness, I can kinda, sorta get why the youngsters like this sort of thing. It's generational. This fragrance really erupted four years ago, and now it's becoming its own thing, and guys a lot younger than me are wearing it. I don't really understand why they prefer Kouros Silver to something like Balenciaga Pour Homme, but maybe that doesn't matter. Maybe I'm not supposed to get it. Maybe it's enough that I just acknowledge that someone, somewhere, likes this shit.

I don't like it, and I'd never wear it, and I could get into how, for me, this style is better found on drugstore shelves in aftershaves in much lower concentrations, or how sad it is that L'Oréal is stooping to this kind of boardroom-tested "safe" formula approach with a brand as gargantuan and legendary as YSL, but that's what Fragrantica and basenotes are for. On my blog, I'm satisfied with telling you that I understand Kouros Silver's existence, and maybe even its appeal to a certain demographic. But between you and me, with everything I know and understand about perfume fully in check, I don't approve of it at all.