2/8/17

The Dilemma Of The "Work Fragrance"



Occasionally I get questions by email and in comments on this blog from readers wondering about my opinion of the "work fragrance," and what qualifies as a worthy scent for the workplace. My general rule of thumb in giving advice is to recommend counterintuitive action. That is, if you work in a formal setting, replete with business suits, corner offices, "power lunches," and never-ending deadlines, you should wear something casual and objectively fun. Likewise, if you work in a relaxed environment, where Casual Friday happens everyday, and where offices are the exception, not the rule, you'd be well served to button up in your fragrance choice.

My reasoning for this is one of balance. If you carry a briefcase to work and suffer the constant indignity of having your secretary micro-aggressively question your every move, a little levity, even in the low hum of something like a half spray of Joop! Homme, is a welcome reminder that you belong to the human race. Your coworkers will register that you're wearing something peppy and sweet, but their emotional well-being is circumstantially aligned with yours, and their subconscious reaction to your saccharine sillage will echo approval. In a crowded business meeting full of grey-faced politicians and soul-destroying accountants, who can argue with an invisible signal of one's inner mirth? You may not be allowed to tell a vintage Sam Kinison joke in front of the account execs, but your fragrance can signal in a non-threatening way (when applied judiciously) that your inner scream is primed and ready for action.

My reasoning for the inverse applies accordingly, but I want to address the reader who says in frustration, "But what if you work in a place that is not obviously formal or casual?" I work in just such a place. My line of work requires me to do tons of paperwork and manage a dozen different kinds of documents, tracking dates, data, line graphs, and the explicit directions of mental health professionals. It's an oddly anachronistic job, especially given the i-Times we are currently in, and I often think that I should wear a visor and smoke cigarettes while engaged in these clerical tasks. In this regard, my job is bizarrely formal.

There is a caveat to this, though. Quite frequently a sizable portion of my day brings the mental and physiological tightrope act of intentionally lighthearted banter with coworkers between physical altercations with people who momentarily wish me bodily harm. I must summon at a moment's notice a cool-headed comment designed to deflate another person's potentially dangerous attitude problem, while giving an implicit and even-handed promise to overlook whatever harm might be done.

Where I work, emotions and tensions can run sky high, but I often have days where 90% of my interactions are easy and not at all demanding. I drive into work every day saying to myself, "Bryan, you'll either drive home at four o'clock, or an ambulance will drive you," and I'm fine with that. What the hell should I wear in a place like this? Should I even wear anything at all? Would going scentless be the "safe" way of handling these professional, social, and cultural ambiguities?

Over the last seven years, I've devised an answer to that, with a few tiers. First, as far as the question of "should I" goes, the answer is clear: Yes, fragrance is appropriate. My environment is subject to many unpleasant odors, many due to bodily fluids, unpleasant secretions, filthy clothing, and just plain bad hygiene. For me to bring a waft of something that smells at least relatively "good" is something more than merely prosaic - it is fundamentally useful. I realized pretty early on that my coworkers actually appreciate an occasional olfactory reprieve, even if only in the form of a good personal fragrance. In many instances my body is in close quarters with someone else's, and I have yet to receive a complaint. I often receive compliments.

However, I'm careful to use a unique tactic: I mix it up. There is no straight line in how one's temperament should adjust in my workplace, and thus no reason to be linear with my fragrance style. Some days it's formal; some days it's a casual fragrance that works best. I have some scheduling indicators that signal what sort of day I'm most likely to have at any given point of the work week, and I wear my frag accordingly. Usually my scents are a bit more formal, and while that is largely due to my personal taste (and not coordinated to effect my working environment), it is also a tertiary benefit of working with people who need to differentiate your impact on their day from the impact of the environment around them. Become too repetitive and too thematic, and they begin to expect you. Stay fresh and new, and expectations aren't formed on that subconscious level, beyond knowing I will smell at least relatively "good."

I tend to stay away from pure perfumes, very strong extraits and oils. There are certain frags that simply feel "wrong." They're too bombastic, too heavy, potentially offensive, even to me. Common sense prevails. Likewise, I see little point in habitually donning light, evanescent colognes like 4711. On a tough day, I'll sweat that out in the first hour, and then it'll be like I never sprayed anything at all. No fun. I like the happy medium of full-bodied EDTs, generally from the last thirty years, and usually trending toward the "woody" end of the masculine spectrum. Coworkers are taken aback at the seemingly endless variety of fragrances, but if someone hands you a steaming turd, you'll gladly take my love of the Caron line over the ecrement.

My suggestion is to go with your gut, but don't be afraid to go against the proverbial grain. Ditch the business scent if you're a businessman - it's redundant. Stay away from watermelon B&B Works crap if you're a lifeguard. Believe it or not, Kouros works better in sand and sun than Acqua di Gio. And yeah, going full Gordon Gecko and wearing Patou Pour Homme to the 116th floor on the day of the Taiwan deal is just asking to end up in a Robert Longo painting.

Be fresh in your heart, and your work will follow.



2/5/17

KL Homme: Overrated Oriental



It's funny how tastes evolve, especially for fragrance. A few years ago I wrote a glowing review for KL Homme, Lagerfeld's "80s oriental." KL was his indirect response to the continuing popularity of the '70s classics Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur and Jovan Sex Appeal. Lagerfeld Cologne was somewhat similar to Jovan Musk for Men, but the floral musks of the previous decade had limited appeal, and by 1986 it was all about powdery patchouli ambers, with Chanel's Antaeus, Giorgio for Men, and Calvin Klein's Obsession for Men leading the pack.

The 1980s were a continuation of the leading trends of the 1970s, which is why so many guys mistakenly refer to '70s scents like Grey Flannel and Azzaro Pour Homme as "80s colognes." Truly new and innovative concepts didn't emerge until the '90s, though things like Xeryus and Bogner Man were definitely "newish" for young men of the Reagan era. I confess that I'm not partial to oriental fragrances, but I do appreciate a good amber scent; Old Spice, Giorgio, Antaeus, Lagerfeld Classic, and KL Homme are all quite agreeable to me.

In the case of KL Homme, I realized last month that my feelings are changing. I still like it, and enjoy wearing it, but I'm not nearly as impressed with it as I was when I first purchased it. It's important to note that my bottle (and any bottle) is vintage, at least 25 years old, and probably older. It's also good to remember Jeffrey Dame's words about vintage orientals - they last longer than other fragrance types, probably because their complexity masks any subtle spoilage. With KL Homme, I sense no spoilage, other than perhaps a slightly unbalanced musk note, and some bland citrus.

My problem with KL is that it's dreadfully boring. It smells like the vaguest idea of an oriental, with all the most basic elements present, and nothing else. It has a crisp citrus with aldehydes and woody terpenes in the opening accord, followed by a polite cloud of patchouli, amber, benzoin, a hint of soapy rosewood, and talcum powder. The base holds a subdued non-animalic musk, and if you sniff very carefully you can feel the presence of cinnamon-sprinkled sandalwood under the dust. Sounds delightful, right? Well, it would be, if it weren't so carefully fitted and tucked and pruned into such insufferably inoffensive blah-ness. Fragrantica cites civet in KL's pyramid, but there is none, and I've no clue what Fragraticans are smelling in its place.

An oriental should have some magic, some characteristic "oomph!" that sets it apart. KL has no magic, and no memorable moments in its eight hour lifespan. It simply smells like a reference oriental. It's the skeleton of something fleshed-out and alive. It's just bare bones boring. I can't put it any other way. People rave about this fragrance online, but I don't share the love. Quality-wise, it's mediocre, its accords rather indistinct and functional, their execution surprisingly over-blended and soapy. In contrast, Lagerfeld Classic's musk, cigarette tobacco, and myrrh notes are quite realistic, and stand out.

If you're in the market for a "reference oriental," i.e. something that conveys the most basic, no-frills oriental imaginable, KL Homme is for you. But is it deserving of high praise? Nah, not really. I recommend Pierre Cardin's scent over it, and even prefer Sex Appeal, which isn't as pretentious, smells more focused, and contains clearer headshop patchouli and bolder wood notes at an ironically lower price point. If you must have a vintage from KL's era, I suggest you find a splash bottle of Obsession for Men, which has in some cases survived the decades intact, and may still smell reasonably fresh and complex (I had a bottle for 30 years).


1/21/17

How Not To Debate A Chemist



It was with great pleasure that I read the recent exchange on Bigsly's blog between Bibi Maizoon, who holds a B.S. in Organic Chemistry from Stanford University, and the blog's author, who simply peddles a lot of B.S.

As I read Bibi's comment to his recent "Fake Facts" post, I realized that one of my faithful readers really "gets it," and understands what I've been writing for years. Fragrance enjoyment is entirely subjective; there are no rights or wrongs in how you perceive perfume. There is no such thing as a "chemical" fragrance, for all perfumes are chemical compositions. And there is no shame in finding pleasure in popular mass-market designer fragrances like Dior's Sauvage. What you like is entirely yours to enjoy. If the only fragrance you've ever smelled is Chanel No 5, and you absolutely love the stuff, more power to you. It's one of the biggest sellers of all time, and you have settled on something that will always be available to you.

Likewise, if you enjoy oddball cheapies like Jovan's Intense Oud, that's great too, but as Bibi pointed out, understanding that it's not a high quality oud allows you to enjoy it with a deeper knowledge of what you're wearing, and hopefully within a meaningful context. She simply pointed out that if you're a Westerner wearing JIO in the Middle East, you shouldn't be too surprised if your fragrance isn't well received, given the preponderance of more sophisticated oud perfumes in that part of the world. In America you'll be regarded as someone with unique (and probably quite interesting) tastes, but that's because we're not well versed in oud.

Bibi also pointed out that there's nothing "wrong" with Sauvage, a fragrance Bigsly habitually denigrates. It is well received by her wealthier acquaintances, and it continues to be a strong seller for Dior. I would hazard to guess that Sauvage is to Dior what Bleu de Chanel has been - a cash cow! I live in a metropolitan part of the USA, and still haven't encountered anyone wearing Bleu or Sauvage, so I can't say they're overwhelmingly popular. But sales stats would probably prove me wrong. Whenever I wear Bleu, I receive compliments on it. Sauvage probably rates the same for those who wear it.

One of the key points Bibi made is that the term "chemical" means nothing when applied in a general way to how a perfume smells. Her understanding of perfumery seems well aligned with mine: perfumery is the art of creating entirely new (inherently enjoyable) smells that are not found in nature. A truly great perfume is its own one of a kind smell, using mostly synthetic chemicals. One example that I happen to frequently wear and enjoy is Versace's The Dreamer. I wear The Dreamer knowing that it doesn't smell like real lavender, or real tobacco, or real vanilla. It contains lavender, tobacco, and vanilla notes, and I can clearly discern them, but they work together to form an entirely unique accord. I'm not concerned with whether this accord is "natural" or "synthetic." That is not the point of The Dreamer. The point is that nothing else smells like The Dreamer, and it's a very good smell.

Bigsly clearly doesn't understand this. In his retort to Bibi, he wrote:

"The 'trick' of modern perfumery is to use such large amounts of synthetics and yet make most people think it smells 'natural.'"

The problem with his statement is that if this were the "trick," then chemists would never have bothered with synthetics in the first place. Oakmoss and birch tar are great natural fixatives, and chemists would just build on them with other natural essences of floral extracts and musks to compose perfumes, making the entire concept of perfume one of naturalism (and very high retail prices).

But perfumers don't do this. They use synthetics precisely because they enable us to experience smells not found in nature. Bigsly's definition of perfumery suggests that perfumers must "reinvent the wheel" when they enter the lab by laboriously tinkering with vats of chemicals to replicate scents found in nature.

But where in nature can one find the apple note in Cool Water? The violet note in Green Irish Tweed? The citrus melange in Acqua di Gio? These scents are megahits because they smell fake, in a good way.

Bibi's comment implies a criticism of Bigsly's "fragrance chemist," one which is well formed, given the dubious nature of his interview with this anonymous person. What surprises me a little is that he opened himself up to this obvious criticism. He spent years criticizing my blog for lacking "citations," "sources," and "evidence." Eventually I was able to interview an identified veteran of the fragrance industry who supported my positions and refuted his, and Bigsly considered my source "invalid" for reasons that were never specified.

All of that is fine of course - if you dislike me and Jeffrey Dame, then that is your right - but if you argue that Mr. Dame's opinions are invalid, the burden of proof is on you to support your argument, and that is something Bigsly never did. He simply used his personal opinions to counter Mr. Dame's 35 years of professional knowledge. Because Mr. Dame has decades of experience in things Bigsly has no professional understanding of, one can see the obvious problem with Bigsly's attitude toward him. Bigsly is just an anonymous amateur enthusiast. His complaints are akin to a child whining about rules dealt to him by an adult.

Then in 2016 he claimed to interview a fragrance chemist, without disclosing the chemist's identity. I pointed out the obvious problem with this, and Bibi brought it directly to Bigsly. He responded to her by saying:

"If you think I should not have published my interview with this person, despite the background check I did and having an 'expert' review it first to see if there appeared to be any 'red flags,' then you can just state that, but making up 'false facts' (or lies, as I prefer to say) is unacceptable . . . "

This is a smoke and mirrors comment, and the only thing unacceptable here is an unidentified amateur calling a highly educated chemist a liar.

Bigsly is attempting to discredit Bibi's honesty by calling what she says "lies." However, he reveals (perhaps unintentionally) that even he did not know who he was talking to when he interviewed his "chemist." He mentions that he had to background check the person's claims, and have them "reviewed" by a third party. He's basically telling his readers, "I want you to trust this person, even though I do not." If the interview was with a real fragrance chemist with a real place of employment, wouldn't a simple call to his employer suffice? Or was that also anonymous? If so, I would think this level of unnecessary anonymity would be its own "red flag."

That Bigsly doesn't seem to pick up on this makes him seem a little dim, to be honest. I think I can speak for Bibi when I say that neither of us believe he interviewed a real fragrance chemist (she has said as much in comments here anyway). I will concede that it's possible his interview is legitimate, but with no way to verify it, I choose to remain unconvinced, and will withhold further judgement for the day (if it ever comes) when he is allowed to tell the world who he spoke to.

However, Bibi has an advanced degree in organic chemistry, and it seems she sees little factual content in Bigsly's post. And as for his "background check" and his "expert" (who is supposedly the most "well known" fragrance writer in the English language, which implies Luca Turin), these are meaningless assertions without specifics. Bigsly can't even tell us who reviewed the anonymous chemist's claims! That's three degrees of anonymity, including Bigsly himself.

One can only infer that he is unable to verify any of what he wrote, and since the interview suspiciously supports many of his long-held contentions about fragrance, the logical conclusion for any intelligent reader to reach is that the entire thing is fictitious. Add to that a dissenting opinion from an Organic Chemist (who I'm sure would be more than happy to prove herself to anyone who challenges her), and well, Bigsly has a problem.

He published that stuff. It's on him to prove that it's legitimate. To the general public, he has no credibility. Unlike me, he's an anonymous blogger. He could be anybody. For all anyone knows, he could be a professor with a PhD in astrophysics, or he could be a compulsive liar who is just smart enough to not give specific details about himself, or anything he lies about. Without his help, there's no way to know the truth. However, given the glaring holes in his arguments, I feel confident in choosing to believe he isn't a PhD in anything.

When you choose to be completely anonymous on the Internet, you have to convey your message with factual specifics if you wish to be taken seriously. Not wanting to disclose the name of a fragrance chemist you claim to interview is bad enough, but not even wanting to disclose the identity of a supposed "expert" you claim reviewed the interview is even worse.

Add to this the bad pattern of arguing with industry insiders (and people with access to them), and we see how not to debate. I think Bigsly should give up on his ill-advised sparring with experienced insiders, and resume picking on little old me. I don't have a degree in chemistry, nor do I have three decades of industry work under my belt. Call me a "deceiver" all you want, but at least you know my real name, what kind of house I live in, and even what kind of car I drive. Sorry to be so deceptive, I guess I'll have to work on that!




1/16/17

In My Opinion, This Is "Fake News"


A synthetic diamond. Even its flaws are fake.


In a recent post, our friend at Wordpress has penned another screed about Dior's Sauvage, this time slanting it against what he perceives to be "fake facts" about such frags. He writes with great condescension:

"And to be clear, yet again, I don’t hold anything against a person who enjoys Sauvage (or who has a social use for it), but it’s time to stop talking about it being great or special or unique or a breakthrough or a masterpiece."

So apparently we are no longer allowed to bestow high praise upon Sauvage, as for the thousandth time, the author has made clear that these "fake" tributes are intellectually and stylistically inappropriate. On what authority he rests his claims is not clear, but what is particularly interesting is that these admonishments were preceded by the following thought, without any hint of irony:

"The fragrance chemist I spoke to didn’t believe much thought went into Sauvage, and you don’t need to be a fragrance chemist to notice how 'chemical' it is (as the reviewer himself does)."

This brings us to what I think are "fake facts." This interview is entirely fact free, simply because it comes from an unidentified source. Because it lacks even the most basic citations, nothing there can be confirmed as factual. Yet it is packaged as an "interview" with a "fragrance chemist," a claim my own readers have easily debunked. There isn't a single sentence in the entire article that relates truth and technical accuracy to readers, and the supposed chemist's identity is not even given.

So it's fine for the author to convey his own ideas through this mysterious third party (who may not even exist), but when people give their honest subjective opinions about a fragrance like Sauvage, they're peddling fake facts?

Another sad case was the Monsieur Guerlain debacle from last year. Without any substantive information to support their opinion, people in the fragrance community were up in arms over the unsubstantiated narrative that evil corporate LVMH had destroyed Monsieur Guerlain's blog for containing some minor legal slip-up.

If you frequented basenotes, you were to believe that because some stranger on the internet (who only a handful on basenotes ever met in person) lost his blog, basenoters were tossing out their Guerlains. One moron even went so far as to post a picture of his top-tier Guerlain parfum extrait boxes sitting out in the snow, like discarded trash, to send the company a "message." Aside from conveying that he was intent on getting rid of empty boxes, this person's "message" was tied to a false narrative, a verifiable "fake news" story: that MG had been "closed down." Meanwhile, his blog lives on.

These are, in my opinion, examples of "fake news" in the fragrance world. Falsehoods, dubious facts, and unsubstantiated claims are not what plague the myriad of subjective amateur reviews on basenotes and fragrantica. We go into those sites knowing the majority of their reviewers are amateurs and enthusiasts who have little professional knowledge of that which they write about.

We automatically assume that someone who says Sauvage contains "high quality materials" is speaking subjectively, and no thinking person, no sentient reader, would ever ascribe more to such an opinion than whatever comparable opinion of his own would warrant.

The real "fake news" stories in our community take the form of half-baked interviews, contrived outrage at stories that aren't even partially fleshed out with any substance, and narratives that overarch the general public's perception coming into the community. Stuff like, "Vintages are more natural," and "Perfumes never spoil." These are falsehoods that have been proven false on this site by professionals in the industry, both through interviews and reader commentary.

If we're going to opine on "Fake Facts" and "Fake News," then we ought to be truthful about those terms, and how they apply. Subjective opinions with hosting site disclaimers, such as reviews on fragrantica, are not the problem. Those who "criticize the critics" are far more responsible for what comes out of their blog posts.



1/7/17

Pacino For Men (Cindy Chahed)


Good luck finding a 100 ml bottle.

Linear fragrances are perhaps the most difficult kind for perfumers to pull off. Done wrong, and they smell functional, like furniture polish, or Febreeze. With skill and a little luck, a limited palette can actually work beautifully, like fire engine red, or Yves Klein blue. When I first encountered Pacino for Men, my initial thought was that it would be another rich tapestry of old-school masculine hues, from the deep umber of smoked tobacco, to the burled browns of rosewood, with wisps of artemisia and pine to round off the edges. Boy, was I wrong! The house of Cindy Chahed surprised me.

The only information I can glean about it comes from this site, which I think is an impartial but unusually informative retail outlet. According to the (somewhat contradictory) information found there, the brand was founded in October of 1996, and closed soon after, almost three years exactly, in August of 1999. I guess they weren't moving units fast enough. Apparently Cindy never made anything more than minis, which may have contributed to her demise, although I think a brand exclusively dedicated to minis is an interesting idea, retailing solely from airports to frequent flyers. Pacino was apparently released in 1996, but I have no corroboration on that.

Pacino smells like an apple orgasm. Come to Connecticut in October and visit Lyman Orchards. Tread its rows upon rows of trees in bloom, and inhale the dry, sweet, woody kiss of the autumn air. Stop to grab one of thousands of wine-like dessert fruits, steal a bite, and savor the fresh flavor in your cheeks as it mingles with the crisp air in your lungs. That's the opening of Pacino. It's basically a medley of apples with a touch of pink grapefruit, and a drop of French lavender for extra dimensionality. I fully expected it to darken and get all pre-A*Men oriental on me, but instead it simply mellowed out, becoming warmer and a little sweeter. The apples have been picked and barreled, and their fruitiness radiates from pillows of cedarwood and hay.

It remains this way for the life of the scent, a full five hours, before fading to a skin essence more suggestive of dusty wood than pomaceous fruits. All told, this is a very good fragrance. Its sweetness never smells like candy; its freshness retains definition and clarity without becoming cold and grey. It's like someone took an X-Acto knife to Creed's Spice and Wood, excised its apple top note, threw in a few other cultivars, a little extra woodiness, and named it after a famous American actor. It's crisp, nearly edible, fairly natural (although not extraordinarily so), quite simple, and pleasant to wear. If you're an apple lover, a fan of scents like Boss Bottled, Cool Water, Nicole Miller for Men, and you happen across this stuff, I highly recommend it.


1/1/17

Why You Can't Trust Internet Reviews When Judging The Quality Of A Reformulation


Only the bottle has remained the same.


My main message in this post is short and sweet: Don't trust what I say.

It seems counterintuitive for me, a perfume blogger, to say this, but when you plug it into my larger message, I hope it makes more sense. That is, don't trust what I say alone, not without smelling things for yourself first. Use me as a rough guide, a vague starting point, the nexus of all your concern and enthusiasm for a certain fragrance. But do not consider me the authority, the voice of infallible knowledge. My sense of smell, my tastes, and my understanding of the fragrance world do not necessarily comport with your sensibilities. I am here to guide you, to inform you when possible, and to provide educated insights into the basic mechanics of how certain scents work (or don't work).

Perfume bloggers are tools. In my case, my personality conveys this explicitly. But as useful tools for gaining knowledge, we're small cogs in a big machine. Halston Z14 is an example of why this is true for all internet fragrance reviewers, including supposedly erudite noses like Luca Turin and Chandler Burr.

Z14 gets a bum rap. It turns 42 this year. That's a long time for a fragrance to be in production, and still widely available across the world. Roy Halston's original formula was released courtesy of Michael Edwards, who helped to engineer its place not just on store shelves, but in the pantheon of famous masculines, a realm where compositions endure the test of time. Yet Z14 has fallen on harder times in the noses of fragrance enthusiasts, many of whom consider it a mere shadow of its former self.

The narrative is that vintage Z14 is far superior to current Z14. I recently purchased my fifth bottle of Z14, a formula that dates to at least 2011, judging from its gift set packaging. I paid twelve dollars for eight ounces, cologne and aftershave. I would have passed on it, but my other 2011 aftershave actually spoiled. One day I went to use it and found that its oils had begun separating out of the alcohol. The liquid resembled olive oil vinegarette salad dressing. It was probably still ok to use, but I opted to toss the remaining ounce and just keep my eyes peeled for a replacement.

I also have a more recent formula, what some consider the "Big Red" formula. This version cropped up in 2014, and it continues to generate complaints. It supposedly has a massive, unbalanced cinnamon note, but to my nose the cinnamon is pretty much identical to all prior formulas I've tried. My perception is in stark contrast to some others, though. And that's the point of this post: to show you that the disparity in perceptions makes trusting any one reviewer on the internet silly.

Consider this review from Fragrantica of two "vintage" Z14s, and one "current" Z. Note how this person's opinions vary:

wesleyhclark: "My first take is that the [French issue] vintage stuff smells like serious perfumery. There's a note that I don't think I've encountered in that form yet. It's deep and strong. A dirty leathery smell, perhaps? It's bolder. Compared to it the current stuff dries in a less complicated, somewhat more modern fashion - cinnamon and cypress . . . But here's the weird thing! I tried some vintage Z-14 in Richmond, VA and it's different yet. It's certainly not current and it isn't this French mix, either. It has an initial oakmoss blast that is absent from both."

He uses the descriptors "dirty," "leathery," "cinnamon and cypress." He also notes excessive oakmoss in one of the vintages, which is apparently not as prominent in the other two versions.

Now look at how different the tone is for this person's perceptions of old and new Z:

Bigsly: "Reformulated version (recent with a lot of cinnamon up front): Well, if you hate cinnamon forget this. There's something else with it, which reminds me of what I've encountered in scents listing tree moss as a note or ingredient. Whatever it is (tree moss, leather, a touch of galbanum), it sort of hardens up the cinnamon and gives it a bit of a dry and chalky/powdery quality. This dominates for an hour or so, and then the earlier version of Z-14 begins to shine through, with more lavender than I prefer. However, here the lavender never gets too strong. After a couple more hours the lavender recedes and blends into the mix. At this point it is at its best, unless of course you really enjoy the initial strong cinnamon."

So while the first reviewer notes the presence of cinnamon without emphasizing it, the second finds it especially noteworthy, and doesn't mention any "cypress" element at all. Reviewer one says "dirty," and reviewer two goes into some detail about lavender, which is usually never "dirty." Also, while the first considers the current stuff "modern," the second refrains from such a vague descriptor, instead opting to be vague about what he perceives to be a "trend" in scents with treemoss. Fine to read if you have plenty of experience with fragrances, but it's like wandering into a Black Forest of opinions for anyone new to fragrance reviews.

If I were new to Z14, and I read these two reviews, I'd be very confused. These are two guys who are reviewing multiple bottles of what is supposedly the same fragrance, from roughly the same time periods, and their reviews are quite different. Adding to the confusion is the suggestion by the first review that two bottles of vintage Z14 smelled different! If I were a total newbie, this would probably elude me. But if I were someone with at least a year or two of experience in reading reviews and trying classic fragrances, I might consider this to be a "clue" of sorts. I'll come back to this in a bit. Let's move on to reviewers three and four, both referring to "vintage":

ericrico: "The opening of citrus with integrated herbs and fresh-ground cinnamon takes me back to my youth."

kmarich: "I discovered a vintage splash for under $10. USDs . . . It has a smokey, hazy richness that made me feel warm.

So which is it? If I'm in the market for vintage, should I expect to smell like a Middle Eastern salad, or a campfire? These reviews seem to be for different scents. But if I connect them to the first reviewer's notes on two vintages (probably from different years), I begin to sense that maybe Z14 just smells different from bottle to bottle, regardless of what the manufacturer's "formula" was. Maybe this is an "unreliable performer." Maybe with Z14 there's no way to know exactly what it will smell like until you smell it yourself, simply because every bottle is a little different.

If I approach Z14 with this attitude, then I can comb through the reviews and find this last one to be consistent with my theory:

Aiona: "It smells like celery seed to me, even though I see no celery seed in the notes listed above. It's distinctive. Not a cool aquatic. Not really a gourmand, despite the celery seed. Just a nice greenish scent."

Very interesting. To her, Z14 is "Just a nice greenish scent." You could find a parallel in this description with the "oakmoss blast" description found earlier. But you have to know that oakmoss, while often "green" in nature, doesn't always smell "green" in fragrances. It can smell nondescript, bitter, powdery even. Vintage Canoe is loaded with it, but few consider Canoe "green."

But most notable in this last review is the description of celery seed, which is commonly attributed to Caron's Yatagan. This is a biting, extremely bitter, pithy, woody note. It does not exist in Z14, which is generally a smooth, ambery citrus and cypress blend. Yet this is what the reviewer describes, and if you don't know anything about the fragrance, you'll be left wondering who to believe here. Does it have lavender and oakmoss and cinnamon, or is it like Yatagan?

I chose Z14 for this exercise because of the divergence of opinions across the boards, and also because there's the added monkey wrench of Z14 being a very "batch specific," "bottle-variable" fragrance. As the years churn on, and my experience with this fragrance continues, I have to wonder if Z's formulation history crudely mimics Grey Flannel's. Perhaps when licensing changed hands, the standards of production varied inconsistently from year to year, or even from batch to batch.

Maybe this is a fragrance where nobody is really "wrong" in their perceptions.

I would argue, from a strictly personal standpoint, that this is not the case. Although the oldest bottle I've tried, which dated to 2007 or 2008 (possibly a year or two older) had a markedly different composition, and a noticeable vetiver note that I have not smelled in any subsequent bottle, the overall feel of the composition, all notes accounted for, conveyed the same basic smell as the more recent versions I've owned and worn.

Every other bottle was either subtly different - to the point of really splitting hairs - or identical. I could get into concentration issues here, but I'll skip it to save time. (Concentration isn't that much of an issue with Z anyway.)

But as I said, I am but one voice. There are 42 years of fragrance to comb through with Z14, and that's a lot of material for study. If you're not interested in getting overly technical and picky about which kind of moss is in your Halston, just going to the nearest drugstore and buying the latest of whatever is in stock will be good enough for you, especially if you have no prior experience with this scent.

But if you're a stickler for material quality, complexity, depth, longevity, naturalism, dynamism, and whatever moss philosophy you adhere to, then clearly you need to eschew Internet reviews and do your own legwork.

I would warn you though, especially if you are the latter type of person, to use caution in how you write about whatever "vintage" you choose. If you disregard any potential concern for spoilage in perfumes, and think that perfumes last forever, you might mention that as soon as possible. That way I will know to avoid taking your review seriously, as will those who agree with my view that perfumes past the twenty year mark are not reliable expressions of their namesakes.


12/31/16

"People Are Reading Claire's Blog," And Why Andy Tauer Is Totally Full Of It



Friends, it looks like we have another diatribe against perfume bloggers, made by a successful perfumer who blithely throws shade at the practice of giving samples, while hypocritically extolling the the value of Facebook "advertising." Andy Tauer, one of the most successful indie-niche small-house perfumers of the last ten years, is evidently a bit nonplussed by something written by ClaireV at takeonethingoff.com (I not longer link to other blogs, simply because I don't want to make indirect endorsements).

To sum up, Claire simply observed the overnight success of relative newcomer Parfums Dusita, which recently smashed luxury market expectations, releasing new fragrances at $100 an ounce without feeling the familiar sting of shooting high and missing. Dusita's fragrances are selling quite well, apparently. There are many super wealthy people willing to plunk down four hundred dollars for yet another obscure oud perfume. Good for Dusita. What does this have to do with Andy Tauer?

Andy wrote a memo to fans on his own blog, addressing what he feels are the changing times in the business. According to him, free samples and "sample draws" on fragrance blogs bring no new customers - absolutely none. And Andy feels that fragrance blogs used to be useful sites, capable of drawing customers, but are no longer of any value. Bloggers don't understand, says Andy. They don't understand the market, they don't appreciate what it takes to succeed, they applaud $400 perfumes without knowing what they're doing, and nowadays they're no better than purveyors of "fake news."

Pardon my French, Andy, but I think you're full of shit. I distinctly recall a couple years ago your linking my reviews of your fragrances on your Facebook page, with plenty of "likes" to give your older fragrances an instant publicity bump - free of charge. My blog wasn't "useless" in those cases, was it? I was praising your fragrances, and rightfully so. Your fragrances are terrific. To my knowledge, most (if not all) fragrance blogs have done nothing but say good things about your fragrances, arguably the only reason you were able to clear the financial hurdles of the first few years of your business and eventually become an inspiration to us all. So what's with the sudden disdain for blogs? You didn't have it when you were reading and sharing mine.

Then we get the Basenotes echo chamber, with countless members weighing in on Andy's post, and Claire's by proxy. (If Andy hadn't mentioned the $400 thing, no one would have connected his rant to her post.) And we get a lot of the recycled bullshit we always get from basenotes members. Let's all agree with Andy! Let's all furrow our brows at Claire. Well not all of us. Let's some of us sympathize with Claire and Andy. Let's act like Andy has a point. Let's pretend that his perfumes are reasonably priced (they're really not).

You know what would be refreshing? If companies like Parfums Dusita and Tauer cut the bullshit and released well made, adventurous compositions using excellent materials for ten dollars an ounce. One basenotes member claimed that people don't understand the actual prices of high quality synthetics, and that some are $100 a ml. Yeah, maybe for you to buy them, but not for professionals. Besides, you're talking apples and oranges when you try to parse the prices for quality synthetics into the retail value of a perfume. Most formulas are using miniscule amounts of each, with the cheapest and most effective pre-made bases comprising the bulk of what you smell, much like the Schiff base did decades ago.

I'm getting really tired of hearing a few things from the perfume industry. First, I'm tired of hearing from perfumers that blogs are useless to their business. If they were, then guys like Andy Tauer wouldn't be reposting my reviews for their own benefit, and they wouldn't be getting annoyed with other bloggers and "responding" to them on their own sites. As one basenotes member noted, "People are reading Claire's blog." The thread on this topic extended into what ClaireV wrote, and if blogs were irrelevant, Andy wouldn't be reading them, and wouldn't have read Claire's post.

Second, I'm sick and tired of hearing all of this false equivalency in the community. Claire, stop prattling on about production and market pricing. Any perfumer creating high-end fragrances is going to pour a bit more money into their formulas then your average mass-market designer brand would, but that doesn't really justify the markup. If I go to KMart and spend twenty bucks on a four ounce bottle of Coty Aspen, I know I'm getting a good perfume at a fair price. It's using most of the same ingredients that Creed uses in Green Irish Tweed, which costs fifteen times as much for no reason other than more expensive packaging, and greedier noses.

The idea that Parfums Dusita wouldn't sell their perfumes at the same volume (or better) if they priced for the lower end designer market is absurd. Can you imagine how many basenoters and Fragranticans would be swarming Parfums Dusita for their frags if they were $40 a bottle? The quality to price ratio would be the biggest draw, and news about it would spread like wildfire in both communities, and across the blogosphere. For the first time in god knows how long, people would have affordable access to unique, well-crafted compositions with perfume strength and the commercial cache of Middle Eastern exoticism. You could sell one bottle to hundreds of American enthusiasts instead of eight bottles to one oil baron in Qatar.

The synthetics and naturals being used are sometimes pricy, but you can price well under $400 a bottle and still make a profit if you're being honest. The sheer volume of perfumes sold would make up for any perceived overhead gap. Niche is struggling in America right now, and it's not because there's a shortage of people who want to buy. It's because niche brands have priced the average American consumer out of the market, and they've done it under cover of apologists who act like it's smart business.

What do true fragrance lovers complain about the most? The shortage of "quality" in what is available.

We all hear the complaints about reformulations, about how natural materials, note clarity, accord fidelity, and longevity have been abandoned by designers. Just think about what could happen if one - just one - perfumer actually kept the faith and produced complex, crystalline perfumes at a fraction of current designer prices. That's a business strategy that takes real balls. That's what nobody is doing, because it's easier to bitch and moan about how difficult the market is for newcomers, how they must price fragrances at a dollar a ml to keep from going out of business. Meanwhile, many still go out of business. Anyone remember J&E Atkinsons? B Never Too Busy To Be Beautiful? When was the last time you saw a Floris store in North America? Oh, I remember: ten years ago. How long do we have to watch L'Artisan gasp for breath before they go under?

Allow me to play the smallest violin for these poor suckers.

Go ahead, be a new niche brand, and enter the market charging $140 a bottle, like Kerosene did a few years ago. Tell me again about how you can't afford to charge anything less than that, when you can find online much of what comprises your formulas for pennies on the dollar. When people like Bigsly have supposed perfumers saying on his blog that naturals cost less than synthetics. Pour gallons of synthetics into a big jug, sprinkle them with a few native oils, call the whole stew "niche," and pray that a Saudi prince discovers you.

Then start a blog, complain about other people's blogs, and tell me that giving two or three free samples to readers doesn't generate any sales. Which brings me to my third and last complaint: perfumers bullshitting people about samples. No Andy, giving a handful of free samples to as many anonymous people online won't generate additional sales. What do you expect? You have to be generous with samples, and offer sizable coffrets for free, boxes with four or five samples. You have to send them out to anyone who asks for them. You have to give them away like candy. That's what designers did for years and years. Take a little loss on them. But take that loss knowing that if your perfumes are getting into people's hands for no money, just a few more may be willing to spend your asking price on a bottle of whatever they liked.

Your mentality is, "samples don't work." Yeah, they do. You just don't want to take the necessary risk on them anymore. So you're bullshitting us with the argument that they don't help sales. You tell readers that free sample draws, where one or two readers are privy to maybe three or four samples, do zero good for your bottom line. No shit. I'm stunned.

As long as the mentality shared by Andy and Parfums Dusita pervades the fragrance world, middle class buyers don't stand a chance.

The future is bleaker than these people realize. Making perfume unaffordable to all but a few only works when the few are allowed to prosper by all. With enough time, enough Trump, enough middle class anger and disgust, even the upper echelon of niche may realize they limited their growth potential and damaged their brands by only catering to the one tiny subset of people that isn't growing: the rich.