7/28/16

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.




7/20/16

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.


7/2/16

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.

6/30/16

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.


"Semi-Facts," Or All Fiction? And A Brief Note On This "Petty Bickering"



Lots of straw, and time to enjoy it.


I want to take a moment to address an aspect of From Pyrgos that some readers have described as "annoying," "unnecessary," "pointless," and "bickering." It concerns the frequent mention of Bigsly and his blog, and the ongoing dialogue between our blogs, which now spans several years.

Recently on basenotes, a member who apparently reads me on occasion called this dialogue "petty bickering," as if our exchanges can be reduced to that. Perhaps "petty" is how some readers see it, but I can't help thinking this criticism is, for lack of a better term, a stretch. Is the reader really being "put out" by contentious exchanges between two blogs? Please. As with most blogs, From Pyrgos has tags, and you can easily choose exactly what you want to read. Let's get something straight here. I'm not "just another review blog." My reviews are not simplistic ("This fragrance sucks! / I love this POWERHOUSE"), and my style is not "No Nonsense" at an eighth grade reading level. If you want that, there are other overrated, half-dead blogs that provide it.

From Pyrgos is written to provide insights into individual fragrances, and the arguments fueling their reception by the public. I'm interested in the different tones of the culture we inhabit, and enjoy debating and arguing the merits of other writers' points. To date, only Bigsly criticizes me with any substance, and I provide counterarguments to his positions when I feel it is beneficial to readers. This isn't done to "bicker." It's done to help frame how newbies and casual enthusiasts understand some of the more item-specific discussions in our relatively small and obsessive community. I apologize if any of it bores you, and if it doesn't, then all the better.

That said, I will briefly address the recent invention of the term "semi-facts," which could only come from Bigsly. We are told that they "dominate" the fragrance industry. I could wax on about the term's absurdity, and how anything "semi-factual" must also be "semi-fictional." I suppose I could delve into how convenient it must be to create oddball terms to support equally odd arguments, but none of this is necessary. I am not interested in arguing for the sake of arguing here, but I would like to straighten the record on a few things. Bigsly's main weakness has always been his fondness for making straw man arguments, or arguments refuting positions that nobody has ever held.

Bigsly refers to his June 20th post in his most recent article, and attempts to re-frame our exchange with the following:

"In one of my other posts, I introduced the concept of the 'semi-fact,' which I’d say is the opposite of Stephen Colbert’s 'truthiness.' That is, instead of sounding true but not being true, the semi-fact is something that the 'contrarian' (or 'stick in the mud') might argue against, but is otherwise clearly functional to the rest of us (though many may not have investigated the matter). The example I used was the argument against my point that there are thousands of much less expensive scents than Sauvage one can find at the discounters and on ebay."

Perhaps he isn't addressing me, but I'm curious about who he is addressing, because nobody has argued against the idea that "there are thousands of much less expensive scents than Sauvage." Because nobody has ever argued this point, and it is presented very early in his post, everything that follows seems to rest on this straw man argument. It is one that was never presented here or anywhere else, to my knowledge.

He continues, with a marked fondness for the word "indeed":

"Why would anyone go to the mall – and pay 'mall prices?' Indeed, there must be far more than a few such people who indeed pay more than they probably should have (this is the majority of men who buy such scents, isn’t it?). Such people may not even know that Playboy has their name on any fragrance nor that there is such a fragrance brand as Iceberg! A small percentage of these people go to Fragrantica and write up glowing reviews of this 'great new fresh scent.' Use your browser’s find feature and see how many times the word fresh is used in a Fragrantica review of Sauvage! So, we have another semi-fact here, because it’s beyond obvious that there are some significantly different ways that people perceive the value of these concoctions . . . "

Why pay mall prices? I already answered that: in many cases, "mall prices" are the only prices for brand-new frags by Dior and Chanel. Good luck finding better prices for new bottles on the internet. You have to navigate a minefield of counterfeits and "partially-used" or "tester" bottles from eBay merchants and obscure discount sites.

Bigsly asks his question, then tries to answer it by discussing "cheaper alternatives" like Playboy and Iceberg scents, but his questions have nothing to do with Playboy and Iceberg. Clearly there are cheap fragrances that smell good and are worth buying, but how do they relate to designer fragrances? How does their appeal to buyers usurp the appeal of buying designer scents? He never makes these connections with any specifics. He goes on about "semi-facts," a very straw-manly argument that carefully sidesteps the one complete fact on the table: scent-wise, Sauvage is unique.

Its uniqueness is the key to this discussion. In their reviews for Sauvage, I've noticed that some guys are referring to it as a fougère. This is interesting, because very few designers are issuing fougères these days. YSL's Rive Gauche Pour Homme was the last major designer fragrance to be celebrated as a fougère, and that was thirteen years ago. Maybe, as time goes on, I'll begin seeing comparisons between Sauvage and a few old-school fougères from the seventies and eighties, which may reveal a clearer lineage for this new scent that is not presently being explored.

If I want Sauvage, then no Playboy or Iceberg scent will have meaning for me, at least not in the context of wanting to wear something like Sauvage. Any interest I might have in cheaper brands would revolve around other things, like whatever value-to-quality ratio exists with those products. These elements would not correlate with my interest (or disinterest) in Sauvage.

There are no "semi facts" or half truths here. There is just the one stark fact that Sauvage is its own thing, and you can either take it or leave it.



6/19/16

The "Sauvage S**t Show" Goes On. What Fun!


Still A Stupid Game.


In the last few months, Sauvage's price has become a hot topic for some folks in the blogosphere. The fact that Dior's new scent is a "designer" fragrance isn't the least bit alarming to most. Dior has been around for decades, and its pricing decisions have rarely been a subject of conversation. Yet it seems that a few can't help but talk around the issue of Sauvage's price, which in some ways is being equated with its "worth."

Fragrantica's veteran master troll has been repeatedly using the review section for Sauvage as a "discussion thread," which of course it was never meant to be, to badger other members for having certain opinions of Sauvage. This is the same troll who has spent years contending that nothing I say makes any sense, that I'm mentally ill, and more recently (on basenotes) that he's "bested" me on all debate fronts, despite a considerable numerical difference in the sizes of our devoted readerships, which count 88 here, and only 51 there. (If this is "besting" me, keep it coming.)

This character read the following comment by Fragrantica member "Gazza97":

"It's almost impossible to dislike this fragrance. Yes it may be slightly 'generic', but come on, this just smells amazing. The performance is really good too. I got a solid 7 hours from this and it was still projecting pretty well from the 4 hour mark! This surpasses Bleu de Chanel IMO."

And responded to it with his usual, near-indecipherable histrionics:

"@Gazza97: What I don't understand is all the reviews saying it's a great performer and it smells good. There are thousands of other 'masculine' scents that have excellent longevity and projection, and smelling good is obviously subjective (Sauvage uses a lot of ambroxan, so if you find that aroma chemical irritating, it's highly likely you will dislike the scent, perhaps intensely!). I have several Playboy scents that cost me $5 or less per 100 ml and I enjoy them (and they are also excellent 'performers'), and I don't have to deal with a lot of ambroxan with those. So, if you really enjoy Sauvage, that's great for you and I'm glad to hear it, but to act like it's the only scent that is an excellent 'performer' or that smells 'nice' is ridiculous, IMO."

This is called, conservatively, "framing the debate with straw." I won't delve into how unhinged and bizarre it reads. At no point in his brief review did "Gazza97" suggest that Sauvage is "the only scent that is an excellent performer." Nor did he ever suggest that it's the only one that "smells nice." So why is "Gazza97"'s review - and it is a review - under attack?

"Gazza97" responded with clarity:

"@Bigsly: Once again people are taking my review out of context. I never stated that it is a unique, one of a kind fragrance. There may well be fragrances out there that have the same vibe and performance as Sauvage, albeit at less the price. I haven't smelt those ones that you mentioned because they are less well known than something that comes from the house of Dior, and I'm allowed to voice my opinion on the latter. So please read my review thoroughly before you accuse me. Thank you."

What I like about Fragrantica is that the merits of member comments are "voted on" by others in the forum, with general consensus indicated via "balloons" that accumulate next to content. "Gazza97"'s review, and his response to an unwarranted attack, hold full clutches of balloons, while his attacker's comment hold none at all. A lack of balloons should not be considered a searing indictment of one's opinion, but it gives a vague idea of where people in the forum stand on a subject. In this case, I'd hazard to say that other members felt the same way as "Gazza97" when it came to his ideas on Sauvage being "unique" and "nice."

His attacker has taken to conflating Sauvage's price with its worth, for some reason. Playboy scents, usually Berlin, are frequently mentioned in this context, with statements like "Why should I pay for Sauvage when I can get Berlin for five dollars?" floating around rather freely. My guess is he thinks Berlin smells like Sauvage, which I suppose is fair, although you should note that this is the same person who once suggested that Amouage's Memoir Man smells like Burberry Brit, so if you're interested in heeding his comparison skills, do so at your own risk! But I can't help wondering what his point is here? If you like Playboy's Berlin, fine. If you can't afford Sauvage at retail, no biggie. But these factors have absolutely nothing to do with other people liking Sauvage.

If I had to guess, I'd say that maybe the idea being "sold" here is this: pricy designer scents like Sauvage are being undermined by inexpensive drugstore scents like Playboy Berlin because of vast price differences, without commensurate differences in quality. That is, Sauvage and Berlin's quality are almost entirely on par, while their prices are wildly different. There is some merit to this argument, if it is indeed the argument being made. (Because of how poorly the main champion for this idea writes, I can't verify that this is definitely what he's saying, but it's what I've pieced together thus far.) It's fair enough, but there are also a few problems.

The main merit here is that Playboy scents are relatively high quality for their price-point, although I doubt anyone can acquire a Playboy scent for five dollars or less, contrary to what Berlin's number one spokesman constantly says. A 1.7 oz bottle of any Playboy scent retails in stores at about sixteen dollars. This isn't "expensive" by most measures, but it's hardly a "dollar store" price point. You can get things by Italian-imported Krizia for less on Amazon.

To be fair, you can get 1.7 oz bottles of Playboy scents on Amazon for about ten dollars without shipping included, maybe nine if you trust the more obscure sellers. I haven't seen any deals for the brand at under six dollars, and don't know why anyone would suggest Playboy scents can be had for five dollars or less. Usually merchants asking under ten dollars want at least six dollars for shipping, so these tend to be pointless purchases in my opinion. Show me a five dollar Playboy scent (shipping included) and I'm in! I suspect this deal does not and never did exist, and is a product of a certain someone's imagination, being conveniently used to support whatever the position of the day is. When I make certain surprising purchases, I post pictures of my receipts to prove the prices I paid exist. So far the troll hasn't posted any of his receipts, and I simply don't believe him when he talks about "five dollar or less Playboy scents."

But I digress - yes, if you like inexpensive fragrances, and respect the Playboy brand (i.e., you're not turned off by its being a soft-core porn name), Playboy's Berlin is probably a good purchase. I've never tried it, and can't vouch for it personally, but I don't doubt that it's a decent scent, especially for the money. I happen to have VIP in my collection, and it's a very nice little wetshaver fern with a slight gourmand aspect to it, and its quality is solidly "good." It was well worth the sixteen or so bucks I paid for it.

One could also argue that the aroma chemicals used in pricy designer scents like Sauvage are also being used to varying degrees in things like Berlin. This is a fair assessment, although it's hardly enlightening. It's like saying dihydromyrcenol is used in both Green Irish Tweed and Cool Water. Wow, you don't say?

That's where the merits stop, in my opinion. The logic gets shakier when I start to consider what is actually being argued here: that for some people, owning and wearing "five dollar" Playboy scents like Berlin make owning and wearing eighty-five dollar scents like Sauvage pointless. Why, exactly, would that be? Playboy scents smell much "cheaper" at a distance than more expensive designer scents by YSL, Chanel, and Dior in my collection, and my bottle of VIP is nowhere near as complex as my bottles of Antaeus and Bleu de Chanel, for example. The "quality" test for these things isn't hard to conduct. "Cheaper" often relates to lower concentration of scent by volume, so you'll smell a relatively close degree of complexity between Playboy and designer for the first ten minutes, and then the budget differences rapidly come to light.

Also, Sauvage is unique in that it gets compared to dozens of other fragrances all the time, yet really only smells like itself - not unlike Bleu de Chanel. Does this make Sauvage "great?" No, but it makes it unique. Few fragrances in recent memory have caused men and women to speculate so wildly about its comparatives. Few have managed to generate such heated discussion, for that matter.

Likewise, Sauvage's quality is at least close to where it should be, if not a bit above average. My experience with it yielded a surprisingly clear and durable bergamot note, absolutely no "marine" or "aquatic" elements (which at this point I consider trite), and a distinct (if unexciting) woody-amber base that at least was not "cheap." It registers as a Dior-funded suede leather scent to my nose. I certainly don't consider Sauvage anything great, and my personal feelings for it are pretty limited in that regard, as it's not something I seek to buy and wear. But I'm not confused by the enthusiasm it generates in others. I understand their view. It's a very good fragrance, rather "safe" in the same way that Bleu de Chanel is, and it smells clearly of a few things, so it's not like the scent is overly "abstract" or difficult to rate.

If you want to wear Sauvage, you buy it and wear it. You can't reliably look to the comparisons made by other people and use them as a substitute for Sauvage, because thus far no consensus has been reached as to which scent is closest to Sauvage. This isn't Paco Rabanne's One Million. This isn't Le Male. This isn't Allure Homme. This is a fragrance that has created some "camps" of people who feel certain things smell closer than others, and there are certainly some comparatives that are more accurate than others, but ultimately Dior has sired something that raises more lineage questions than it answers.

With this taken into account, what's the point of suggesting that anything else is a spoiler here? If anything, Sauvage should be generating discussions about how nothing is an apt substitute for it!

People also get hung up on specific aroma chemicals, as if they could ever identify these chemicals in isolated blind tests. When Terre d'Hermes was popular, Iso E was inexplicably the "bad chemical," despite its being one of the gentlest materials in the organ. Now with Sauvage, everyone is suddenly down on Ambroxan. They weren't down on Ambroxan when it was used in Green Irish Tweed, and at least with GIT it's been confirmed by people like Luca Turin that the material is present. Having worn Sauvage, the last thing I worried about was that it contained Ambroxan.

Fragrantica member "Josh839" responded to the troll with his own thoughts, which I think sum up the true nature of both arguments pretty well:

"@Bigsly: I respect your point of view about variety and price. My budget for fragrances is not unlimited either. I have read some of your reviews that I have truly appreciated. It shows clearly that you are an experienced amateur . . . Sauvage is commercial? Yes! But 'commercial' is not synonymous with 'cheap' or devoid of creative content . . . "

"Creative content" is a term that some folks openly deride, as if perfumers' intentions in the creation of perfumes are irrelevant. That's hard to fathom, because they're the only things that are relevant. I'll write more about that another time, but I'll finish here by saying that any hypothetical five dollar fragrance, if held against an existing eighty-five dollar fragrance for comparison, ought to achieve the same level of popular enthusiasm if it's to be considered a genuine comparative. Thus far, for reasons that are not a mystery to me, things like Playboy's Berlin are simply "scents other than Sauvage." And if you don't want to spend the money on Sauvage, and don't want to wear Sauvage, by all means, don't!

It's helpful to understand though that this means you don't want to smell like Sauvage. It means that you want to smell like whatever you've chosen to wear instead. Any argument that places one scent over the other in the context of price conjures an "apples and oranges" scenario that isn't worth exploring. So I ask you, can we finally bring this ridiculous show to a close? If you like Sauvage, and you can afford it, buy it, wear it, enjoy it. More power to you.

If you don't like Sauvage, and your reasons range from the practical (it's too expensive), to the pedantic (too much Ambroxan), fine, but do we really need to keep talking about it? Enough already. Dior created and issued Sauvage. Some people like it, and others don't. The world continues to turn. Call me crazy if you must, but I think this discussion has gone far enough.

Update 6/21/16: Apparently the troll was incensed by my article, and he wrote up a rambling blog post that addresses yet another Fragrantica review of Sauvage. He seems to ponder not whether it bears any accuracy for others, but whether it accounts for (drumroll please) price differences between Sauvage and other fragrances.

"The reviewer seems to think it is good for garnering compliments, but that it is repulsive if smelled close up on the skin, though this is true of a large number of scents, so the question is, why spend $90 or thereabouts on it when there are other options? For example, a three ounce bottle of Cuba Prestige (which is similar to A*Men but without much if any of the tar note) cost me less than $10 total., and it has excellent performance! Wouldn’t such a scent garner compliments too?"

You could say the same of Animale Animale for men, which is similar to A*Men without the tar, and 100 ml can be had for less than twenty dollars. By why in the name of Grace would I even bring up an A*Men comparative when discussing Sauvage? And how does the fact that an $85 designer fragrance costs more than cheaper "off-brand" fragrances mean anything in particular here?

He really "goes down the rabbit hole" in his next paragraph:

"There seems to be an interesting psycho-social element to the 'Sauvage debate,' and so that’s why I’ve spent more time on a scent that I have no interest in wearing than on many others (that probably deserve more attention). It seems to function like this; someone tries Sauvage after reading a bunch of bad reviews, then says to himself, 'it’s not that bad, and I did get a compliment, so there must be a group of irrational haters out there!' Then he goes on a site like Fragrantica and makes such points in the review section, totally ignoring some of the points made, such as what I’ve said about there being thousands of other scents to choose from at lower prices! . . . Obviously, there is no other scent exactly like Sauvage, but that can be said of nearly every scent on the market too!"

Try to figure on what is being said here, if you can: because people are ignoring this person, and claiming that Sauvage is garnering compliments (and craziest of things, smelling good), they are falsely identifying "haters" who think what he thinks, whatever that is. This is followed by the grossly inaccurate statement about there being countless fragrances with no exact comparatives.

Of course there are very few fragrances out there that smell exactly like something else. But that's not what was being argued by anyone - certainly not me! What has been clearly stated here is that Sauvage is exceptional because it has no comparatives at all. No one comparative can be gleaned with any accuracy from the majority of preexisting perfumes. At least with many other designer fragrances, you can point to something else that smells similar. Le Male has dozens of comparatives, Perry Ellis 360 White among them. Drakkar Noir has so many comparatives that it has become its own genre of fragrance. Allure Homme has things like Joop! Jump and at least a half dozen other similar fragrances to match it.

But Sauvage, thus far, has little to no accurate comparative. So to argue that "every scent on the market" lacks an "exact" twin is beside the point. We're talking about things that are "similar," not "exact."

Well, I'm talking about that, anyway. To round it all off, we get back to the "unhinged" nature of this person's thinking:

"Getting back to the review, I don’t understand why someone would think that $90 for 100 ml of such a scent is 'the going rate.' How could someone not know about ebay, discounters, and the fact that a large number of new scents are put on the market each year?"

This suggests that Dior Sauvage enthusiasts are possibly unaware of the existence of eBay, discount grey market sites, and the ever-rising tide of new perfumes that flood our shores each season, which is not a very realistic comment, in my opinion. But he continues to be hung up on price, price, price. He thinks it's absurd that anyone would accept Dior's asking price for Sauvage, at what he contends is $90 (I've seen it for $85 here in Connecticut, and can't comment on the rate elsewhere).

Eighty-five to ninety dollars for Sauvage is Dior's retail price for 100 ml, as far as I know. This is what Dior wants for it. Since you can get older Dior fragrances on Amazon for a bit less than retail (occasionally), one might be better off waiting a year or two to see if that happens. You could always hop onto eBay and see if someone is hawking their partially-used bottle on there for less than retail, but if so, they'd be taking a loss, which should raise red flags for any buyer. As for the grey market, you can hope to find things by Chanel and Dior on random sites for good prices, but you enter into the realm of counterfeit risk, particularly with these two brands. This is how they're able to maintain their retail department store rates without much competition.

It seems to me that any seasoned perfume enthusiast knows these things without having to go over them. They are the reason the current sticker price for Sauvage is the "going rate." If I want something else that smells nothing like Sauvage, and it only costs ten or fifteen dollars, so be it, but that does little to undermine Dior's asking price.

I really don't know what else to say. I'll leave you with one last entertaining "histrionic" from our friend, who apparently takes umbrage at being called a "troll":

"Some people seem to think they can call people 'trolls' because they state an opinion the person doesn’t like. This often appears to be a substitute for 'hater,' perhaps because the person realizes how silly the hater claim is when it involves someone stating an opinion about an olfactory concoction (and the supposed hater isn’t even saying anything hateful!). In fact, to know for sure if someone is trolling one would have to be a mind reader, and I’d guess that if Socrates were alive today many would call him a troll for saying the same kinds of things he said in ancient Greece!"

Ouch. You'd think he'd have the decency to leave poor Socrates out of this.

Further Update: At this point it's a dead horse being flogged to the bone, but there was this humorous anecdote added to the blog post in question:

"I am confident in my opinions, though I’m certainly not always correct, but what’s interesting to me is that some people seem to want to argue what one might call 'semi-facts' . . . I’m simply pointing some things out, which are either undeniably facts or probably should be regarded as such ('semi-facts')."

Semi-facts? Good grief.


6/11/16

Witness (Jacques Bogart)


"Another View Of The World"


Stylistically, Witness is an embodiment of early nineties poise, a complex structure replete with evergreen balsams, lavender aromatics, and a crisp cedar base. It bears similarities to Aubusson Pour Homme and Balenciaga Pour Homme, but unlike its congeners, which celebrate artful contrasts between green and musky notes, Bogart eschews pungent musks, favoring instead a more staid arrangement of cinnamon, fir, incense, and woods. The result is something that lacks animalism, and smells much darker and drier than expected, but is nonetheless quite good.

The nose for this scent is Dominique Preyssas, who according to Fragrantica authored Jaguar for Men, an aromatic fougère that preceded Witness by four years. I've heard that Thierry Wasser co-authored Witness, but can't confirm it, though the wonderful Art Deco bottle design is credited to Joel Desgrippes, the genius designer for Revillon's French Line and Kenzo's Jungle, both packaging masterpieces. It's interesting that the color scheme for Witness' bottle is identical to Aubusson's, and I wonder if Desgrippes did both. My personal feelings for Witness (the perfume) echo those for Balenciaga and Aubusson, and I'm certain that Bogart's interpretation of this theme is the most "oriental," and also the most "mature." The key is the incense.

Witness' mossy cedar base isn't far removed from that of Krizia Uomo, but a haze of cool, smoky incense focuses my nose on the lushness surrounding it. Gentle nuances of old-school lavender, basil, artemisia, geranium, sandalwood, and jasmine are lifted by quiet aldehydes, lending charm to what could have been a woefully dated formula. The blend is subtle and a bit sweet, the ingredient quality is high, and the balance between spice, greens, and woody amber is flawless. As with Aubusson, I briefly get an abstract apple pie effect in the first minute of Witness, but once the cinnamon segues into artemisia, the gourmand impression goes with it.

If (and only if) you enjoy this style of fragrance, Witness is something you should add to your collection. It's vintage Bogart, and thus is stylistically superlative and very well made. I have yet to encounter anything less by this brand. One should note that it's a bit of an acquired taste; nectarous accents are woven into heady classical accords in a manner that might, if you are unfamiliar with this approach, seem too unconventional and "out there." It may be difficult to determine the appropriate occasion for Witness.

To me, this sort of thing is good for casual Fridays at work, and weekend nights out on the town. It may not be suitable for black-tie dinner parties or first dates, but it's perfect for deal-closing phone conferences and gallery art shows, pairing well with wool sport coats and Chardonnay-fueled conversations about touch and form.