11/27/14

Animale Animale For Men, and The Helpfulness and Helplessness Of Reviews




I have contacted Jeffrey Dame about this fragrance, as he was in charge of its marketing and commercial production in the early nineties prior to and during its international release. I have some questions for him about its conception in the backroom meetings, as Animale Animale for Men is markedly similar to both the feminine and masculine versions of Angel by Thierry Mugler. My interest stems from the fact that it does mildly mimic Angel, yet lends the boozy patchouli gourmand a distinctly masculine aura, thanks to judicious florals and an almost garrulous pineapple and honey top note. Put simply, my perception of AAfM is that it's a sort of "fougeriental," with a bold lavender note, and a woody tonka bean effect framing a vanillic sandalwood reconstruction in its heart and base. I understand that Dame wanted to call this fragrance "Animalaso," but was apparently forced to give up that idea. Why, exactly? Was it a play on words, giving "Animal" an "e" at the end to suggest the scent is primarily for males? That is the name of the fashion house, though, so I really don't know what the thinking was. It would be fun to find out more.

If you're wondering how this perfume smells, the best I can do is convey the brief description above, and add that it's essentially a fresher, brighter, and woodier reinterpretation of Angel (feminine). This is not in any way a clone of A*Men, for the simple reason that it was released prior to Mugler's infamous scent. One can speculate about whether or not Mugler cloned the clone in creating A*Men a full two years after AAfM hit stores, but without a direct line to the man himself, it's tough to say. I smell a rather loose but nonetheless lucid resemblance to Yohji Homme in AAfM as well, so perhaps that fragrance, with its interesting mixture of toffee-flavored coffee and anisic lavender, was also an inspiration. AAfM is a remarkably smooth masculine for its price (roughly $20 for 100 ml), and an entirely coherent olfactory experience that is a pleasure to own and wear. I also have A*Men and a generous decant of B*Men, and find the former more interesting, and the latter less compelling than AAfM. A*Men's mintier, more chocolatey structure contrasts beautifully against its burnt rubber note, making its drydown a bit more memorable than Animale's, but then again I love the sandalwood effect in the cheaper scent, so I guess it's nearly a draw between the two. B*Men is very nice also, but not nearly as memorable as the others.

AAfM is perhaps more notable than A*Men in that it seems to compel writers to over-analyze what they're smelling. Well, okay, maybe "over-analyze" is a bit unfair. Let's say that people "overthink" things when discussing it. I have yet to read a review that wasn't at least a little informative about the writer's perspective on this one, but I realized that AAfM has provided an unusual bonus, a special service to anyone aspiring to be a good fragrance reviewer: it generates both very useful, and completely useless opinions. When viewed together, these impressions create a roadmap to success in writing expressively and coherently. The following are three examples of useful, informative reviews that can serve as templates for budding writers (each review is edited for length):
"I found that the notes listed on Basenotes differ from the ones listed here on Fragrantica. What I picked up in the top seems like a combination of honey and pineapple to me. Underneath I find some chocolate, though it isn't mentioned in the notes here in Fragrantica. Also some tabacco. And something that reminds me of amber, though I am not sure that is really in there. Could be the mixture of notes? It reminds me a bit of Ralph Lauren's Polo Explorer, which also has amber in it. Vanilla is lingering softly in the background."

"A good cologne that is made all the better by it's comparatively low price. This is not a poor man's version of A*Men, it's another option that is comparable which happens to carry a more affordable price tag. It is a safe buy if you enjoy a sweet, chocolate, powdery cologne that is a very nice middle of the road scent between A*Men/Pure Malt/Pure Havane. If you aren't sure which of those you prefer or on a tight budget, I highly recommend getting this."

"I love this stuff. It is comforting, sweet but not too sweet, modest but just complex enough to hold your attention, and dirt cheap. Even the goofy bottle, with its cheap plastic clip-on front, has come to please me from its association with such a nice fragrance. I got it almost on a whim and it has come to win my affections over a number of expensive sweet gourmands, including A*men. If you gave it a classy bottle and called it "Vanille Orientale" there would probably be some market for it at 10 times the price. (Though this may say more about the wildly inflated price of niche perfumes than it says about Animale Animale.)"

The first review is very succinct in describing the notes being perceived by its writer, and this is merely an opinion of an opinion, but I feel that describing notes goes a long way in helping people to form a mental "scent profile," or a general idea of how something smells, without actually smelling it. It's true, you have to be knowledgeable enough to actually know what specific materials smell like to put this to use, but in AAfM's case, the notes are relatively ordinary and shouldn't pose any major challenges to newcomers. Most of us have a good idea of what pineapple, tobacco, and chocolate smell like. For slightly more experienced readers, the mention of amber helps to cement the general impression of the scent. This review also compares the scent to Polo Explorer, which at least gives experienced readers a new vantage point from which to consider AAfM. It's good stuff. I read reviews to get a sense of what something smells like, and this one answers more questions than it raises.

The second reviewer parries comparisons with more deftness, stating what AAfM does and does not smell like to him, and contextualizing the comparisons by mentioning price. Saying, "This is not a poor man's version of A*Men, it's another option that is comparable," answers pretty much any question a newcomer might have about whether or not AAfM smells like a "cheaper" version of A*Men. In one sentence the writer made clear that these two scents are comparable at different price-points, with equal (or near-equal) quality. Fears about the "safeness" of plunging in blind on AAfM are cleverly assuaged by adding that fans of a rather expansive category - sweet, chocolate, and powdery - should like this.

The third review does something that I always love to read - it diminishes any doubt regarding AAfM's quality, with one simple trick, the "label-swap," as I call it. It's something I've read now and again in reviews of cheap fragrances. Grey Flannel is a good example. A writer on PierredePierre once said something to the effect that certain cheapies are just as good as expensive niche frags, yet unjustly suffer in reputation by having low prices, and Grey Flannel was cited as one that would garner just as many positive compliments as something twenty times as expensive. This sort of idea isn't ironclad (I've occasionally seen guys on a certain wetshaver site compare some rather stuffy "man's man" cheapies to niche scents, which doesn't always wash), but in this review the writer states that he got AAfM "almost on a whim," yet was moved enough to consider it worth just as much as something in a much more expensive league. Reading this tells me that AAfM is, at the very least, a memorable fragrance, something that makes a strong positive impression.

Despite their best intentions, there are also reviewers who neuter their effectiveness by doing hackneyed work. Here are three examples:
"Don't think twice about buying it. It's around $20 a bottle and is great juice. One of if not the best bargain fragrance you can buy."

"It took me 2 long months to find a way to like this fragrance. Initially, I was turned way off by the oak moss and tobacco in this fragrance - it smelled very dated. But after awhile (maybe the notes finally settled after the treatment it received during shipment) I kinda like this fragrance with no more than 2 sprays (1 neck and 1 chest). You cannot overspray this one and you cannot spray the same area twice, this gets too cloying and too sweet - a real headache inducer. With two sprays, I get the honey, pineapple, vanilla, 'chocolate', and oak moss mixing to form a real relaxing gourmand fragrance, meant to be worn on a cold night with a thick sweater."

"I've changed my mind about this one to some degree. I now view it as an irritating 'blob' type of fragrance. Notes are not separated enough and so you get this nasty lavender/patchouli/gourmand that seems to pierce the nose. According to fragrantica.com, the notes are: '...nutmeg, honey, pineapple, lime, sandalwood, amber, patchouli, lavender, musk, galbanum, vanilla, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley, cedar, tobacco, rose and lemon.' I do not even get a hint of several of these. My guess is that this is made with cheaper ingredients than it should have been. Even Enrico Sebastiano Fine Cologne, which is selling now very cheaply, it considerably better that this one (ESFC is a lavender/patchouli/gourmand with a strong spice note). In short, I see AAfM as a real 'drug store' kind of fragrance, lacking seriously in basic components necessary for something worth considering by an aficionado . . . My old review: This is solid, and I'd say Foetidus' review is right on the money. However, AA is not only linear, but it stays at the same level of intensity for hours, which some may like and some may not. I like A*Men better, because it is more intense at the start, then in about two hours you get nice, gentle wafts (assuming you only use one or two sprays, as I do). This is important for me because the chocolate smell can become irritating after a while if it's too strong. It may be that AA gets a bit weaker too with the chocolate after a while, but because you don't get the A*Men blast at the beginning, you don't notice the drop off in strength as much as you do with A*Men. Still, AA can usually be found at about half the price (if not better), so if you don't mind this difference that I described (or prefer the smoother ride of AA), I'd say go for AA instead."

The first review is short and enthusiastic, but it just doesn't say anything. The writer feels it's one of the "best bargain fragrances you can buy," but no comparisons are made, and there's no clear reason for this opinion, other than that it's just "great juice," whatever that means. If I'm looking for information, I'm not going to find it here. Lots of "why" questions are raised. Why is it great? Why is it a "bargain?" Why shouldn't I think twice about buying a scent that I've never smelled before? Ultimately this review is not a review at all, and is therefore not helpful to me.

The second review is what I call the "Hedge." People sometimes (or often) start out by saying something like, "I didn't like this before, but now I kind of like it, although . . . " You get the idea. This is thin ice, and by the end of the thought, the logic has inevitably fallen through. This writer starts by saying, "It took 2 long months to find a way to like this fragrance - it smelled very dated." This guy had to "find a way" to like it? If you have to find a way to like something, then you're obviously not comfortable thinking for yourself. Why shouldn't your dislike be worth talking about? Why go on an unnecessary quest to do what you think other people want you to do, and modify your opinion to please them? This reviewer follows his initial admission, where he says he found the fragrance dated, with, "But after a while, I kind of like this fragrance." So you don't like something. You don't like it because it's dated. You give it additional time, dating it further. And now you like it. Right.

This review is troublesome because it then devolves into an "application manual." We've all read them before, those pesky reviews that attempt to dictate the exact terms on which a fragrance is acceptable, by describing exactly how many sprays you should use. "You cannot overspray this one and you cannot spray the same area twice . . ." To this I say, really? I used ten sprays this morning, with five of them layered on top of themselves. See what I did there? Funny. Got a problem with using more than one or two sprays of a perfume - any perfume? Get the fuck out of the fragrance world. It's like saying you want to be a restaurant reviewer, but you'll only try one bite of everything on the menu. Your opinion is based on unnecessarily attenuated experience, and is therefore pointless and useless to me and everyone else.

The last review is relatively rare to encounter, but when I do happen across it, it makes my head spin faster than Linda Blair's. The "I Changed My Mind Review" is possibly the worst kind of amateur writing on the internet, because it literally gives the reader two completely different reviews, all bundled into one, and it's up to you to decide which of them you should go by. Remember, you probably haven't smelled the fragrance in question. What good does it do you to read that someone thought highly of a fragrance at one point in time, and then completely fell out of love later on? Why not just clip out the old review and qualify your new impression with an admission that you (a) rushed the first review after the briefest of samplings, or (b) you now have an ulterior motive for supposedly changing your mind, which means your words should be avoided by readers at all costs?

In this case, the reviewer initially claimed that "This is solid . . . I like A*Men better, but it is more intense at the start, then in about two hours you get nice, gentle wafts (assuming you only use one or two sprays, as I do). This is important for me because the chocolate smell can become irritating after a while if it's too strong. It may be that AA gets a bit weaker too with the chocolate after a while, but because you don't get the A*Men blast at the beginning, you don't notice the drop off in strength as much as you do with A*Men. Still, AA can usually be found at about half the price (if not better), so if you don't mind this difference that I described (or prefer the smoother ride of AA), I'd say go for AA instead." So A*Men is initially more intense than AAfM. Then it gets softer with "gentle wafts." That same decrease in strength is harder to detect in Animale, because it's weaker to begin with. Animale is cheaper, but still a "smoother ride," so it is recommended. Being softer, smoother, and cheaper is a win in this comparison.

These claims are then followed up by entirely contradictory opinions. The "new" review turns all of the previous logic on its head and fails to make any specific comparisons, yet somehow expects the reader to understand. "I've changed my mind about this one, to some degree. I now view it as an irritating 'blob' type of fragrance. Notes are not separated enough, and so you get this nasty lavender/patchouli/gourmand that seems to pierce the nose." So what happened to the comparison to the "more intense" A*Men? Interesting how AA went from being a "smoother ride" to being a "blob." Reading this, I should now believe that Animale is TOO blended (usually the hallmark of "smooth" fragrances), yet also "nose piercing" in its strength. Something smells here, and it ain't the perfume being described.

This suspicion is reinforced as I read further. I find that despite the author's prior contention that AAfM's low price is a reason to choose it over the pricier A*Men, now he feels that "this is made with cheaper ingredients than it should have been . . . I see AAfM as a real 'drug store' kind of fragrance, lacking seriously in basic components necessary for something worth considering by an aficionado." These "basic components" are so important to mention that they are not elaborated upon at all by the reviewer. Taken together and translated, these two divergent reviews say, "AAfM is a good buy because it's a lighter, smoother scent that is similar to but cheaper than A*Men, but I dislike it because it's an irritating, nose-piercing drugstore-quality blob that 'aficionados' shouldn't bother with."

With the "I Changed My Mind Review," it's helpful to figure out who the writer is - it can establish an ulterior motive for the supposed change of heart. In this case, it doesn't take long to discover that the author is someone who does not like Jeffrey Dame, and seems a bit threatened by him. This is made clear when you read the reviewer's blog, in which he spends plenty of time attempting to refute Mr. Dame's experience by comparing it to his own. Upon discovering that Jeffrey Dame had an influential hand in the creation of AAfM (Dame posted a comment on Fragrantica), the reviewer's opinion changed quite suddenly, and AAfM went from being desirable to being forgettable crap. Of course, the writer overplayed his hand by a long shot, and I doubt anyone could read the review(s) without scratching their head in confusion. All of it taken together suggests that the reviewer is not only incompetent as a writer, but not a credible voice even if the language in his reviews made sense.

Bear in mind that when it comes to the praise and criticism that I've heaped on these examples, I can take credit for some of the good points, and am also guilty of making the same mistakes. I'm not writing this as an attempt to elevate myself into the stratosphere of "wise sage" who can dictate what is and is not acceptable. I'm just observing reviews that are and are not helpful to me, and elaborating on why I read them as I do. There is no chiseled-in-stone rule of law for how to write reviews, no absolute right or wrong. But opinions are like assholes - everyone has them - and some shit smells better than others.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! See you in December.




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