Zino's Reformulation Is Just As Great: The "Zinoization" Canard, and Some Information About Sandal Ore

Vintage fragrances tend to exhibit similar characteristics, at least to me. They possess abbreviated top notes, or no top notes at all. Their heart accords usually show up early and smell unbalanced, lacking a certain degree of note separation that I prefer in compositions. Most of the notes in them are dulled a bit with age, an effect of murky, muddled simplification where there was once texture and complexity. Their base accords are either a great big smoosh of several notes into one super-smooth "cologney" wood note, or a small handful of feeble, out of focus notes that further fade into the sunset a few hours after application. To date I have not encountered a vintage scent that smelled any differently, although Ocean Rain seems to be an exception, a living testament to the power of the genius behind its purely synthetic form, and even there it is hard for me to underscore my sentiment without prior knowledge of how Ocean Rain smelled when new. Things like Grey Flannel, Bleu Marine de Cardin, Feeling Man by Jil Sander, Davidoff's Relax, Dali Pour Homme, and Venezia Uomo did not fare as well. They typify all the issues described above.

This isn't to say that I don't like how most of these vintages smell. I love how my vintage Grey Flannel smells, and also enjoy Bleu Marine. I like the synthetically lucid sandalwood-like "smooshed wood note" of Feeling Man's heart and base, although it could use more texture and contrast. I also like Relax's miniature Zino base accord, and the darkness of Dali PH is terrific. I currently consider my Venezia Uomo to be borderline unwearable, unfortunately. It's that far gone.

My bottle of vintage Zino is no different from the rest in that it smells like current Zino, but simplified to a small degree. It's like someone went into the formula with a wet paintbrush and smeared notes of lavender, sage, patchouli, cedar, rosewood, sandalwood, vanilla, and musk, condensing the entire scent's dynamism into two or three accords. The "someone" in question here is Father Time. Many years in a closet will predictably smooth out a scent's rougher edges and leave it very close to the same as it was, but slightly different. In Zino's case, the only difference between vintage and current is that a bit of the former's complexity is lost, while the latter shows me how it used to smell, boasting better note separation, an increase in the tonality and balance of notes, and a more rewarding experience in general.

When I approach vintage Zino from a subjective standpoint, I have the expectation that it will smell 95% the same as current Zino, so I'm not surprised by how my vintage smells. The 5% change is attributable to some staleness from age, and not to any significant difference in the chemical formula itself. Well, maybe .01% is a formula divergence: the bergamot note in vintage smells microscopically fresher than the top note of current, but I waffle a bit on that. In low doses the bergamot jumps out at me, but if I do a full wearing of vintage the day after a wearing of the reformulation, there is no perceptible difference. It's still a lovely scent.

The longevity in my vintage is compromised, as I get only two hours out of the base before it becomes a skin scent, but that doesn't surprise me, either. I get four or five hours out of current Zino. This was never a "powerhouse" masculine, it's more a gentleman's scent. The bottom line here is that my Parfums Davidoff, "Made in France" bottling of Zino with a modified Edwardian script logo and moderately lighter reddish-brown glass is indistinguishable from my more current Lancaster block-font formula, save for a little weakness and staleness. Owning juice from thirty years ago makes no major difference with this scent.

Refer to basenotes threads on this to find that my impression must be mistaken. Vintage enthusiasts feel that vintage Zino boasts a beautiful sandalwood note. According to one of them, that sandalwood note was removed from the newer formula entirely, and its melange of remaining synthetics were made denser to compensate for that extraction. They were "amped up," apparently in an attempt to disguise the removal of that precious sandalwood. This has been coined the "Zinoization" of Zino, a term that its author applies to many reformulated classics.

The majority of posters in the thread linked to above find little to no difference between the vintage and current formulas, and one person even questions if it was even reformulated at all. He challenges the assertion that a change in packaging automatically signals a change in formula. Only a select few feel they can detect major differences between the two. What I find amusing about their chief complaint is the notion that sandalwood was removed, and that it was really good sandalwood. Despite this, no one has ever come forward to contend that natural sandalwood was definitely used in vintage Zino, but it is strongly implied.

What is contended is that Zino's sandalwood note disappeared. Yet most find the current formula to be unchanged, or changed to a barely perceptible degree. Is it possible to remove a good and possibly natural sandalwood note from a formula and leave it changed to a degree so small that most would argue about it? I say no. In my opinion, the contention that Zino suffered a "Zinoization" at the hands of shrewd accountants is illogical. Let's take a brief look at what Davidoff's release was to the world back in 1986.

At that time, Zino was a middle-shelf designer masculine at lower middle-shelf prices. This was never a "pricey" perfume. It wasn't a "luxe" fragrance in the same league as products by Chanel and Guerlain. The likelihood that it contained natural sandalwood at its price-point is not especially good. Certainly natural sandalwood materials were not as expensive as they became in the nineties, but they were still quite expensive, and Zino never warranted that sort of expenditure. Remember, this is a Davidoff scent from before Davidoff became a household name, pre-Cool Water. As a purveyor of fine tobacco products, the brand had the money to spend on its perfumes, yet it didn't use much of that money to advertise them, which suggests the perfume division was on a tight budget, probably to minimize risk.

There are two or three print ads, and one television commercial from Zino's release. As a graphic design major I can tell you that most of the print ads are retreaded "comps," the same images in subtly different juxtapositions, a super-cheap way in the world of advertising to wring the most out of very little. I can practically see the Scotch tape and thumbtacks holding X-Acto knived prints against bristol boards.

The commercial is from the early Coty years, when its Lancaster division took over production in the nineties. Enough sales revenue had been generated to justify a TV spot, and those sales were from Cool Water. I used to catch it between shows when I was in middle school, interspersed with those weird black and white Obsession commercials, and those equally-weird Kate Moss CK commercials. Davidoff had the comparatively "normal" commercial.

So far I have not been able to find a commercial from the eighties, and doubt that one exists. Judging by its continued availability at absurdly low prices, I suspect that Coty Prestige continues to manufacture Zino under the pretense of still being Lancaster, in the same way that Colgate-Palmolive continues to print "By Mennen" on labels for Skin Bracer, a sly and well-advised commercial maneuver to keep finicky fans of certain "classics" coming back for more.

It is therefore relatively difficult to figure that Davidoff executives were willing to inject significant (i.e., "noticeable") doses of natural sandalwood oil into perfumes that had not yet been internationally successful, and which the brand seemed unwilling to aggressively market in the first place. The original Davidoff scent was hardly a hot seller, and was discontinued only a few years after its release. Zino came on its heels. This doesn't mean that the company wasn't interested in finding the best and most practical synthetics available, or that it wouldn't hire top talent to formulate their scents - to do so were smart uses of their cash, far smarter than dropping bundles on natural wood oils that are difficult to use. It just means that claims of smelling a "natural" sandalwood note in Zino smack of ignorance about the general importance of naturals vs synthetics in fragrance formulas, and the limits that were obviously being imposed on Davidoff perfumes in the eighties.

Even the worldwide renown of Guerlain didn't generate enough cache to justify using natural sandalwood in Samsara, a sandalwood perfume from the same era. Why would anyone with any comprehensive understanding of the industry imagine Davidoff thought differently about their fragrances?

There are really only two kinds of natural sandalwood that were ever used to great effect in classic twentieth century perfumes: Mysore sandalwood from India and Australian sandalwood from the country's southwestern region, both of which are very potent fixatives with unmistakable scent profiles. I'm familiar with their respective scents because Jim Gehr, a very talented perfumer and founder of Garner James, sent me generous samples of both oil types, although the Australian oil is from New Caledonia, an outlying island province.

Mysore sandalwood is deep, rich, buttery, and incredibly complex. New Caldedonian sandalwood is also rich and buttery, but it is significantly brighter and airier than its Indian counterpart. It has a more herbal and urinous quality to it, while the Indian sandalwood is earthier and smoother. Both smell very, very similar after two hours on skin, but those first two hours show remarkable differences. Mysore seems better suited for pungent, earthy notes like patchouli, while Australian would work better with strident animalic musks.

Zino in both formulations does have a sandalwood note to my nose, but it's the same sandalwood note. The note performs identically in both. It lends smoothness and a woody backbone to the intense patchouli note in the heart and base, and also supports a strong rosewood note. The fact that the performance of this note is interchangeable in these formulas suggests that it's a synthetic molecule, which means it is just one molecule. I think it is Sandal ore, otherwise known as molecule CI4H260, which Givaudan trademarked in the summer of 1977. The molecule seems to be used very sparingly in Zino's original formula, and in the reformulation. Sandal ore was used in several other eighties perfumes, including Samsara, and yes, that's where Samsara got its sandalwood from, although with Guerlain being Guerlain, it's not implausible to suppose a smidgen of the real stuff was used in early Samsara formulas. Synthetic sandalwood's use in Zino would explain why its two formulas smell virtually identical to each other. With a synthetic molecule, the only variable to its performance is the degree to which it is used.

Contrast this to natural sandalwood oil, which is comprised of hundreds of different molecules. Using this material in a formula like Zino would certainly enhance its performance, but with distinct variations in smell. Since the wood notes in Zino are strong, one might deduce that the concentration of wood molecules is high. But if natural oils were used at high concentration (in this case it would probably have to be Mysore sandalwood, given the intensity of patchouli in Zino and lack of animalic elements), the perfume would smell different bottle-to-bottle, due to the variables of natural sandalwood. Different oil grades would slip in now and then, sources would vary, and the natural changeability of the wood would shade Zino as being noticeably "inconsistent" from batch to batch. We've all seen how guys perk up when Creed issues perfumes that smell inconsistent between batches. The boards fill up constantly with threads about it. No such hysteria exists with Zino. Not even close.

Now take into account that the nose for Zino is Michel Almairac, a man who studied perfumery at the Roure School in the early 1970s, and whose career took off around the time that Givaudan trademarked "Sandalore," and you begin to see why it might have been used by Almairac in 1986. Roure was a subsidiary of Givaudan; Almairac was probably exposed to Sandal ore's potential during his apprenticeship, and inspired to use it in his own creations.

The claims that the reformulation of Zino smells "busier on top" and "denser" can be attributed to the fresher perfume having more texture and dynamism in its top notes than older batches, while the suggestion that vintage lasts longer can be attributed to the possible use of oakmoss, which may have been reduced and/or eliminated in the reformulation, or possibly supplemented with treemoss (moss is not a prominent note in this composition). I find that the vintage actually lasts a shorter amount of time than the reformulation, so I can't endorse any of these longevity claims. And if any of my readers feel a contradiction between my positions on counterfeit vintages and the divergences between my experiences with vintage and those of others, proceed with caution. The majority of my vintages were bought in person from trusted shops (not anonymous internet sellers) with cosmetic codes intact, usually on the boxes and on stickers glued to the bottles, all carefully checked on checkcosmetic.net.

So was Zino ever really "Zinoized?" Was a natural sandalwood material removed from its formula and then disguised with the "amping-up" of several cheaper synthetics? This is unlikely. What is more plausible is that many of the textured patchouli and woody-herbal notes of vintage Zino fused together with time to form a quieter and somewhat blotted precious wood effect that some people mistake for better balanced top notes and natural sandalwood base notes. Meanwhile a very effective sandalwood synthetic pokes through, perhaps bolstering an illusion of "naturalness."

The older and newer formulas are so similar that I believe the Sandal ore molecule is present in both, and serves the same purpose in both. I also believe that the "amping up" theory, which is the backbone of the "Zinoization" claim, is nonsense. Zino's reformulation doesn't have "amped up" notes. Zino's vintage has "amped down" notes, due to age. The intense lavender and clary sage combination doesn't punch the nostrils as hard in the vintage, because those materials have waned a bit. Some folks argue that something like a "spiced vanilla note" is used to replace the sandalwood, but no such effect registers to my nose at all.

I don't understand why some people insist that two identical formulas are different, when they plainly are not. I also don't know where the paranoid "Zinoization" concept comes from, but I find it ludicrous to extrapolate its theory to other fragrances when the logic behind it is so dubious, and so obviously erroneous from the outset. I have to wonder if the vintage enthusiasts who claim that Zino's older formula is superior have ever really owned and worn the reformulation, or if they merely sniffed spritzes in perfume shops somewhere and allowed their collective "Feeler" bias to do the work that their noses should have been doing instead. In any case, I'm glad I didn't spend much money for my bottle of vintage Zino when I bought it. The newer stuff is just as beautiful, if not more so, and I recommend it. Heck, the only reason to own the vintage is to have a bottle with that cool Davidoff script logo on it. I think it's the finest logo in the business, and it's a damn shame it was reformulated.


  1. Please stop with the logic. Some people just cant handle it.

    I still don't understand how the change in packaging was ever equated to reformulation.

    "Ok team, we are changing a few chemicals in this fragrance. Better call the design department and have them change the font or the stripes on the box also."
    Or is it the other way around?

    1. LOL. You said, "some people," Heperd. Better cite your sources!
      but you're right, of course. The idea is not only ridiculous and paranoid, but actually downright juvenile. What adult would stand there and say with a straight face that penny-pinching, formula-stripping accountants would have expensive ingredients removed and replaced in perfume formulas, only to neuter such a supposed cost-saving tactic by spending tens of thousands of dollars to have the packaging teams revamp the bottles and boxes? Makes absolutely no sense. None.

  2. Hi,
    I hope you don't mind, just wanted to add a clarification regarding Samsara. The original formula boasted a whopping 20% natural sandalwood oil. Of course, nowadays it relies much more on synthetic sandalwood odorants (polysantal etc).
    Anyway, your post has motivated me to track down a sample of Zino. Never smelt it!
    Ps.The Givaudan product is Sandalore (one word).

    1. Hi L, love your blog.

      Unfortunately I have to differ with you on Samsara - the tall tales surrounding its sandalwood content abound, with several reputable fragrance blogs citing various quantities - 30%, 40%, and now you're mentioning that it was 20%. Chandler Burr wrote extensively about Samsara discussing its reliance on Sandal ore and several other synthetics, with arguably some real sandalwood material.

      It's important to note that Guerlain may have put the word on the street that there were copious amounts of natural oil in the original perfume formula, but this doesn't really add up logically. Sandalwood is a highly variable substance - the oil is comprised of hundreds of molecules. Sourcing that much sandalwood with the exact - or NEAR exact same scent and spreading it that thick in the Samsara line would be nearly impossible. People would be getting different impressions of the same perfume based on natural variables in the oil. This isn't like Pierre Wargnye putting 10% dihydromyrcenol in Drakkar Noir - that's a uniform synthetic.

      The division of Sandal ore into two words is to minimize the risk of Givaudan objecting to using their registered product's name without permission. As you can see above, it was used in both one word and two word format in this post, although when written as one word it was placed in parentheses to denote its title as given by its parent company.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Hi Brian,
    Thanks for taking the time to reply and for your kind words.
    I understand now about your spelling of Sandalore. Can one really get in trouble for using registered names without permission? Yikes!
    Regarding Samsara, I've not read Burr's discussion. Do you know if he was referring to the original or current formula? The 20% figure I quoted comes from the scientific literature published by senior research chemists at Givaudan and Firmenich. If I recall correctly, they noted around 16% natural sandalwood oil in Tam Dao, and something like 15,8% in Bois des Iles. On that basis, 20% seems high, but not implausible.
    Big houses have of course Quality Control depts. and will blend and adjust materials to achieve uniformity in the final product.
    Anyway, I've no dog in the fight. It's interesting to know that at least there is some debate on the subject.
    Keep on blogging, I enjoy your posts.

    1. Burr simply said in his discussion that Samsara relied on synthetics to achieve its sandalwood. He cited Sandalore as the star player.

      Tam Dao and Bois des Iles have "something like" and "about" 15/16% sandalwood? The most I think anyone could use without suffering major batch variations is 5%. I'm sure you've smelled the real stuff - sandalwood EO and even SCO2 is potent, potent stuff. A little goes a long way.

      I'd love to see the literature you talk of. A link would be very welcome! Bear in mind though that the overall point of this post is to illustrate the sameness unsurprisingly found in various versions of Zino, a Davidoff scent several grades under anything by Guerlain. Even with 5% or 10% real oil quoted, Samsara is not beyond plausible bounds. Zino is.

      Thanks again for your input.

  4. Hi again,
    Sure, the sandalwood oil percentages are from Ohloff, Pickenhagen and Kraft "Scent and Chemistry: The Molecular World of Odors" (Wiley, 2011). Link to publisher: http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-3906390667.html
    I'm afraid I don't have the page numbers to hand, but I'd be happy to look them up later.
    Anyway, apologies for the excursus.


    1. The Royal Society of Chemists cites 25% natural oil, Bois de Jasmin cites 30 - 40%, and your book claims 20%. Perusing even the oldest reviews of Samsara on basenotes yields very little mention of anything special about the sandalwood note. I tend to think if this fragrance ever did contain an amount near the numbers quoted above, it must have been in the half-ounce pure parfum extrait for $300 a bottle, discontinued two or three years after the fragrance's release. Precious few must know what that smelled like, because otherwise the dearth of nostalgia for it is very hard to understand.

      Bottom line: If there's this much speculation about Samsara, a relatively high end perfume by a prestigious house, there ought not be much speculation about the supposed sandalwood in lowly Zino.


Thank you for your comment. It will be visible after approval by the moderator.